The new Hands Off Venezuela film No Volverán (Never Again) is misnomer, because inspite of its title, it repeats the mistakes of earlier lefts.
The film follows a delegation to Venezuela at the time of the 2006 presidential election. The first part is largely a propaganda piece for the Venezuelan government, praising Chavez’s achievements without criticism.
The second part shows the delegation visiting occupied factories, including Invepal paper firm, valve manufacturer Inveval and bathroom maker Sanitarios Maracay. The film says that these factories represent the first embryonic stages of socialism in Venezuela. However it completely glosses of the real situation of workers control in the country.
For one thing, there are only a dozen or so factories where workers committees actually run things. There are many more coops, but in strategic industries co-management in non-existent. In the state oil company PDVSA – where workers established control to beat the bosses lock-out in 2002-03, power is firmly back in the hands of state managers.
In the factories visited in the film, there have been big struggles just to get them nationalised. In the case of Invepal, the first to be taken over, union organisation has worsened since the new regime. In the case of Sanitarios Maracay, which is the main focus of the film, the government has still not nationalised it despite demands to do so for over a year, leaving workers in legal limbo. Where the government could have helped the factory, for example through awarding it contracts, it has failed to do so. In one case, PDVSA awarded a contract to a rival private firm.
The film ends by lauding the creation of the PSUV as another step towards 21st century socialism. The problem is that the party is created by Chavez to strengthen his rule. It is a top down party, not one that has grown up from the labour and independent social movements.
The fact that it has millions of members is no surprise given government backing. The fact that it has incorporated some unions and NGOs should not be a cause for celebration. Previous bourgeois populists like Peron and Cardenas went further and had huge support – but ultimately they cut across working class self-organisation and reduced the independent labour movement to tatters.
The Socialist Appeal group and its co-thinkers that lead HOV were previously renowned for their rather stale calls for “nationalising the top 200 monopolies” when they sold The Militant newspaper. Not for them a real revolution; it was enough to pass an Enabling Act through parliament to create socialism. They think they’ve found this utopia in Venezuela and show not the slightest interest in critically assessing Chavez or his effect on the Venezuelan workers.
Their film says “Never Again”. The sad thing is that they are repeating the same old mistakes again.