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Imagining Anti-/Alter-capitalism: A Marxist Reading of Selected Contemporary Dystopian Films

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Abstract and Figures

As the latest global crisis of capitalism that started in 2008 remains technically unresolved, the anti-capitalist stance of radical intellectuals – who subscribe to Marxism or are at least influenced by certain forms of Marxism, such as Chomsky (2013); Bello (2013); Zabala (2012); Žižek; (2011); Eagleton (2011); and Sison (2009) – and the alter-capitalist viewpoint of less radical yet equally non-neoliberal academics such as Piketty (2013), Stiglitz (2012), and Chang (2012), gain more credence. This research is primarily aimed at mapping out the contours of anti-/alter-capitalist thought in three contemporary dystopian films, namely “Snowpiercer” (2013), “In Time” (2011), and “Elysium” (2013). Themes of exploitation, social inequality, class struggle, and revolution, will be discussed using the lens of various Marxist or Marxist-leaning theoreticians. In sum, inspired by Eagleton’s apologia (2011), this paper will analyze these films as “spaces of resistance” (Killick, 2013) against neoliberal capitalism, towards imagining a sustainable future where capitalism is either obliterated or at least, “humanized,” thereby proving that “Marx was right.”
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LCCS-I-010 1
Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
Imagining Anti-/Alter-capitalism: A Marxist Reading of Selected
Contemporary Dystopian Films
David Michael M. San Juan
De La Salle University-Manila
dmmsanjuan@gmail.com/david.sanjuan@dlsu.edu.ph
Abstract: As the latest global crisis of capitalism that started in 2008 remains technically
unresolved, the anti-capitalist stance of radical intellectuals who subscribe to Marxism or are at
least influenced by certain forms of Marxism, such as Chomsky (2013); Bello (2013); Zabala (2012);
Žižek; (2011); Eagleton (2011); and Sison (2009) and the alter-capitalist viewpoint of less radical
yet equally non-neoliberal academics such as Piketty (2013), Stiglitz (2012), and Chang (2012), gain
more credence. This research is primarily aimed at mapping out the contours of anti-/alter-capitalist
thought in three contemporary dystopian films, namely “Snowpiercer” (2013), “In Time” (2011), and
“Elysium” (2013). Themes of exploitation, social inequality, class struggle, and revolution, will be
discussed using the lens of various Marxist or Marxist-leaning theoreticians. In sum, inspired by
Eagleton’s apologia (2011), this paper will analyze these films as “spaces of resistance (Killick, 2013)
against neoliberal capitalism, towards imagining a sustainable future where capitalism is either
obliterated or at least, “humanized, thereby proving that “Marx was right.”
Key words: capitalism; Marxism; global crisis; neoliberalism; dystopian films
1. INTRODUCTION
Capitalism remains in crisis everywhere.
The latest global crisis that smashed the neoliberal
world order into smithereens in 2008 remains
technically unresolved as proven by a plethora of
current statistics and events: 1) over-all
unemployment in leading capitalist economies
from the United States to the Eurozone countries
remain either high and/or unstable; 2) austerity
measures aimed at resolving the crisis but instead
brought nothing but more economic turmoil are
still in place; 3) global economic growth is anemic;
4) right-wing parties such as the UK Independence
Party (UKIP) and the French Front National (FN)
have strengthened their electoral bases through
anti-immigrant propaganda that wrongly blames
immigrants for high unemployment rates brought
by the 2008 crisis that are now decimating the
Eurozone middle class, and similarly anti-
immigrant and ultranationalist groups such as the
Germany-based Patriotische Europäer gegen die
Islamisierung des Abendlandes/PEGIDA (Patriotic
Europeans Against the Islamization of the West)
are now able to conduct big rallies in cities such as
Dresden and Leipzig, and even in Britain; 5) anti-
austerity and anti-neoliberal left-wing parties such
as the Greek Synaspismós Rizospastikís
Aristerás/SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left)
and the Spanish Podemos (literally, “We Can”) are
poised to either form the next governing coalitions
or at least become one of the most dominant
factions in their respective countries’ political
order, while the Greens in the United Kingdom also
surge in poll surveys as they position their bloc as
the most left-wing and most anti-austerity electoral
force in their country’s politics; 6) Capital-rich
countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and
South Africa (BRICS) pooled resources to form the
New Development Bank that will rival the
LCCS-I-010 2
Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
neoliberal World Bank in the Third World, in an
effort parallel to what similar formations such as
the Latin American financial consortium Banco del
Sur (Bank of the South) attempt to achieve; 7) Pope
Francis to the glee of radicals everywhere
emphasizes that the current global economic set-up
is untenable and must be radically transformed,
devoting huge segments of his first apostolic
exhortation (2013) to expound on why the faithful
should say “no to an economy of exclusion,” “no to
the new idolatry of money,” “no to a financial
system which rules rather than serves,” and “no to
the inequality which spawns violence”; 8) sundry
groups from pacifist ones like Occupy Wall Street
movement in the United States to armed
revolutionary movements such as the Communist
Party of the Philippines (CPP) provide a similar
critique on the unjust status quo; 9) growing
numbers of citizens clamor for more radical and
anti-Wall Street candidates for the US presidency
such as radical Democrat Massachusetts Sen.
Elizabeth Warrens and self-described democratic
socialist and independent Vermont Sen. Bernie
Sanders to run for the post and possibly steer the
country from the center to the Left, at least in a
number of aspects; 10) poverty and inequality rates
remain scandalously high in many countries.
With such a bleak capitalist present, the
anti-capitalist stance of radical intellectuals who
subscribe to Marxism or are at least influenced by
certain forms of Marxism, such as Chomsky (2013);
Bello (2013); Zabala (2012); Žižek (2011); Eagleton
(2011); and Sison (2009) and the alter-capitalist
viewpoint of less radical yet equally non-neoliberal
academics such as Piketty (2013), Stiglitz (2012),
and Chang (2012) gain more credence. Capitalism’s
“directing motive” – which, as explained by its most
powerful critic Karl Marx (1887) “...is to extract
the greatest possible amount of surplus value, and
consequently to exploit labor-power to the greatest
possible extent... has failed to provide material
development to a great number of people, hence
discarding it or altering it seems to be the only way
forward.
2. METHODOLOGY
This research is primarily aimed at
mapping out the contours of anti-/alter-capitalist
thought in three contemporary dystopian films,
namely “Snowpiercer” (2013), “In Time” (2011), and
“Elysium” (2013). Themes of exploitation, social
inequality, class struggle, and revolution, will be
discussed using the lens of various Marxist or
Marxist-leaning theoreticians. In sum, inspired by
Eagleton’s apologia (2011), this paper will analyze
these films as “spaces of resistance” (Killick, 2013)
against neoliberal capitalism, towards imagining a
sustainable future where capitalism is either
obliterated or at least, “humanized,” thereby
proving that “Marx was right.”
3. DISCUSSION
Film Synopses: Our World in Theaters
“Snowpiercer” is a film directed by Bong
Joon-ho (2013), based on the graphic novel Le
Transperceneige” (literally “The Snowpiercer”) by
Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc
Rochette (1982). It depicts a nightmarishly post-
apocalyptic and clearly dystopian world inside the
perpetually-globally-traversing train called
Snowpiercer, which serves as the refuge of a few
thousand survivors of the world’s failed attempt to
reverse the effects of global warming through
spraying a chemical called CW-7 into the
atmosphere, consequently freezing everyone to
death, except for the lucky few who boarded their
version of the Noah’s Ark early on. Snowpiercer is
managed and literally driven by the businessman
Wilford with the help of Minister Mason and a
plethora of armed guards. Wilford and his retinue
run the train as an “efficient” private enterprise
and fascist government rolled into one, where rich
patrons enjoy
la dolce vita
in posh coaches, while
the poor who boarded the train without having to
pay anything subsist on “protein blocks” made of
cockroach, and live in dirty and cramped spaces at
the train’s tail end. Radicals led by Curtis Everett
and the elderly Gilliam plan a tail section’s revolt
to wrest control of the train from Wilford, releasing
prisoners Namgoong Minsu (who built the train’s
security system) and his clairvoyant daughter
Yona, to help them reach the driver’s coach.
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Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
Eventually, Namgoong accomplished his secret
plan to destroy the train’s front exit door through
an improvised bomb. Namgoong believed that the
Earth has recovered from the CW-7 catastrophe
and is potentially habitable to humans again. Only
his daughter and another child seemed to survive
the explosion that derailed the train, and they did
not freeze to death at the film’s end.
“In Time” is a dystopian film written,
directed, and produced by Andrew Niccol (2011).
This film shows a society where time is the
currency needed for everything from a cup of coffee
and rent, to toll fees and even hotel rooms. While
people in their world are “genetically engineered to
stop aging at 25,” at the same age, their “body
clock” starts ticking with just a year for them to
spend, unless if they can get more time through 1)
working for it (as wages are also given in the form
of time); 2) arm duels where the strongest gets his
opponent’s time, consequently timing out and hence
killing the latter in the process; 3) loans from banks
that unfortunately charge exorbitant interest rates;
and 4) short-time dole outs from a Church-like
entity that relies on donations. Mirroring our
world’s huge socio-economic gaps, the film depicts a
society where citizens from the wealthy zone of
New Greenwich have centuries on their body
clocks, even millions of years stored in metal time
cartridges, while citizens from poor districts such
as Dayton, generally have just enough time until
the next pay day comes. The main film protagonist
Will Salas (a Dayton factory worker) saved Henry
Hamilton, (a New Greenwich resident) from
experienced mobsters called Minutemen who rob
people of their time, after which Henry timed
himself out to give Will more than a century of his
time. Will uses his time to discover the truth about
the wealthy zone’s hoarding of time. In a swift
theatrical ideological conversion, Sylvia Weis
(daughter of their world’s richest businessman
Philippe Weis) helps Will in redistributing or
repossessing time snatched from her father. Their
efforts destabilized the system so much that people
from Dayton are empowered and emboldened
enough to march to New Greenwich and other
zones in droves, while the police (called
“Timekeepers” in the movie) end up powerless to
stop the almost bloodless revolution.
“Elysium” is another dystopian film
written, directed, and co-produced by Neill
Blomkamp (2013). It depicts an environmentally-
degraded, slum area-dotted Earth bad enough for
rich Earthlings to build their own cozy space
habitat called Elysium. Stark inequalities between
the poor inhabitants of Earth and the rich citizens
of Elysium are highlighted by the experiences of
the main film protagonist Max Da Costa, a factory
worker at Elysium resident John Carlyle’s
Armadyne Corporation which operates on Earth,
where people are desperate enough to work hard
for a pittance. Carlyle fired Max after a work-
related accident left him terminally ill with only a
few days to live. Max eventually found a way to
Elysium where he can be instantly treated through
a machine that wonderfully diagnoses and treats
any disease or body abnormality. He ends up
helping a team of hackers and human smugglers
led by Spider “reboot” the Elysium’s system to
register Earthlings as Elysium citizens too and
hence be eligible for all social services offered by
the space habitat.
Marx Was Right: Exploitation and Social
Inequality Exist and Both Are Economically Bad
“Snowpiercer,” “In Time,” and “Elysium”
creatively depict the existence of exploitation under
contemporary capitalism. In “Snowpiercer,” the
train’s resources are used to maintain the rich
passengers’ high quality of life, at the evident
expense of the poor ones who are only given
cockroach “protein blocks” for food. Nothing is left
for the poor, simply because the rich got it all. In
the said movie, Minister Mason asserts that “We
must, all of us on this train of life, remain in our
allotted station,” comparing tail-enders to a shoe
that must never leave its “preordained position,”
mirroring the lack of genuine social mobility under
the current highly inegalitarian capitalist system.
“In Time” and “Elysium” present clearer critiques
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Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
of capitalist exploitation by highlighting how the
rich time lenders led by Philippe Weis actually
accumulate more time through charging exorbitant
interest rates that eventually kill the poorest of the
poor, and how rich factory owners like John Carlyle
accumulate more wealth from the toils of laborers
like Max whom they pay low wages and whom they
discard like diapers as soon as they get sick.
Specifically, “In Time” presents a world
where “The cost of living keeps rising to make sure
people keep dying, a system which the rich time
lender Philippe Weis calls as “Darwinian
capitalism, applying of course the Law of the
Jungle, none other than “survival of the fittest.” It
is a system which operates on the premise “For a
few to be immortal, many must die.” Such brutally
frank description of the capitalist system from the
fictional capitalist in “In Time” is what Cuban
revolutionary socialist leader Fidel Castro criticizes
in a famous speech on the rights of humanity:
“Why do some people have to walk barefoot, so that
others can ride in luxurious automobiles? Why do
some people have to live 35 years, so that others
can live to 70? Why do some people have to be so
miserably poor, so that others can be excessively
rich?” The same Earth is what “Elysium” portrays.
It is a world where people can become “useless” and
easily get discarded, a place so (a)pathetic that only
an “android medic” is sent to help an irradiated
worker, with the literally heartless and very
business-like robot telling the victim: “You have
been exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. You will
experience catastrophic organ failure. In five days'
time, you will die...Please sign this to receive
medication. Miporol, extremely potent, will keep
you functioning normally until your death. Please
take one pill with each meal. Thank you for your
service.”
“Snowpiercer,” “In Time,” and “Elysium”
portray capitalism as coldly indifferent to poor
people and/or workers who create wealth. Thus, in
a sense, these films clearly indicate that Marx and
Engels (1888) were right about the inhumanity of
capitalism which they equated to “brutal
exploitation, a system which “...has left remaining
no other nexus between man and man than naked
self-interest, callous 'cash payment'.Furthermore,
these films also tackle exploitation, the way
Marxists discuss it. Exploitation breeds social
inequality, and social inequalities are bad because
they condemn the poor to perpetual slavery and
poverty, for how can the poor catch up if all their
lives they just have enough (at times even barely
enough) to survive until the next pay day. Social
inequalities make the poor incapacitated to lift
themselves up. Social mobility is hindered by
people like Wilford and Minister Mason in
“Snowpiercer,” Philippe Weis and Timekeepers in
“In Time,” and John Carlyle and Secretary Jessica
Delacourt in “Elysium.”
In the real world, the capitalist elite play
the same role. For example, under the capitalist
system where education is just another commodity
to buy, many poor citizens cannot achieve high(er)
levels of education, especially in a country like the
Philippines where state funding for education has
never breached 6% of the Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) in recent decades and consequently, where
state colleges and universities are increasingly
compelled by inadequate state subsidy to impose
high tuition fees on top of exorbitant miscellaneous
fees. Decades of what Heydarian (2015) calls as
“shallow capitalism” that amounts to
“Westernization without prosperity” in the
Philippines a former colony still largely beholden
to American hegemony failed to significantly
increase the number of college graduates among
the poorest sectors (see Figure 1), in a world where
the average salary of college graduates is of course
commonsensically higher than the average salary
of non-college graduates (see Figure 2).
LCCS-I-010 5
Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
Figure 1. Education Attainment of Filipinos
Grouped According to Socio-Economic Status.
Source: Sakellariou, Chris. Access to and Equity of
Higher Education in East Asia. Background paper
prepared for World Bank 2011, World Bank,
Washington, DC., 2010.
Figure 2. Average Earnings of Workers Grouped
According to Highest Educational Attainment.
Source: “Investing in Inclusive Growth Amid Global
Uncertainty,” a World Bank PHILIPPINE
QUARTERLY UPDATE (July 2012).
The elite seem either hell-bent in
preventing the poor to become functionally literate
and holistically educated, and hence able to liberate
themselves from the oppressive economic system,
or doing nothing to help them realize such long-
term objectives. As George Orwell explained in the
novel “1984, the elite perpetuate poverty and
ignorance in order to maintain the shackles of
capitalism: “For if leisure and security were
enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human
beings who are normally stupefied by poverty
would become literate and would learn to think for
themselves; and when once they had done this,
they would sooner or later realize that the
privileged minority had no function, and they
would sweep it away. In the long run, a
hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of
poverty and ignorance.”
Thanks to a world ruled by capitalists who
monopolize the world’s resources, the poor are
permanently shackled to dependency and poverty
as the fruits of their labor further enrich those who
already have so much, while the Earth’s remaining
resources are also harnessed not for the common
good, but for further capitalist accumulation.
Piketty (2014) and Stiglitz (2012), and other
similarly-minded economists have provided
statistical evidence, that indeed, the dominant form
of capitalism allows a very tiny global elite to
accumulate more and more wealth even as huge
numbers of people remain wretchedly in poverty,
hence the dominant form of capitalism has been by
and large detrimental or at least not beneficial to a
huge number of poor people. Piketty (2014) notes
that “...the reduction of top marginal income tax
rates and the rise of top incomes...” under the
dominant capitalist system in recent decades “...do
not seem to have stimulated productivity (contrary
to the predictions of supply-side theory) or at any
rate did not stimulate productivity enough to be
statistically detectable at the macro level.”
Indeed, even the World Bank Poverty and
Inequality Database provides evidence that there is
much poverty and inequality, and almost
continuous accumulation of wealth by the world’s
elite, under the global capitalist system. Similar
data which highlight the global scope of the elite’s
accumulation of wealth, poverty, and income
inequality are available at the World Top
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Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
Incomes Database maintained by the Paris School
of Economics. Such continuous accumulation of
wealth ...increased the political influence of the
beneficiaries of the change in the tax laws, who had
an interest in keeping top tax rates low or even
decreasing them further and who could use their
windfall to finance political parties, pressure
groups, and think tanks (Piketty, 2013).
Stiglitz (2012) explains why such immense
wealth and political power go against the common
good: Widely unequal societies do not function
efficiently, and their economies are neither stable
nor sustainable in the long term. When one interest
group holds too much power, it succeeds in getting
policies that benefit itself, rather than policies that
would benefit society as a whole. When the
wealthiest use their political power to benefit
excessively the corporations they control, much-
needed revenues are diverted into the pockets of a
few instead of benefiting society at large. Noting
his observations on the most powerful capitalist
country in the world, Stiglitz provides evidence on
the over-all negativity of unbridled capitalist
accumulation to the economy: “Unemployment can
be blamed on a deficiency in aggregate demand (the
total demand for goods and services in the
economy, from consumers, from firms, by
government, and by exporters); in some sense, the
entire shortfall in aggregate demandand hence in
the U.S. economytoday can be blamed on the
extremes of inequality. As we’ve seen, the top 1
percent of the population earns some 20 percent of
U.S. national income. If that top 1 percent saves
some 20 percent of its income, a shift of just 5
percentage points to the poor or middle who do not
saveso the top 1 percent would still get 15
percent of the nation’s incomewould increase
aggregate demand directly by 1 percentage point.
But as that money recirculates, output would
actually increase by some to 2 percentage
points. In an economic downturn such as the
current one, that would imply a decrease in the
unemployment rate of a comparable amount.
Emphatically, Stiglitz argues that income
redistribution is one of the best ways to deal with
the current crisis: “With unemployment in early
2012 standing at 8.3 percent, this kind of a shift in
income could have brought the unemployment rate
down close to 6.3 percent. A broader redistribution,
say, from the top 20 percent to the rest, would have
brought down the unemployment further, to a more
normal 5 to 6 percent.”
Remembering Who The Real Enemy Is: Class
Struggle and Revolution
Beyond mirroring the world’s current
social inequities, the three subject films echo the
exhortation of the recent dystopian book-turned-
film “The Hunger Gamesfor readers/viewers to
“remember who the real enemy is.” In
“Snowpiercer,” “In Time,” and “Elysium, the
enemies are clear enough to be recognized: banks,
big business, and the government or ruling clique
that uses violence to maintain the unjust social
order ranging from dismembering dissenters, and
machine-gunning clueless people as a form of
“population control” in “Snowpiercer,” to the
ceaseless surveillance of Timekeepers in “In Time”
aimed at preventing the time-deficient poor to
acquire more time, and the use of mercenary killer-
agents and robots in “Elysium” to stop poor
Earthlings from reaching the space habitat where
any disease could be treated. The ruling class’ use
of violence in the film also pervades contemporary
reality. Amin (2014) observed that “...fascism has
returned to the West, East, and South; and this
return is naturally connected with the spread of the
systemic crisis of generalized, financialized, and
globalized monopoly capitalism...This crisis is
destined to grow worse and, consequently, the
threat of resorting to fascist solutions will become a
real danger.Current violent clashes between pro-
capitalist governments and/or armed goons of big
corporations on the one side, and workers who
demand a greater share of profits on the other side
from the Marikana miners’ strike in South Africa
(Mkhize, 2012) to the garment workers’ strike in
Cambodia (Palatino, 2014) validate Amin’s
analysis.
Not surprisingly, the three subject movies
also advocate revolution, with the main
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Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
protagonists all involved in a violent or at the very
least, armed resistance to the capitalist system that
treats people like garbage. With regard to actual
organization and mobilization, the struggle against
capitalism in the movie “In Time” is planned and
implemented almost in its entirety by the two
protagonists only, though, in the end, the people
realized that if they defy the system together, the
police will be powerless to stop them. Meanwhile,
in “Snowpiercer” and “Elysium,” groups of the
oppressed have been instrumental in helping the
hero defeat the forces of the status quo. Curtis had
a brave band of tail-end citizens to win the
struggle, while Max had a ragtag army of hackers
and human smugglers who genuinely wanted to
transform the system so as to make it more
inclusive. All three heroes come from proletarian
backgrounds. In addition, Max and Will had to
battle the system’s mercenaries who also came
from their ranks Elysium agents and policemen,
respectively.
In these times obfuscated by the
mainstream media’s emphasis on non-economic
conflicts such as ethnic strife, religious tensions,
(im)migrants-versus-native-citizens encounters, the
three dystopian films allow the people to remember
who the real enemy is, by bringing collective
attention to the economic roots of the world’s
countless problems today, parallel with Marx’s
(1859) emphasis on the “economic structure” as the
base of the “immense superstructure” of society.
These dystopian films entreat people to stop
blaming the Other usually immigrants in the
context of First World countries still plagued by the
impact of the 2008 crisis as benefit scroungers,
job thieves, and economic dead weights. People are
entreated to be wary of neoliberal governments’
“false flag” operations that whip up chauvinism
and/or religious tensions that serve “...to divert
attention from the worsening economic and social
situation...” (Sison, 2015). Furthermore, everyone is
encouraged to scrutinize the actions of capitalists
who accumulate wealth through stealing the
surplus value created by workers. Instead of
fighting each other in a dog-eat-dog world, people
are called upon to fight and defeat the fat cats who
control the system.
In “Snowpiercer,” it was told that the
elderly rebel Gilliam sacrificed one of his arms to
stop people from engaging in cannibalism. His act
inspired many people who started offering their
arms (and even legs) too, for the same reason.
Gilliam thus inspired solidarity and unity against
Wilford who eventually ordered his men to churn
out cockroach “protein blocks” (which, though
unpalatable, is still better than eating human
flesh) to feed the tail-end passengers, lest they
engage in full-scale rebellion against him. In “In
Time,” Will and Sylvia redistributed much of the
time that they have requisitioned from the wealthy,
in direct contrast with Dayton mobsters who kill
fellow poor citizens as they steal the latter’s time.
Meanwhile, in “Elysium,” human smugglers led by
Spider hijacked and rebooted Elysium’s operating
system not to monopolize the lucrative Earth-to-
Elysium trips, but rather, to make Earthlings
registered citizens of Elysium and hence eligible for
social benefits. In general, the films emphasize that
redirecting people’s anger and rechanneling their
boundless energy from petty quarrels among
themselves that only serve to weaken them as a
group capable of collective action, to genuine anti-
establishment revolt, is possible.
Imagining Alter-capitalism and Anti-capitalism:
Can The Monster Be Humanized? Is Another World
Possible?
The three subject films offer various
solutions to what Pope Francis has labeled as
“scandalous” social inequalities under the current
global economic system that values profits over
people. Their solutions vary from what Zabala
(2013) calls as the process of “humanizing” the
capitalist system through retaining the “...matrix of
profit-orientation in such a way as to support the
remains of social welfare, or Lenin’s revolutionary
formula of smashing the bourgeois “state machine.”
“Snowpiercer” offers the destruction of Wilford’s
train the symbol of neoliberal capitalism as the
only way out. Curtis and Namgoong dueled prior to
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Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
the train’s destruction, as the former initially
preferred to wrest the train’s control room from
Wilford (tantamount to merely changing the leader
but retaining the same capitalist system in the real
world). But after conversing with Wilford and
realizing the inhumanity of his system where
children, like everyone else in the real world, are
used as disposable cogs of the system Curtis had
a change of heart and did no longer pose any
obstacle to Namgoong’s plan to destroy the train’s
exit to escape it and attempt to live in the world
outside again. Namgoong’s bomb was so potent that
it unhinged the train and destroyed it, with only
two survivors who never froze to death outside the
train. Hence, “Snowpiercer” lets viewers imagine a
world outside capitalism, a world where people
“...construct an autonomous national system based
on the establishment of self-sustaining industry
combined with the renewal of agriculture organized
around food sovereignty” and contribute to “the
creation of conditions making possible the
development of a second wave of awakening for the
peoples of the South who could then link their
struggles with those of peoples of the North, who
are also victims of a savage capitalism in crisis and
for which the emergence of a globalized production
system offers nothing” (Amin, 2014). This is a
direct rebuke of the neoliberal academe’s There Is
No Alternative (TINA) dictum. In sum,
“Snowpiercer” emphasizes the compelling need to
make a “clean slate” (in the words of the French
original of “L’ Internationale”), to create a new
world “from the ashes of the old” (in the words of
the American labor anthem “Solidarity Forever”),
or in other words, a “war to end all wars.” Hence,
the movie subscribes to Marx’s view (1871) of the
bourgeois “ready-made state machinery” which
“...the working class cannot simply lay hold of...and
wield it for its own purposes.” A state that serves
the people, a “dictatorship of the proletariat”
(Marx, 1875) or a “worker-led democracy” (Kanth,
2008 and Balch, 2009) is what is needed, and the
first step towards this is to destroy the old
bourgeois state through a revolution, akin to
destroying Wilford’s train in “Snowpiercer.
Meanwhile, “In Time” presents a
seemingly anarchistic debanksterization of the
system through continuous robbing of bigger and
bigger time banks, and consequently, the
progressive redistribution of time (wealth) to poor
citizens. Indeed, in the final scene, Will and Sylvia
are poised to enter what could be their world’s
Central Time Bank. This redistribution of wealth is
similar to Marx and Engels’ call for a progressive
form of taxation in The Communist Manifesto
(1888), echoed by Piketty (2014) and Stiglitz (2012).
The underlying message of “In Time” is a return to
the public control of the economic system,
specifically the banking and/or financial sector, a
very popular and quite logical idea, especially after
the 2008 crisis primarily caused by the excessive
risk-taking and greed for profit of big banks, as
explained by documentaries such as Michael
Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” and Charles H.
Ferguson’s “Inside Job,” and as emphasized by
Foster and Magdoff (2008); Foster and McChesney
(2012); Gowan (2009); Blackburn (2008); and Wade
and Sigurgeirsdottir (2010).
In the Philippines, public control of banks
(“nationalization” is the typical term) had been
advocated by Senator Lorenzo Tañada who served
as legislator from 1947 to 1971. Tañada was
founding chairperson of the left-wing multisectoral
group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan/BAYAN
(New Patriotic Alliance). As leader of BAYAN, he
wrote the “Proposals for a Nationalist and
Democratic Constitution” in 1986, where “...the
nationalization of all vital and strategic
industries...” namely: “(e)xtractive and non-
replenishable industries such as mining,
exploration and the like; (i)ndustries involving
public service such as the generation and
distribution of electricity, water, communication
and facilities, mass transportation, and fuel;
(i)ndustries strategic to genuine economic
development such as banks, fertilizers, steel,
smelting basic chemicals and drugs” has been
recommended (Yes, Observe National
Independence & Peace/YONIP, 2013). Tañada’s
ideas are parallel with what Chang (2012) and
LCCS-I-010 9
Proceedings of the DLSU Research Congress Vol. 3 2015
Presented at the DLSU Research Congress 2015
De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines
March 2-4, 2015
Lichauco (1986) advocate in varying degrees and in
different times yet similar contexts. Chang favored
state-owned enterprises as engines of economic
development, especially in developing countries,
while Lichauco is more explicit in encouraging the
state “to be an activist and pioneer in the
industrialization process,” on behalf of the people
whose welfare and interest it is sworn to serve.
Somehow less radical yet still progressive
is what “Elysium” advocates: social democratic or
social welfare statist-style social services for all in a
world where everyone is a citizen. In the final
scene, Max sacrifices his life by allowing Spider to
hack the system through accessing the information
he holds in his brain. His sacrifice enabled Spider
to reboot Elysium system, after which, all
Earthlings have automatically been registered as
Elysium citizens. Hospital missions from Elysium
were immediately dispatched to Earth to give them
the services that are only previously available to
the original Elysium citizens. This ending fits what
a broad array of left-wing forces in Europe call and
defend as the “Social Europe,” a welcoming and
egalitarian Europe that is now threatened by
“...attacks on public services, pensions, wages, and
working conditions, as well as strong anti-
democratic tendencies (Wahl, 2014). Such dream of
a genuinely egalitarian society where social
services will be for all a society of “...fiscal reform,
an audit of the national debt, of collective control
over the strategic sectors of the economy, of defense
and improvement of public services, of the recovery
of sovereign powers and our industrial fabric, of
employment policies through investment, of
favoring consumption, and of ensuring that public
financial entities protect small and medium
enterprises and families...” (Iglesias, 2015) is of
course a global dream.
4. CONCLUSION
“Another world is not only possible; she’s
on her way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very
carefully you can hear her breathe,” says Arundhati
Roy. From evolutionary models in Latin America
tackled by Amin (2014), Lebowitz (2014), and
Mészáros (2014), to historical revolutionary models
such as the Cuban paradigm which as Morris
(2014) explains was and still is generally good for
its citizens, and current radical electoral and
extraparliamentary struggle against austerity and
for “dignity, democracy, and justice” being waged
by groups such as SYRIZA (Príncipe, 2015), the
world is fully experienced on how the proletarian
class and their allies can move forward from the
untenable present to the grandiose future, parallel
with and even beyond the alter-/anti-capitalist
imagination of contemporary dystopian cinema.
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