Thursday, 24 September 2009

Review of Venezuela Documentary 'Inside the Revolution' by 'Lenin's Tomb'

Review of Venezuela Documentary 'Inside the Revolution' by 'Lenin's Tomb'

Thursday September 24th, by Lenin's Tomb

What to make of the Bolivarian revolution? Despite its limitations, it has achieved real decreases in poverty, higher social spending per capita, elements of grassroots democracy, and a widespread radicalisation among Venezuela's working class. The revolution has thus far withstood various challenges from the right, including a coup, largely because of the solid backing the Chavez government receives from the poor. Unlike previous efforts at social transformation in Latin America, this one has not been drowned in rivers of blood. Is Venezuela therefore a model for others to follow, as well as an inspiration in its own right?

The new documentary Inside The Revolution (trailer here) deals with precisely this question. This sort of film could so easily just re-tread old ground. It could just as easily lapse into uncritical adulation. Or it could just be very cliched, with various pleasing sentiments structured around a 'story so far' narrative. Already, films about Venezuela are characterised by some very familiar vistas: the red t-shirts, the smiling Chavez supporters, the scandalously abusive corporate media footage, and the slums, all overlaid with cheery joropo music. And if these were to be the fixtures of a genre that ossified the exciting and conflict-ridden social processes of Venezuela into low budget entertainment for leftists, then the Bolivarian revolution would have been done a disservice. But Inside The Revolution takes the argument deeper than previous films, making an effort to gauge what kind of example Venezuela provides for the left. It has less glamour and polemical bite than Pilger's The War on Democracy, for example, but is intellectually more challenging.

The argument is more distinctive than the material, most of which can be found in useful texts such as Bart Jones' biography of Hugo Chavez - cryptically entitled ¡Hugo! - and Gregory Wilpert's Changing Venezuela By Taking Power (an excellent counterblast to the Holloway thesis). Thus, you get a very brief account of the history of Venezuelan politics, from the Jimenez dictatorship to the highly controlled liberal democracy during the oil boom of the post-war era, to the social collapse and soaring poverty from 1978 onward. You get a discussion of the radicalisation in 1989, a counterpoint to the general demoralisation on the Left as the Berlin Wall fell. There is footage of Chavez's attempted coup in 1992, and his 72 second speech to the nation upon surrendering in which he famously said that his goals could not be achieved "por ahora" (for now). This statement became a catchphrase for millions, as Chavez became a hero to the poor and, upon his release, he began to build up support for a presidential campaign. He wins, brings about constitutional changes, faces down the hysteria of the ruling class, defeats a coup, braves a referendum defeat, suffers electoral setbacks, but continues to make progress. So far, so familiar - and accurate too.

(click here to view entire review)

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