Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Open Letter To Michael Moore (2003)

From the January 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Dear Mike,

I owe you, man. I've been watching your work for years now, from the first series of TV Nation onwards. I've enjoyed your rigour, integrity and sense of rye humour. I've been to see Bowling for Columbine – twice! By my calculations that means I've personally given you 48p. I got my hands, however, on a free "damaged" copy of Stupid White Men through a friend of mine. My calculations on that are that I've probably just cost you £1.50. So I owe you £1.02. Well, first off, let me tell you about the Socialist Standard. OK, that's free on the web, but if you bought the magazine, it'd have cost you a quid. So that's square. That leaves a wee bit left over, though. So I reckon I'll give you my twopenneth.

No one can doubt your heart is in the right place, nor your commitment. Your palpable anger at the destruction of communities by big business; at the bullying of the poor and defenceless by the rich and powerful; at the hypocrisy of our rulers; shows clearly in all your work. Yet, the answers that you present, your suggested course of action, I feel, just aren't enough. It's entirely laudable to say "Just get involved" – after all, if people don't get involved at all, then nothing will ever change. You've shown in yourself how simply turning up and noisily making demands can make the rich and powerful bend and twist to do the popular thing.

The problem is, however, that unless the people "getting involved" have some clear idea about where they are going, and what they want, they'll just end up pestering our masters for different crumbs from the table for ever: as those devious buggers spin and turn in the wind, giving just enough to stay in power. When the workers of St. Louis took control of the city in 1871, for instance, they had free reign to do as they pleased, to work for their own betterment. They came to power though, without any ideas, with no plan for running their own lives, and so slowly melted away again, to return to ordinary drudgery on the railroads.

Of course, America is the country that brought us philosophical pragmatism. This tells in your approach, taking whatever chances are available. In Stupid White Men you tell of how you tried to persuade the Green faction of the Capitalist Party's presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, to bargain from his position of holding the swing vote. "We hold all the power" you told them. What, though, did that power amount to? It amounted to being in a position to wring a few concessions from candidates from other sections of the Capitalist Party, dragging them "'to the left".

This maximum power for your candidate was only scheduled to last "for the next week or so", before handing absolute power over to someone who would "keep no promises". After all, once leaders are firmly ensconced in power, what need have they for king makers, whether other candidates or mere voters? The whole point of being a leader is to exercise power as you see fit. Bargaining with leaders is like letting a prisoner out for a stroll, and expecting them to come back.

You yourself admit there is not much difference in voting between different wings of the Capitalist Party. As you point out, Ronald "Evil Empire" Regan imposed stricter controls on car manufacturers on miles per gallon usage of petrol than "Slick Willy" Clinton. You could go further, and show how Eisenhower stuck by the welfare state as much as Johnson, who in turn was just as Hawkish as Cheney. In fact, you could show that, despite their protestations that the opposing faction are the paragon of all evil, that both sides are always prepared to steal each others' policies. Your list of how the Democratic faction of the Capitalist Party's voting records accord with the Republican faction's shows as much.

The reason for this is not hard to find – they're not really in charge at all. Any policy they may impose will have to accord with the ongoing operation of capitalism, and the rules of that system, or they won't work at all. After all, Reagan controlled miles per gallon because the world was still dealing with the effects of the 1972 oil shock and recession. Clinton was dealing with a time when oil was flowing free and constraints on use would have been constraints on profit rather than a support. So, Nader's maximum moment of power amounted to being able to ask for a few concessions from someone whose maximum moment of power would be asking for a few concessions from the people who really own the world.

No wonder politicians prefer to ape the noises of these parasites. They might as well make the right sounds so that they can kid themselves that they really are part of the gang in charge, and that the policies they are implementing really are their own. Who wants to sound like they are championing the cause of ineffectual groups?

Any leader is going to find themself in this position. Imagine (just for a second) that Nader did win the presidency (no, seriously), committed as he was to the continued existence of capitalism with a green face. He would have to make policies that conformed with one logical premise – the law of no profit, no production. All his policies would have to allow the owners of America to make at least the average rate of profit from their investments, or else they would launch a capital strike, declining to invest in industries or even withdrawing altogether. That is, no matter what he is like as a man, no matter how honest his followers, or their determination, he would have to adapt his policies to running capitalism the only way it can be run, in the interests of them as own it.

Even were (for some odd reason) someone to come to power in the US and nationalise everything that moved, just as in the state-capitalist states in the old Soviet bloc (and we all know how well that worked), they would still be subject to this self same law. Whilst they might not face the same irritating bunch of rich people, they would still need to operate the circulation of goods produced by waged-labour at a profit as a first condition of their policies.

This law afflicts even our rulers. As Lord Byron said, "there can be no freedom, even for the masters, among slaves". Even though you state that "there is no recession, my friends. No downturn," but that it is a deliberate machiavellian ploy by our masters to prevent us asking for a share of their wealth, the fact is that they are compelled into cutting back by the logic of their system.

If they did not disinvest, cut back, rationalise and downsize, any competitor who did so would get the better of them, and thus drive them out of the market. They may still be rolling in money themselves, but they cannot use it to create any more jobs. If they allowed their profits to fall behind relative to the size of their capital advanced, they would risk losing the lot (poor diddums). They just aren't going to allow that to happen.

The fact is that the crime of capitalism is not that some have money and refuse to give it to others - and the money is, as you rightly point out, there. No, the crime is that the rules of the system mean that all that money must uselessly slush around – protecting the stakes advanced by the capitalists – rather than going into doing the useful things that communities like Flint Michigan require. This inevitable waste stems from the law of no profit no production, and the whole system of producing commodities for exchange on the market (like SUV's) to be bought, rather than produced directly to fulfil a need.

So, bang goes your whole strategy. Badgering the rich and powerful like a toddler pulling at their parent's trousers – mummy, mummy, we want some welfare! Despite your call to get involved, to go out and get for ourselves, the result is that it involves going like naughty children up to some corporate master, and hassling them (preferably with an embarrassing film crew present to broadcast their perfidy and meanness to the world – no wonder Neil (brother of George) Bush was so relieved to run into you without your camera. It must be irritating for them to subjected to even that level of public scrutiny and expectation.

Your whole attempt to portray welfare as in the interests of our masters reveals the truth behind the welfare state that has gone before (Chapter Four "Kill Whitey"). They precisely instituted the welfare state on the expectation that it would increase their profits and help their system run smoother. Administering a share of the wealth to the workers, rather than allowing the market to do it, lest freak market conditions result in sections of the working class getting more than our masters' need for profits could allow. Now it has become less profitable to run (as well as too rigid), they have tried (quite successfully) to cut it back. So, we can see that any gains our masters may grant (because they are either in, or at least not against, their interest) can be revoked and re-instated as they see fit. Things may well get better again for places like Flint, only to be blighted again the next time the law of no profit no production demands it.

So, what's with badgering you, then? Why my twopenneth? Am I just getting on at someone powerful to try and get them to help promote my cause? Well, no. I was short of material for this month's magazine and you presented an opportunity of providing me with a focus for a simple message. If, as you most certainly do, you care about the widespread poverty and misery produced by US capitalism, then you need to go down to first principles.

Reject leaders. You don't need to be a cheer leader for Nader, it doesn't matter what he's like as a human. Both the capitalist system and the whole relationship of leader to led means that one is going to betray the other pretty quickly after assuming power (usually followers betraying leaders by actually expecting them to be able to fulfil their promises). We have enough strength in our own communities without having to bow and scrape to our masters.

Go beyond capitalism. Recognise that it is the whole system of producing things for a chaotic market that produces inequality and poverty, and think about how we could go about making the change to a situation in which we use all that idle talent, ability and imagination that you reveal and revel in your documentaries, to produce things directly for people's needs.

If we reach out across the workers of the world, who share more in common with you than any American capitalist, then we can create a co-operative commonwealth spanning the globe, which will put an end to all the wars, violence and strife caused by the competition between capitalist rivals, and which spill over into our communities and our schools. That commonwealth though, always starts with individuals, individuals like you, and anyone else who might read this open letter.

That's my twopenneth, I consider the debt settled.

For World Socialism,

Pik Smeet.