Exposing the Myth of Capitalist Democracy

Lifting the Veil: Barack Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy

Scott Noble (2013)

Film Review

Lifting the Veil is a well-crafted expose of the myth of so-called capitalist democracy Based on interviews and archival footage of Senator Bernie Sanders, Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, George Carlin, Glen Ford, Harold Pinkley, John Pilger, Richard Wolfe, William I. Robinson, Bill Moyers and other prominent dissidents, it makes an ironclad case that democracy is impossible under a capitalist economic system.

Using Obama’s extensive list of broken campaign promises as a starting point, Noble convincingly demonstrates how Wall Street corporations have seized absolute control over all America’s so-called democratic institutions. In addition to highlighting the essential role team Obama played in crippling a large, highly vocal antiwar movement, he presents historical examples to reveal how this has been the traditional role of the Democratic Party in the US – to co-opt social movements that threaten the status quo.

The first half of the film focuses on Obama’s 2008 campaign and his long list of promises to reverse specific abuses of George W Bush’s government. In a series of archival clips, we see Obama promising to

• Restore habeas corpus
• Close Guantanamo
• End government secrecy
• End wireless surveillance
• Stop foreclosures instead of enriching bank CEOS
• Expose corporate backers of tax and corporate welfare legislation
• End torture
• End extraordinary rendition*
• Withdraw from Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011
• Pass banking regulation to prevent a new Wall Street collapse

Besides breaking every single one of these promises, Obama enacted new policies that were even more oppressive and pro-corporate than Bush’s. Among them were an indefinite detention provision in the NDAA, an executive order giving himself power to assassinate American citizens, the new war in Pakistan and Libya and $7 billion in loans guarantees for the moribund nuclear industry.

The film makes the point that the 2008 election was merely a PR exercise in marketing Brand Obama and had absolutely nothing to do with the candidate’s political agenda.

My favorite segments were those in which comedian George Carlin explains to audiences how powerful corporations sucker them into believing they live in a democracy.

The film ends on an optimistic note with a sampling of opinion polls indicating that more than 60% of Americans oppose the pro-corporate agenda Obama has foisted on them: 63% of Americans would pay higher taxes to guarantee health care for everyone, 70% oppose nuclear power, 81% want to reduce the deficit by taxing the rich and cutting the military budget and only 3% support cutting Social Security.

The only criticism I would have of Lifting the Veil is that it fails to offer specific solutions for Americans seeking to get their democracy back. The dissidents featured are pretty much unanimous that Americans need to stop looking to electoral politics as a way to reform either government or the economic system. However they are a little vague on what activists should do other than protesting and engaging in civil disobedience. Neither is likely to accomplish significant change without serious organizing and movement building to develop alternatives to the current system of government.

Given a lot of this movement building is already occurring in Spain, Greece, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Mexico and South America and it would have been great to see examples of what this looks like.


*Extraordinary rendition is the kidnapping and transfer of a detainee to the custody of a foreign government for purposes of detention, interrogation and torture.

16 thoughts on “Exposing the Myth of Capitalist Democracy

  1. ” . . . . democracy is impossible under a capitalist economic system.”
    Why is it that OBAMA could not keep any of his promises?
    “. . . . Obama enacted new policies that were even more oppressive and pro-corporate than Bush’s.”
    Isn’t this absolutely sickening?
    The top 1% owns more than the bottom 90%! How come?
    The Obama campaign distorted the word “Hope”. How dare they?
    I think it all depends on the distribution of wealth. Communism does not work, but neither does capitalism. What does work? How can changes be achieved without bloody revolutions? Should education and organisation of the people via the internet be possible? What about disturbances on the internet? For sure, anyone who belongs to the 1% is going to fight with all their financial might to keep their position. Are changes possible without too much chaos? How come the Berlin Wall could come down without any bloodshed? Could we not all choose to work for peace rather than for war?

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    • The only form of governance that works, in my view, is where people run things themselves – where they run their own place of work and their own communities. When people run things themselves, they normally opt for economic democracy (aka economic equality or socialism). The so-called Communist countries never achieved true socialism because there was always a Party elite that owned and controlled the means of production. People were never given a go at running things themselves.

      Self-governance and economic democracy work best with networks of small regional units (the Iroquois Federation in the pre-colonial US is the best example). Small is best because it’s easiest to guarantee full participation.

      Activists in Spain, Italy, Greece, Mexico and Latin America are already experimenting with self-governing communities away from the control of central government. Which I was disappointed the the documentary didn’t depict any of this. These experiments definitely may lead to blood shed, if the capitalist class decides to use their police and military force to dismantle them.

      The question for many activists is whether they will use violence to defend themselves – or if they will quietly submit to the will of the capitalist elite. In the Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos writes about a number of anarchist experiments along this line that successfully defended themselves against state violence.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would be willing to bet that the film doesn’t mention that our votes are “counted” in secret nor will it mention that a democratic government is not made by elections alone. Naturally, if it had mentioned either of these fundamental issues, then it would not have been funded nor would the folks from the Ministry, Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges, have agreed to be interviewed for it.

    Anyway, until people realize that a democracy includes both elections in which the votes are actually counted which would empower the people to influence the actions of their representatives in the legislative and executive branches and control of the law enforcement function of government through the right to petition and the rights to trials by juries, democracy will not be restored anywhere.

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    • The film kind of hints that elections are pretty worthless. Interesting your comment about Bill Moyers and Chris Hedges – I’ve suspected both of being on the government payroll at different times. As I mention in the post, neither ever proposes real solutions. And I have had grave reservations about Hedges ever since his hatchet job on the so-called “Black Bloc” anarchists who were involved in Occupy Oakland and Occupy Seattle. There was legitimate debate, at least on the West Coast, about “Diversity of Tactics,” which he totally poo-pooed. I responded to his article on Dissident Voice: http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/02/debating-violence-in-the-occupy-movement/

      I am pretty much finished with representative democracy. In this day and age, I see absolutely no reason why we can’t operate under direct democracy, as I mention in my comment to Aunty Uta.

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  3. Democracy is not the answer. Getting away from a worldwide monetary system, with millions of small self-contained, self-governed communities is, I believe, the only answer that can ever solve the mess we are in today.

    It’s time to cast off, once and for all time, the entire notion of a select few ruling over the many. It has never worked, nor will it ever work, at least not for the many.

    But I am not optimistic this can happen or ever will happen. The monster is too big.

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