Naomi Klein draws on her past analysis of capitalism in arguing how to defeat the “new shock politics” of Trump, writes Andrew Stone.
Donald Trump’s threat of ‘fire and fury’ against North Korea might just have easily described his domestic agenda – an incendiary politics that, while emerging out of the US establishment, still expresses its deep fissures and failure to inspire popular consent. Naomi Klein’s new book is an impressive attempt to indict and oppose this phenomenon, focusing mainly on her native North America but with connections made to the wider global ‘New Shock Politics’ of second generation neoliberalism.
As Klein herself admits, ‘No is Not Enough’ was written at speed, in response to a moment of crisis, so does not include the weight of new research of some of her earlier work. However, it draws effectively from her back catalogue, applying previous evidence and insights to the present, an anti-capitalist medley that deserves a headline slot.
So her breakthrough debut ‘No Logo’ is reworked to put Trump in the spotlight, marketing his oligarch chic through stamping his name on property and products, selling the idea of wealth and power in all its brash repugnance. His ‘elevation’ to be the star of the US Apprentice – combined with his love for the fake conflict and hyperbole of pro-wrestling – has supercharged his image and projected his Hunger Games worldview of winners (the small elite he was born into) and losers (the large majority of the exploited and oppressed).
Klein also provides an abridged version ‘Shock Doctrine’, where she analysed the growth of ‘disaster capitalism’. This was the 1970s piloting of neoliberalism in Pinochet’s Chile (and later under Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the USA) under the tutelage of Milton Friedman’s ‘Chicago Boys’, and its spread around the world through creating and/or exploiting economic and political crises to ‘wipe the slate clean’ and impose itself on vulnerable populations. She provides useful pen portraits of the records of some of Trump’s band – or at least those in favour when she went to press, as the line-up changes more frequently than Guns N’ Roses. Vice President Mike Pence, for example, rightly gets lots of flak for his anti-choice and homophobic positions on social issues, but he also played a disgraceful role in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where within a fortnight the Republican Study Committee he chaired had come up with 32 ‘Pro-Free Market Ideas’ such as waiving living wage and environmental requirements for subsequent rebuilding.
The environment, and particularly the existential threat posed by human-induced climate change, was the topic of Klein’s 2014 ‘This Changes Everything’. Here she covers the topic with attention to some of the specific interests of Trump and his team, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s role as CEO of ExxonMobil and its component companies’ records of frustrating climate change research. Importantly though, she makes clear that opposition to the radical social changes needed to deal with the climate emergency is not particular to an isolated fraction of capitalists, but embedded in a profit-driven economy that systemically subordinates human (and underlying that ecological) needs to those of corporations.
All the above is related with a combination of style and accessibility that should embrace both long-term and newly inspired activists. Klein does not use the jargon of academic Marxism, but her critique of capitalism is in large part congruent, though she gives a less explicitly central role for the working class as a potentially revolutionary agent. Crucially though, she does begin to grapple with what that revolutionary project could look like, the ‘Yes’ to counterpoint the ‘No’ of her title. For this she draws on her experience drafting ‘the Leap Manifesto’ with a coalition of trade unionists and activists across a variety of ecological, poverty and Indigenous campaigns in Canada. A non-party platform that aims for ‘a shift in the political zeitgeist’, its methods and impact deserve study by those who want to seriously engage in wider movements to change the world. And while it wouldn’t claim to be the last word on this epochal project. ‘No is Not Enough’ is a welcome intervention into the debate.
No is Not Enough is published by Penguin at £12.99