The Promised Land is a Polish film masterpiece based on Nobel laureate Reymont’s 1899 novel. The novel describes the industrialization of the Polish city of Łódź in the nineteenth century and reminds one a little of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle of 1906 but with the emphasis not on dangers and miseries for labor but on the “mad dance” of the capitalist industrial free-for-all:
“The Promised Land (Polish: Ziemia obiecana) is a 1975 Polish drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the novel by Władysław Reymont. Set in the industrial city of Łódź, The Promised Land tells the story of a Pole, a German, and a Jew struggling to build a factory in the raw world of 19th century capitalism.”(Wikipedia)
Wajda presents a shocking image of the city, with its dirty and dangerous factories and ostentatiously opulent residences devoid of taste and culture. The film follows in the tradition of Charles Dickens, Émile Zola and Maxim Gorky, as well as German expressionists such as Dix, Meidner and Grosz, who gave testimony of social protest. Think also of the English poet, William Blake’s metaphor describing industrial England as a world of “dark Satanic mills.”
Reymont, the author of the original novel, was in his heart a ruralist and intensely disliked the modern industrial world, which he saw as maniacal and destructive.
In the 2015 poll conducted by the Polish Museum of Cinematography in Łódź, The Promised Land was ranked first on the list of the greatest Polish films of all time.
“Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski), a young Polish nobleman, is the managing engineer at the Bucholz textile factory. He is ruthless in his career pursuits, and unconcerned with the long tradition of his financially declined family. He plans to set up his own factory with the help of his friends Max Baum (Andrzej Seweryn), a German and heir to an old handloom factory, and Moritz Welt (Wojciech Pszoniak), an independent Jewish businessman. Borowiecki’s affair with Lucy Zucker (Kalina Jędrusik), the wife of another textile magnate, gives him advance notice of a change in cotton tariffs and helps Welt to make a killing on the Hamburg futures market. However, more money has to be found so all three characters cast aside their pride to raise the necessary capital.
On the day of the factory opening, Borowiecki has to deny his affair with Zucker’s wife to a jealous husband who, himself a Jew, makes him swear on a sacred Catholic object. Borowiecki then accompanies Lucy on her exile to Berlin. However, Zucker sends an associate to spy on his wife; he confirms the affair and informs Zucker, who takes his revenge on Borowiecki by burning down his brand new, uninsured factory. Borowiecki and his friends lose all that they had worked for.
The film fast forwards a few years. Borowiecki recovered financially by marrying Mada Müller, a rich heiress, and he owns his own factory. His factory is threatened by a workers’ strike. Borowiecki is forced to decide whether or not to open fire on the striking and demonstrating workers, who throw a rock into the room where Borowiecki and others are gathered. He is reminded by an associate that it is never too late to change his ways. Borowiecki, who has never shown human compassion toward his subordinates, authorizes the police to open fire nevertheless.”(Wikipedia)
Notice the sentence above:
Borowiecki’s affair with Lucy Zucker (Kalina Jędrusik), the wife of another textile magnate, gives him advance notice of a change in cotton tariffs and helps Welt to make a killing on the Hamburg futures market.
Textiles and hence cotton prices and tariffs are, as elsewhere, “the name of the game” in Łódź industry.
There is a concrete basis in reality for this 19th century version of our derivatives trading contributing to 2008 and the Great Recession:
In a discussion of futures markets, we read:
“Already in 1880 merchants were buying an idea rather than a palpable commodity, as we saw happen in the grains futures market. In that year, sixty-one million bags (coffee, in this example) were bought and sold on the Hamburg futures market, when the entire world harvest was less than seven million bags!
It was this sort of speculation that caused the German government to shut down the futures market for a while.”(Global Markets Transformed: 1870-1945, Steven Topik & Allen Wells, Harvard University Press, 2012, page 234)
The danger with such speculative excesses is that the economy, national or global, becomes a “betting parlor” (bets on bets on bets in an infinite regress, as in the lead-up to 2008) and governments have been paralyzed and passive in the face of such “casino capitalism” (to use Susan Strange’s vocabulary) because laissez-faire neoliberal ideology has a profound hold in the West, especially in Anglo-America.
Professor Milton Friedman (died in 2006) argued in interviews going back to the 1960s and before, that speculators fulfill a valuable economic function since they “keep the system efficient.”
The current semi-dismantling and neutralizing of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and guidelines has to do not only with lobbying but also with the hold of various strands of such “laissez-faire” ideology and market fundamentalism.
Keynes’s classic essay, “The End of Laissez-Faire” tends to yield to the countervailing force of this market fundamentalism/“laissez-faire religion.”