Review: Capitalism: A love story
Directed by Michael Moore, In cinemas now
Revolutionaries steeped in Marxist theory and the history of class struggle play an important part in fomenting revolution. But we are not the ones who are going to overthrow capitalism and create a new society based on solidarity and cooperation.
Cast in that role are the ordinary working grunts who make everything and do everything. It’s no mystery why “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves”. Through our collective activity in the process of revolution we learn that we have the capacity to run our society ourselves, in our own interests. It’s also through this process that we acquire the skills that enable us to organise production and distribution.
Michael Moore manages to address an audience of tens of millions of the very people that revolutionaries dream of reaching in ones and twos. I hoped his latest film, Capitalism: a love story, would expose the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, alerting workers that we have no future unless we uproot the system completely.
Moore is no revolutionary. He wants to propel people onto the streets, but only to “get Obama’s back” so he can implement the “kinder and gentler society” Moore believes he really wants. But that’s not a criticism of the movie. If he can motivate millions onto the streets, it won’t be up to him what we demand
In Capitalism, Moore lets his interviewees speak for themselves without glossing over how inarticulate many of them are.
The foreclosees who earn US$1000 for a week’s work cleaning out their houses on behalf of the bank are poignant, but really don’t have a great deal to say. I gather Moore dwells on them because they are iconic of his viewers—overweight, underpaid, and with no assets but the house they’ve lost to the “vultures”.
When it comes to the economists he interviews about derivatives and credit default swaps, their inability even to begin to explain what they do barely merits a snicker and leaves the viewer no better informed.
I guess I have three principal complaints about Capitalism: a love story.
Moore focuses his attention on a couple of the most cynical, in your face abuses of unregulated finance capital. I think it would have been a more powerful condemnation of the capitalist system had it devoted some time to the quotidian depravities that pass below the radar.
He does condemn capitalism outright as a system, but this is couched almost wholly in religious terms.
He interviews two priests who readily concede that capitalism is entirely contrary to Christian values. In general I consider appeals to religion a counterproductive distraction.
But even if Moore is right to think it’s useful, in a country where over half the population is avowedly Protestant, and less than a quarter Catholic, I’m not convinced that this is the most persuasive strategy.
The second issue is some confusion about class. Moore is nostalgic for the household he grew up in. His father earned enough on his single wage to pay off the house before Mike started school, enjoyed comprehensive medical and dental cover for the whole family, and had a generous retirement plan—benefits later generations of American workers can’t even imagine. But the hard won gains organised workers achieved through decades of struggle do not elevate them into the middle class.
I surmise that this is a common misconception. But by eliding relative prosperity with the actual relations of production, Moore misses the central contradiction of capitalism —the relation of exploitation whereby the boss pays workers the market value of their ability to work and enjoys the much greater rewards of the value that their labour creates. Consequently, he can’t explain why it is workers, however well remunerated, who are uniquely positioned to wrest control of production from the exploiters.
Capitalism is virtually silent on the crucial question of how we get to a world of creation of social goods for social need.
He does hint at a way forward in the successful efforts of a small group of Miami residents who held nine squad cars full of sheriffs at bay when they came to foreclose on a member’s home. There are scenes from the Republic occupation, where workers secured all their demands, which left each of them some six grand ahead, but still without their jobs.
Beyond that, he visits a worker owned robotics manufacturer and bread factory. I gather he reckons this is the way forward. To all appearances Moore is unaware of the failure of other experiments in worker management. In isolation, such enterprises are doomed to fail. If they refuse to exploit workers as ruthlessly as their competitors, they are almost certain to be forced out of business.
On the whole, I thought Capitalism: A love story was not nearly as moving or funny as Sicko. It fails to address crucial issues and is way off track on others. But that would all be much more than forgivable if it manages to connect with ordinary workers and mobilise them to start organising against the capitalist behemoth. But it’s been over a month since the US release, attendance is declining steadily, and we haven’t yet witnessed an upsurge.
By Harry Feldman