Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro (left) greeting with a hug Venezuelan Communist Party's general secretary Óscar Figuera (right) at Miraflores Palace. Photo: Factores de Poder/File photo.
Venezuela's governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela, PSUV, has a complicated history with the Communist Party of Venezuela, PCV. A recent public dispute between the two parties has exposed differences in a nation struggling to maintain a revolutionary stance in the wake of U.S. aggression.
Originally published in Orinoco Tribune.
Life turns on a dime: The Communist Party of Venezuela (PCV) has never had as much public attention as it does these days. It has even become a trending topic on social media platforms despite the fact that many of their leaders do not use those platforms because they are weapons (although not necessarily dented) of imperialism.
I have the slight impression that this was not the purpose of those who, hailing from the government and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), wanted to knock out their former ally. These are, apparently, shots that have backfired.
I also believe that for the majority of party members and sympathizers of the revolutionary process, this is an unnecessary, untimely, and alien fight.
I speak for myself, although I think I represent many others, when I say that I am sorry to admit that such a coarse ploy like that of the Teatro Principal has been carried out to question the current leadership of the PCV. It seems to me that even for political maneuvers, you should use your head a little more, especially if the issue is regarding a government that has had to fight so much against the self-proclaimed people and interim presidents.
I also affirm that it is even laughable to see that large media outlets of the most rancid status quo, national and global, all of them rabidly anti-communist, have devoted their space and time to defending the PCV. And it’s even funnier to see the PCV echoing these questionable supports.
We are standing here before the divorce of a toxic couple who have put up with each other during a long marriage. Suddenly, each one brings up acidic criticism that has gone stale regarding the other. Watching the fight from the sidelines, you inevitably come to the conclusion that they never loved each other. They married for convenience and stayed together “for the kids.”
As usually happens in these traumatic ruptures, many truths are told, but serious infamy is also incurred. Since they are mixed, enmeshed, intertwined, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish one from the other.
The PCV, from its position as a cadre party with its habitual attitude of being the owner of the absolute truth in matters of orthodox Marxism, is accusing the government and the PSUV of developing a neoliberal and anti-worker policy (note: this last word cannot be missing in the speech of a self-respecting radical communist). Not included in these allegations is the fact that the government of Nicolás Maduro has had to make major concessions, without which he very likely would not have been able to remain in power, and this would have put Venezuela today in the hands of the most recalcitrant of the pro-imperialist right-wing, with all the internal and geopolitical consequences that this would entail.
By the way, this reality must be understood by anyone who, as is the norm among communists, studies in depth the political reality, including its economic, political, and cultural contexts, both national and global. It seems to me that many understand it, but pretend not to.
For pecevistas (PCV party members), it is very difficult to admit that if Maduro had been guided by the economic lines emanating from the PCV Central Committee, the country would be, in the best of cases, in a situation similar to that of 2014-2017, with shortages, lines, hyperinflation, and the violent right in the streets, launching puputovs (similar to a molotov cocktail but filled with human feces). And, in the worst case scenario, the Chavista government would already be history, and only what Miguel Ángel Pérez Pirela calls “poets who are experts in composing odes to mourn failed revolutions” would remain.
The position of the government and the PSUV
The government and the PSUV should understand that this line of confrontation with the leaders of the PCV does not add anything to the revolutionary cause and, instead, subtracts much more than the austere pecevista electoral quota.
It would be pertinent for them to evaluate with a cool head whether it is true or false that ousting the current directors and adopting a PCV leadership aligned with the government would equate to more support and more votes.
Nobody is asking me, but in my opinion: no. In the first place, because, objectively, that support has always been modest, even in the best moments of romance between Chavismo and the PCV; and secondly, if there was a leadership other than the one headed by deputy Oscar Figuera, this would not automatically imply that the bases of the party would reconcile with the government of President Maduro.
In these bases there are many long-standing communists, deeply ideologized, formed in the culture of debate and questioning, contradiction and dialectic. Those people are not going to change because another base of operations has been installed. There are also many fanatics who repeat Marxist-Leninist catechisms and believe those are the only interpretations, to the point that they never fully trusted Hugo Chávez, whom they considered an upstart in those fields. And there is also a labor union component, located on the front lines of battle of a working class that has been either abandoned or betrayed (opinions differ) by the PSUV labor leaders.
Divisionism: older than the red rooster
The PSUV-PCV controversy is typically political. In it, the two contestants demonize the other and paint themselves as the “good guys.” Obviously, everything has its elements of truth and its elements of deceit.
For example, the PCV presents itself as an extremely democratic organization, compared to the “authoritarian” and “clique-run” PSUV. But it is enough to review who they are today and who the best-known figures of the PCV 20 or more years ago were to conclude that in this aspect of renewal, the communists do not have much moral authority to criticize other parties.
Óscar Figuera’s image of an honest and austere man works in his favor, which is saying a lot at this time. But he is also the eternal general secretary of the PCV. He has been in office for 27 years and is beginning to approach the record holder, Jesús Faría (his father), who accumulated 35 years in office.
The attempt at a “rebel” congress at the Teatro Principal was deplorable. However, if the history of the PCV is reviewed, it will be revealed that this is not the first time the suitcases have been placed at the front door. Put more seriously, it is not a proper example of sustained monolithic unity either. On the contrary, there have been quite a few painful and traumatic breakups.
In fact, the First Congress (in 1946) was a confrontation between currents that had different interpretations of communism. There was a group they called the PCV-Bobito, led by Juan Bautista Fuenmayor. They were “browderistas,” since they agreed with the ideas of US communist Earl Browder, an early promoter of a third way between communism and capitalism. Another group was made up of Gustavo Machado, Rodolfo Quintero, and Luis Miquilena (jokingly called PCV Macha-Miqui), and a third, who advocated unity, was made up of Eduardo Gallegos Mancera, Pedro Ortega Díaz, and Miguel Otero Silva. The leader, Jesús Faría, headed a current that supported the browderistas, although he himself was not. From that position, he managed to win the general secretariat.
[By the way, the namesake son of this historical leader is one of the apples of contention between the PCV and the PSUV, since he is among the main promoters of the current economic policy, the same one that the communists consider anti-workers … But that is a separate topic].
There was so much rivalry in the approaches the two newspapers within the party embodied: the mythical Aquí está (Here it is) and another called Unidad (Unity). Then they were replaced by the still current (and surviving) Popular Tribune.
Among the biggest divisions are those that were caused by the dilemma surrounding the armed struggle; either to remain within it in the 60s, versus abandoning it at the end of that decade and the beginning of the next. A part of the pecevistas followed the example of Cuba and launched the guerrilla adventure, while another part remained in their posts of peaceful political struggle. The red rooster gave birth to the military arm, the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN), but from the underlying cracks emerged the Party of the Venezuelan Revolution (PRV, led by Douglas Bravo, after being expelled from the PCV), the Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS), and La Causa R and Vanguardia Unitaria Comunista that later developed into Nueva Alternativa.
In all these splits, and in other minor ones that occurred later, some accused the others of being petty-bourgeois and anti-worker, and then accused the others of not understanding the ebb and contradictions of the struggles of the masses.
In 1993, PCV unity was faced with another challenge, proposals to support the presidential aspiration of the Social Christian Rafael Caldera emerged, a thesis that was approved with the classic “handkerchief on the nose.” It was then said that the support was based on the fact that Caldera offered to break the neoliberal subordination to the International Monetary Fund (established by Carlos Andrés Pérez in his second unfinished term) and release the commanders of February 4 and November 27, 1992.
Caldera, the veteran leader of Social Christian Party (COPEI), at the time having already left the party, complied with the latter and stayed away from the IMF until the end of 1995, when he announced a new adjustment plan, the Agenda Venezuela. Then, in the PCV, the proposal to abandon that “neo-neoliberal” government arose.
It was at this point that the group of leaders led by Figuera gained internal power. Legend has it that the majority of the Central Committee or the Plenary (memory is diffuse on this statutory point, excuse me) was in favor of leaving the famous chiripero [coalition of leftist parties supporting Caldera] (because “the government had assumed an anti-worker policy,” goodness me), but the secretary general at the time, Trino Meleán, proposed giving Caldera more time and remaining in the coalition for a while longer. The problem was that Meleán was very ill and could not attend the meetings in Caracas in which this momentous decision would be made. The promoters of the thesis of leaving the Calderista government devised a way out: they hired buses to transport the members of the Central Committee (or the Plenary, I reiterate the doubt) and meet them at the Meleán residence to formalize the withdrawal. That is, they defeated the secretary general on his deathbed. This shows that the Teatro Principal is far from being the first bizarre and grotesque episode in the history of the ancient PCV.
It was at that time, early 1996, when Figuera took over from the ill-fated (and defeated) Meleán. Since then it has already been ratified on several occasions, according to the party’s internal regulations.
There is no reason to doubt that Figuera has been re-elected in a fair fight. However, after more than a quarter of a century, it is not unusual that in the PCV there may be individuals and even currents that want to change his leadership. What’s more, with what happened during the strange episode of the Teatro Principal, it has become clear that this party has expelled a few leaders and militants in recent years, and we are not yet sure if it was for just reasons or for mere petty disputes. Go figure.
According to some Gallologos (PCV connoisseurs), this discontent could well lead to new splits, without the need for the government or the PSUV to start pushing for it or for the state media to assume the issue as if it were a rupture in the Communist Party of China. Well, everyone has their own axe to grind.
Why does the PSUV insist on keeping the PCV in a satellite orbit? In order to answer this question, we must go back to 2006-2007, when Commander Chávez proposed that the new PSUV, a substitute for the Fifth Republic Movement (MVR), should be—said without sugar-coating—the sole party of the Revolution.
Important leaders of the PCV complied with the call and left decades or years of militancy to join the PSUV, including María León, Roberto Hernández Wohnsiedler, and Jesús Faría Jr. Other communist notables preferred to remain in their old party with an almost irrefutable allegation: the PCV is, ontologically, an organization of the proletariat and the peasantry, while the PSUV has the vocation of a typical multi-class party.
Chávez did not like that decision at all, and he came to assume quite unsympathetic attitudes towards the insubordinate communists, reminding them of their Calderista past and accusing them (unfairly, in truth) of having supported the toxic reform of the Organic Labor Law of 1997. Despite these invectives issued by Commander Chávez, the PCV always supported his candidacies and were part of the Great Patriotic Pole (GPP), the coalition formed by PSUV and its allied parties. “They are communists, not assholes,” said a godfather I had, who was a leader of the PCV and was expelled in the 90s.
The initial fissure has been widening since the death of Chávez and reached a breaking point in 2020, when the PCV withdrew its support for Nicolás Maduro. As of January 2021, the animosity became evident due to the constant friction between Figuera and the president of the National Assembly, Jorge Rodríguez, regarding the right to speak and the votes against or abstentions in Parliament. What often looked like a quarrelsome dog-catcher at school ended up contributing to the separation of the two allies.
In 2022, the pecevista leadership, especially that of the union field, had already entered into permanent confrontation with the government due to the salary situation. The epithet “anti-worker” was repeated over and over again.
So far this year, this conflict has only escalated, which is how we have arrived at the current scenario in which disgruntled PCV leaders and party members have shown their faces, questioning the Central Committee and accusing it of being at the service of the right-wing strategies against the Bolivarian Revolution.
To add more discord, PSUV agents have repeated the unfair practice of trying to pin their fallen figures on other parties and individuals, with Rafael Ramírez occupying a very special place on this list. The former minister is presented by these PSUV leaders as a supporter of the PCV, when the criminal acts and betrayals of which that man is accused date from the time when he was an inhabitant of the highest floor of the PSUV. It would be beneficial for all if everyone would assume their own position on this issue, as President Nicolás Maduro and the vice president of the party, Diosdado Cabello, have already done.
The renowned political philosopher Rigoberto Lanz stated in the prologue of a book by Louis Althusser, significantly called, The Unbearable in the Communist Party, (but, disclosure, in reference to the French party) that “every Marxist church invents its discussion in order not to discuss.”
He also points out that debate within a process of change must be ideological and go to the bottom. “If this causes scandal and fuss, there is nothing to worry about. The revolution goes through the demolition of the old myths” and alerts against the opportunism implicit in the “revolutionary verbalization without substance.”
That book was published almost by hand in 1979, after being translated from French by Iván Padilla Bravo and other political prisoners at the San Carlos Barracks. As one of the great Venezuelan visionaries that he was, Lanz in this text seemed to be predicting our situation four decades later. Could it be possible?
Clodovaldo Hernández is a journalist and writer based in Caracas, Venezuela.