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 article situates this communal state at the intersection of two tensions. I first “decolonize” 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, I show how this 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.

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