By Caleb T. Maupin
Published Apr 22, 2011 8:54 PM
The new film based on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” released April 15 is a prime example of how film can serve big capital. It’s part one of a proposed trilogy of low-budget propaganda reels backing the billionaire elite in their war against everyone else.
Given its reactionary message, one can only hope that the almost unanimous criticism regarding its lack of entertainment value reflects its ultimate failure. It would still be worthwhile, however, to examine the historic use of film to promote political reaction and to take Rand’s ideology apart piece by piece.
Almost 100 years ago, the U.S. capitalist system was in an economic crisis, and millions of workers were joining the growing socialist and labor movements. The new motion picture industry came to the system’s rescue with a thoroughly racist propaganda piece.
The 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation” rewrote the history of the U.S. Civil War and its aftermath, prettying up the slave-owning class and portraying the Ku Klux Klan as populist heroes who fought the federal government’s efforts to aid former slaves during the period of Reconstruction in the South.
The film helped revive the Ku Klux Klan, which was re-founded in a mass hate rally at Stone Mountain in Georgia. It urged unemployed and downtrodden white workers to direct their rage at Black workers, Jews, Roman Catholics, Socialists, feminists — against everyone except the capitalists responsible for their suffering. Following the film showing, mobs of racist whites re-enacted the supposedly “heroic” events depicted in the film by murdering Black men and mutilating their bodies. (“Hooded Americanism: A History of the Ku Klux Klan” by David Mark Chalmers)
In 2011 “Atlas Shrugged” is aimed to serve reaction. USA Today even pointed out that the film was directly linked to the Tea Party movement and produced to push its agenda. (March 23)
Ayn Rand, a career praising ‘selfishness’
Born to a wealthy family that fled the early USSR, Ayn Rand came to fame as a friendly witness to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, testifying against progressives in the film industry.
The publicity surrounding her anti-communism aided her lifelong career promoting her ideology of “objectivism.” Rand argued that history is made by a small elite clique of “great men,” noted for being ruthless and possessing “the virtue of selfishness,” who she called the “motor of the world.” According to Rand, these “great men” are the “most oppressed minority” because they have to negotiate with unions, follow labor and environmental laws, and pay income taxes. (“Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal,” Rand, 1966)
When the “great man” in her novel “The Fountainhead” breaks into the apartment of a woman and rapes her, Rand presents this as a heroic action asserting his rights. Despite this blatant misogyny, Rand has often been mislabeled a “feminist.”
“Atlas Shrugged” tells of a few “great men,” led by John Galt, joining together and withholding their contribution to society to protest having to pay income tax, follow anti-trust laws and respect the right of workers to organize. They collectively withhold their greatness from an ungrateful society.
Right now the Republican Party and its Democratic Party allies are trying to gut Social Security and Medicare, lower taxes for the super rich, and crush unions. In response workers have begun to fight for their existence from Wisconsin to the Oakland-San Francisco dockyards. This film fits Wall Street’s need to divert popular anger from itself, much as the Tea Party does in the political arena.
These days Rand’s propaganda is pushed at alienated and isolated youths, who are filled with self-doubt and who, despite working hard, continue to endure economic hardship. Rand’s work screams that all society’s ills are rooted in solidarity, compassion and “collectivism.”
We don’t need John Galt!
“Atlas Shrugged” repeats a common illusion about capitalism. It pretends that the owners of industry, mines, oil wells and other economic institutions are tireless inventors who work long hours, unleashing their creativity for the good of society.
In reality the vast majority of modern engineers, architects, artists and innovators are workers.
The wealth their creativity produces goes not to them, but to the capitalists, whose only labor and innovation is the task of pushing money in and out of investments, in which other people’s labor is appropriated and turned into profits.
The rich man’s “strike” portrayed in the film would be a blessing for working people today. If, like the “great men” in the film, today’s rich of the world walked away from their banks, factories, mines and oil wells, for whatever reason, this would be no problem for the working class. We pump the oil, work the cash registers, do the hours in the plants, cook the food, invent things, create works of art, design computer programs, build buildings and do all else that produces society’s wealth.
We could easily own and operate society without the leeches at the top because they contribute nothing, merely owning what is collectively produced. Our message to all billionaires who would rally behind Rand’s fictional John Galt and give up their supposed greatness in protest is, “Good riddance!”
We simply don’t need the rich.