summer reading #3: not for faint-hearted

January 11, 2008



Is there something in the wind that might make 2008 an interesting year for progessive/left politics?
I don’t put much faith in the US election system, but the “change” mantra is catching on, there’s something to it.
Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are fighting it out for the Democrat nomination, not that either of them will “change” anything fundamental about American capitalism, but the very core of politics seems to be shifting.
The neocon ascendency may be over.

I’ve just finished Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism and Joe Bageant’s eriely amusing Deer Hunting with Jesus. I recommend both of these books to anyone who wants to understand American politics today.

Bageant’s book is an insider’s view of life in working class America today, in particular in the south. It’s not a pretty picture; but as Orwell said, “if there’s any hope at all, it lies with the proles”.
Bageant is a self-taught journalist, editor and blogger who writes at “The Smirking Chimp“,though when I checked on 11 Jan 08, he hadn’t posted anything since July 2007. [Ah good, I’m not the only blogger-slacker].
Bageant grew up in the south and he understands the people of his community; he knows why they’re obese and sick and smoke and die young and bitch about blacks etc. He pulls no punches, but he also makes the point that without these people, there will be no new American revolution. He’s right about that.

On the other hand Shock Doctrine is, in one sense a more academic book. Klein thanks a small army of researchers for helping with the detail in this massive and well-written book.

Klein’s thesis is simple, yet effective. global capitalism has, for the past 30 years, thrived on crisis. In fact, one of the key drivers of profit and sustaining the system is the use of shock tactics against entire nations and peoples.
It begins with psychological torture and physical torture of the body in the 1940s, and quickly moves on to show how Milton Friedman took these tactics into mainstream economics thanks to the “Chicago Boys”.
Latin America was their first laboratory — think Pinochet and the other dictators; then the shock doctrine was applied in Eastern Europe and China during the 1980s and early 1990s; but today it’s in Iraq and New Orleans where the shock doctors ply their evil trade.
What I really found interesting was the excellent economic analysis of capitalism, even though Klein is not an avowed Marxist.
I was also pleased to see her writing about surveillance. Her arguments about the hollowing-out of the state and the privatisation of government functions (everything from Blackwater to reconstruction in New Orleans) and the rise and importance of surveillance for both commercial and political means, echoes the arguments John Harrison and I make in Communication and New Media: From Broadcast to Narrowcast.

The surveillance economy and disaster capitalism are part of the same reordering of capital in order to maintain hegemony. You can read more about Klein and the shock doctrine at her website

However, back to the good news for 2008. It seems the class struggle has not gone away and Klein’s upbeat assessment of the resistance in Latin America was pretty convincing and I’m a real skeptic about the revolutionary potential of Hugo Chavez.