We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Venezuela: Update on Participatory Democracy and the Bolivarian Revolution

The following two articles provide an update on the current challenges facing the Bolivarian Revolution and its attempts to cement and institutionalize socialism and participatory democracy in Venezuela. In the wake of the defeat of the constitutional reform package on Dec 2nd, 2007, which would have deepened the transfer of power to the grassroots, Chavistas (Chavez supporters) have been engaged in a deep examination of their identity and of the challenges before them. Those in the opposition have seized upon the opportunity to continue their destabilization efforts, including hoarding and exporting foodstuffs in the midst of food shortages brought on by declining poverty rates and the resulting increased demand for basic commodities. Meanwhile, there are divisions within the Bolivarian movement, with those in the grassroots intensifying their efforts to advance participatory democracy from the bottom up, and those elements in the Chavez government who are corrupt bureaucrats slowing the transition and the transfer of power from the top down. This complex situation is but the latest chapter in what has been a relentless struggle to see this bold Venezuelan experiment in participatory democracy become entrenched and permanent. The first article examines the new dynamic within the grassroots of the Bolivarian revolution, and the second provides an broad overview of the current situation. - Editor

Grass-roots Chávismo Awakes

February 12th 2008, by Reinaldo Iturriza López


I’ve been reading John Reed’s wonderful book, Ten Days That Shook The World, about the Russian revolution. Writing in July 1917, Reed refers to the Bolsheviks as being still only ‘a small political sect’. I couldn’t but smile when I read the footnote the book’s publishers had added to this description: ‘Reed uses the word “sect” wanting to underscore that immediately after the March 1917 Democratic-Bourgeois Revolution, the Bolshevik Party, which had just come out of hiding, was still relatively small.’

Despite this clarification, the truth is that the Bolsheviks were just that: a sect, a small group of revolutionaries, who through the strength of their audacity and tenacity would change the history of humanity. The important issue lies in that they would have to do it sooner rather than later: only three months later, in October. How was this possible? This is where Reed’s book’s historic value comes to the fore. This may serve as a taster: ‘In July they were harassed and spurned; in September the workers in the capital, the marines of the Baltic Fleet and the soldiers had in their majority embraced their cause.’

Today, despite the best attempts of many throughout the decades, no one can convince us that the Bolsheviks were predestined to lead the Russian revolution. It is clear that in revolutions, vanguards, leaders and movements play a role. But so does uncertainty, chance and surprise. In fact, leaders are tested precisely at these times when indecision and perplexity reign. That’s why it is said that revolutionary countries always ‘sense’ the moment to act and how.

Nothing is written Those of us who are activists in the Bolivarian revolution have been wasting our time if at this stage we are not able to understand that nothing is written. We were getting used to winning; and as we were always faced with the task of beating the adversary, we postponed the struggle within the movement, as if Chávismo were one and indivisible, headed by an infallible leader.

The constitutional reform referendum defeat on 2 December, which I’ll now refer to as ‘2D’, has taken our side by surprise. We could obviously evaluate and determine what the main causes of this defeat were. But the result, without a doubt, has surprised us all: Chávismo was always sure of victory, even when it thought it would be tight.

The challenge we now therefore have within the Bolivarian camp, within the government, that Chávez himself has, but most importantly that we have within democratic, revolutionary, grassroots Chávismo, is to know how to deal with this surprise. That is precisely what the political moment that opened up following 2D consists of.

Of course revolutionary leadership does not depend exclusively on the capacity to act with audacity and aptitude in the face of chance and surprise. On the contrary, it depends on the ability to become the advocate and defender of demands from the grassroots.

John Reed himself recounts that the efficacy of the policy that the Bolsheviks implemented in the weeks preceding the October revolution lay in the way that ‘they took the simple and vague desires of the workers, soldiers and peasants, and with this built their immediate programme’ – all power to the soviets, peace on all fronts, land for the peasants, worker control in industry.

The people’s reform On 3 December 2006, following the annmouncement of his comprehensive victory in the presidential elections, Chávez addressed those gathered at the Miraflores presidential palace: ‘Today is a starting point, today … a new era begins … [It] will have as its central aim … as its central strategic line, the deepening, the widening and the expansion of the Bolivarian revolution, of revolutionary democracy, in the Venezuelan path to socialism.’

A few minutes earlier he had said: ‘You have re-elected yourselves; the people are in control. I will always lead obeying the Venezuelan people.’ Chávez also made a call to increase the battle ‘against the bureaucratic counter-revolution and against corruption, old vices which have always threatened the republic.’ We were all convinced we had achieved a new and resounding ‘people’s’ victory.

On 17 January 2007, as he swore in the members of the presidential commission for constitutional reform, Chávez reminded people that, as stipulated in the Bolivian constitution, three entities are allowed to propose a constitutional reform: the president, the national assembly and the people. Chávez said he had opted for the first convinced that he was ‘interpreting and collecting the feeling of the majorities’.

Seven months later, on 15 August 2007, in his speech presenting the constitutional reform proposal to the national assembly, Chávez expressed himself in very similar terms: ‘The reform belongs to the people, it doesn’t belong to Chávez. I am sure that our people will embrace it; everything I am going to say is said with the Venezuelan people and their most sacred interests in mind, and thinking of our revolution and its strengthening.’

If anything has been made clear by 2D it is that what could effectively have been ‘the reform of the people’ was in reality Chávez’s reform. It is true that during his speech on 15 August Chávez reiterated the need to initiate the ‘great debate on the Bolivarian reform’. It is equally true that the national assembly was far from being the catalysing space for this debate. The PSUV [United Socialist Party of Venezuela] wasn’t either. The PSUV’s ‘battalion assemblies’ were conceived as instruments to disseminate and defend the reform proposal, but at no point as a space where the reform could be criticised, corrected or supplemented.

Nevertheless, the key to the 2D defeat lies in the fact that a basic rule of revolutionary politics was missing: ‘It is the people who rule.’ That same people, who in Chávez’s words, were re-elected in December 2006; the same people he swore he would obey while leading. These people were not called on to participate in the creation of the reform proposal. This is why a considerable sector of Chávismo never made Chávez’s proposal their own. And this is why another important sector opted only to critically support the proposal.

Grass-roots Chávismo There has been much debate, both before and after 2D, about the reform’s content. Some of us pointed out that one of the problematic aspects of Chávez’s proposal was the concentration of powers in the figure of the president. Indeed, the idea of the infallible leader is one that has been promoted by the right wing of Chávismo, a right wing that could eventually opt to get rid of Chávez himself once its main objective – to isolate democratic and revolutionary grass-roots Chávismo – has been achieved. At the same time, though, many of us opted to support a proposal that had enough in its content to turn it into a programme for grass-roots struggles.

Nevertheless, this debate should not distract us from the most important point: if the reform proposal had been the product of grass-roots participation and protagonism, there is no doubt that the content would have been different, much closer to the demands and desires of revolutionary grass-roots Chávismo. Had this occurred, the result of 2D would undoubtedly have been favourable for those of us who struggle for the democratic radicalisation of the Bolivarian process.

Today there is talk of relaunching the reform proposal, not from the presidency but from the grassroots or the national assembly. And the convening of a constituent national assembly has not been discounted. Given the national assembly’s lack of legitimacy and popular support, there would, in principle, seem to be two alternatives: reform by grass-roots initiative or via a constituent process.

Whichever route is followed, it is clear that if we repeat the same exclusionary logic that bypassed the grassroots last time, any future proposal could suffer similar resistance. If we insist on promoting the same reform proposal through a flawed ‘grass-roots initiative’, we could be making a tactical error of incalculable proportions.

But these tactical considerations are merely the tip of the iceberg.

Underneath is a giant that lay dormant under the troubled waters of 2D: grass-roots Chávismo, the only guarantee of the revolutionary deepening of the Bolivarian process. 2D found us dispersed, such as we had not been in many years. But from the very morning of 3 December the multitude that makes up grass-roots Chávismo has been the protagonist of an effervescent process of deliberation that the most conservative sectors of Chávismo will find very hard to silence. The sleeping giant has awoken and before it lies the opportunity to become more than just a ‘small political sect’. John Reed dixit.

Red Pepper

The next article provides a more comprehensive and detailed outlook on the current challenges facing the Bolivarian Revolution and the instituitionalization of popular power and participatory democracy... - Editor

Venezuela: Danger Signs for the Revolution


February 24th 2008, by Kiraz Janicke - & Federico Fuentes - Green Left Weekly

In recent weeks, external and internal pressure against Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution, has intensified dramatically. It is clear that US imperialism and the US-backed Venezuelan opposition see the defeat of Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms on December 2 as a green light to push forward their plans to destabilize the government. In addition, growing internal problems, with a strengthening of the right-wing of the Chavista movement - known as the "endogenous right", who support implementing some reforms without breaking with capitalism - pose a serious threat to the survival of the revolution. Chavez's proposed constitutional reforms were aimed at institutionalising greater popular power and increasing restrictions on capitalists to the benefit of working people. In response, the capitalist-owned private media, spearheaded by virulently anti-government private television channel Globovision, launched a campaign based on lies and disinformation aimed at confusing the Venezuelan people. ...To read full article click

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