Outside Agitator: Naomi Klein and the New New Left

Published on
The New Yorker

Outside Agitator: Naomi Klein and the New New Left

Larissa MacFarquhar

Responding to the financial crisis, Klein says, “This is a progressive moment: it’s ours to lose.” Photograph by Platon.

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.)

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."

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.

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."

past couple of weeks had been a giddy time. Since her book "The Shock
" 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.

Friedman once
observed that much of the time societies are too paralyzed by the
"tyranny of the status quo" to accept real reform, and that only a
crisis can convince people that the way things are done needs to
change. This idea is not particularly controversial. But from
Friedman's words Klein concludes that the Chicago School is "a movement
that prays for crisis the way drought-struck farmers pray for rain."
Worse, Friedmanites are impatient-sometimes too impatient to sit around
praying for acts of God. Natural disasters are tricky to engineer, but
coups and terror are always possible. "Some of the most infamous human
rights violations of this era," she writes, "which have tended to be
viewed as sadistic acts carried out by antidemocratic
regimes"-Pinochet's in Chile, for instance, or the Argentinean
junta-"were in fact either committed with the deliberate intent of
terrorizing the public or actively harnessed to prepare the ground for
the introduction of radical free-market ‘reforms.' "

Klein first
formulated her thesis in 2004, when she was reporting in Baghdad and
noticed that Paul Bremer's goal seemed to be to establish a perfect
capitalist state in Iraq while its population was still reeling from
the "shock and awe" bombing. Then she noticed that soon after the
tsunami in Sri Lanka the coastline that had been inhabited by fishermen
was being sold off to hotels. Then she noticed that Friedman had
suggested taking advantage of Hurricane Katrina to replace New
Orleans's disastrous public schools with charter schools. The pattern
was striking. But now that a shock had shaken Washington itself,
something slightly different seemed to be going on. On the one hand,
the initial reaction to the economic crisis followed her theory-the
shock (the bank failures and the market's nosedive) had inspired the
government to attempt to seize unprecedented power (seven hundred
billion dollars with no strings attached), claiming that in such a
crisis everyone should simply trust it to do the right thing, even
though the actions it wanted to take would seem to enrich the
wealthiest at the expense of everybody else. That was the textbook
part. But the plan wasn't working. Constituents wrote thousands of
outraged letters, and bloggers wrote about how this felt familiar, like
the aftermath of September 11th, and how the bailout was the economic
equivalent of the Patriot Act. It was just as she had written at the
end of the book: memory was shock's antidote. (Another difference, of
course, was that the government wanted to enact not Friedman-style
reforms but the opposite: enormous interference in the market. Still,
since the point of this interference was to bail out banks, this
difference did not strike Klein as of much importance.)

remembered that they thought Rudy Giuliani was their daddy after
September 11th, which was why they're a little less inclined to say
that Paulson and Goldman Sachs were going to take care of them this
time," Klein told the audience at the Bloor Cinema. "I think actually
their biggest mistake with the bailout was how short it was. It's just
two pages and three paragraphs, and so the weirdest thing happened:
people read it." Everyone laughed. "It sounded like a coup."

went on, "It's worth thinking about what the right has been doing for
the past thirty-five years as a counter-revolution that has been waged
against our victories." The New Deal is usually told as a history of
F.D.R., she said, but we don't talk enough about the pressure from
below. Neighborhoods organized, and when their evicted neighbors'
furniture was put on the streets they moved it back into their homes.
It was that kind of direct action that won victories like rent control,
public housing, and the creation of Fannie Mae. The other thing that's
important to remember, she said, is that the organizers were a
threat-of socialist revolution-and it was that which allowed F.D.R. to
say to Wall Street, "We have to compromise, or else we've got a
revolution on our hands." Now, these market shocks are opportunities
for the same reason that the crash was in the thirties, because we are
seeing the failures of laissez-faire before our eyes. "It's time to
say, ‘Your model failed,' " she said. "This is a progressive moment: it's ours to lose."

was born in 1970, but the political stories in which she places herself
all begin in the thirties. The thirties and forties were the last time
in America, she feels, that social movements were strong enough to
force radical economic change in a progressive direction. They were
also the last time that a certain kind of grand, bold political hope
existed in her family-the last time before events combined to
extinguish all thoughts, among Kleins, of utopia.

Her paternal
grandparents, Anne and Philip, met at the Jack London Club-a leftist
artists' club-in Newark, New Jersey, sometime in the thirties.
(Philip's older brother, Sol, was more committed-he moved to the Soviet
Union after the revolution and never came back.) Philip wanted to be a
painter, and in 1936 he got a job as an animator for Disney. He worked
on "Fantasia" and "Snow White" and "Pinocchio." Disney animators had
been trying to organize themselves in secret since the early thirties,
but they didn't pull it off until after the bonuses they were promised
for "Snow White" failed to materialize. In the late spring of 1941,
they went on strike. Philip and Anne, ardent believers in the union,
lived in a tent across the street from the studio, cooking over open
fires and manning the picket line. Their first son, Michael, Naomi's
father, was then three, and lived with them in the tent part of the
time. The strike was settled in September, but a few months after that
Philip was fired for being an agitator. In 1942, he and Anne moved back
to New Jersey, and he went to work in a shipyard.

At the time
they were ruining their lives for politics, Anne and Philip were
experiencing the beginnings of a crisis of faith. Stalin had signed the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: that was the first betrayal. Then came news of
gulags in the Soviet Union. By the time of Khrushchev's "secret speech"
of 1956, in which he denounced the cult of Stalin and its consequences,
Philip and Anne, along with many others, had bitterly abandoned
Communism. They held on to their core beliefs in social justice and
racial equality, and taught their sons to believe in those things, but
apart from brief forays-Anne took ten-year-old Michael canvassing for
the Progressive Party in 1948, and marched on Washington in support of
the Rosenbergs-they withdrew from politics. They began to spend time at
Nature Friends (later Camp Midvale)-a retreat near Paterson, founded in
the twenties as a place where workers of all races could congregate and
enjoy nature. Nature Friends became their life. Philip built a house
nearby, and Anne grew her own vegetables. They went to see leftist
singers like Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson and Woody Guthrie. Philip
sought to revive his early ambition of becoming a painter, but all his
figures looked like Disney cartoons. He tried sculpting in metal, and
after a while this brought him a measure of satisfaction.

high school, Michael Klein was in the band and the student council and
was the captain of the swim team, but he led a double life. He'd been
sent to Socialist summer camp, and his real friends were other
red-diaper babies who lived in New York, with whom he could discuss his
home life without fear of exposure. It was difficult and frightening to
be the child of Communists. One of his most vivid childhood memories
was seeing buses arrive at Camp Midvale in the early fall of 1949 and
disgorge dozens of bloodied people who had gone to a Paul Robeson
concert and had been attacked with rocks and bats by a local mob. The
electrocution of the Rosenbergs, in 1953, which left their two boys
orphaned at the ages of six and ten, terrified Michael, who was not
much older.

Michael Klein never deviated from the beliefs of
his parents, but, like them, he stayed away from political parties. In
medical school, he protested against the Vietnam War and joined
Physicians for Social Responsibility. When he was drafted, he didn't
sign the statement about not belonging to organizations with Communist
ties, so the Army held a hearing to decide whether he was loyal enough
to serve. Meanwhile, he had met a young activist filmmaker from
Philadelphia named Bonnie Sherr, and got her pregnant. In the middle of
his draft negotiations, she saw a documentary about American soldiers
dropping napalm on civilian populations, commissioned by the Canadian
Broadcasting Corporation. She said, "If a Canadian government agency
can produce a film like this, we should get married and run away to
Canada." So they did.

They ended up in Montreal. Michael worked
as a pediatrician in a public hospital. Bonnie had studied film in
California-the first film she shot was of César Chávez's first march in
Sacramento. In Canada, she made a film in which welfare recipients
interviewed one another about health care; she made a series of films
about the community organizer Saul Alinsky; later, she made a film
about women peace activists, at Greenham Common and in the Soviet
Union. ("I had pretty simplistic political ideas about dialogue," she
says now. "You know, an enemy is somebody whose stories you haven't
heard.") In 1980, she set out to make a feminist film about sex, to be
titled "Celebration," but instead made "Not a Love Story," about
pornography. She was involved in a feminist film group at the National
Film Board called Studio D. Her friends at Studio D were into solstices
and female spirituality, and at one point she confided to her daughter
that she wanted to be a witch. "My mother was always saying things like
that," Klein recalled later in her mother's memoir. "She always wanted
to be more of a hippie earth mother than she actually was. . . . The
Joan Baez fantasy ran deep. It would resurface every few years, and she
would learn to play ‘Greensleeves' again."

Her parents'
careers, so very Canadian, give Klein's commitment to public
institutions an emotional force, beyond her sense that profit distorts
certain functions, such as health care. "Both of my parents lived
through a honeymoon period in the public sector," she says. "My mother
and Studio D were always furious because they weren't getting the
resources they thought they deserved, but from the outside perspective
it was, like, Oh, my God. You were allowed to have a women's studio
making films about social change within a huge public institution! And
my father was able to do something similar within the health-care
system, starting the birthing room at the hospital"-he admitted
midwives and alternative medicine, and waged a campaign against
unnecessary surgical interventions in childbirth. "It's easy to deride
the idea of government in America, where people's association with the
public sphere is the post office."

Naomi and her older brother,
Seth, were brought up to be proud of the history of their family and of
the left. "I can't tell you a time," Seth Klein says, "when I didn't
simultaneously know that I really liked Disney movies and that Walt
Disney was a bastard." When they drove to their cabin in Vermont on
weekends, Bonnie and Michael would play tapes of a Pacifica Radio show
that related American history through folk music-the story of
McCarthyism through the Weavers, the civil-rights movement through the
Freedom Singers. When Seth was little, he worried that all the good
fights had already been fought, but Bonnie told him that she was sure
he would find something that needed attending to, and from an early age
he was on the lookout for what that thing might be-what fight would
turn out to be his identity and his legacy. When he was in the sixth
grade, his father took him to hear Helen Caldicott speak against
nuclear weapons, and he decided that that was it. He started an
anti-nuclear group, and after graduating he took a year off to travel
around the country with the group, speaking to students.

Seth was the good activist child, Naomi always resented being dragged
to demonstrations. She found her mother's feminism repellent. "She
really didn't like the way I dressed," Bonnie says. "My crowd at Studio
D wore long skirts, schlumpy clothes." Naomi recalled that when she was
eight or nine she spent "an entire journey through the Rockies
conducting covert makeovers on everyone in the car. My father would
lose the sandals and get a sharp, dignified suit, my mother a helmet
hairdo and a wardrobe of smart pastel blazers, skirts and matching
pumps." She fought with her parents all the time. "Since I was an
impeccable liar and rarely got caught," Naomi recalled, "our fights
were less about actual transgressions than about my silence, my
sullenness and, as my dad was always fond of putting it, my ‘refusal to
be part of this family.' "

Naomi spent her adolescence in her
room writing poetry or experimenting in the bathroom with makeup.
Bonnie was appalled. She worried that Naomi was turning into a brat,
thinking about clothes, spending time in front of the mirror. "I think
we were overly concerned about the kind of typical teen-age stuff she
was into," Bonnie says. "She read Judy Blume! I was beside myself. I
was a feminist-I wanted my daughter to be good at math." "They had
imagined themselves to be breeding a new kind of post-revolutionary
child," Naomi wrote in her twenties. "Hadn't they diligently mushed
their own baby food? Read Parent Effectiveness Training? Banned
war toys and other ‘gendered' play?" Bonnie says now, "I think she
thought, ‘What's wrong with having a good time?' And there was
something in us-although I don't like to admit it-something of the
overearnest, you know? We were always fighting something. There were
always people who were the bad guy." In fact, it was worse than that.
Naomi suffered from a kind of spiritual claustrophobia: she had glumly
concluded that any path she chose in life-conformist or rebellious,
lawyer or itinerant poet-would be equally hackneyed and ridiculous. And
so even her parents' idea of a good time, which usually involved
getting out into nature and attending to one's bodily needs under
artificially primitive conditions ("another ponchoed picnic"), was to
her just more proof of their irredeemable cheesiness and the vast gulf
between them and herself. "All my parents wanted was the open road and
a VW camper," she wrote. "That was enough escape for them. The ocean,
the night sky, some acoustic guitar. . . . "

Soon after she
graduated from high school, two catastrophic events erased her animus
toward her parents and their politics. First, her mother had a severe
stroke that initially left her quadriplegic. Naomi quit her job and
spent most of the six months that Bonnie was in the hospital at her
side. Then, during her first semester at the University of Toronto, a
gunman killed fourteen women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal,
declaring, "I hate feminists." She decided to call herself a feminist
from then on.

Klein sat on a table, inside the
MTV studios, in Manhattan. She swung her legs back and forth. She was
wearing a long necklace and black high-heeled mini-boots. She may have
made up with her parents, but in matters of style she stands firm
against activism of the old school. She wears jeans, but she is groomed
as flawlessly as an anchorwoman. She giggles, she makes jokes. She
smiles a lot, especially onstage, though it is never clear whether she
is smiling in amusement, politeness, irritation, or for some other
reason. Her demeanor is friendly but guarded.

While they were
waiting for the interview to start, the interviewer, a young man in a
black T-shirt, asked her what she'd been doing lately. She told him
that she'd been working on the movie version of "The Shock Doctrine,"
which was being made by the director of "Road to Guantánamo."

"Did you see ‘Road to Guantánamo'?" she asked.

"No. I heard about it, though."

excellent-it's intercut between interviews with the Tipton Three"-three
young British men who were held in Guantánamo for two years-"and
they're just, like, blokes, you know? The best moment in the
film was when one of them suggests going to Afghanistan because they've
got massive naans there. That was the reason."

The producer, a young man in jeans and an acid-lime polo shirt, appeared.

be talking about China and the Olympics, about Darfur and
intervention," the interviewer said. "But also about you personally-how
you became who you are-because it's a young audience that looks up to
each and every person on the program. The goal is to have them want to
be like that person."

"Are you going to ask me my favorite band?" she asked.

"We will, yes, I'm afraid."

"I'm going to say M.I.A., just so you know."

"That will definitely ingratiate you with the demographic," the producer said.

"I'm sucking up, that's why I'm here. D'you think I could get some tea?"

has been a person whom young people look up to since she found herself
in charge of emotional teach-ins right after the Montreal massacre. She
spent most of her time in college on politics and journalism; she was
the editor-in-chief of the university paper, the Varsity. Then, after her third year, the Globe and Mail offered her a job, and she dropped out of school to take it. At the age of twenty-three, she took over as the editor of This Magazine, the Canadian equivalent of The Nation.
But after a little more than a year she started to get discouraged
about the state of the left-she felt that it had run out of things to
say, apart from being outraged by people it disagreed with-and she
decided to go back to school.

When she arrived back at university
in 1996, she discovered that everything had changed. During her
previous stint as an undergraduate, she had spent all her time
protesting the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the
curriculum and the media; campus politics in 1989 had mostly meant
identity politics. But students in 1996 weren't interested in identity;
what they talked about was economics. At the time, corporations were
starting to make inroads into schools: soft-drink companies were
negotiating exclusive deals; advertisements were appearing in
bathrooms. There was a feeling in the air that corporations were
getting too powerful-more powerful than governments, but not
accountable to anyone except their shareholders. And, at the same time
that big corporations were withdrawing physically from the United
States and opening factories overseas, visually, even spiritually, they
were everywhere, insinuating their logos into what had once been public
space. Young activists found this especially objectionable, perhaps
because one of the places into which corporations insinuated themselves
most effectively was youth and activism, folding mutiny into
advertising so deftly that resistance seemed futile.

dropped out of college again and started writing a book about the
insidious new branding culture. She thought about how much she had
loved shiny, plastic brand-name stuff when she was a kid-everyone
had-and she concluded that a movement was doomed to hippies-only
irrelevance if it condemned the longing and the pleasure that brands
could create. "Soft drink and computer brands play the roles of deities
in our culture," she wrote later. "They are creating our most powerful
iconography, they are the ones building our most utopian monuments."
She discovered that an anti-corporatist movement was brewing all over
the world, in response to sweatshops abroad and brand encroachment at
home. By 1999, she had finished "No Logo," a book about brands and the
new movement they had inspired. Then, in an extraordinary stroke of
publishing luck, while "No Logo" was at the printer's, enormous crowds
of protesters suddenly materialized outside a meeting of the World
Trade Organization in Seattle. The protest seemed to come out of
nowhere-or, at least, that was how it appeared to the bewildered old
left-and there was "No Logo" and Klein herself to explain it.

lives with her husband, Avi Lewis, in a small house in Toronto, on a
quiet street. Lewis is a host of political talk shows and a maker of
documentaries; this year he is covering the U.S. elections for Al
Jazeera English. Their house is very tidy, free of any sort of clutter.
It is furnished simply, as though on one quick trip to Crate &
Barrel. It does not look lived in, and, indeed, most of the time it is
not: both Lewis and Klein are on the road so much that they estimate
they have spent no more than two months in Toronto since they moved in,
a year ago. Nonetheless, the house is important to her. "I come from
such a line of wanderers that I wanted to stop wandering," Klein says.
"In Montreal, the city I grew up in, there's no trace of us." (Klein's
parents moved to British Columbia after Bonnie's stroke, because the
weather made it easier to get around in a wheelchair; Bonnie has become
a disability-rights activist. Seth also lives in British Columbia,
working on poverty issues for a think tank.) "I don't like to go to the
city I grew up in and feel like a stranger," Klein says. "This is Avi's
city, he goes back generations here, and that's as close to roots as
I'm going to get."

Although Klein and Lewis spend a lot of time
apart, they make a point of preserving their dependence upon each
other. Avi tries not to work when Naomi needs him. "He feeds her and
takes care of her while she's writing," Bonnie says. "He edits things
first." He accompanies her on her book tours whenever he can. In 2002,
Klein and Lewis concluded that their only hope of spending a long
stretch together was to do a joint project, and they decided to make a
film. They were tired of being against things all the time, and they
were always being asked what they would suggest as an alternative, so
they started travelling, looking for something that they could feel
good about. They settled on Argentina, and ended up making "The Take,"
a moving documentary about a group of laid-off workers who broke into
their shuttered factory and started it up again as a collective. At the
time, Buenos Aires was in turmoil, and every now and again a protest
they were documenting would turn violent and the police would start
shooting, and there was an ongoing discussion about what to do. Lewis
wanted to run; Klein wanted to stay. "I was trying to dissuade the
cowboys in our crew from putting themselves in danger," Lewis says. "I
was, like, ‘Just be safe, guys, it's not our country, we're here at
best in a capacity of solidarity, it's not the time to die.' But Naomi
said, ‘Here's the principle: if something is happening and we're the
only ones witnessing it, we have a responsibility to posterity.' "

and Lewis agree on most political issues, but Klein seems more ready to
break things; more cynical; angrier. "I think Avi is too quick to
reject revolutionary movements," she says. "I think that incremental
change makes sense in the Canadian context, but it doesn't necessarily
make sense in the mountains of Chiapas. I don't fetishize guerrilla
violence, but I think there are situations where people are justified
in taking up arms. We've had fights about that." Unlike Klein, the
descendant of embittered ex-Communists, Lewis comes from a
distinguished political family that has always been Socialist rather
than Communist, and so has kept its political faith. "My earliest
memories are of conventions and election nights, seeing grownups crying
or celebrating," Lewis says. "We understood in my family that we were
part of a cause, a movement, and the Party, capitalized, was a big part
of that."

The politics of the Lewis family have changed very
little in the past hundred years. Avi Lewis's great-grandfather Maishe
Losz was the leader of the Jewish Labor Bund, a secular Socialist
party, in his small town just east of Bialystok. The Bund was
anti-Bolshevik; it believed that revolution should be achieved through
democratic processes, even if that meant compromise. Thus, the Bundist
maxim: "It is better to go along with the masses in a not totally
correct direction than to separate oneself from them and remain a
purist." In 1921, fearing that he would be killed by the Red Army, Losz
fled to Canada. Losz's son David Lewis became the national leader of
the Canadian democratic socialist party, the New Democratic Party. The
N.D.P. never formed a national government, but it came to power in the
provinces: in Canada, socialism was mainstream. David Lewis persuaded
the Party to delete the eradication of capitalism from its manifesto,
and he crushed movement dogmatism and indiscipline. ("When in heaven's
name are we going to learn that working-class politics and the struggle
for power are not a Sunday-school class?" he asked.) David's son
Stephen, Avi's father, also followed in the family tradition, and was
elected the leader of the N.D.P. in Ontario at the age of thirty-two.
(Avi's mother, Michele Landsberg, is a journalist, who is well known in
Canada for her feminism and her pugnacious left-wing politics-in her
columns, conservatives are always "jack-booted" or "henchmen.") When,
in the late sixties, a faction called "the Waffle" threatened to
splinter the Party, Stephen Lewis crushed it, just as his father had
crushed factions before. For Stephen and for David, loyalty to the
Party was paramount. They would not permit the left to destroy itself.

Lewis left office thirty years ago, and David Lewis died in 1981, but
the Lewises are still well known and beloved in Canada. "I live in that
fantasy world in which you should say what you believe in and shouldn't
retreat because the electorate may not be receptive," Stephen Lewis
says. "That may explain why my own leadership was one of remarkable
futility, almost legendary futility." Recently, Lewis spent five years
as the United Nations special envoy for H.I.V. /AIDS
in Africa, but his respite from campaigning has not made him quieter.
"I'm more fundamentalist now," he says. "I have no patience for
capitalism at all. I see now that there is almost nothing that is
positive in this ugly international system, and that's why I embrace
Naomi's view of the way the world works. I'm actually tired of my
rhetorical outbursts-I'd like to engage in physical aggression."

think there is, for my parents' generation, a sense of defeat," Avi
Lewis says. "They grew up in a postwar period when it seemed like the
world was changeable-a welfare state had been built and had to be
protected and extended. But their adult lives have encompassed a long
deterioration of the standard of living for the majority of people on
this continent, and as they've seen the gains of the sixties and
seventies largely erased, they've started to feel more and more
hopeless. Whereas Naomi and I grew up in a time when the backlash was
already well under way, so we may be just as pessimistic, but we don't
feel defeated, because we never had the luxury of hope."

days, Avi Lewis looks very much like the product of his family, but
this was not always so. "I rebelled furiously, but without rebelling in
the most hurtful way, which would have been to rebel politically," he
says. "I was a host on MuchMusic, which is our MTV. I knew that I
wasn't doing politics the way I was brought up to, and I was conflicted
about that. My parents would ask me, ‘Are you sure you know what you're
doing? I know you love music, and it's cool for you to hang out with
Bowie, and you sometimes get to do a one-hour special on music and
politics in South Africa, which is sort of political, but are you sure
you're doing the most you can?' I was alienated from my own political
inheritance. I had a tradition to fit into. I had a platform from the
time I was four or five years old." It was at this point that Lewis met
Klein. They were both covering the Canadian elections in 1993-he for
MuchMusic, she for CBC. When Lewis met Klein, he felt that she was
freer of her family than he was of his, and this somehow relieved him
of the urge to run away. "I always got the feeling that Naomi was the
author of her own politics," Lewis says. "And when I got close to her I
started seizing the reins of my own political development."

Klein's and Lewis's parents, it seems that the only difference between
their children and their families is style. "I remember Stephen's
father debating William F. Buckley when I was an undergraduate,"
Michele Landsberg says. "The place was packed to the rafters, and we
went mad with joy when David trounced that snakelike William Buckley.
Remembering David's rhetoric, a lot of it was sentimental and heartfelt
old Socialist lingo, talking about the poor working man in his tattered
raincoat. Naomi would use more irony, because we've gotten past our
romanticism about how we change the world." But their parents never
doubted what ought to be done to make the world better; Lewis and Klein
are not so sure. "Naomi takes the responsibility of young people
listening to her and looking up to her really, really seriously," Lewis
says. "Which is precisely why she refuses to say, ‘Here's the
alternative, here's what we all have to line up and fight for.'
Suspicion of people who know what the answer is-that's very
characteristic of our generation, and that's one of the reasons I've
never gone into politics. It's very difficult for both of us when
people look to us for the kind of certainty that earlier generations
had." One of the few political leaders whom Klein really likes is
Subcommandant Marcos, the head of the Zapatistas, in Mexico, who makes
a fetish of his elusiveness and doubt.

In "No Logo," Klein
celebrated the anarchic formlessness of the anti-corporate
protests-what she wryly termed "laissez-faire organizing." Her
generation of activists was "challenging systems of centralized power on principle,
as critical of left-wing, one-size-fits-all state solutions as of
right-wing market ones," she wrote. "It is often said disparagingly
that this movement lacks ideology, an overarching message, a master
plan. This is absolutely true, and we should be extraordinarily
thankful." These days, the movement long gone, she is not so sanguine
about it. "What I was responding to at the time was people on the left
who I thought were opportunistically trying to impose their solutions,"
she says. "I was hoping that more of an articulation would emerge in a
grass-roots way, but it's not happening-I think because the entire
discussion was severed on September 11th. The mainstream N.G.O.s became
frightened of being associated with people who seemed quasi-terrorist,
and then we started talking about war." Lewis has never been as
enamored as Klein of the movement's lack of discipline, and she admits
now that he may have been right. "Seeing how easy it was for everything
to evaporate, without institutions taking that energy and nailing it
down-we were too ephemeral," she says. "It was that experience that
made me feel like we need to be more tangible, whether it's political
parties or putting it in writing."

In the end, despite all his
suspicion of leaders and certainty, Lewis loves and honors his family
tradition. The N.D.P. regularly approaches him about running for office
(as it does Klein), and he thinks seriously about doing so (she does
not). During the recent election campaign in Canada, Klein advocated
strategic voting-voting for either the Liberals or the N.D.P.,
depending on which had a better chance of winning in a particular
district, to promote the greater goal of unseating the Tories. "I don't
believe enough in the N.D.P. to really care," she says. Avi tried to
talk her out of it, while her father-in-law was appalled. "I don't have
one minute's use for strategic voting," Stephen Lewis says. "I just
believe in the most intransigent of ways that you vote for your
convictions." But Klein doesn't have much use for political parties.
When she is asked about this, she explains that she has seen liberation
movements betrayed by the politicians they fought to get elected, but
her impatience appears to be rooted in something more than that: she
seems to dislike parties and, indeed, governments, in a visceral way,
almost the way that Milton Friedman does. In principle, she is a
Keynesian, but she distrusts centralization, institutions, platforms,
theories-anything except extremely small, local, ad-hoc, spontaneous
initiatives. Basically, she really, really doesn't like being told what
to do.

It is clear, in "The Shock Doctrine," just how deeply
she disdains the political. She tends to conflate very different
right-wing groups-neoconservatives, crony capitalists, libertarians.
(In the end, "The Shock Doctrine" is not so much anti-Friedman as
anti-corporate.) And in hunting down instances in which ideology has
been used as a cover for enriching cronies and corporations, she slides
into the position that politics is always and everywhere about
enrichment. Her great strength-following the money; never taking
ideology at face value but always questioning who benefits from it;
helping to pull the left back to the economic analysis that it forgot
during the era of "the personal is political"-is also a weakness. Her
materialism is such that she sometimes seems scarcely to believe that
politics exists at all. At one point, for instance, she argues that the
Israeli élite lost interest in peace in large part because Israeli
companies were doing a booming business in security technology, which
benefits from war. She argues that the Chinese Communist Party cracked
down on protesters in Tiananmen Square not in order to protect its
power but in order to protect Deng Xiaoping's economic-liberalization
program (of which breach of orthodoxy, in fact, many in the Party were
quite suspicious-a suspicion only reinforced by the pro-Western

"I'm not a utopian thinker," Klein says. "I don't
imagine my ideal society. I don't really like to read those books,
either. I'm just much more comfortable talking about things that are."
The only time she has ever felt a whiff of utopia was in Buenos Aires,
in 2002, when the political system had virtually disintegrated-during
the time that she and Lewis were filming "The Take." "That moment in
Argentina was an incredible time because a vacuum opened up," she says.
"They had thrown out four Presidents in two weeks, and they had no idea
what to do. Every institution was in crisis. The politicians were
hiding in their homes. When they came out, housewives attacked them
with brooms. And, walking around Buenos Aires at night, there were
meetings on every other street corner. Every plaza where there was a
streetlight, people were meeting under it and talking about what to do
about the external debt, I swear to God. Groups of one hundred or five
hundred people. And organizing buying groceries together because they
could get cheaper prices, setting up barters because the currency was
worthless. It was the most inspiring thing I've ever seen."

believes that change comes about only when social movements become so
large and disruptive that politicians can no longer ignore them. This
is another of her ongoing arguments with her in-laws: whether social
movements can really change things. Stephen Lewis is as susceptible to
their allure as the next new leftist-he drove down to Little Rock in
1957, when Orval Faubus called out the militia, to witness the
civil-rights movement firsthand-but in the end he remains a politician.
"Naomi's and Avi's profound skepticism is not a skepticism I share,
even though they have far more evidence than I do," he says. "There was
a period when people like Avi and Naomi actually thought that the
social movements could sort of take over. But you may have a green
movement which has influence on carbon tax, you may have a campaign for
nuclear disarmament which lowers the temperature over the arms race,
but you never have an over-all gestalt which can do everything from day
care to foreign aid and see it as part of an over-all pattern to change
the world. That has to come through politics."

Both Klein and
Lewis are skeptical about Barack Obama. "I've been at rallies and seen
him speak, and I feel that feeling that one feels," Lewis says. "It is
thrilling. And it's churlish not to allow yourself to be thrilled. We
crave inspiration, and it's a bleak life to always be dissecting
things. But the main feeling that Obama creates in me is fear, because
I see people fooling themselves. If you actually look at his policies,
what they reflect is the triumph of the right-wing political paradigm
since Reagan, and I think he could set things back dramatically,
because for young people who are getting engaged in politics for the
first time, for them to be disillusioned is very, very damaging."
Because Klein doesn't expect much from any politician, she doesn't
spend time wishing Obama were more progressive. "I don't want to appear
too cynical, but when I first saw the ‘Yes We Can' rock video that
Will.I.Am made, my first response was ‘Wow, finally a politician is
making ads that are as good as Nike's,' " she says. "The ‘Yes We Can'
slogan means whatever you want it to mean. It's very ‘Just Do It.' When
you hear it, you catch yourself thinking, Yeah! We're gonna end torture
and shut down Guantánamo and get out of Iraq! And then you think, Wait
a minute, is he really saying that? He's not really saying that, is he?
He's saying we're going to send more troops to Afghanistan. He's
telling regular people what they want to hear, and then in the back
rooms he's making deals and signing on to the status quo. But if people
don't like where Obama is they should move the center." To this end,
Klein has been taking every opportunity to call for the nationalization
of the oil companies. "It's the job of the left to move the center,"
she says. "Get out there and say some crazy stuff! And then, suddenly,
it'll seem more reasonable for politicians to take riskier positions."

someone who places so much weight on social movements, though, Klein
can get dyspeptic when she finds herself in the middle of one.
Activists are so earnest, so dedicated, so-like her parents. "Marches
depress me," she says. "Going for a walk and chanting-I get nothing out
of it." When she began participating in the anti-globalization
movement, she understood that protests outside trade summits were the
main way that the movement was making itself heard, but they still
seemed a little comical to her. "Is this really what we want?" she
wrote in a column in the summer of 2000. "A movement of meeting
stalkers, following the trade bureaucrats as if they were the Grateful
Dead?" The World Social Forum in Brazil ought to have been a place
where she felt at home, but there was too much chanting, and José Bové
went around with bodyguards to protect him from the paparazzi, and the
activists kept accusing one another of racism and classism, and the
cultural interludes were hard to take. "A line of dancers appeared on
stage, heads bowed in shame, feet shuffling," she wrote, describing
one. "[Then] the people on stage began to run, brandishing the tools of
their empowerment: hammers, saws, bricks, axes, books, pens, computer
keyboards, raised fists. In the final scene, a pregnant woman planted
seeds-seeds, we were told, of another world."

The only kind of
protest she likes is the Yippie kind, theatrical enough to be
entertaining and self-mocking enough to dilute the earnestness to a
level that she can tolerate. At the protests in Quebec City during the
Summit of the Americas in 2001, for example-when the officials
surrounded themselves with a tall protective fence, a group of
activists built a medieval-style wood catapult and lobbed Teddy bears
over the top. "Quebec City was just madness," she says. "It was one of
those times when nobody knows what's going to happen, and there are
these breakthrough moments, these liberated moments, these moments of
euphoria. It was mostly young people, and they were getting gassed, but
they were still enjoying themselves tremendously, playing cat and mouse
with the police. What I loved about it was that the whole city joined
in-people working in cafés on the main streets, and neighbors got
buckets of water to wash out people's eyes. It was like an alternative

After the death of Milton Friedman,
in 2006, the University of Chicago decided to set up an institute in
his honor. The institute was opposed by many professors, who formed a
group to protest it. Klein offered to debate someone from the
institute's board, but nobody would do it, so she agreed to go to
Chicago and talk about her own objections to the project.

evening was sponsored in part by the Platypus Affiliated Society-a
student-teacher reading group that focusses on the Frankfurt School and
the Second International period of Marxism-and a few of Platypus's
members, tall, thin, pale young men, had set up a table out front.
Platypus was founded on the idea that the left didn't have a proper
sense of its own history, especially the bad bits, and that a study of
that history would help it emerge from the troubled state in which it
found itself. ("Protest has devolved into an insular subculture of
self-hatred, frustration, and anxiety derived from a pathological
attitude towards social integration," a typically morose editorial in
the Platypus Review declares.) Given its emphasis on
self-criticism, Platypus was not a natural constituency for Klein's
work, but because she was coming to the campus the group read "The
Shock Doctrine," and also Hayek and Friedman. "The conservatives engage
the questions of freedom and utopia directly," Ian Morrison, the editor
of Platypus's newsletter, said. "We were very struck that Klein seemed
to back away from utopianism, because we feel that the left has
liquidated itself in part because it's conceded talk about freedom to
someone like Bush." Platypus's interrogation of the past has led it in
a variety of directions. Several of its members also belonged to the
new Students for a Democratic Society, a revival of the new-left group
from the sixties. In August, Platypus participated in a historical
reënactment, in Grant Park, of the 1968 Democratic Convention, minus
the police. "As a group of young, largely inexperienced activists it
was the only organizing framework we could find which emphasized active participation," read a writeup of the event in the Platypus Review. "Other forms seemed linguistically and ideologically flaccid. . . . We didn't want to view our history-our radical history-as
if from a riverbank, we wanted to jump in and splash around in it. . .
. We debated, for instance, the ethics of nominating a live pig for the
presidency: what should we feed it, and where would it stay?"

Platypus men filed into the front row of Assembly Hall, and Klein stood
at the lectern. There was a good crowd, not just people from the
campus. Three anarchists had driven up from St. Louis specially to see
her. "What we have been living since Reagan is a policy of liberating
the forces of greed," she declared. "I don't think the project has
actually been the development of the world and the elimination of
poverty. I think this has been a class war waged by the rich against
the poor, I think that they won, and I think the poor are fighting

Klein never tempers her arguments in search of converts
from the center; she rallies her base. She's not interested in making
the left part of the mainstream; she wants to convince the left that it
doesn't need the mainstream. "Part of what makes us less strong than we
should be," she says, "those of us who don't believe that profit should
govern every aspect of our lives, is that part of us accepts the
narrative that neoliberal ideas have triumphed around the world because
they were popular and our ideas failed." For this reason, it is
important to her, in "The Shock Doctrine," that there be virtually no
exceptions-that is, instances where radical market reforms are enacted
with the consent of a people. (In passing, she concedes Reagan and
Sarkozy.) But some of her examples are less plausible than others. She
argues that the Falklands War-a ten-week venture whose main impact on
Britain was an outpouring of jingoistic glee-was "a large enough
political crisis," creating sufficient "disorder" to enable Margaret
Thatcher to "impose" her economic agenda. (It is true that, without the
glee, Thatcher might not have won the next election, but ill-gotten
popularity and traumatized regression are not the same thing.) Klein
dismisses as a "propaganda exercise" a referendum held by Boris Yeltsin
in which a majority of voters supported his reforms, on the odd ground
that it was nonbinding. She maintains that the war in Chechnya was
waged not in order to crush secessionism but in order to protect
Yeltsin's economic policy. Thus, she concludes, it "contributed
significantly to the Chicago School crusade death toll." "Naomi is a
pattern recognizer," Lewis says. "Some people feel that she's bent
examples to fit the thesis. But her great strength is helping people
recognize patterns in the world, because that's the fundamental first
step toward changing things."

Throughout "The Shock Doctrine,"
Klein is at pains to portray Friedman as a quasi-Satanic figure. The
first chapter of the book describes the horrifying psychiatric
experiments performed in the nineteen-fifties by one Donald Ewen
Cameron, in which subjects were tortured by electroshock. She
characterizes this work as a metaphor for the economic shocks performed
in Friedman's name; the next chapter, about Friedman, is titled "The
Other Doctor Shock." The promotional film that Klein made with Alfonso
Cuarón is even cruder-a pastiche of disturbing footage of patients
receiving electroshock treatment, images of prisoners being tortured,
and the sound of a child wailing in an echoey room. "Unable to advance
their agenda democratically, Friedman and his disciples were drawn to
the power of shock," Klein says in the voice-over, in the calmly
terrorizing tone of a campaign attack ad. "Friedman understood that,
just as prisoners are softened up for interrogation by the shock of
their capture, massive disasters could serve to soften us up for his
radical free-market crusade."

Why does Klein place such emphasis
on Friedman? Perhaps because she wants to draw a parallel between
capitalism and Communism, to make their two histories look as similar
as possible, and for that she needs not the messy, pragmatic, ad-hoc
capitalism of corporations but the purist, utopian capitalism of the
Chicago School. Violent autocrats of the free-market persuasion, though
there have been many, have not soiled Friedman's name in the way that
Stalin soiled Marx; somehow, the misdeeds of a Pinochet or a Suharto or
a Yeltsin are attributed to these men as individuals-to their lust for
power, their greed, their drinking. But Klein holds capitalism guilty
of all their sins. Friedman's followers must no longer get away with
shaking their heads when their advisees start killing people, she
believes. They should feel themselves dupes, fellow-travellers,
accessories: they should acknowledge their willed ignorance and
complicity, as her grandparents and the Communists of their generation
were forced to do.

"My grandparents were pretty hard-core
Marxists, and in the thirties and forties they believed fervently in
the dream of egalitarianism that the Soviet Union represented," Klein
told the audience in Chicago. "They had their illusions shattered by
the reality of gulags, of extreme repression, hypocrisy, Stalin's pact
with Hitler. . . . The left has been held accountable for the crimes
committed in the name of its extreme ideologies, and I believe that's
been a very healthy process. . . . When you start issuing policy
prescriptions, when you start advising heads of state, you no longer
have the luxury of only being judged on how you think your
ideas will affect the world. You begin having to contend with how they
actually affect the world, even when that reality contradicts all of
your utopian theories."

The day after the Chicago event, Klein
taped an appearance on "The Colbert Report," then went directly to the
airport for a flight to France. She came back and went on a speaking
tour to Texas, Colorado, California, and Wisconsin, did two panels in
New York, and then later flew to Chicago for its humanities festival
and to Miami for the book fair. She spent a week in Poland. Everywhere
she went, she stuck to her theme. "The crash on Wall Street should be
for Friedmanism what the fall of the Berlin Wall was for authoritarian
Communism, an indictment of an ideology," she says. It was clear to her
that the past month had proved what she'd been saying for years. Now,
if she could only speak often enough, to enough people, and explain
things persuasively enough, maybe the left would stop wringing its
hands and the right would start apologizing. It seemed unlikely, but
she would try all the same.


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