Ron Radosh

Naomi Klein's "New New Left"- The Second Time is Farce

Each generation seems to develop its own far leftist “intellectual” leaders.  This generation’s flavor is no longer Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, according to Larissa MacFarquhar in the latest issue of The New Yorker.   I don’t necessarily agree with this judgment, but evidently she thinks they were influential only some thirty years ago. Their replacement is none other than Naomi Klein, whose book, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, was on the The New York Times bestseller list for 28 weeks. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow calls it “the only book of the last few years…that I would describe as a must-read,” and Seymour Hersh- whose shoddy journalism and conspiracy theories often fill up the pages of the same magazine, calls her “one of the most important new voices in American journalism today.”

If this is true, I fear for the future of American journalism, and would have to agree with those who have proclaimed its death as an honorable profession. Klein is regularly on a worldwide,  never-ending tour, where hundreds line up to hear her speak.  In Toronto, MacFaraquhar covered one such event, where the line “stretched to the end of the block and around the corner” of the theater she was speaking at.  Perhaps this speaks to the need of her followers to have an explanation for the evils of capitalism.  The culprit is the late Milton Friedman’s “free-market absolutism.”

MacFarquuhar’s profile shows us that Klein  is a child of ex Communist Party members, who left the Communist movement after the truths about its loyalty to Stalinism were too much to bear, but who continued to think as old Communists in the way they approached the world. She learned her view of American history from them. Here’s how: “Bonnie and Michael [her parents] 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.” They instilled in their daughter the culture of the Popular Front and its understanding of the world.

Klein’s husband, Stephen Lewis, reinforce each other. Lewis heralds from a prominent Canadian Socialist Party background. As he tells MacFarquhar: “We understood in my family that we were part of a cause, a movement, and the Party, capitalized, was a big part of that.”

For a thorough and devastating critique of Klein, one must turn to a review by Jonathan Chait, who is no kind of conservative. Chait explains that in Klein’s world the practitioners of free market capitalism are trying to implement their plan to create pro-corporate policies through “the imposition and exploitation of mass trauma.” Everything comes down to that. Most people, he points out, would think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to do with things like land, security, religion and ideology. Not Klein. She believes that “Israel decided to provoke bomb blasts in its buses and pizzerias largely…because building blast walls and bomb detectors became more profitable than living in peace.”

That such simplistic claptrap gains thousands of followers- more abroad than at home-is in itself frightening. Chait himself—he is a bona fide left liberal-agrees that there are major problems in America like income inequalities that need to be addressed. But, he concludes,  “Klein’s relentless lumping together of all her ideological adversaries in the service of a monocausal theory of the world ultimately renders her analysis perfect nonsense.”

Neither Klein not her husband think much of or have hopes for Barack Obama. “The main feeling Obama creates in me,” Lewis says, “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.”

The people wanted an anti-war leader, Klein says. But instead, Obama was really saying “we’re going to send more troops to Afghanistan.” Viewing him as a regular politico, Klein accuses him of telling his audience what they want to hear, “and then in the back rooms he’s making deals and signing on to the status quo.”  He isn’t, she says, demanding nationalization of the oil companies!

Her hope: point out whenever and wherever she can, that the Wall Street crash proves everything she has been saying.  Then the Right will apologize and the Left will triumph.

Naomi Klein will be waiting a long, long time, until some decades later, a new Naomi Klein will carry on the cudgels, and some writer will say how the 2008 Klein is so passé.