Naomi Klein

Patrick Bond's Response to Doug Henwood

Written by Patrick Bond, April 28, 2008

Patrick Bond responds below to Doug Henwood's review, "Awe, Shocks!" which appeared in The Left Business Observer.

Hey, you have some good points, but isn't this review a bit over the top and often a caricature, Doug?

Doug sez (I reply after the *, not that Naomi needs any defenders):

"The Shock Doctrine is organized around a conceit: “shock” and its cousin “disaster” explain the political economy of the last several decades."

* Doug, there are increasing reports, e.g. by David Harvey (whom you hailed at his booklaunch a few years ago), that extraeconomic coercion - accumulation by dispossession - is central to contemporary political economy. You don't use the word "conceit" when you address Harvey's thesis, do you? Why "conceit" when shock, disaster and economic-psychosocial linkages are concepts Naomi has deployed?

"the list of instances is so varied that they don’t always merit a single theory."

* Doug, a "theory" in an academic sense - let's say Marx's approach in Das Kapital - has to explain the laws of motion of a system's reproduction. This is done at great length, with proofs, and with jargon. In contrast, a theory expressed through popular, journalistic investigative - and non-academic - writing whose objective is partly raising the outrage level, has very different standards. I think you write well inbetween, judging by Wall Street, so a little perspective would help you get through Shock Doctrine with the proper expectations. You're right that the cases are varied; and a valid concern might be that South Africa - in effect, a "happy shock" of winning the 1994 election instead of slipping into civil war - doesn't quite go with the Chile coup. Neither her "outnegotiated" nor your "ANC never revolutionary" captures the dynamics perfectly (since we definitely had a much more radical campaign program - the RDP - than was implemented by Mandela's government). Yeah, perhaps the way this case is made by Naomi stretches the value of "shock doctrine" to the point of overgeneralisation. Still, here in SA, she did a fine job of scoping out ways neoliberalism snuck in, leaving people worse off, and how capital benefited magnificently from turmoil associated with liberalisation of SA's economy. So I think it works. Your old friend Alexander Cockburn complained about Naomi, in much the same spirit, that India is an exemplar of neoliberalism and didn't have a traumatic shock; actually it did, if you look at the way farm suicides reflect the oppression and pacification of rural people.

"there’s one prominent missing case: Lyndon Johnson, who engineered the killing of something like a million Indochinese."

* Doug, when you cite Clinton and LBJ - "Democrats even" - you make it sound like Naomi joins a conspiracy of silence in not attacking the center. As far as I know her work, you are guilty of bizarre distortion. As for LBJ, the book is meant to cover the neoliberal era (roughly 1973-present); so you could add, in the same way, what about JFK who catalysed the killing of even more Indochinese, or Eisenhower who built up the military-industrial complex to do so, or Truman who dropped the A-bomb unnecessarily so as to shock the Soviet Union, or Roosevelt who authorised building the A-bomb, or etc etc etc. But the book's already too long, and most of her readers are probably born after 1973, and from around then there was indeed a substantial sea-change.

"The effect of setting the starting clock on history so recently is to make the present seem far more extraordinary than it is."

* It is an "extraordinary" period if you consider that "ordinary" capitalism recovers from a crisis and has relatively high growth periods based upon growing production as the source of profitability; the neoliberal period is, like a few others before it (e.g. 1920s with the "Treasury View"), extraordinary for maintaining a neoliberal approach to accumulation, in which growth rates have slowed and profits are increasingly sourced from financial/speculative activities. The present is worth studying in those terms, and the ways in which accumulation by dispossession add to the picture are crucial. We owe Naomi a great thanks for unveiling many of them.

"Neoliberalism, a word that Klein uses a lot, has consistently gained electoral victories in the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India."

* This is banal, Doug. We can just as easily accuse you: the word "crisis" was not used by Doug Henwood nor enough others in the US, UK, Oz, NZ, India, or South Africa to project the logical trajectory of the economy, and hence the current mess is all a great surprise to those who, believing neoliberalism might deliver the goods, voted for neolib or neocon parties.

"Using words like “Friedmanite” and “neoliberalism” is a way to avoid talking about capitalism in any systemic fashion.

* Come on, she treats capitalism and its need for extraeconomic coercion as systematically as any writer for the mass popular audiences you can identify. Who else can sell 100 000 copies of a radical economics text, one so long and with such a boring cover?! And declaring herself a democratic socialist, as she did last year, means Naomi has transcended an earlier interest in small-scale resistances, even if you don't like the concluding lines. Even for the sake of praise-sandwich balance, give some credit for what she's accomplished, otherwise this review sounds too jealous, picky and snarky.

The review, Doug, is foul-moody. Where's your solidarity?