Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story - revolution postponed

It was a sympathetic crowd at the cinema in Melbourne's posh Brighton suburb watching Capitalism: A Love Story. They must have been either chardonnay socialists or from the other side of the tracks. Maybe they lost a bundle on the stock market last year or watched their superannuation shrink. Perhaps some were the kind of Catholic who follows the Sermon on the Mount. Michael Moore's latest documentary has something for all these groups.

Moore is no captive to ideology: the union factory occupation adjourns for mass and communion; a Sheriff refuses to evict people; the credits roll to the strains of the Internationale; the people’s revolt starts with peaceful pressure on their representatives on Capitol Hill over the bailout.

As a filmmaker he is master of the simple visual image: the confrontation at the headquarters of the Fat Cats of Wall Street and industry; the family grieving for lost loved ones or the home from which they are being evicted; the dispossessed moving back as squatters into their houses; the bulldozed factory where his father worked.

True to form, Moore takes on the big end of town in his comic citizen-arrest pieces and mock showdowns. He wraps the crime scene in Manhattan with police tape. It is, of course, the New York Stock Exchange. It could have been the guarded citadels of Citigroup, AIG, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, General Motors or any of the other gangster dens of this documentary. All your humble security guards recognise MM immediately. His tilts at revolving doors have become a cliché for them and us. The drama and the humour have been sapped from this kind of satire. We all know the joke.

Sadly we never find out exactly what 'derivatives' are but it seems to be a synonym for theft. Karl Marx called property theft. Some irony. There appears to have been a lot of property stolen. However, Moore must only be a closet Marxist. He only mentions the other “-ism”. He sees 'democracy' rather than socialism as a solution to capitalism’s evils: worker participation and ownership, unionism, transparency. His website's "Action Plan: 15 Things Every American Can Do Right Now" is not exactly revolutionary stuff.

But it's meeting the victims of the system that has the most impact. Moore is at his best when he talks to ordinary people: those suffering and sometimes fighting evictions, the unemployed, the un-paid families of 'dead peasant' life insurance schemes, workers taking direct action in the workplace. His faith, indeed his roots, is with the powerless.

With god, the union and the law on his side he shouldn’t fail. However, for all its heart wrenching stories of ordinary people and its compelling indictment of Big Capital and High Finance, Capitalism: A Love Story doesn’t nail the culprits. Barack Obama was the great hope when the film was made. It’s revolution postponed. A sequel would paint a sorry picture of free enterprise American style post 2008.

However, it is time to read the big print. See this if you can.


  1. Kevin, property is theft is a quote from Proudhon, although Marx does echo it in his writings on wood theft iun Germany.

    I actually thought Moore stressing democracy was great because that is what socialists also stress - an extension by workers of democracy into the workplace is the basis of socialist society and democratic planning to satisfy human need.

  2. I'm in agreement about democracy in the workplace. It's a rare commodity.

  3. We are nearing the end of economic growth. We are depleting our renewable and non-renewable resources faster than ever, while at the same time destroying our environment, and our economic base. In other words, we're burning through our principal, not living off the interest.