The Communist Party of Venezuela, Robert J. Alexander’s most recent contribution to the field of Latin American politics, forms part of the Hoover Institution’s project on the comparative study of nonruling communist parties. The author does not come as a novice to this subject, having written an early study of the movement in this hemisphere, Communism in Latin America (1957). In the present work he examines the Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) by way of topical chapters on its history, its structure and organization, the local political environment in which it functions, its relations with other communist parties, and the principal determinants of party behavior.

To this reviewer the most important contribution of the book is the lengthy chapter on the PCV’s experiment with urban and rural violence between 1962 and 1966. The author rightly regards as disastrous for the PCV its decision to take up the armed struggle. It was a mistake which, in the span of a few years, took the party from its impressive success in the first years after Marcos Pérez Jiménez’ years to near-annihilation by 1966. The principal factor in the failure of the PCV-sponsored terrorist campaign, states Alexander, was the existence in power of a democratic, reform-minded regime, that of Acción Democrática (AD). Although this assumption surely has some validity, the correlation between the popularity of AD reforms and the defeat of the terrorist-guerrilla enterprise is not readily established. Neither does the assumption take into account the failure of Marxist insurgent movements in countries where nothing resembling AD “democratic revolutionary” programs have been carried out.

Although this is a useful addition to the sparse literature in English on Venezuelan political parties, it is by no means an exhaustive study, such as John D. Martz’ Acción Democrática (1966). Alexander undertook little new research for this volume, relying primarily on notes from his previous publications, six interviews, two government intelligence reports, and a limited number of communist documents. The book also suffers from a certain casualness in editing. For example, in his first reference to a terrorist attack, Alexander states (p. 84) that five National Guardsmen were killed, but when he returns to the incident later (p. 179), he lowers the number of fatalities to four. Furthermore, Juan Vicente Gómez did not seize power in 1909 (p. 163); Venezuela did have railroads before World War I (p. 146); the garrison of Los Teques did not revolt on January 1, 1958 (p. 40)—a rebellious Caracas armored unit eventually surrendered in Los Teques; Interior Minister Vallenilla Lanz’ given name is not Luis, but Laureano (p. 40); virtually the entire Venezuelean air force did not fly to Colombia after the abortive New Year’s Day 1958 revolt (p. 40); Luis B. Prieto’s MEP does not stand for Movimiento de Educación Popular (p. 191). In addition, spelling and mechanical errors abound in this low-budget publication which, unfortunately, lacks an index.

While Alexander ably argues his main theses, in this reviewer’s opinion his continuing identification with Acción Democrática prevents him from analyzing recent Venezuelan politics with the detachment which a purportedly serious study warrants.