A View from the Third World: A letter in response to Michael Moore’s “America is not broke” speech in Wisconsin


A View from the Third World: A letter in response to Michael Moore’s “America is not broke” speech in Wisconsin.

Hersh Zakheim
Rebelión [Creative Commons]

Dear Michael Moore,

I had the opportunity to read the text of your March 5, 2011 speech in Madison during the recent events in Wisconsin.  I would like to share with you some thoughts regarding your statements.

To begin, I want to tell you that I have a serious respect for you as a person. You have said and done things that, coming from an American, are worthy of respect for both will and intelligence.  It is quite uncommon for a citizen of the land of Uncle Sam to dare to confront the corporations that are in power. And you did just that, fearlessly and with talent.

And I also want you to know that you and I have something very important in common: we were both born of the working class. From what I have read of your statements, we are both proud of our parents. In my case, both of my parents worked hand-to-mouth.

As I read your words I can tell the love that you have for your people and how you encourage them and raise their morale with every step you take. This is the attitude that one should expect from an honest politician with a working class background. But I hope that you will accept the fact that I have a different point of view, thanks to the fact that I belong to a country that, like so many others in the Third World, has been a victim of exploitation by U.S. capitalist corporations.  And as such I want to share my concerns with you, speaking as a man of the working class.

I want to assure you that if it were otherwise I wouldn’t bother you with my analysis of your words, since very frankly, when it comes to questions of culture and ideology my view of the majority of your compatriots (of course, not of all!) is that of a people that has been dumbed down, manipulated and dehumanized to such a degree that they have become highly dangerous to the rest of humanity.

Perhaps my ideas will seem very simplistic to you, but my working class parents taught me that the fundamental for living in society is respect for human rights. And, that since we humans are material beings, we must “first of all eat, so we can think afterwards.”  My parents classified our most fundamental rights in this order: First of all, an economic equity that guarantees enough to eat; and after that, when we can sit down and think about it, political equality and solidarity with others. These ideas, which always seem so simple when they are proposed, turn out to be extremely complex both to understand and to realize in practice.

So, let’s begin at the beginning.

You say that “the United States is not broke.”  I understand that you want to give your own people confidence and strength to take action. But I cannot concur with you. For me, the United States and her people have already been in moral bankruptcy for many years.  The only difference is that now you are in a growing state of economic bankruptcy as well.

When you say that in your country there has been a great transfer, “the greatest heist in history, from the workers … to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich,” you are absolutely right. 

But this fades to insignificance when compared to what the very same American capitalist corporations have been doing for decades to the workers of the third world, transferring this surplus value to these very same private banks and portfolios belonging to your country’s super-rich.

And this gigantic rip-off, as you yourself ought to recognize, Michael, has to some degree benefited the U.S. people in general, maintaining up to this point a more or less acceptable level of life in contrast to the misery that these very same thieves that you are referring to have inflicted upon the rest of the world. 

It hurts me to say this, but in this way your very own bosses have associated American workers with the exploitation of, and theft from, the workers of the third world, thus managing to anesthetize your working class consciousness.

To be sure, this bonanza is now coming to an end.  Capitalism in general has entered a stage of decline, something which, to my surprise, you yourself have begun to observe. I say “to my surprise,” because it isn’t easy to think independently in the heart of the capitalist citadel, surrounded as you are by total disinformation, an absence of human solidarity, and the most frenzied degree of individualism. I have to remind myself that this may help you to get back to your working class family roots.

You say that “400 obscenely rich people … now have more loot, stock and property than the assets of 155 million Americans combined,” and you attribute this to “a financial coup d’etat,” and to the fact that you Americans “surrendered [your] precious Democracy to the moneyed elite, Wall Street, the banks.” And you add that in your opinion, the American people “feel helpless, unable to find a way to do anything about it.”

Here once again I beg to differ. When you speak of a “coup d’etat,” you refer to something sudden, surprising. But it isn’t that way. For more than two centuries capitalism has exploited and robbed the workers in order to give to a few privileged ones and their private banks, in just about that same permanent proportion of 400 super-rich to 155 million poor.

And in order to do it they employ your “precious democracy,” carefully designed to snooker the people. If you do nothing but vote every four years for two parties that have the same ideology but different names, then those who are elected, those who always represent the rich, will logically decide everything in favor of the rich.

Tell me, Michael: After more than two centuries of hearing this same old fairy-tale repeated over and over again, why wouldn’t you feel helpless, unable to do anything?

You said you learned in school that “money doesn’t grow on trees.”  However, that’s not precisely true either.  Particularly in the United States, money does grow on trees.

I say this especially because, even though money is made everywhere from paper, which is made from wood pulp, today’s U.S. dollar is worth precious little. It has no backing at all, and is being printed by the ton in the Federal Reserve’s money-factories on printing presses that are overheating under the strain. Even then they cannot keep up with the deficit created by your financial speculators in their desperate search for the quick buck, or with what America owes to the rest of the world, the equivalent of years of work for your entire people. The deficit is the result of having lived through recent decades as though you were rich, without actually being so.

This is why I say that in the USA money grows on trees, because you don’t have real money as the capitalist market understands it, backed up by some super-powerful industrial base, which, as you well know, is no longer so powerful and no longer enjoys the exclusive world market it used to years ago.

And if the world still accepts the dollar as a reserve currency it will only be for a short time, and only because it is backed up by a criminal military machine financed by that very same money that grows on trees.  But remember that old saying: “You can build an empire with bayonets, but you can’t sleep on them.”

You say, “If those who have the most money don't pay their fair share of taxes, the state can't function. If the wealthy get to keep most of their money, we have seen what they will do with it: recklessly gamble it on crazy Wall Street schemes and crash our economy.” 

Well, in your own documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story,” the role of the banks in breaking the economy of the United States is clear. And my conclusion is one of extreme simplicity, perhaps even overly simplistic:
a) I ask you: Why do your compatriots let the rich keep the money that is generated by the workers’ work (“workers” here meaning all those who participate in the production of merchandise). More concretely, why do those 155 million willingly turn over the fruits of their labor to these 400 crooks?

Why and wherefore do we still need those 400 thieves to manage production and make off with its fruits?

b) I ask you: Among the 300 million Americans, aren’t there any who are capable of organizing production and dividing the profits among all, in the form of goods that allow everyone to live better?

c) I ask you: Why do the rich have to pay taxes? Doesn’t it seem absurd to you to allow them to keep all those fruits of others’ labor, and then ask them to please return a crumb or two in the form of taxes?

Of course it is difficult to collect taxes from them! You have gotten them used to laughing at the working people and to managing all the levers of power and of the law, all thanks to the U.S. Constitution that you respect so much and even take pride in.

I see that you are very worried about the banks.

And when you say “the economy and the market are in free-fall, and we catch the banks running a world-wide Ponzi scheme,” you are pointing out a reality that is a warning to the world: the absurdity of the very existence of private banks. 

I agree with you that you are “a nation full of dummies,” because your compatriots deposit their money in private banks, when we know from history that, sooner or later, these same banks will rip-off the suckers who believe in them.  And their rip-off techniques keep on getting better year after year.  Even “the Ponzi scheme” that you refer to already existed in the Middle Ages, in the year 1300. “Bbankruptcies” were already habitual among those improvised banks back in the plazas of Italy.

A friend of mine says, “to deposit my money in a private bank managed by some other citizen like me is just like sending my young spouse to spend the night in the neighbor’s bedroom, trusting that everything will come out okay.”

It seems to me to be incredibly stupid that our goods, represented by money, are managed by the owners of the private banks, who are in the last analysis people like you and me, rather than being exclusively in the hands and under the guarantee of the State, which represents us all and which ought to use them for the benefit of all.

Michael, I regard you as an American with a high level of social consciousness, and I know you respect your working class roots with pride. But as long as you think, as I infer from your text, that the rich of your country have the right to have more than other citizens, just not quite THAT much more, the process in Madison that you are so proud of will remain stalled.

You say that “the smug rich went overboard. They were not satisfied. They wanted our soul.”  But I wish to remind you that workers’ souls are the last thing the bosses are interested in.  What they are interested in is squeezing out the labor power of their workers, and if possible, doing it for free.

You say that “what is broke is the leaders’ moral compass.”  Look, Michael, the leaders of your country have always had and still have their moral compass pointed at maximum profits, at exploiting the labor of the peoples of the world. And I warn you that now, thanks to that bankruptcy that you deny, they are having to squeeze the American working people harder than ever into that capitalist moral compass.

Once again I beg to differ with you when you wish for “our country to return to what it once was. Give us back our democracy. Give us back our good name, the United States of America.” And you ask,   “What do we have to do to achieve this?”

I’ll tell you what Americans need to do: First of all, self-criticism is fundamental, understanding that that idyllic United States of long ago never existed. Ever since its birth, it has been a predator country. Nor should you venerate a constitution that justifies and supports the privileges of a small group of exploiters over the immense majority of the people.  You need to change it, make it participative, and do away with the fairy-tale of representation, a representation that keeps the rich in power; one person, one vote, and then back to sleep for another two years.
Those who are sleeping in the cold in Madison in order to defend the rights of labor need to understand that they need to protest and struggle against the hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world with the very same dedication that they have shown defending their union ideals.

Your politicians and Hollywood sell you a fairy-tale of terrorism and you do not even seem to understand that at this moment the only terrorism that is besieging the world is the U.S. Army invading its neighbors to steal the oil, with the silence and tacit agreement of the American people.

I believe that in order for the United States to have a good name it must NOT go back to being what it was before, and must NOT return to what there they called “democracy.” It must put aside that economic regime that is called capitalism. Only then will it show its “talent, ideas, hard work, love and compassion,” as you want it to.

You know what? I used to think that this Michael Moore would be the ideal man to be president of the United States. He has moral gifts that previous officeholders lacked, plus a respect for the humble people, that is to say, for the majority. This is proven by what he has done, in contrast to other presidents who did nothing but proclaim their campaign lies.

In this speech of yours in Madison, you say, “You have awakened the sleeping giant known as the people of the United States. From this moment forward the earth will shake and the floor will move under the feet of the powerful. We are many more than you are.” In my opinion, in this speech you express wishes that do not really mesh with the reality of the moment, but which form a guide for action toward a better future for the American people. And this is the function of an honest politician, to propose a just future.

But then I thought, wow, what a task I’m proposing to Michael, to confront the rich, who have so thoroughly tamed this people that 400 can historically laugh at and cheat 155 million. 

I will tell you that in my viewpoint, we are living in a moment, all around the world, when intellectuals who get involved in politics, who teach in schools and universities, who write in the media, who make movies and TV, people who think and try to understand what is happening, have been infiltrated by a bunch of cowards, those who close their eyes to what they understand and open their pockets to greed. They agree to neither see nor act, but rather to take counsel with thieves.

And your ancestors and mine, living or dead, do not deserve for us to close our eyes. Those who were exploited just as workers are today, are the ones who make things and who are the legitimate owners of the things they make.

You need to explain to your people that capitalism is just another experiment created by humankind. It was not invented by God, and it doesn’t have much time left. And, you need to say that among all the economic systems that humans have invented up to now, it is probably the most unjust. And that, since it is a destroyer of nature, it is also the stupidest.

As you end you shout “Madison, not one step backward!” Someone once said that “one step backward in the struggle of the excluded is not that serious. The important thing is to then take two steps forward.”

Sure, you might answer, “Why did you write to me? Why are you bothering me and giving me extra responsibilities?”

Please excuse me if I load you down with extra responsibilities, but it’s your fault for having a social conscience and a sense of justice and, unfortunately, for being a gadfly in your own country.

To conclude, I understand that it much easier to offer ideas than to occupy the place that you have earned.  But I hope you will read this if you have time, with the conviction that these opinions are expressed with all the mutual respect that I believe both of us practice.

I send you a fraternal embrace.

Hersh Zakheim

Photo by StretchyBill/cc by 2.0/Flickr

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  • Very impressive! With people like Zakheim our world still has a chance for better days.

    Posted by wskarma, 03/31/2011 11:58am (8 years ago)

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