Friday, December 11, 2015
Sunday, December 6, 2015
Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1948 In the Mesh – a scenario for a film which was never produced as such – isn’t his best work. His emerging themes of political responsibility and the use of violence in liberation movements are largely sidelined in favor of a melodramatic portrayal of a love quadrangle (which itself is marred by sexism), the characters and their relationships are simplistically drawn, and many of the events are improbable.
But it’s of interest for two reasons. First, for its suggestions of experimental film techniques, marking a different artistic path for Sartre, who preferred “transparent” writing that didn’t draw attention to itself. Film, it seems, freed him to try new creative approaches. More important, for the premise of the film, even if it wasn’t realized as well as it could have been. It was prescient for 1948 and is of continuing relevance today.
The movie is set in a small, oil-rich country. It begins with a revolutionary storming of the presidential palace, and the action follows a hastily convened trial of the overthrown president for his seven years of repressive rule. We understand through trial testimony and flashbacks that he himself had been a revolutionary leader who rose to power in similar circumstances, and is seen to have betrayed the very movement he once led. While he came to power with a promise to nationalize the oil fields, he hasn’t done so. He’s restricted the press and refused to call free elections. He’s undertaken a mechanization of agriculture in the face of mass opposition from the country’s farmers and violently repressed their rebellion. The insurgents demand explanations.
We learn over time that he was operating under powerful constraints from the start. Moments after entering office, he was informed by the representatives of the government controlling oil concessions – presumably the US, but never named – that any nationalization would be regarded as an act of war and would result in an invasion and/or occupation. All of his actions, in his view, have responded to this dreadful possibility. He couldn’t nationalize, and democracy would have led immediately to legislative decisions to do just that. He was caught in the mesh. The only option he saw was to stall long enough for the superpower to become involved in a dispute with the other superpower and lose interest, which could take years but appeared to him the best of the very limited options.
Sartre set the film for some reason in Europe, but it would have more plausibly taken place in Iran or another less powerful nation of the global south. The constraints on movements and governments attempting to claim popular sovereignty, nationalize national resources, and institute social welfare policies in the face of US imperialism became all too clear in the years that followed. Outright invasion and occupation have been joined by covert actions: staged and assisted coups, the installation of puppet regimes, destabilization, underground support for the rightwing opposition, economic and resource warfare, financial warfare, diplomatic warfare, propaganda and (social) media warfare,…
Venezuela is facing these offensives, and has been since 1999 when it openly defied US dictates. Reading Sartre’s scenario, you wonder why the leader didn’t tell his comrades about the threat or include them in the decision, why he didn’t reach out to those in other countries in a similar situation. But that was to come in reality. In response to Venezuela’s defiance, as Sartre foresaw, the attacks never end, or even abate. A news search for the country reveals a constant barrage from the US government and its subservient media. Determined to have their way – or what they foolishly believe is their way - they won’t stop.
Whatever happens in today’s legislative – not presidential, as the English-language corporate media would have us believe – elections, the one certainty in the immediate future is that Venezuela will continue to be caught in, and its people to struggle against, the mesh.