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Carlson, Chris (2007) What is Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform Really About?. Venezuela Analysis : -.

Much controversy surrounds the recent proposal to reform 69 articles of Venezuela's national constitution. Both national and international media have focused their attention on the reform proposal and the opposition protests against it. But, as usual, mainstream media have failed to provide the context and analysis necessary to actually understand the meaning and purpose of the reform, instead focusing mostly on some of the smaller and less significant parts, such as the elimination of presidential term limits.

The central focus of Venezuela's constitutional reform and how it fits into the larger picture of the political process being carried out in the country has been entirely absent from mainstream accounts. By leaving out the larger context in which this reform lies and how it plays an essential part of the political program of the Chavez government, the major media have created the image that the central purpose of the reform is to concentrate power in the hands of the presidency. Once again, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez appears as a power-hungry autocrat, a tin-pot dictator sitting on massive oil wealth, this time reforming the constitution as a means to install himself as president for life.

But what is Venezuelan's proposed constitutional reform really about? Is it simply an ill-conceived power grab on the part of Venezuela's popular president? Or is there something deeper and more important to this wide range of constitutional changes? Only an understanding of the political project that Chavez plans to develop in the country, and the specific political, economic, and social structure that it entails, allows us to fit the constitutional reform into the larger context and understand the real role it plays in laying the groundwork for the future plans of the Chavez government.

Setting the Stage for 21st Century Socialism
Long before his reelection in December of 2006, President Chavez had announced his intentions to lead Venezuela towards socialism. Convinced that the problems that plague Venezuela and much of the world could not be resolved within capitalism, Chavez proposed a new kind of socialism: Socialism for the 21st Century. This new form of socialism, which emphasizes not repeating the same errors of previous socialist states, was never explained in detail and is still a project in design. But Chavez made it clear before last year's elections that those who voted for him were voting for the socialist path and Venezuela overwhelmingly gave Chavez the go-ahead on his 21st century project.

In January of 2007, during his inaugural speech before the National Assembly and the nation, Chavez explained the future changes that would need to take place in order to implement the new socialist system. These changes were laid out in five steps, the five "motors" of the revolution, as Chavez called them. These "motors" would set the framework for a new social, economic, and political organization of the country.[1]

And although the Chavez government has put forth many plans for economic development, before these could be put in place it would have to be established how the economy would be organized and under what form of control. This is the key way in which the five motors of the revolution would set the stage in which 21st Century Socialism could be built.

"The first of the five motors that I am referring to is the mother of all laws: the Enabling Law," announced Chavez at his inaugural speech in January.

The Enabling Law was the first motor to be put in place, and consisted of giving the president the power to decree laws in certain areas for a period of 18 months. The law was passed in early 2007, and was used to nationalize some strategic sectors of the economy, such as telecommunications, electricity, and oil operations in the Orinoco River Delta.

Chavez explained that certain adjustments to the nation's laws, as well as articles of the national constitution, would not only be necessary, but would need to happen all together at the same time. For that reason, the first motor would have to work in conjunction with the second motor, the Constitutional Reform, in order for all the new laws to be put in place.

"The Enabling Law and the Constitutional Reform are like two sister motors, two motors of the same machine," explained Chavez. "It is required that we coordinate the two quickly because there are laws that we have in mind that will only be possible when the reform is done, when part of the constitution is reformed, because [the constitution] is the law of all laws, we can't pass over it, it's impossible."[2]

The remaining motors of the revolution would depend upon the legal changes in the Enabling Law and the Constitutional Reform. Motor number three is a national educational campaign known as "Lights and Morals." Number four is "The New Geometry of Power," and consists of a reorganization of the nation's political structure. And the last of the five motors is "the Explosion of Communal Power."

Each of these motors plays a specific role in setting the country on the path towards a new model of economic development under a new structure of social and political organization. But what exactly is this new model, and how will these changes play a role? Although 21st Century Socialism is still a project in development and has not been clearly defined, fortunately there are some indicators that give us an idea as to what this new model might look like.

A New Model of Development
There are several possible models of economic development that any given country could choose to adopt upon building national productive capacity. The most common model is, of course, the development of industry under the ownership of private capital, creating the fundamental problems of the concentration of wealth and power that ultimately compromise democracy, as is well known in the capitalist world.

Other obvious alternatives to this model include the development of the national economy under the ownership and control of the state or worker councils and cooperatives, also with their own issues of inefficiency and bureaucracy.

It was last June when President Chavez announced an important part of his own "Bolivarian" project for national development. In order to build productive capacity and the beginnings of national industries, Chavez announced the creation of more than 200 "socialist" factories over the next two years.[3] More recently, Chavez stated that the first 66 factories would be installed and inaugurated around the country by mid-2008.[4] Many of these will be joint projects with various other countries to bring in foreign technology from places like Iran, China, Brazil, and others.[5]

But before the new factories can be installed in different parts of the country, their organization and control would have to be established under new definitions of property and management. Under the Bolivarian model, the means of production will apparently not be solely under the control of the state, the private sector, or the workers, but rather a mixture of many kinds of ownership and control. The text of the proposed constitutional reform describes it in the following:

"The state will foment and develop different forms of production and economic units of social property, from direct or communal-controlled, to indirect or state-controlled, as well as productive economic units for social production and/or distribution."[6]

President Chavez explained this during his presentation of the reform proposal before the National Assembly last August:

"You see that here is the basic economic triangle: property, production and distribution. We are entering in all three elements, and it is necessary that we do it with success in the movement towards, and the construction of the socialist model... The economic units could be mixed arrangements between the state, the private sector, and the communal power. You see, businessmen of the private sectors, private sector producers, you are not being excluded. We need you to work with us, to ally with us. Together we will make the great nation that Venezuela is beginning to be, inside of the great South American nation."[7]

Therefore, it is under these kinds of property relations that the constitutional reform proposes for the means of production in the Bolivarian model. The reform arranges the framework for an economy under the control of organized communities, the state, and private groups, as well as any number of mixtures of these forms. And in 2008, as the government begins to install "socialist" factories in the country, they can be set up under this framework.

Last September, the government gave an indication as to how these factories might be organized in the future with the inauguration of a new corn processing plant in the western state of Yaracuy and announcements about these new economic units in general.

The Central Planning Committee discussed the construction of this new type of economic structure, starting with the inauguration of the first of ten corn processing plants around the country. The corn processing plants, as is planned with other types of factories, are operated by the local communities organized into Communal Councils.[8] Chavez has also recently mentioned the possibility of putting the thousands of PDVSA gas stations across the country under the control of the organized communities in which they are located.[9]

The Central Planning Committee discussed the creation of the "socialist" factories under the control of "communes" as a way of developing a new form of socialist economy. President Chavez stated that the new factories could eventually be put under the control of communes as a form of "communal" property or "social" property, as is also laid out in the constitutional reform.

"These are the means for the participation and central role of the people in the direct practice of their sovereignty and for the construction of socialism," said Chavez upon presenting his reform proposal. "And for the democratic management by the workers of any enterprise of "social" property. This is a term that starts here, social property. This is new, totally new in our constitution."[10]

Thus, the constitutional reform is also an attempt to establish the new social and political organization of the country into "communes" as a new power structure. Organized communities, currently in a process of forming and operating Communal Councils around the country, will unite with neighboring communities to form the communes, and groups of communes will unite to form cities. The text of the reform says the following:

"The primary political unit of the national territorial organization will be the City, understood as the population base inside a municipality and made up of areas or geographic extensions denominated as Communes. The Communes will be the geo-human cells of the territory and will be made up by communities, each one constituting the basic indivisible nuclei of the Venezuelan Socialist State where the citizens will have the power to construct their own geography and history."[11]

Chavez has said that in the whole country there will be around 60,000 communal councils, organized into 10,000 communes, 3,000 cities, and 200 federal districts.

Therefore, as can be seen, the central thrust of Venezuela's constitutional reform proposal is to set the legal framework for the political and social reorganization of the country, giving direct power to organized communities as a prerequisite for the development of a new economic system: a socialist system with the means of production under communal control.

The text of the reform states that national laws will be passed to transfer control of public services, state companies, and productive units to the communes, with the objective of constructing a socialist economy.

These changes in the constitution, and in the nation's laws, are essential to the other revolutionary motors, such as the reorganization of the political geography of the country (motor 4) and the increased role of communal power (motor 5). The changes in the constitution will allow the Venezuelan government to move forward with the reorganization of the country into the basic units of communes, and later promote the power and influence of these structures.

Another important reform in the proposal would allow the federal government to designate different regions of the country as federal districts to focus on and accelerate their socio-economic development. In a post-colonial country with very uneven development in different regions of the country, the reason for this addition makes sense as the government wants to intensify their focus on certain regions of the country to ensure their quick and balanced economic and social development.

"These changes are going to allow us to free ourselves from a territory that is chained by a structure of political and territorial division that goes back centuries," said Chavez. "We are going to break the chains of the old conservative, imperial, and colonial geography."

While the reform also includes many other secondary changes, some very progressive but also a few regressive ones, the clear focus of the reform is the economic and political reorganization of the country along the lines explained above.

A clear majority of the Venezuelan people understand that the heart of this reform is simply a continuation of the Chavez project; a process of wealth redistribution, national development, and expansion of popular power that has made significant gains in recent years. Chavez' proposal plans to make advances in all of these areas, expanding on the current initiatives to develop national productive capacity and increasing communal power; something that the Venezuelan people are seeing with their own eyes in their own communities. It is for these reasons, as well as the high level of confidence that they have in President Hugo Chavez, that the majority of Venezuelans will come out for December's national referendum to vote "Si."

[1] President Chavez explained the "motors" of the revolution for the first time in his inaugural speech on January 10th, 2007. The full text translated to English can be seen here:

[2] Translated from the original Spanish text of the inaugural speech:

[3] Prensa Presidencial / Prensa Web YVKE, "Gobierno Nacional proyecta construir 208 fábricas socialistas nuevas," Wednesday, September 5th, 2007.

[4] Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN), "Primeras 66 fábricas socialistas estarán funcionando en julio de 2008," October 5th, 2007.

[5] For more on the many different joint projects to bring in foreign technology, see my last article, "The Struggle To Industrialize Venezuela":

[6] Translated from the final text of the reform proposal:

[7] From President Chavez' speech during the presentation of his reform proposal, August 15, 2007:

[8] Prensa Web RNV / Prensa Presidencial, "Comisión Central de Planificación evaluó el plan estratégico de desarrollo," September 5th, 2007.

[9] President Chavez explained this idea in detail in an interview on live television last week during a "Yes" campaign in the state of Carabobo.

[10] From President Chavez' speech during the presentation of his reform proposal, August 15, 2007:

[11] Translated from the final text of the reform proposal:

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