What is the Alternative?
Michael Moore’s new film, Capitalism: A Love Story, opens with a simple message: “Capitalism is evil,” and must be replaced with a system that puts the interests of ordinary people over profit.
Moore calls this movie “the culmination of all the films I’ve ever made.” In his previous films, he focused on specific industries like health insurance (Sicko) or corporations like General Motors (Roger & Me). But in Capitalism, Moore shows how the problems we face are systemic in nature, rather than the product of a few bad apples or a handful of evil corporations.
Capitalism: A Love Story will expose to millions the realities of a system which has only one goal: the short-term maximisation of profit. The significance of this – a major filmmaker denouncing capitalism in front of an audience of millions in the most powerful capitalist nation in the world – should not be lost. While Moore does not provide a clear alternative, he forces open a popular debate on the need to transform the entire social system.
Victims of the system
Moore interviews families facing foreclosures and layoffs. He traces the devastation of Randy and Donna Hacker, as police force them from the home they built on their family farm. As Randy Hacker says, “There’s gotta be some kind of rebellion between the people that’s got nothing and the people who have it all… There’s no in between anymore.”
Moore also exposes the “Dead Peasant” insurance policy, through which giant corporations take out life insurance policies on their employees, usually unbeknownst to the workers or their families. If a worker dies, these companies collect tens of thousands – or even millions! – of dollars, while the family is left to foot the bills for medical and funeral expenses.
This is the sick logic of the capitalist system, in which human life itself is reduced to a mere commodity. Moore exposes Wall Street for what it is – an “insane casino” – and fittingly, covers it in crime scene tape.
Capitalism Vs. Democracy
At the end of the film, Moore concludes: “Capitalism is an evil, and you can’t regulate evil. You have to eliminate it, and replace it with something that is good for all people.” Yet, he avoids putting forward a coherent alternative.
Moore counterpoises his call for real “democracy” to the anti-democratic character of capitalism.
As he told Democracy Now, “The wealthiest 1% [of Americans] have more financial wealth than the bottom 95% combined. When…1% essentially not only own all the wealth, but own Congress, call the shots, are we really telling the truth when we call this a democracy? You and I have no say in it….. have no say in how this economy is run.” (Democracy Now, 9/24/09)
While highlighting the need for struggle from below, and calling for an alternative to capitalism, Moore avoids calling himself a socialist. However, the film does highlight the growing interest in socialism among Americans, and points out the recent poll showing that among people under 30, only 37% say they “prefer” capitalism to socialism, while 33% prefer socialism and 30% are unsure. What this 30% mean by “socialism” is probably less certain.
Role of the Democratic Party
Moore’s film exposes the role of both the Democratic and Republican parties in implementing policies that have benefited the top 1% at the expense of ordinary workers. This film could have been a wake-up call, arguing for a political alternative to the two-party system. This would include running independent, pro-worker, anti-war candidates in the 2010 Congressional elections and preparing for a national challenge in 2012. Unfortunately, Moore himself stops short of calling for this critical step, and at times, the film serves to mask the true role of the Democratic Party.
Moore also treats Obama with kid gloves, despite criticisms of his economic team and some of his policies. In the film, he presents Obama as if he were initially a threat to Wall Street and Corporate America, who they sought to rein in by throwing tons of money at him – with Goldman Sachs his top contributor. Yet Obama never would have been able to make his meteoric rise to power had he not, from the start, been thoroughly vetted by key power brokers among the U.S. corporate elite, who he impressed with his ability to employ a soaring message of “hope” and “change” at the same time as faithfully serving the same interests who have run the show for many years.
Moore supported Obama’s campaign in 2008 and even helped create false illusions in his policies. This was despite Obama’s support for the bank bailouts, opposition to single-payer, and call to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan.
Today, as millions grow increasingly frustrated with Obama and the Congressional Democrats’ policies, Moore continues to create illusions in them. In late September, he told the AFL-CIO convention, "Instead of us piling on [Obama], he needs our support… Who’s got his back?" (Washington Post, 9/16/09)
Instead of “having Obama’s back,” the key is to mobilise, independently of the Democrats and Republicans, around the needs of working people, rather than from the standpoint of what is acceptable to the corporations and their two-party system.
Moore himself was once a proud champion of the need to break from the Democrats and build a political alternative that represents working people. He was a supporter of the Labor Party in the 1990s, founded by a number of the country’s most progressive unions, and also a major backer of Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential campaign. For those who want to see real change, it’s necessary to return to this spirit.
Movement Against Capitalism Needed
Moore ends the film with an appeal for people to get active in building movements against the corporate domination of our society. It is an appeal that could certainly catch on, given the anger bubbling up beneath the surface in U.S. society.
The need to struggle to fundamentally transform this system is posed more urgently now than ever before. Let Capitalism: A Love Story be a wake-up call for a new generation of activists to build struggles and link these to the struggle to fundamentally transform the system. To anyone interested in building a fight back against capitalism, we urge you to join the CWI. Join us in the fight for a world free of poverty, exploitation, war, and the tyranny of the super-rich. Join us in the struggle for a democratic socialist future.