By Abbey Willis
Michael Moore’s latest documentary is a critique of capitalism- in mainstream theaters- pretty big deal. “Capitalism: A Love Story” starts off comparing the US to the Roman Empire- a fairly easy task. In addition to other commentary, the documentary seems to be focused on the anti-capitalist stance of various Catholic priests, the consequences of the housing crisis, corporate bailouts and, finally, some alternatives in the form of worker-run workplaces.
Where the documentary is lacking, in my opinion, is in the omission of a simple explanation of what, exactly, capitalism is and how it’s maintained. As well, Moore does not counter how the Right has defined Socialism, so therefore continues to let them define it. His alternative to capitalism is a democratically run economy…ie: socialism. This would’ve been an opportune time to reclaim the word, but I can understand choosing not to go down that route if he’s trying to speak to a majority of Americans, many of whom probably have misconceptions of what socialism is and can be, or the differences between all the different tendencies within the socialist movement.
Nevertheless, in the United States, there is this continual red-baiting and anti-socialist hysteria right now. Pundits like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and the like, drop the “S” bomb to describe anything Left of the center-Right (which is populated by the USA’s “liberal” party, the Democrats). Not only is their constant misuse of the term a testament to their willful ignorance (honestly, you’d think the “news” stations these wealthy, pale males work for would ask them to read a book every once in a while), it muddies the political water here so much that the American public seems bent on keeping these spurious definitions alive. This should be no surprise to actual Leftists considering the US’s long history of red-baiting and ideological policing, but Moore missed an opportunity to succinctly and quickly clear things up with audiences large enough that even the most widely-read socialist periodical has no chance of attracting such a crowd in the foreseeable future.
Something else I found odd was juxtaposing the moral positions of various Catholic priests with capitalism. His point, which was made rather well, was that Jesus was an anti-capitalist, and many folks within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy are also anti-capitalist. At first this bothered me, but after discussing it with some comrades, I realize that this is an opportunity to make a connection for people of faith, or perhaps more accurately, Christians – which is a huge part of the American citizenry. However, I do think we need to reflect on these kinds of populist tactics and recognize their limitations. After all, if capitalism is “bad” because it’s “unchristian”, then anarchism isn’t that far behind as a condemnable idea!
Further, as awesome as it is to show examples of worker-run factories, as Moore briefly mentioned, he didn’t explain how these factories could give us an example of how to organize ourselves outside of capitalism and the state. In fact, there wasn’t much critique of the state at all –rather he provides a critique of the corporatization of US politics since Reagan. As well, electoral politics were highlighted as a viable way to get ourselves out of this mess. As Moore states, if the bottom 95% of Americans own less combined than the top 1%, that doesn’t change the fact that those 95% still own 95% of the votes. So, to Moore, we can and should out-vote the rich. Decades of experience with “worker’s parties” running for election, however, tell a different story about the efficacy of electoralism as a strategy to replace capitalism.
His focus on the housing crisis was super informative and really laid out how ridiculous, and violent I would add, this crisis has been for folks. As well, Moore did a great job at showing the mysticism and fantasy inherent in capitalism…on things like derivatives- intangible and made up guesses of what other guesses are worth. He compared the stock market to a casino- and a crazy one at that. And to think that we allow our world’s economy to be organized within this fantasy-world that was built so that hardly anyone understands how it works! I suppose that’s the only way they can get common people to buy that capitalism is a decent idea–by mystifying it!
At any rate, I would recommend the film. It is informative and well done. But it was heavy on critique and light on solutions. Here’s to hoping that one day, in theaters everywhere, we can see a film that rightly criticizes capitalism, but also brings to bear revolutionary, socialist alternatives!