By Saswat Pattanayak
Written for publication in VoxUnion
Capitalism: A Love Story, is just that.
As occurs in most love stories, there are depictions of mismatched expectations, conflicting situations, remorse and grief, cherished moments, rejoiced nostalgia, idealistic aspirations, and eventually a unilateral resolve to call it quits. Michael Moore’s disillusionment with capitalism is manifested in the current liberal crisis: a crisis that discovers resolve in invoking the founding fathers and preaching moral ethics, a crisis that must indulge in taxonomy of political correctness.
Wistful Days of Yore: Most liberal commentators are currently obsessed with the ‘good old days’ before Ronald Reagan spoilt it all. Michael Moore’s film parrots this narrative rather pronouncedly in the film. According to Moore, in the good old days, students were not dependent on loans and wealth flowed into economy from all quarters, and “we even sent a man to the moon”. A system was working until it was failed and hence, the liberal remorse. The truth, however, is that the American political-economic system has never worked for the majority of people, in its entire history. The happy images of the yore which the film so poignantly projects as exemplification of successful economy were at their best, racist, discriminatory and exclusionary. American infrastructure were built not with free spirits of democracy, but with susceptibly invisible slave labor. Its a myth that there ever was a system that had worked in the United States for the betterment of majority of its people, or of the world. The film perpetuates it through appeal to look kindly at the Fordist era.
Not only the industrial period following the Second World War, Moore has selectively quoted from the original American Constitution and the “Second Bill of Rights” as suggested by FDR to appeal to the humanistic roots of American hegemony. Liberal espousal of such brilliant documents, however, are soaked in sheer idealism than any planning around radical restructuring. Neither the makers of such documents had any designs to implement equal access to outcomes of such resolutions, going by the exclusion of oppressed minorities in affairs of the nation, nor were there any attempts to limit the access of the privileged in controlling of economic power. Even to this day, if the Universal Health Care, far from being a fundamental right, has not even been implemented at legislative level, it is because of a refusal on part of the powers to curtail the existing exuberance of the rich class. Mere declarations for “general welfare” (Constitution) or right for “decent home” (Second Bill of Rights) are wishful, and hence by virtue of that, reactionary.
The “Golden Days” of the past never had any scope to limit the free market, and the present days have no control. Moore avoids deliberating on the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment which proclaims that private property cannot be taken by the state for public use. Nor does he quote the Second Bill of Rights where FDR also suggests that every businessman – small, and large, is free to trade in an atmosphere of freedom.
Capitalism versus Democracy: The film’s main argument is that Capitalism is different from Democracy. Indeed, Moore says the other -ism is not Communism, but Democracy. Moore’s reliance on the glories of American proclamation of democracy enshrined in the Constitution has guided him to such idealistic and misleading conclusions. The truth is American democracy has worked just the way it was designed to work from the very beginning. In fact, American democracy has only improved over the years. Women suffrage was not part of what the Founding Fathers had decided upon. By their documents, even the people of color were not going to be active participants in the electoral processes. No matter how many times we quote the Constitution’s exalted words, they were not designed for all. And yet, the document was a result of democratic standards to which Moore looks upto. Likewise, every subsequent amendments have been democratically implemented and have only resulted in sustenance of the status quo. America has been the citadel of democracy, an exemplary nation that has resulted in election of President Obama through sheer voting power. To deny the democratic nature of American politics is to redefine political democracy.
Moore could have chosen to redefine political democracy, because in reality, democracy thus far has only been a constant ally of the capitalists. Election of President Obama is not the liberation of African-Americans from centuries of discrimination; it is yet another victory for the private bankers and militarist forces that profit from economic recession and wars on Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq. Through system of electoral voting, financial manipulations have invariably always taken over the propaganda mill and influenced political processes in most western countries. Capitalism is the political-economic system that demands democratic consensus for its prosperity. Moore does not need to be a Marxist to understand this. A critical perusal of societal bases of economic relationships should suffice. Even President Obama’s democratic mandate was materialized through capitalistic alliances. Capitalism is not opposed to democracy. Indeed, it requires democracy so as to be able to fund, and benefit from, it. A breakaway from feudal past was necessary for the prospective capitalists, and envisioning a proletarian dictatorship through communism would seem nightmarish. The safest bet for the proverbial Wall Street magnets is sustenance of multi-party democracy. Moore surely is acutely aware of it. Roger and Me was an outstanding exposition of status quo elements. But with passing years, and as a Democratic Party fanboy, he is now clouded with misplaced optimisms.
Desperate attempts to separate capitalism from democracy have gone nowhere in the film, because in real life, they are inseparable. Be it Italy, or India, Germany or England, America or Philippines – political democracy is a major hoax of our times – an euphemism for plutocracy. Money buys votes, and democracy is the best system money can buy. Obama was aware of it during his fund-raising campaign which resulted in highest amount of revenue collection in electoral history. In so many ways, it is impossible to differentiate between Reagan and Clinton or Bush and Obama. Because there are no fundamental differences. Each of their democratic triumphs are thanks to capitalistic lobbyists.
Holy Books and Capitalism: So who are the anti-capitalists? Not the communists, Moore declares. They are the anti-communists! The Church! Moore’s childhood love for the Catholic nuns (an exceptional child he must have been) and dreams of becoming a priest himself, and in the typically liberal fashion of distancing oneself from Communism, Moore turns to the Fathers. He quotes the holy books to suggest how the Bible must have been anti-capitalistic in content. The Christian God himself is for the poor and the oppressed. Certainly the atheists must be the capitalists.
Moore misleads not just in his attempts to posit democracy as contradictory to capitalism, but also introduces Christianity as the friend of the oppressed. Not surprising, considering the current liberal fascination of alluring the mainstream and giving them a sense of unity under the America as envisaged by the new president – a race-neutral country of the one-God. Moore goes so far as to interview three Christian priests, and to quote from the scriptures – all appears honky-dory, and everything Christianity is about divine love for the poor and the oppressed. The anti-Capitalists are the Catholics. Such vulgarly twisted interpretations of a religion that singularly led to emergence of capitalism’s assaultive powers speaks of the acute vacuum that exists in current liberal thoughts. Or, quite simply, the dissent camps of the Democrats have merely been converted to becoming apologists for Obama administration. A film such as this clearly absolves Obama of the charges of being a socialist, a “Muslim”, and a likely shareholder of the economic mess.
Hail Obama: Moore, to the cheer of his traditional devotees (myself, included) bashes Reagan and Bush for their dastardly lies about economic state of the nation. But I shall find myself outside of his sycophantic zone in hailing Obama as the man on a mission to correct the ills brought upon by corporate greed. It is not only factually inaccurate to suggest that President Obama has done anything thus far to punish Wall Street mongers, but it is also absolutely ridiculous to overlook the amount of damages the new presidency has caused since its acquisition of power. The fact is President Obama’s election campaign depended on Wall Street mercies and he must remain obliged to their interests. And by all admission, he has. The biggest corporate bailouts in American history were not declared by Bush. They have been authored by Obama. The largest acquittals of financial criminals were not conducted by Reagan administration. They are being done right now by Obama administration. Moore does not offer the slightest hint of how manipulatively the current administration is functioning. The reality is not the failure of capitalism. It is the success of capitalistic democracy. The anti-thesis of Moore’s assumptions.
The film clearly serves as a propaganda medium for Obama administration. But I shall not blame Moore for this myopic project completion. His is reflective of larger liberal opinions. The opinions which have suddenly fizzled out in thin air when it comes to anti-war movements. There is no Cindy Sheehan in this Michael Moore film. A critique of capitalism without mention of the military-industrial complex? Sure, because now, the liberals benefit from the wars. The restless anger and frustration characteristic of Moore has been replaced with Christian values of selective amnesia. Class wars are not done through comic orchestrations. “Hey, tell the CEO that I am Michael Moore and I am here to make a citizen’s arrest” spanks of both celebrity arrogance as well as a self-proclaimed sense of being a savior. Much as his boss Obama, Moore is on a trip: “Are you with me? Let’s go change the world” rhetoric is so seeped in liberal privileges that the commands become invisible to the protagonists.
Democratic Party has killed the anti-war movement in the United States. First by organizing few demonstrations to change the color of the cola in the election war, and then by withdrawing the funds to continue the movement, the party has done bigger damages to kill the spirits of the peaceniks than the Republicans could ever imagine. Progressive filmmakers like Moore no more link war with capitalism as long as Democrats are in power. Is it not a fact that the economic recession could have been better handled had the administration curtailed the enormous defense budgets? With President Obama pushing for more wars against more nations through recruitment of more armed forces than even before, the conservatives are not complaining, and the liberals have their feet in their mouth. This is the first major documentary made by Moore that does not deal with economics of war. He has no one to blame but himself. His constant hope that Obama would somehow stop the wars has been shattered. But he is in denial.
Just as Moore is in denial when it comes to Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. He constantly showcases them as the villains of Bush era. But entirely skips to mention that they were hand-picked by President Obama as well. So why are they serving in Washington? Moore says Obama has selected them because they know the rules of the game. It is smart in selecting the Mafia to control the drug dealings. And what leads Moore to believe that Summers and Geithner will listen to Obama more than they listened to Bush? Unless, of course they are closer to the former. Either way, these are dangerous people – policy makers and capitalists on behalf of the militarists. They are the gifts of the political democracy. Just as Goldman Sachs is. Or Secretary Paulson, the former chief of Goldman Sachs was. If Obama is the hope for the democracy, Goldman Sachs – his million dollar sponsor – must be the protector of democracy. Moore, like Obama, denies that capitalism is inseparable from political democracy. Like the politically savvy liberals, both of them claim a distance from the dirty mud while embracing the rejoicing pig.
Upon election of Obama, Moore declares it is a “Farewell to Old America” in his film. He cites a bread factory cooperative and a Bank of America employees protest as examples of rejuvenated country that is witnessing revolutions against corporate takeover. This is exactly the kind of myth which the current administration wants to spread in its attempts to strengthen base among its loyalists. Moore has unknowingly or knowingly fallen in that pit. Anti-corporate sloganeering are among the easiest of protests. Politicians love it when the public turns its ire against the corporates, and business houses do not mind much of the assault so long as the politicians honor their contracts. Both the sectors remain so cozy in their actual functioning as partners in crimes because by turning the public ire against the “corporate greed”, they ensure that the enemy will always be a faceless, unknown bunch of people whose progress are neither supposed to be monitored by the public nor are even noticed from close quarters.
Therefore when a few dozens of Bank of America employees express their anger at the company, President Obama declares his support for them and win huge approvals. And needless to predict, the bank then hands over few thousand dollars to the employees and the movement fizzles out. The protestors think they have won the battle, whereas in reality, the political party in power gains strength, makes greater friends with the company, and the company bosses find reciprocation from Washington. So when Ken Lewis masterplans takeover of Merrill Lynch at $50 billion, or contributes to fraudulent misappropriation of taxpayers’ money worth $700 billion, eyebrows are raised, but actions are not taken against him. In fact, the public anger is still against the “corporates”, but the closures are hardly in sight. The biggest vultures, like Citigroup and Bank of America continue to flourish when it comes to their board member salaries with public money. In fact, Citigroup has liabilities of $1.797 trillion! And yet, these company heads, instead of being imprisoned for fraudulent practices, predatory lending, and mismanagement of working class money, are rewarded by the administration in Washington DC without any clause for future auditing of their subsequent spendings.
Political democracy has always needed capitalistic economics. They swim and sink together. The odd examples of cooperatives that Moore provides are not only exceptions, but they are romanticized exceptions. Cooperatives, unless made universal and owned by the states themselves make no sense, and are merely to suffer from the maladies of health insurance status in the United States. The private enterprises through their carrot dangling tactics will continue to attract a select few and the rest will be subjected to their own fates. Mixed economy, like the “middle class”, is a misnomer. There are only haves, and the have-nots. A credit society is not a prosperous society. America is a prime example of a failed economy because of capitalism. And capitalism survives through the political system it has helped create. Contrary to Moore’s assumptions, capitalism did not start with Reagan. It started with the Constitution of political democracy where the voting is counted, candidates are selected, the public is normalized into believing that the system which opts for “change” as opposed to “replacement” is the system that works.
Handing over $6000 worth of checks to few employees at a bank is not called advent of revolution. Temporary pacification of agitated mass through token money and soothing words of religious priests are actually murders of revolution.
Brother Gil Scott Heron has appropriately described what is a revolution:
“NBC will not be able to predict the winner at 8:32 or report from 29 districts…There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock news and no pictures of hairy armed women liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose…The revolution will be no re-run brothers; The revolution will be live.”
Michael Moore has distorted the idea of revolution. Revolutions indeed, cannot be predicted through mainstream movies commercially distributed nationwide. Or through the collaboration of the Catholic Church. Certainly not spearheaded by the likes of Obama and his fundraiser Goldman Sachs. As always, the conservative critics have raised wrong questions. The question that is being asked today is why Michael Moore resents capitalism so much if he makes so much money. And Moore continues to be defensive about it by citing instances of how the privileged can make a difference. By that standard, Warren Buffet and George Soros and Bill Gates are all necessary elements for a better world. In reality, these are the scums of the earth, and the parasites that grow with their charities. Moore does not need to defend any of these guys, nor does he need to answer why he is collaborating with Sony Pictures for his films or Warner Books for his books.
Moore may also look at another critique of capitalism, and he might just discover then that individual consciousness is shaped by the political economic system, and not the other way around. Revolutions are not conducted by one man with a controversial name and an amplifier, nor are they done by a group of people crying in joy at being pacified by a populist president throwing around resounding words. Revolutions are not supported by multi-party voting systems founded by oligarchies, sustained by nationalists, funded by feudalists and flavored by capitalists. Moore’s intents at attacking capitalism is much appreciated, and most timely for him to win few more awards from the European jury. But his tools of deconstructing capitalism as necessarily antithetical to political democracy, his analysis of class relations from the standpoint of Bill of Rights, his reliance on Germany, England and Japan as model democracies, and his aspirations to offer the political democracy as a solution to the global economic crisis, instead of isolating it as one of the root causes are worth inspections all over again. Liberals will do well in expressing solidarity with international movements against capitalism based on their class status and class alliances. In their reaffirmed belief in overthrowing of existing structures of power in a sense that there will be no president that will be heralded by his race, nor be surrounded by the old treasury criminals as his advisers.
A political democracy that allows everyone a vote without first ensuring that everyone has equal access to the potential of the exercised power, is a sham. Its a political system that was a stark failure when the Greeks first implemented it for only the elites. Its a system that was a failure when the European landowners implemented while excluding the slaves and the women. Its a system that continues to be a failure when India as the world’s largest democracy goes to polls with people illiterate and hungry. Its a system that remains a failure in America where the candidate that is fielded is the one who must raise most funds by collaborating with the corporate houses. Western democracy has been an abject failure, more so because it gets away with ‘masks of consent’ rather than facing revolutionary forces of workers in solidarity. Such phony democracy is a system that has become the norm, a standard against which other systems are evaluated, a self-sustained yardstick that has no place for upheavals and certainly, no scopes to imagine revolutions. Such unsurpassed strength of an immoral political system is possible only through the massive presence of its base: Capitalism. It is inconceivable for the modern democracy to exist without capitalism. The sooner the masses realize it, the sooner they will find their paths of liberation. They will not wait for another four years. Nor for the next charitable rich for their strikes to be called off.
Revolutions are expressions of collective human emotions. Not their suppressions. Moore’s comic attempts to capture the essence of our times are certainly worthwhile, but their attempts to define revolutionary ethos are not. The Moore I knew from Roger and Me is a much evolved man now. He is not so much opposed to the types of the Pat Boones during economic crisis. Rather, he is way more subtle, more religious and less angry a man now. And so is his new film. Without a distinctive revolutionary tone, which we had all so grown to expect from an unquestionably remarkable filmmaker like him.