Anti-globalisation celebrity Naomi Klein is all that is left of revolutionary socialism when it loses its intellectual and organisational discipline.by Martin Wolf / February 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Book: Fences and Windows Author: Naomi Klein Price: Flamingo, £8.99
Naomi Klein is a celebrity. The author of the bestseller, “No Logo”, is a pied piper to a generation of anti-globalisation protesters. In that book, she argued that corporate brandlords exploit the world’s poor to provide the products rich westerners have been trained to crave. She married Veblen’s views of conspicuous consumption to Marx’s analysis of capitalist exploitation, thereby connecting the dissatisfaction of the spoiled children of the west to the ills of global inequality, corporate power and environmental degradation. The argument was arrogant, paranoid and wrong. But it was also an intellectual coup.
Klein is a journalist by training, and this book consists almost entirely of newspaper columns written between 1999 and 2002. Any such book is likely to prove incoherent. But this one does have a theme. Klein tries to analyse, explain and justify what she calls “the movement.” It is, it appears, a messy blend of populism, anarchism and utopian socialism.
Somewhat newer is its organisational form. In Klein’s words, “while the movement’s web-like structure is, in part, a reflection of internet-based organising, it is also a response to the very political realities that sparked the protests… the utter failure of traditional party politics.” This then is a post-party political movement.
The bottle may be modestly new, but its contents are the oldest of anti-capitalist wine. The enemy, says Klein, is “neo-liberalism.” But what is a neo-liberal? I have never met one. People who believe in individual liberty and the merits of the market economy do exist. They are liberals. Theirs is, in its many variants, the shared creed of the west and intellectual victor of the cold war. Neo-liberalism is, to return the compliment, a neo-Marxist phantom.
If the target is liberalism, the critic must come up with a credible and compelling alternative. Instead, she revels in the movement’s vacuity, declaring, for example, that “when critics say that protesters lack vision, they are really objecting to a lack of an overarching revolutionary philosophy-like Marxism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy. That is absolutely true, and for this we should be extraordinarily thankful.” Again, “rather than one solution, there are thousands, slowly coalescing into an alternative economic model.”
This is a call to replace capitalism-the most successful economic system in history-with something better. Does Klein give any indication of what that something might be? No. Instead,…