Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Los momentos como ahora, como resultado de las elecciones de domingo en los cuales políticamente los chavistas tienen la ventaja, son oportunidades de oro para avanzar. No aprovecharse es un error de mayores proporciones que saldrá costo a una fecha posterior. 

En las situaciones favorables, se presentan cuatro objetivos cuyos logros implican un precio, pero solamente a corto plazo: la transformación económica; los logros en la lucha contra la corrupción y la burocracia ineficiente; la democratización interna (sobre todo del PSUV); y el debilitamiento del adversario.  

Chávez sacó provecho de la coyuntura favorable inmediatamente después de su triunfo en las elecciones presidenciales en 2006 con 63 por ciento del voto, el margen más grande en la historia moderna del país. No solamente nacionalizó varias industrias estratégicas en 2007 y 2008, sino creó el PSUV y logró golpear a sus adversarios de la derecha. Maduro, por su parte, perdió una oportunidad para avanzar a mediados de 2014. Los chavistas estaban en una posición ideal después de haber derrotado las protestas de la guarimba promovidas por la oposición y haber ganado las elecciones municipales (en diciembre de 2013) por un amplio margen.  

Desde ese entonces, el Chavismo ha estado en una posición defensiva (por no decir contra la pared), ya por tres años. Como resultado, las posibilidades de profundizar el proceso fueron limitadas. El gran triunfo de domingo cambia las cosas. Como dicen en ingles “Seize the Opportunity.” No hay otras opciones.

Este escrito forma parte de un artículo publicado en Rebelion.org: http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php?id=232356

Monday, October 16, 2017



The Venezuelan opposition, the New York Times and the U.S. government are arguing that yesterday’s Venezuelan elections were unfair because voters in some wealthy areas had to vote in voting centers that were not in locations where they live. The reason for this relocation was announced some time ago by the National Electoral Council (CNE). Certain wealthy areas that had produced considerable violence (eastern Caracas, Lechería in Anzoategui, etc.) just a few months ago – and where security officers had been attacked by protestors in actions that the opposition mayor’s did nothing to prevent – were considered battlegrounds. For security reasons, the CNE (in accordance with what is stipulated in the nation’s electoral legislation) decided against opening voting centers in those areas and to send people to other voting centers (located no more than 1000 meters away) in the same city. This is exactly what the CNE did on July 30 in the elections for the constituent assembly. The opposition knew of this decision prior to yesterday’s elections. If the opposition considered the CNE’s decision unacceptable, why did it participate in the elections in the first place?

Another opposition argument is that some voting centers did not open on time. International observers have indicated that these cases were extremely isolated. In addition, the question may be asked, is this really a valid reason to refuse to recognize electoral results? As has been the case with past elections, it would appear that the Venezuelan opposition is deserving of the epithet “sore loser.”

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Venezuela’s Fragile Revolution

From Chávez to Maduro

Published in Monthly Review, October 2017, Volume 69, Number 5 

The Venezuelan experience of nearly two decades of radicalization, extreme social and political polarization, and right-wing insurgence offers valuable lessons for the left. The country’s current crisis should be an occasion for constructive debate around the struggles, successes, and failures of the Bolivarian Revolution. By pinpointing strategic errors–especially in the context of unrelenting hostility by powerful forces on the right–Chavismo’s supporters and sympathizers can offer a corrective to the sweeping condemnations of the government of Nicolás Maduro now coming from both right and left.
This article thus has two aims: to shed light on the major lessons of the years of Chavista rule, and to put some of the government’s more questionable actions in their proper historical and political context. The common perception of the Chavista leadership as incompetent administrators who disdain democracy ignores the complexity of achieving socialism through democratic means, a process whose dangers and demands have shaped the government’s decisions, for better and worse. Only by reckoning with that complexity can we understand both Venezuela’s current situation and its turbulent recent history.
Taking Sides

In recent months, as the nation’s political conflict has intensified, increasing numbers of both Venezuelan leftists, such as the group Marea Socialista, which withdrew from the governing United Socialist Party (PSUV), and foreign observers have broken with the Chavista camp. Many now defend a “plague on both your houses” attitude toward both the Maduro government and the right-wing opposition.1 Whatever the merit of some of their objections, by censuring the government and opposition in equal terms, the ex-Chavistas obscure the vital fact that the latter is the aggressor, while the former has been relentlessly attacked, compelling it to take emergency measures, with damaging long-term effects.
This phenomenon is of course not new: Chavista governments have been under near-continuous assault from the time Hugo Chávez first took office in 1999. Few elected governments in recent history have faced such sharp confrontation and polarization over such a prolonged period, or met with such a multitude of powerful and hostile forces. The adversaries include Venezuela’s major corporations and business groups, the U.S. government and the Organization of American States (OAS), the Catholic Church hierarchy, university authorities, and the news media, in addition to the traditional political establishment and labor unions. A brief list of hostile actions includes an attempted coup in 2002, promoted by business interests and backed by the United States; a two-month national lockout in 2002–03; waves of paramilitary urban violence from 2002 to the present; and the refusal of the opposition and its allies to recognize official electoral results, even those certified by international observers.
The belligerence has only become more pronounced under Maduro, who lacks Chávez’s charisma, and whose government has been buffeted by ongoing crises of debt, inflation, and low oil prices. On the day of Maduro’s election in April 2013, losing candidate Henrique Capriles called on his followers to express their wrath (arrechera), resulting in the killing of ten Chavistas, including a policeman. The paramilitary political violence known in Venezuela as the guarimba dates to 2003, but has escalated under Maduro: the three-month street protests in 2014 included armed private brigades, whose tactics have since become still more militarized.
Meanwhile, Washington’s aggression against the governments of Chávez and Maduro demonstrates that in terms of foreign policy, little distinguishes Republicans and Democrats. The Bush administration wholeheartedly supported the coup and general strike in 2002–03. Obama inspired great expectations early in his presidency with his warm encounter with Chávez, who handed him a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America, but ended up twice issuing an executive order characterizing Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to national security. And under President Trump, who has spoken casually of employing a “military option” against Maduro, newly appointed CIA director Mike Pompeo admitted to having worked with the governments of Mexico and Colombia to promote regime change in Venezuela.
Although the scale and duration of these threats make Venezuela unique among contemporary constitutional democracies, their lessons are universal. The same challenges facing Venezuelan leftists in power lie in store for any democratic government committed to socialism, especially one that goes as far as Chávez did. In this sense, the Venezuelan experience, with all its disappointments and achievements, is more instructive for leftists in liberal-democratic nations than twentieth-century revolutions in Russia, China, and Cuba.
Most important, the Venezuelan experience has demonstrated the need for socialists who reach power by electoral means to walk a tactical tightrope. On one side, in the name of pragmatism and in the face of ruthless adversaries, Chavista governments have found it necessary to make concessions: tactical alliances with business leaders—whose support has often proved self-serving—and populist policies, including generous social spending, some of which have fostered corruption and squandered vital resources. On the other side, Chavista governments have mobilized large numbers of their rank-and-file supporters and allied social movements by demonstrating commitment to radical change and socialist ideals. As I will argue, the revolution has too often tilted in the former direction, at the expense of the latter.
This is not to suggest that Chavista governments have been motivated by sheer opportunism or short-term considerations. The key point is rather that in conditions as unfavorable as those now prevailing in Venezuela, the left’s options are severely limited. Under better circumstances, such as have existed at various junctures under both Chávez and Maduro, the government must act aggressively to deepen the process of change and achieve other objectives. As I discuss below, timing is essential.
The key issues currently being debated within the Chavista movement boil down not to differences over long-term goals, but how to ensure the viability of specific policies. Any analysis that focuses only on the end results of the revolutionary process, such as socialist democracy, while ignoring the constraints imposed by social and political realities, can only mislead. The disillusionment of many former Chávez sympathizers both in Venezuela and abroad likely stems in part from this privileging of grand goals over immediate challenges. Too much of the Bolivarian Revolution’s energy depended on the vision and charisma of Chávez himself, who unfortunately failed to prepare his followers for the difficulties, sacrifices, and thorny contradictions that the process of radical change entails. The following issues, then, will be analyzed from the perspectives of viability, feasibility, and timing.
Realism and the Bourgeoisie

Chávez and the Chavista movement were always characterized by a mix of realism and idealism.2 Chávez declared that Venezuelan socialism was based on the principle of “to each according to their needs.” Not even Soviet leaders went that far: like Marx, they defined socialism as “to each according to their contribution.” But Chávez was first and foremost a realist and strategist, traits derived from his military background. Just days after a two-month business-promoted lockout aimed at toppling his government in 2002–03, Chávez announced he would exclude the golpistas (putchists) from the system of “preferential dollars” (dollars sold at lower exchange rates to pay for imports). In subsequent years, Chávez followed a tacit and at times explicit policy of giving preferential treatment to those businesspeople who had defied the traditional bourgeoisie by refusing to participate in the two-month shutdown. In doing so, he weakened the traditional bourgeoisie that had played the leading role in ongoing efforts to undermine the government.
The government’s distinction between the hostile traditional bourgeoisie and a “friendly” emerging one has remained largely unchanged under Maduro. The former, grouped in Fedecámaras, the Venezuelan chamber of commerce, has grown savvier politically, maintaining a distance from the parties of the opposition and even negotiating with the Maduro government at a time when the opposition refused to do so, all to avoid the appearance of partisan struggle. Nevertheless, Fedecámaras has been anything but impartial. Not only did it join the opposition to denounce and boycott the government’s election to select delegates to a Constituent Assembly this past July; it also indirectly supported opposition-called general strikes during the preceding weeks. As a show of solidarity with the opposition, member companies of Fedecámaras excused their employees from work during the “strike.”
The Chavista leadership’s reasoning for favoring “friendly” businesspeople over those represented by Fedecámaras is compelling: why grant credit or contracts for public works projects to those who will use public money to finance destabilizing activity? Nevertheless, the relationship between the government and friendly businesses who are awarded contracts has become too cozy. In 2009, after insiders began to manipulate several financial institutions resulting in a banking crisis, Chávez ordered the arrest of several dozen of them. Ricardo Fernández Barrueco, the richest pro-Chavista business executive, and Arné Chacón, brother of Chávez’s right-hand man, and a veteran of the abortive 1992 coup linked to Chávez, spent three years in jail as a result.
But unethical behavior in Venezuela hardly came to a halt. One of Chávez’s most trusted ministers, Jorge Giordani, revealed in 2013 that $20 billion had been sold the previous year at the preferential exchange rate to finance bogus imports. Maduro failed to act on the allegation, despite promises to the contrary. But under his presidency, a Chavista governor, a mayor of the city of Valencia, and a president of a major state company were arrested on charges of corruption, and in 2017 several executives from the state oil company, PDVSA, in eastern Venezuela faced a similar fate. In early 2017 the ex-governor received an eighteen-year jail sentence. These actions, however, have done little to contain corruption, which has become routine and highly visible.
Relations with the Private Sector

Two opposing camps on the left fault the Chavista government for its ties to “friendly” businesspeople. Those to the left of the Chavista leadership see these relations as naïve or, worse yet, as tantamount to a sellout. Argentine writer Luis Bilbao, a supporter of both Chavista governments, has expressed skepticism toward what Chávez called a “strategic alliance” with the private sector, and his meetings with some of its representatives who were, for the most part, outside the Fedecámaras fold. Bilbao particularly criticized the “stage-based” approach of the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV). According to Bilbao, the PCV sees the government’s alliance with supposedly non-monopolistic businesspeople as a necessary stage designed to achieve a “truce” with the bourgeoisie prior to moving ahead with socialist construction.3
On the other flank are those leftists who favor closer ties with the bourgeoisie. Víctor Alvarez, a former Minister of Basic Industry and Mining, is among the most prominent advocates of prioritizing national private production by limiting imports and downsizing the state sector. Alvarez decried Maduro’s removal in 2016 of Miguel Pérez Abad as Industry and Commerce Minister, the only businessman in the cabinet, claiming that Pérez Abad irritated Chavista “dogmatists” by calling for the privatization of expropriated firms that incur heavy losses.4
Both sides overstate their case. It seems fair to say that ties with the private sector are necessary, but that their deleterious long-term effects must be anticipated and at some point countered. On the one hand, few of the capitalists who have cooperated with the Chavista governments fit the old Comintern-promoted bill of a “progressive bourgeoisie,” which was said to support the nation’s economic independence and even to oppose imperialism. The government’s alliance with members of the private sector should not be considered strategic—defined as a long-term coordination based on mutual confidence—but rather tactical, with the goal of securing enough political and economic stability to sustain the process of change. Chavista activists have often warned that at the earliest sign of the possibility of regime change, pro-government businesspeople would be the first to abandon ship, and recent events have proved them right. Pork industry magnate Alberto Cudemus, for instance, one of Chávez’s most trusted allies, whom Chávez supported in his bid to head Fedecámaras, has become a harsh critic of Maduro. The president has responded in kind.
On the other hand, it is clear that objective conditions have not allowed for mass expropriations or all-out confrontation with capitalists. If capitalism in Chavista Venezuela will remain a reality for some time, the government has two options: ignore distinctions among the capitalists and treat them as one and the same, or take advantage of fissures within the business class. Given Fedecámaras’s sudden switch—from decades as a supposedly apolitical body to a staunch enemy of Chávez, even before his 1998 election—the government would be foolish not to cultivate relations with those businesspeople who reject the organization’s hostile line.
In addition to ex-minister Pérez Abad, now president of a major state bank, Oscar Schemel can be considered a reliable business ally. Schemel, the owner of a prominent public polling firm whose surveys are frequently cited by Chavistas, was elected as a business-sector delegate to the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) in the elections held on July 30, 2017. To mitigate the country’s economic crisis, Schemel has urged the government to sell off highly subsidized state companies. The proposal (also supported by veteran leftist Eleazar Díaz Rangel, the Chavista editor of a major newspaper, Ultimas Noticias) touches a raw nerve among Chavista stalwarts, who see it as a betrayal of Chávez’s legacy. In a speech at the ANC on August 9, 2017, Schemel called for recognition of the importance of the market and the lifting of price controls. The latter proposal, however, would be untenable for the popular classes, whose purchasing power has declined precipitously in recent years. Nevertheless, Schemel is right to point out that given the fundamentally capitalist structure of the Venezuelan economy, the government cannot ignore the reality of the market.
Close relations with “friendly” businesspeople may be a necessary part of a democratic and peaceful socialist strategy, but their damaging effects, most visibly corruption and cronyism, must be expected and combated. If the Venezuelan experience is any indication, such scourges are inevitable: for example, efforts to enforce transparent bidding procedures for public works contracts, meant to safeguard against overpriced projects, have often been sidetracked. Chavistas argue privately that the traditional bourgeoisie, while no ally of the government, wins the lion’s share of such contracts by virtue of its greater capital and experience compared to those of “emerging,” “friendly” businesspeople. Evidently for that reason, the government granted lucrative contracts to the Brazilian conglomerate Odebrecht, with close ties to Lula da Silva’s Workers Party, for megaprojects such as bridge and rail construction, while pointing out that smaller “emerging” Venezuelan businesses were unequipped for such large undertakings. The infamous scandal that has since enveloped Odebrecht and other firms, as well as the Workers Party, implicates leading political figures throughout the continent, including Venezuelan politicians of many political stripes. All of this underscores the urgent need for effective popular and institutional controls, as I discuss below.
Party and State

In early 2007, Chávez created the PSUV, which soon signed up 7 million members throughout the nation. As a mass-based party committed to bottom-up participation and building links to social movements, the PSUV held great promise as the foundation for Venezuela’s new political model of participatory democracy, embodied in the constitution of 1999. The PSUV was designed to allow revolutionaries to navigate the old state, which was penetrated by forces of reaction, and at the same time to build a new state through gradual, non-violent means.
Throughout his presidency, Chávez lashed out at bureaucrats, including those in his own party, who held back popular participation and efficient execution of policies and programs. Toward the end of his life, he told his inner circle that the scourge of bureaucratism had to be aggressively confronted: “Prepare yourselves. I am directing this initiative at my own ranks, my own government.” To Maduro, he demanded “a hundred inspection teams or more if necessary. If I have to remove someone, bring them to trial, or order a probe, then that’s what I’ll do.”5
Chávez himself, however, shared responsibility for the bureaucratic morass. Given the inability of the existing state to establish effective checks and balances, the PSUV was in an ideal position to independently monitor and combat inefficiency, obstruction, and corruption. But from the outset, Chávez in effect made the party an appendage of the state, with most of its leaders at all levels also serving in the government. Now, ten years later, the party’s president, vice president and twenty-two national committee members are nearly all ministers, governors, legislators, and others connected to the state.
While long on rhetoric about “participatory democracy,” the PSUV leadership nevertheless discourages criticism from the rank and file. As in past party primaries, the campaign for the National Constituent Assembly elections on July 30, 2017, saw the PSUV leadership use its influence and resources to favor certain candidates and trusted supporters. Critical Chavista candidates should have been given greater opportunities, such as increased airtime on the TV channel Venezolana de Televisión and other state media outlets, or public forums open to all candidates.
One such reliable but critical candidate, elected to the ANC, was Julio Escalona, an iconic guerrilla of the 1960s, who raised the key issue of corruption and called for the seizure of all assets obtained by illicit means. Escalona also warned against PSUV control of the ANC: “The government will be well represented in the ANC and that is logical.… But the government and the parties have a tendency to control everything. For the sake of the people and including the government and the PSUV, the ANC should not be dominated by a sectarian current.”6
Providing opportunities and opening space for Chavista activists and grassroots leaders who are committed but not beholden to the party machine would be an intelligent strategy, both to restore some of the popular energy of the Chávez years and to counter the right’s recent offensive. Such an approach would stop short of a “revolution in the revolution,” involving a thorough shake-up of the bureaucracy—an unfeasible approach in the current moment of acute political confrontation. In this sense, the reinvigoration of Chavismo through relaxed controls on bottom-up participation represents the same tightrope-walking strategy, based on a realistic assessment of objective conditions and of the relative strength of hostile forces, that has informed the movement from the beginning.
Democracy and Government

Chavista rhetoric envisions a new type of democracy, based on direct popular participation in decision-making, that supersedes old models of representative government. Chavista leaders invoked this model to encourage participation in the ANC elections. In a May Day speech, Maduro justified his decision to convene the ANC as an effort to strengthen and deepen the participatory provisions of the constitution of 1999. As proof of the feasibility of these “new forms of direct democracy,” Maduro pointed to such initiatives as the system of community distribution of basic food items (known as the Local Distribution and Production Committees, or CLAPs) and the communes, which organize and direct economic activity within cities and neighborhoods.
Although the CLAPs and communes suggest the great potential of direct participation, both are in an incipient stage. Similarly, the system of “social controllership,” another example of direct participation, has not come to full fruition. Under this arrangement, the community, through the communal councils first created in 2006, monitors public works projects to ensure that public money is properly allocated and spent. Social controllership, and the communal councils in general, have encouraged the participation of large numbers of formerly marginalized Venezuelans and engendered a sense of empowerment, but their performance at the national level has been uneven.7
Given this reality, the system of institutional checks and balances conventionally associated with liberal or constitutional democracy cannot be readily discarded. Accountability is particularly important because Venezuela’s political system has always been skewed in favor of executive power, and even more so under the Chavistas. In addition, with the loosening of rules for bidding on public contracts, discussed above, other types of institutional checks and guarantees need to be developed. In one example of a failed effort to tighten controls, legislation in 2009 allowed the National Controllership to review the finances of the communal councils, but the provision has been a dead letter.
As long as direct democracy remains a work in progress, old institutional controls should be retained and, where necessary, modified, but not abandoned. The central challenge remains “to walk a fine line between grassroots movements and state institutions,” which, in the words of George Ciccariello-Maher, Chávez was uniquely able to do.8 Inside the PSUV itself, direct democracy is not just a guiding vision but an immediate imperative. Even improved institutional controls within the state would not guarantee transparency and accountability. The effort to combat corruption requires that the governing party become internally democratic, participatory, and semi-autonomous in its relations with the government.
Loyalty and Sectarianism

The experience of the general strike of 2002–03 taught the Chavista leadership the importance of loyalty, but the incident may have been a case of “overlearning.” After the strike, Chávez fired 17,000 technical and professional oil company employees who had paralyzed production in the industry to spur regime change. Their replacements, most of whom lacked their predecessors’ expertise, succeeded in restarting production. To many of the president’s supporters, the episode suggested that skill was dispensable, but loyalty, which became a Chavista catchword, was not. Chávez’s and Maduro’s frequent rotation of cabinet ministers, who often lacked any background in the ministries they were appointed to serve, appeared to affirm this disregard for technical ability.
The overemphasis on loyalty has also fomented sectarianism and intolerance, and political fealty can serve as a cover for corruption. A favorite slogan of both Chávez and Maduro, “Unity, Unity and More Unity,” is often used to exhort followers to close ranks and set aside internal criticism to focus on facing down a ruthless enemy. This call for unity above all else appears especially relevant after the recent defection of several leading Chavistas from the PSUV. One such figure is Giordani, who since Chávez’s death has been sharply critical of Maduro’s government. But a distinction should be drawn between leftist adversaries of the government, such as Giordani and the group Marea Socialista, and leftists who give it critical support, such as former commerce minister Eduardo Samán. The latter, who was removed from office by Chávez and later again by Maduro, has made clear that revolutionaries cannot always air their criticisms publicly, and that party discipline must take precedence. However, the PSUV’s failure to recognize Samán’s leadership prompted him to leave the party in June to join an allied group, Patria Para Todos, and then run as a candidate for the ANC. At the same time, Samán chided Giordani for his excessive condemnations of the party, adding: “I also have my criticisms but I am not going public. At this moment we have to prioritize unity because the whole [revolutionary] process is on the line.” Samán’s exit from the PSUV confirms that Maduro, much more than Chávez, has been overly hostile to critics on the left, both within and beyond the movement. One Chavista activist I interviewed faulted Maduro for being at times “sectarian,” and pointed to Mao’s “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People” as a guide for resolving the movement’s internal differences.9
Social Justice and Productivity

There were sound political reasons for Chávez to prioritize social programs over economic objectives during his first years in office. Had he not, the country’s poor and working-class populations might not have rallied so actively to his cause during the two attempts to topple his government in 2002. Not surprisingly, the government’s flagship social programs date back to the aftermath of the 2002–03 general strike. In his later years, Chávez gave greater weight to policies to promote economic development, as has Maduro, who responded to the economic downturn in 2014 by prioritizing efforts to transform the nation’s rentier, oil-based economy. If Venezuela is typical of what can be expected when leftist governments in the global South take power by electoral means, the sequence will be first the prioritization of social objectives in response to political perils, and then a shift to a strategy designed to face economic challenges. Thus consolidation of power and stability is the initial task, requiring an emphasis on social provision in order to buttress the left’s mass base of support.
But in certain respects, Chávez went overboard in his focus on social goals at the expense of economic ones in the early years of his presidency. His constitutional reform proposal of 2007, for example, included a reduction of the legal work week from forty-four to thirty-six hours. Such a drastic cut threatened to stunt Venezuela’s economic growth, as it would that of any industrializing country. Likewise, at the level of discourse, Chávez’s liberal use of slogans such as “the sea of happiness” and “humanistic socialism” failed to prepare Venezuelans for the toil and struggle that lay ahead, particularly when international oil prices declined. Indeed, the overriding need to overcome the nation’s dependence on oil may not have been an immediate priority in Chávez’s early years, but from the outset the challenge had to be faced, albeit not privileged. There is a lesson to be learned: stages whereby certain objectives are prioritized over others have to be defined for each period, but at the same time, future stages need to be anticipated, both at the level of policy and discourse.
A particularly thorny problem of strategy and timing arises from the drive for social justice and equality. Both are guiding ideals of the Chavista movement, and account for much of the support it enjoys among the country’s non-privileged and marginalized populations, such as members of the informal economy. In itself, this “humanistic” aspect of socialism is not a point of contention within the Chavista movement. Internal debate, however, has centered on the need for collective discipline and sacrifice, and on the poor administrative and economic performance of the state sector. Within any socialist government, tension sometimes arises between efforts to achieve equality and social justice on the one hand, and efficiency, productivity, and labor discipline on the other, even as the two sets of goals are reconcilable and in some ways interrelated.10
A case in point is the practice of outsourcing, which Chávez decried. His opposition to outsourcing in part prompted him to nationalize the foreign-owned steel company SIDOR in 2008, and to expropriate contractor companies in the oil industry, and eventually to outlaw the practice altogether in the Organic Labor Law of 2012. The issue in Venezuela, however, is not always cut and dried. On the one hand, the incorporation of tens of thousands of outsourced workers by state companies is an inspiration for labor movements around the world. On the other, some workers who have raised the banners of social justice associated with Chávez and demanded to be added to the payroll of the state oil company, PDVSA, are not permanently employed in the oil industry. Since 1998, PDVSA’s workforce has more than tripled, from 40,000 to over 150,000.
The tension between social justice and socialist efficiency plays out on other fronts. One issue is the widespread practice of granting free or excessively low-priced goods and services to poor and working-class communities. The case for the policy is compelling, namely that the government has a responsibility to pay what Chavistas call the “social debt” owed to the most exploited sectors. Yet such artificially low prices on goods produced by state companies undermine their ability to achieve self-sufficiency, and are partly responsible for the chronic scarcity of many products and the emergence of an exploitative black market. This dilemma partly explains why companies that Chávez expropriated after 2007 to achieve “food sovereignty” have been unable to fill the gap left by politically motivated disinvestment by the private sector in recent years.
When to Act

If the aggression and intransigence of Venezuela’s opposition has limited the government’s options and forced it to make concessions, then those moments when the Chavistas have the upper hand represent special opportunities for progress and reform. In such situations, four objectives—all of which come at a price, but only in the short run—stand out as achievable: economic transformation; combating corruption and inefficient bureaucracies; internal democratization; and the weakening of adversaries. Chávez took advantage of the favorable juncture after his triumph in the 2006 presidential elections, when he won 63 percent of the vote, the largest in modern Venezuelan history. Not only did he nationalize strategic industries, but he created the PSUV and delivered a heavy blow to his adversaries on the right.
In contrast, Maduro missed a valuable opportunity in mid-2014, when the Chavistas were in an ideal position after defeating the opposition’s three-month guarimba protests and winning municipal elections by an impressive margin. At the time, Maduro vowed to undertake a “revolutionary shakeup” of his cabinet, prompting expectations that fresh faces would be brought in and new policies initiated. The announcement of these changes, however, was postponed several times, and when, on September 2, the appointments were finally made official, they amounted to merely a musical-chairs reshuffling of cabinet ministers. Concurrently, oil prices began to plunge, and a golden opportunity was lost.
The convening of the ANC may provide another favorable juncture for the Chavistas. At the time of this writing, in August 2017, the opposition has been worn down after three months of guarimba protests even more violent than those of 2014. In addition, opposition leaders are divided over whether to participate in upcoming gubernatorial and municipal elections. Finally, given their sheer number, the 550 delegates to the ANC may be less subject to party control than are National Assembly deputies. Consequently, they may be more inclined to speak out against corruption and bureaucracy and in favor of initiatives to revive the economy.
Summing Up

The failure of the numerous attempts to topple the Maduro government is due largely to the support the Chavistas still enjoy among the country’s popular sectors and the armed forces. The campaigns of violence in 2014 and 2017 have been predicated on the assumption that disruptions in wealthy municipalities run by opposition mayors would spread to the barrios, or trigger a military coup. Neither has happened. With a few exceptions, the working classes and the poor have refrained from joining the guarimba, despite considerable discontent at the country’s economic crisis and the long tradition of barrio political resistance.11
In formulating a strategy toward the armed forces, Chávez assimilated the century-long experience of earlier Latin American progressive governments, whose lack of an organized following in the military left them without a counterweight to right-wing officers.12 Recognizing this reality, Chávez promoted “Bolivarian” officers, who identified with the movement, to commanding positions, with the result that the military now defines itself as anti-imperialist, socialist, and Chavista.
Maduro has played hardball in the face of the latest campaign to unseat his government. Not only has he jailed opposition leaders for inciting violence, but he has mobilized his own supporters to counter opposition-led street protests. In doing so, Maduro breaks with a tradition of sorts among Latin American progressive governments, which historically have put up little resistance to right-wing insurgencies: notable examples include Rómulo Gallegos in Venezuela in 1948, Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Juan Domingo Perón in Argentina in 1955, João Goulart in Brazil in 1964, and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973.
Maduro’s perseverance is inherited from Chávez, who realized long before his election as president that state power is of central importance in the struggle for socialism, and its achievement must take precedence over other considerations. Maduro is thus at odds with those on the left and beyond who argue that the Chavistas should be willing to relinquish power now that the government’s popularity is well under 50 percent.
But gaining and keeping power is not enough to make a revolution. According to the Chavista strategy, an old state and a new one will, in the words of Marta Harnecker, an unofficial advisor to Chávez, “coexist for a long time.” This approach contrasts with Lenin’s classic “dual power” strategy, in which the old state is considered enemy territory. Nevertheless, Harnecker recognizes that while it is legitimate for leftists to work within the old state, it has a corrupting influence. The only solution is for the “organized movement…[to] exert pressure on the inherited state.”13 Greek Marxist Nicos Poulantzas, who theorized along similar lines, pointed to autonomous social movements as the essential element exerting that pressure.14
In Venezuela, however, social movements—for indigenous rights, gender equality, environmental justice, and more—have traditionally been weak. This distinguishes it from a country like Bolivia, where the governing Movement toward Socialism party of Evo Morales emerged from such movements. In the absence of strong and independent grassroots groups, the key element in the Venezuelan process is thus the party. To combat bureaucracy, corruption, and inefficiency, the PSUV must become more independent of the state and more internally democratic.
Two fundamental challenges face the governing party in this drive for greater autonomy and internal participation by a committed and well-informed membership. First, if left unchecked, the government’s relationship with sectors of the bourgeoisie will solidify and continue to undermine the leadership’s socialist commitments. Second, if it is necessary to walk a tactical tightrope when the left finds itself on the defensive, the specifics of that strategy require input from those closest to the mood of the people. Decision-making cannot be the exclusive preserve of the party’s national leadership, still less of the president’s inner circle. A truly democratic party is essential in Venezuela not only as a matter of principle, but because the very survival of the country’s revolutionary process depends on it.

  1. Jacobin andNACLA: Report on the Americas have each published articles both for and against the “plague on both your houses” position. For a representative “for” argument, see Gabriel Heitland, “Why Is Venezuela Spiraling out of Control?Jacobin, May 14, 2017. Marea Socialista worked as a faction within the PSUV from the party’s founding in 2007. In 2014, after taking an increasingly critical stance toward the government, MS announced its intention to become a separate political party.
  2. Ignacio Ramonet, “One Hundred Hours with Chávez,” in Hugo Chávez with Ramonet,My First Life (London: Verso, 2016), xxxiv.
  3. Luis Bilbao,Venezuela en Revolución: Renacimiento del Socialismo (Buenos Aires: Capital Intelectual, 2008), 182, 195–96.
  4. Víctor Alvarez, “Cambio en el gabinete,”El Mundo, August 5, 2016.
  5.  “Chávez: Tengo moral para exigirle a mi equipo eficiencia,” YouTube, November 5, 2012. In his last famous speech, Chávez also scolded those in charge of implementing policy for failing to promote direct democracy through the establishment of communes. Chávez,Golpe de Timón (Caracas: Edición Correo del Orinoco, 2012), 17–21. See also John Bellamy Foster, “Chávez and the Communal State: On the Transition to Socialism in Venezuela,”Monthly Review 66, no. 11 (April 2015): 1–17.
  6. Julio Escalona, “¿Una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente para la Simple Negación, para la Venganza?” Aporrea, July 14, 2017, http://aporrea.org.
  7. For a brief discussion of the uneven performance of the communal councils and communes, see Steve Ellner, “Social Programs in Venezuela under the Chavista Governments,” Next System Project, August 7, 2017, http://thenextsystem.org.
  8. George Ciccariello-Maher,Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela (London: Verso, 2016), 77.
  9. Felipe Rangel, interview with the author, Puerto La Cruz, July 11, 2017.
  10. Jorge Arreaza, interview with the author, Barcelona, Venezuela, July 14, 2017.
  11. For a vivid history and analysis of protests in Caracas’s famed 23 de Enero barrio in recent decades, see Alejandro Velasco,Barrio Rising: Urban Popular Politics and the Making of Modern Venezuela (Berkeley, CA: university of California Press, 2015).
  12. Before 1998, it was a notorious fact that most high-ranking officers were sympathizers of one of the two establishment parties, Democratic Action and Copei. Not even the moderately leftist Movement toward Socialism (MAS) was allowed any influence within the military.
  13. Marta Harnecker, “Latin America and Twenty-First Century Socialism: Inventing to Avoid Mistakes,”Monthly Review 62, no. 3 (July–August 2010): 42.
  14. For a discussion of the application of Poulantzas’s thinking to the Chavista experience, see Steve Ellner, “Implications of Marxist State Theories and How They Play Out in Venezuela,”Historical Materialism 25, no. 2 (2017): 29–62.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

“MARXIST THEORIES OF THE STATE PLAYED OUT IN VENEZUELA” – Expanded version of an article originally published in Historical Materialism


 by Steve Ellner
An abridged version of this article was published in Historical Materialism, volume 25, no. 2, 2017, pages 29-62
The implications of Marxist state theories developed by Nicos Poulantzas and Ralph Miliband are useful for framing issues related to leftist strategy in twenty-first century Venezuela. A relationship exists between each of the theories and three issues facing the Chavista movement: whether the bourgeoisie (or sectors of it) displays a sense of ‘class consciousness’; the viability of tactical and strategic alliances between the left and groups linked to the capitalist structure; and whether socialism is to be achieved through stages, abrupt revolutionary changes, or ongoing state radicalization over a period of time. During Poulantzas’ lifetime, his concept of the state as a ‘strategic battlefield’ lent itself to the left’s promotion of ‘strategic alliances’ with parties to its right. The same concept is compatible with the ‘process of change’ in Venezuela, in which autonomous movements play a fundamental role in transforming the old state and the construction of new state structures.

Keywords: Ralph Miliband; Louis Althusser; Nicos Poulantzas; Hugo Chávez; Fedecámaras; instrumentalism; ‘national democratic revolution’

Hugo Chávez’s declaration of adherence to socialism in January 2005 set off a discussion within his movement and outside of it about the nature of the state in the transition from capitalist to socialist systems. Theories associated with Louis Althusser, Ralph Miliband and Nicos Poulantzas, which generated excitement in the 1960s and 1970s, then lost their appeal in the heyday of neoliberalism but have since rebounded[1], serve as foundation blocks to frame issues and understand the debate within the Chavista movement as well as the different paths and options currently under consideration. What makes the Venezuelan case insightful is that conditions in the nation for achieving socialism in a democratic setting were in some ways immensely more propitious than those facing the Eurocommunist movements that inspired and were inspired by Poulantzas. In fact, they were undoubtedly unmatched by any other country whose government has been truly committed to democratic socialism. These circumstances make the examination of Marxist state theories against the backdrop of Venezuelan events particularly compelling.
The following work examines the applicability of the three Marxist theories on the state: ‘instrumentalism’ (associated with Ralph Miliband), ‘structural Marxism’ (associated with Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas) and ‘the relational approach’ (associated with Poulantzas). A series of exchanges between Miliband and Poulantzas between 1969 and 1976 published in New Left Review sheds light on the contrast between instrumentalism and structural Marxism. Poulantzas subsequently developed a new theory on the state that differed in fundamental ways from his earlier formulations. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to Poulantzas’ structural Marxist stage as ‘Poulantzas I’ and the relational theory he developed toward the end of his life as ‘Poulantzas II’.
The article discusses the implications of the three Marxist state theories with regard to leftist analysis and strategy. Specifically, it posits a relationship between views on the nature of the state and the following three issues analyzed by all three theorists and currently facing the Chavista movement: whether the actions of the bourgeoisie (or sectors of the bourgeoisie) manifest ‘class consciousness;’ the viability of tactical or strategic alliances forged by the left with political and economic groups linked to varying degrees to the capitalist structure; and whether socialism is to be achieved through a revolution in the form of one abrupt change, through stages or through an ongoing process of state radicalization. 
The article is original in that it systematically compares the political implications of the three major Marxist theories on the state with regard to three critical issues and then applies the analysis to a specific country.  The approach has positive and negative sides. On the positive side, the application of state theories to conditions that are so profoundly different from those of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s only enhances the usefulness of the intra-Marxist debate of those years. On the other hand, the approach is risky in that the focus on implications goes beyond the explicit positions of all three writers, none of whom addressed the types of challenges faced by third-world countries and those of twenty-first century Venezuela in particular. 
The work deals not only with theoretical debate, but also the specifics of the relationship between the capitalist structure in Venezuela and a government committed to a strategy of mobilization and struggle to achieve socialism. Separate subsections deal with the stormy relations between the Chavista government and business sectors, including its attempt to privilege and promote the growth of ‘progressive’ businesspeople as well as its reaction to what it calls ‘the economic war’ resulting in shortages of basic commodities, contraband and hoarding. These conflicts form the context for the discussion of the issues of the ‘class consciousness’ of the bourgeoisie (as defined by the active defence of long-term systemic interests), the ‘class consciousness of the so-called ‘progressive bourgeoisie’ and the relationship between the state and the capitalist structure. The analysis relates directly to the state theories developed by Miliband, Althusser and Poulantzas in a political context radically different from that of Venezuela in the twenty-first century. 
The fundamental issue for the Venezuelan left that emerges from the article, and is of overriding importance at the time of its completion in 2015, is the role of the government of President Nicolás Maduro in contributing to the achievement of socialism. Indeed, many on the left are asking the following questions that are germane to the article: Have the links between the state and the capitalist structure been so reinforced due to alliances with business and institutionalized corruption as to rule out the possibility of steps in the direction of socialism? Does such a failure demonstrate that the small ‘revolutionary breaks’ occurring under Chávez – a process envisioned by Poulantzas as a substitute for the forceful seizure of power– were insufficient for paving the way for socialism? Or can the ‘old state’ headed by the Chavistas play a complementary or contributing role, along with social movements and the rank and file of the Chavista party, in deepening the process of change, in accordance with Poulantzas’ thinking? The article does not pretend to provide the answers. Its main assertion is that state Marxist theories help frame issues that are useful, if not essential, for reaching all-important conclusions regarding the Chavista experience in Venezuela. 
The article’s comparative approach faces a central obstacle. The three Marxist state theories have been interpreted in different ways, each holding distinct implications for state analysis and leftist strategy. This diversity is further complicated by the modifications in the thinking of Althusser, Poulantzas and (though to a lesser extent) Miliband in the course of relatively short periods of time.[2] The proliferation of ideas threatens to undermine the usefulness of the three theories as points of reference to frame issues with regard to the state, social classes and political strategy. The difficulty should not be surprising and is not confined to comparative analyses on the state. An attempt to compare and contrast the historical experiences of leftist political movements such as Trotskyism, Maoism, orthodox Communism and social democracy, for instance, would face a similar challenge. For a study along these lines to be viable given the vast number of factions on the left, the author would have to define and focus on the predominant overall positions associated with each one of the four movements. 
For each of the three state theories analyzed in this article, I have chosen the Marxist line of thinking that is predominant and that sharpens the contrasts in accordance with the study’s basic objective. Instrumentalism will be defined along the lines of the ‘hard instrumentalism’, which minimizes state autonomy, an approach that does not completely coincide with the works of Miliband.[3] To a much greater extent, ‘hard instrumentalism’ differs from the instrumentalism of non-Marxists who centre their analysis on the disproportionate influence of capitalists on policy making, but leaves the defence of the capitalist system out of the picture.[4] In doing so, they ignore the ‘class consciousness’ of the capitalist class, a feature that is central to the thinking of the Marxist instrumentalists, as is demonstrated in the article. 
Similarly, my discussion of structural Marxism is based on ‘hard structuralism’. That current highlights the unbending economic logic of capitalism, including market imperatives, found in the writings of Poulantzas I. More than Althusser, Poulantzas was concerned with the state’s economic functions[5], as opposed to ‘softer’ versions of structuralism represented by Fred Block, who envisioned considerable room for state manoeuvring.[6] 
In spite of cogent objections to the identification of Miliband with “hard” instrumentalism, and of Poulantzas and Althusser with “hard” structuralism, both sets of theoretical formulations – as well as the positions the three theoreticians assumed in contemporary European politics – are useful for understanding leftist debate in Venezuela. Not only were instrumentalism and structuralism as defined in this article well represented among Venezuelan leftists, but both models shed light on the relationship between each of the three issues to be discussed below.” 
The following subsections shed light on the relationship between each one of the three state theories and their positions on the three critical issues in the setting of developed nations, particularly Europe in the 1970s. The discussion of the three state theories helps provide a broader perspective for the three polemical issues that the article will then analyze in the Venezuelan context: the strategy of alliances designed by leftists with forces to their right; the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie; and the nature of the transition to socialism. 
1. Marxist Instrumentalism: Rejection of Alliances with Social Democratic Movements and Sectors of the Bourgeoisie
The Marxist instrumentalists argue that the basic role of the state is to defend capitalist class interests, although they fail to distinguish between immediate and long-term ones. More than any other writing, they cite the Communist Manifesto’s famous axiom that ‘the executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie’. Instrumentalists interpret this statement as meaning that the state represents an ‘executive committee or direct instrument of the ruling class’.[7] The latter phrase implies a close and simple nexus between the state and the capitalist class and has been defended by hard leftist currents, including orthodox Marxists, Trotskyists and anarchists.[8] The Marxist instrumentalists (and some non-Marxist ones such as William Domhoff) explain the state’s pro-business behaviour by documenting the myriad interlocking ties between those who hold political and economic power. Examples include campaign contributions and exclusive circles taking in both political and economic elites, such as social clubs and forums designed to formulate government policy. In short, the function of the state is to uphold bourgeois interests and it does so because of its intricate ties with the capitalist class. 
In analyzing the relations between the capitalist structure and the state, a distinction needs to be made between personal and conscious forms of control, on the one hand, and spontaneous mechanisms generated by market considerations, on the other. Disinvestment in response to government policies perceived to be adverse to private sector interests may be the result of a campaign waged by business groups for political purposes or the lack of incentive to invest.[9]  Instrumentalists focus on the former and in the process assume that the bourgeoisie is class conscious and fairly cohesive.[10] In general, the point of departure of instrumentalist thinking is the cohesiveness and class consciousness of the bourgeoisie that as a result is capable of exerting a direct unmatched influence on the state to a degree unrecognized by structural Marxism. 
This article is concerned with ‘hard instrumentalism’, which emphasizes the closeness of the ties between economic and political elites. The links intersect the state at many levels and not just at the top. Consequently, hard or ‘crude’ instrumentalism tends to minimize the potential of the state for significant autonomy, a position defended by Paul Sweezy[11], for instance, when he called it ‘an instrument at the hands of the ruling class for enforcing and guaranteeing the stability of the class structure itself’’. In contrast to the ‘hard instrumentalists’, Miliband criticized many Marxists for underestimating state autonomy, though he faulted Marx and Engels for overestimating it.[12]  
Marx and Engels addressed the issue of state autonomy in their analysis of absolutist regimes that were independent of the bourgeoisie while serving its class interests (specifically the phenomenon of Bonapartism represented by Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte). In the twentieth century, Marxist discussion of situations of pronounced state assertion of autonomy largely focused on governments of social democratic parties (as well as fascist ones) whose social base was the petty bourgeoisie and sectors of the working class (Miliband, 1969, 96-118; Block, 1977, 17-19). While there is nothing incompatible between instrumentalism and recognition that social democratic governments can achieve greater autonomy than conservative ones, the instrumentalists manifest a degree of scepticism. Miliband, for instance, pointed out that the British Labour Party government following World War II was staffed with ‘precisely the same civil servants who had served its predecessors’, while ‘official advisors’ of the past also played a key role (Miliband, 1969, 111). Nevertheless, Miliband stopped short of characterizing the state as enemy territory and opposing any strategy of working within it in order to achieve leftist objectives. He recognized that at the local level, social democratic middle class elected officials ‘may well do much for their working-class electorates’, although he added that in these municipalities ‘not much is done by the working classes’.[13] 
Political developments beginning in the 1980s under the influence of neoliberalism have favoured the instrumentalist thesis and resultant strategies. In the first place, in the advanced capitalist countries, the political establishment’s general shift to the right has resulted in what one journalist called ‘the death of the liberal class’.[14] This trend calls to question the state’s capacity to distance itself from the capitalist structure and the viability of leftist strategies of support for pro-system politicians. A second factor which points to the ‘class consciousness’ of the capitalist class in accordance with instrumentalist thinking is the blatant links between political and economic elites that surpass those documented by Domhoff, C. Wright Mills, Ferdinand Lundberg and others in the post-war era.[15] In the U.S., the 2010 ‘Citizens United’ decision of the Supreme Court further opened the floodgates for big money in politics, while two years later the number of millionaire congresspeople for the first time represented a majority in Congress. In the third place, Miliband noted the recent rise of a ‘new breed of technocrats’ belonging ‘exclusively neither to the world of government nor to the world of business’; as a result ‘the boundaries between these worlds are increasingly blurred and indistinct’.[16] Their replacement of professional civil servants formed in the Weberian tradition reinforced the personal and tangible tie-in between the private sector and the state in accordance with the instrumentalist analysis. The privatization of many government services including intelligence gathering and the military has further strengthened these bonds.  
Observers generally agreed that Poulantzas won the debate with Miliband, whose positions lent themselves to strategies further to the left on the political spectrum and who envisioned a state with less autonomy than did the structural Marxists.[17] Nevertheless, the above-mentioned recent trends would indicate that what I call ‘hard instrumentalism’ has greater current relevance than in the past and the acceptance of its arguments and line of thinking is not confined to a leftist fringe.[18] While theoretical debate has gone beyond hard instrumentalism by generally positing a significant degree of state autonomy and specificity[19], political analyses by leftists and non-leftists have documented the increasingly tenacious links between political and economic elites in order to explain political developments in the age of neoliberalism. 
In order to determine the implications of the instrumentalist view for the left’s strategy of alliance formation, a distinction needs to be made between moderate social democrats lacking in commitment to thoroughgoing structural change and radical social democrats. The latter are characterized by charisma and have considerable mobilization capacity. They tend to be ‘outsiders’ who previous to becoming president often refused to compromise with those close to the seats of power. Examples in Latin America would include Fidel Castro when he reached power in 1959 and Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in Colombia at the time of his assassination in 1948. Both were radicals who had nevertheless clashed with the Communist Party and had affirmed social democratic credentials by publicly disassociating themselves from the left. Another example is Hugo Chávez, an ‘outsider’ who at the time of his election in 1998 explicitly embraced the ‘third way’ politics of Anthony Giddens.[20] 
I would argue that instrumentalists including those of the ‘hard’ variety could have well recognized the revolutionary potential of Gaitán in 1948, Castro in 1959 and Chávez in 1998 and their possible assertion of state autonomy vis-à-vis the capitalist structure. Leftist instrumentalists would thus not have ruled out alliances with those leaders at the time. At the same time, however, instrumentalists consider moderate social democratic governments as so intricately linked to the power structure as to be undeserving of leftist support of any type. Consequently hard instrumentalism is adverse to tactical or strategic alliances with moderate social democrats and in the U.S. would rule out endorsement of, or understandings with, Democratic Party politicians.
2. Structural Marxism: Support for Tactical Alliances
Miliband’s writing offered an empirical explanation for what Marxism had always maintained, namely that the capitalist structure is inextricably tied to the state superstructure. In contrast, structural Marxism represented an original thesis that attempted to explain why capitalism has proved so resilient as to have survived political and economic crises (such as in 1918 and the 1930s) that many leftists at the time presumed would spell the system’s doom.[21] Structural Marxists argued that the state’s overriding function is to guarantee the stability of the system and its long-term survival. For this purpose, the state mediates between bourgeois and working class interests and regulates, rather than attempting to eliminate, class conflict. In the process, the state displays a degree of autonomy on the economic front through the implementation of reforms – as it does on the ideological front, as opposed to the repressive apparatus.[22] The concept of the relative autonomy of the state was reinforced by Althusser’s theory of ‘overdetermination’ in which the multiplicity of relationships involving the structure and superstructure endows the latter (in this case, the state) with a degree of autonomy. Poulantzas, more than Miliband, recognized the semi-autonomous status of the state and not only under the abnormal circumstances of Bonapartist, fascist or social democratic rule, but as a normal feature of democratic government.[23]
Nevertheless, Poulantzas, Althusser and other structural Marxists recognized (as did Marx) that to fulfil its function of guaranteeing the survival of capitalism the state facilitates the reproduction of the relations of production and the accumulation of capital. For Poulantzas in particular, ‘the functioning of the markets… imprisons decision-making’.[24] This very system logic makes it incumbent on the state to privilege bourgeois economic interests (though not necessarily by promoting their short-term profits) since a favourable investment climate secures ‘business confidence’ and stimulates capital accumulation.[25]  In short, in spite of well-defined constraints the state maintains a degree of autonomy vis-à-vis the capitalist structure on matters of economic policy at the same time that it is unyielding in its defence of the long-term interests and survival of capitalism. 
The structural Marxist concept of the state’s role and functions has implications for leftist strategy. The state’s relative autonomy on economic matters, as posited by Poulantzas I and others, lends itself to the left’s prioritization of reformist objectives[26] including tactical alliances with moderate parties and occasional endorsement of moderate candidates. Nevertheless, the intractable link between the state and the capitalist structure that structural Marxism envisions (and is even more binding than in the concept of the state formulated by instrumentalism) would rule out tight-knit alliances of a strategic nature on the part of the left when out of power with moderates that have ties with sectors of the bourgeoisie. 
The experiences of the Communist Parties of France (PCF) and the United States (CPUSA) in their relations with parties to their right serve to illustrate the distinction between ‘strategic’ alliances, on the one hand, and ‘tactical’ alliances and support, on the other, and its significance with regard to structural Marxism’s state theory. While strategic alliances are long-lasting and based on a range of basic common denominators, tactical alliances are fragile and less likely to survive the test of time. 
The structural Marxist theory of the state contemplated the viability of economic reforms without altering the structure of the capitalist system and thus lent itself to the PCF’s tactical alliance with the Socialist Party based on a reformist platform. Like the post-war British Labour Party analyzed by Miliband, the Socialist Party rejected a complete break with capitalism and had ties with the economic elite. The stormy relations between the PCF and the Socialists in the 1970s culminated in the 1981 presidential elections when the criticisms of PCF candidate George Marchais against Socialist candidate Francois Mitterrand were, at least at first, nearly as intense as those he formulated against his conservative rivals. In the second round, however, the Communists allied with the Socialists who emerged victorious. Given their mutual distrust, the PCF-Socialist alliance known as the ‘Common Program’ could not be called ‘strategic’, at least by the definition provided in this essay. 
The difference between strategic and tactical alliances with regard to Communist-Socialist relations was a major issue of contention within the PCF, which Althusser was an active member of and which Poulantzas as a French resident closely followed. The popular front against fascism, which actually originated in France in 1934, served as a point of reference in the discussion during the 1960s and 1970s. The experience of the popular front was a counterweight to the dogmatism associated with ‘Stalinism’, against which Althusser’s writing in certain respects represented a reaction. Indeed, Althusser was considered influential in the initiation of the discussion within the PCF on inter-party relations.[27] Althusser held the PCF’s leadership in high regard (in spite of some well-publicized differences between the two) and thus failed to break with it in the late 1960s when he appeared to be closer to Chinese positions and ended up accepting its criticism of his critique of ideology.[28] The respect ended at the time of the Communist-Socialist feud in 1978 and his own theoretical reformulations. 
Althusser, while supportive of alliances with moderate parties, warned of their limitations and dangers. In this sense, he shared the general distrust of PCF leaders toward the Socialist Party and was in agreement with their promotion of what I call in this essay a ‘tactical alliance’ between the two parties. In the 1960s, Althusser’s insistence on the predominance of the ‘structure’ over the ‘superstructure’ clashed with the humanistic Marxism as represented by Roger Garaudy, which was considered more compatible with the proposition of forging a strategic alliance with the Socialists. Indeed, some PCF leaders feared that Althusser’s positions would jeopardize the PCF’s ‘politics of unity’.[29] In Note on the ISAs published in 1970, Althusser argued that revolutionaries who enter into alliances with moderates end up ‘more often than not, subordinated to them’. Furthermore, ‘‘playing the game,’ [they] are ‘taken in’ by it, and abandon the class struggle in favour of class collaboration’. He concludes that ‘a communist party has no business entering the government of a bourgeois state… in order to ‘administer’ [its] affairs’, since its role is to ‘widen the scope of the class struggle and prepare for the fall of the bourgeois state’. In this sense the Communist Party is a ‘‘party of a new kind’, completely different from bourgeois parties’ (Althusser, 2014). These positions on the party, which were the logical consequence of Althusser’s structural theory of the state, may help explain why the PCF stopped short of maintaining solid working relations with the Socialist Party and developing a truly ‘strategic’ alliance to achieve long-term goals. 
 Another example of ‘tactical’ as opposed to ‘strategic’ support for moderate parties, as implied by the state theory of structural Marxism, is the historical position of the Communist Party USA toward the liberal wing of the Democratic Party dating back to the New Deal in the 1930s. The CPUSA showed preference for moderate and liberal Democrats (and particularly African-American politicians) over their Republican rivals. In doing so, it generally ruled out the ‘plague on both your houses’ approach that minimized differences between Democrats and Republicans. The CPUSA’s policy of ‘tactical support’ was at odds with two other positions defended by some Communist leaders. On the one hand, the policy of total repudiation of the Democratic Party was buttressed by the instrumentalist thesis on the intricate ties between pro-establishment parties and capitalist interests. On the other hand, long-lasting support for liberal Democrats (or a strategy of working within the Democratic Party) implied an attempt to forge a ‘strategic’ relationship. Thus, for instance, CPUSA general secretary Earl Browder, who promoted pro-New Deal positions in the 1930s, ended up calling for the dissolution of the Communist Party in order to facilitate convergences with the Democrats.[30] William Z. Foster, who had criticized Browder from the left during these years, replaced him at the helm of the CPUSA and promoted the third-party presidential candidacy of Henry Wallace in 1948 in opposition to what Communist leaders at the time called the ‘Wall Street controlled two-party system’.[31] The support for Wallace, which some Communists subsequently recognized as an error that helped pave the way for McCarthyism, was in line with the instrumentalist thesis. Although in future years the main CPUSA leaders occasionally endorsed Democratic candidates and generally favoured the Democratic over Republican Party, they rejected the proposal of critical party members such as Dorothy Healey to develop close working or ‘strategic’ relations with liberal Democrats. Healey, for instance, in the late 1960s criticized party leaders for underestimating the potential of liberals such as Eugene McCarthy, who some leftists claimed was intent on co-opting the mass movement.[32]
3. Poulantzas’ Relational Approach: Support for Strategic Alliances
 In State, Power, Socialism and other works published shortly before his untimely death in 1979, Poulantzas added another element to the structural Marxism he had previously defended. According to Poulantzas II, the capitalist structure is not just a relationship of domination, but a relationship of class struggle, a dimension which has to reflect itself in the state superstructure. Thus Poulantzas stated that ‘popular struggles traverse the state from top to bottom and in a mode quite other than penetration of an intrinsic entity from the outside’. In the same work he maintained that the state is ‘the condensation of class relations’ and a strategic field in which diverse social groups assert some form of presence; the influence of the popular sectors goes beyond mere outside interest group pressure.[33] Poulantzas even denied the monolithic nature of the repressive apparatus.[34] At the same time, however, he accepted the reminder of those Marxists who highlight the state’s relative autonomy that the capitalist structure is ‘in the last instance’ (a phrase frequently used by Althusser) the decisive element. To say otherwise would be to view the state as a ‘subject’ and endow it with ‘absolute autonomy’, as do, according to Poulantzas, the social democrats – contrary to the fundamental Marxist principle regarding the tie-in between structure and superstructure.[35] 
Poulantzas II’s theory of the state and class relations lent itself to strategic alliances between leftist socialists and political moderates to their right. In the first place, the state was more malleable and unstable – due in large part to the clashes among fractions of the bourgeoisie – than that envisioned by instrumentalists and structural Marxists. Thus any successful alliance opened the possibility of an ongoing process of its transformation in tandem with leftist inroads on the political and cultural fronts. In the second place, Poulantzas’ vision of a ‘long stage’ consisting of a series of ‘revolutionary breaks’ implied the feasibility of strategic alliances with social and political groups to the right of the Communist party. According to Poulantzas, this process contrasts with the scenario of one ‘big day’[36] when the revolution occurs in the form of an all-encompassing battle with the participation of only those most committed to the socialist cause. Just as the bourgeois state’s attempt to maintain hegemony and guarantee the long-term stability of the system implies a strategy of alliances along the lines envisioned by Gramsci, leftists in power also need to forge a new historic bloc based on alliances.
In the third place, Poulantzas II defined the working class narrowly along industrial lines while classifying much of the work force that does not produce surplus value (or ‘non-productive wage earners’) as middle class.[37] This conceptualization led him to call on the Communist left to go beyond a policy of concessions to a long-term strategy of winning over the middle class by recognizing the legitimacy of its differences with the proletariat and viewing them as ‘differences among the people’.[38] In short, the class relationships envisioned by Poulantzas underpinned a broad-based strategic alliance taking in the working and middle classes, as well as fractions of the bourgeoisie.  
Poulantzas applied his theoretical formulations to concrete political conditions in Europe by advocating strategic alliances of Communist Parties with social democratic ones to their right. These agreements were more all-encompassing than the tactical alliances implicit in structural Marxism in that, as Poulantzas II pointed out, they went beyond national electoral pacts to include convergences at the level of the rank and file and social organizations.[39] He criticized the PCF for failing to promote full- fledged unity and added that only a party shakeup would allow it to overcome the dogmatism and sectarianism that undermined cooperation with the Socialists. 
The state theory of Poulantzas II, unlike the structuralism of Poulantzas I and hard instrumentalism, was optimistic about the possibility of transforming the old state that is embedded in the capitalist system into an agent of socialism particularly in Europe of the 1970s.[40] Poulantzas II’s thinking served to justify the Eurocommunist strategy of forming strategic alliances with social democratic parties to its right for the purpose of gaining power through elections in order to bring about far-reaching change. In advocating this strategy, Poulantzas was encouraged by the structural crisis of capitalism that set in during the 1970s.[41] 
Conditions in Venezuela since Chávez’s advent to power have been more favourable for state-driven transformation by democratic peaceful means than those of Italy, Spain, Greece and other nations where Eurocommunism had an important presence in the 1970s. Indeed, this propitiousness ruled out the necessity of the type of strategic alliances with politically moderate parties promoted by the Eurocommunists. The applicability of Poulantzas II to Venezuela was noted in the prominent Marxist blog ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ in an analysis of State, Power, Socialism:Perhaps it says something that the only place where something like this [Poulantzas’] strategy has been implemented and yielded some gains - not socialism, of course - is the highly exceptional case of Venezuela where the struggle of the popular classes really has traversed the state right to the top with no serious reversal as yet in sight.  (Poulantzas as a co-author of ‘21st Century socialism’ - anyone?) But I think that if Poulantzas' superior insights are taken seriously, their logic is revolutionary’.[42] 
1. The Context: Venezuela’s Capitalist Structure and the Democratic Road to Socialism 
The following subsection on the relationship between the Chavista governments and the private sector serves to shed light on the implications of Marxist state theories as applied to the Venezuelan case. The three subsequent subsections will focus on the three critical issues that are the main concern of the article.
Several distinguishing features of Chavista rule enhanced the prospects for achieving state-led democratic socialism in Venezuela and have important implications for the Marxist state debate involving the writings of instrumentalists, Poulantzas I and Poulantzas II. In the first place, following two attempts to overthrow Chávez in 2002-2003, the national executive gained control of the nation’s two most important institutions: the armed forces and the state oil company PDVSA. In both cases, Chavista loyalists replaced leading members of the institution that had openly participated in the insurrectional movement. In the second place, windfall oil revenue provided the government with resources to pay for expropriations in strategic industries and the implementation of social programs promoting the empowerment of marginalized sectors of the population. 
Finally, the adversaries of the leftist government were in a particularly weak position as a result of blows received over the recent past. Thus, for instance, the disastrous impact of neoliberal policies of the 1990s discredited the pro-establishment political parties. Furthermore, the takeover of entire sectors of the economy by multinationals in the late 1980s and 1990s, which was more all-encompassing than elsewhere in the continent, weakened the Venezuelan private sector, itself subject to intense internal rivalry during the same period (Ortiz, 2004, 79-82). Similarly, the early twenty-first century witnessed the decline in the continental influence of the United States, as demonstrated by the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) proposal in 2005 and the emergence of unified Latin American organizations that rivalled the traditionally Washington-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). 
These favourable factors, which fed into Chávez’s fiery rhetoric and his movement’s optimism, were offset by other circumstances that pointed in the opposite direction. In the first place, Venezuela lacked the well-organized social movements that paved the way for the rise to power of leftists and centre-leftists elsewhere in the region. In the second place, as an oil producer, Venezuela was more resource dependent than its neighbours and was thus particularly susceptible to sharp income fluctuations at the same time that its productive base was more fragile. In addition, Venezuela’s rentier economy created a sense of paternalism among Venezuelans of all classes who assumed that it was incumbent on the state to attend to all needs. Finally, Marxist economists pointed to the widespread illusion that with the emergence of pro-leftist governments in twenty-first century Latin America, socialism was an easy next stage, when in fact global capitalism was more firmly entrenched than ever.
In spite of the favourable factors for democratic socialism, the Venezuelan state was hardly divorced from the capitalist structure dominated by powerful economic groups that were aggressively opposed to the Chavista government. The attempted coup against Chávez in April 2002 and the two month general strike of 2002-2003 (in effect, a company lock-out) did much to define the relationship between the government and private sector. The main business organization Fedecámaras led both attempts at regime change and indeed its president, Pedro Carmona, was Venezuela’s provisional president during the two-day duration of the coup. Although the general strike (as well as the coup) was defeated as a result of mass mobilizations of the popular sectors, the cooperation of some businesspeople, particularly in the area of transportation, was critical in supplying much needed goods during the conflict. This anti-strike group of businesspeople consisted of those who to varying degrees were Chavista sympathizers as well as anti-Chavistas who rejected the strike call for professional reasons or were simply opportunists. 
Regardless of their motivation, the anti-strike businesspeople were naturally considered more reliable than Fedecámaras members. Subsequently, the Chavista leadership followed an unofficial policy of providing the anti-strike businesspeople preferential treatment and accordingly privileged them in the granting of public works contracts and state credit. On February 4, Chávez announced ‘Les trancamos la llave a los golpistas, ni un dolar más para ellos’ (‘We’re turning off the spigot on the coup supporters. Not one more dollar for them’). At the same time he instructed the head of the newly created CADIVI (the system for the sale of ‘preferential dollars’ to importers at an artificially low exchange rate) to turn down currency requests from those commercial interests that had supported the general strike.[43] Subsequently Fedecámaras spokespeople accused the government of promoting parallel business structures. 
The government’s policy of discrimination against Fedecámaras businesspeople was a logical response to the organization’s insurrectional and disruptive activity that contrasted with its previous political discretion and claim to being nonpolitical dating back to its founding in 1944.[44] In following this approach, however, the Chavista leadership discarded the argument that the government should maintain transparency above all political considerations and thus refrain from showing preference for any economic group in particular. The government’s strategy favoured small-scale businesspeople, many of whom were of Arab origins, at the expense of the traditional bourgeoisie, which formed the backbone of Fedecámaras and maintained links to the U.S. and Europe through economic, educational and family ties. The emerging economic elite started out with little capital and in some cases amassed significant wealth during the Chávez presidency. Under the Chavista governments, they moved into imports and performed local public works projects for which they had a mixed record, but failed to develop a viable financial and industrial capacity or the capability to carry out mega projects. As a result, for many of the large-scale and complex projects, the government switched from traditional partners to new ones abroad. The Brazilian company Odebrecht, for instance, received contracts for a diversity of undertakings including such mega projects as the construction of the second bridge over the Orinoco River, extensive work on the Caracas metro and rail systems and an offshore oil tanker loading terminal in Jose, Anzoátegui. In other cases the government was eventually forced to re-establish working relations with traditional Venezuelan firms. 
The Chavista strategy was more successful on the political front – at least in the short run – than the economic one. Pro-Chavista businesspeople, such as the politically ambitious Miguel Pérez Abad who headed the recently founded business organization Fedeindustria, and belonged to the Chavista United Socialist Party (PSUV), articulated private sector interests. At the same time, they defended government policies for opening opportunities for business groups, particularly with Venezuela’s acceptance as a full member of Mercosur (which was considered an important Chavista achievement). The pro-Chavista businesspeople argued that the government had succeeded in increasing production but also purchasing power and thus it was imperative to streamline bureaucratic procedures in order to facilitate much needed imports. They also regularly attended meetings and assemblies called by Chávez and then Maduro to address members of the private sector.[45] 
Nevertheless, the policy of favouring pro-Chavista businesspeople failed to achieve the objective of stimulating high levels of production and, equally troublesome, it proved conducive to shady dealings. These disappointing consequences were put in evidence by the financial crisis of 2009 when the government expropriated over thirteen banks, jailed at least 8 bankers and ordered the arrest of over 40 others who fled the country. Among the bankers were several who with little capital became wealthy by taking advantage of the government’s determination to sidestep the traditional bourgeoisie and to deposit its money in new financial institutions. One of them, Arné Chacón, was the brother of an important Chavista minister (both had participated in the Chávez-supported November 1992 coup attempt), who resigned as a result. Another was the hitherto relatively unknown transportation businessman Ricardo Fernández Barrueco, whose fortune was estimated at over one billion dollars and whose major companies were taken over as a result of the scandal. Both Chacón and Fernández Barrueco spent three years in jail beginning in December 2009. 
A second scandal apparently involving the emerging bourgeoisie broke out in 2013 when two top government officials and then Maduro announced that in the previous year CADIVI had sold about 20 billion dollars at the preferential rate for the purpose of paying spurious import orders. Just as in 2009, many (though not all) of those implicated evidently had close working relations with the Chavista government. The insistence on the part of the opposition and Fedecámaras that the national executive reveal the names of the companies involved in the scam suggests that government officials and businesspeople with government connections were at least partly responsible. 
The acute shortages of 2013-2015 demonstrated that the government’s strategy for stimulating output had failed to produce the desired results. Government-sponsored worker cooperatives and ‘social production companies’ as well as recently expropriated enterprises particularly in the food sector were unable to supply a sufficient quantity of goods to fill gaps created by the shortages. Similarly, the government strategy of fostering the growth of new productive businesses – belonging to what it called ‘productive businesspeople’ (‘empresarios productivos’)– fell far short of expectations. Furthermore, members of the emerging bourgeoisie who had received government backing did not always prove to be reliable allies. A prime example was Alberto Cudemus, who had resigned from Fedecámaras in 2007 after two unsuccessful bids for the presidency of the organization on a platform of maintaining friendly relations with the Chavista government and criticizing the organization’s politicization. As the nation’s largest producer of pork and the president of the Federation of Hog Raisers (Fedporcina), Cudemus received contracts to supply the state-run food enterprise Mercal in accordance with the policy of support for the ‘productive’, non-traditional bourgeoisie. In 2014, however, Cudemus criticized the flagship legislation ‘Ley de Precios Justos’ (the Law of Just Prices) as a ‘throwback to the concepts of the 1960s’, and attributed the nation’s production deficit in part to the labour law of 2012, which Maduro had helped draft. Maduro responded by lashing out at him along with Fedecámaras’ president Jorge Roig, the two of whom converged in their analysis of the crisis and the necessary steps to overcome it.[46] 
The mixed record of the Maduro government in countering price speculation, hoarding, contraband and corruption helped define its relations with the private sector. On the one hand, in 2013 he jailed about two hundred individuals on corruption charges including various middle-level Chavista leaders. In another unprecedented move, Maduro passed the Law of Just Prices and created mechanisms to prevent price speculation, defined as profit exceeding 30 percent of cost. His acknowledgment of the possible existence of a ‘boliburguesía’ (Chavista businesspeople who amassed significant wealth on the basis of little original capital) demonstrated that he was unwilling to turn a blind eye to cases of crony capitalism. On the other hand, his failure to react immediately and decisively in the Cadivi case contrasted with Chávez’s firm response to the financial crisis of 2009. 
Beginning in late 2013 the government declared all-out war against speculation and hoarding, with inspections resulting in temporary company takeovers, confiscation of merchandise, judicial proceedings and the jailing of over one hundred business managers. Nevertheless, the following year President Maduro apparently accepted Fedecámaras’ insistence that the enforcement of penal provisions follow traditional slow-moving judicial procedures without being heavily publicized. 
The high-level meetings between the national executive and members of the traditional and non-traditional bourgeoisie in early 2014 signalled a shift in policy and strategy on both sides. The meetings, which formed part of a ‘peace dialogue’ with organized sectors of the population, were designed to find solutions to the problems of scarcity, speculation and hoarding and also put an end to the disruptive protests promoted by the opposition that broke out in February 2014. The government’s more conciliatory position toward Fedecámaras, and its pledge not to discriminate against the federation, represented an acknowledgment that the emerging bourgeoisie was incapable of developing into a dynamic force capable of replacing traditional business groups. Fedecámaras, for its part, accepted participation in the dialogue even though the opposition parties spurned it, in sharp contrast to the business-political alliance designed to topple the government in 2002-2003. Fedecámaras’ decision to accept President Maduro’s invitation to meet in the presidential palace was also recognition that its members had been severely affected by the government’s policy of support for the emerging bourgeoisie.  
The above discussion illuminates the ties that exist between the state and the capitalist structure in Venezuela, despite the socialist commitment of those in power and the sharpness of the polarization pitting the traditional business sector against the Chavista government.[47] Underlying the relationship between the Chavistas and business groups are the three issues raised in this article on Marxist state theories. Specifically, the debate over whether the problems of shortages, price speculation, hoarding and contraband were induced for political reasons or were attributable to market conditions sheds light on the class consciousness, cohesion and fragmentation of the Venezuelan capitalist class (Issue 1 in Tables 1, 2 and 3). The following sections also address the article’s two other issues, which are related to different strategies defended by Venezuelan leftists (Issues 2 and 3 in Tables 1, 2 and 3), and the concomitant theoretical debate.
2. ‘Class Consciousness’ and the Theory of the Progressive Bourgeoisie Applied to the Venezuelan Case
The issue of the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie, which helped define the differences between instrumentalism and structural Marxism, has a special significance for Latin American leftist politics over the last century. Instrumentalism views the bourgeoisie as actively defending its overall interests, which include both short-term and long-term ones. In keeping with this perspective, Latin American Communists and other leftists traditionally posited that the ‘progressive’ industrial bourgeoisie is forward-looking and capable of resisting the pressure coming from the anti-communist right. Thus according to the traditional left, the bourgeoisie, or a sector of it, far from being located on the sidelines is an active political participant with a long-term perspective. The following subsection will discuss the Latin American left’s experience with the strategy involving ‘progressive businesspeople’ and its application to the Venezuelan case, and will then draw conclusions as they relate to Marxist state theories and instrumentalism in particular.
The concept of the ‘national democratic revolution’, first promoted for third-world nations by the Comintern during its early years, envisioned an industrial bourgeoisie that played a direct role in the struggle against imperialism by allying itself with working-class and leftist organizations. Similarly, the attempt by the Chavista government to promote an alliance with Venezuela’s emerging bourgeoisie, which would reject the pressure from powerful traditional economic interests headed by Fedecámaras, also presupposed an advanced class consciousness and a degree of audacity recalling the anti-imperialist schemes of the previous century. In both cases the strategies rested on a personal tie-in between capitalists and the state. 
The tangible links between capitalists and the state lay behind the strategy advocated by Luis Miquilena, Chávez’s right-hand man during the early years of his presidency. Miquilena had been a leading member of the Communist movement in the 1940s and after leaving it developed close ties with businesspeople outside of the traditional bourgeoisie. As financial secretary of the Chavista movement during the extended 1998 presidential campaign, Miquilena brought in large sums of money from businesspeople, and then as Interior Minister cultivated close ties with some of them. In internal discussion, Miquilena called for the incorporation of ‘honest’ members of the bourgeoisie into the movement at the same time that he (and his Chavista allies) proposed the privatization of the nation’s health system and cautioned against radical reforms. 
Miquilena was influenced by the two-step strategy long advocated by Communist Parties in Latin America.[48] According to this approach a ‘progressive national bourgeoisie’ in the industrial sector – as opposed to commercial and financial spheres – played an active role in achieving nationalist and even anti-imperialist goals prior to the initiation of the struggle for socialism. The strategy contemplated a strategic alliance between the left and the progressive bourgeoisie. The concept underpinned popular frontism in Latin America in the 1930s and alliance formations in subsequent decades.   
The thesis of the ‘progressive national bourgeoisie’ appeared to test the applicability in developing countries of the instrumentalist perspective, which emphasizes the tangible influence of the capitalist class on the state in favour of its interests including long-term systemic ones. The Communist strategy – in accordance with this line of thinking – envisioned ties between a class fraction of the bourgeoisie that was conscious of its long-term interests and a broad-based movement that was to reach power through electoral means. Yet during the period in Latin America of import substitution and economic nationalism, such links were historically extremely fragile, as demonstrated by the ‘ambiguous’ relations between Argentine industrialists and the government of Juan Domingo Perón in the 1940s and 1950s.[49] In the case of Venezuela, the Communist Party (PCV) was supportive of various progressive governments from 1941 to 1948 that stood for state intervention in the economy. Nevertheless, the only example of a marked presence of the industrial bourgeoisie was the two-year stint of Eduardo Mendoza Goiticoa (the brother of cement magnate Eugenio Mendoza) as Agriculture Minister under the government of Rómulo Betancourt.
Considering the full sweep of twentieth-century Latin American history prior to the onset of globalization in the 1980s, it is evident that the Communists overstated their case for a ‘national progressive bourgeoisie’. The industrial bourgeoisie could hardly be considered anti-imperialist nor did it fulfil the role of a class grouping that was assertive and conscious of its long-term interests along the lines suggested by the instrumentalist thesis. This shortcoming, however, does not rule out the existence of a national bourgeoisie that – contrary to the claims of many on the far left – occasionally assumed positions, albeit timidly, pointing in the direction of national autonomous development. While the national bourgeoisie refrained from firmly backing economic nationalism, its viewpoints generally ranged from mild opposition to passive support for the governments that pursued those policies. 
In recent decades, the Latin American left has largely abandoned the thesis of the ‘national bourgeoisie’. Nevertheless, the tendency to differentiate between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bourgeoisie continued to manifest itself within the Chavista movement following Miquilena’s defection at the time of the April 2002 coup. The moderate currents within the Chavista party, which was originally led by Miquilena, insist that sectors of the bourgeoisie are ‘honest’ and ‘productive’, even while refraining from labelling them ‘anti-imperialist’, or even ‘progressive’. Indeed, President Maduro occasionally employs the term ‘productive bourgeoisie’ to refer to the industrial private sector. 
The director of ideological formation of the Chavista party, Aurora Morales, pointed out that following the exit of Miquilena the Chavistas rejected his vision of a multi-class movement that took in businesspeople representing the productive bourgeoisie.[50] She added that the Chávez government’s prioritization of the popular sectors, on grounds that they were most in need of state support, precluded the concept of a broad-based party that included representatives of elite groups. When the Chavista party officially declared itself socialist in 2005 and two years later became the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), it, in effect, ruled out a direct input by capitalists in party decision making. 
Nevertheless, the exact relationship between the Chavista party and government, on the one hand, and their supporters in the private sector, on the other, remains unclear. Little discussion within the Chavista movement has centred on the issue. It is a well-known fact, for instance, that some Chavista mayors have their own construction firms that receive contracts to perform public works. A related practice that has gone virtually unreported and undebated is the notorious procedure inherited from the pre-Chávez period of charging construction firms a percentage (typically 10 percent) of the worth of each public works contract they are awarded. Some of the money enters the coffers of the governing political party, thus strengthening the ties between those in power and the private sector. The business interests of elected and non-elected government officials at the national level are also subject to considerable speculation. The case of Cadivi suggests that these ties are significant. President Maduro contributed to the credibility of accusations regarding unethical business connections when he recognized the possible existence of a ‘boliburguesía’, a term previously used mainly by anti-Chavistas including those on the far left side of the political spectrum.[51] 
A second area of ambiguity is the lack of precision regarding the role small and medium-sized businesspeople are to play, if any, in the construction of socialism in Venezuela. The thorny question of whether a party committed to socialism can consider them allies and how empirically to distinguish between medium and large-scale capitalists has never been seriously addressed within the Chavista movement. The PSUV’s position on these issues is bound to determine the closeness of the nexus between the Chavista government and members of the private sector. 
In short, the Chavista governments developed tangible ties with the emerging bourgeoisie, even though that sector proved to be neither progressive nor particularly reliable or productive. The nature of the links is clouded by the lack of debate within the Chavista movement regarding the role that the private sector was expected to play, if any, in the process of change. These connections indicate that even in capitalist nations whose governments are committed to socialism, close and ongoing personal ties with the private sector emerge, often as the unintended result of government strategy to counter insurgent threats from the right and traditional business groups.
The Chavistas’ unsuccessful experience with the emerging business class and the disappointing historical experience of the Latin American left’s strategy of the ‘national democratic revolution’ are instructive for what they reveal about the bourgeoisie’s ‘class consciousness’. Most striking in the case of the ‘national democratic revolution’ scheme is that those who implemented it failed to secure the active support of the very class fraction that stood the most to benefit from the strategy of economic nationalism. In the case of Venezuela, Chávez offered the emerging businesspeople a golden opportunity to replace the traditional bourgeoisie, but their disappointing performance forced the Maduro government to reconsider the bargain and negotiate with Fedecámaras. 
In Latin America, the bourgeoisie’s class consciousness and specifically class enlightenment – or the defence of the long-term interests of capitalism – implies a bold strategy of alliances with popular sectors designed to combat imperialist penetration. Historically, however, the industrial bourgeoisie has fallen far short of commitment to these goals. In the case of Venezuela, the divide between the traditional bourgeoisie and the emerging bourgeoisie did not put in evidence the class consciousness of the latter which was incapable of, or unwilling to, displace the former by taking advantage of government support to promote economic development. On the other hand, class fragmentation (basic to structuralist analysis) played an important political role as the emerging bourgeoisie helped shore up the Chavista government in the face of an aggressive opposition. In short, the theoretical positions of instrumentalism and Poulantzas on bourgeois class consciousness and class fractions are germane to understanding key issues facing the left under Chavista rule. 
3. Theoretical Frameworks for Understanding the Economic Problems Confronting Chavista Governments: Instrumentalism vs. Structuralism
Leftist activists and analysts have put forward two main explanations for the main economic problems besetting the Chavista governments throughout their rule. The most pressing one is the scarcity of basic commodities dating back to the general strike of 2002-2003. Immediately following the conflict, the government attempted to confront its adverse effects by implementing price and exchange controls, which in turn set off illicit activity, specifically price speculation, hoarding and contraband. 
According to one explanation, rooted in instrumentalist thinking on the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie, all the above problems were induced in order to pave the way for regime change. In the first instance of ‘economic war’ against the government, Fedecámaras spearheaded the general strike of 2002-2003 that virtually paralyzed production and in doing so threatened to set off rampant inflation. The next instance of acute shortages was during the months leading up to the national referendum on the proposed constitutional reform of 2007, which the private sector viewed as a major threat. The business sector, according to the first explanation, intensified the economic war following Chávez’s death in 2013 in order to take advantage of an anticipate crisis in the Chavista leadership. President Maduro and the Chavista leaders beginning in late 2013 frequently used the term ‘economic war’, which implied that the crisis was induced for political reasons. Similarly, the PSUV’s leftist currents such as the group Marea Socialista (prior to its separation from the party) focused exclusively on political motivations for what they called a ‘provoked situation’.[52] The political explanation was underpinned by the instrumentalist perspective in that it viewed the private sector as conscious of its interests and willing to act aggressively as a powerful bloc in order to defend its hegemonic status. 
Chavistas also put forward a second explanation for the nation’s pressing economic problems that was in line with structural Marxism, with its emphasis on the economic logic of capitalism including market imperatives, as opposed to the personal and political influence of capitalists.[53] According to this viewpoint, market distortions reached an extreme in 2012 when the disparity between the open market rate and the official exchange rate went from two to one to nearly ten to one. The predictable result was not only scarcities, contraband, hoarding and price speculation, but also corruption as the currency exchange trends magnified the benefits accruing from illicit commercial activity. Those who gave greater weight to the second explanation tended to belong to a moderate Chavista current, which increasingly emphasized the positive results of the dialogue with the private sector and attributed the nation’s economic difficulties in large part to fiscal policies that needed to be reformed.
The supporters of the second explanation favoured modifying or lifting exchange and price controls to attract investments for the purpose of stimulating exports to Mercosur and elsewhere in Latin America. The moderates concluded that the scarcity debacle of 2013-2015 demonstrated that socialists need to take serious note of the market, even when their strategy is to eventually transcend it. The moderates also questioned conspiracy theory-type thinking associated with instrumentalism (although denied by some instrumentalists[54]) that accused the capitalists of perpetrating economic sabotage. Former minister and Chavista economist Victor Alvarez, for instance, who called for a band-type system that would allow the official exchange rate to always approximate the true value of the bolívar currency, argued that the ‘principle problem confronting Venezuela is economic’ and that the main challenge facing the government was designing technically sound policies in order to replace the nation’s rentier economy.[55] Oscar Schemel, a public opinion analyst close to the Chavistas, was more specific when he stated ‘neither U.S. imperialism nor the oligarchy can be scapegoated since what is needed is a more rational approach to the economy to overcome the shortages we are facing’.[56]  
Both factors explaining the shortages are undeniably at play in major ways: the economic incentive to sell goods on the black market or through contraband given the wide disparity between official and market prices; and the political motive to undermine the Chavista government. The former motivation corresponds to the structural Marxist focus on the economic logic of the capitalist system, while the latter accords with the instrumentalist argument regarding the class conscious political behaviour of capitalists. The two theories differ as to which of the two factors constitute ‘in the last instance’ the fundamental explanation.  
The two explanations, however, may be complementary, in which case determining which one is more ‘fundamental’ becomes a moot point. Thus, for example, economic destabilization became most intense in periods of sharp political conflict, specifically the 2002-2003 general strike, the months prior to the referendum on the proposed constitutional reform, and the period following Chávez’s death in 2013-2014.These sequences lent credibility to the thesis of politically motivated economic sabotage (instrumentalist perspective). Nevertheless, once basic commodities became scarce, price speculation, hoarding and contraband obeyed market logic (structural Marxist perspective) as increased incentives for illicit activity defied the state bureaucracy’s ability to enforce the law and implement correctives. 
In another example of the interplay of the two dynamics, the opposition’s insurgent activity in 2002-2003 and the disruptive protests of 2014 influenced the government to carry out populist policies to guarantee popular support, considered an imperative in moments of imminent political danger. Specifically, the protests forced the government to maintain regulated prices far below market value, thus encouraging the emergence of a black market and undermining newly expropriated companies unable to meet the cost of production. Thus disinvestment for political reasons (in accordance with the instrumentalist focus) created market disruptions that the government was reluctant to correct with austerity policies, conscious of the political price it would have to pay. 
In these cases once the political conflict was overcome, the Chavista leaders could not blame the opposition for the continued failure to put an end to the economic difficulties. Technically sound measures to correct the imbalances created by the private sector and the mobilization of opposition forces ran the risk of producing rampant inflation and an adverse popular reaction. Thus political resistance to a leftist government generates a series of long-term economic distortions that sets in with its own logic after the political threat diminishes. This dynamic that combines ruthless political opposition and extreme market distortions represents a basic predicament for socialist construction. Indeed, it goes a long way in explaining twentieth century socialism’s basic dilemmas, such as the failure to achieve a takeoff in consumer production.[57]
4. Leftists Strategy for Achieving Socialism and the Debate over the Venezuelan State
State theories applied to Venezuela have distinct implications for leftist strategy and analysis. Specifically, they underpin different positions on two issues to be discussed below: the viability of broad-based alliances; and the characterization of socialist transition as consisting either of stages or an ongoing ‘process’ of transformation. As Tables 1, 2 and 3 indicate, the terms of debate for the analysis of the state from a Marxist perspective in some cases differ between Europe in the 1970s and Venezuela. The contrast is particularly pronounced in the case of Poulantzas II, while the strategic implications of instrumentalism are basically the same in the European and Venezuela contexts. 
The Instrumentalist Approach 
Leftist analysts and activists applied the instrumentalist thesis on the tangible and personal links between the capitalist structure and the state to Venezuela under Chavista rule, just as Miliband and others had in the context of Europe and the United States, as described in the first section of this article. Those writing in the instrumentalist tradition point to the Chavista leadership’s links to the emerging bourgeoisie as constituting a tight-knit relationship that holds back further radicalization. The instrumentalist analysis points to multiple ways in which businesspeople, sometimes called the ‘boliburguesía’, have penetrated the state sphere through legitimate and illegitimate connections. An example of the latter is the notorious timeworn practice that has continued under Chavista rule of the payment of commissions for public works, some of which finance party activity.
Table 1: The Positions of Instrumentalist Theory on Critical Issues in Two Distinct Contexts

Three Critical Issues
Leftist Positions in Developed Nations under Normal Circumstances
Leftist positions in Chavista Venezuela
Issue 1:  Class Consciousness of the Bourgeoisie or Sectors of the Bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie is fairly cohesive and class conscious.
Politically motivated economic sabotage unleashed by Fedecámaras demonstrates the class consciousness of the bourgeoisie; the ‘emerging bourgeoisie’ has penetrated the state apparatus.
Issue 2:  Alliance Formation
Rejection of alliances with movements and parties with ties to the seats of power
Criticizes government ties with the business sector and the absence of radical Chavistas in the government.
Issue 3: Nature of the Transition to Socialism
Revolution occurs through a radical definitive break (or breaks) with the pasts; supports the ‘dual power’ concept of Lenin.
The old Venezuelan state, even though controlled by socialists, cannot break out of the hold of the capitalist structure.  Parallel structures need to displace existing ones.

Analysts and activists representing different leftist currents and traditions approximate instrumentalism by focusing on the personal and ideological commitments of those in power and the penetration of the Venezuelan state by representatives of the old order. The convergence of these leftists, who come from diverse traditions, puts in evidence the relevance of instrumentalism, even in its simplistic or dogmatic version, for framing issues that are at the centre of debate in Chavista Venezuela. Some of these leftists reached prominence at different times of the Chavista presidency, such as Alan Woods a leading member of the Trotskyist International Marxist Tendency (IMT) who was an advisor to Chávez; ex-Vice-Minister of Planning and social movement activist Roland Denis; long-time renowned intellectual and former political leader Domingo Alberto Rangel (who was one of the first to use the term ‘boliburguesía as far back as 2006); and more recently ex-guerrilla and columnist Toby Valderrama. Both Woods and Denis ruled out the transformation of the existing Venezuelan state and instead defended the dual power strategy associated with Lenin (which Poulantzas II explicitly rejected), in which new independent institutions such as the makeshift educational and health ‘missions’ and the militia would replace the established school system and the armed forces respectively. Similarly, ‘representative’ institutions such as municipal government would eventually be displaced by ‘peoples power’ (as embodied by the community councils), in contrast to the more moderate Chavista position favouring the coexistence of ‘participatory’ and representative democracy. 
Woods and his Venezuelan Trotskyist followers adhered to the instrumentalist view by arguing that the Venezuelan state was closely tied to the capitalist structure and was penetrated ‘at all levels’ by ‘counterrevolutionaries’; the state, far from being a vehicle for far-reach change, would have to be eventually replaced.[58] In line with instrumentalism (see Table 1), Woods viewed “revolution” as consisting of radical, definitive breaks with the past, such as the expropriation of banks and large agricultural estates. Woods along with the IMT’s former Venezuelan affiliate, the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria (CMR, which in 2010 split off as part of an international Trotskyist schism), argued that nearly all state managers and the state bureaucracy in general would ‘fight tooth and nail to maintain struggle within the capitalist framework’.[59] Woods also pointed out that members of the left-wing Chavista factions (which included former minister Eduardo Samán, twice forced out of office, and Luis Tascón, who was denied membership in the PSUV) were largely absent from top government positions. Nevertheless, unlike the hard instrumentalism adhered to by other Trotskyists, Woods and his Venezuelan followers stopped short of labelling the Chavista leadership and the government itself as representatives of the capitalist system and instead targeted state ‘bureaucrats’ as the real source of resistance to change. In that sense, Woods’ analysis was less hard-line or dogmatic than other Trotskyist groups, which classified the Chavista government as ‘bourgeois’ and which were accused by Woods of defending ‘ultra-leftist’ positions (Woods, 2009, 12-14; 2008, 391-392).[60] 
Woods’ analysis was characterized by a personalist focus, which was also the case with instrumentalist writers and was criticized by Poulantzas in his debate with Miliband. Woods viewed Chávez as virtually alone among the top Chavista leaders in his display of political tenacity and gave him credit for all the advances of his presidency, while making no mention of the positive role played by other members of his government. The CMR articulated this outlook with reference to Chávez: ‘The courage, strength of character and determination of leaders play an important role in history and in critical moments can be decisive for the revolutionary process’.[61] 
Those who adhered to the instrumentalist perspective applied two related concepts to Venezuelan politics under Chávez. Roland Denis, writing in the libertarian tradition, argued that the ‘constituted power’, consisting of the governing class including bureaucrats and PSUV leaders, were pitted against the organized popular sectors, or the ‘constituent power’, and represented the real obstacles to change in Venezuela. Toby Valderrama, whose political formation was more along the lines of orthodox Marxism, called for a ‘revolution in the revolution’, a term occasionally used by Chávez and Maduro but which reflected the thinking of the radical Chavistas. Both concepts implied that the enemy was clearly identifiable and was situated within the movement. The ‘constituted power’-’constituent power’ notion and, though to a lesser extent, the ‘revolution in the revolution’ concept reflects a polarized vision typical of instrumentalist thinking, in which the lines are clearly drawn between the revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries.
In the context of European and U.S. politics of the 1960s and 1970s, the instrumentalist line of thinking – with its assertion that the direct ongoing influence of capitalists on policy makers far outmatches that of the popular sectors –  opposed leftist alliances with political moderates who were close to the seats of power. In the context of Chavista Venezuela, the instrumentalist vision of the pernicious tentacles of the capitalist class that penetrate the political sphere led to similar conclusions. As Table 1 indicates, the instrumentalist perspective lent itself to a critical position on the call for alliances with businesspeople formulated by both Chávez and Maduro.[62] 
The Structural Marxist Approach 
 Structural Marxist thinking lent itself to the support for tactical alliances with the business sector put forward by Chávez and Maduro. The proposed ‘tactical’ agreement was designed to stimulate production in order to overcome shortages. Such an objective was more modest than the ‘national democratic revolution’ based on a ‘strategic alliance’ taking in labour and the national bourgeoisie, promoted by Latin American leftists in the previous century with the aim of achieving economic independence. Chavista leaders and analysts belonging to a moderate current within the movement, who attributed scarcity and related economic problems largely to market distortions (as discussed in subsection 3 above), tended to support negotiations with the private sector in order to reach agreements of a tactical nature in favour of practical solutions. The same combination of analysis based on the economic logic of capitalism (as opposed to the machinations of capitalists) along with support for tactical alliances with moderate leftists had also characterized structural Marxists such as Althusser in the 1970s. 
Table 2: The Positions of Structural Marxism on Critical Issues in Two Distinct Contexts

Three Critical Issues
Leftist Positions in Developed Nations under Normal Circumstances
Leftist Positions in Chavista Venezuela

Issue 1:  Class Consciousness of the Bourgeoisie or Sectors of the Bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie is not class conscious in that its corporatist interests override long-term systemic concerns

Issue 2:  Alliance Formation
Supports tactical alliances (as opposed to ‘strategic alliances’) with the ‘progressive middle class’ and with social democratic parties with ties to the seats of power.
Favors ‘tactical’ alliances, particularly with the emerging ‘productive’ bourgeoisie, to achieve a modus vivendi. Discards  ‘pacts’ (in effect ‘strategic alliances’) with moderates and others.
Issue 3: Nature of the Transition to Socialism

Stage approach in favour of consolidation of existing gains in order to achieve stability.

The proposal for a formal understanding or an alliance with productive businesspeople, which was occasionally formulated by Chávez, became a major objective of the Maduro government in the wake of the violence that shook Venezuela beginning in February 2014. At the same time that the government accused Venezuelan capitalists of carrying out economic sabotage, it also called on them to engage in dialogue and emphasized the need for cooperation between the state and the private sector. The Maduro government envisioned what this article has called a ‘tactical’ relationship with the private sector. The term ‘tactical’ rather than ‘strategic’ is fitting for several reasons. In the first place, the failure of the emerging bourgeoisie to live up to the expectations of Chavista leaders due to its poor productive performance discredited the proposal for a more solid, long-lasting alliance between the government and members of the business sector. In the second place, one of the cornerstones of Chávez’s critique of Venezuelan democracy prior to 1998 was his rejection of the nation’s ‘pacted democracy’ that had brought together members of the nation’s elites to define basic policies but left the popular sectors on the sidelines. Chavista leaders firmly denied that negotiations with the private sector in 2014 represented a ‘pact’ and instead insisted that they were attempting to reach ‘agreements’.[63] In this context, a ‘pact’ can be considered tantamount to a strategic alliance to achieve long-term objectives, while ‘agreements’ are of a ‘tactical’ nature.[64]  
Another aspect of structural Marxism as applied to Venezuela is that the state’s function is to preserve stability, thus the prioritization of consolidation; change takes place possibly in the form of stages rather than an ongoing process (or permanent revolution) leading to socialism. Structural Marxism envisions a state sufficiently independent of the immediate interests of capitalists so as to be able to implement important popular reforms. At the same time, however, structural Marxists stop short of Poulantzas II’s vision of a state that is in constant flux. The state can thus stray far from the capitalist structure, but under normal circumstances cannot break with it. Eventually, when objective and subjective conditions reach a certain threshold, a major revolutionary break will occur, but until then the best that can be hoped for is a consolidation of gains during a peaceful period. Moderate Chavistas defended this line of thinking in the face of violent tactics employed by the opposition following Chavez’s death by arguing that the government’s main task was defending the gains of the previous fifteen years. This defensive approach based on stages ruled out ongoing radicalization or, in the words of the Trotskyists, a ‘permanent revolution’. 
The Poulantzas II Approach 
The third approach within Chavismo contrasted with the other two: the instrumentalist approach, which viewed the Venezuelan state as too monolithic and tied to the capitalist structure to be modifiable; and the structural Marxist approach, which argued that the government had no choice but to respect the logic of capitalism and supported what amounted to a tactical alliance with the private sector in order to consolidate past gains until conditions allowed for the initiation of a more radical stage. The third approach approximated the thinking of Poulantzas II. It envisioned a state whose actions reflect the correlation of political and social forces but which left to itself is incapable of breaking with the capitalist structure. As was the case with Poulantzas II, the third approach attached equal importance to the struggle outside of the state and a war of position within it in order to achieve radical transformation. 
Table 3: The Positions of Poulantzas’ II on Critical Issues in Two Distinct Contexts

Three Critical Issues
Leftist Positions in Developed Nations under Normal Circumstances
Leftist Positions in Chavista Venezuela
Issue 1:  Class Consciousness of the Bourgeoisie or Sectors of the Bourgeoisie
The bourgeoisie lacks cohesion, is highly fragmented and internally unstable.
The bourgeoisie lacks cohesion, is highly fragmented and internally unstable, characteristics that favour the possibility of far-reaching change.
Issue 2:  Alliance Formation
Supports strategic alliances with the ‘progressive middle class’ as well as social democratic parties with ties to the seats of power.
A favourable correlation of forces in society obviates the need for alliances with non-leftists.
Issue 3: Nature of the Transition to Socialism
Revolutionaries can take over the state in order to transform (rather than destroy) it. The revolution consists of a series of ‘real breaks’ with the past as opposed to ‘one big day’.
Envisions an ongoing revolutionary ‘process’ (or a multiplicity of breaks) characterized by ongoing state transformation in the context of sharp social and political polarization and conflict.  

Marta Harnecker, a former student of Althusser who at times met with Chávez and whose writing was a point of reference for those who supported the Poulantzas II position in Venezuela, defended the dual strategy of working within and outside of the state. According to her, the administrative functions of the ‘inherited state … are taken over by revolutionary cadres that use it to push though the process of change’ and it coexists with a new state that ‘begins to be born from below, through the exercise of popular power in various institutions, including the communal councils’. She goes on to label the process unique in that ‘the inherited state fosters the emergence of the state that will replace it’. She calls this relationship ‘complementary’ rather than (in an indirect reference to Lenin) ‘one in which one of the states negates each other’. For this to happen ‘the ‘organized movement must … exert pressure on the inherited state’.[65] Harnecker’s vision is supported by those Chavistas who accept the coexistence of the model of ‘electoral democracy’ (even though it is generally condemned by left-wing Chavistas as embodying the old system) and ‘participatory democracy’ (associated with the new state). 
The Chavista concept of ‘process of change’ is compatible with Poulantzas II’s view of revolution consisting of a series of ‘real breaks’ over an extended period of time, as opposed to the orthodox leftist vision of revolution as a one-shot seizure of power. The ‘process of change’ as an ongoing development of structural transformations also contrasts with the more static stage view inherent in structural Marxism, as discussed above, which Poulantzas II rejected.[66] It also contrasts with the Euro-Communist position, represented by Spanish Communist head Santiago Carrillo, which Poulantzas (1979, 196) as a supporter of a leftist faction of Euro-Eurocommunism labeled ‘right-wing Eurocommunism’. Carrillo, unlike Poulantzas, minimized social struggle and conflict in the period prior to the achievement of socialism.[67] 
Finally, Poulantzas’ view of ‘real breaks’ contrasted with ‘reformism’, which, as the Argentine political theorists Mabel Thwaites Rey and Hernán Ouviña point out, does not entail the structural changes implied in the term ‘transition’ (or the Chavista term ‘process’). Thwaites Rey and Ouviña add that reformism in contrast to transition (as envisioned by Poulantzas) is directed mainly from the state and not the grassroots and its leaders lack a long-term vision of, or commitment to, radical change.[68]
The Chavistas who adhered to Poulantzas II’s line of thinking were confident that favourable subjective conditions in Venezuela (as highlighted by Chávez’ discourse) as well as the fragmentation of the bourgeoisie (which Poulantzas II had underscored) and its loss of prestige[69] made possible an ongoing radicalization, obviating the need to rely on force. This relatively optimistic position ruled out alliances of any type with business sectors and non-leftists in general. The Chavista current that approximated Poulantzas II envisioned an ongoing deepening process of change characterized by small breaks (such as the launching of the community councils) as opposed to more radical breaks (such as expropriations and the ‘revolution in the revolution’) over a shorter period of time in line with instrumentalist thinking. In short, the following two features of Venezuela in the Chávez era (as opposed to Europe in the 1970s) explain the relevance of Poulantzas II: optimism but recognition that socialism will be achieved over an extended period of time (as embodied in Chávez’s discourse); and ongoing conflict in the context of sharp social and political polarization. 
After a hiatus of several decades, interest in the Marxist state debate of the 1960s and 1970s has been revived partly as a result of the experiences of recent Latin American governments committed to democratic socialism. The fundamental question raised by Marxist theoreticians of half a century ago is still at the centre of discussion: Given Marxism’s basic premise that a nexus exists between the capitalist structure and the state superstructure, under what circumstances can the state distance itself from the hold of the structure and eventually break away from it? 
The application of the three Marxist theories to a situation such as Venezuela of intense polarization and radicalization in a democratic context is different from situations in which the moderates play the dominant role in favour of change and the prospects for socialism are perceived to be less promising. Nevertheless, in both sets of historical circumstances, structural Marxism has been compatible with alliances with moderate leftists and non-leftists. In contrast, Poulantzas II’s thinking, which was even more supportive of alliances (or what this article calls ‘strategic alliances’) than in Europe of the 1970s, was compatible with a strategy of continuous deepening of the process of change under the Chavistas as opposed to concessions to groups to the right. The strategy of Poulantzas II, however, fell short of the radical, abrupt breaks advocated by currents (such as Trotskyism) further to the left in Venezuela.
The instrumentalist and structural Marxist explanations for the pressing economic problems facing the Maduro presidency both appear to have a degree of applicability in Venezuela and indeed may not be mutually exclusive. Instrumentalism applied to Venezuela would focus on two expressions of bourgeois power that held back the process of change. In the first place, traditional economic groups represented by Fedecámaras have consistently and consciously followed policies on production and investment (or disinvestment) designed to generate severe economic difficulties in order to pave the way for regime change. In the second place, the so-called boliburguesía consisting of emerging business groups have penetrated the governing sphere and in doing so impede or even reverse socialist construction. In both cases, the bourgeoisie or fractions of the bourgeoisie played a direct role in political outcomes. 
In contrast, structural Marxism applied to Venezuela would attribute the nation’s problems on the economic front to the logic of the marketplace. According to this explanation, the government drifted too far from the market economy in that the disparity between regulated prices and official exchange rates, on the one hand, and open market prices, on the other, reached unprecedented extremes.
In other parts of the world, the case for instrumentalism has been strongest in situations of crony capitalism and neoliberalism in which powerful economic groups exercise a direct influence over state decision making. It has been less convincing in Bonapartist and social democratic governments (such as the post-war Labour government) and Nazi Germany, which have been characterized by greater state autonomy. Venezuela would appear to resemble Bonapartism given the disconnect between the nation’s dominant capitalist structure and the government’s socialist commitment. Nevertheless, as the above discussion demonstrates, business sectors developed close ties to the Chavista movement and government along the lines envisioned by instrumentalists. 
Poulantzas II’s view on the state’s transformation that paves the way for socialism is also applicable to the Venezuelan case. Some Marxist theoreticians point to the Chavista experience in Venezuela as evidence that socialism by its very nature is a transitional period prone to extreme contradictions and sharp ongoing social and political conflict.[70] The vision of socialism as a system in constant flux is compatible with Poulantzas II’s theory that the state is subject to profound internal contradictions and constitutes a strategic field reflecting the correlation of political and social forces at a given moment, and as such is inherently unstable (Jessop, 1982, 157-158). If the “strategic battlefield” concept is particularly applicable in a period of gradual leftist ascendancy, which Poulantzas hoped would occur in Europe in the 1970s, it is even more germane in a setting such as Venezuela under Chavista rule. Venezuela in the early twenty-first century was characterized by transformation and instability as a result of intense social and political polarization with a government that was committed to socialism through struggle and a capitalist structure that was only partly weakened by leftist inroads, all of which were a recipe for instability. Those Chavistas who favoured ongoing radicalization in the midst of instability, as embodied in the catchword ‘el proceso’, in effect rejected a stage vision based on consolidation of gains and the prioritization of relative stability.
All three lines of thinking as explanations for the dilemmas facing the Chavista governments are plausible. The direct and conscious role of the private sector (as highlighted by the instrumentalists), was fundamental in obstructing far-reaching transformation. In line with instrumentalism, much evidence indicates that scarcity was induced for political reasons, beginning with the Fedecámaras-promoted general strike of 2002-2003, which in turn forced the government to adopt two strategies that held back the advance of socialism. In the first place, the government faced the threat to its very survival by adopting populist measures including the maintenance of a wide disparity between regulated and market prices. The policy worked well at first but eventually produced economic disruptions that cut into support for the government and placed it on the defensive.  In the second place, the government’s preferential treatment toward an emerging bourgeoisie that refused to go along with Fedecámaras’ destabilizing actions led to business penetration of governing spheres (along the lines envisioned by instrumentalism) and in some cases corruption. 
In addition, beyond the planned actions of capitalists on the political front and other developments in Venezuela that fit into the instrumentalist analytical framework, capitalism’s economic logic was at play in accordance with structural Marxism. At a given point, the capitalists could have completely withdrawn from politics but the marketplace disruptions created by their original actions would have continued unabated, particularly because of the failure of Chavista leaders to take the market sufficiently seriously due to their socialist convictions. Poulantzas II also sheds light on the relationship between the structure and the superstructure in the Venezuelan context. Given the instability stimulated by a disloyal opposition that questioned the government’s legitimacy, any shift in the correlation of political forces in the nation had a pronounced impact on the configuration of ideological tendencies within the state, as posited by Poulantzas II.
An appreciation of the complex nature of the theoretical and practical issues discussed in this article serves to counter the disillusionment in the Chavista ranks that stems from such a lengthy process of change in the context of intense confrontation and material privation along with cases of blatant corruption. The complexity of the structural Marxist concept of structure-superstructure, the challenges of radicalization in a democratic setting and the circumstances surrounding the decision to promote the non-traditional bourgeoisie certainly do not justify corruption, policy inconsistencies and errors. Nevertheless, they help place the problems in a broader context and counter the notion that the Chavista leadership has simply sold out.
The article puts in evidence this complexity on both empirical and theoretical fronts by demonstrating that market imperatives as well as political pressure and disruptions from capitalists played important roles. Political and economic resistance from Venezuelan business interests limited government options, but so did the wide disparity between official and regulated prices, which the Maduro administration failed to check. The two factors were complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Similarly, the article suggests that the term ‘in the last instance’ used by Marxist state theoreticians like Althusser and Poulantzas become somewhat hazy when trying to determine whether the economic logic of capitalism or the pressure and influence exerted by capitalists is the fundamental factor in explaining state behaviour. 
Another corollary of the structural approach is that the starting point for confronting challenges in the transition away from capitalism is a democratically structured leftist party buttressed by strong social movements. Unlike the state, a truly revolutionary party is largely independent of the capitalist structure during the period of socialist construction. Its semi-autonomous status is buttressed by strong social movements which also exert influence on the state. More than the leftists in government, the leftist party is capable of checking the inefficiency and corruption of the state bureaucracy. As Poulantzas II affirmed, at the same time that leftists wage a war of position within the state, they have to organize and mobilize outside and independent of it.[71] While rejecting the dual power thesis of Lenin and the absolute autonomy of the ‘new social movement’ paradigm[72], Poulantzas insisted that independent popular struggles ‘always have long-range effects within the state’.[73] 
In this sense the Chavistas have had a mixed record. On the negative side, the PSUV is largely controlled by top state managers, specifically ministers, governors and mayors. To their credit, the Chavistas have held numerous internal primaries, which, despite the uneven distribution of resources among candidates, is an efficacious mechanism to facilitate the expression of rank and file sentiment. Chávez understood the need to harness the enthusiasm of the rank and file by providing them with opportunities outside of the electoral arena to participate in decision making. His last effort along these lines was his creation of the Gran Polo Patriótico in 2011 that took in social movements and allied parties such as the Communist Party (PCV) and others which were to the left of the PSUV but maintained a position of critical support for the government. In contrast Maduro is more of a power broker and has been less inclined to accept criticism from those outside of the ruling circle. The leftist Chavista currents, for instance, objected to the participation of super-delegates, mainly elected Chavista officials, at the PSUV’s Third Congress held in July 2014, representing about 40 percent of the overall number of delegates.
From the very outset of the first Chávez presidency in 1999, the Chavistas took advantage of their hold over political power by decreeing measures from above in order to deepen the process of change. The Chavista government played a major role on many fronts – such as the community councils that proliferated after 2006 – in organizing and mobilizing the popular sectors and facilitating a sense of empowerment among them. 
These efforts, however, cannot be considered sufficient to achieve the long-term goals that were formulated in favour of structural transformation. The lessons of the last sixteen years in Venezuela confirm what was implicit in most Marxist writing on the state and explicit in Poulantzas II. In a capitalist nation, no matter how well intentioned the revolutionaries in power, mobilization from outside the state and fairly independent of it is a sine qua non for the continued deepening of the process of change pointing in the direction of socialism.

[1] Julian Müller (2009, p. 143) cites several factors behind the resurgence of interest in Althusser and Poulantzas, including the rise to power of statist governments committed to socialism in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America.  

[2] Miliband’s thinking evolved significantly following the publication of his The State in Capitalist Society. In the course of his debate with Poulantzas, he rejected the ‘instrumentalist’ label and in his Marxism and Politics he incorporated structuralism in his analysis of the state (Miliband 1977, p. 72-74). Althusser and Poulantzas also denied being ‘structuralists’ while William Domhoff denied being an instrumentalist. Althusser, with his formula State=Repression and Ideology differs from Poulantzas who from the beginning emphasized the role of the state in reducing the intensity of class conflict on the economic front.
 [3] Barrows 1993, p. 13.

[4] See, for instance, Domhoff 1990, p. 2-5.

[5] The structural Marxist argument that the state is bound by the logic of capitalism, including the dynamic of capital accumulation, goes beyond the market imperatives (such as avoidance of substantial wage increases) highlighted by neoliberals. As Block (1977, p. 16) points out in his discussion of ‘business confidence’, market conditions (low wages, for instance) do not necessarily dictate investment decisions.
[6] Barrows 1993, p. 62. 

[7] Jessop 2002.

[8] Carson 2007, p. 89-112; International Communist League (Fourth International) 2009; see also, Block 1980, p. 229.

[9] The latter notion was articulated by General Motors President Charles Wilson in his celebrated statement ‘What is good for GM is good for the country’. Miliband recognized the latter as relatively important (Miliband, 1977, 72-73) and thus cannot be classified as a ‘hard’ instrumentalist.
[10] Miliband (1969, p. 48) wrote that economic elites in advanced capitalist nations possess ‘a high degree of cohesion and solidarity, with common interests and common purposes which far transcend their specific differences’. Fred Block (1977, p. 10) questioned this notion and claimed that Marx did also.
[11] Sweezy1942, p. 243.

[12] Miliband 1977, p. 83.

[13] Miliband 1969, p.177-178.

[14] Hedges 2010.

[15] Domhoff 1990; Mills 1956, p. 165-170; Lundberg 1968, pp. 889-934.

[16]  Miliband 1969, pp. 125-126.

[17] Block 1977, p. 9; Althusser and Balibar 1970, pp. 216-218.

[18] Block 1980, p. 236.

[19] See Block 1977, pp. 8-9.

[20]  Raby 2006, pp. 99, 112-116, 157.

[21]  Althusser highlighted the importance of capitalism’s tendency to reproduce conditions and relations of production. This dynamic helps explain capitalism’s ability to renew and reinvent itself in the face of profound crises.
[22] Poulantzas 1969, p. 78; Althusser 1971, p.147.

[23] Jessop 2002, pp. 179-194.

[24]  Barrow 1993, p. 62.

[25] See, Block 1977, pp. 14-19.

[26] Block 1977, pp. 12-13.

[27] Lewis 2005, p. 177.

[28] Ferretter 2006, pp. 69-70.

[29] Lewis,2007, pp. 140-143.

[30] Isserman 1987, pp. 5-6.

[31] CPUSA 1979, pp. 261-262.

[32] Healey 1993, pp. 206-207.

[33] Poulantzas 1978, p. 141.

[34] Poulantzas 1978, pp. 152, 259.

[35] Poulantzas 1978, pp. 129, 131; 1979, 198.

[36] Poulantzas 1978, pp. 254, 258.

[37] Poulantzas 1975, p. 204.

[38] Jessop 1982, pp. 168-169.

[39] Poulantzas 1979, p. 195.

[40] Poulantzas 1978, p. 257.

[41] Poulantzas 1979, p. 195.

[42] Lenin 2012.

[43] El Universal, February 5, 2002, p. B-1.

[44] Ellner 2008, p. 114.

[45] Bilbao 2008, p. 196.

[46] Globovision news, February 27 and April 28, 2014.

[47] In a previous work, I argue that the internal divisions in the Chavista movement have a material base (Ellner 2014, pp. 86-96).
[48] Miquilena was a leading member of a dissident Communist group in the 1940s that was actually sceptical of the transformational potential of the national bourgeoisie (though without rejecting the notion completely), but he subsequently modified his position on the issue (Ellner 1981, pp. 52, 56, 63).

[49] Collier and Collier 1991, p. 333. Perón’s anti-imperialist credentials were stronger than those of other progressive presidents of the 1940s and 1950s in that he nationalized British-owned railroads and public transportation and the ITT-owned telephone company.

[50] Morales 2004; Vera 2012.

[51] Rangel, 2006.

[52] By 2014 Marea Socialista (MS) had emerged as the largest left grouping within the PSUV. It was founded in early 2007 as a split -off of a Trotskyist-led current within the labour movement over the issue of whether to form part of the recently founded PSUV. Some, but not all, of its leaders and rank-and-file members identify with Trotskyism. As the economic crisis deepened in 2015, MS hardened its position against Maduro. Most (though nota all) MS leaders, including Gonzalo Gómez, Nicmer Evans, recognized the existence of an economic war consciously waged by the business sector but argued that the term was being used by Maduro to avoid attacking such problems as capital flight and corruption by nationalizing the banks and foreign commerce.
[53] The widely increasing disparity between official and open market exchange rates in Venezuela beginning in 2012 defied the logic of capitalism (see footnote 2). When the moderate Chavistas pointed out that in some cases regulated prices were inferior to production costs, they were basically saying that economic indicators in Venezuela defied the logic of capitalism and were thus a recipe for acute problems. On this basis, the article establishes a relationship between the moderate Chavistas who focused on market disequilibrium and structural Marxism.

[54] Domhoff 1990, pp. 69, 187.

[55] El Nacional, June 29, 2014, p. 2.  

[56] Schemel, 2014.

[57] Another argument against considering one of the two factors as exclusively ‘fundamental’ has to do with long-term returns on investment. Price speculation and contraband that generate immediate windfall profits may be attributed solely to economic motives rather than political ones. In contrast, the motives of capitalists who rule out ambitious costly expansion because they are sceptical about being able to reap sufficient profit due to the policies of an unfriendly government, such as that of Chávez, are more difficult to determine. In this case the decision may be the result of a simple cost-benefit calculation or may be politically driven with the aim of generating instability either to influence policy or to promote regime change. The distinctions between these motives may be somewhat hazy and in any case difficult to document. 
[58] Woods 2008, p. 415; see also, Valderrama and Mena 2005, p. 69.

[59] CMR, 2013, p. 3.

[60] Just as he denied that the Venezuelan government was ‘bourgeois’ in nature, Woods and the IMT rejected the thesis, which had always been the source of controversy among Trotskyists, that the Soviet Union under Stalin had restored capitalism (Woods 2008, pp. 260-263).
[61] CMR 2013, p. 2.

[62]  See, for instance, Bilbao 2008, pp. 182, 195-196.

[63] Arreaza, 2014.

[64] Temir Porras, the director of various important state financial institutions, proposed what this article defines as a ‘strategic alliance’ with the private sector. Porras argued that preferential treatment toward the Venezuelan bourgeoisie over multinational capital would boost national production and allow the government to consolidate past gains, even while not advancing Venezuela toward socialism. In addition, he recommended to Maduro that he reject collective leadership as had Chávez, and that he follow a ‘pragmatic’ strategy of winning over the middle class in order to increase Chavista electoral support to far above fifty percent. Porras, whose proposals generated considerable controversy within the Chavista movement, was removed from his positions in late 2013.
[65] Harnecker 2010, p. 62; see also, Harnecker 2012, pp. 166-167; Lebowitz, 2010, pp. 152-153; Bilbao 2008, p. 195.

[66] Poulantzas 1979, p. 196.

[67] Carrillo 1977.

[68] Thwaites Rey and Ouviña 2012  pp. 75-78.

[69] Ortiz 2004, pp. 79-81; Gates 2010, pp. 26-31.

[70] Lebowitz 2010, pp. 105-109; Raby 2006, p. 262.

[71] Poulantzas 1978, p. 251; Jessop 1982, p. 179; Jessop 2008, p. 118.

[72] Jessop 1982, 179.

[73] Poulantzas, 1978 141, pp. 269-260.