[Marxism] WSWS review of Moore movie
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 6 06:59:48 MDT 2009
Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story
By Joanne Laurier and David Walsh
6 October 2009
Veteran documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story
sets out to examine the recent financial collapse. His aim, he suggests,
is a critique of the existing economic set-up.
“This time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime
scene is wider than Flint, Michigan,” observe the film’s production
notes, a reference to Moore’s first documentary, Roger & Me, made twenty
The new film is Moore’s fifth major documentary, three of which, Bowling
for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, and Sicko, are among the
largest-grossing non-fiction films. Moore has developed a following as a
result of the concern he demonstrates for working people and their
difficulties. There will no doubt be a popular response to Capitalism.
That a film offering a criticism of the profit system opens in nearly
one thousand movie theaters in the United States is obviously an unusual
and noteworthy occurrence. There is certainly a connection between this
and a growing popular radicalization under conditions of economic
devastation. But what is the precise connection? Moore and his greatest
admirers see him as the vanguard of some oppositional movement (whose
character, however, is left remarkably vague). Is this the reality?
The filmmaker maintains a certain independence from the mass media where
lies and misinformation dominate. He has shown backbone on a number of
occasions. Capitalism is concerned with nothing less than “the
disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of
Americans (and by default, the rest of the world),” according to the
film’s press notes. In other words, Moore comes before his audience as a
political individual with something to say, and we will judge him and
his film primarily in that light.
A number of elements in the film are to his credit. First, as noted
above, genuine sympathy for a suffering population.
The documentary, for instance, counters the claims of the media pundits
and the Obama administration that the victims of predatory lending by
the banks are in part to blame for the economic collapse. Instead, Moore
demonstrates how the wages, pensions and healthcare of the working class
have been decimated in the last quarter century as a huge transfer of
wealth to the financial elite has taken place.
Capitalism begins by facetiously comparing ancient Rome to present-day
America—vast social inequality, slave labor, and a regime that employs
torture (an image of former Vice President Dick Cheney appears
onscreen). The film’s overall format is familiar, perhaps too familiar.
Moore does the narrating, as well as the interviewing and provoking.
Through the sometimes clever use of television and movie clips he makes
his points and those of his talking heads.
He focuses on some of the crimes of the system. Early on in film, a
family in Lexington, North Carolina, is shown videoing their own
eviction by a police force that descends upon them in excessive numbers.
The next scene takes place in Detroit. A carpenter is boarding up the
residence of an angry and distraught family—their home of 41 years.
“This is capitalism—a system of giving and taking—mostly taking,” says
Moore in a voice-over.
“In a country run like a corporation,” other incidents are highlighted
in the film:
*A disabled railway worker’s family in Peoria, Illinois, lose their home
of 20 years. In a further humiliation, the bank hires the family to
empty and clean the foreclosed property for $1,000.
*In December 2008, workers occupy Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago
over monies owed them by a company shuttering its doors. They eventually
win an average of $6,000 per person, although the plant closes.
*Airline pilots for regional and commuter airlines make so little that
they have to be warned by employers not to apply for food stamps while
in uniform. The co-pilot on Continental Connection Flight 3407, which
crashed in February 2009, earned a little over $16,000 the previous year.
*Banks and corporations take out so-called “dead peasant” life insurance
policies on rank-and-file employees, whose payoffs are to the companies,
not the employees’ surviving family members.
*Thousands of young people were unjustly incarcerated in a privatized
juvenile detention center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, on the order of
two judges who were receiving millions in kickbacks from the facility’s
The footage of these events and the moving comments of those involved
are by far the Capitalism’s strongest features. Moore makes the
legitimate point that much of the country now resembles the wretched
conditions in Flint, Michigan, he documented in Roger & Me.
Without being unduly harsh to Moore, one must say that his films stand
out in large measure by default: because the fairly elementary truths he
points out are systematically and disgracefully concealed by the news
media—and Hollywood, for that matter.
But what does Moore make of these basic facts of American (and global)
life? Here his severe limitations as a thinker, and an artist, present
themselves. The confusion and eclecticism, of course, are not simply
his, but one must say what is—that it is impossible to see one’s way out
of the present crisis on the basis of his analysis.
Little is added to an understanding of the present situation by more of
the usual Moore antics: putting crime scene tape around AIG’s
headquarters; driving a truck up to Citibank demanding the return of
public money disbursed under the federal government’s TARP plan; trying
to gain entrance to the GM headquarters in Detroit—once again. The
gimmick of attempting a “citizen’s arrest” of a corporate looter has
worn very thin.
A few of the gags, his or other people’s, are still amusing. A mock
musical appeal to tourists to visit Cleveland makes its point: “See our
river that catches on fire…. It’s so polluted that all our fish have
AIDS…. See the sun almost three times a year…. Buy a house for the price
of a VCR.... Our main export is crippling depression.... But at least
we’re not Detroit!”
The film is disjointed and jumbled. Moore has great difficulty
separating the essential from the inessential. There is no shortage of
social atrocities in America. The filmmaker indignantly introduces us to
the “condo vultures” and “bottom feeders” who for 25 cents on the dollar
grab up foreclosed properties. What does the filmmaker expect?
Too much moralizing, sentimentality, and even manipulation go on. Moore
has an unpleasant tendency of letting his camera linger on the
distressed faces of his social victims.
The most serious weaknesses, however, involve his continued support for
the Democratic Party, and Obama, and his inability to advance any
serious alternative to the capitalism system.
His film is dominated by an internal contradiction: between the harsh
social facts he presents and the paltriness of his political solution.
Capitalism: A Love Story absurdly advocates the “elimination” of the
profit system at the same time as it praises one of the parties, and
that party’s leading figure, who preside over that system.
While he excoriates the obviously corrupt individual Democrat
(Christopher Dodd, Richard Holbrooke), he gives a platform to other of
its spokespeople, especially those who posture as “populists.” For
example, Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio is given wide coverage in the film.
Kaptur, like a Dennis Kucinich, is capable of any amount of demagogy
about Wall Street and Goldman Sachs, but she is staunchly pro-military,
a protectionist, a ferocious anti-communist, and an opponent of abortion.
As for Obama, Moore is obliged to mention in passing that Goldman Sachs
was the largest private contributor to his 2008 presidential campaign.
Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, the brain trust of
Obama’s “Government Goldman,” come under fire—but without any mention of
the president himself. Capitalism refers to events that occurred in the
spring of 2009, by which time the right-wing character of the Obama
administration had shown itself, both on the domestic and foreign
fronts, and Moore is entirely silent on that.
He is one of those who invariably invoke Franklin D. Roosevelt as the
ultimate reformer. Roosevelt, a canny representative of the American
bourgeoisie, lived in another era. What remains of the Democratic
Party’s legacy of social reform, particularly in the form of healthcare
“reform,” is under attack today by a president whom Moore refers to
as—potentially—the 21st Century Roosevelt!
The filmmaker presents himself as a kind of “Christian socialist.” He
offers a forum to various bishops and priests in ravaged areas like
Detroit and Chicago, where the Church plays on the misery and illusions
of the some of the poorest of the poor, to pontificate about social
ills. The bishop of Chicago is filmed sermonizing and giving communion
to the Republic workers during their occupation.
His argument, repeated a number of times, that capitalism is “evil,” is
false. It is a socio-economic system that arose under certain objective
conditions and was thoroughly revolutionary and progressive in its day.
The parasitic character of contemporary capitalism is bound with its
historical decay, and not, in the first place, the moral depravity of
its leading figures.
At the film’s climactic moment, Moore calls for the replacement of
capitalism…by “democracy.” What does that mean? It means more than
anything else that he hasn’t the political courage to mention socialism.
To the extent that Moore believes the ahistorical, eclectic views he
espouses in Capitalism: A Love Story, he is deluding himself. To the
extent that he attempts to sell them to a broad audience, he is deluding
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