Volume 7

Generation Identification and Political Fragmentation in Venezuelan Politics in the Late 1960s

Steve Ellner

Ellner, Steve, Latin American Issues [On-line], 7.
Available: http://sites.allegheny.edu/latinamericanstudies/latin-american-issues/volume-7/


Steve Ellner is Professor of Economic History at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela. Dr. Ellner’s research has focused on twentieth century Latin American political history and the development of left-wing movements. He is the author, most recently, of “The Venezuelan Petroleum Corporation and the Debate over Government Policy in Basic Industry, 1960-76,” a monograph published by the University of Glasgow in 1987, and Venezuela’s Movimiento al Socialismo: From Guerilla Defeat to Innovative Politics, published in 1988 by Duke University Press.



The convulsions and radical and abrupt changes of the 1960s left an indelible mark on young people throughout the world, especially those who participated in cultural and political movements. The generational concept of Jose’ Ortega y Gasset in which young people are swayed by a sense of commitment to achieve a particular set of goals seems especially applicable to the period.1 Openness of expression, tolerance and sensibility to humanitarian issues may be considered values upheld by the generation of the 1960s. On the political front, the “New Left” spoke to the concerns of a large number of young people, especially in its rejection of established ideological isms, its search for new utopian models, and its Weberian preoccupation with bureaucratic structures.

Youth behavior in the 1960s led social scientists to analyze generational concepts in depth. Theorists pointed to a wide range of changes on socio­economic, political and cultural fronts to explain youth rebelliousness in modern times. One explanation viewed young people as “rebels without a cause” whose predicament stemmed from the fact that existing modes of thinking and action such as fascism, anti-Semitism, orthodox Marxism and aggressive nationalism, which might have captivated the young and channeled their energies, had lost credibility.2 Other theorists were influenced by a seminal essay first published in 1928 by Karl Mannheim which saw generational consciousness and “style” (or “entelechy”) as the product of social transformations in the society as a whole.3 Alain Touraine and Barbara and John Ehrenreich, among others, used this concept to show that student rebelliousness was either the result of the transformation of intellectual workers into a sector of the working class (the “new working class”) or an expression of a newly consolidated middle class.4

The psychological theories of Lewis Feuer and others maintained that the youth rebels were passing through a prolonged adolescent stage with its inevitable rejection of, and protest against, the older generation. According to them, student protests in the 1960s represented a means of escape from the competitive pressures of society. Feuer argued that rebellious youth combined ethical concerns with a sense of self-destruction, as demonstrated by the fact that crisis periods (unlike the situation in normal times) produce a higher incidence of suicides among young people than those of older age groups. These writers implied that the political issues raised by youth leaders were themselves irrelevant, not to say artificially contrived, whose function was to allow students to act out, sublimate or evade their problems. New Left leaders such as Daniel Cohn Bendit naturally resented these views as disparaging the seriousness of the goals of their movement and the messages which they were trying to convey.5

These explanations of generational conflict have in common a “macro” approach which assumes that societal changes and events have a uniform impact on the thinking of all young people, and which thus tends to minimize the differences among them. This assumption was held by Ortega y Gasset who emphasized the natural bonds between members of the same generation. According to the Spanish philosopher, even where formal contact between members of the same generation is lacking there is — in the words of one of his biographers — “still the common experience of the consciousness process and the link between older contemporaries and the future generations.”6

The members of an entire generation are never so uniformly influenced by events and common experiences that they end up holding an identical ideology.7 Nevertheless, in spite of differences, they sometimes formulate a similar set of questions, embrace similar goals and are collectively moved by similar problems. Examples of this combination of diversity and convergence abound. The “generation of 1898”, which so profoundly influenced Ortega y Gasset, was devastated by Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War and searched for a Spanish identity which would serve as a vehicle to lead the nation out of its backward state. Both monarchists and republicans figured among the generation’s prominent intellectuals. In Venezuela, the “generation of 1928” consisted of participants in the protests against long-standing dictator Juan Vicente Gomez. By 1931, however, they divided into the Communists and non­Communists and grouped in two distinct political organizations. Prominent representatives of the generation would retain membership in these two groups and their offshoot parties and would go on to play a leading role in the nation’s political life for the next half a century. Finally, members of the “generation of the 1960s” in the United States and Europe reacted to the War in Vietnam and other events of international concern while championing many of the same values and political ideals. Nevertheless, they participated in disparate political cultural movements, ranging from the “traditional” and New Left to the “hippie” subcultures.

In certain periods, the bonds between members of the same generation are extremely tenuous, and thus the “macro” approach – which posits uniformity – can only lead to erroneous conclusions. When the youth movement is seriously fragmented, extraneous factors exert dissimilar influences on different groups. In these situations, young activists cannot be viewed as “starting from scratch” in their receptivity to environmental factors since the meaning and importance of a given change or event hinges on their political affiliation and fledgling ideological commitment at the moment. In analyzing these cases, a “micro” approach which concerns itself with the influences on the political orientation of each individual group is more viable. Such an examination on an organization-to-organization basis, after establishing basic differences, would enable one to synthesize the traits which are the common denominators of youth behavior in general.

It may be argued that any study revealing outstanding differences and sharp conflicts among youth groups negates the relevance or applicability of the generational concept, which implies a uniform impact of events on young people. Only when a group of youthful contemporaries is united in the pursuit of common objectives, it may be added, does it warrant the title “generation of.”

Such an assertion, however, severely limits the parameters of generational analysis. Various youth organizations may uphold similar values stemming from the same source, which are nevertheless translated into disparate forms of action or support for different, even conflicting, policies. When young members of rival political parties are generation-conscious, be it of their entire generation or their generation within the organization, the use of a generational focus is justified. The retention of beliefs and attitudes by members of each group over an extended period of time and their continued loyalty to their contemporaries within the organization would be added reason to highlight the importance of generational patterns.

Karl Mannheim, in his 1928 essay, recognized that diversity in the thinking and behavior of youth did not rule out the possibility of generational consciousness. In fact, Mannheim criticized “most generational theories” for trying to “establish a direct correlation between waves of decisive year classes of birth…on the one hand, and waves of cultural change on the other.”8

Generational consciousness in Venezuela during the period under study was fragmented in this respect, as young people identified with fellow party members of the same age rather than with their generation as a whole. This fragmented consciousness was the result of divisions in the youth movement at the time, but in any case it ran deep among young people in each group. It also reflected the all-encompassing influence of political parties in Venezuela and their ability to capture the undivided loyalty of a large number of Venezuelans, a feature of the nation’s political culture frequently noted by historians and polit­ical scientists.

This study will analyze political socialization in Venezuela in the context of the youth struggles of the late 1960s and their long-term impact on the thinking and behavior of participants. The long-lasting and homogenizing influence of events, organizations and leadership on members of individual youth groups is an important aspect of generational identification. In particular, the study will look at three facets of generational movements and their influence on political developments in Venezuela:

1. Events on campus and at the national and international levels that helped shape the mentality and political outlook of youth activists;

2. The cohesiveness of youth groups and the common loyalties and identifications of their members;

3. The selection of a party head with outstanding leadership capacity and with attributes such as charisma and bravery which particularly appeal to young people.

Membership in the generational movement described in this study can be defined on the basis of age and participation. Events which occur during the stage in an individual’s life between ages 17 and 25, often encompassing the period of his university education, are crucial for understanding his ideological formation, despite profound changes that may subsequently occur in his thinking. Those young people who take part in political or cultural movements, more than their quiescent peers, are influenced by important events which take place around them. The student leader who stays on at the university throughout his late 20s can be considered part of the same generation as that of younger activists since he is influenced by the campus environment and shares the perceptions, loyalties and identifications of other student militants.

A generational analysis is essential for understanding modern Venezuelan political history. Members of the generation of 1928, who participated in the student protests against long-time dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in 1928, went on to found the Communist Party (PCV) and Democratic Action (AD) and to become leading political figures. Rafael Caldera and other founders of the Social Christian Copei (Committee of Independent Political Electoral Organization), which along with AD became the nation’s two main establishment parties, belong to the “Generation of 1936” since they formed part of the student movement which emerged in that year. AD youth leaders played a leading role in the overthrow of dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in 1958 and two years later this “Generation of ’58” within AD broke off to found the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR).

This study will analyze the three most important political youth groups at the time of the student upheavals of the late 1960s: the PCV’s “Communist Youth”; the MIR’s “MIR Youth”; and Copei’s “Revolutionary Copeyano Youth” URC). Discussion will center on the interaction between the three youth organizations and the leaderships of their respective parties. These relations can be briefly summarized as follows.

1. In the case of the PCV, the Communist Youth was receptive to the heterodox ideas put forward by a dissident member of the Central Committee, Teodoro Petkoff, and opposed the sanctions against him proposed by off-time party leaders. Virtually all young Communist leaders followed Petkoff in leaving the party to found the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) in 1971.

2. In the case of MIR, the youth wing was more committed to the armed struggle than the party’s national leaders and, as a result, split off from the organization and formed the Organization of Revolutionaries (OR).

3. The JRC was seriously divided between a conservative faction which was closely identified with the party’s standard-bearer Rafael Caldera and two leftist factions which questioned, though not particularly forcefully, Caldera’s nomination as presidential candidate (for the fourth time in the party’s history) for the 1968 elections.



In the years following the overthrow of Perez Jimenez in 1958, AD and Copei emerged as the nation’s two main political parties, while their rivals, located mainly to their left on the political spectrum, lost considerable influence. The conservative course pursued by AD and Copei (and URD after 1962) produced internal strains, especially among left-wing youth members whose party loyalty was more tenuous than that of their older companions (see Figure 1). AD divided no less than three times, first with the founding of MIR in 1960, then with the split of “ARS” in 1962, and finally with the emergence of the People’s Electoral Movement (MEP) in 1967. Although AD remained the largest political party throughout the decade, its youth movement was virtually decimated by the MIR split, while the party lost much of its influence in organized labor as a result of the MEP division.

Figure 1
Political Party Proliferation in the 1960s

Main Parties in the 1960s Split-offs


MIR (far left) – 1960
“ARS” (moderate left) – 1962
MEP (moderate left) – 1967


“Christian Left” (far left) – late 1960s
Moderate Left


Popular Nationalist Vanguard
(far left) – mid 1960s
Far Left


MAS (far left) – 1970-71

Fragmentation and disunity also characterized the moderate and far left. Moderate leftist parties ran three presidential candidates in the 1963 elections and two in 1968, even though differences in their electoral platforms were minimal. The far left, for its part, consisting mostly of the PCV and MIR, made the catastrophic decision to take up arms against a democratically elected government in 1962, but by the latter part of the decade scaled down armed activity in an effort to regain legal status. The PCV and MIR, which at first cooperated closely in the guerrilla movement, later exchanged bitter recriminations regarding responsibility for the defeat and the left’s general loss of influence.

Inter-party and intra-party disunity also determined the outcome of the two presidential elections which took place in the 1960s. In the 1963 contests, three moderate candidates and a consecutive concurred on the crucial issue of guerrilla insurgency and called for a negotiated solution. The parties of the far left and a number of independent leftists urged unification but to no avail.9 The three moderates received 29.2 percent of the votes and the conservative pulled in 16.1 percent for a combined total of 45.3 percent. Had unity been forthcoming, the four critics of government policy would have triumphed over AD’s front runner, Raul Leoni, who was elected president with a mere 32.8 percent. The division of AD at the outset of the campaign for the 1968 presidential elections also proved fatal. The combined vote of the candidate of AD and that of MEP (who was himself a founding member of AD) was 45 percent which was far superior to the 28 percent received by Copei’s Rafael Caldera, who was elected president.

The extent to which fragmentation and disunity were salient features of political life in Venezuela in the 1960s was the source of extensive debate among political scientists. In a multi-volume study sponsored by the Center of Studies of Development (CENDES) and MIT, Frank Bonilla and Jose’ Agustin Silva Michelena highlighted the recurrence of party divisions and infighting. Bonilla pointed to “factionalism and aborted alliances” as the “two themes [which] dominated discussions by party leaders” who were interviewed by the CENDES­MIT team. Bonilla added that the authoritarianism and extreme individualism of middle class political activists lay just beneath the surface of democratic politics and accounted for their resistance to party discipline and propensity to join factional and schismatic movements.10

The Bonilla-Silva Michelena focus was challenged by Daniel Levine who argued that of greater importance than division and disunity was the willingness of party leaders to reach agreements in the form of alliances and a consensus regarding the “rules of the political game.” He added that while Bonilla-Silva Michelena emphasized the fragility of coalition governments, their outstanding feature was not their short duration, but the ease with which they were reconstituted with new partners. Furthermore, these shifting alliances had the virtue of guaranteeing that all establishment parties would sooner or later get a chance to form part of the government, thus ensuring against “permanent losers” who might be tempted to opt for a non-democratic solution.11

Levine’s position was defended by a leading Venezuelan political scientist, Juan Carlos Rey, who wrote:

It is incomprehensible why Bonilla titles his book, “the failure of the Elites” when he obviously thinks that the whole system is based on its ability to reach an “accommodation,” to “bargain” and to “maneuver.” One can agree or disagree with [the accuracy of] these [stated] characteristics, but in any case it is impossible not to recognize their strengths.12

The debate over political fragmentation is relevant to this study in that it places the generational struggle in the wider context of the nation’s political party system. The same basic question which the Bonilla-Silva Michelena work raised regarding divisions in national politics can be applied to the youth movement in particular. Did the conflict which was generated by youth-adult differences give way to the proliferation of tendencies and endless divisions, as the Bonilla-Silva Michelena thesis would suggest? What is fundamental to this discussion is not the existence of internal party conflict per se, or its relative intensity, but rather whether or not it undermined unity at the organizational level. Our main focus will be on the cohesiveness of the major youth organizations, for which it will be necessary to examine the policies which they defended and their activities. This study postulates that well-formulated, clear-cut positions, which unequivocally set a youth group off from its rivals, as well as common emotionally charged experiences, tend to bind its members together and provide them with a sense of solidarity at the time and in future years. It will be argued that such ties in Venezuela acted as built-in restraints to the endless fragmentation which Bonilla and Silva Michelena viewed as a salient feature of political organization in the nation in the 1960s.



In mid-1968, the Venezuelan student movement, which in previous years had concentrated its efforts on recruitment and support work for the guerrilla movement,13 began to put forward proposals for restructuring and demo­cratizing the universities. Soon these demands were accompanied by militant actions. The student takeover of the School of Sociology at the Central University (UCV) in March 1969 touched-off similar protests throughout the nation in which classes were suspended indefinitely and general assemblies held. UCV students of the Faculties of Humanities and Economic and Social Sciences debated broad issues pertaining to the objectives of education and the relations between the university and society, and passed resolutions laden with anti-imperialistic rhetoric. The struggle in the UCV’s more technical schools and in the nation’s interior, on the other hand, tended to center around concrete student grievances.

The government of Copei’s Rafael Caldera (1969-1974) blamed UCV authorities and the left for the campus disorders and accused them of unprofessional conduct, including discrimination against professors of recognized merit, violation of legal norms regarding the system of exams, and intervention in the Faculty of Engineering, controlled by Copeyanos, in order to impose reforms.14 The prolonged military occupation of the UCV beginning in October 1970 was designed to reestablish order and correct administrative irregularities. At the same time, the nation’s two largest parties, AD and Copei, reformed the Law of Education by providing law officers access to campus streets and open areas, subjecting the universities to stricter auditing procedures and prohibiting students who had to repeat courses from running for office in university elections. UCV Rector Jesus Maria Bianco and other academic heads denounced these measures for violating university autonomy and as representing reprisals against the students for the protests of previous months. Only after student violence had spread across the country and Bianco and other university officials resigned in protest did the troops evacuate the UCV and class resume under a new rector.

The multi-dimensional student movement of 1968-1971, known as “Academic Renovation,” was inspired by the May 1968 mobilizations in France and elsewhere. Anarchist notions and expressions of personal alienation which were characteristic of the European and U.S. protests were evident in Venezuela.

Thus obscene graffiti were considered a legitimate form of protests, and cryptic and ironic slogans became popular, such as: “Christ, Marx, Lenin, Einstein, Che and Camilo Torres are crazies! Crazies yes, incompetents no! We need crazies to carry out Academic Renovation.” Nevertheless, after the initial spontaneous actions the political parties, with their traditionally solid base in Venezuela, took over and channeled the Renovation movement, each pursuing its own particular objectives.

Proposiciones para una revolucion universitaria, by UCV leftist professors Hector Silva Michelena and Heinz Rudolf Sonntag (who had recently come to Venezuela from his native Germany), was viewed as a declaration of principles of the Renovation movement. Its authors maintained that Venezuelan universities should instill in their students an appreciation of the problem of underdevelopment in all its aspects. Such an objective called for weighting university curriculum in favor of courses in the social sciences and humanities and placing less emphasis on technical subject matter.15

This message found an enthusiastic reception in the faculties of humani­ties, social sciences and non-applied physical sciences, which were leftist bastions. Between 1958 and 1970 the three-fold increase in the UCV student population was especially felt in these disciplines, whose budgetary increases did not match those of other faculties. They were thus threatened with second rate status vis-a-vis the faculties of engineering, law and medicine whose student intake was rigidly controlled (see Table One). The prospect that a sudden leap in the number of graduates in certain fields would exert a downward pressure on salaries in those professions also loomed large. Needless to say, Proposiciones was particularly well received in the schools which faced this predicament.

Enrollment and Budgetary Tendencies in Major Faculties at the UCV, 1964-1967

Number of Students in 1964
Number of Students in 1967
Percentage Increase
– Cost Per Student –
(in Bolivares)
Percentage Increase
Economic and Social Sciences

The constituency of the protest movement on campus in Venezuela contrasted sharply with its counterparts in France and other European nations. A sizeable number of the participants in the May events in Paris were students in technological fields such as engineering. This involvement convinced some Marxist sociologists and political activists that the struggle on campus was a manifestation of class conflict, in that students who would later be salaried workers (or “intellectual workers”) in the private sector played a leading role in the movement. This “new working class theory” was not as applicable to Venezuela and other Latin American countries (as well as the U.S.) where the more militant students and professors came in large parts from the humanities and social science faculties. Technological careers in Venezuela and other Third World nations, rather than take on proletarian qualities, were becoming increasingly attractive and well paid, especially in comparison to the “gentlemen’s professions” in the humanities and social sciences which were losing their traditional prestige.16

It was this difference between Venezuela and Europe that orthodox Marxists in Venezuela, who belittled the importance of the Renovation movement, stressed. They argued that while the participation of the soon-to-be “intellectual workers” (whose lot had allegedly deteriorated) in the European campus struggle may have endowed it with a class content, such was not the case in Venezuela. There, the student movement was led, not by those who would go on to be “intellectual workers” for companies, but rather future historians, sociologists and economists most of whom would not be employed in the private sector, thus demonstrating the “petty bourgeois” character of the struggle.17

University autonomy, whereby institutions of higher learning were free of outside pressure and interference of all types, was a major objective of the Renovation movement. The autonomy banner was first raised by students in protests at the University of Cordoba in Argentina in 1918, although its piecemeal realization in individual Latin American nations took place over an extended period of time. In Venezuela, the universities were rewarded for their active role in the overthrow of the Perez Jime’nez dictatorship with the Law of Universities of 1958 which provided for university self-government and declared campuses off limits to state security units. In addition, the law’s sponsors tried to ensure against government manipulation of universities by guaranteeing them a fixed proportion of the national budget, though that amount was set at a mere 1.5 percent.18

Throughout the 1960s spokesmen for the university community complained that the limited autonomy contemplated in the 1958 law was not only insufficient but was being whittled away and ignored. In the first place, the police had on various occasions violated the “extraterritorial” status of the UCV. The most flagrant infraction occurred in December 1966 when security forces entered campus in search of supplies destined for the guerrillas and detained 650 students including top student leaders who, unlike the others, were not immediately released. Furthermore, leftist leaders like their counter­parts elsewhere in Latin America, called for increased student input in the decision making process19 and protested that the 1958 law had made this participation merely symbolic. According to some leftists, autonomy implied internal democracy which was only possible when parity existed between the number of student and professor delegates in university governing councils and when school employees also enjoyed representation. Beginning with the School of Sociology at the UCV, the Renovation movement created special councils along these lines which were to be parallel to, and in constant communication with, the legally constituted university structure.20

Other issues related to the system of university autonomy were the source of heated debate in the 1960s. The staunchest defenders of autonomy argued that the system could only be guaranteed if funds were allotted to the universities without restrictions. They criticized the 1958 law for assigning the National Council of Universities (CNU), presided over by the Minister of Education, the task of allocating money to individual universities. In addition, beginning with the founding of the Universidad de Oriente (UDO) in 1958, the government had created “experimental” institutions of higher learning whose heads were named by the Ministry of Education in hopes that the elimination of self-government would provide greater institutional stability. The university community in the nation’s four “autonomous” universities resented the financial competition posed by the “experimental” institutions. This attitude was expressed in the slogan “For a Just Budget” which became a rallying cry of the Renovation movement.

Many of the rectors of the “autonomous” universities were considered left of center on the political spectrum and had received qualified electoral backing from the parties of the left. Three of the UCV’s outstanding rectors in recent history — Rafael Pizani, Francisco De Venanzi and Jesus Maria Bianco — were typical of many other top university officials who had participated in the struggle for autonomy prior to 1958, and who in the 1960s feared that this goal was being jeopardized by a campaign to blame the academic community for the violence and disruptions of the period. Bianco’s support for the Renovation movement at the UCV was more designed to strengthen the position of the “autonomous” institutions in the face of this conservative offensive than to achieve radical political or academic objectives. Bianco hoped that the Renovation protests would restrain the government from slashing the education budget and force it to respect autonomy.21 At the same time, Bianco’s praise of the Renovation movement served to limit disruptions as a result of student confrontation with university authorities. In his public statements Bianco cleverly incorporated the language of the Renovation movement with its attack on bureaucracy and support for thoroughgoing change Bianco commissioned the renowned Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro to draw up a proposal for the overhaul of the university structure. Ribeiro’s recommendations called for the reconfiguration of the university on the basis of departments in order to avoid the duplication of resources which resulted from the placement of professors of identical subjects in different faculties. Ribeiro reflected Bianco’s positions by maintaining that only true autonomy could eliminate destructive political rivalry on campus and by labeling the non-autonomous “experimental” institutions “elitist and sterile.” He also criticized student political organizations for being exclusively interested in societal issues while ignoring internal academic problems and the need to revamp the university structure.22

The Renovation movement in Venezuela, unlike its counterparts in other nations, benefited from the cooperation of university governing bodies and the active backing of a significant number of faculty members. Thus the Consejo Universitano at the UCV (the top university council run mainly by professors) declared itself in permanent session in order to help guide the movement and ordered each school and faculty to draw up a renovation plan as a prerequisite for initiating classes in the second semester of 1969. In the Faculty of Humanities, the directors of various schools agreed to resign in favor of a more “democratic” structure based on equal student-teacher representation (“parity”).

The term “questioning” became a catchword in the Renovation movement. “Questioning” implied a thorough revision of all generally accepted ideas without regard for taboos or sacred principles. In addition, the practice came to signify a complete evaluation of the performance of everyone in a position of authority — a scrutiny which often degenerated into personalistic attacks. Under the influence of the Renovation movement, young leftists applied the method of “questioning” to their respective political parties. “Questioning” contrasted with the practice of “criticism” and “self-criticism” as carried out by traditional Marxist-Leninist parties, which was more limited in scope in that only specific policies were placed in judgment, rather than basic doctrine along with everything else that the organization stood for.

The Academic Renovation movement in Venezuela differed from the 1918 Reform movement in Cordoba, where a university steeped in traditionalism became polarized between reformist and conservative forces. In the case of Cordoba, the reformists, in spite of ideological differences among themselves, maintained a united front and lashed out at established interests on campus including the senior faculty.23 In Venezuela in the late 1960s, on the other hand, a polarization in which students were pitted against faculty and/or university authorities did not occur. The firmness of party loyalties served to reduce tension between students and professors of the same political organizations. The flexibility displayed by university authorities, as typified by Bianco and Pedro Rincon Gutierrez (of the ULA), and the absence of special voting rights and other prerogatives accorded to higher echelon faculty members also played a role in minimizing polarization between the “haves” and “have-nots” on campus. Another factor which worked against polarization was the failure of the leftists to unite in order to confront the allegedly “right-wing” enemy. Not only were relations between the PCV and MIR particularly bitter, but Copei, which was the main establishment party at the university level, identified itself with the reformist banner and actively participated in the Renovation process in some faculties.

Thus the student movement during the Renovation period, far from being united in the face of a conservative enemy, was highly divided and wracked with internal tensions. In light of this non-polarized situation, it was not to be expected that particular groups and subgroups would have been affected in like manner by events of the period. The Renovation movement had both centrifugal and unifying effects in that it sharpened inter-party conflict on campus at the same time that it brought members of each political group and faction closer together, not only at the time but in the years that followed. To talk of fragmentation, as Jose Agustin Silva Michelena and Frank Bonilla did in the previously mentioned study, without appreciating the degree of cohesion of each subgroup is to provide a distorted picture of student politics of the period. This study, then, will pay special attention to the second tendency, namely the homogenizing influence of experiences and events on the three main youth groups: the Communist Youth, the MIR Youth and the Revolutionary Copeyano Youth.



A series of setbacks faced by the guerrilla movement on both military and political fronts convinced the Communists to try to reach an accommodation with the government in the years following 1965. The PCV’s new conciliatory stand was reflected at the university level. The Communist Youth broke with recent practice by inviting representatives of moderate parties to participate in the inauguration of the president of the UCV’s Federation of University Centers (the FCU, the main university student body), which was controlled by the Communists. Communist leaders on campus, who had previously mixed student objectives with those of the guerrilla movement, now consciously placed the accent of their work on purely student demands. During the Renovation period the Communists organized FCU brigades to keep order at student gatherings. They also condemned the takeover of university buildings by small groups as part of the discredited tactics of foquismo advocated by French guerrilla strategist Regis Debray.

Communist students, while critical of the imperviousness of their party’s adult leaders to new ideas and their dogmatic working class approach, were wary of the influence of Herbert Marcuse and other “New Left” theorists who assigned students the role of revolutionary vanguard. Thus, for instance, Orlando Araujo, editor of the Communist newspaper Deslinde at the UCV, criticized Hector Silva Michelena and Heinz Sonntag for naively attempting to devise a university curriculum which would guarantee the permanent revolutionary dedication of students. Araujo argued that the authors of Proposiciones had glorified students and intellectuals by overestimating their long-term adherence to the revolutionary cause.24

At first it was unclear what political interests were behind the Renovation movement and which ones it was being directed against.25 In its condemnation of bureaucracy of all types, the movement denounced the PCVistas at the UCV, who enjoyed a certain influence in the university administration and controlled the FCU.26 Subsequently, however, PCV youth succeeded in channeling and providing leadership to the movement. The convocation of assemblies in individual schools in place of takeovers favored the Communists. It was generally recognized that the Communists, with their greater sense of discipline and organizational skills, were in a better position to pass resolutions, many of which were approved after attendance at the meeting had dwindled following countless hours of debate.27

The polemics between the PCV and the “ultra-left”, as represented by MIR, was most sharply felt in the youth movement due to the significant role that both parties played in the Renovation struggle and the competition and rivalry which characterized their relations on campus. Many of the arguments which the Communist Youth used against ultra-leftists for their defense of the armed struggle and confrontation tactics were shortly thereafter used to combat the “dogmatism” of the older PCV leadership. Indeed the phraseology subsequently utilized by the leaders of the Movement toward Socialism (MAS), a large number of whom participated in the Renovation process, was first formulated during this period in the struggle against MIR. Thus, for instance, in the late 1960s, PCV student leaders argued that the MlRistas were tied to the past due to their “fetishism” of “sacred concepts” and were thus unwilling to abandon guerrilla warfare despite changing times. They also argued that the error of the armed struggle had been that it trapped the leftists in a “ghetto” and made it impossible for them to reach out to the populace at large.28 This same vocabulary was used by Teodoro Petkoff and others in their struggle against the older PCV leaders who were accused of dogmatism, and it subsequently made its way into Petkoff’s Proceso a la izquierda (1976) which was directed against the twin hazards of dogmatism (as represented by the PCV) and ultra-leftism (as represented by MIR).29

Several positions formulated by Communist youth leaders and experiences which they went through had a lasting impact on their thinking and shaped the stands which they would assume in future years as heads of MAS. One of the most important incidents was Fidel Castro’s public denunciation of PCV leaders in March 1967 for abandoning the armed struggle and for being “inept,” “defeatist,” and “indecisive.” Although the speech was repudiated by all PCVistas as an intrusion into internal party politics, it was especially resented by the party’s youth since it branded them cowards, an unearned reputation that reached as far as Europe.30 It was also felt that the PCV had been the victim of extraneous circumstances in that Castro’s real target had been the Soviet Union which he preferred not to mention by name.31

The lesson that correct policies could not be imposed from abroad was further confirmed by the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, which Petkoff harshly condemned in his Checoeslovaquia: el socialismo como problema published in 1969. Petkoff and other PCV dissidents drew the conclusion that Venezuelan Communists could only maintain their autonomy vis-à-vis world Communism by upholding an openly critical attitude toward the Soviet Union.32 PCV youth saw additional evidence of the danger of relying on imported ideas in the tendency of the Renovation movement to mechanically copy slogans from the Sorbonne and other European universities.33

The age factor helps explain the adherence of Communist youth to policies advocated by Petkoff. According to Petkoff, the Communist thesis that socialism in underdeveloped nations had to be put off to a distant future in order to complete a previous stage of national liberation had discouraged leftists from propagandizing around the socialist system. As a corrective, Petkoff called for placing socialism on the agenda for the immediate future. It was not surprising that Communist youth would favor this policy of being “up front” about the party’s fundamental objectives, considering the importance which that generation attached to straight-forwardness and honesty. Older Communist leaders (including Pompeyo Marquez who left the party to help found MAS) criticized Petkoff’s position as precipitous and practically amounting to an “immediate assault on power.”34

It was also natural that Communist youth leaders, having been more directly involved in the guerrilla movement which represented their political baptism, were more reluctant to recognize its complete failure. While the older PCVistas advocated a definitive abandonment of the armed struggle, Petkoff and his youth followers called for a temporary retreat. Furthermore, the old-timers considered the guerrilla struggle an unmitigated disaster, whereas younger leaders viewed it as partly positive. Their argument was that the guerrilla experience had inculcated in its participants a “vocation for power,” which was a badly needed corrective to the traditional left view of state power as a long-term, if not virtually unattainable, goal.35

The university setting at the time of the Renovation movement, in which questioning, intellectual introspection and tolerance were considered great virtues, was conducive to the reexamination of Marxist orthodoxy within the PCV. In fact, Petkoff and his followers embraced the slogan “renovate the party” in an effort to promote discussion of established dogma. Communist student leaders publicly aired this internal debate in their newspaper Deslinde, in violation of traditional Communist practice. The critical impulse was reinforced by recent developments in the Italian Communist Party which presaged Euro-communism, especially its pluralist approach and acceptance of heterodox ideas. The Communist youth publication Joven Guardia was influenced by this trend, as shown by its criticism of PCV hard-liners for denouncing the hippie movement as devoid of constructive political aims.36

The internal struggle in the Communist Party in the 1960s took on definite generational dimensions. On the one hand, since the mid-1960s Petkoff had been propagating the notion that the old-timers who ran the party were ill-suited to face the political tasks of the present.37 By the end of the decade the Communist Youth insisted on greater participation in the party’s decision-­making process. The older PCV leaders, on the other hand, were resentful of the party’s youth leadership. Most of them had been either ambivalent or directly opposed to the armed struggle and blamed the younger Communists for imposing this line on the party. By the late 1960s rumors spread that the PCV heads were set on “settling scores” (cobrar) with certain party members who had resisted abandonment of the guerrilla struggle.38 At the same time PCV secretary general Jesus Faria criticized Deslinde for adopting a format based on long articles written for a student type readership.39 PCV youth leaders interpreted these remarks as evidence of Faria’s anti-intellectual and exclusively working class (obrerista) approach.

The older Communists also accused younger leaders of attempting to apply the Renovation maxim of “permanent questioning” within the party. The PCV’s maximum leader, Gustavo Machado, indignantly stated: “It is inadmissible to me that the party’s problems can be faced with procedures… under the heading of Renovation, in the manner that has been imposed by small groups of anarchists, adventurists and nihilists… “40 Other older party leaders maintained that the concept of “questioning”, as defended by the Communist dissidents, would lead to the “negation of the Communist Party” whereby even the most basic Marxist principles would be placed under scrutiny. According to them, “questioning” had nothing to do with the traditional Communist practice of “criticism” and “self criticism”, which was carried out with a sense of discipline and covered a limited and clearly defined range of issues.41

The older party leaders were skeptical of the general thrust of the Renovation movement and were critical of the Communist Youth’s participation in it. Within party circles, many of the old timers argued that the Renovation movement had been mechanically imported from Europe in spite of profound socio­economic and political differences between developed and underdeveloped societies. In Europe, they pointed out, the technological revolution had proletarianized the status of professionals as well as that of university students who were, after all, tomorrow’s professionals. For that reason, campus protests could be considered an expression of the class struggle involving exploiters and exploited. In contrast, in Venezuela university graduates formed part of the elite and consequently the student movement did not have the same revolutionary potential as it did in the developed nations.

The old-timers also criticized the Communist Youth for failing to forcefully defend the PCV and explain its program in the face of attacks from the ultra-left in the student movement. As a result, many Communist students felt that they were caught between two powerful currents: the PCV leadership, which insisted on the defense of orthodox models with which they themselves were not completely in agreement; and the Renovation movement, which stridently put forward certain alternative schemes which were incompatible with Marxist thinking — not to say completely beyond the pale.42

Other differences between PCV students and older party leaders could be explained by the distinct experiences of both groups in the recent past. The Communist Youth staunchly opposed the PCV decision to endorse Luis Beltran Prieto Figueroa of the Peoples Electoral Movement (MEP, which had recently broken off from AD) in the presidential elections of 1968. The younger Communist leaders, who had been more deeply affected by the guerrilla experience and had taken greater risks, were appalled by the idea of supporting Prieto, who as president of the National Senate had spoken out in favor of punitive measures against the allegedly terrorist left. With the exception of Gustavo Machado, the older Communist leaders (and even Teodoro Petkoff) favored extending support to Prieto in order to provide their semi-legal party with breathing space and enable it to recuperate from the guerrilla fiasco.43 The anti-unity position of the PCV youth would later express itself in MAS’ adamant refusal to enter into electoral pacts with non-leftist parties (a policy which it derogatorily called “popular frontism”).

Student leaders also argued against the thesis propounded by PCV head Guillermo Garcia Ponce which maintained that Communists should direct their fire against the most reactionary sector of Copei, rather than against President Caldera who represented a center position within his own party.44 Communist students, who had clashed with the Calderistas at the UCV in violent confrontations (resulting in the nearly fatal shooting of Communist FCU president Alexis Adam), rejected this position for letting the government off the hook for unpopular policies. They argued that the right-wing Copeyanos had little influence in the government and the party, whereas Caldera and his followers controlled both.45

Although ideological differences played an important role in the schism of the Communist Party in 1971, the issue which convinced an overwhelming majority of youth members to join MAS was the right of internal dissent. Petkoff’s publication of Checoeslovaquia set off a heated discussion within the party in which various hard-liners called for “administrative measures” — a euphemism for sanctions — on the basis of the book’s alleged anti-Sovietism. Nevertheless, at the XV Plenum of the Central Committee in March 1970, a compromise solution was reached whereby Petkoff’s criticism of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia was rejected but his right to take issue with the majority position in the party was affirmed.46 Petkoff himself hailed the resolution and thus appeared to be primarily interested in preserving party unity and internal democracy (though he later admitted that this was a mere ploy designed to win adherents to his faction).47

The subsequent scathing attack on Petkoff published in Pravda and signed by “Comrade Mosinev” altered this modus vivendi and signaled a hardening of the position of the old-timers. The party youth, influenced by the Renovation Movement and (to a lesser extent) developments in the Italian Communist party — both of which defended ideological pluralism — were opposed to the proposed suspension of Petkoff from the PCV’s Central Committee. Shortly prior to the PCV split, all 64 members of the party’s youth directorate signed a declaration criticizing Gustavo Machado, Jesus Faria, Guillermo GarcIa Ponce and other PCV hard-liners for heavy handedness in their handling of the Petkoff case.

The attitude of Venezuelan Communists toward the student upheavals of the late 1960s and the influence of those events on their thinking paralleled developments in the European Communist movement. In both Venezuela and Europe, Communist students originally viewed the campus mobilizations as anarchist-inspired and threatening to their party’s institutional interests (those of the Communist-controlled labor movement in France and the Communist controlled FCU at the UCV in Venezuela). Nevertheless, both Venezuelan and European Communist students soon joined the movement in an attempt to influence it in accordance with their own political objectives. In Italy, Spain and other European nations, the student movement of 1968 influenced the development of Eurocommunism which incorporated unorthodox ideas previously associated with the New Left.48 A similar process occurred in Venezuela with the emergence of MAS in the wake of the campus upheavals of the late 1960s Finally, the Venezuelan Communists who were to found MAS, despite their criticisms of certain aspects of Academic Renovation, were more inclined to see the basic thrust of the movement as constructive than were the orthodox members of the PCV.49 Similarly, in Spain, the heterodoxical Santiago Carrillo attempted to convince skeptical fellow Communists who belonged to the party’s hard-line faction, that the rebellious students were for the most part not petty bourgeois anarchists, but rather members of the new working class of “intellectual workers” whose protests were a manifestation of class conflict. A similar debate in Italy pitted Eurocommunist leader Luigi Longo against the more dogmatic Communists who condemned the student protests which broke out in 1967.50

The generation which belonged to the Communist Youth in Venezuela in the late 1960s and which went on to form an important part of the MAS leadership was deeply impressed and influenced by certain events in the university, party and world contexts which directly affected them. Castro’s speech in 1967 and the Mosinev article in 1970 were both perceived as foreign intrusions into internal party affairs. PCV youth also drew the conclusion from the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that socialist models could not be imposed from abroad.51 The “Venezuelan road to socialism”, which was devised as a corrective, became the keystone of MAS’ political strategy after the party’s founding in 1971.

Given the large number of Communist student activists who helped found MAS, it is not surprising that from the outset the party placed great emphasis on the importance of the youth sector. Indeed, the writings of MAS ideologists like Petkoff, as well as party propaganda, are replete with references to youth and youthful symbols including such catchwords as the “freshness” and “novelty” of the party’s message. Older PCVistas have also been deeply affected by the experience of the mass defection of their party’s youth. In the period of economic prosperity and middle class affluence of the 1970s, many older Communists condemned the younger generation for having succumbed to the temptation of making compromises for the sake of material rewards. These remarks, naturally made in private, were related to the conviction that MAS’ electoral advances were made possible by the party’s abandonment of Marxist principles and the opportunistic line which its leaders consciously embraced.

As is common among young people who are generation-conscious, the Communist youth extolled one individual who embodied their ideas which those political activists held in high regard. Teodoro Petkoff’s reexamination of established Marxist dogma and Communist Party practices symbolized the vocation for rigorous questioning which was proclaimed by the worldwide youth movement in the 1960s and the Renovation movement in Venezuela in particular. In addition, Petkoff displayed courage — both physical and intellectual –which is a virtue that young people have always regarded highly. As a guerrilla fighter he performed well and escaped from his military captors on two occasions, in 1963 and 1967, the second of which was a spectacular break from the San Carlos garrison in Caracas. He had the courage to question the virtually sacrosanct beliefs of the Communist movement which were upheld by all of the party’s top veteran leaders (including those who later helped found MAS). In the course of the 1970s, the ideas previously raised by Petkoff gained wide acceptance at the same time that MAS emerged as the largest party on the Venezuelan left. These successes led leftists to view Petkoff as a visionary whose previously condemned positions had been vindicated in practice. As a result Petkoff was able to consolidate his support within MAS and by the late 1970s he emerged as the party’s jefe maximo.



The militant and forceful tactics employed by the MIR Youth during the Renovation period were a continuation of what the student left as a whole had practiced during the peak years of the guerrilla struggle. In Ejercito, universidad y revolution, MlRista and UCV professor Humberto Cuenca advocated the formation of armed brigades of students.52 This call, although not formally taken up by the parties of the left, found an echo among individual MIRistas and other leftists who resorted to arms to defend university buildings taken over during the Renovation struggle. While the Communist Party talked increasingly of downplaying university activity so as to give greater priority to the workers’ movement,53 the MIRistas adopted the slogan “take the university to the streets” (sacar la universidad a Ia calle) in order to introduce such campus issues as university autonomy to the public at large.54

In opposition to MIR’s frequent calls for student strikes, the PCVistas by the end of the decade began to argue that shutting down the university was easy to do but accomplished little. During the Renovation years, the PCV opposed many of the takeovers led by MlRistas on grounds that they were precipitous and involved a small number of protesters, many of whom had come from off-campus. In the elections for the FCU at the UCV, the PCV was clearly rewarded for its more cautious approach at the expense of MIR: the Communist Youth received 8432 votes as against 6875 for Copei and 2467 for the MIR slate.

MIR emphasized the need to struggle against bureaucracy which was an important aspect of the Renovation movement. In doing so, it was influenced by the “New Left” with its Weberian propositions regarding the importance of organizational relations (as opposed to socio-economic ones). As part of its opposition to existing bureaucratic structures, MIR withdrew from the leadership of the leftist-dominated United Center of Venezuelan Workers (CUTV), the Peasant Federation of Venezuela (FCV), as well as the campus-based FCUs and in their places set up rival organizations. In the University of the Andes (ULA), the MIRistas actually left the FCU which they themselves controlled. As a concession to students for their key role in the overthrow of Perez Jimenez, Jesus Maria Bianco, Pedro Rincon Gutierrez (of the ULA) and other rectors had granted prerogatives to the FCUs in such areas as scholarships and student admissions. MIR accused the FCUs, and in many cases their PCV representatives, of mismanagement of funds and abuse of this newly acquired power. During the Renovation process, MIR argued that the FCUs had lost credibility and for all practical purposes had ceased to function as an effective representative of student interests.

MIR’s frontal attacks against the Communists on campus coincided with the peak years of anti-Soviet sentiment on the international left when Chinese and Cuban leaderships, both of which enjoyed a great deal of prestige and credibility among leftists, including MIRistas, strongly condemned Soviet policy. Relations between the PCV and MIR were also strained by the experience of the guerrilla fiasco. Not only did the MIRistas object to Communist opposition to their decision to establish their own guerrilla fronts, but complained that PCVistas and ex-PCVistas benefited from the lion’s share of foreign aid, especially from Cuba.55 Later, the MIR leaders criticized the abruptness with which the PCV disengaged from the guerrilla struggle without demanding guarantees from the government against reprisals, and thus leaving MlRistas and other guerrilla fighters to their own fate. Some MlRistas actually claimed that PCV “hegemony” was the prime cause for the guerrilla failure.56

MIR’s condition as an underground party facing government hostility throughout the 1960s encouraged the rise of autonomous centers of decision-making within the party. MlRistas referred to this situation as “polycentrism.”57 The three most important of these units were the national party leadership, the chief commanders of MIR’s main guerrilla front (the Antonio Jose de Sucre Guerrilla Front – FGAJS), and the student movement at the UCV and elsewhere. In addition, MIR prisoners were cut off from the party while acting in its name. As a result of this isolation and lack of internal communication, the political views of MIR students were shaped more by their own experiences than by the advice and influence of older party members. The perceptions and loyalties of the younger MIRistas would survive subsequent changes on the left and in the nation.

The three separate centers of power within MIR gave way to a three-way split over political and ideological issues. MIR national leaders assigned greater importance to the task of “reconstructing” the party than fortifying the guerrilla movement. The pro-abstentionist MIR Youth and the FGAJS guerrilla chiefs criticized the national leaders for attempting to reach an agreement with the government in order to participate in the 1968 elections. The Youth’s support for abstention was defended by Jorge Rodriguez (who several years later, as head of the “Socialist League”, was tortured and killed under interrogation by the police unit of the Ministry of Interior) in a publication entitled Votar para que? (Why vote?) in which the 1968 election, along with all others of its kind, was denounced as a “bourgeois farce”. In light of the government’s lack of receptivity to their overtures for a settlement to the guerrilla conflict, MIR national leaders reluctantly accepted the abstention policy, but objected to Rodriguez’s blanket condemnation of elections.58

The decision by MIR’s secretary general, Simon Saez Merida, to accept the amnesty offer of recently elected President Rafael Caldera in 1969 set off another internal debate in which some national party leaders increasingly spoke out against continuance of the armed struggle. The three main commanders of the FOAJS led by Carlos Betancourt laid down a series of stiff and virtually unacceptable conditions, including the abolition of the military police force, as their price for putting down arms.59 Betancourt accused MIR’s national leaders of deliberately undersupplying the guerrillas in order to reduce the level of armed conflict, thus facilitating an eventual amnesty agreement. So great was the tension between the FGAJS commanders and party national leaders that Betancourt ordered MIR’s provisional secretary general Moises Moleiro to abandon the FGAJS, ostensibly on account of his faltering physical condition. In addition, Betancourt openly declared that a “class struggle” was taking place in MIR in which he, naturally, represented the “proletarian tendency” in opposition to the “rightist” national leaders.60

The national leaders and the chief guerrilla commanders initially claimed to enjoy the support of the MIR Youth. In an abortive attempt to bridge the gap between the two leaderships, the MIR Youth sent student leader Marcos Gomez to the FGAJS. Soon after arriving, Gomez, along with other student guerrillas in the FGAJS, objected to the poor treatment they received at the hands of the chief commanders, particularly Carlos Betancourt, who called the students a “vacillating ally” in the struggle against the party’s “right wing.” Betancourt boasted that 70 per cent of his guerrilla fighters were peasants and workers while only 30 per cent were students.61 The students were also resentful of the tendency of the FGAJS’s leadership to belittle their fighting capacity while catering to guerrillas of more humble origin.62

Tension between the students and the guerrilla commanders was stirred by the FGAJS’s decision to try to execute guerrilla Nicolas Beltra’n, a member of the MIR Youth, on charges of conspiring against the front’s high command. Beltra’n had apparently been sent to the FGAJS by student leaders in an attempt to transform the front into the type of guerrilla movement which they considered most effective. In their case against Beltran, the FGAJS commanders maintained that no army in time of war could tolerate dissension in its ranks. In carrying out the sentence, the three commanders ignored pleas on behalf of Beltra’n from the party’s jailed secretary general, Saez Merida, among others. MIR’s national and youth leaders were appalled by the severity of the action. They maintained that Beltran’s real crime had been the opinions which he expressed which diverged from those of the commanders, and that if it was true that he had hampered the front’s activity he should have simply been ordered to leave the area.63

The Youth held a middle position between the more electorally-oriented national leadership and the FOAJS, with its “foquista” strategy, which subordinated party objectives to the needs and dictates of the guerrilla force. On the one hand, the Youth was opposed to laying down arms and shared the suspicion of the FGAJS commanders that the real purpose of Moleiro’s presence in the FOAJS was to dismantle MIR’s guerrilla apparatus. The position of the MIR Youth was that the party should retain its guerrilla capacity but should emphasize mass struggle. On the other hand, the Youth criticized Betancourt for not allowing the MIR to operate as a political party among the guerrilla members of the FGAJS. MIR students also claimed that Betancourt and his associates had accepted uncritically the theories of Franz Fanon on the revolutionary mentality and role of the peasantry.64

These common experiences within the party strengthened the cohesiveness of the MIR Youth and the self-identification of its members. Many of them felt that they made greater sacrifices than their comrades in arms and those in the underground in that students recruited for the guerrilla movement gathered supplies while exposed to the perils of an above-ground existence. The Youth’s conviction that it alone kept the party together by its greater activism and concern for detail was reinforced by its success in winning over all the important MlRista student leaders (with the exception of a few at the ULA) at the time of the division in the party. At the same time MIR, whose title was retained by the national leaders, was reduced to a skeleton organization.65

The Youth attempted to apply the method of thorough-going ‘questioning,” associated with the Renovation movement in Venezuela and the student movement world-wide, to party affairs. A “National Commission of Questioning” was set up in which MIRistas and even ex-MlRistas were encouraged to come forward with extensive criticisms of all facets of party activity. At first, members of the commission were appointed but, due to dissatisfaction with their performance, it was decided that they would be elected. As part of the questioning process, MIR’s important leaders put forward extensive criticisms of party behavior in the form of documents which circulated in multigraphed form within the party. One prominent national leader, Romulo Henriquez, refused to participate in this process, on grounds that it was incompatible with MIR’s status as an illegal political organization. He argued that the documents were bound to fall into the hands of the police, and would prove to be of great value to the enemy on account of their wealth of personal information about party members.66

The Youth did not channel the process of “questioning” along exclusively ideological lines. Indeed as relations between the three factions deteriorated, Youth leaders declared that a condition for their continued presence in MIR was the demotion of Moises Moleiro, Americo Martin and other national leaders to rank and file membership. This insistence was indicative of the personal thrust of much of the questioning process and demonstrated that, along with ideological differences, personal animosities played an important role in the MIR division.

MIR national leaders, on the other hand, resented the fact that they were singled out as responsible for the guerrilla defeat, not on the basis of political errors that they may have committed but rather due to alleged deficiencies in their leadership capacity. The national leaders viewed the process of questioning in MIR as part of an effort by the party’s Youth to gain control of the organization67 and warned that if it went unchecked it would lead to the disintegration of the party, as in effect happened.68 Nevertheless, unlike the PCV national leaders, those of the MIR were not opposed to “questioning” per se. They argued that questioning was necessary in order to “unmask revisionism and sectarianism in the ranks of MIR” for which “a careful examination of each party leader and militant” was called for.69

By the end of the 1960s, many members of the MIR Youth realized that guerrilla warfare was a dead-end road, but were psychologically committed to it and were thus reluctant to embark on a new course. Their initiation into politics had begun with their participation in the armed struggle and their fervent defense of it even when the mass movement was on the ebb. Their ambivalent attitude toward the guerrilla struggle was reflected in the “Organization of Revolutionaries” (OR) which they founded as an armed group after leaving MIR. Unlike the “Red Banner”, which was headed by the three main commanders of the FGAJS, the OR refrained from military actions and its guerrilla front served only as a training unit for cadres, until the organization was finally disbanded in 1979.

This commitment to the armed struggle explains why MIR Youth members followed the leadership of Julio Escalona, who embodied many of the personal qualities which they valued, and not Americo Martin, a leading MIRista with considerable charisma who would be the party’s presidential candidate in the elections of 1978. Escalona demonstrated bravery by joining the FGAJS. Unlike many older party members who took up the armed struggle only after having been forced underground by the government, Escalona voluntarily left the UCV, where he had been president of the FCU, to join the guerrillas. In addition, unlike the party’s three main national leaders (Moleiro, Martin and Saez Merida) Escalona was never captured and jailed. Escalona’s party skills were demonstrated by his elaboration of MIR documents, including the one
which issued the original call for internal party “questioning.”70

Americo Martin, on the other hand, was accused of lacking valid reasons for leaving the guerrilla front, “El Bachiller,” a move which led to his capture on a ship outside of the port of La Guaira. It was also felt that Martin had been overly hasty in expressing MIR’s willingness to accept legal status without establishing prior conditions. In addition, he proposed a number of organizational and policy revisions in order to open the party up to a large number of Venezuelans, for which MIR Youth leaders accused him of having abandoned Marxist-Leninist principles.71

The MIR Youth leaders’ reluctance to accept modifications in Marxist dogma and their hesitance to abandon the guerrilla strategy demonstrated the extent to which they were tied to a dogmatic approach. Their rigid mentality and inflexibility were partly due to their limited direct contact with ordinary Venezuelans and popular struggles, as a result of the constraints imposed by their party’s extended illegal status. Their refusal to change with the times and to recognize the more open political atmosphere in the 1970s was a costly error which stunted their organization’s growth. Meanwhile the more flexible MIR leaders, who were older, less traumatized by the events of the 1960s and less fixed on the setting of that period, made impressive gains and soon overshadowed their former comrades in the OR. Only in the early 1980s did the ex-members of the MIR Youth (by then grouped in the Socialist League–LS) begin, though ever cautiously, to revise established Marxist thinking. Following the 1984 elections, Escalona and Marcos Gomez attempted to accelerate this process, an effort which was severely criticized by many of their long-time allies and which led to their separation from the party.




The political behavior of the members of Copei’s youth movement (known as the Revolutionary Copeyano Youth — the JRC) during the period under study and in later years was greatly influenced by trends in the worldwide Christian Democratic movement, the Renovation movement in Venezuela, and the factional struggle in Copei. The JRC split into three factions at its Third National Convention in 1965. Thereafter, the left-wing “Astronauts” (so called because they were considered to have gone beyond the limits of the party’s ideology) frequently allied with the moderate leftist “Avanzados” in internal elections, in opposition to the more conservative “Araguatos.”

Throughout the latter part of the 1960s, the leftists maintained control of the national leadership of the JRC and the Copeyano high school movement while the “Araguatos” were generally dominant at the UCV and other universities (with the exception of the University of Carabobo where the rector sympathized with the Copeyano leftists). Copeyano student leftists publicly criticized a speech by Copei’s ultraconservative vice-president, Edecio La Riva, in late 1966 which attacked the universities for harboring guerrillas and funding their activities. Subsequently, JRC leaders participated with leftist party youth groups in a protest against U.S. air strikes over Cambodia. As a result of these stands, several top “Astronauts” and “Avanzados” were suspended from the party while the JRC itself was taken over by a special commission appointed by Copei’s National Committee.72

Within Copei the leftists, particularly the “Astronauts,” had the reputation of being well versed in the latest works on political literature, especially with regard to radical Christian Democratic thinking. They criticized the “Araguato” faction for neglecting ideology, while they were in turn accused of being armchair philosophers who failed to engage in political action or organizing activity in favor of Copei on campus.73

The Copeyano leftists made frequent mention of the mission which the JRC, as the “vanguard” of Copei, was destined to play. They were especially intent on differentiating their campus organization from the party’s national leadership. One document prepared by youth leaders Joaquin Marta Sosa and Rafael Irabarren (both of whom would become leading members of socialist parties in the following decade) stated that “the JRC is the only group in the party capable of thoroughly understanding the situation that we are describing and capable of transcending it; the slogan that we should launch is: “prepare the JRC to constitute the renovating nucleus of the party.”74 The historical significance of the JRC’s task was spelled out in another internal document: “The continuance of the Christian Democratic movement world wide hinges on Latin America and the future of that movement in Latin America is in Venezuela.” The leftists felt that the most urgent task that they faced was the achievement of ideological clarity, which according to the “Astronauts” could only be guaranteed by an explicit statement of commitment to socialism. Otherwise, it was felt capitalist ideas would inevitably emerge, as occurred in the leftist factions of Christian Democratic movements in Europe.75

The leftists claimed that it was incumbent on the JRC, by virtue of representing the nation’s youth which constituted the majority of the population, to fight for far-reaching popular reforms. They also maintained that the JRC was the natural adversary of economic elite interests in Copei and that consequently the youth had to open up the party to class struggle. The leftists set as a key objective structural change in Copei, but their explicit long-range goal was gaining control of the party.76

The “Araguatos” attempted to cast off the label of “conservative” which the leftists on campus, including those in Copei, had tagged on them. They adamantly denied that they were pragmatists who spurned ideological definitions. The “Araguato”-dominated Copeyano movement at the UCV and elsewhere made a conscious effort to project a reformist image and thus avoid a political polarization which would have placed them in the conservative anti-student camp. While rejecting student-teacher “parity” in university government and other radical demands, the Copeyano students on campus sponsored seminars in which such ideas as the university’s distribution of legal and medical assistance in slum areas were discussed. The Copeyanos, like the left, emphasized that the university should not be viewed as a citadel divorced from society, and called for the utilization of university services in favor of the general welfare. This idea was embodied in the catchword “University Reform,” which the Copeyanos claimed was more appropriate to the basic aims of the student movement than the term “renovation.”

The Copeyanos — particularly the “Astronauts” and “Avanzados,” but also to a certain extent the “Araguatos” — challenged the Marxist left on the ideological front by claiming that their Christian Democratic creed was more egalitarian and far reaching than orthodox Marxism. One leading “Avanzado” at the UCV actually declared that Copei was “revolutionary” on campus, whereas the PCV, due to its commitments to the university administration, was conservative.”77

The “Araguato”-led Copeyano student organization claimed to be the true defender of university autonomy on the basis that its rivals raised political slogans and issues which emanated from outside the university, and thus represented a form of intervention on campus. The Copeyanos based their claim on historical and ideological evidence. According to them AD’s “developmentalist” strategy and the PCV’s Marxist creed both viewed the university as an instrument of state policy and subject to state control. The Christian Democratic philosophy, on the other hand, was concerned with protecting the individual from the excessive intrusion of the state. For this reason the Christian Democrats attached special importance to the autonomous status of what they referred to as “intermediate societies” (universities, trade unions, etc.) which were defined as occupying a middle ground between the individual and the state. In short, Copei’s support for the concept of university autonomy was considered more genuine than that of other political organizations in that it was grounded on party doctrine.78

In waving the banner of university autonomy, Copei singled out AD for special attack. AD favored government input into university decision-making in order to ensure that the institution would serve public interests and not fall prey to powerful campus cliques.79 According to Copei, this control threatened to transform the universities into an appendage of the Ministry of Education. In addition, the Copeyanos maintained that Ad’s anti-university attitude was due to the party’s loss of its student base with the emergence of MIR in 1960.80 Copeyano congressman Luis Herrera Campins maintained that the AD government’s aim in sending troops on campus was not so much to put an end to student violence but rather to undermine university prestige.81 Furthermore, unlike the founding leaders of Copei who had steadfastly defended university autonomy in Congress and on campus since as far back as 1936. AD had wavered in its support for the concept, especially during periods in which the party was in power (1945-1948 and l959-1969).82

The Copeyanos also claimed that true university “autonomy” meant that the institution should be free of direct party influence. On this basis the Copeyanos harshly attacked Jesus Maria Bianco, Pedro Rincon Gutierrez (rector of the ULA) and others for having politicized their respective universities by demagogically accepting leftist support in return for political concessions. This alleged accommodation included scholarship grants to student leftists in return for the moderation of the left’s criticism of their administration. During the Renovation period when the need for university transformation was widely acclaimed, the Copeyanos were able to boast that they alone stood for authentic change in that they constituted the main opposition to Bianco and other pro-leftists who had formulated university policy in recent years.83

In the name of the Renovation Movement, actions were taken and proposals made at the level of individual schools and faculties rather than on a university or nationwide basis. This decentralized dimension of the movement favored the “Araguatos” in their effort to project a reformist image on campus. In spite of their general opposition to violence and disorder, they varied their stance from place to place with regard to the protests generated by the Renovation movement, and in the process avoided being typed “conservative.” In some faculties where they enjoyed limited support, Copeyanos denounced the elected authorities and actively took part in the Renovation process. At the University of Zulia, whose rector had been elected with leftist support and where Copei had recently lost control of the FCU, Copeyanos joined MIRistas in campus building takeovers which were vocally condemned by the PCV.

At the same time, Copei attempted to guarantee the stability and smooth functioning of such faculties at the UCV as Engineering, Medicine and Law, which were bulwarks of traditional party support. Pro-Copeyano philosopher Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla spoke at Copei-sponsored seminars at the UCV where he maintained that the applied sciences had not received the treatment at the university level that was commensurate with the key role that they played in the nation’s development.84 This position led some Copeyanos to attribute the left’s electoral success on campus to its considerable support in the faculties of humanities and social sciences, while pointing out that their own gains were in engineering, medicine and other high priority faculties.85

The “Araguatos” were identified with those adult Copeyano leaders who were considered part of the Caldera wing of the party. Perhaps due to the fact that the main internal division in Copei was between the Renovation faction headed by future President Herrera Campins and the more conservative supporters of Caldera, it was often assumed that Edecio La Riva (who was generally critical of socio-economic reforms and favored repressive measures against student radicals) and other hard-line ultra-conservatives belonged to the latter grouping. At the UCV, the “Araguatos” were accused of supporting hard-line university officials, such as the dean of the Faculty of Engineering (who was one of the main targets of the Renovation movement) and the second provisional rector during the occupation (Oswaldo De Sola). In fact, the “Araguatos” were wary that the ultra-conservative hard-liners would undermine the reformist image which they had worked so hard to cultivate. They criticized the hard-liners at the UCV in private for assuming that brute force alone was an effective response to student disorders, and for failing to recognize the urgency of academic reform.86

Caldera’s success in winning the loyalty of the “Araguatos” was partly due to his adeptness in maintaining a distance from La Riva and other hard-line conservatives and in projecting an image of comprehensiveness and open-mindedness. One of Caldera’s first acts as President was the legalization of the Communist Party and the granting of amnesty to scores of leftist leaders. In addition, Caldera supported such far-reaching, though ill-defined, Christian Democratic concepts as “communitarian property” (in which traditional property relations were greatly modified), which was promoted in Copei by the Renovation faction and closely identified with Luis Herrera Campins.87 Indeed, Caldera, like the “Araguatos,” had made a strenuous effort throughout his political career to live down the conservative label which his adversaries attempted to tag on him.

The personal ties and sense of camaraderie among the “Araguatos,” many of whom would later play an important role in national politics, were reinforced by an incident which occurred at the UCV on May 22, 1969. That day, the Copeyanos gathered several blocks from the university with the announced intention of marching on campus as a demonstration of force in the face of concentrations of leftist students. The leftists denounced the planned action as a provocation. In hopes of averting a confrontation, the “Avanzado”-dominated National Directorate of the JRC as well as various national Copei leaders called on the group to alter their plans and instead march toward the National Congress. The UCV Copeyano students, led by future party leader Gustavo Tarre Briceno, disobeyed these orders and proceeded toward the university. In an ensuing clash, gunshots were exchanged and the FCU president, PCVista Alexis Adam, who was leading a march of leftists, was critically wounded.

As a result of the incident, Tarre and other leading Copeyano students were jailed, while parry members were individually harassed on campus. The “Araguato” leaders insisted that the purpose of the march had not been to challenge the leftists, but rather to demonstrate support for President Caldera’s decision to grant amnesty to ex-participants in the guerrilla movement. Although a few Copeyanos wanted the party to take credit for having faced up to the left88, most party heads at the university realized that the incident would carry serious consequences for the organization and would give credence to the left’s charge that the Copeyano students were really fascists masquerading as liberals. Indeed, some leftist Copeyano youth leaders — such as Joaquin Marta Sosa — condemned the “Araguatos” for their participation in the event and demanded that their case be brought before the party’s disciplinary tribunal. The fact that the “Araguato” leaders had disobeyed orders from the party and were subsequently jailed put in doubt their future standing in Copei. The solidarity and support of the top Calderista leaders (several of whom visited the students in jail) during this trying period helped the “Araguatos” out of their predicament and would be remembered by them with much gratitude in future years.89

Caldera attached much importance to guaranteeing the continued loyalty of his youthful followers. This effort was particularly important for Caldera because his status as Copei’s undisputed standard-bearer was being challenged by a middle generation in Copei which had come of political age in the struggle against the Perez Jimenez dictatorship in the 1950s and whose leading figure was future president Luis Herrera Campins.90 Caldera responded to this internal challenge by cultivating close ties with younger party leaders. At the same time he carefully avoided setting off a schism in the JRC which would have branded him “anti-youth” (as occurred in the case of President Romulo Betancourt as a result of the split in AD which gave rise to MIR in 1960). Some of the more intransigent “Avanzados” and “Astronauts” were isolated while others were granted scholarships to study abroad and positions in the Copeyano government. Both of these rewards were bestowed practically in succession on the top “Avanzado” leader Abdon Vivas Teran, who was named president of the Corporacion Venezolana de Fomento (CVF) under Caldera.91

Caldera’s tactfulness and careful planning paid off in that the young Copeyano leftists firmly denied that they were “anti-Caldera” in spite of outstanding ideological differences. In future years, most of the important leftist youth leaders of the 1960s either left Copei or were assigned positions of secondary importance. At the same time the “Araguatos” assumed a leading role in the party, which was especially evident by the time of Caldera’s presidential campaign of 1983. The aging Caldera sought to compensate for the ten years difference in age between himself and his AD opponent (Jaime Lusinchi) by emphasizing the rapport which he had established with the generation of the 1960s and the youthfulness of his closest allies in the party.

Luis Herrera Campins, on the other hand, was more reserved in his support for the “Avanzados” who were most closely identified with him in the JRC. Herrera (unlike his close ally Rodolfo Jose Cardenas)92 actually voted in favor of sanctions against “Avanzado” and “Astronaut” leaders for their alleged breach of party discipline.93 His failure to capitalize on generational support was amply demonstrated during his presidency when he failed to provide opportunities for the followers of Vivas Teran, who by then had established a mini-machine based on the JRC leadership and other younger party militants. Vivas Teran reacted by throwing his support behind the candidacy of Rafael Caldera for the 1983 presidential nomination in opposition to President Herrera’s choice.

By the time of the 1983 elections, the “Araguatos” (many of whom had become top Copeyano leaders) ceased to consider themselves a coherent group within the party. Up until the election of Herrera Campins as President in 1978, the “Araguatos” had viewed themselves as a bulwark in Copei committed to blocking the penetration of the leftists, whose principal leader was Herrera Campins. Herrera’s rule which was characterized by conservative policies in both national and international affairs, shattered notions regarding the “leftist” leanings of his movement in the party. Furthermore, no substantial ideological clashes were evident at Copei’s “Ideological Congress” which was held in 1985. The internal currents which have emerged in recent years (many of whose leading figures had been “Araguatos”) are based almost exclusively on personalities. In spite of the absence of concrete issues, many former “Araguatos” continue to express an almost mystical identification with the “Araguato” label.94 This attitude was articulated by a former leading “Araguato”, Naudy Suarez Figueroa, an historian and one of Copei’s outstanding intellectuals, when he stated in an interview with this author: “To be an “Araguato” is the best way of being a Copeyano.” Suarez went on to point out that while Herrera Campi’ns and many of his “Avanzado” followers threatened to leave the party when his bid for the presidential nomination was blocked in 1972, the “Araguatos” had never considered defecting, not even when Herrera emerged as the party’s presidential candidate for the succeeding electoral contests.95

The continued generational identification of those Copeyanos who entered political activity in the 1960s was evident in the 1988 presidential campaign of ex-“Araguato” Eduardo Fernandez, who defeated his mentor Rafael Caldera in internal elections for the nomination. Fernandez and his followers made a key issue of the need for the older members of the political establishment to step aside and open up opportunities for the younger generation. Actually, this message was at odds with Copei’s long standing rhetoric based on a traditional outlook which included veneration of elders. That generational arguments were invoked in favor of the Fernandez candidacy was testimony to the endurance of generational consciousness among the candidate’s copeyano contemporaries. The heavy dose of generational rhetoric in the campaign can only be understood on the basis of the common experiences that they passed through twenty years earlier.

Fernandez’s failure to base his campaign on clearly defined positions and goals was telling of the narrow, university focus of the “Araguato” movement. Although not indifferent to ideology as their adversaries claimed, the “Araguatos” were mainly concerned with checking leftist inroads on campus; for this purpose they devised an academic program to serve as a new pole of attraction for the university community. The limited scope of the “Araguato” movement contrasted with Copei’s student rivals. While the MIR Youth avidly defended orthodox Marxist doctrine, members of the Communist Youth searched for new formulas in order to achieve their fundamental goal of socialism in the not too distant future. The ideological vagueness which characterized the “Araguatos,” however, apparently did not detract from the cohesiveness of their movement nor the solidity of the generational ties which were to hold it together for some time to come.




This study has examined the interplay of centrifugal and convergent forces in the youth movement in Venezuela in the 1960s. On one hand, inter- and intra-party relations at the youth level were highly conflictive. The guerrilla struggle left a legacy of bitterness and rivalry between the PCV and MIR. Both parties as well as Copei were torn by factional struggle which was especially pronounced in the youth movement. This conflict promptly found expression in the splits in the PCV and MIR as well as the expulsions, withdrawals and isolation of left-wing Copeyano youth leaders. In addition, university politics was not neatly divided between conservative and leftist positions. The main establishment party on campus, Copei, by identifying itself with university reform, helped prevent a polarization process whereby the left of center parties would have united around the Renovation banner in opposition to conservatives who were resistant to change.

On the other hand, the very experience of the parties’ youth wings in confronting their national leaderships and/or ideological adversaries forged a sense of unity and commonality of purpose which would survive future political challenges. In Copei, MAS and, to a lesser extent the LS, group solidarity remained intact for many years to come and actually manifested itself in the presidential elections of 1988 in the form of the candidacies of Teodoro Petkoff and Eduardo Fernandez. The longevity of this group solidarity — more than party discipline — should not be passed over or underestimated since it helps balance the picture drawn by Bonilla and Silva Michelena, discussed earlier in this study. Bonilla and Silva Michelena pointed out that cultural and political heterogeneity in Venezuela led to extreme organizational fragmentation which was alleged to be the outstanding feature of political life in the 1960s. While the two authors were criticized at the time for overestimating the importance of factionalism, only hindsight has demonstrated the degree to which group cohesion was achieved.

The generational content of the struggles in all three youth organizations and its long-term impact can be broken down as follows:

1. Glorification of a leader who speaks to the concerns of the youth group: As is common among young people in general, members of party youth groups idealized a particular leader over an extended period, sometimes a lifetime. The leader, who epitomized certain traits which the young political activists held in high regard, was able to count on their active support, even after they entered the party’s adult organization. Thus the “Araguatos” became the backbone of Caldera’s top-level support apparatus during the internal campaign for the 1983 presidential elections; similarly, Communist youth of the late 1960s became teodoristas in the 1970s, allowing Petkoff to consolidate his control of MAS and become its standard-bearer.

2. Development of group loyalty: The experiences of the Communist Youth, the MIR Youth and the “Araguatos” bound the activists of each organization together and created a sense of group solidarity which is highly valued by young people.

3. Influence of contemporary events and common experiences: Youth leaders are particularly prone to assimilate lessons derived from events which affect them either directly or indirectly. Thus the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Castro’s speech denouncing the PCV were criticized by young Communists who drew the conclusion that each nation had to devise its own road to socialism free of foreign interference. Certain incidents had a heavy emotional impact on young party militants. The death of Che Guevara, for example, moved young MIRistas and fortified their resolve to live up to his image.

Common experiences also stirred young party militants emotionally and shaped their future behavior. Both Communist and MIR youth were deeply affected by the readjustment to civilian life after the guerrilla defeat, a veritable culture shock which served to strengthen the ties among ex-comrades in arms. In the case of MIR student leaders, isolation within the party due to its prolonged illegal status heightened the impact of certain events and experiences since it meant that older party leaders with a different political perspective were not readily able to challenge or question the conclusions reached by the Youth. The “Araguatos,” for their part, would not forget the moral support they received from the Calderista wing of the party in the trying weeks after the incident of May 22, 1969. Over ten years later, the “Araguatos” would deliver on this debt by promoting the presidential candidacy of Caldera within Copei.

The youth leaders often applied the lessons they learned from the university struggle to party affairs. The Academic Renovation movement, which was discussed in detail in the beginning of the study, was the main arena of this apprenticeship process. Leftist students engaging in the process of “questioning”, which was the Renovation’s modus operandi, placed in doubt the authority of their party’s leadership as well as the validity of its ideological premises. The MIR Youth established a “Commission of Questioning” within the party while the Communist Youth struggled, in their own words, to “renovate” the PCV. Another example of the carryover of campus politics to the national arena was offered: The bitterness of the Copei-PCV rivalry on campus led the Communist Youth to reject the thesis that Copei’s relatively insignificant right-wing, rather than the party as a whole, represented the main enemy.

4. Belief in the special mission of young people to fulfill an historical task of paramount importance: “Generational consciousness” manifested itself in the case of Copeyano students, especially those of the left, who saw the JRC as called upon to radicalize the Christian Democratic movement in Venezuela and throughout the world. They saw Copei’s youth movement as representing the popular sector within the party and were determined to win control of the organization. Likewise, the teodoristas in the 1960s felt it incumbent upon young Communists to replace the old-time leadership which was considered incapable of playing the vanguard role which history had assigned.

5. The long-term commitment and solidarity among the group’s members: In all three organizations under study the group’s ideals and self-identification were retained up to the 1980s when the youth activists reached middle age. The “Araguatos” came to occupy leading positions in Copei and, while continuing to extend loyalty to Rafael Caldera, the party’s perenial presidential candidate, they increasingly spoke of the desirability of selecting someone from “their generation” to run for president. The top Communist youth leaders of the 1960s, after entering MAS practically in toto, pushed the candidacy of Teodoro Petkoff for the 1983 elections. Finally, the vast majority of MIR Youth members left the party and subsequently founded the Socialist League (LS). Even with the loss of their three top leaders (one was assassinated in 1976 and two others withdrew in 1984), many of them continued to occupy leading positions in the miniscule LS.

6. Articulation of resentment against the younger generation by older political leaders, particularly those belonging to parties and movements facing generational challenges:Certain leaders mentioned in this study were either disdainful of youth aspirations or minimized the political importance of their party’s youth wing. In the case of Copei, Luis Herrera Campins failed to tap the potential support of the leftist JRC leaders and refused to intervene decisively in defense of their political rights within the party. MIR guerrilla commander Carlos Betancourt belittled the efforts of student guerrillas while playing up to those of humble origin. Likewise PCV Secretary General Jesus Faria criticized Deslinde for its intellectual orientation even though it never pretended to go beyond its university readership. The PCVistas, more than MlRistas and Copeyanos, suffered from the trauma of the defection of youth members. Not only was the youth exodus from the Communist party massive, but the fledgling MAS quickly eclipsed the PCV on all fronts including national elections. Many PCVistas explained away the blow by claiming that MAS’ willingness to make compromises demonstrated that their erstwhile youth comrades had simply “sold out.”

The youth leaders in the MIR, the PCV and Copei did not preach resentment against adults per se. Hostility toward an older generation is just one possible facet of generational movements. This study has attempted to bring out the multi-dimensional nature of generational struggle, thus showing that it is more complex than mere general condemnation of adults, which was a leitmotif of the youth movement, for instance, in the United States in the 1960s.

The severe factionalism which characterized the Venezuelan youth movement in the 1960s contrasts with internal divisions in other nations where generational issues and consciousness played an important role. In the United States in the 1960s, for instance, diverse student organizations and movements upheld widely different ideals, but were linked to each other and to the student population as a whole by common concerns. Although the number of young people in the U.S. who considered themselves “hippies” was limited, the hippie movement influenced the entire generation in its style, language, and philosophy. Ortega y Gasset’s generational concept with its emphasis on shared ideas and goals is applicable here. On the other hand, it is not as relevant to the Venezuelan case where common concerns and interests were less discernible. While the Communist Youth and MIR Youth upheld concrete goals and defended the methodology of “questioning” as a means to achieve them, the “Araguatos” lacked ideological clarity. In spite of this diversity and vagueness, the generational consciousness of all three youth groups was highly marked and did not easily dissipate in the course of time.

Although they are not known as such in Venezuela, the participants in the Renovation struggle and their contemporaries could well be referred to as the “Generation of 1969”. The youth groups and youth factions of political parties were too cohesive and too committed to their own particular formulations for historians to ignore the heavy generational content of the politics of those years. In addition, the youth movement occupied a central position on the political stage in the 1960s and its leaders went on to play a prominent role in national politics. This vitality contrasts with the relative insipidness of the student movement in the decade and a half after 1970, and the apathy of its constituents.

What accounts for the common thrust and effervescence of Venezuelan youth organizations which upheld such widely different political visions in the 1960s? In the case of the clandestine left, the armed struggle encouraged youth to demand greater input into party decision making. Furthermore, radical ideas from the youth movement throughout the world registered a profound impact on young leftists, even though the influence was felt in different ways. It was natural that within Copei, with its conservative tradition, a youth faction would emerge which was opposed to the leftist tendency both within the party’s youth organization and the youth movement in general. In the face of the leftist enemy, these Copeyanos — known as the “Araguatos” — developed into a close-knit group which put forward its own ideas regarding university reform. In short, in spite of the disunity and doctrinal diversity of the Venezuelan youth movement, the individual factions which made it up were all shaped by a single occurrence: the armed confrontation between the Venezuelan government and the left which found its most important expression in the armed struggle. The members of this highly fragmented youth movement played a dynamic role on a number of fronts, where they challenged older leaderships and forged a sense of solidarity which would play an important role in the nation’s politics in future years.


1. Jose Ortega y Gasset, Man and Crisis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1958), pp. 50-84.return to text

2. Alejandro Nieto and Carmelo Monedero, Ideologia y psicologia del movimiento estudiantil (Barcelona: Editorial Ariel, 1977), p.21.return to text

3. The essay was posthumously published in English under the title “The Problem of Generations” in Mannheim’s Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953). See also Robert S. Laufer, “Sources of Generational Consciousness and Conflict,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 395 (May 1971), p.81.return to text

4. Alain Touraine, The May Movement (New York: Randotn House, 1983); Barbara and John Ehrenreich, “The Professional-Managerial Class,” in Pat Walker, ed. between Labor and Capital (Boston: South End Press, 1979), pp. 5-45. The new working class theory accepted Marx’s famous prediction that the majority of the members of the petty bourgeoisie would in time descend to the ranks of the proletariat. One critique of the concept of the new working class was put forward by Nicos Poulantzas on the basis of the principle of the fragmentation of labor. Poulantzas pointed to the fundamental differences in the work place between workers, whose knowledge of the industrial operation is limited to a particular task, and company professionals who have access to a wide range of information. In Venezuela, orthodox Marxist Rodolfo Quintero criticized those theories which place company managers in the same class or “social bloc” as workers, arguing that the two groups manifest distinct loyalties in times of strikes and other labor conflicts. Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism (Thetford, England: New Left Review Editions, 1978), pp. 224-250; Rodolfo Quintero, Los estudiantes: un ensayo antropologico-social sobre los estudiantes universitarios de Venezuela(Caracas: UCV, 1974), p.69.return to text

5. Lewis Feuer, The Conflict of Generations (New York, Basic Books 1969); Orlando Albornoz, ldeologia y politica en Ia universidad latinoamericana (Caracas: Instituto Societas, 1972), p. 22. These theories are summarized in Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Dimensions of Student Involvement” in S.M. Lipset and Gerald M. Schaflander, Passion and Politics: Student Activism in America (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), pp. 16-17.return to text

6. Oliver W. Holmes, Human Reality and the Social World: Ortega’s Philosophy of History (Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1975), p. 119.return to text

7. S.M. Lipset and Everett Ladd, “The Political Future of Activist Generations” in Philip G. Altbach and Robert Laufer, The New Pilgrims: Youth Protest in Transition (New York: David McKay, 1972), pp.63-84.return to text

8. Mannheim, “The Problem of Generations”, p.288; see also Cohn Loader, The Intellectual Development of Karl Mannheim: Culture, Politics, and Planning(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p.839.return to text

9. The three moderate candidates were Jovito Villalba (Republican Democratic Union), Ramon Ramos Gimenez (“ARS”) and Wolfgang Larrazabal (Democratic Popular Force). The conservative was Uslar Pietri (National Democratic Front).return to text

10. Frank Bonilla, The Politics of Change in Venezuela: Vol. II, The Failure of Elites (Cambridge: MIT, 1970), pp.194-95. The other volumes in the CENDES­MIT series are Frank Bonilla and Jose Augustin Silva Michelena, The Politics of Change in Venezuela: Vol. I, A Strategy for Research on Social Policy(Cambridge: MIT, 1967); and Jose Augustin Silva Michelena, The Politics of Change in Venezuela: Vol. III, The Illusion of Democracy in Dependent Nations(Cambridge: MIT, 1971).return to text

11. Daniel Levine, Conflict and Political Change in Venezuela (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973) p.246.return to text

12. Juan Carlos Rey, “El sistema de partidos venezolano [sic]” Politica 1 (1972), p.230.return to text

13. For works on the Venezuelan guerrilla movement, see Luigi Valsalice, Guerrilla y politica: curso de accion en Venezuela, 1962/69 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Pleamar, 1975); Steve Ellner, “Political Party Dynamics and the Outbreak of Guerrilla Warfare in Venezuela,” Inter-American Economic Affairs Vol.32, No. 2 (Autumn 1980), pp.3-24; Agustin Blanco Munoz [interviewer], La lucha armada, 4 vols. (Caracas: UCV, 1980-82); Manuel Cabieses Donoso, Venezuela Okey! Origen y objetivo de la lucha armada (Havana: Ediciones Venceremos, 1964).return to text

14. Ministerlo de Educacion, Memoria y Cuenta, 1970, p. XLV.return to text

15. Hector Silva Michelena and Heinz R. Sonntag, Universidad, dependencia y revolucion (Mexico: Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 1970), p.174; Proposiciones para una revolucion universitaria (Caracas: UCV, 1969).return to text

16. Philip G. Altbach and Robert S. Laufer, The New Pilgrims: Youth Protest in Transition (New York: David McKay, 1972), p.61; Milton Mankoff and Richard Flacks, “The Changing Social Base of the American Student Movement,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 395 (May 1971), p.65; Steve Ellner, “Educational Policy” in John D. Martz and David J. Myers, eds. Venezuela: The Democratic Experience, Revised Edition (New York: Praeger, 1986), pp.300-302.return to text

17. Alonso Palacios, interview, Feb. 5, 1986, Caracas.return to text

18. Manuel Caballero, Sobre autonomia, reforma y politica en la Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1827-1958 (Caracas: UCV, 1974).return to text

19. Francisco De Venanzi, “A los cincuenta anos del movimiento de Cordoba,” Actual: Revista de Ia ULA 2 (May-August 1968), pp. 7-25.return to text

20. J. Marrero Carpio, Algunas corsideraciones en torno a La renovacion academica (Merida; n.p., 1969), p.29.return to text

21. G. Bronfenmajer and R. Casanova, “Proposiciones sobre la universidad venezolana,” in Universidad, clases sociales y poder (Caracas: Editorial Ateneo de Caracas, 1982). p. 287.return to text

22. Darcy Ribeiro, Propuestas acerca de La renovacion (Caracas: CCV, 1970), p.38; Ribeiro, La universidad necesaria 2nd ed. (Buenos Aires: Editorial Galerna, 1970), pp.67, 86.return to text

23. K.N. Walker, “A Comparison of the University Reform Movements in Argentina and Colombia,” in S.M. Lipset, ed. Student Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1967), pp. 293-317.return to text

24. Orlando Araujo, “La revolucion Silva-Sonntag,” Deslinde 3 (April 1969), p.5.return to text

25. J.M. Aguirre, “La universidad: peligrosa o esteril?” SIC 317 July­Aug.1969), pp.301-302; Jose Rafael Nunez Tenorio, Interview, Barcelona, Venezuela, July 15, 1983 with a Renovation movement leader at the UCV.return to text

26. R. Arnove, “Students in Politics,” in John D. Martz and David J. Myers, Venezuela: The Democratic Experience (New York: Praeger, 1977).return to text

27. Gustavo Tarre Briceno, Interview, March 16, 1983. Tarre was the Copeyano leader of the “Araguato” tendency at the CCV in the 1960s and became a Copei national deputy in the 1970s.return to text

28. Luis Bayardo Sardi, “La izquierda entre el mito y Ia revolucion,” Joven Guardia 7 (May 1970), pp. 24-25.return to text

29. Petkoff, Proceso a la izquierda (Barcelona: Editorial Planeta, 1976).return to text

30. Blanco Munoz [interviewer] La lucha armada: hablan 5 jefes (Caracas: UCV, 1980), p. 225; PCV, “Communist Guerrillas’ Answer to Fidel”, John Gerassi (ed.)The Coming of the New International (New York: World Publishing Co., 1971), pp. 462-466.return to text

31. Freddy Munoz, Interview, Puerto La Cruz, May 17, 1984. Munoz was president of the FCC at the CCV in the 1960s, and became a MAS National Deputy in the 1970s.return to text

32. Petkoff, “Me parece licito hablar de derechas e izquierdas dentro del Partido Comunista de Venezuela,” Deslinde 8 July 1-15, 1969), p.3.return to text

33. Antonio Jose Urbina, “La JC es un destacamiento a disposicion del Central,” Deslinde 7 June 15-30, 1969), p.7.return to text

34. Pompeyo Marquez, Que discuten los Comunistas (Caracas: Ediciones “Deslinde”, 1970), pp. 38-39.return to text

35. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 6 commandantes (Caracas: CCV, 1981), p.244.return to text

36. Joven Guardia (September 1-17,1970), p.12.return to text

37. Luis Bayardo Sardi, Interview, Caracas, April 22, 1982. Bayardo Sardi was a 1960s PCV youth leader and a MAS senator in the 1970s.return to text

38. German Lairet, “Soy de los que aspiran a renovar el partido,” Deslinde 9 July 31-August 15,1969), p.20.return to text

39. Jesus Faria, “A la derecha de quien estaria yo?” Deslinde 6 June 1-15, 1969), p.3.return to text

40. Tribuna Popular, March 12-18, 1970, p.l; Tribuna Popular, September 18, 1969, p.10; Gustavo Machado, “Transformar la lucha de opiniones es una via para construir el partido,” Deslinde 14 (December 1-15, 1969), p.3.return to text

41. Radames Larrazabal, Interview, Caracas, Oct. 16, 1984. Larrazabal served as a member of the PCV Political Bureau.return to text

42. Alonso Palacios, Interview, February 5, 1986. Palacios was a 1960s Communist youth leader, and a member of MAS national directory during the 1970s.return to text

43. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 5 jefes (Caracas:CCV), p.71; Petkoff, Proceso…, pp. 67-68.return to text

44. Guillermo Garcia Ponce, “El enemigo principal,” Deslinde 9 July 31-August 15,1969), p.5.return to text

45. Freddy Munoz, “El enemigo principal,” Deslinde 10 (August 15-31), p.12.return to text

46. Rodolfo Jose Cortes, “El XV Pleno senala el camino a seguir en la solucion de los problemas internos,” Deslinde 17 (April 1-15, 1970), p.3.return to text

47. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 5 jefes, p.237.return to text

48. Giorgio Napolitano, La alternativa eurocomunista (Barcelona: Editorial Blume, 1977), pp. 57-59. Tobias Abse offers an opposite viewpoint, namely that the PCI’s Eurocommunist leader Enrico Berlinguer, while feigning interest in the student movement of 1967. was really deaf to the ideas which it represented. See “Judging the PCI”, New Left Review 153 (September-October 1985), pp. 16-17.return to text

49. Alex Adam, “Nadie debe inhibirse de opinar por temor a que lollamen contrarevolucionano,” Deslinde 3 (April 1969), p.1.return to text

50. Abse, “Judging the PCI”, p.15.return to text

51. Petkoff, interview, Aug.25, 1984, Caracas.return to text

52. Humberto Cuenca, Ejercito, universidad y revolucion (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Movimiento, 1962), p.134.return to text

53. Levine, Conflict and Political Change, p.189.return to text

54. Jose Agustin Silva Michelena, “La izquierda no debe caer en provocaciones,” Cambio 11 Uune, 1969), p.6.return to text

55. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 3 comandantes de la izquierda revolucionaria (Caracas: UCV, 1982), pp.125, 135, 331.return to text

56. Ignacio Urdaneta, Polemica en la revolucion (Caracas: Editorial Nueva Izquierda, 1969), p.36.return to text

57. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 3 comandantes, p. 99.return to text

58. Liga Socialista, La abstencion electoral y la necesidad de una tactica justa, (n.c.: Ediciones Jorge Rodriguez, 1978). pp.45-47; Jorge Rodriguez, El pensamiento de Jorge Rodriguez (Caracas, Ateneo de Caracas, 1979), p.39.return to text

59. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 6 comandantes, p. 341.return to text

60. Geronimo Betancourt, “La disciplina del partido: mito de la derecha del MIR,” Deslinde 10 (August 15-31, 1969), p.8.return to text

61. Este & Oeste: hoja especial para Venezuela No.40, 1969.return to text

62. S. Mijares, “La direccion del MIR es derechista,” Deslinde 14 (December 1-15,1969), p. 15.return to text

63. Simon Saez Merida, interview, February 4, 1986, Caracas; Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: hablan 3 comandantes, pp. 101-110.return to text

64. Orangel Lopez, Interview, Caracas, February 4, 1986 with a national leader of the Liga Socialista.return to text

65. Romulo Henriquez, Interview, Caracas, February 6, 1986.return to text

66. Ibid.return to text

67. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: La izquierda revolucionaria insurge (Caracas: UCV, 1981), p.346; Carmelo Laborit, Interview, Puerto La Cruz, October 16, 1983 with a 1970s leader of the Liga Socialista.return to text

68. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: La izquierda revolucionaria, p.344.return to text

69. Izquierda [MIR newspaper], September 1970, p.4.return to text

70. Blanco Munoz, La lucha armada: La izquierda revolucionaria, p.344.return to text

71. Americo Martin, Marcuse y Venezuela: se aburguesa La clase obrrera en Venezuela? (n.c.: Cuadernos Rocinante, 1969), p. 168; Alfredo Pena [interviewer],Conversaciones con Americo Martin (Caracas: Ateneo de Caracas, 1978), pp. 64-69; Americo Martin, Interview, Barcelona, May 7,1982.return to text

72. Donald Herman, Christian Democracy in Venezuela (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980, pp.90-103; Ricardo Combellas Lares, Ideologia y liderazgo (Caracas: Ariel, 1985). The rector of the University of Carabobo who was sympathetic to the leftist Copeyanos was Jose Luis Bonma.return to text

73. Naudy Suarez Figueroa, interview, February 7, 1986, Caracas.return to text

74. Joaquin Marta Sosa, German Ahrehsburg, et. al. “Preparemos la revolucion: formando un partido revolucionano” (mimeographed), 1969, p.8.return to text

75. Ivan Loscher (interviewer), Escrito con La izquierda: entrevistas (Caracas: Libros Tepuy, 1977), pp.111; Fernando Eurea, Oliver Belisano, et. al. “A la X Convencion Nacional del Partido Socialcristiano Copei” (mimeographed), 1967, p.5.return to text

76. Nueva Voz Popular, August 1, 1968, p.8.return to text

77. Nueva Voz Popular, August 8, 1968, p.11.return to text

78. Naudy Suarez, interview, February 7,1986.return to text

79. Jesus Sanoja Hernandez, La universidad: culpable o victima (Caracas: Fondo Editorial Venezolano, 1967), p.85.return to text

80. Vertice, March 1963, No.9, p.9.return to text

81. Luis Herrera Campins, Palenque: retrospectiva de un compromiso con Venezuela, I (Caracas: Fondo Editorial IRFES, 1979), p.227.return to text

82. Paciano Padron (Compiler), Copei: Documentos fundamentales (Caracas: Ediciones Centauro, 1981), p.95.return to text

83. Nandy Suarez, Personal letter to the author from Paris, May 25, 1983.return to text

84. R. Gallegos Ortiz, Es farsa la renovacion? (Caracas: Talleres Crona, 1969), p.60; Paciano Padron, Interview, March 15, 1983 with a 1960s UCV Copeyano leader of the “Araguato” tendency who became a Copeyano national deputy of the 1970s.return to text

85. Vertice, No.47, March-April, 1968, p. 3.return to text

86. Suarez, interview, February 7, 1986.return to text

87. Padron, interview, March 15, 1983, Caracas.return to text

88. Elias Lopez, Interview, March 16, 1986 with a UCV Copeyano leader of the “Araguato” tendency, who became secretary general of Copei in Caracas in the 1970s.return to text

89. Jose Rodriguez Iturbe, Interview, Caracas, March 15, 1983 with a 1960 Copeyano leader at the Universidad de Zulia, who became a Copeyano national deputy in the 1970s.return to text

90. Differences between the two generations in Copei dated back to the 1950s when Herrera Campins and his close associates assumed a more combative position than the party’s older leadership in the struggle against Perez Jimenez.return to text

91. Aldon Vivas Teran, interview, April 9, 1983, Caracas.return to text

92. Within Copei, Cardenas was sometimes referred to as a “Nasserite”, though it is unclear whether this denomination was due to his nationalist positions alone or if it was meant to imply a preference for a military solution.return to text

93. Jose de Ia Cruz Fuentes, Interview, April 4, 1984 with a 1960s member of Copei’s National Committee.return to text

94. Discussion with Oswaldo Alvarez Paz (“Araguato” leader in the 1960s and former vice-president of the National Congress) and Guillermo Yepes Boscan (“Astronauta” in the 1960s and ex-Minister of Culture) at Storrs, Conn., March 26, 1986.return to text

95. Suarez, interview, February 7, 1986, Caracas.return to text

Identification and Description of Groups, Organizations and Institutions Referred to in the Text

AD – Democratic Action party (founded in 1941)
Araguatos – Conservative faction of the Copeyano Youth
Astronauts – Left-wing faction of the Copeyano Youth
Avanzados – Moderate-leftist faction of the Copeyano Youth
Copei – Committee of Independent Political Electoral Organization (Christian Democratic party founded in 1946)
FCU – Federation of University Centers (main student organization at each university)
FGAJS – Antonio Jose de Sucre Guerrilla Front (MIR guerrilla front in eastern Venezuela
JRC – Revolutionary Copeyano Youth (Copeyano youth organization)
MAS – Movement toward Socialism (split off from the PCV in 1971)
MEP – People’s Electoral Movement (split off from AD in 1967)
MIR – Movement of the Revolutionary Left (split off from AD in 1960)
PCV – Communist Party of Venezuela
UCV – Central University of Venezuela
ULA – University of the Andes