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Review: Stupid White Men
'SENSATIONAL' CAN be an overworked cliche deployed by publishers to maximise sales. But Michael Moore's book really is sensational. The US capitalists and their hirelings in the media certainly think so, otherwise why try to suppress it.
It was written before 11 September but 'held back' in the hostile mood which followed.
The author was vilified by capitalist journalists for daring to lift the lid a little on the underlying realities of 'corporate America' and the stooge politicians and parties which support it.
Yet hundreds and thousands queued at Moore's book signings to buy copies, propelling it to the top of the best sellers list in the US and now Britain.
Every page teems with scrupulously researched facts and figures. The shocking picture which emerges is of a brutal US capitalism and its political representatives, the Republican and Democrats, mired in greed and corruption.
But it is the weapons Moore deploys - humour, irony and satire - which sets this apart. Critic Tom Paulin was correct in comparing Moore to the great British satirist Jonathan Swift, with US folksy humour.
Send in the marines!
In the chapter 'A Very American Coup' he describes in detail the way that Florida was 'secured' for George Bush by the use of absentee ballots and the debarring of Democrats. "154 million of us... had not voted for [Bush]. In a nation of 200 million voters, I would say we constitute the majority."
Little wonder then that Bush, the 'Thief in Chief,' at his inauguration ceremony in January 2001 was besieged by thousands chanting 'Hail to the thief!'
Moore's solution?: "I have sent a personal request to UN secretary general Kofi Annan to hear our plea. We are no longer able to govern ourselves or to hold free and fair elections. We need UN observers, UN troops, UN resolutions! Send in the Marines! Launch the SCUD missiles!"
Who was behind this 'coup'? The detailed CVs on Bush's cabinet members are very illuminating. Attorney general John Ashcroft, a Christian fundamentalist, for instance opposes 'dancing' and "lost his Senate re-election bid against a dead man".
Bush's White House team is a veritable 'rogue's gallery' of corporate America. Even Colin Powell, mistakenly described by some as a 'moderate', is a multi-millionaire who "sat on the boards of Gulfstream Aerospace and AOL". The latter merged with Time Warner, and Powell's stock rose in value by $4 million.
The author comments: "His son, Michael Powell had been the only Federal Communications Commission member who recommended the AOL/Time Warner merger go through without question".
Moore's conclusion is: "This regime is intent on lining its pockets... These Stupid White Men must be stopped. I have informed Kofi Annan of the various locations where these (mostly) men can be found and apprehended by UN troops... We plead with you: Save the United States of America! Demand that new, clean elections be held. Give the junta 48 hours to agree - and, if they don't, then treat them to a US Air Force-style laser light show".
The author's 'open letter to George Bush' is a similarly irreverent dig at the President. Tracing George junior's roots back to his 'grandpappy' Prescott Bush who 'traded with the Nazis', he records the 'widely held impression' that Bush junior is usually 'asleep on the job'.
Striking a blow for sleep-deprived US citizens, Moore writes: "Your critics berate you for taking naps in the middle of the day and ending your workday around 4.30pm. You should just tell them you are starting a new American tradition - lunchtime naps for all, and everybody home by five! Do that, and trust me, you'll be remembered as our greatest President."
At first, Moore appears to go too far, to be too personal in accusing 'Dubya' of perhaps being a 'functional illiterate'. But he reveals when Bush has told 'porkies' about his past. When asked about his favourite childhood book Bush replied: 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'. Moore comments: "Unfortunately, that book wasn't even published until a year after you graduated from college."
Moore concludes: "In short, you've been a drunk, a thief, a possible felon, an unconvicted deserter and a crybaby. You may call that statement cruel. I call it 'tough love'."
Moore situates his demolition of Bush in the context of a critique of US capitalism. Criticising the 'mediocre but ruthless few' the author writes: "It's called C-A-P-I-T-A-L-I-S-M...We have the grand total of two and a half US car manufacturers. That's the way it works in our system. You don't like it, you can move to...to...um...damn, where do you move to these days? Oh - of course - Bermuda!"
On the environment, on the searing racism which scars the US, on the oppression and discrimination against women and the crisis facing men, on US foreign policy, on the waste of 'Star Wars', Moore is very informative without being correct in all his conclusions.
Satire overstates, it pushes trends and tendencies to 'absurd' conclusions. Art emphasises different aspects of its subject through different shadings, colour and light, so does satire but perhaps more starkly. Michael Moore, on the evidence of this book, is a brilliant practitioner of this art.
A new workers' party
This book has some weaknesses, particularly in contradictory statements on the Democrats. Early on he states: 'Take over your local Democratic Party'. Yet in a later chapter he says: "Democrats have become nothing more than Republican wannabes. They must merge with the Republican Party. That way, they can keep doing what they both do very well - representing the rich - and save a lot of money by consolidating staff and headquarters into one tight, fit, fighting machine for the top 10 percent.
"The good news about such a merger? The working people of this country will finally get to have their own party! What's so terribly wrong with that? It'll be the second party of the two-party system, except it will represent the other 90 percent of us."
Moore is facing both ways. On the one side he proposes a radical 'takeover' of the Democratic Party, much like the SWP-dominated Socialist Alliance in Britain advocates that the trade unions should make 'one last effort' to take over the Labour Party in Britain. Both in the US and in Britain this is wrong-headed advice.
Undoubtedly the failure of the US Labor Party to develop as a real independent voice of working people - due to the restrictions placed on it by the US labour bureaucracy - explains why powerful political figures like Michael Moore are equivocal and therefore hesitate to clearly help to create a new mass party of working people.
However, mighty events will push the US working class to see the need for a party that does really represent the majority 'the other 90 percent of us'.
In the meantime this book can play an invaluable role in preparing the ground for the emergence of such a party. It is not specifically 'socialist' or even 'anti-capitalist'. It is an indictment of US capitalism and particularly of the corrupt and rotten ruling economic and political elite.
But it is nevertheless a part of the pre-socialist and even pre-political process which the US working class must take in arriving at a socialist consciousness. Hopefully the sale of thousands and millions of Moore's book will help to lay the basis for such an understanding.
I was lucky enough to be given a copy as a birthday present from good friends and comrades, Alec, Linda and other South Wales comrades.
You should try and buy it. If you can't do that beg, borrow or 'steal' It has as much relevance to the tasks that face the British working class as it does to our US counterparts.
Stupid White Men by Michael Moore, published by HarperCollins.
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In The Socialist 17 May 2002: