Three thousand police march like Nazi storm troopers through a downtown metropolis to do battle with hundreds of rebels on the steps of city hall. Sounds like NYPD’s response to the Occupy Wall Street protests or the response of the Anaheim police to the anger at their latest racist killings? Try the latest movie in the Batman trilogy, Dark Knight Rises. In this film, the Dark Knight (Batman) must “rise” to the challenge of greater threats to the capitalist system as he leads thousands of Gotham police to fight armed rebels who have occupied the city.
While previous villains like the Joker wanted to watch the world burn for fun, Batman’s newest foe, Bane, is committed to destroying Gotham because of a strict political ideology. For Bane, the decadent rich, corrupt kkkops and politicians have ruined the city and the only thing left to do is to blow it all up and start over.
In fact, Dark Knight Rises does not hide from the fact that a society ruled by the wealthy is unpleasant, full of poverty and crime and the petty rivalries of modern aristocrats jockeying for position. As Bruce Wayne dances at a high society ball with Catwoman, a thief from Old Town, she threatens him, stating that “a storm is coming” and asking how the wealthy ever “thought they could live so large leaving so little for the rest of us.”
As director Christopher Nolan soon makes clear, this situation, where the rich take everything and leave nothing for workers, is preferable to the prospect of workers taking over. Instead of portraying him as a potential revolutionary hero, a leader of a party committed to organizing the workers of Gotham, Nolan’s Bane combines Al Qaeda-style terrorism with the revolutionary language of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Falsely equating communism with terrorism appears to be one of the key manifestations of anti-communism in the 21st century.
After obtaining a nuclear weapon and trapping thousands of Gotham police underground, Bane implements his plan: The “innocent” and elderly rich are thrown out of their homes and into the streets. “Peoples’ courts” run by a psychotic madman sentence “good” and “bad” capitalists alike who are summarily executed. He frees all of Gotham’s prisoners who have been incarcerated by the Dent Act. It’s a policy reminiscent of New York’s racist Stop-and-Frisk, which has harrassed 700,000 youth and workers in 2011.
While workers hide in their homes, the terror wreaked by Bane and his army of escaped convicts is presented as a natural outcome of revolutions. The film transforms the fascist Gotham police into “freedom fighters” who go underground and organize against Bane’s “revolutionary” terror.
Distorts Communist Justice
Bane’s “people’s revolution,” however, has nothing to do with Gotham’s working class and draws heavily from a long history of anti-communist propaganda. The film’s version of “people’s courts” grossly perverts the true history of public trials like the ones held in the countryside in revolutionary China, where landlords were justly held accountable for their crimes against the peasantry. And Bane’s top-down “revolution” plays on the age-old anti-communist lie that revolutions are forced onto people and inherently lead to corruption, strongman dictatorships and anarchy. The true history — that millions in revolutionary Russia and China were won to fight for communist revolution — is obscured by Bane’s caricature.
The overarching message of the film is clear: revolutionary alternatives to capitalism are worse than the current system. According to the film, workers are essentially irrelevant and powerless. They are passive followers of either a madman or the bosses. Billionaire playboys, cops and fascist “caped crusaders” are the true heroes that will save our cities from “revolutionary” terror.
Keeping a lie like this alive is critical for the bosses. In the same way that Gotham is really a dictatorship of bosses like Bruce Wayne, ruled by fascist laws like the Dent Act, real-world capitalism is a dictatorship of the rich that continues to create chaos and racist terror for workers worldwide — from the cholera epidemic in Haiti to the ongoing imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the rampant murder of workers by police across the U.S.
In the end, Batman saves the day, rescuing Gotham from a nuclear explosion. In the aftermath Gotham is left to believe that Batman has made the ultimate sacrifice. As the masses cheer, the idea of hope that Bane earlier in the film said was only a façade used to control people has been restored.
Neither Batman, Bane, Obama
Nor Romney Will Save Us
As the 2012 presidential election approaches, the U.S. bosses hope to restore workers’ “hope” in capitalism in the face of continuing war, racist unemployment and economic crisis. But as the crisis worsens, workers can’t afford to wait around and “hope” that some politician will save us. Like Batman, both Romney and Obama serve the capitalist ruling class. No matter which candidate wins, the working class will lose.
The problem with Rises and the Dark Knight series is not simply its political content, but the depth of skill with which it was made. The films are engaging and highly entertaining. Workers root for Batman to send the poor back to hell where they belong while they are asked by Nolan to rationalize things like mass surveillance programs, expanded police powers, and vigilante violence on behalf of the capitalist class.
Batman is a capitalist fantasy, but it is a fantasy willing to get into the grittiness of real life and so becomes a powerful metaphor for the modern era. It cannot be simply dismissed as movie fantasy like other “rich savior” films such as Iron Man. Dark and brooding Batman feels real (after all, what differentiates Batman from other superheroes is that he is “just a man” without any super powers).
And ultimately this film dramatization of capitalist fantasy threatens to become real as the working class imbibes these class politics with no communist politics to counter them. Our role is to expose this fascist vision with a fight for working-class politics and power. Our friends and family will see this film. It is our job to reveal its class bias and provide a real solution: communist revolution.