Magazine article Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Magazine article Renewal : a Journal of Labour Politics

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

Article excerpt

The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism

Naomi Klein


Reviewed by David Floyd

With the publication of her first book, No Logo, in 2000, Naomi Klein became one of the key figures in a worldwide political movement that had no leadership and no agreed political position beyond that suggested by its name. No Logo, a fairly lengthy but eminently readable deconstruction of brand culture, was the Bible of anti-capitalism. The movement brought together anarchists, Leninists, Trotskyists, protectionists and religiously motivated enthusiasts for fair trade chocolate to name but five. They protested outside the WTO, they challenged the World Economic Forum with the World Social Forum and they thought that the Mexican guy in the balaclava would change the face of global politics forever.

Marcos and the Zapatistas were last seen on a tour of Mexico, boldly denouncing the Latin American left governments of Chavez, Morales and comrades as neo-liberal regimes who will never deliver meaningful change and calling on the Mexican people to boycott their Presidential elections. More generally, while capitalism is probably less popular now than it was in 2000, it's not clear whether anti-capitalism as a movement is still going. The Christians joined Bob Geidof and Al Gore, the Trotskyists converted to political Islam and most of the rest went back to talking to themselves.

Luckily, Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, ignores the anti-capitalist movement completely and focuses on the enemy. Whereas No Logo exposed the evils of big business, The Shock Doctrine hones in on the neo-liberal political ideology that has enabled the big businesspeople to take over the world and run it in their own interests. Klein's premise is that people wouldn't vote - and historically haven't voted - for neo-liberal economic policies of their own free will. So the forward march of Milton Friedman's Chicago school ideology, from the 1960s onwards, has seen populations being 'shocked' into acquiescence. The shocks she documents range from the literal violence of the 1974 military coup in Chile - where Friedmanite advisors worked with closely General Pinochet before and after he'd seized power - to more ambiguous examples such as Margaret Thatcher using the fear-filled aftermath of the Falklands War to take on the miners and privatise the public utilities.

Given that over the last three years, at least in the English speaking world, there has been more writing about the War in Iraq and the mad policies of the Bush administration than any other political topics, it's strange that these produce the most compelling sections of the book. On Iraq, Klein manages to challenge the prevailing consensus - not the consensus that the war was, at least in hindsight, a bad idea and the aftermath has been very badly managed - but the idea that the main problem was that Bush administration didn't have a clear plan about what it would do after the invasion.

According to Klein, the Coalition Provisional Authority's head, Paul Bremer, knew very well what he'd been sent to Iraq to do. The administration's plan involved completely dismantling the existing Iraqi state and turning everything from providing electricity to protecting the 'Green Zone' over to US corporations and, in the case of security matters, partially trained mercenaries. …

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