Anthropology, history and geography are the fundamental bases of the studies of Iraida Vargas. Graduated from the Central University of Venezuela (XNUMX), she considers herself essentially a researcher. She completed postgraduate studies at the Complutense University of Madrid (XNUMX), but neither these studies nor others at the Sorbonne University in France, at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, and have participated in research projects and studied two years at the Museum of Natural History of the United States, served to him to opt for an opposition contest in XNUMX. She still remembers the moment at the IVIC when they told him that those credentials were not worth because they were not on the list of universities recognized by the institution.
She is currently part of the Venezuelan School of Planning where she publishes her research and manuals and the Geohistory and Subjectivity seminar. A good part of the published books are four-handed with his life partner Mario Sanoja Obediente, who witnessed the interview and made comments when it was necessary. The most recent are The Long March Toward Communal Society and From Rentism to Bolivarian Communal Socialism.
"Is there a divorce between the academy and the country?"
"It exists and continues to exist, but it is nothing new." Since the 60s, with my incorporation into academic work, I have confirmed that distance, which is not only from the academies but it was a state policy where politics had nothing to do with the economy, because it is a constant state for separating them, as well as popular practical action. The academy considers itself as a privileged space, of distinguished minds, which are the ones that must establish the guidelines to be followed and have no interest in the enormous variety of aspects, phenomena or sectors that make up society. This separation became more acute and there was no space to debate a problem that had just arisen, of a social, economic, political or cultural order. They were another world. I call them "the knowledge of Olympus."
- Did they have to let the time pass to look at these problems "aceptically"?
"And without hatred." Which was a lie, because they had many hatreds. There are also the hierarchies that are imposed on each other. Those of us who worked in the field of social sciences or science in general, the IVIC scientists, for example, despised us because they considered that we were not scientists and had equal consideration with researchers from the Universidad de Los Andes. These disagreements meant that there was never an approach where opinions and experiences could be expressed.
"What is the debate today?"
—The Central University of Venezuela, which was paradigmatic, is now a place of “hot heads”, and the rector of the UCV, for example, decided that it should work there in a way that is scandalously corrupt, and they converted a sector of the student body in accomplices. The academic world at the moment has a zero rating, because not only do they do what they did in the 50s and 60s, which they considered Olympus, but they have deteriorated teaching. To people who are peasants, who work as artisans or who do not have liberal professions, I always tell them that I have nothing that makes me exceptional. I only work in this area and you know about things that I do not know. Disqualification prevents union. Because if you initially disqualify anyone who comes to disturb your Olympus, there can hardly be a debate.
"Has Olympus been disturbed?"
- [Iraida laughs] At the end of the day I have dedicated my life to studying in a certain type of field of knowledge. Become more or less what is known as a "specialist" and like me, thousands of Venezuelans who are in the academic world. And then the comrades arrive who do not do that and they disdain us because "you are a string of theorists." And the others tell us "you are useless because you are not from my Olympus, you are from another Olympus." And the country needs these spaces for debate to take place.
"So has the debate happened or not?"
"It practically hasn't happened." There was a time and I would ask Mario [Sanoja Obediente] who is less young than me.
"Mario, have you had any debates?"
—I remember that at the beginning of the 60s the same question was asked, why didn't the university open a debate about its own role in Venezuelan society. At that time there was a very serious academic crisis, not only of knowledge, but also of the academic structure of the university and nobody dared to say it. We suggested that it was necessary, in an internal debate at UCV, to update ourselves to catch up, but it was never done.
—One of the things that greatly concerned me —Iraida Vargas takes the word— was not just discussing the role of the university or the type of student, but in a more comprehensive way with the country. In other words, if we, the intellectuals who are in the academic field, are educators of others, it is not only to discuss about the university, but what are the great problems of the country that concern us, the great failures, the deficiencies. I remember that at the time when I studied I would sit two positions from Fernando Soto Rojas's brother (Víctor Ramón), training us, and after a month we asked ourselves "what happened to this guy who didn't come anymore?" And they had killed him. And like him, others. It was a terrible time. I understood that this "democracy" was a dictatorship. With Raúl Leoni it was even more difficult.
Theory with practice
Vargas has been in the world of ideas and constantly feeds himself since he knows deep Venezuela. However, there is always someone who tells him that “he cannot speak because he has not planted a single potato; which is false because I have done it ”and laughs at the prejudices.
—How much progress has been made in the long march toward communal society?
—It is an acknowledgment that Chávez made when he said “Commune or nothing” to the Popular Power, although it is still difficult for me to accept that there are popular sectors with power. Since Chávez introduced it as "Popular Power" he said something that was very sensible that "popular power has to be able to power." I think that progress has been made, in the sense that as a result of that people began to reflect on the popular sectors. It used to do so, but not in the search for recognition of them as a sector with power, as the Commander proposed. He taught that the people had to organize. It is not that there were no organizational forms, but that they were disconnected from each other and the maxim that the people save only themselves was put into people's heads. That established an abysmal difference with what existed before, because the popular sectors, as Georg Lukács would say, began to understand that the people could not be a people only in themselves, but that they had to be a people for themselves, they had to have conscience of himself as a subject. Much progress has been made in this regard. I generally have stormy relationships with community members because I am getting into this and they think “she is not a community member, she is an academic”.
"A theorist ...
-Exactly. And I understand them, because no one is going to tell a commoner what he is missing and what he has. The commoner knows what he aspires, what he wants, but recognizing that, I believe that the communes have to have total autonomy and as long as they are financed by the State they will not have it. The main issue is that we have at least 200 years with cultural industries that have more or less brainwashed us.
"Or rather more than 500 years."
"No, that's something else." I mean the cultural industries established by the Empire.
He takes the note he has written, to which he constantly refers, and reads aloud the title: “Reflections on some aspects of the current situation in Venezuela,” and adds:
—What happens is that it's old, from 2018.
"Has a lot happened?"
—Starting because half of the Colombian population that we had here in asylum left, who comes and goes to heal. To heal they are Venezuelans, to leave they are Colombians. But in this note I propose that the greatest challenge that Chávez had and that he could not solve, he only left the lines to do it, and the commune is one of those lines, it is the cultural world.
"The commune is still a place of resistance."
—The commune is an alternative popular approach, in opposition to the capitalist world. It is a form of organization that has existed since humanity has existed, with the conformation of human communities with their diversities and complexities or their simplicity. Since there is humanity there is the need to organize in community. John Schwarzmantel in his book Socialism and the Idea of the Nation, states that there are two types of nations, ethnic and political. And the precise difference is that in the ethnic group they are united because they are of the same color, language, and the political nation is united because they have the same life project. The first is completely reactionary because to maintain the cohesion of the community that is generated, which is national, the only way is to be convinced that you are from Olympus.
Humanity against hegemony.
Vargas pauses to look for a book in his study and returns with the theoretical Chávez volume, published by the Institute for Higher Studies of Thought Hugo Chávez, and recalls that it was a commission from the Commander to organize the ideas about the communes, which they later developed. courses taught at the Venezuelan School of Planning, and recalls that within the debates there was a person, an economist for more details, who said “if we believed in what Chávez asked, which was 'Commune or nothing', that we would return to beyond the Middle Ages, that the commune was a backwardness ”.
—When humanity arises, there are no social classes, there are no majority distinctions. All the elements that are fundamental for the communes today are solidarity, cooperation, fraternity, love, barter, that is what allows a humanity to emerge. Chavez saw it as the counter-hegemonic element to capitalism, but we also told him that it should not be dictated by the capitalist state. Because we have a state, but it is capitalist. Not only for economic reasons, but fundamentally for cultural reasons.
Is that perception in certain sectors of the population that the communes are a backwardness that has slowed down the creation of a communal society?
- They are undoubtedly braking factors. The crux of the communes are the forms of social organization, of social relations in the space for the creation of habitat, because I don't have to tell those of Guayana, if they are comuneros, that they have to live like the Merideños.
—The communes are also diverse.
"Of course, and they don't have to all be agricultural." Mao Zedong learned that quickly, because otherwise they would have knocked him down. He was a swashbuckling defender of the Chinese communes. If they were all good or not, as they say it happened, I don't know. But here there are important advances and what is lacking is that the conversion of the people themselves, into a people for themselves, is unanimous. And that people for themselves can become a true popular power.
—In a capitalist state, what roles do popular power and the communes play? Can one exist without the other?
—The commune cannot be built by the capitalists. Capitalism is not interested at all. There may be a popular power that has other approaches. There are studies on Petare and the Valles del Tuy, that existing communes, the diagnosis showed that these are destructive because capitalist values or countervalues are the ones that prevail, because they destroy nature, which are also protected areas and end up affecting water courses that come from the mountains that feed Tuy.
- Can the blockade against Venezuela promote the consolidation of the communes?
"Of course it drives it." The last session I saw of the Congress of Communes was of a great union. When Chávez said "Commune or nothing" he meant that these alternative and anti-hegemonic forms are diverse. It is not that we are going to turn the country into a single commune, because it is absurd and it would not be of much use, because urban communes are not the same as rural or agricultural ones. The Chinese had this serious problem when they began to introduce the industrial part. The machinery was made in communes. We have not yet reached that problem, which is too diverse. For example, in Mérida there are rural areas but there are also urban ones. What has improved a lot is the understanding that within the productive process (production, distribution, exchange and consumption), distribution and exchange have moved away from the capitalist model. Barter and exchange is predominant in communal life.
"So, is there hope for Venezuela?"
—I think there are, only that cultural transformation is the greatest challenge facing the Bolivarian Revolution, which is why it has been a permanent challenge for it. It was already a challenge when Chávez and it continues to be because although we have advanced in the construction of a system of values and a socialist ethic, the adversary that we face in this fight, the transnationals of the cultural industry, are not only powerful but also they exercise hegemony worldwide in the generation of cultural meanings. For these reasons, the balance is not very flattering at this time for the Bolivarian Revolution, because it favors industries the creation of meanings, and consequently in the exercise of cultural hegemony. A tangible proof is that when you arrive at your house and you pretend to television and you are looking for an entertainment program, what do they show you ?: death, violence ...
—The reproduction of the capitalist system.
- Entertainment is not innocuous from an ideological point of view. Therefore, the State, the revolutionary State, must advocate for a healthy entertainment culture and not reduce it only to the economic aspect, because reducing the communes to the economic aspect is a mistake.