John Pilger has made this film, which focuses on Venezuela but expands to cover Latin America at large and the region’s bloody relationship with the empire to the North. In many ways it’s a very good film. It’s long for a documentary – about 93 minutes – but, in the words of so many TV eds who believe we all have the need for speed, pacey. And I’m afraid I don’t think it’s so fantastic. It’s not enough, today, for someone as experienced as Pilger to make a documentary about Chavez which is so uncritical. As I’ve said on the Lenin’s Tomb blog, the European Left (a crude reduction, forgive me) do the Venezuelan people no good by supporting Chavez without being prepared to criticise him too. The 20th and 21st centuries have seen too many national liberation movements go sour, go corrupt, go brutal, and go – shall we say – to bed with the wrong people. It’s all about power, innit. I’m in favour of Chavez, and certainly in favour of his struggle to stand up to the US empire, however we (abroad, particularly those of us living in the wishy-washy West) risk being shown up to be extremely naive if we support him hook, line and sinker. Pilger makes one slightly small attempt to challenge Chavez, but no more. That’s in a programme of 93 minutes. Why not query him further? Press the man’s buttons? What was Pilger so worried about? I’m not saying he should have tried to set him up, merely to ask him proper questions. Because if Chavez is not called to account by the very people who sympathise with him – including well-known investigative journalists – he will slowly start to forget that he is a representative of many people, and start to think he’s the only one with the answer. And that will be disastrous.
I like to remember what V.S. Naipaul wrote, very critically, of Gail Benson and her relationship (whatever that was) with Trinidadian Michael Abdul Malik (Michael X). He implied that she was one of those ‘who continue to simplify the world and reduce other men—not only the Negro—to a cause, the people who substitute doctrine for knowledge and irritation for concern, the revolutionaries who visit centers of revolution with return air tickets, the hippies, the people who wish themselves on societies more fragile than their own, all those people who in the end do no more than celebrate their own security.’