The Prioritization of Anti-Imperialism in Venezuela and Mao’s “Contradictions among the People”


Steve Ellner

Science and Society

July 2023 issue

In a surprising move, the
Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) and several smaller leftist parties broke
with the government of Nicolás Maduro in July 2020 after twenty years of
supporting him and his predecessor Hugo Chávez. In effect, the PCV rejected Maduro’s
“defensive strategy” consisting of rollbacks designed to attract private
capital in the face of adverse circumstances largely caused by US–imposed
sanctions. The PCV accused the Maduro government of embracing a neoliberal
approach, abandoning the working class, and violating democratic norms.
Actually, the PCV was always critical of Chávez and Maduro, but the party’s
anti-imperialism had previously overshadowed criticism of the government
(Vázquez, 2021). Curiously, the PCV and its allies broke with the Chavista (pro
Chávez) government when Washington, supported by several dozen conservative and
right-wing governments, was ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela through
interventionist policies to achieve regime change. While some analysts on the
left attributed Maduro’s concessions to the need to attract capital and
influence Washington policy makers, the PCV blamed the rollbacks on “the
government’s dominant liberal bourgeoisie tendency” (Ellner, 2021; PCV, 2021b). 

The analysis of subjective conditions (the consciousness and resoluteness of
the revolutionary subject) and objective conditions by Marx and Lenin in their
formulation of non-offensive or defensive strategies helps frame the issue of
the Maduro government-PCV split.[1] Just as Marx and Lenin aimed to identify
stages based on objective-subjective conditions that, in turn, determined
strategy, the intensification of imperialist aggression against Venezuela
beginning in 2015 represented a new stage which, according to the Chavistas,
required a new political and economic approach. The year 2015 not only marked a
new threshold for what could be called Washington’s “war on Venezuela,” but was
also the beginning of the rise to power of right-wing movements in Latin
America (first with the election of Mauricio Macri in Argentina). Indeed,
Maduro called attention to the unfavorable objective conditions by calling his
most important business-friendly legislation in 2021 the “Anti-Blockade Law”
and, in doing so, justified his defensive strategy as a necessary response to
the harsh measures imposed by imperialist powers. 

This article argues that in the
Venezuelan case, there are tools, albeit imprecise ones, to determine whether
the type of retreat engineered by Maduro was congruent with
objective–subjective conditions stemming largely from imperialist aggression.
The article contends that a viable leftist “defensive strategy” retains some of
the programs and struggles the left embraced until then, as popular frontism in
the 1930s was designed to do and as the Maduro government claimed it was doing.
In addition, the article argues that although objective and subjective
conditions in Venezuela justified a defensive strategy on economic policy, an
analysis from a leftist perspective needs to critically look at other
government policies and actions that may have represented an overreaction by
Maduro to unfavorable objective conditions. 

The article’s basic argument is
that the intensification of the Washington-directed campaign against Venezuela
after 2015, particularly under the Trump administration, represented a
qualitative change in objective conditions. The PCV largely passed over the
issue of how to respond to changing objective conditions stemming from
imperialism in its decision to withdraw support from and condemn the Maduro
government. The paper will examine other shades of leftist positions on the
government to shed light on alternative critiques of Maduro informed by
anti-imperialist analysis. Specifically, it will look at positions of “critical
support” for Maduro and “loyal opposition” to his government by political
actors on the left who shared many of the PCV’s criticisms but rejected its
definitive break with the Chavista leadership. 

The analysis of
objective-subjective conditions is essential in the formulation of any
political strategy, but there are potential perils that this article will
discuss. Objective conditions are largely quantifiable, but subjective ones are
not. This factor may tilt analysis toward objective factors at the expense of
giving proper weight to revolutionary subjects that appear dormant. Indeed,
unfavorable objective conditions are sometimes opportunistically invoked to
justify strategies that overlook undemocratic practices, corruption, and the
failure to take risks to make revolutionary advances. A corollary of Lenin’s
dictum on democratic centralism — that Communist Parties need to be as
internally democratic as it can given existing circumstances — may be formulated
for leftist governments like that of Maduro facing external threats: despite
unfavorable objective conditions, a leftist government cannot place on the back
burner all policies and goals that point in the direction of a socialist

Similarly, the left’s
implementation of defensive strategies has historically had mixed outcomes. The
last hundred years are replete with examples of leftist governments that
succumb to pressure from powerful groups on the right and definitively abandon the
struggle for structural transformation. Thus, a distinction must be made
between a temporary pragmatically driven retreat in the form of a “defensive
strategy,” which nevertheless continues struggles on some fronts, and a
permanent surrender. The article will examine conflicting currents within the
Maduro leadership and movement in order to contrast these approaches and their
long-term implications. 

Defensive strategies and the appraisal of
objective–subjective conditions

In breaking with Maduro despite the
escalation of imperialist aggression, PCV leaders overlooked the Communist
movement’s history of centering analysis on the reading of objective
conditions. A brief review of the writings of Marx and Lenin is in order for
the purpose of demonstrating the centrality of objective and subjective
conditions in Marxist analysis and to suggest that the PCV’s decision to
completely break with Maduro, while based on plausible arguments, was

The analysis by Marx and Lenin of
objective and subjective conditions served to identify pre-revolutionary
situations, or to refute the claim that the country was in a pre-revolutionary
situation, or to argue that a new stage had set in requiring a defensive
strategy. Thus, for example, Lenin pointed to objective and subjective
conditions in his April Theses, which declared that Russia was approaching a
pre revolutionary situation, and then in his activist support for events in
October.[2] Shortly after that, in the throes of civil war, Lenin analyzed
objective and subjective conditions and advocated a defensive strategy on
various national and international fronts, as did the international Communist
movement at several junctures throughout the twentieth century. These
experiences point to a pattern in which factions on the left, invigorated by
the momentum and advances of previous years, criticized the defensive strategy
as signifying the doom of the revolutionary process. This was the case with
Louis Auguste Blanqui’s followers and allies following the revolutions of 1848
and, to a certain extent, with some Bolshevik leaders after 1917 (as discussed

It was also the case in Venezuela,
where virtually the entire left in the nation avidly supported the charismatic
Chávez. Thus, many considered any rollback to be a betrayal of his legacy. Some
Maduro critics like the PCV called for defending the gains made under Chávez
and then embarking on a renewed offensive by “returning to the path of national
liberation” and eventually socialism once subjective conditions improved in the
form of a favorable “change in the correlation of forces” (PCV-Comisión Nacional
de Ideología, 2021, 7). The Corriente Marxista Internacional (affiliated with
the Trotskyist International Marxist Tendency), which joined the PCV-initiated
anti-Maduro alliance, was even less hesitant to allow the imperialist offensive
to put the brakes on revolutionary transformation, as Maduro had done. Claiming
that “weakness always invites aggression,” the Corriente called for deepening
the revolutionary process as the only way to counter imperialist aggression
(Corriente Marxista Lucha de Clases, 2020, 6; see also Gilbert, 2020,

There are parallels between the
debate on the left over Maduro’s defensive strategy and the polemics over
positions assumed by Marx and Lenin in different contexts. For Marx and Engels,
the analysis of objective conditions was fundamental to dialectical materialism.
If quantitative change leads to qualitative change — a basic precept of
dialectical materialism — then only a reading of constantly changing
objective-subjective conditions can provide a rough idea of how far a nation is
at a given moment from achieving revolution and the correct strategy to

What is striking about the span of
the political careers of Marx and Lenin is their support for widely different
strategies depending on existing objective and subjective conditions. Thus, for
instance, on the eve of the revolutions of 1848, Marx and Engels were
particularly optimistic about Germany, which they viewed as in a
pre-revolutionary situation due to its “more advanced conditions” including “a
much more advanced proletariat” than existed elsewhere in Europe (Marx and
Engels, 1998, 57). Beginning in mid-1850, however, in the context of a
conservative backlash, Marx polemicized against an insurrectionist line within
the Communist League (which included the Blanquists) by pointing to such
objective conditions as the economic prosperity that had set in throughout
Europe, in contrast to the situation in 1848. On this basis, he called for a
long-term strategy of building a mass based workers’ movement before initiating
a revolutionary offensive. Engels later noted that Marx’s “cool estimation of
the situation . . . was regarded as heresy” by the League’s radical faction
(Engels, 2010, 328; Johnstone, 1983, 302, 306). Marx’s realistic assessment of
developments in France in late 1870 also led him to advocate caution, in
contrast to the radical faction on the left headed by Blanqui. The arming of
the popular sectors in Paris, however, was a game changer for Marx, who
proclaimed, “Paris armed was the revolution armed,” at the same time that he
became a wholehearted supporter of the Paris Commune (though not without
criticisms) (Marx, 1933). Lenin also pointed to changing objective and
subjective conditions in his formulation of defensive (or non-offensive)
strategies in the early 1920s, sometimes in contrast to the views of prominent
leaders of the Soviet Communist Party and the Comintern. In addition, he made
clear that strategies were temporary and pegged to existing conditions. In
anticipation of possible disillusionment among socialists, Lenin insisted that
the NEP was a “strategic retreat” and that, just like in warfare, the enemy and
the main objectives remained the same (Lenin, 1973, 63–65). The NEP was made
necessary by the “very severe defeat on the economic front” during the period
of “war communism,” but also the economic expansion of capitalist Europe in the
1920s as well as soil impoverishment in Russia, the result of prolonged war (ibid., 63). 

Similarly, on the international
front, Lenin’s position did not coincide with that of Grigory Zinoviev, Nikolai
Bukharin, and other Communist leaders who failed to reflect strategically on
the bloody setbacks in Hungary in 1919 and Germany in 1919 and 1921 and who
assumed that the momentum of the 1917 Soviet revolution would continue unabated
(Jacobson, 1994, 46–47). At the Comintern’s Second Congress in 1920, Lenin
differed with M. N. Roy on his rosy assessment of the revolutionary prospects
of his native India and his negative views of the national liberation movement
represented by Gandhi. The assessment of objective and subjective conditions
was key as Roy greatly exaggerated favorable conditions, including the
numerical strength and ideological commitment of the nation’s proletariat. In Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder,
Lenin criticized ultra-left leaders in Germany for overlooking
objective–subjective conditions, including the “dormant” state of the masses
and for failing to produce “even a shred of proof” to back their claims that
parliamentary participation was “politically obsolete” (Lenin, 1966, 57). In
what could have been cited by Maduro as an argument for his defensive strategy,
Lenin wrote: “The entire history of Bolshevism . . . is full of instances of
changes of tack, conciliatory tactics and compromises with other parties,
including bourgeois parties!” (ibid.,
70). Shortly before his death, Lenin opted for a defensive or non-offensive
diplomatic strategy of buying time, or in his words, “holding out,” in order to
weather unfavorable conditions. His aim was to “prevent the West European
counter-revolutionary states from crushing us” until conditions allowed for
Communists to retake the offensive (Jacobson, 1994, 43). 

The Communist movement’s analysis
of subjective conditions is also relevant to Maduro’s defensive strategy and
the leftist opposition in Venezuela. In What
Is to Be Done
, for instance, Lenin underlined the importance of subjective
conditions in their relationship to objective conditions. In it, he argued that
the party (subjective condition) was the guarantee that worker struggles would
go beyond the economistic aspirations inherent in the mentality of the working
class as a whole. In another situation in which the assessment of subjective
conditions entered into play, the Soviet government (contrary to the position
of Beijing) observed in the 1960s that in important Middle East and African
countries, the working class and Communist Parties lacked the numbers and
strength to play a lead role in the transformation of their respective
countries and ended up viewing non-Communist, nationalistic governments in
those regions as politically advanced and as critical allies. Those leftists
throughout history who have argued for an offensive strategy with far-reaching
objectives, like the Chinese during the 1960s, are usually optimistic regarding
subjective conditions and raise the possibility of “revolutionary leaps”
occurring in the not-distant future (Gau, 1967, 182, 240, 282; Campbell, 1970,
248–253; Harrison, 2022).[3]

Parties and leaders on the far left
of the political spectrum also frequently argue that objective conditions are
ripe for revolutionary change but that subjective conditions, namely the left’s
revisionist leadership, hold back the process. In other contexts, this line of
thinking warns against giving too much weight to objective conditions and using
it as an excuse for inaction while ignoring the role of the vanguard
(subjective condition) in accelerating change. Furthermore, as a corrective to
the determinism resulting from the overemphasis on objective conditions, it is
necessary to grasp that there is a dialectical relationship between objective
and subjective conditions and that the former is never static. Those on the
left who favor giving greater weight to subjective conditions also lash out at
the “determinists” — social democrats and mechanical Marxists among them — who
ignore that “conditions are never just right” (Harrison, 2022). Had the
determinist thinking of Lev Kamenev prevailed in 1917, for instance, the
October Revolution would never have occurred, an observation made by those who
justified the precipitous decision to engage in guerrilla warfare in Latin
America in the 1960s (Muñoz, 1970, 115). In Venezuela, the same line of
thinking characterizes parties to the left of the PCV that call for an
offensive strategy as a response to the imperialist offensive (to be discussed

In summary, both Marx and Lenin
pointed to specific objective and subjective conditions to define whether
nations were in a pre-revolutionary situation (as in 1848, France in 1871, and
Russia in 1917) or whether non-offensive or defensive strategies were called
for (as in Europe in the 1850s and the Soviet Union in the early 1920s).
Especially relevant for the Venezuelan case was the external political
environment (in Latin America and Europe), which, for Marx and Lenin, was also
a key factor in determining strategy. Also relevant is that the realistic
analysis of Marx and Lenin that led them in certain situations to advocate
caution was questioned, and in some cases vigorously opposed, by important
figures in the Communist movement (and other leftists, such as the Left
Socialist Revolutionaries who opposed the signing of the Treaty of
Brest-Litovsk) and not just the Blanquists, anarchists and (in the 1930s)
Trotsky, as is well known. Advocates of an offensive strategy included August
Willich and Karl Schapper of the Communist League in the 1850s and Zinoviev and
Bukharin in the 1920s with regard to foreign policy.  

Maduro’s defensive strategy as a response
to the imperialist offensive (objective conditions)

No leftist government has been
spared the disruptive activity promoted by foreign powers in conjunction with
local elites. Nevertheless, differences in the intensity of this hostility have
to be taken into account by the left in evaluating objective conditions and
formulating strategy. The Chavista governments, almost from the outset, were
subject to the legal, semi-legal, and illegal regime-change efforts engineered
by both sets of actors, more so than in the case of other progressive (or “Pink
Tide”) governments in twenty-first century Latin America. A second comparison,
namely Venezuela before and after 2015, is also relevant to the discussion of
Maduro’s defensive strategy. In 2015 Washington-promoted interventionism in
Venezuela reached a new threshold, first with Obama’s executive order declaring
Venezuela a threat to US national security and then the international sanctions
imposed by the Trump administration. Comparisons between the “war on Venezuela”
and Washington’s hostile actions against other “Pink Tide” governments, and
between Venezuela before and after 2015, help contextualize Maduro’s defensive
strategy and shed light on objective conditions. 

Several factors demonstrate that
Washington singled out Venezuela for special treatment and that actions
designed to undermine stability were especially intense and ongoing compared to
those faced by neighboring pro-leftist governments (Emersberger and Podur,
2020, 22). More than any other Pink Tide head of state, Chávez was a
charismatic leader with a worldwide following. Washington viewed him as
especially threatening because, from the outset, he questioned unipolarity,
which was a euphemism for US hegemony and imperialism, and at the same time
engaged in an activist foreign policy. The effectiveness of his leadership was
demonstrated in his second year in office when, discarding warnings, he
traveled to all OPEC countries to pave the way for the organization’s second
summit in Caracas, where he gained acceptance for his plan to stabilize oil
prices at upper levels. The following actions carried out by external and
internal adversaries, even before 2015 when the anti-Maduro campaign reached a
new threshold, put in evidence the greater intensity of the destabilization
efforts against Venezuela. 

The magnitude of destabilization in
Venezuela prior to 2015 compared to other pink tide countries

  1. Ongoing
    destabilization and regime change actions. 
    The recurrence of
    disruptions largely designed to achieve regime change had no equivalent
    among other Pink Tide nations. Mobilizations of this nature included: the
    coup attempt of April 2002; the two-month general strike (which was, in
    fact, a lockout) of 2002–3; the “foquista” tactics of street violence in
    2003 by those who argued that Chávez would soon assume dictatorial power;
    the Daktari Ranch incident in 2004 when the arrest of 54 Colombians
    thwarted an imminent military action to overthrow the government; the
    street violence in early 2007 to protest the closing of an opposition TV
    channel that had supported the 2002 coup; random violence in April 2013
    following presidential elections which was triggered by an inflammatory
    statement by defeated candidate Henrique Capriles alleging fraud,
    resulting in the death of ten Chavistas; the four-month paralysis of
    strategic urban areas in 2014 (known as the “guarimba”) with the stated
    aim of achieving regime change, resulting in the death of eight National
    Guardsmen and policemen (in addition to several dozen civilians). This
    record of ongoing insurgency and violence had no equivalent in other Pink
    Tide countries. 
  2. The
    US’ Office of Transition Initiative (OTI)
    . Shortly after the
    abortive coup of April 2002, the US installed in its Caracas embassy an
    Office of Transition, which, as its name implies, financed efforts to
    bring about regime change and functioned until 2009. The OTI operated
    under greater secrecy than USAID and National Endowment for Democracy
    (NED) programs. Nowhere else in South America did Washington set up OTIs,
    which were largely confined to countries perceived to be failed states or
    were characterized by extreme poverty typical of the Fourth World. 
  3. Refusal
    to recognize the legitimacy of elections
    . Both the Venezuelan
    opposition and the US government refused to accept the official results of
    the 2004 recall elections (which were certified by the Carter Center) and
    the 2013 presidential elections. The major opposition parties refrained
    from participating in the 2005 congressional elections, a decision Chávez
    attributed to pressure from Washington. 
  4. “Democracy
    promotion” programs that financed the Venezuelan opposition
    After Chávez’s election in 1998, Venezuela went from the tenth-largest
    recipient of NED funding to the first (Clemente, 2005, 66) in amounts that
    continued to increase sharply in subsequent years (Huertas, 2012, 23). The
    “Cablegate” documents released by Wikileaks reveal that the
    Venezuelan-based NGOs funded by NED and USAID engaged in a diversity of
    activities to a certain extent unmatched in other countries, including
    human rights, agrarian issues, electoral observation, conflict resolution,
    civilian-military relations, economic reform, law enforcement, education,
    decentralization, communications media, and the judiciary. Following
    Chávez’s re-election in 2006, democracy promotion funding targeted the
    student movement (the “generation of 2007”) from which Juan Guaidó and
    other radical opposition leaders during the Trump years emerged. 
  5. US
    diplomatic efforts to undermine Venezuelan foreign policy initiatives
    The “Cablegate” documents also shed light on the ongoing covert attempts
    by US diplomats to block Venezuelan initiatives abroad. While Cablegate
    documents on other countries in the region demonstrate the role of
    diplomatic personnel in promoting US corporate interests and specific
    Washington concerns such as security, in the case of Venezuela,
    interventionism was clearly directed against the Chávez government per se.
    Examples include the continuous efforts of the US ambassador in Haiti to
    convince that nation’s president not to join the Venezuelan-sponsored
    PetroCaribe (Coughlin and Ives, 2011), pressure on Lula to take the lead
    in isolating Venezuela, and a request that Brazil engage in espionage
    against Chávez; and pressure on the Russian government to refrain from
    selling arms to Venezuela. 
  6. The
    Colombian border and violence
    . Another largely unique situation
    is Venezuela’s extensive, easily passable border with Colombia, whose
    governments for most of the period were hostile to Caracas. The Venezuelan
    government accused Colombian president Alvaro Uribe of failing to combat contraband
    and the paramilitary units that crossed the border, as documented by
    Cablegate (Huertas, 2012, 23). 
  7. The
    role of the top leadership of the Church, business organizations, the
    labor movement, and the corporate media in attempts at regime change
    The cohesiveness of these established institutions in their support for
    the two regime change attempts in 2002–3 made the Venezuelan case somewhat
    unique. The Church hierarchy aggressively attacked Chávez during his first
    year in office. Then it applauded the April 2002 coup, while prominent
    corporate media representatives took credit for the coup the day after it
    took place. The alliance between traditional labor leaders and the
    nation’s main business organization (FEDECAMARAS) that spearheaded both the
    coup and the general strike was uncommon for such major events. Carlos
    Ortega, president of the Workers Confederation of Venezuela (CTV), along
    with a number of opposition political leaders, met with US political
    leaders and government officials on the eve of the April coup undoubtedly
    to get the green light for the impending action. 

The intensification of destabilization
after 2015

By 2005, following Chávez’s
consolidation of power and several regime change fiascos, inner-circle
policymakers in Washington put off all-out efforts to topple the government
until more favorable circumstances set in.[4] That time came following Chávez’s
death in March 2013 due to several factors. First, Maduro lacked the charisma
and popularity of his predecessor and was elected president in April by a mere
margin of 1.5 percent of the vote. Second, in the context of a near power
vacuum prior to Chávez’s death, the exchange control system spun out of
control, setting off rampant inflation that became difficult to control. Third,
beginning in mid-2015, international oil prices plummeted. And fourth,
beginning in 2015, conservative and right-wing presidents came to power in
nearly every South American nation while the Venezuelan opposition gained
control of the National Assembly. In this context of vulnerability,
Washington’s hostility to the Venezuelan government reached unprecedented
levels. The diversity of fronts in which aggressive actions were taken to
achieve regime change had no equivalent elsewhere in the region during these
years. The following actions demonstrate the qualitative change that occurred
beginning in 2015. 

  1. The
    Obama executive order of 2015 declaring Venezuela an “extraordinary
    threat” to US national security. 
    Washington spokespeople
    failed to provide evidence for this claim. The order followed a pattern in
    which similar accusations against Syria, Iran, and other countries were
    preludes to implementing economic sanctions. It is in the context of
    Washington’s increasing hostility toward Venezuela that the decision of US
    companies to close plants and leave the nation has to be seen. However,
    the announced reason for their decision was deteriorating economic
    conditions. Both factors were undoubtedly at play. Among the companies to
    leave were Kimberly Clark, Clorox, Pirelli, General Motors, and Kellogg’s.

    2. Regime change actions
    supported by the US 
    The reoccurrence of regime change
    attempts through different methods set Venezuela off from the rest of the
    Pink Tide. These included the four-month “guarimba” of 2017; a helicopter
    attack on the supreme court in June 2017; the attempted assassination of
    Maduro by two drones during a public event in August 2018; Juan Guaidó’s
    self-proclamation as president on January 23, 2019; the attempt on
    February 23, 2019, to supply “humanitarian aid” via the Colombian border
    which was designed to induce Venezuela’s military to turn on Maduro, as
    partly corroborated by a USAID audit (Reuters, 2021; Emersberger and
    Podur, 2021, 43–46); a failed military coup attempt on April 30, 2021,
    organized by Guaidó’s Voluntad Popular party; a paramilitary invasion by
    sea originating from Colombia organized by a Florida-based firm with links
    to Trump and financially supported by Guaidó with the participation of two
    US green berets in May 2020. 
  2. Crippling
    The well-publicized activism of US cabinet
    members in tracing Venezuelan trade patterns and money flows, and threats
    against foreign companies, was designed to ensure the effectiveness of
    economic sanctions and encourage “overcompliance.” The net effect of this
    campaign was to intimidate foreign companies, even those of Russia and
    China, into halting all commercial activity with Venezuela, even in the
    case of food, medicine, and other products not included in the sanctions
    (overcompliance). The active promotion of overcompliance and the use of
    US-dominated financial institutions for enforcement purposes took the
    system of sanctions as embodied in the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 against
    Cuba to new levels. 
  3. The
    US government’s encouragement of Maduro’s kidnapping and
    No other Pink Tide head of state faced overt
    threats of this nature. The above-mentioned paramilitary invasion of May
    2020 had as an objective the kidnapping of Maduro to collect the 15
    million dollar bounty the Trump administration placed on him. 
  4. Efforts
    to isolate the Maduro government
    The above-discussed
    strategy to isolate the Chavista government before 2015 reached new
    heights under the Trump administration, reinforced by the rise to power of
    conservative and right-wing governments in Europe and Latin America. The
    creation of the Lima Group in 2017 by twelve hemispheric nations, which
    rejected the legitimacy of the Maduro government and called for stringent
    measures against it, clearly demonstrated that the offensive against
    Venezuela was unmatched by actions against other Pink Tide governments. 
  5. Washington’s
    unwavering support for Venezuelan opposition leaders. 
    only did the US insist on international recognition of the parallel
    government of Juan Guaidó, but it threatened the Venezuelan government
    with reprisals if he were to be imprisoned. In an unprecedented move, the
    Citgo Petroleum Corporation and other assets of the Venezuelan state were
    turned over to the Guaidó makeshift administration. 
  6. The
    freezing of the Venezuelan state’s deposits in financial
    In another act of aggression that no other
    government in the region faced, an estimated 5.5 billion dollars of the
    Venezuelan government’s reserves were frozen in banks that feared
    reprisals from the US government and the European Union (La Iguana, 2021).
    The use of international financial markets to enforce the sanctions
    represented an escalation of the “soft coup” tactics employed by the U. S.
    government during the Cold War. 

The above points attempt to
demonstrate that the “war on Venezuela” was more intense than the hostile
actions carried out by powerful domestic and foreign actors against other Pink
Tide countries and that the aggression took a qualitative leap in 2015. The
purpose of the discussion is to contextualize the defensive strategy adopted by
Maduro. It also addresses the argument that all leftist governments face
similar types of hostility, and thus Maduro should have been better prepared.
While the argument is certainly valid,[5] the severity of the hostility
relative to other Pink Tide countries needs to enter into the analysis as well
as the historical precedent of defensive and non-offensive strategies dating
back to Marx. 

In addition to the objective
factors that influenced Maduro’s decision to embark on a defensive strategy,
subjective conditions were also at play. Specifically, disillusionment among
Chavistas, which stood in sharp contrast with their passionate support for
Chávez, accounted for the low voter turnout for the governing United Socialist
Party (PSUV) and its resounding defeat in the 2015 elections for the National
Assembly. In those elections, the united opposition received approximately the
same number of votes as in the previous presidential election of April 2013,
while the PSUV saw a loss of nearly two million votes, representing a decline
from 51 to 41 percent of the national vote. 

Maduro’s post-2015 policies: capitulation
or masterstroke?

Like Lenin’s NEP, Maduro’s
defensive strategy contained economic and political dimensions. The NEP was
designed to facilitate economic recovery in the aftermath of the Civil War and
neutralize, if not appease, the kulak class with their organized resistance
(including revolts) to Communist rule (political objective). Maduro, for his
part, adopted a multidimensional strategy consisting of pro-business economic
policies to attract much-needed investments, but it also had a political side.
Concessions to the private sector were designed to divide the opposition by
neutralizing a “moderate” sector that supported the measures and to influence
Washington to lift the sanctions. 

The political dimension of Maduro’s
defensive strategy rested on the premise that regime change was not
Washington’s sole objective. The US government used the sanctions as “leverage”
(a term increasingly used in Washington) to extract concessions in favor of US
business interests. It also insisted that Venezuelan opposition leaders
(especially its surrogates) be given ample political opportunities. Indeed,
Maduro’s pro-business policies were a sine
qua non 
for reaching agreements and maintaining cordial relations
with Venezuelan opposition moderates. In short, Maduro’s defensive strategy was
directed at different actors, specifically Washington, the moderate opposition,
and domestic and global business interests (Ron, 2020). 

Maduro’s harshest critics on the
left interpreted his government’s pro-business measures as evidence that it had
embarked on a path of capitalist development by allying itself with what
various Chavistas called a “revolutionary bourgeoisie.” In contrast, according
to Maduro, concessions to the private sector were temporary measures designed
to encourage private investments. Thus Maduro prefaced his unveiling of the
Anti-Blockade Law to the National Assembly with a 3,500-word exposition on the
devastating impact of the economic war on Venezuela. In addition, measures that
eliminated the state’s absolute control of mixed companies in the oil industry
were designed to get around the US sanctions that prohibited commercial and
financial dealings with the state oil company PDVSA (Argus, 2021).

Maduro, however, refrained from
discussing two other targets of his defensive strategy, namely the winning over
of Washington and the Venezuelan “moderates” to recognition of his government’s
legitimacy. Had he explicitly stated this, he would have reinforced the
accusations of his leftist critics that he was appeasing foreign and domestic
adversaries by granting them concessions in violation of national sovereignty.
Nevertheless, the Maduro government entered into back-channel negotiations with
representatives of US business interests close to the Trump administration. It
even proposed an oil industry deal with one of them in an attempt to influence
policymakers to lift the sanctions (Confessore, Kurmanaev, and Vogel, 2020,

Maduro’s policy of reaching out to
the “moderates” had long been advocated by sectors within the Chavista
movement. From the beginning of Chávez’s presidency, the Venezuelan opposition
was divided, as demonstrated during the 2002 coup when the “moderates” favored
achieving regime change institutionally through the National Assembly rather
than the self-proclamation of businessman Pedro Carmona as president. Within
the Chavista movement, a minority current headed by the vice-president and
long-time leftist José Vicente Rangel favored overtures to the “moderates” and
rhetoric that differentiated them from the opposition radicals (Valero, 2011).
The failure to adopt Rangel’s strategy undoubtedly contributed to the unity of
the opposition, as encouraged by Washington, which paved the way for its
overwhelming victory in the 2015 National Assembly elections. Subsequently,
pressure from the Trump administration assured that the moderate leaders would
acquiesce to the radicals’ regime change strategy, even though they were not
even informed about Guaidó’s intentions to proclaim himself president in

Maduro’s pro-business policies and
political concessions (such as increasing the opposition’s representation on
the five-member National Electoral Council from one to two) influenced
moderates, many formerly ardent anti-Chavistas, to tone down their rhetoric.
The defensive strategy thus helped drive a wedge between the moderates and the
radicals. In less than two years, the opposition went from a united bloc
supporting Guaidó’s self-proclamation as president to total fragmentation as
nearly all the major parties split in two over whether to participate in the
National Assembly elections held in December 2020. Various issues separated the
opposition moderates and pro-Guaidó radicals. In addition to the debate over
electoral participation, the moderates, unlike the radicals, opposed the
US-imposed sanctions and generally supported the Anti-Blockade Law (El Universal, 2021). In some instances, the
Chavistas and moderates acted in unison against the pro-Guaidó radicals. Thus
in 2020, while opposition moderate and Chavista deputies to the National
Assembly allied to nominate its president and vice presidents, the radical
deputies split off to form a parallel body. 

By 2020 it became clear that the
regime change strategy against Venezuela had failed, as was acknowledged by the
influential US Senator Chris Murphy. At that point, some business operatives
close to Trump and members of his administration favored using the sanctions,
not as a means to overthrow Maduro but as “leverage” to pressure him into
making concessions, a position that became dominant under Biden. Back–channel
negotiators indicated to Bloomberg that they were “waiting to see concrete
steps from Maduro” in order to “protect the interest of US bondholders and
high-stakes American companies on the ground, such as Chevron” (Laya, Vasquez,
and Jacobs, 2021). One of the economic measures required for normalizing
relations with Venezuela was the repeal of Chávez’s Ley
Orgánica de Hidrocarburos
 of 2001, which established state majority
ownership of mixed companies in the oil industry. The implementation of the
“leverage” approach made clear what was the case all along, namely that
Washington’s policy toward Venezuela was not about strengthening democracy but
rather US strategic economic and political objectives. 

In summary, Maduro’s supporters
maintain that the government’s defensive strategy did not represent a permanent
surrender to the logic of capital. Instead, like Lenin’s NEP, it was a response
to highly unfavorable objective and subjective conditions. The plausibility of
the Chavista leadership’s argument rested on its assessment of the intensity of
the US-driven war on Venezuela, particularly after 2015, as well as the
increasing support in Washington for the use of sanctions not for regime change
purposes, but to extract economic concessions from Maduro. Even within the
logic of this pro-government argument, however, Maduro was open to criticism
for failing to initiate overtures that may have won over or neutralized
dissidents and critical sectors on the left, such as the PCV. Indeed, some on
the left accused Maduro of sectarianism (Marea Socialista, 2015). Had the
Maduro government viewed its differences with the PCV prior to the 2020 split
as, in the words of Mao Zedong, a “secondary contradiction” (Mao, 2007, 88–89)
meriting internal discussion and debate, then the infighting on the left may
have been contained, as will be discussed below. 

Left positions on Maduro’s defensive

By the December 2020 elections, the
Venezuelan left appeared to be highly polarized between the Madurista PSUV and
the anti-Maduro coalition led by the PCV, with little or no gradations between
the two poles.[6] The atmosphere of polarization, however, belied the diversity
among Venezuelan leftists with regard to positions on the Maduro government,
its defensive strategy, and the war on Venezuela. The PCV’s break with the
government in the lead-up to the 2020 elections partly contributed to
polarization because of the party’s widely recognized prestige. Not only is the
PCV Venezuela’s oldest political party, but it suffered from brutal repression
in the 1950s and 1960s and was one of the few Latin American Communist parties
to fully participate in the guerrilla struggle a few years after the Cuban
revolution, a decision that went against Moscow’s line. The PCV’s withdrawal of
support for Maduro encouraged others on the left to follow suit and assume a
position of hardened opposition. 

The Chavista leadership appeared to
view its leftist critics through the same lens as it did its critics on the
right. A major reason why the PCV broke with Maduro in 2020 was the lack of
space within the governing alliance (known as the Gran Polo Patriótico) to
discuss policy and the failure to provide the party with a just share of
positions on electoral slates (PCV, 2019, 5). Furthermore, before the December
2020 elections, the PSUV-controlled Supreme Justice Tribunal denied official
recognition to two PCV allies (the Tupamaro and Patria para Todos — PPT).
Instead, it granted it to pro-government split-offs from both parties. By
carrying out these actions and assuming a “you’re with us or against us”
attitude, the PSUV undermined leftist unity, which Chávez had successfully

Mao Zedong’s “On the Correct
Handling of Contradictions Among the People” (1957) has a direct bearing on the
dilemma faced by Maduro as to whether to view the PCV as an enemy or a
potential ally. Mao begins the work by underlining the importance of unity
which he claimed China had achieved to a degree without precedent in the
nation’s history. However, unity is not without contradictions. According to
Mao, the dynamic of dialectics before 1945 pitted the “people,” who opposed
Japanese aggression, against the Japanese and their Chinese collaborators. Even
among the “people,” dialectics often plays out in the form of secondary
contradictions as opposed to “antagonistic contradictions” involving enemies,
specifically the imperialists and feudal lords. With regard to secondary
contradictions, Mao points out that the law of the “unity of opposites” cannot
be ignored, as those who view socialism as conflict-free do, since it is
precisely these contradictions that “are the very forces that move our society
forward” (Mao, 1980, 21–22) In short, the secondary contradictions, if
correctly handled, contribute to the revolutionary process. 

These reflections, which
distinguish contradictions among the people from “antagonistic contradictions”
involving the imperialists, apply to Maduro and the PCV. In the first place,
the PCV was unequivocally opposed to the “imperialist enemy,” that is US imperialism.
In none of its declarations did the party minimize the severe consequences of
the sanctions. This position contrasted with groups on the far left, such as
Marea Socialista and Corriente Marxista Internacional, that claimed Maduro’s
mistaken economic policies, not the sanctions, caused the nation’s economic
crisis, which allegedly preceded Trump’s implementation of measures against
Venezuela (Corriente Marxista Lucha de Clases, 2020, 6). In this sense, the
PCV–Maduro clash could be viewed as “contradictions among the people.” In the
second place, the Polo Patriótico was the ideal venue for (in Mao’s words)
“discussion, criticism, and reasoning” and “persuasion and education” (Mao,
1980, 16, 53), but the PSUV converted that body into an electoral vehicle
(unlike Chávez who had called it a “historic bloc”). 

The following discussion identifies
different shades of positions on the Maduro government, imperialism, and the
defensive strategy. The analysis is intended to demonstrate that the appearance
of extreme polarization on the left misrepresented the more diverse
configuration of opinions that existed. Given this diversity, leftist political
actors in 2020 — Maduro and the PCV in particular — had options other than the
all-or-nothing approach rejected by Mao.

The radical opposition on the left

The PCV criticized a wide range of
economic measures taken by the Maduro government, including devaluation,
legalization of the use of the dollar in commercial transactions, tax
exoneration as incentives for investment, elimination of price controls, privatization,
labor flexibilization and alternatives to the system of collective bargaining.
Furthermore, in mid-2021, the Communist-led United Central of Workers of
Venezuela (CUTV) threatened to carry out an international campaign to denounce
criminal charges brought against Venezuelan trade unionists. At the same time,
the PCV deplored the failure to bring justice to assassinated peasant leaders,
including Luis Fajardo, a member of the party’s Central Committee (PCV, 2020b,

The PCV recognized the harm that
sanctions produced but failed to emphasize the issue. Thus, for instance, the
party’s Tribuna Popular published
84 articles on current Venezuelan politics in the newspaper’s nine editions
between July 2020 (when the PCV broke with Maduro) and January 2022, and none
of them focused on the international sanctions and other actions carried out by
Washington against Venezuela.[7] This lack of emphasis on imperialist
aggression would suggest that the PCV leadership failed to contextualize the
government policies that it criticized or to view them as understandable
overreactions to the war on Venezuela — as opposed to opportunism. The PCV’s
failure to consider external factors may be partly explained by the pressure
exerted on the party’s leadership by the rank and file, driven by the
precipitous decline in purchasing power and living conditions in general
(Vázquez Heredia, 2021).[8]

Before and after the 2020 split,
the Maduro government showed little tolerance for dissent on the left. During
the campaign for the 2020 elections, state media outlets provided opposition
candidates on the right promotional time in accordance with agreed-upon
electoral rules. However, they failed to do the same for the candidates of the
PCV, which denounced the “media censorship” (PCV, 2021a, 3). 

Subsequently, Maduro insinuated
that the PCV formed part of the “long arm of United States imperialism” (PCV,
2021c, 6). Even though both sides appeared to be far apart, certain positions
assumed by the PCV suggested that reconciliation would have been feasible at a
future date. Most important, PCV secretary general Oscar Figuera did not
discard the possibility of a future agreement, in contrast to some of the
party’s allies to its left, which explicitly rejected the idea (Morales, 2020;
Corriente Marxista Lucha de Clases, 2020, 4; Uzcátegui, 2021). Indeed, the PCV
called the decision to leave the governing coalition a “tactical adjustment”
rather than a definitive break (PCV, 2020a, 8). In addition, at the time that
it broke with Maduro, the PCV defended the legitimacy of his government, unlike
other groups and analysts on the left (PCV, 2020c, 3; Hetland, 2019) and
supported his foreign policy. At least at the theoretical level, the PCV
recognized that imperialism represented the “principal enemy of our people”
(PCV, 2020a, 8). This position implied prioritization of resistance to US
interventionism (rather than to the Venezuelan capitalist class). 

Subsequently, unlike some of its
electoral allies, the PCV along with the Maduro government sided with Russia in
the war with Ukraine. The PCV’s increasingly antagonistic stance toward the
government appeared to be at odds with the party’s praise of Moscow and Beijing
for its resistance to US imperialism, a position that coincided with that of

Although a reconciliation based on
a mutual acceptance of pluralism on the left was feasible at the outset of the
split in 2020, reciprocal hostility only increased in time. In the months
following the break, PCV leaders characterized the PSUV as “petty bourgeois,”
but in 2022 they claimed that Maduro’s economic policies were dictated by
members of the “national bourgeoisie” within the government in alliance with
the traditional bourgeoisie (Pino, 2022, 3). 

The allies of the PCV to its left
advocated “revolutionary measures” to face US imperialism, particularly the
expansion of the communes (self-governing communities), as Chávez had called
for in one of his last speeches (Martín, 2019). As is the case elsewhere, the
basic assumption of those on the Venezuelan left who prioritize subjective
conditions is that bold, radical actions generate a “qualitative leap” in the
consciousness and revolutionary fervor of the popular sectors. According to the
same logic, Maduro’s alleged concessions and capitulation to capital dampened
the spirit of the non-privileged sectors and explained their unwillingness to
support the government. The statements by these groups would indicate that they
failed to consider seriously any relationship between the offensive political
strategy they championed and the intensity of imperialist aggression. 

The gravity of the PCV’s
accusations against the Maduro government has to be weighed against the
harshness of the war on Venezuela and its economic impact. Obviously,
governments cannot be judged by the same criteria in wartime situations as in
times of peace. One question that defies easy answers is whether a more leftist
strategy on the part of the government consisting of an opening up to the
opposition on the left and a harder line toward the private sector (as
advocated by the PCV) would have led to greater instability in the face of the
nation’s severe economic conditions and erosion of support for the Chavistas.
In other words, could the Maduro government have achieved its objective of
dividing the opposition and resisting the “war on Venezuela” and low
international oil prices while pursuing a less conciliatory strategy toward
conservative and business interests? Such an approach would have enhanced the
possibility of reigning in the PCV and its allies on the left. 

Critical supporters

Elías Jaua, who had belonged to
Chávez’s inner circle and occupied top ministerial positions, and economist
Pasqualina Curcio were among the most prominent Chavistas to formulate
far-reaching criticisms of government policy while maintaining support for Maduro.
Both attributed the nation’s problems, including democratic shortcomings, to
the war on Venezuela. Jaua called for a renewal of the Chavista leadership, and
greater democratization of the party and the labor movement, and opposed both
the Anti-Blockade Law and disguised privatization, particularly of the oil
industry in the form of mixed companies. He refused, however, to publicly
debate the issue in accordance with PSUV party discipline (Jaua, 2020; Ellner,
2020a, 185). Curcio discretely framed the issue of the causes of Venezuela’s
economic crisis in a way that was favorable to Maduro. At the same time, she
pointed to deficiencies in his economic policies (Curcio, 2020, 104). Rather
than opposing the Anti-Blockade Law per
, she called for an open discussion on proposals such as creating
mechanisms to prevent profits from leaving the country and increasing the
purchasing power of workers. 

Under Maduro, Jaua and Curcio were
marginalized within the Chavista movement and largely excluded from government
media outlets. Jaua aspired to be the Chavista candidate for governor of the
populous state of Miranda for the 2021 elections. However, the PSUV’s
leadership prevented him from participating in party primaries for that
position, a decision he accepted even while hinting that it was politically
motivated. Both Jaua and Curcio were highly popular among the party’s rank and
file and the Chavista movement at large. 

The loyal opposition on the Left

The war on Venezuela had the effect
of rallying some non-PSUV leftists behind the government despite their sharp
criticisms of Maduro. Like Maduro’s critics within the PSUV, these leftists
pointed to the gravity of the war on Venezuela as the reason for their
restraint, even though the PSUV thwarted their political ambitions due to their
independent positions. Their support for the government stemmed from the
distinction they made between the dominant faction of the PSUV leadership
headed by Maduro and the social-democratic or right-wing faction (discussed
below), along with state bureaucrats allied with the class enemy.

Thus, for example, Angel Prado,
leader of the nation’s iconic commune El Maizal in the state of Lara, warned
that it was necessary to ensure that “our government isn’t taken over by
right-wingers disguised in red” and, on this basis, supported Maduro’s re-election
in 2018 (Prado, 2018; 2020, 49). In 2017 Prado had run for mayor in the
municipality of Simón Planas in Lara against the PSUV’s candidate and received
57 percent of the vote. However, the results were invalidated by the
PSUV-dominated electoral commission on technical grounds. Similarly, former
Commerce Minister Eduardo Samán, as a member of the PSUV’s leftist current,
aspired to represent the party in the 2017 mayoral elections in Caracas (and
again in 2021) but was vetoed by the party’s leadership. He then left the PSUV
to join the PPT, on whose ticket he unsuccessfully ran for mayor. Despite being
snubbed by the party, Samán criticized another former top minister of the
Chávez government, Jorge Giordani, who belonged to the intransigent opposition
on the left. Samán stated: “I also have criticisms, but am not going public. At
this moment, we have to prioritize unity because the whole [revolutionary]
process is on the line” (Ellner, 2020a, 185). The cases of Prado and Samán,
like those of “critical supporters” like Jaua, are clear examples of the PSUV’s
sectarian practices that marginalized important leaders and activists and, in
the process, ran the risk of converting “contradictions among the people” into
“antagonistic contradictions.” 

The chavista social democratic current

Agriculture Minister Wilmar Castro
Soteldo (and participant in the Chávez-led 1992 coup) was the foremost
representative of the PSUV’s social democratic current. Castro Soteldo rejected
an anti capitalist path and called for “the construction of a revolutionary and
transformational bourgeoisie” that would be a force for “national liberation.”
The statement was interpreted as a justification for privatization and the
dismantling of the agricultural communes (Uzcátegui, 2021; Velásquez Atehortúa,
2021, 169–170). 

The differences among Venezuelan
leftists regarding the influence of social democratic thinking on the Maduro
government sheds light on the applicability of Mao’s concept of “contradictions
among the people.” Those on the left end of the PCV-led alliance made no
distinction between the PSUV’s social democrats and Maduro, whom they
considered fully committed to strengthening the capitalist system (Corriente
Marxista Lucha de Clases, 2020, 3–6). In contrast, other critics did make a
distinction, and thus their criticisms of the president could be characterized
as “contradictions among the people.” The PCV, for its part, harshly criticized
Maduro’s concessions to business interests, but, at least at first, pointed to
currents within the PSUV and the government as representing the real threat,
namely the possible reversal of the advances achieved under Chávez. PCV
secretary general Oscar Figuera, for instance, pointed to factions within the
Chavista movement that sought to “construct “a new bipartisanship of elites”
(Figuera, 2020; PCV, 2020a, 9). For his part, Maduro did not publicly embrace
the “revolutionary bourgeoisie” thesis put forward by Castro Soteldo (Arreaza,

This article has pointed to the
centrality of objective conditions in formulating leftist political strategy
dating back to Marx and Lenin and currently in the debate between the
Venezuelan government and the PCV. Widely acceptable criteria, of course, do
not exist for determining the relative weight of objective conditions to arrive
at the correct strategy. However, this article suggests that some tools are
applicable in given situations. In the Venezuelan case, comparisons between
Venezuela and nations in the region and between different periods over the
recent past are useful for evaluating the defensive strategy pursued by the
Maduro government. The article also compares the initial willingness of PCV
leaders to reconsider their break with Maduro with the more intransigent
positions of parties to their left. It concludes that the PCV–government
confrontation needed not be, in the words of Mao, an “antagonistic
contradiction” and that the rupture of the governing alliance was far from

The Venezuelan controversy has to
be seen against the backdrop of the defense of national sovereignty against
imperialist aggression, which arguably is the left’s most important banner in
today’s global South. However, it has been downplayed in the age of
globalization (Xu, 2020, 2–3). The issue is at the heart of the Maduro–PCV
confrontation. Nevertheless, there are reasons, however, to reject a mechanical
view that subordinates all revolutionary goals and objectives to the challenges
posed by imperialism. Fidel Castro’s reflection that all Cuba’s problems cannot
be attributed solely to imperialist aggression pointed in this direction.
Freddy Bernal, a prominent PSUV leader, made a similar statement with regard to
Venezuela (Ellner, 2020b, 52–53). A defensive strategy such as that implemented
by Maduro cannot be the sole response of a government committed to
revolutionary change, regardless of the circumstances. Without continuing
certain policies of the past, a defensive strategy will lay the groundwork for
a permanent retreat and abandonment of revolutionary goals. Furthermore, the
leftist government’s ability to maintain popular support and mobilize followers
will be undermined. The Maduro government did, for instance, maintain Chávez’s
progressive foreign policy in favor of a multi-polar world. It also claimed
that it was promoting the “communal state” initiated by Chávez based on
self-governing and economically productive communities and clusters of

Undeniably, the government provided
the communes with resources, but the extent of its commitment has been the
source of debate on the left (Gilbert, 2020, 21). 

Several factors undermined the
possibility that the differences between Maduro and the PCV and some of its
allies could have been dealt with as “contradictions among the people.” For its
unity to have been achieved, Maduro would have had to convert the Polo
Patriótico into a space for intra-left debate and policy recommendations and to
have modified some of his pro-business policies. For part, the PCV would have
had to take into account the imperialist war on Venezuela in the formulation of
strategy and, in doing so, give greater consideration to the rationale behind
Maduro’s defensive strategy. The reformulation of strategy along these lines
implied a non-dogmatic approach to inter-left relations, in contrast to the
PSUV’s sectarianism toward the currents on the left analyzed in this article,
specifically the “loyal opposition on the left” and the “critical

The war on Venezuela, along with
other unfavorable conditions, lent itself to Maduro’s defensive strategy.
However, that approach was not without a major risk: the possibility that the
defensive policies would initiate a permanent retreat — contrary to the stated
intentions of Maduro (as well as Lenin in the 1920s) and in line with the model
advocated by the PSUV’s social democratic current associated with Castro
Soteldo. The best guarantee against backsliding would have been a cordial and
conciliatory stance toward allies and potential allies on the left. Indeed, a
principle was at stake. A leftist government needs to bend over backwards so
that “contradictions among the people” do not become “antagonistic
contradictions” — as they have in Venezuela — and, in the process, undermine
the goal of a united front on the left against common enemies. 


[1] The term “defensive strategy”
in this article refers to concessions and compromises by leftist governments
and parties that are adopted during unfavorable periods with the intention of
advancing toward revolutionary goals once objective conditions improve. The
strategy finds expression in Lenin’s phrase with reference to the NEP “one step
backward to take two steps forward.” As will be discussed, the PCV appeared to
defend what this article calls a “non-offensive strategy,” which refers to a
pause in demands and initiatives of a progressive nature in order to achieve
consolidation during unfavorable periods, but short of concessions. While the
distinction between “defensive strategy” and “non-offensive” strategy may
sometimes be blurry, the difference between Maduro’s strategy and that defended
by the PCV could not have been sharper.

[2] A major objective condition was
the Bolsheviks’ gaining control of a majority of soviets in the latter half of
the year, an achievement that could also be labeled a “subjective condition” in
that it implied heightened consciousness among key sectors of the population.

[3] Bob Avakian, long-time head of
the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), frequently posits the importance of
revolutionary “leaps” in both objective and subjective conditions (Avakian,
2016, 45, 51, 181, 408–409).

[4] Confidential interview,
Washington DC, October 22, 2004.

[5] Elsewhere I have argued that
Chávez and especially Maduro failed to take full advantage of favorable
situations partly because they failed to anticipate the formidable challenges
they would face once their adversaries went on the offensive (Ellner, 2020a,

[6] The PCV was the most important
member of the Alternativa Popular Revolucionaria alliance, which took in
diverse political parties on the left and social movements. They included two
Trotskyist parties, the barrio-based Tupamaro and the Patria Para Todos party
(which dated its origins to the Communist guerrilla movement of the 1960s).

[7] Only two articles focused on
the “war on Venezuela.” One deals with a decision of the International Court of
Justice that favored Guyana in its border dispute with Venezuela and the other
is a short piece on the accusations against Venezuela lodged by the UN’s Human
Rights Council (Tribuna Popular, July 9, 2020; October 6, 2020)

[8] I observed this dynamic in the
interaction between PCVistas in the audience and party leaders at a meeting
held in commemoration of the bicentennial of Marx’s birth at the PCV’s national
headquarters on May 5, 2018.


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