Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11, honored by the Cannes Film Festival, more for its politics than its artistry, has been playing to packed theatres across the country this summer. Within the US the controversy surrounding this film reflects the seriousness of the divisions within the American bourgeoisie about the conduct of the war in Iraq. Walt Disney Co., the film's producer, originally decided not to permit the film to go into theatrical release for fear of offending the Bush administration because of its sharp political attack on the administration. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, a prominent liberal democrat, who served as legal counsel representing Moore in his efforts to get the film into release, said he was fighting for this film to be in theatres nationwide because he believes it is a film that every American should see, that it's message is vital to American democracy. The New York Post, the conservative tabloid, controlled by Murdoch's News Corp, denounced the film as crass propaganda.
It certainly is propaganda, as is the news regularly published and broadcast each day in the mass media, whether it's the NY Post or the prestigious New York Times. In the run up to the Iraq invasion, all these publications and broadcast networks were overwhelmingly pro-war in their coverage of administration policy. Today of course there are serious disagreements within the American ruling class, not about the necessity to invade Iraq, but primarily about effectiveness of the Bush administration's conduct of the war in Iraq, and whether the administration has made a mess of the invasion and therefore made things more difficult for American imperialism in its efforts to dominate the world and mobilize the American population for future military actions in the period ahead. It's a serious disagreement, but it is a tactical dispute on the implementation of an agreed upon overall imperialist policy orientation: to do what is necessary to maintain America's status as the world's only superpower and prevent the rise of any potential rival or rival bloc.
In the current uproar about Fahrenheit 9/11 what mass media commentators say depends upon what faction of the bourgeoisie the commentator and his/her media organization adheres to: whether they support the Bush administration's policies, or whether they think the administration has made a mess that needs to be fixed. However, one thing is clear. Fahrenheit 9/11 is neither anti-war, nor anti-imperialist. It is simply anti-Bush. Moore does an excellent job in bashing Bush. The film features a collection of powerful images about the horror of the war, and about the oafish ineptness of Bush and his administration, which relies heavily on embarrassing outtakes not originally meant for public viewing. For example, Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of American imperialism's strategy in Iraq, is reduced to being a clown in a scene in which he uses his own spit to groom his hair before appearing in a TV interview - even running his comb through his mouth. Moore takes advantage of Bush's acknowledged shortcomings as a public speaker to portray him as stupid and mean. In one scene, Bush can't remember the old aphorism about "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me..." and comes off looking ridiculous. On a more serious political level, another scene depicts Bush speaking before a fundraising audience of wealthy supporters and saying something like, "You are the haves and the have mores. Some call you the elite. I call you my base." Pretty damning stuff.
The movie includes compelling images, such as the interview with a formerly pro-war mother from Flint, Michigan, who now opposes the war after the death of her son, or the scene in which Moore asks members of Congress to volunteer to send their children to combat in Iraq and gets only glares of incredulity in response.
And while the movie blasts Bush's propaganda campaign to justify the war - which has already been amply discredited in the mass media - it is definitely not anti-war. Moore for example clearly supports American imperialism's invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and in fact criticizes Bush for not being warlike enough in regard to Afghanistan. He ridicules the Bush administration for having had diplomatic ties to the Taliban regime before the invasion, and even having a Taliban representative tour Bush's home state of Texas. Moore attacks Bush for not invading Afghanistan quicker. He complains that the president waited two months to attack - giving bin Laden "a two-month headstart." Moore also criticizes the president for having so few troops in Afghanistan.
The debacle in Iraq is blamed on the personal failings and greed of George W. Bush. Moore offers up a rather crude vulgar economist argument that the Bush family's business relations with the Saudi royal family is guiding American foreign policy in the current administration. Moore stresses that the majority of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis, as is bin Laden. While he stops just short of calling for war against the Saudi royal family, he practically denounces Bush for treason for spending the evening visiting with the Saudi ambassador to the US on the evening of September 13, 2001, and protecting Saudi interests in the US. He really plays an extremely nationalist tune in regard to the Saudis, bemoaning how much they have invested in the U.S.
This "analysis," which Moore has claimed is "very sound" in television interviews about the film is typical capitalist propaganda of blaming individuals and their policies for social evils rather than the capitalist system itself. Moore totally obscures the reality that it is American capitalism and its imperialist interests that are responsible for the war in Iraq. The real argument within the American ruling class today is not whether the US should have invaded Iraq, but about the most appropriate way to have prepared the invasion - what ideological justifications should have been used (weapons of mass destruction & links to al Qaeda vs. human rights violations), how hard the US should have worked to pressure for international endorsement of the invasion, and what military tactics and doctrines should have been used in the invasion and occupation (Rumsfeld's doctrine of lean, bare bones military force using smart weapons vs. the doctrine of "overwhelming force," used so successfully in the first Iraq war in 1991.
From a revolutionary proletarian perspective, the most dangerous aspect of Fahrenheit 9/11 is not only that it obscures the class nature of American imperialist policy, but that it is being used by capitalism to revive the electoral mystification, which took such a bad hit in the disaster of the disputed 2000 election. In the final analysis this film aims to get people out to the polls to vote against Bush, to restore confidence in the electoral system, that had been so badly shaken four years ago. The film hides the fact that imperialist war is the policy of all major factions of the bourgeoisie - after all it was the Democrat Clinton who had continued bombing raids against Iraq throughout the 1990s, and sent troops into Haiti, and Kosovo. It doesn't matter who wins the election in November, American imperialism will still wage war relentlessly around the globe. The only way to end war is to destroy capitalism. You can go see Fahrenheit 9/11 if you want to laugh at Bush and see some skillful bourgeois political propaganda, but don't for a minute think you're seeing some kind of anti-imperialist, anti-war, cinematic political statement with a cogent analysis of current events. This film is Democratic party campaign propaganda and an apology for capitalism, an attempt to bring alienated and discontented citizens back into the established capitalist political framework.
Internationalism, July 29, 2004