Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No logic (2003)

Book Review from the May 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fences and Windows. By Naomi Klein. Flamingo, 2002.

The protests in Seattle, London, Genoa and many other places between 1999 and 2001 gave rise not just to labels such as J18 but also to a widespread movement known variously as anti-corporate, anti-globalisation and even anti-capitalist. Naomi Klein's book No Logo came to be seen as a manifesto for this movement, and Klein herself as a spokesperson for it, despite her protestations to the contrary on both counts. No Logo (on which see the Socialist Standard for December 2000 and August 2001) chronicled the rise of massive global companies such as Nike and McDonalds, and of resistance to them. Klein's latest book is explicitly not a follow-up to her earlier work, though inevitably it deals with similar issues.

Fences and Windows consists of a selection of Klein's journalism and speeches, mainly from 2000 and 2001, and this is both its strength and its weakness. It gains immediacy from having been written in the midst or the aftermath of demos, protests and large-scale discussions, but lacks any overall theme or coherence. Nevertheless, a number of topics that it deals with can be singled out. The fences of the title are the (literal and metaphorical) barriers that prevent people from protesting, from using various resources and from gaining access to education and so on. And the windows are the various kinds of opposition, from mass efforts at direct democracy to landless Brazilian farmers cutting down fences around unused land.

A chapter written in Prague is interesting for what it reveals of the views of many young Czechs. They see both capitalism and “communism” (read: state capitalism) as centralising power in the hands of a few and of treating people as less than fully human. The issue is not whether the state or multinationals are in power, but of how power is distributed. As argued in other pieces, poor countries are required to follow the economic rules laid down by the rich – who then disregard them themselves when they see fit. Post 9/11, even Canada has been forced by the US to toughen security at its borders, and give up a great deal of control over them to US security officials.

The power-holders have of course not just sat idly by while the protesters make their protests. As a way to avoid the objectors, they have moved some of their meetings to virtually inaccessible places. More worryingly, protest and dissent have themselves been criminalised, with police violence becoming more or less the norm, with prominent resisters being arrested on trumped-up charges and so kept out of the way during demonstrations, and with all civil disobedience being equated with violence. (This has become worse since the invasion of Iraq, especially in the US, with any protest regarded as helping “the nation's enemies”.)

The final section of the book turns to positive proposals. A chapter entitled “Limits of Political Parties” attacks the New Democratic Party, Canada's nearest equivalent of the Labour Party (Klein is herself Canadian, and this piece originally appeared in a Toronto newspaper). Klein notes that the most socially excluded parts of Canada's population support “an idea entirely absent from the mainstream left: a deep distrust of the state”. While the NDP advocates strong interventionist central government, a true left-wing party should “articulate a different vision, one founded on local democracy and sustainable economic development”. The last chapter proposes a merger of two forces, international anti-globalisation activists and community-based organizations.

But there is still no real picture of a society to replace capitalism, or of what the real implications of local democracy and sustainability might be. These cannot be valued or implemented in a world divided along the lines of class and nation, where profit is the priority. A thoroughgoing change to a world without classes, nations, governments or profit is needed. Sadly, Klein and the rest of the anti-globalisation movement, despite the sincerity and effectiveness of much of their critique of capitalism, have taken the first steps but have yet to see through to the genuine alternative.
Paul Bennett

No comments: