When Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez died in March 2013, he left behind an unfulfilled dream that was never his alone: that of the “communal state.” Amid the complicated maneuvering of the post-Chávez era, this aspiration—which would see the expansion and unification of nascent communal councils, alongside a proliferation of other directly democratic political and productive organs—has pressed forward. This seminar situates this communal state at the intersection of two tensions. It first “decolonizes” the idea of the Venezuelan commune, excavating the broad contours of its history as a subterraneous process oriented toward self-government, not in an effort to romanticize indigenous and maroon communism, but to underline the tense relationship between the Venezuelan commune and nineteenth-century liberation struggles. Second, through the theories of former guerrilla comandante Kléber Ramírez Rojas, it shows how a particular history of the commune enters into tension with the state itself and how the contemporary construction of the commune from above is but one side of a seeming paradox gestating under the sign of the communal state, the tense unity of government from above and insurgency from below. The seminar begins from the history of revolutionary movements laid out in Ciccariello-Maher’s We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution (Duke University Press, 2013), while further drawing upon his latest work, Building the Commune (forthcoming, Jacobin/Verso Books, 2015), and will seek to provide insights that will be applicable in a variety of contexts and struggles around the world.
The seminar will be composed of four 2.5 hour sessions, each of which will be split between a 10 minute introduction to the session, a 20 minute lecture, 30 minutes of student-facilitated group discussion, a brief break and 1.25 hours of instructor-facilitated Oxford/Williams-style tutorial presentations on the readings and topics of the day. All students will write four mini-essays of 600-1000 words each addressing a current event or recent cultural object in light of the readings, due at the end of each week. These will be posted to the Google Classroom page for everyone to read and comment upon as they wish, providing some preliminary threads for the group discussions and tutorials. The top pieces will be given extensive feedback for revision into a full paper and promoted by the professor for publication in leading academic and/or para-academic venues.