“Capitalism: A Love Story”-- A Review

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Michael Moore's new movie, "Capitalism, A Love Story" opened at the end of September, touted as an "anti-capitalist" polemic. The film contains some very moving depictions of workers confronting mortgage foreclosures and factory shutdowns. There is footage from the factory occupation in Chicago last December. When the workers talk, they confirm what we wrote in Internationalism  at the time, that the workers did not want to lose their jobs, that they wanted to fight for their jobs. It was the unions and the politicians who stressed that the workers should get what they were "legally" entitled to, which totalled about $6,000 for each worker for vacation and severance money

The bishop of Chicago came to visit the workers and told them that he himself was the son of a steel worker and he understood that their struggle was just and then he blessed them and gave them communion. There was very moving footage of other workers coming as individuals and families to donate food to the workers to show their solidarity.

There was also moving footage of a group of 20 or 30 community people in Miami declaring an eviction null and void and then moving the evicted family back into their home. A guy from the bank comes and tells them they are trespassing and then nine police cars come. There is a lot of yelling and arguing and then the cops and the bank guy leave and the family stays in the house. (At the end of the film, during the credit crawl, we read that the family was permitted to stay in their home permanently.)

The film is filled with the standard Michael-Moore-is-the-focus-of-the-story antics. These antics include Michael Moore trying to meet the chairman of the board of GM, or trying to place the entire board of AIG  or everybody at the NY Stock Exchange under citizen's arrest, or putting yellow crime scene tape around the stock exchange, or driving an armored truck up to Bank of America and announcing that he's there to pick up the $10 billion in bailout money.

The big problem is Moore's politics. His attack on capitalism is largely provocative, not substantive. It's as if he decided to turn all the rightwing hysterical accusations about Obama's "socialism" upside down. The global meltdown crisis of 2008 is attributed to Reagan's deregulation policies that began in the 1980s and continued through the Bush Bush I-Clinton-Bush II years and the supposed defacto takeover of the US government by Goldman Sachs who pushed through policies to benefit their company at the expense of the taxpayers and their competitors. In other words, the real problem is not a generalized capitalist economic crisis but rather the greed of a few elite political/business figures. True, Moore says capitalism is evil, and even interviews three or four catholic clergy who declare that Jesus would have been against capitalism, but in essence his opposition to capitalism is actually opposition to deregulated capitalism. He includes footage of demonstrations by a couple dozen people from leftist groups like the Answer Coalition against the corporate bailouts or foreclosures as the emergence of a mass anti-capitalist movement in the US.

He seems beside himself in how to deal with Obama, who he sees as making Wall Street quake in their boots with his calls for change and points out that they responded by contributing to his campaign. He denounces all of Obama's economic advisers as henchmen for Goldman Sachs, but he is still enamored of Obama.

Against capitalism, the alternative is "democracy" in Moore's view. He interviews Vermont's Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who claims to be an advocate of democratic socialism, which is defined as the government serving the interests of the middle and working class folks, to protect their rights. Moore has found historically lost footage of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union message, about a month before his death, in which FDR called for a second Bill of Rights for Americans after the war, which called not for socialism or for the destruction of capitalism, but a welfare state type state capitalism:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

Moore laments that FDR died before he could create this wonderful society in the US, but he says that in the post war period the US sent FDR's people to Europe and Japan where during the reconstruction of Italy, Germany and Japan as well as other countries in Europe, this vision of society was implemented. Just as he did in Sicko, he idealizes the European state capitalist social wage as the glorious goal for Americans. Moore's anti-capitalism would in no way destroy the capitalist state, or implement working class control over the means of production; instead it would turn America into France or Germany or Japan or Norway - all of which are capitalist societies, where the working class has to struggle to defend itself against exploitation. Moore ends the movie with a call for everyone to join him in the struggle for this society with a popularized version of the Internationale, which sounded more like Bobby Darin singing Mack the Knife than a revolutionary song.
Jerry Grevin. 9/20/2009