POA: a history of repression / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

The Everlasting Staircase: A history of the Prison Officers’ Association 1939-2009, David Evans with Sheila Cohen, Pluto Press in association with the Prison Officers Association, 2009, £20

‘The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among Social Democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.’ Leon Trotsky What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat, 1932

In August 2007 the Prison Officers’ Association (POA) staged a one-day national strike in defiance of laws outlawing industrial action by prison officers. This and subsequent wildcat actions were eagerly seized on by the selection of British left groups which had long been courting the POA and generally applauding the ‘struggles’ of ‘workers in uniform’, including the police. Foremost among the cheerleaders is the Socialist Party (SP) and in September 2009 POA General Secretary Brian Caton announced his defection to the SP from the Labour Party. Caton is now a prominent speaker for SP-backed electoral grouping the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

The Everlasting Staircase is written for the express purpose of positioning the POA in the leadership of ‘militant’ trade unionism in Britain in the face of mounting public sector cuts and privatisation. Its authors are Caton’s predecessor as General Secretary and an academic specialising in trade union history. It was commissioned by the POA itself and does not purport to be impartial.

FRFI has been among the few voices on the British left consistently to point out that it is nonsense to simply view police and prison officers as ‘workers in uniform’. Engels and Lenin* explained the creation of ‘special bodies of armed men’, such as police and prison officers, as an intrinsic part of the apparatus constructed alongside the division of society into antagonistic classes. Trotsky agreed, although many of his followers today do not, clinging instead to examples of armies and police that have gone over to the side of revolutionary movements. While it is true that in a revolutionary situation this would be both necessary and inevitable, Britain today is so far removed from such a situation as to render these examples entirely irrelevant.

‘A union which has given true leadership to the whole working class movement’

The Everlasting Staircase chronicles the POA’s development from 1865, when the Prisons Act officially defined the role of prison warder, through the years of pre-union staff associations and underground organisation to its official formation in 1939 and right up to the 2008 TUC conference, where Brian Caton spoke emotively in support of low-paid public sector workers and against anti-trade union laws, exhorting the supine TUC to strike against the government’s ‘unacceptable pay restraint on public sector pay’. The book ends quoting him:

‘The POA will continue its campaign and fight to get the whole of the Labour Movement to straighten their spines and stand up for new laws that take away the restrictions on strike and industrial action.

‘Our simple message to other unions is “Don’t think that your members cannot deliver on strike action – they can.”

‘Please recognise that if you don’t ask them – they never will.

‘CHOOSE FREEDOM – BREAK BAD LAWS’ (p249).

In the eyes of the book’s authors, this call to arms demonstrates that ‘the POA stands proud today as a union which has given true leadership to the whole working class movement.’

Trade union history

Read on its own terms, the account is of some historical interest. The problems of prison staff in relation to pay, staffing levels, housing and prospects of promotion are documented, as are the machinations of successive governments to prevent industrial action by prison staff. Initially prison officers were treated in the same way as the police and banned from forming trade unions; however in the early 20th century an underground prison officers’ union was gradually formed and made links with militant trade unionists in the civil service. Eventually, the POA was created, with the government of the day concluding that treating prison officers as civil servants was a preferable way of dealing with them.

The book takes us through the period of Thatcher’s attack on the unions (including an account of the POA taking court action against the Tory Party following a party political broadcast which gave the erroneous impression that it had supported a motion put to the TUC by Arthur Scargill! – p106), to the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which made it illegal for prison officers to strike. The Labour Party promised to overturn this if elected, just as it promised to end prison privatisation. It reneged on both. The POA then signed a ‘voluntary no strike agreement’ in return for pay claims being dealt with by a succession of unsatisfactory review board mechanisms. Why exactly the ‘militant’ POA signed this agreement at all is a matter for speculation; however relations between the union and the Prison Service became rockier and ultimately broke down completely, resulting in the strike action of 2007.

The other side of the story

This is all very well, but even during its pre-history while the union was being formed in secret, the POA’s ‘militancy’ was couched entirely in terms which depended on depicting prisoners as wild and dangerous and liable at any moment to get uncontrollably ‘out of hand’ (p51).

This potential violence of prisoners is the POA’s main leverage and it plays on and exaggerates the threat at every opportunity. This has led it to oppose any reform of the system or relaxation of the strictest rules. Well before the introduction of the current dispersal system or close supervision centres, the POA ‘had been agitating for years in favour of the segregation of troublemakers in a small prison on their own’ (p62). In Scotland prison officers went on strike against the closure of the barbaric Inverness cages (p94). In relation to the north of Ireland we read of the ‘solidarity’ shown in the 1970s by prison officers from England, Scotland and Wales, who volunteered to be transferred to help staff internment (pp97-99). In the late 1970s and 1980s the POA campaigned for more weaponry and riot training, resulting in the introduction of the infamous MUFTI squads which were deployed to attack protesting prisoners (p130).

The POA opposed the abolition of the death penalty on the basis that convicted murderers serving life sentences would be difficult to manage and it would lead to an increase in the murder of prison officers. The second certainly did not transpire – outside the north of Ireland only one British prison officer was killed by a prisoner in the whole of the 20th century, while many prisoners have been killed by staff

POA supporters point out that it has long opposed ‘slopping out’ and overcrowding. This is true. Although debatable in whose interests this opposition was mounted, the POA opposed slopping out from the early 1980s (p127) and in the early 1990s took direct action to ensure that no more prisoners were crammed into overcrowded, insanitary prisons by simply locking the gates and not letting any more in (p173). What happened to those locked out is not explored, but the likelihood is that they were detained in even more unsuitable conditions in police stations. The POA does not argue for fewer people to be sent to prison, but for more staff to police those who are there and more spaces in which to detain them.

The book is revealing in relation to the contradiction posed for the POA by prison reform. While the union has consistently opposed any prison regime not strictly based on punishment and containment, whenever any moves are made towards the introduction of more activities, the union also argues for its members to be the ones staffing them, claiming that their daily contact with prisoners gives them an understanding not shared by the ‘“new breed” of liberal-minded governor grades, most of whom were fast-tracked university graduates with little experience of working on the landings of a prison’ (Caton, p198).

Prisoners’ struggles for their rights

David Evans was POA General Secretary from 1982 to 2000. This period includes the miners’ strike and the biggest spate of prison uprisings ever to shake the British prison system. You would hardly know this from the book though, as although a picture of the wrecked Strangeways prison features in the illustrations, the events of 1990 are mentioned only in passing. Likewise, although there is considerable material about prisons in the north of Ireland, and in particular about prison officer casualties of the war, there is hardly any mention of the hunger strikes or protests, other than a quote from the 1979 May Report to the effect that ‘The most stressful present custodial work undoubtedly involves the staff responsible for the three H blocks in The Maze prison which house the non-conforming prisoners...the nature of these inmates’ protests is bizarre in the extreme and the filth associated with it abhorrent and degrading’ (p99).

For prisoners and their supporters, The Everlasting Staircase – ironically titled in reference to the treadmills prisoners were once forced to walk endlessly – reads like a text from a parallel universe. We see a system of mass incarceration of men, women and children, who are overwhelmingly poor and working class and disproportionately black or minority ethnic, and whose oppression in prison sometimes drives them to band together and fight back. But this piece contains no analysis of who is actually in prison and the authors appear to see all prisoners as little more than wild animals, who can be kept reasonably docile if not given too much freedom, and to view any protest action as inexplicable and frightening. For example, the conscious political prison protests of the 1970s organised by PROP (Preservation of the Rights of Prisoners) are described as part of ‘turbulent years, when Britain...was swept by a... wave of strike action’ in which ‘prisoners themselves caught the protest “bug”’. A POA official complains: ‘Governors, with no inkling of what to do, met with prisoner deputations who gained in importance, thereby undermining the authority of staff’ (p83).

Similarly, for us the name of the POA is synonymous with thuggery and bullying and the stories of violence by prison staff are legion. But Evans and Cohen’s account is virtually silent on such accusations, with even POA members’ well-documented mistreatment of imprisoned fellow trade unionists glossed over and the disgraceful conduct towards the Shrewsbury Two in 1973 put down as some kind of misunderstanding (p83).

In 1998, horrific details of staff brutality at Wormwood Scrubs prison in London emerged, resulting eventually in a series of criminal prosecutions and civil claims for compensation. This is not mentioned anywhere in this account, At the time Evans publically refuted any wrongdoing by any POA member, to the extent that he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ‘In all my years that I have been in the prison service I’ve never known a single occasion where prison officers have interfered with mail.’ Hundreds of thousands of complaints submitted by British prisoners and hours of court time attest to the ludicrousness of this statement.

POA – policing class-divided society for the ruling class

We do not subscribe to the view that trade union organisation is by definition progressive. There are countless examples of reactionary trade union activity: the strike by loyalist workers in the north of Ireland against power-sharing with Irish nationalists in 1974; the pro-capitalist Solidarnosc in Poland in the 1980s; the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela which supported the US-backed coup in 2002. The fact that the POA is strident and well organised in its own interests is not sufficient to make it progressive.

The Everlasting Staircase sets out to make the case for the POA against those who would say it is not a ‘real’ trade union and, further, to put forward its credentials as a leading force in a resurgence of trade union militancy. However, it succeeds only in underlining that the role of prison staff in capitalist society is to police the working class and oppressed on behalf of the ruling class. The authors aim to show us a vanguard of class warriors, but succeed in showing us a bunch of chauvinist thugs.

Nicki Jameson

* See Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State and Lenin, State and Revolution

Unpicking the Zionist myth / FRFI 214 Apr / May 2010

Sand 

FRFI 214 April / May 2010

The invention of the Jewish people, Shlomo Sand, translated from the Hebrew by Yael Lotan, Verso 2009, 332pp, £18.99. ISBN 978-1-84467-422-0

‘I could not have gone on living in Israel without writing this book. I don’t think books can change the world – but when the world begins to change, it searches for different books’

Shlomo Sand, 2008

The world is indeed changing. Since the recognition of an Israeli state by the United Nations in 1947 and the extension of its borders in 1967 by war and occupation, Zionism* has demanded and received unconditional support from the US and Europe and silence on its record of oppression of the Palestinian people. Today this collusion is breaking down and the Zionist state of Israel can no longer claim that the exceptional tragedy of the European Holocaust puts it beyond reason and responsibility for its actions. Israel is being ever more exposed as a racist, apartheid state with a record of war crimes and crimes against humanity

Politics and archaeology

At the heart of this excellent book is the thesis that there is no such thing as ‘the Jewish people’. Sand comprehensively unpicks the dominant Zionist narrative, what he calls the ‘mythistory’, by reviewing a mass of historical research, including archaeological finds that were buried, neglected or banished by the Zionists. He describes how in the 1950s and 1960s Zionist archaeologists deliberately configured excavations and discoveries to match the heritage story of the Old Testament. So, for example, Moshe Dayan, Israeli Chief of Staff, minister of defence and amateur archaeologist, collected ancient artefacts, ‘some of them stolen’, and systematically destroyed ‘ancient mosques, even from the eleventh century’, in order to construct a past that matched the biblical text (p113). With carefully referenced evidence, Sand contends that these Zionist investigators knew that the celebrated biblical kingdoms of David and Solomon were relatively small settlements inflated by the foundation myths of the early historical period. Most significantly, he says there is no substantial evidence of a forced exile by the Romans of Jewish people in the first century after the fall of the Second Temple. On the contrary, all investigation supports the view that the majority of the population remained in Judea and Canaan as a conquered people, and lived on through the centuries as peasant farmers. They were converted, willingly or otherwise, to add to the growing numbers of Christians and Muslims, under the powers of the Byzantine and Caliphate Empires.

Khazars and Judaism

The Jewish religion also continued to grow and spread, particularly in the area between the Black Sea and the Caucasus mountains then known as Khazaria. Judaism was as active and as proselytising a religion as the other two monotheisms, converting many kings and tribal chiefs who in turn imposed their chosen religion on their subjects. Furthermore, a range of different ethnicities and peoples embraced and adapted the Jewish religion into a variety of sects. Records indicate the existence from the fifth century of a great Khazar Empire on the steppes of Asia, ruled by Jewish monarchs who conquered, enslaved and expanded their domain for hundreds of years. The torrential Mongolian invasion led by Genghis Khan in the early thirteenth century swept aside the Khazar kingdom, along with neighbouring societies. This invasion from the east depopulated the steppe lands which perished with the destruction of the ancient irrigation systems that had supported agrarian food cultivation and settlements. A small Khazar community was all that remained and it survives today in the foothills of the mountains of the Caucasus. Khazarians retreated into the western Ukraine, Polish and Lithuanian territories. There, they formed the majority of what came to be known as Ashkenazi Jews, and settled in eastern Europe as a population quite dislocated from the Semitic tribes of the Old Testament.

Arthur Koestler versus Zionist mythistory

The history Sand introduces to the reader is neither original nor new, but one that is authenticated by a historical record that has been deliberately buried. Arthur Koestler, born in Hungary in 1905, was a close supporter of the Zionist right-wing leader Vladimir Jabotinsky in his youth. He joined the Communist Party in Berlin in 1931 and worked undercover for the Comintern in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. He resigned from the Communist Party in 1938 in disgust with Stalin. His popular anti-communist book, Darkness at Noon, was published in 1940 to great acclaim. In 1976 Koestler published The Thirteenth Tribe: the Khazar Empire and its heritage, drawing on the earlier research and collecting together the evidence for the Khazar Empire. Koestler’s study concludes that:

‘The large majority of surviving Jews in the world is in eastern Europe – and thus mainly of Khazar origin. If so, this would mean that their ancestors came not from the Jordan but from the Volga, not from Canaan but from the Caucasus, once believed to be the cradle of the Aryan race; and that genetically they are more closely related to the Hun, Uigur and Magyar tribes than to the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ (cited p239)

The Thirteenth Tribe is focused on the origins of the Ashkenazi, or European, Jews and does not extend to the history of the Sephardic Jewish communities of Spain and Portugal or the Judaised people of Ethiopia and North Africa. Koestler was puzzled by the hostile reception to his book because he remained a Zionist and supported the State of Israel, which he regarded as ‘based on international law’ and not on ‘the hypothetical origins of the Jewish people, nor on the mythological covenant of Abraham with God’ (p239). When the book appeared, Israel’s ambassador to Britain described it as ‘an anti-Semitic action financed by the Palestinians’ (p240)

Historiography

Sand’s book has much to offer, even to those uninterested in Old Testament stories or who are past caring whether the displacement of the Palestinians is carried out by Zionists of Semitic or other tribal origins. It is a book about history and historical truth in general and readers will find their critical faculties sharpened and understanding deepened by this study. History down the ages informs us not just about the past but also about the historian. Sand says, quoting the Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce that ‘any history is first of all a product of the time of its writing’. Historians, as people, as scholars, as professionals, as members of educational establishments or as record keepers, present their work from a contemporary and ideological standpoint. This evaluation of history is known as ‘historiography’ and leads to close examination of the sources, theories, methods of research and writing of historians. Sand subjects the ‘Zionist historiography of the Jewish past’ (p19), to a rigorous examination of the values it promotes and the truths that it ignores or buries.

The rise of the nation state

Departments of Jewish History in Israel and universities around the world promote an ethno-national history of Judaism that derives from 19th century Zionism. This was the period when other ‘nationalisms’ arose as expressions of the needs of capitalism or ‘modern industrial societies’ as Sand says (p36). In an interesting review of the rise of modern nationalism, Sand describes the emergence of new nations from the collapsing empires and disintegrating peasant communities as coming from above. Ruling powers employed deliberate, ideological practices, rituals and ceremonies designed to foster an inclusive national identity. Historians justified the new power elites by writing, or re-writing, histories of a national past, reviving and inventing distant figures to serve the present need.

Modern nationalisms, however, are characterised by their inclusiveness. It was their purpose, as it largely remains today, to create a national territory in which all citizens are members of the community, that is, of the state. Modern institutions cut across earlier identities replacing old emotional and historical ties with different structures and beliefs for the new urban and industrial masses. Even the rise of fascism in Italy under Benito Mussolini in the early 20th century continued

the inclusive political nationalism of Italy’s independence heroes, Mazzini and Garibaldi, whose vision of a united Italy swept from the Sicilian South to the Alpine north in the 19th century. It was only in 1938 that Italian fascism added on an ethno-biological antagonism to its population of Jewish and Croatian origin (Sand p59).

Some emerging nationalisms, however, continued to cultivate ancient tribal ethnocentric myths about blood ties and the original ‘race people’, as the core. Political leaders called upon these reactionary myths to dominate the national mood in times of political upsurge and pressure. The rulers of Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia resisted the modernising call for a national identity on the political basis of citizenship. Bismarck’s consolidation of the German Federation into a new Germany utilised the ‘mythistory’ of a ‘people-race’ originating in the distant past to configure a modern military state that had to reconcile Catholics and Protestants, Prussians and Slavs, as well as Jews, within its new national borders. Above all, the state had to stamp its authority on the hopes of a new bourgeois class who demanded emancipation from the relics of feudal control. The wave of revolutions in 1848 led by liberals and radicals in Germany were defeated by violent suppression. Marx, Engels and others in the fledgling socialist movement were imprisoned, persecuted and expelled.

Zionism and heredity

The temporary defeat of class politics in Germany and central Europe ushered in a period of reaction in which the ruling class resorted to a reinvigorated racial nationalism, speaking of ‘blood and soil’. Zionist intellectuals likewise moved the ground of debate to racial lines. The new biological science of heredity was used to promote ethno-biological nationalism. The large Yiddish-speaking communities of east and central Europe became not only the victims of anti-Jewish pogroms, but also the object of contempt from the young Zionist movement. The rich, diverse cultural histories of the people of ‘Yiddishland’ (p247) were enclosed in the pseudoscientific terms of the ‘blood ties that exist in the Israelite family’ (p259). The founders of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, Max Nordau, Martin Buber and others, spoke about the national identity inherent in man’s ‘blood’. In the words of Vladimir Jabotinsky:

‘It is physically impossible for a Jew descended from several generations of pure, unmixed Jewish blood to adopt the mental state of a German or a Frenchman, just as it is impossible for a Negro to cease to be a Negro’ (p261).

This unapologetic appeal to blood and genetics was, and remains today, the foundation for the existence of the Zionist state of Israel. Indeed, the search for coherent blood lines continues, with efforts to use new DNA investigations to establish a genetic cohesion in the population of Israel. These have failed, of course.

Israel – the ethnic state

Building on his historical review of the emergence of nationalism, Sand concludes that the Zionist state is a nation built on the old ‘mythistory’ people/race model. The state does not act in the interests of all its citizens, and is not accountable to non-Jewish minorities. The Israeli state offers more protection and rights to every Jew in the world under the Law of the Right of Return than it does to Palestinians who are born from the generations that live there. While there are multiparty elections, political platforms are severely limited by a constitution based on blood ties to Judaism. Non-Jews cannot own land, cannot serve in the armed forces and cannot marry a Jew, and there is no civil marriage or burial in Israel. Sand concludes that there is no chance of peace in the future until the mythic race history of the Jewish people is discarded, along with anti-Semitism, in the dustbin of history. A highly recommended read.

Claudia Miller

* The term Zionism is used throughout to signify the belief that the land of Israel is the promised land of God’s Chosen People, the Jewish people. Page numbers refer to Sand’s book.

Yesterday’s opportunism / FRFI 146 Dec Jan 1998 / 1999

FRFI 146 December / January 1998 / 1999

Review: Marxism Today, Nov/Dec 1998 Special Issue, £3.50

As the world capitalist system stands on the preci­pice, ideologues of every description counsel its political leaders as to how they should act to prevent a global disaster, anti the social unrest it will bring. Amongst these are some members of the former Commun­ist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), who after eight years have just republished its theoretical journal Marxism Today. Not that it has any­thing to do with Marxism: all it offers is a rehash of aged social demo­cratic dogma, replete with appeals for governments to regulate the global financial mar­kets, and to reduce the inequalities that have been a product of the last 20 years of neo-liberal­ism. Tired stuff indeed.

FRFI dealt with this trend many years ago (see ‘New Times, old oppor­tunism’, FRFI 94), showing that their politics ‘codified the standpoint of a privi­leged stratum of the new petit bourgeoisie’ which sought not to destroy im­perialism, but to pacify it. What has changed over the last eight years? Only that the contributors to Marxism Today Mark II are a wealthier, and more openly part of the ruling class, running chat shows on TV (David Aaronovich) or editing national newspapers (Will Hutton, The Observer, Martin Jacques, Independent deputy editor), or writing reglar newspaper columns (Suzanne Moore, Anatole Kaletsky), or even global strategies for insurance companies. Plus a few profes­sors to lend a semblance of academic gravitas. Their role however is to act as a safety valve, transforming con­demnation of the capitalist system into harmless criticism over its lesser aspects. While appearing to be radi­cal opponents of New Labour, in real­ity they support it on anything that really matters.

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Review: Memoirs of a radical lawyer / FRFI 212 Dec 2009 / Jan 2010

FRFI 212 December 2009 / January 2010

Michael Mansfield

ISBN 978 0 7478 7864 9. Bloomsbury, London 2009. 496pp, £20

The English legal system, like all legal systems, is an instrument of class rule. Its system of precedents, cases, statutes, its rituals and its personnel reflect this. While the English constitution – unwritten – celebrates the ‘rule of law’, maintaining that all British subjects are governed by the same law equally and impartially, this is only a fiction that the ruling class maintains so that it can bask in the glow of its own righteousness while disciplining the inferior classes. A short visit to any magistrates’ or crown court will show you the realities. Most judges and barristers are toffs. A high proportion of politicians are lawyers. The criminal law is designed to control the working class, the civil law to defend property rights and corporate interests. Working class burglars are imprisoned; banks that specialise in daylight robbery are rewarded. Ordinary folk who deliberately, or even accidentally, cheat the benefit system of a few pounds are vilified; MPs who fiddle their expenses to the tune of thousands get a pension. It is remarkable, then, that among this morass of privilege and double-dealing there are a few decent lawyers. Michael Mansfield QC is one of them.

There is an interesting description in Mansfield’s Memoirs of his education and admission to the Bar. Education for English barristers was for centuries conducted through Inns of Court requiring pupil barristers to eat a large number of meals and train on the job at a set of Chambers with no pay. Only the offspring of the ruling class could either understand the process or afford it. It was only when the Law Society (governing solicitors) instituted exams and proper training, that the Bar Council thought it should train barristers or get left behind. Much of the nonsense and lack of funding remains and consequently barristers are overwhelmingly from privileged backgrounds. Mansfield came from a petit bourgeois family but was educated at private school.  Nonetheless, somehow, somewhere, he learned to care about justice, fairness and human rights.

Mansfield’s Memoirs of his career – he was called to the Bar in 1967 – reads like a catalogue of the most famous, most controversial and difficult cases of the last 40 years. From the Angry Brigade in the 1970s to the recent murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, and much else besides, Mansfield has applied his remarkable legal abilities for the benefit of ordinary people oppressed by the law. In 1973 he represented Irish Republicans Marian and Dolores Price who were charged with bombings in London (which included the Old Bailey and Mansfield’s own car parked outside) at a time when it was almost impossible to find legal representation for anyone accused of IRA involvement. Mansfield led the defence team for the Orgreave riot trial during the miners’ strike 1984-5, and defended prisoners who rose up against the system at Risley (1989) and Strangeways (1990). Most of the major political issues of this era are dealt with.

That is not to say that Mansfield has rid himself of illusions in the system. He thinks that institutional racism may have decreased as a result of the Macpherson Inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence. He has illusions in the effectiveness of international law to right wrongs and protect human rights. It must be galling to have watched former colleagues like Vera Baird QC (Solicitor General) and Keir Starmer QC (Director of Public Prosecutions) accept the Labour government’s shilling to batter working class and oppressed people. It must be infuriating to know that their government has launched a devastating attack on legal aid, at the same time creating hundreds of new criminal laws and devising new systems, like ASBOs, to deprive working class people of access to justice. To give him his due, Mike Mansfield has stuck to his principles and that makes him stand out and makes his book worth reading. There is also, incidentally, a very good Further Reading section!

Carol Brickley

Review of Capitalism: A Love Story, a film by Michael Moore

michael_moore_capitalism_a_love_storyWhat an opportunity! Cinemas full of people who want to see a film about Capitalism! Think of the possibilities: exposing imperialism – how a comparative handful live at the expense of the rest of the world; demonstrating that for two centuries capitalism has shown itself to be inherently crisis-ridden, and at the root of war and social misery; exposing its apologists and petit-bourgeois opponents.

Instead, we get an expose of capitalism’s ‘excesses’ while its essentials remain unquestioned. We have the greedy bankers and estate agents, the cruelty of ‘dead peasant’ insurance (company insurance against the death of its employees), poverty struck airline pilots, ‘excessive greed’ and so on. Of course, Moore gives examples of the misery created by capitalism – lousy wages, foreclosures, firings etc. – and we even get an all too brief glimpse of workers’ cooperatives. And, as always, Moore cannot resist engaging in stunts in front of his own camera, including a rather feeble attempt to stage a ‘citizen’s arrest’ of greedy bankers.

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