[Note: this review is being simultaneously published by the Independent Workers Party of Chicago and the Friends of WikiLeaks – Chicago on the respective websites of both groups.]
CITIZENFOUR – a film by Laura Poitras https://citizenfourfilm.com/
We expected a lot from Laura Poitras’ new film CITIZENFOUR; we were massively disappointed. With ex- CIA/NSA contract worker Edward Snowden still stuck in exile in Russia and the citizenry of the United States far more interested in the latest shiny objects for sale at the Apple Store than in fighting for their rapidly disappearing Constitutional rights, we had hoped that this film would be a clarion call to the workers of the United States to take action in their own self-defense by standing up in support of Snowden and his fellow heroic whistle-blowers Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, Jeremy Hammond and others. Instead what we get is a very tepid and shallow overview of “the story so far” of the world-shaking revelations made by Snowden exposing the US Government’s global espionage network that monitors and stores for future use every cellphone call, email message and the wealth of information derivable from our daily movements as recorded by our cellphones every day. CITIZENFOUR should be like a nuclear howitzer blasting chunks out of the edifice of US and British imperialism; instead its effect is like that of a dozen pies thrown in the faces of a gang of war criminals. You could say that CITIZENFOUR pulled all its punches… except for the fact that it never even attempts to throw any. This is, by the way, the primary reason why it’s getting such great reviews from the bourgeois press.
So far as we can tell, the reason that Poitras doesn’t engage in aggressive political “agitprop” – a fact that nearly every reviewer from the bourgeois press extols as one of her film’s strengths – is apparently that she has no political axe to grind – or more accurately, she is a liberal bourgeois democratic reformist whose political aspirations rise no higher than to being one who “speaks truth to power”. What this means in practice is that she and others like her – including Assange and Snowden – willingly self-limit the extent of their political activities to begging the “legitimate powers that be” to behave themselves and to urging the paid employees of the US capitalist ruling class that have set up the global espionage network – the bourgeois politicians in the “Five Eyes” nations – to start taking their alleged “responsibilities” to the citizens of their respective nations seriously by curbing the “excesses” that they themselves signed off on!
This kind of “inside the box” thinking may seem strange coming from the likes of Poitras, Assange, Snowden and Greenwald; but if we analyze their political philosophies in more detail it doesn’t seem strange at all. Unless a person has consciously broken away from the worthless, selfish, greedy corporatist ideology of the capitalist system and has become a conscious Marxist revolutionary dedicated to the overthrow of the capitalist class and its economic system, one’s politics are going to be by definition REFORMIST at best; and so how can a non-revolutionary do anything else but simply beg the bourgeoisie to straighten up and fly right? If you believe that the capitalist economic system is “the best of all possible economic systems”, and that only the capitalist class and its favored institutions of higher learning are capable of producing “legitimate” political leaders – where does that leave you politically? It leaves you “speaking truth to power” like a good, loyal (if somewhat uppity) wage-slave!
Is CITIZENFOUR worth seeing? For us, it was worth the price of admission just to see the “Dream Team” of Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras in the same room preparing to launch one of the world’s most impressive exposes of massive governmental abuses of power affecting everyone on the planet who has access to a telephone and/or a computer connected to the Internet. This NSA spy scandal makes Watergate look like a pillow fight! But the cursory overview made by the film of the extent of the revelations can’t be very compelling to anyone who hasn’t been following the story over the past year or so. The movie barely describes the NSA and GCHQ-run “Five Eyes” espionage juggernaut; nor does it clearly show the threats of assassination and worse levied against Snowden, Assange and Greenwald by various US Government scumbags through the news media for daring to bring all this criminality into the light of day. And, having not even really covered any of these issues, the film fails to even attempt to engage the audience in the critically important work of what is to be done: building new political parties to take down those that have erected the Big Brother spy apparatus that is intended to be used primarily to rapidly identify political opponents of the US, UK, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand Governments INSIDE THEIR RESPECTIVE NATION-STATES! This is, after all, the real purpose of all this espionage: to create a database of the day-to-day activities of every citizen of the world’s leading capitalist states in order to identify and neutralize them if they should ever seek to organize seriously threatening political opposition to the neo-fascist police states being set up in the US and its partners in the “Five Eyes” nations. The primary target of all this espionage isn’t foreign terrorism: the target is the domestic working-class political opposition that – if it turns in a revolutionary socialist direction – potentially threatens the continued class rule of the capitalist classes of the world. The capitalist classes of the US and UK in particular have absolutely no intention of sharing political power with the numerically and economically vastly superior working class that creates all the wealth under capitalism. Any attempt by the domestic working classes of the US or UK to throw off the yoke of capitalist exploitation through political or economic strike action will immediately be placed under the microscope of the global espionage network, where the movement’s leaders will be quickly identified, isolated and “neutralized” – physically if the capitalists deem it to be necessary. This is precisely what makes so extremely dangerous the Obama Administration’s precedent-setting legal findings asserting that a sitting US President has the “right” to order the assassination of any US citizen whose writings or friends and associates he – or more accurately his employers in the US capitalist class – do not like.
This is not crazy commie paranoia speaking here: the Obama Administration has openly admitted that it has murdered four US citizens in drone strikes overseas – that we know of; and the US government maintains a “watch list” of its perceived opponents that already had a million people listed on it in 2009 – and it is being constantly updated. In 2013 it was reported that an additional 450,000 people were “nominated” to be added to the list – with few of the nominees escaping that dubious honor.
The faith in the hired political lackeys of the bourgeoisie implicitly espoused by Poitras, Greenwald, Snowden and Assange; their placid belief that steady pressure applied to the so-called liberal “left-wing” and Libertarian sections of the political class will ultimately win the day and allow the necessary political reforms to be enacted is, quite frankly, absurd – and evidence of a political immaturity in all of them that is quite shocking, especially considering what they have learned since Snowden came forward with his revelations. Those actual members of the US or UK capitalist classes who go to see CITIZENFOUR will undoubtedly feel a tremendous relief in their discovery that these potentially dangerous opponents of the capitalist class are, in fact, posing no serious threat to the status quo at all. The capitalists and their spies and hired guns can sleep a bit easier knowing that Poitras, Assange, Snowden and Greenwald – for all their genuine courage and excellent work in exposing the crimes of the ruling class – have set for themselves only the pathetic task of “speaking truth to power”. That is something that the ruling class can listen to from Assange, Snowden – or anyone else, for that matter – for ever, condescendingly acknowledging and even thanking them profusely for their heroic selflessness in bringing to the world’s attention these “serious issues” – while doing absolutely nothing substantial to change the workings of the national security state at all. Viewed in this way, CITIZENFOUR becomes just another pointless pantomime rebellion in the long, bloody history of capitalism. The capitalists will, first of all, breathe a deep sigh of relief now that it’s clear that the film isn’t presenting an indictment of the capitalist class or their system; then, having been let largely off the hook by the film’s protagonists, we expect the capitalist class to continue to do what they have in fact been doing: applauding the film. Perhaps Poitras and Greenwald will be invited to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee to speak “truth to power” on CSPAN; or at the Council on Foreign Relations… or at the United Nations or one of the capitalist soirees like the annual hand-wringing exercise at Davos, Switzerland. Finally, perhaps, the capitalist class will direct the editors of their news media conglomerates to heap praise on the film and even to heartily recommend that it be awarded the Palme ‘d’Or, or even an Oscar or two! This is how activist filmmakers like Poitras and investigative journalists like Greenwald are co-opted by the capitalist class and transformed from courageous opponents of the capitalist system to prominent pro-regime songbirds publicly displayed in golden cages. Ask Barbara Kopple or Bob Woodward how it’s done.
Poitras, Greenwald et al are, we believe, decent, courageous and apparently honest bourgeois reformist journalists. But we ask our readers to imagine how much further along in investigating, exposing and successfully fighting this impending global police state we’d be if the documents unleashed by Snowden had been placed not in the hands of “responsible journalists” but in the hands of worker-revolutionaries who weren’t so loyally censoring the documents in order to “protect the agents and assets” of the racist, bloodthirsty and greed-obsessed US capitalist class and its spy organizations! Snowden makes clear in the movie that his motivation for placing the blockbuster documents he purloined from the NSA into the hands of trustworthy representatives of the bourgeois press was that he wanted to be sure that there would be no reckless release of information that would seriously damage the “legitimate” goals of the shadow government of the US! Greenwald et al have scrupulously respected the “sacred trust” placed in them by Snowden to protect the “family jewels” of the espionage agencies of US and British imperialism. This is disgusting! Instead of placing the interests of the 7.2 billion workers of the world above all else, Snowden and his team are protecting the “legitimate rights” of the microscopically small capitalist class against those of the multi-billion strong international working class! Snowden and his collaborators are doing a tremendous service for the US and British capitalist classes, which are, by the way, going to repay them and all of us by imposing their will on the world – both internationally and domestically – through increasingly brutal military and police-state force. To throw the US and British capitalist classes such a huge life-preserver when they should instead be having ANCHORS tied to their necks is to betray the entire human race in order to maintain the tenuous and despotic rule of a class of criminals responsible for the perpetuation of the horrors of a capitalist world in which – to name just one major example – the world does little or nothing while 17,000 children die of starvation every single day! There is nothing “legitimate” about the capitalist class or their “interests”! Every effort should be made to destroy the NSA, the CIA and the US military and the cretinous ruling class that spawned them – not to save them!
Nothing short of workers revolution can change the increasingly deranged plans of the US capitalist class. They have plans of global military domination of the entire planet that go far beyond what even Adolf Hitler envisioned; so long as their political opponents refuse to form working class revolutionary parties to overthrow the capitalist class and system, the ruling capitalists have nothing to fear.
The working class, however, DOES have something to fear from the fact that most of their erstwhile leaders are so completely dedicated to the continuation of the brutal capitalist system that they are prepared to follow the capitalist class all the way down the road to hell, where the fascists and eventually World War Three will put an end to this historical epoch – and perhaps throw the human race back into a pre-industrial stage of development. Apparently, these folks think that they have more to gain from clinging to the coat-tails of the capitalist class than they can gain by fighting for the emancipation of the workers of the world. If they insist on taking the capitalist road, that’s fine; but let’s not imagine that because THEY are heading down that road, that we, too, must take that well-worn path to political oblivion. We’re not followers – we aspire to be revolutionary workers leaders. We warn the Poitrases and Greenwalds of the world of the dangers that lie ahead; we try to point out the reasons why we disagree with them; we urge them to take the high rather than the low road; but we can’t force them to lead a workers revolution. They are simply not revolutionaries; perhaps it’s just not in their nature to be revolutionaries. It’s a pity, but that is, in the end, their problem – we don’t need to make it ours.
The working class must look elsewhere than to Poitras, Snowden, Assange and Greenwald for the political leadership necessary to lead the workers of the world out of the dead end of the capitalist stage of development and into the next stage: that of socialism. It’s “socialism or barbarism” brothers and sisters, just like Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky explained to us so many years ago! Now – as then – to ignore the warnings of those great, selfless and honest internationalist leaders of the working class is to help the capitalist class pave the road leading to the hell of the next – and possibly this time, the last – world war.
Workers of the World, Unite!
IWPCHI and Friends of WikiLeaks – Chicago