Film Review from the August 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Michael Moore’s latest documentary film, Fahrenheit 9/11, grossed $24 million in its opening weekend in the US. Despite initial attempts to stop the film’s distribution and screening and right-wing claims that the film is inaccurate, it has been seen by sell-out cinema audiences and won all manner of applause from US ‘liberals’ and the Left everywhere.
Moore has clearly made a first-rate documentary here, showing George Bush up as the first class moron we always knew him to be and heading a corrupt administration drooling oil and dripping from every pore with workers’ blood, unashamedly prepared to go to any lengths in the name of profit.
While Moore can rip into the Republican administration over its obsession with Iraq and its intense love affair with the Saudi elite, he neglects to mention that President Clinton had Iraq bombed almost on a daily basis for eight years – the 1998 cruise missile attack aside – and helped enforce an embargo that left half a million dead. Neither does Moore point out that high level dealings with Saudi Arabia have been going on since the 1940s. Furthermore, whereas the film gives full exposure to the visit by the Taliban to Texas in 1997 to sign an oil deal, the fact that Clinton was in power at the time is also overlooked.
However, nowhere does Moore locate his film in a wider social and political context – in the capitalist system itself, in a system racked with contradiction, an exploitative social system that consigns hundreds of millions throughout the world to abject poverty. While he clearly makes the link between oil, profits and the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, he nowhere suggests that war, all war, is the continuation of business by other means; that in capitalism wars are fought over trade routes, overseas markets, mineral wealth or areas of influence; that if you build empires you have to be prepared to kill people.
But Moore is no revolutionary, no class warrior. In the film he talks to a woman whose family have a long military tradition and who proudly unfurls the Stars and Stripes outside her house each morning. Moore, ever the patriot, suggests she must be a proud woman and himself qualifies her pride in her soldiering offspring with the line “it’s a great country” – and well worth dying for, no doubt? Later on, and referring to the many US soldiers from impoverished towns – such as Flint, with 50 percent unemployment – who have been killed since the invasion of Iraq, Moore says: “They offer to give up their lives so we can be free.” In this, Moore shows he holds the same ideas of freedom that Bush and his ilk are always asking workers to defend. In a land where there exists a ‘Patriot Act’ that restricts many hitherto taken-for-granted ‘freedoms’, where trade unionists have recently been forbidden to engage in strike activity, where speaking out against the status quo is seen as dangerously subversive, where the prison population borders on two million, freedom largely means that workers choose which capitalist is to exploit them. Moore leaves the capitalist system very much unscathed and so free to go on killing.
I also detect a racist undertone in the film when it ridicules Bush’s “coalition of the willing” – those small countries who lent support in the hope they would be well rewarded. Britain aside, which gave its full support the invasion of Iraq, small nations such as the Republic of Palau, Costa Rica, Iceland, Romania, Netherlands and Morocco also offered to help out. The imagery that accompanies the mentioning of the latter smaller nations, the voice-over being intentionally slow and moronic sounding, is stereotypical and demeaning if anything: footage from the film Nosferatu accompanies the mentioning of Romania, Palau has native dancers festooned in flowers and a bare chested man driving a cow-drawn cart, there are Vikings for Iceland, cannabis-smoking for the Netherlands and Morocco is mentioned with footage of rampaging monkeys. Are we to assume that there are countries with large armies which would be a welcome addition to a coalition (i.e. Britain, which never actually gets a mention), so why did the US have to settle for the pathetic?
Likewise, considering the US Invasion of Afghanistan just after 9/11, real analysis is sacrificed for a sneer at the size of the invasion force itself – smaller than the manpower needed to police Manhattan, we are told – so are we to assume that it should have been many times bigger?
The great danger with Fahrenheit 9/11 lies in its frontal attack on the present Republican administration leaving viewers assuming that a USA headed by a more liberal – perhaps Democrat – government would not be so militaristic or friendly with its corporate elite. In truth any newly elected government, one headed by Nader included, would serve primarily as the executive arm of corporate America, charged with pursuing the interests of the profit-hungry US ruling elite at home and aboard, ready always to call in the troops and bombers if US profits are threatened. The history of US foreign policy since 1945 is testament to this fact.
Bush may well lose the coming election, perhaps partly thanks to this film, but capitalism will continue in the US as it does everywhere else on the planet, and the myriad injustices Moore himself catalogues in his book Stupid White Men will continue. Moore is building up a lot of false hopes in targeting Bush and his administration as the villains of the piece. Whereas people know Bush is a war-mongering stooge of big business – something he goes to no great lengths to conceal – Kerry gives the illusion that he can work wonders if elected, and Moore helps with the fantasy by saying, in a nutshell, the sooner we get rid of the village idiot the better.
Whilst one can understand why audiences, who have watched Fahrenheit 9/11, have chanted “Bush out, Bush out” as the film ended, they are mistaken in thinking the unseating of the Texan idiot will better their lot one iota. They will exist as wage slaves, every aspect of their lives subordinated to the dictates of capital, just as much under Kerry as under Bush.