[Marxism] New Yorker profiles Naomi Klein

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 1 06:39:55 MST 2008

Outside Agitator
Naomi Klein and the new new left.
by Larissa MacFarquhar December 8, 2008

The marquee outside the Bloor Cinema, in Toronto, advertised “The Last 
Mistress” at four, “Naomi Klein—the Shock Doctrine” at seven, and 
“Little Shop of Horrors” at nine-thirty. It was a warmish night. The 
falafel shop next door was doing a brisk business. A line of people 
holding tickets to the Naomi Klein event stretched to the end of the 
block and around the corner. Outside the entrance to the cinema, a 
middle-aged man and an elderly woman paced up and down selling copies of 
Socialist Action for a dollar. (The September issue included articles 
about capitalism’s contradictions, class war in Bolivia, and a 
commentary by Mumia Abu-Jamal—a regular feature.)

“We apologize for starting late, but it’s typical activist time, so I’m 
sure you’re used to it,” a young woman organizer said from the stage. 
The young woman wore a black necklace, black jeans, and black hoop 
earrings. She urged the audience to fight racism and poverty, and to 
work for education, international solidarity, justice for immigrants and 
refugees, and solidarity with Palestine and with the Mohawk of 
Tyendinaga and the Algonquin of Barriere Lake, on whose behalf the 
fund-raiser that night was being held. She squinted into the lights. 
“I’m glad you can’t see the audience from here,” she said, “because I 
don’t think I’ve ever spoken in front of eight hundred and fifty people 
except at a protest, and then you can always dissolve into a chant.” She 
consulted her notes. “To a different audience—to those that hold capital 
and power in this society—Naomi Klein’s words and her ideas are seen as 
a serious threat,” she said. “Her words are a source of inspiration . . 
. for those of us who were and are being radicalized by the 
anti-globalization, anti-colonial, and anti-poverty movements and the 
demands to change the system totally and completely.”

Klein ascended the stage. “It’s been an eventful few hours,” she said, 
smiling. The first bailout package announced by Treasury Secretary Henry 
Paulson had been voted down that afternoon by the House. “The President 
went on television and informed us that there would be Armageddon, 
essentially, if they didn’t get this deal . . . but it didn’t work!” she 
went on, over rowdy clapping. She was wearing dark jeans tucked into 
tall brown boots, a crisp white shirt, and a long black blazer. She was 
dressed for a fox hunt. She looked terrific.

She had spent the day curled up on the blue sofa in her living room, 
watching CNN while she waited restlessly to hear what would happen in 
Washington. She fortified herself with cups of coffee and a smoothie. 
She checked her iPhone for messages from an economist friend who was 
keeping her posted on what was going on behind the scenes. She followed 
the Dow as it pitched downward, thinking how ridiculous it was for 
Paulson to believe that he could control it. “This is politicians acting 
like traders,” she said, staring at the television. “A government 
shouldn’t play the market—it should govern.”

The past couple of weeks had been a giddy time. Since her book “The 
Shock Doctrine” was published last year, Klein, now thirty-eight, has 
become the most visible and influential figure on the American left—what 
Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were thirty years ago. She speaks every few 
days, all over the world, and hundreds of people turn up to hear her. 
They visit her Web site and subscribe to her newsletter and send her 
passionate fan mail. She has become an icon’s icon: Radiohead and Laurie 
Anderson promote her books to their fans; John Cusack’s comedy “War, 
Inc.” was inspired by her reporting from Baghdad. The Mexican film 
director Alfonso Cuarón felt so strongly about “The Shock Doctrine” that 
he made a short promotional film about it for free. Now, suddenly, she 
was in demand everywhere. The economic crisis had looked at first like a 
textbook enactment of her “shock doctrine” theory, and everyone wanted 
her to go on TV and explain it.

The central thesis of the book is that capitalism and democracy, free 
markets and free people, do not, as we’ve been told, go hand in hand. On 
the contrary, capitalism—at least fundamentalist capitalism, of the type 
promoted by the late economist Milton Friedman and his “Chicago School” 
acolytes—is so unpopular, and so obviously harmful to everyone except 
the richest of the rich, that its establishment requires, at best, 
trickery and, at worst, terror and torture. Friedman believed that 
markets perform best when freed from government interference, so he 
advocated getting rid of tariffs, subsidies, minimum-wage laws, public 
housing, Social Security, financial regulation, and licensing 
requirements, including those for doctors—indeed, virtually every 
measure devised to protect people from the market’s harsh logic. Klein 
argues that the only circumstance in which a population would accept 
Friedman-style reforms is when it is in a state of shock, following a 
crisis of some sort—a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a war. A 
person in shock regresses to a childlike state in which he longs for a 
parental figure to take control; similarly, a population in a state of 
shock will hand exceptional powers to its leaders, permitting them to 
destroy the regulatory functions of government.


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