Venezuela From Below


 Dario Azzellini is the co-director of the new documentary film “Venezuela from below”. Jorge Martin interviewed him for Hands Off Venezuela about the film and his views on the Bolivarian revolution.

Jorge Martin: How did you get the idea for the film and what are your links with the Bolivarian revolution?

Dario Azzellini: Well, since the end of the 1980s I have been travelling and working in Latin America and I became interested in its political and social issues. Furthermore, since I was 12 and I am now 37, I have been active in left wing politics. Before making the documentary I visited Venezuela a few times. The thing that impressed me most about the rank and file was their enormous strength and the capacity for self organisation, of taking matters into their own hands, in the process of transformation that is taking place in Venezuela.

There are a number of very good documentaries on Venezuela, but what they are lacking (in the opinion of myself and my co-director Oliver Ressler) was the people themselves talking about how they see the process, how their lives have changed since the beginning of the process. The other documentaries focus more on explaining the framework and what happened during the coup. If there is anything about the programmes that are being implemented it is usually politicians or “representatives” who are talking about what is happening.

We wanted to present the people themselves explaining what is happening, how they feel, how they live, so that at least some of this strength for change coming from the people can be conveyed. We also wanted to show that the people are very conscious of what is happening. They know what they want and what needs to be done, and that they do not need anybody to talk for them. They are perfectly capable of talking themselves.

JM: Yes, this is one of the most striking things and in our opinion it is the aspect that defines a revolution, precisely the fact that people have organised themselves in tens of thousands of revolutionary organisations of different kinds, and have taken their future into their own hands. This is what we found interesting in your documentary; that it is based mainly on explaining the experiences of the rank and file community, workers organisations and so on.

DA: This is a very important aspect. In fact, with all the different left wing organisations that exist, each one with its own analysis of revolution, we were left with our eyes open wide in amazement at what is happening in Venezuela. It is a process that has to be organised in a concrete way, because it is not following any preconceived analysis. We cannot forget that what saved the process, at the time of the coup, at the time of the oil lock out, and in all decisive occasions in which it was under threat, was the massive mobilisation of the rank and file in a self organised way. This must not be underestimated. I think that in this lies the only hope that the process will go forward, will deepen and survive.

JM: The other aspect which is shown clearly in the documentary is the participation of the labour movement. There are interviews about Venepal, the CNV, and the role of the oil workers in the defeat of the bosses’ lock-out.

DA: Yes, this aspect is important too. One of the central questions in a process of deep social transformation is that of the ownership of the means of production. Who controls them? There has to be redistribution of wealth but the problem must be dealt with at root level. Therefore questions of land and labour are fundamental. They are not the only ones. There are also the issues of the Indians, culture, community etc, but if the question of the ownership and control over production is not dealt with, there cannot be a genuine process of transformation. That is why it is important to show the struggle of the occupied factories. We can also gauge the capacity of a government that wants to be revolutionary from its ability to respond to these demands of the workers and peasants.

JM: We have also seen with a lot of interest in the last few months in that Chavez has said clearly that the problems of misery, inequality and poverty cannot be solved within the framework of capitalism. He has pointed out that the path to be taken is socialism and that a debate must be opened about socialism of the 21st century.

DA: Well, of course, I have always been convinced of this. Everything that has happened to date has increased my confidence in Chavez. There is the skilful way in which he has led and deepened the process, giving space to rank and file movements and always being open to new ideas. Now we have to see how this debate about socialism is handled in Venezuela.

We all know that it is a very broad movement, with sections from the social democrat left to those openly identified with the revolutionary left. I think these will make very interesting contributions. There have been European leaders who have talked about a “new socialism” who actually embraced neo-liberalism. I do not think that this will be the case with Chavez in Venezuela.

Indeed now that Chavez’s position has been strengthened we see how many, like Zapatero in Spain, recognising that Chavez is going to be around for some time, are trying to influence this process with their own vision of “socialism”.

I think it is also very interesting to observe that had the declarations they are now making about socialism been made six years ago, the process would have never been able to reach the point it is now.

What gives me a lot of confidence is that this is one of the few processes I have known anywhere in the world that has actually deepened. It started with promises far less radical. In the course of time it has managed to deepen social transformation.

JM: I think it was down to their own experience. Chavez started with the idea of introducing a number of social improvements, which were not necessarily very radical, but found open opposition and even armed insurrection from the oligarchy and imperialism.

DA: Of course, we can say that the first measures introduced by the Chavez government were neither revolutionary nor communist, but rather of an old social democratic kind (new social democracy does not even introduce reforms). However this clashed with the empire, the multinationals and the IMF, who thought that it already went too far.

I think this it is partly because after the end of this clash opportunity for social democracy no longer existed. Social democracy and reformism used to work because they “threatened” Capital. If the limited reform measures they proposed were not conceded the movements could take a “worse” path, like that of the Soviet Union (Let us leave to one side our personal opinions about whether what was found in that country was socialism or not). This “threat” has no effect any more. It is only too obvious that Capital is not the slightest bit interested in even the smallest of reforms proposed by social democracy. The opportunity for reformism has disappeared.

In the last few years the Venezuelan process has also realised this. At the beginning, although they only attempted a few reforms, they were attacked with all the violence and all the propaganda apparatus of Capital, transnational companies and empire. Therefore they saw they might just as well choose another path.

JM: What do you think are the main dangers that threaten the Bolivarian revolution now, internal and external?

DA: Starting with the external threats, I think they are, on the one hand the danger of a contra. I do not think that in the short or medium term there is any danger of direct intervention on the part of the US, but what they are already doing, and this is going to increase, is building an army of counter-revolutionaries, like the contras in Nicaragua. (Today they have announced they have captures five Colombian paramilitaries in the Amazonas). They do not aim for military victory, but for political destabilisation. They would like to take this to the point where the next elections gave people a choice between war and bourgeois capitalism as against between a process of social transformation and bourgeois capitalism.

They are going to activate groups from Colombia and will try to infiltrate them into Venezuelan territory. They will have the support of cattle ranch owners and landowners (particularly now that the government has begun to expropriate and distribute land in a serious way). This will build the army of contras.

They will also continue with their propaganda campaign. Accion Democratica, I think, will go back to the political arena, playing the role of a “reasonable” opposition, ready to open a dialogue with the government (so that it can influence it) and will receive the support of international social democracy.

Another foreign threat is the promotion and financing of the development of a regionalist movement in Zulia. This is already being talked about and there are historical precedents for it. Zulia is a region under opposition control. From the economic point of view, it is one of the most important regions in the country, because of its oil reserves and its geographically strategic position in the border with Colombia.

Another danger I have already hinted at in relation to Zapatero and international social democracy is that, having realised that they cannot easily get rid of Chavez, they will try to give him ‘the embrace of the bear’. They will penetrate the movement with their “foundations” and advisors, in order to divert the course of the process.

From the internal point of view I think that one of the main enemies of this process is corruption. Amongst the politicians in Venezuela there are too many who jumped on the bandwagon in order to get money and personal benefit. Everybody knows this. Chavez himself has denounced it. There is a lot of corruption and there are many people who cannot manage their roles, but who do not step aside for fear of losing their element of power.

Another internal problem is the need to give real power to the rank and file, to create peoples’ power. There are those within the bureaucratic structures who do not want to do this because they know they will lose out personally. Therefore they are putting a break on the process, against the pressure coming from below.

In general terms I think that these are the dangers, difficulties and tasks that the Venezuelan revolutionary process is facing in both the short and medium term.

There are other aspects which show positive development; the economy, the beginning of the real land reform – there is a ministry of agriculture which is finally carrying out what should have been started in 1999 (not by chance has it been changed many times over). Also the government is progressively learning how to do things. We should not forget that it was catapulted into power with little previous experience of how to run things.

JM: My last question would be what you think are the main tasks of the international solidarity movement? And what message would you give to the people who are organised in Hands Off Venezuela, other solidarity organisations, international Bolivarian Circles, etc.

DA: I think there are different tasks. The process in Venezuela survives because it has a very broad basis and this is something from which we must learn. We might have different analyses but we have to work together if we want to achieve something. I think that the Venezuela solidarity movement has certain differences with the movement in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Nicaragua had nothing, and the solidarity movement had also to contribute from the purely economic point of view. In Venezuela we can go back to the genuine meaning of solidarity, which is to develop ones’ own struggles in common with the struggles of others. It is a very political solidarity, very political; a political exchange of discussions.

We need to do a job of work in spreading information. We must clarify in Europe what is happening in Venezuela. What is on the European news and in their media about Venezuela has little to do with reality.

I think it is also very important to penetrate further into academia. Although we have made advances in the political field, the academic field is still very much dominated by the right wing (if sometimes disguised as the left wing) and there are almost no academics in Europe who have a positive vision, or even a correct appraisal of the process taking place in Venezuela.

It is also important to get this information to the population within the European trade unions. They must understand what is happening in Venezuela and build direct links. Venezuela is a very large and diverse country, and so anybody who is active in Europe, be it an engineer, chemical trade unionist, university professor, student or homosexual, can find a counterpart in Venezuela who is a part of the process.

It is important that Venezuela does not just become about Venezuela but serves as an example for the rest of the world as well. Things are being done in relation to health, social security and education, which those in Europe, in richer countries, are being told are unaffordable. University fees are being introduced “because the state cannot pay for universities – they are too expensive”. They want to make us pay for health care “because the state cannot afford it”, etc. Yet all the things said to be unaffordable in Europe are being implemented in Venezuela despite the fact that it is a poorer country. It is very important to explain this to unmask the whole lie of the neo-liberal discourse in Europe.

JM: Thank you very much.

The film is available in Spanish, with English or with German subtitles, you can get order details from Dario Azzellini  or from Oliver Ressler

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