Implications of Marxist State Theory and How They Play Out in Venezuela

in Historical Materialism
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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 radicalisation over a period of time. During Poulantzas’s 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.

Historical Materialism

Research in Critical Marxist Theory



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Barrow 1993, p. 13. ‘Hard instrumentalism’ especially differs from non-Marxist instrumentalism, which focuses on the disproportionate influence of capitalists on policy-making, but leaves the defence of the capitalist system out of the picture. In doing so, it ignores the ‘class-consciousness’ of the capitalist class, a feature that is central to the thinking of Marxist instrumentalists and is of primary concern for this article. See, for instance, Domhoff 1990, pp. 2–5.


Barrow 2008, pp. 94–5. Ironically, the positions of Miliband and Poulantzas began to converge in the mid-1970s precisely when the exchanges between the two became particularly offensive. One scholar notes that Miliband at this time developed a ‘reconstituted instrumentalist theory’ marked by ‘convergences’ with Poulantzas on a number of issues. Areas of agreement included: the need to struggle simultaneously within and outside of the state in the transition to socialism; the state’s relative autonomy; the ‘principle of a plurality of parties’ on the left in the revolutionary process; and the critique of rightist currents within the Eurocommunist movement (Haider 2016b).


Sweezy 1942, p. 243.


Miliband 1977, p. 83.


Miliband 1969, p. 111.


Miliband 1969, pp. 177–8.


See Block 1977, pp. 8–9.


Block 1980, p. 236.


Poulantzas 1969, p. 78; Althusser 1971, p. 147; Althusser and Balibar 1970, pp. 216–18.


Jessop 2002, pp. 179–94.


Barrow 1993, p. 62.


See Block 1977, pp. 14–19.


Block 1977, pp. 12–13.


Ferretter 2006, pp. 69–70.


Lewis 2007, pp. 140–3. Poulantzas I rejected the pcf’s broad-based anti-monopoly alliance and similarly Garaudy’s ‘new historic bloc’ (Poulantzas 1975, p. 231).


Althusser 2014.


Poulantzas 1978, p. 141.


Poulantzas 1978, pp. 152, 259.


Poulantzas 1978, pp. 129, 131; Poulantzas 1979, p. 198.


Poulantzas 1978, pp. 254, 258.


Poulantzas 1975, pp. 204–5; Jessop 1982, pp. 168–9.


Poulantzas 1979, p. 195.


Poulantzas 1978, p. 257.


Poulantzas 1979, p. 195.


Seymour 2012.


Gates 2010, pp. 26–31.


Coronil 1997.


Katz 2015.


Bilbao 2008, p. 196.


Collier and Collier 1991, p. 333.


Miquilena 2000.


Morales 2004.


Rangel 2006.


As the economic crisis deepened in 2015, leftist Chavista currents such as ‘Marea Socialista’ (ms) hardened their position against Maduro. ms leaders Gonzalo Gómez, Nicmer Evans and others recognised 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 nationalising the banks and foreign commerce.


Domhoff 1990, pp. 69, 187.


Schemel 2014.


Ellner 2015. The motives of capitalists who rule out costly expansion because they are sceptical about being able to reap sufficient profit due to the policies of an unfriendly government are difficult to determine. 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 promote regime change. The distinctions between these motives may be hazy and in any case difficult to document.


Woods 2008, p. 415; see also Valderrama and Mena 2005, p. 69.


Woods 2008, pp. 391–2; Woods 2009, pp. 12–14.


See, for instance, Bilbao 2008, pp. 182, 195–6.


Arreaza 2016.


Haider 2016b.


Harnecker 2010, p. 62; see also Harnecker 2012, pp. 166–7; Lebowitz 2010, pp. 152–3; Bilbao 2008, p. 195.


Poulantzas 1979, p. 196.


Carrillo 1977.


Thwaites Rey and Ouviña 2012, pp. 75–8.


Ortiz 2004, pp. 79–81; Gates 2010, pp. 26–31.


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


Jessop 1982, p. 179.


Poulantzas 1978, p. 141, pp. 259–60.


Lebowitz 2010, pp. 105–9; Sader 2011, p. 138.


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