AMY GOODMAN: The State Department is coming under criticism this week for refusing to allow a prominent South African social scientist to enter the country. Adam Habib was scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in
Ironically, the theme of this year’s sociology conference was “Is Another World Possible?” At the conference, the ASA planned a series of sessions to assess the potential for progressive social change both in the
One of the most highly anticipated sessions was to feature Jeffrey Sachs, an internationally known economist and a former special advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, versus Naomi Klein, the Canadian journalist and author. But shortly before the ASA conference opened, Sachs pulled out. Unclear if it was related to the fact that Naomi Klein takes him on in her forthcoming book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. The theme of her talk was “Lost Worlds.” This is Naomi Klein.
NAOMI KLEIN: As we think about reaching this other possible world, I want to be very clear that I don’t believe the problem is a lack of ideas. I think we’re swimming in ideas: universal healthcare; living wages; cooperatives; participatory democracy; public services that are accountable to the people who use them; food, medicine and shelter as a human right. These aren’t new ideas. They’re enshrined in the UN Charter. And I think most of us still believe in them.
I don’t think our problem is money, lack of resources to act on these basic ideas. Now, at the risk of being accused of economic populism, I would just point out that in this city, the employees of Goldman Sachs received more than $16 billion in Christmas bonuses last year, and ExxonMobil earned $40 billion in annual profits, a world record. It seems to me that there’s clearly enough money sloshing around to pay for our modest dreams. We can tax the polluters and the casino capitalists to pay for alternative energy development and a global social safety net. We don’t lack ideas. Neither are we short on cash.
And unlike Jeffrey Sachs, I actually don’t believe that what is lacking is political will at the highest levels, cooperation between world leaders. I don’t think that if we could just present our elites with the right graphs and PowerPoint presentations — no offense — that we would finally convince them to make poverty history. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe we could do it, even if that PowerPoint presentation was being delivered Angelina Jolie wearing a (Product) Red TM Gap tank top and carrying a (Product) Red cell phone. Even if she had a (Product) Red iPhone, I still don’t think they would listen. That’s because elites don’t make justice because we ask them to nicely and appealingly. They do it when the alternative to justice is worse. And that is what happened all those years ago when the income gap began to close. That was the motivation behind the New Deal and the Marshall Plan. Communism spreading around the world, that was the fear. Capitalism needed to embellish itself. It needed to soften its edges. It was in a competition. So ideas aren’t the problem, and money is not the problem, and I don’t think political will is ever the problem.
The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power. That’s what we’re missing. “The best lacked all convictions,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think about it. Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants
What is at the root of our crisis of confidence? What drains us of our conviction at crucial moments when we are tested? At the root, I think it’s the notion that we have accepted, which is that our ideas have already been tried and found wanting. Part of what keeps us from building the alternatives that we deserve and long for and that the world needs so desperately, like a healthcare system that doesn’t sicken us when we see it portrayed on film, like the ability to rebuild New Orleans without treating a massive human tragedy like an opportunity for rapid profit-making for politically connected contractors, the right to have bridges that don’t collapse and subways that don’t flood when it rains. I think that what lies at the root of that lack of confidence is that we’re told over and over again that progressive ideas have already been tried and failed. We hear it so much that we accepted it. So our alternatives are posed tentatively, almost apologetically. “Is another world possible?” we ask.
This idea of our intellectual and ideological failure is the dominant narrative of our time. It’s embedded in all the catchphrases that we’ve been referring to. “There is no alternative,” said Thatcher. “History has ended,” said
Now, it’s worth remembering when these pronouncements were being made that what was failing was not Scandinavian social democracy, which was thriving, or a Canadian-style welfare state, which has produced the highest standard of living by UN measures in the world, or at least it did before my government started embracing some of these ideas. It wasn’t the so-called Asian miracle that had been discredited, which in the ’80s and ’90s built the Asian “tiger” economies in South Korea and Malaysia using a combination of trade protections to nurture and develop national industry, even when that meant keeping American products out and preventing foreign ownership, as well as maintaining government control over key assets, like water and electricity. These policies did not create explosive growth concentrated at the very top, as we see today. But record levels of profit and a rapidly expanding middle class, that is what has been attacked in these past thirty years.
What was failing and collapsing when history was declared over was something very specific in 1989, when Francis Fukyama made that famous declaration, and when the Washington Consensus was declared, also in 1989. What was collapsing was centralized state communism, authoritarian, anti-democratic, repressive. Something very specific was collapsing, and it was a moment of tremendous flux.
And it was in that moment of flux and disorientation that several very savvy people, many of them in this country, seized on that moment to declare victory not only against communism, but against all ideas but their own. Now, this was the Fukuyama chutzpah, when he actually said — and it seems so strange to read it now — in his famous 1989 speech, that the significance of that moment was not that we were reaching an end of ideology, as some were suggesting, or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as Gorbachev was suggesting, it was not that ideology had ended, but that history as such had ended. He argued that deregulated markets in the economic sphere combined with liberal democracy in the political sphere represented the endpoint of mankind’s ideological evolution and the final form of human government.
Now, what was interesting and never quite stated in this formulation was that you basically had two streams: you had democracy, which you can use to vote for your leaders, and then you had a single economic model. Now, the catch was that you couldn’t use your vote, you couldn’t use your democracy to reshape your economy, because all of the economic decisions had already been decided. There was only — it was the final endpoint of ideological evolution. So you could have democracy, but you couldn’t use it to change the basics of life, you couldn’t use it to change the economy. This moment was held up as a celebration of victory for democracy, but that idea, that democracy cannot affect the economy, is and remains the single most anti-democratic idea of our time.
Now, I was drawn to the slogan that was chosen for this year’s ASA gathering, because I think, as many of you know and have read in the program, it comes from the World Social Forum. And I was at the first World Social Forum six-and-a-half years ago — more than six-and-a-half years ago in January 2001 in
I wrote a feature article for The Nation when I came back from
And it wasn’t just Porto Alegre, because Porto Alegre was the culmination of these types of spontaneous — often spontaneous uprisings that were happening around the world whenever world leaders were gathering to advance the so-called Washington Consensus, whether it was in Seattle at the WTO meeting in 1999, whether it was the IMF/World Bank meetings a few years later in Washington, then in Genoa during the G8. And, of course, the Zapatistas and the MST in
And the theme in
So, you know, Jeffery Sachs talks about these model villages that he’s building in
Now, I look at where we are now, six-and-a-half years later, and it does feel that we have moved backwards in many areas. Talk of fixing the world has become an astonishingly elite affair. Davos — now,
Now, we know what closed that window of possibility, that freedom that opened up in 2001, and it was September 11th in this country. And the window didn’t close everywhere, but it did close, at least temporarily, in North America, that sense of possibility, that putting these issues and the people affected by these policies at the center of the political debate. Now, the shock of those attacks, I think we can see with some hindsight, was harnessed by leaders in this country and their allies around the world to abruptly end the discussion of global justice that was exploding around the world. There was a door that had opened, and it was suddenly slammed shut. We heard that phrase again and again: 9/11 changes everything. And one of the first things we were told that it had changed was that trade, privatization, labor rates, all the things we were fighting for just so recently no longer mattered. It was Year Zero. Wipe the slate clean. And it was another one of these rebooting history moments. History was apparently starting all over again from scratch, and nothing we knew before mattered. It was all relegated to pre-9/11 thinking.
Now, the Bush administration justified this by saying that all that mattered was security and the war on terror. And in
Now, the irony that we can now see is that, while denying the importance of this economic project, the Bush administration used the dislocation of 9/11 to pursue the very same pre-9/11 radical capitalist project, now with a furious vengeance, under the cover of war and natural disasters. So forget negotiating trade deals at the World Trade Organization. When the
AMY GOODMAN: Journalist Naomi Klein. We’ll be back with her speech in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to journalist Naomi Klein.
NAOMI KLEIN: Meanwhile, at home the administration quickly moved to exploit the shock that gripped the nation to push through a radical vision of hollow government, in which everything from waging wars to reconstructing from those wars to disaster response became an entirely for-profit venture. This was a bold evolution of market logic. Rather than the ’90s approach of selling off existing public companies, like water and electricity, the Bush team was creating a whole new framework for its actions. That framework was and is the war on terror, which was built to be private, privately managed from the start. The Bush administration played the role of a kind of a venture capitalist for the startup security companies, and they created an economic boom on par with the dotcom boom of the 1990s. But we didn’t talk about it, because we were too busy talking about security.
Now, this feat required a kind of two-stage process, which was using 9/11, of course, to radically increase the surveillance and security powers of the state, concentrated in the executive branch, but at the same time to take those powers and outsource them to a web of private companies, whether Blackwater, Boeing, AT&T, Halliburton, Bechtel, the Carlyle Group. Now, in the ’80s, the goal of privatization — and in the ’90s — was devouring the appendages of the state. But what was happening now is it was the core that was being devoured, because what is more central to the very definition of a state of a government than security and disaster response? Now, this is one of the great ironies of the war on terror, is that it proved such an effective weapon to furthering the corporate agenda precisely because it denied that it has, and continues to deny that it has, a corporate agenda at all.
Now, it had another benefit, too, which was the ability to pay anyone who opposed this system as aligned with potential terrorists and so on. So our movement, which was already facing extreme repression before 9/11, was put on notice as traitorous. Looking back, it’s clear that the shock, the disorientation caused by the attacks, was used to reassert this economic agenda, to reassert that consensus that never really was. The window that was opened at the end of the ’90s in the movement known as the anti-globalization movement, but which was always a pro-democracy movement, was slammed shut, at least in
Now, I want to use the rest of my time just to say that this was not the first time, that this — if we look back at the past thirty-five years, we see this slamming of the door on alternatives just as they are emerging repeating again and again. Many of you were here for the opening address from Ricardo Lagos, the former president of Chile, who talked about another September 11th, which was another one of those moments, a far more significant one, when a very important democratic alternative, the real third way, not Tony Blair’s third way, but the real third way between totalitarian communism and extreme capitalism was being forged in Chile. And that was the great threat.
And we know that now through all of the declassified documents. There’s a really revealing one: a correspondence between Henry Kissinger and Nixon, in which Kissinger says very bluntly that the problem with Allende’s election is not what they were saying publicly, which was that he was aligned with the Soviets, that he was only pretending to be democratic, but that he was really going to impose a totalitarian system in Chile. That was the spin at the time. What he actually wrote was, “The example of a successful elected Marxist government in Chile would surely have an impact on — and even precedent value for — other parts of the world…The imitative spread of similar phenomena elsewhere would in turn significantly affect the world balance and our own position in it.” So that alternative, that other world, had to be blasted out of the way, and extreme violence was used in order to accomplish that.
Now, this kind of preemptive attack on our democratic alternatives, the persistent dream of a third way, of a real third way, has come up again and again. And this is what I discuss at length in the book, but I want to mention a couple of examples — unless I’m totally out of time? OK — examples of moments where there was a similar sense of effervescent possibility of being able to breathe more and dream more fully.
One of them was in
So when people went to the polls and elected a Solidarity government, what were they voting for? What did they think they were voting for? Did they think that they were voting to become a free market economy on the model that Francis Fukuyama was talking about? No, they didn’t. They thought they were voting for the labor party that they had helped to build.
And I just want to read you a short passage from Solidarity’s economic program, which was passed democratically in 1981. They said, “The socialized enterprise should be the basic organizational unit in the economy. It should be controlled by the workers’ council representing the collective” and should be operated — cooperatively run by a director appointed through competition, recalled by the council, workers’ cooperatives. So the idea was to get the party out of control of the economy, to decentralize it and have the people who were doing the work actually control their workplaces. And they believed that they could make them more sustainable.
Now, did they get the chance to try that, to act on that vision of a worker cooperative economy as the centerpiece of the economy, to have democratic elections but still have socialism? Did they get that chance when they voted for Solidarity? No, they didn’t. What they got was an inherited debt, and they were told that the only way that they would get any relief from that debt and any aid is if they followed a very radical shock therapy program. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the person who prescribed that shock therapy program was Jeffery Sachs. And I — no, I say that because I really had hoped that we could debate these different worlds, because there are differences, there are real differences that we must not smooth over.
Now, in 2006, 40% of young workers in
Another one of these powerful dreams was Tiananmen Square, and it’s a sort of a very sad fluke of history that on the same day that Solidarity won those historic elections and that dream was betrayed, what they voted for was betrayed, tanks rolled in
Now, the way those protests were always reported on in the West was that students in
But in recent years, an alternative analysis of those events has emerged. And what we’re starting to hear from what’s being called
So democracy wasn’t an abstract idea. It wasn’t just “We want to vote.” It was, “We want to control this transition. We want to have a say in it.” It was a direct challenge to the
I just want to read one other thing, which is another one of these paths not taken, because we know how that one ended in
I think we should remember what South Africans thought they were voting for in those historic elections. You know, it was just portrayed as something very simple: it was an end to apartheid. But what did an end to apartheid mean to South Africans? And we can get an answer from that actually from Nelson Mandela, who wrote a little note two weeks before he was released from prison. And he wrote this note because there was a growing concern that he had been in prison so long that he had forgotten the promise of liberation, which was not just to have elections, but to change the economy of the country and redistribute the wealth. And Mandela was under so much pressure that he had to release this very short statement just to clarify this point. And what he said was, “The nationalization of the mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable in our situation. State control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.” And this was a reiteration of
Now, I say this because this was one of those worlds that wasn’t chosen, one of those paths that wasn’t chosen. And I spent the past four years pulling these stolen and betrayed alternatives out of the dustbin of our recent history, because I think it matters. I think it matters that we had ideas all along, that there were always alternatives to the free market. And we need to retell our own history and understand that history, and we have to have all the shocks and all the losses, the loss of lives, in that story, because history didn’t end. There were alternatives. They were chosen, and then they were stolen. They were stolen by military coups. They were stolen by massacres. They stolen by trickery, by deception. They were stolen by terror.
We who say we believe in this other world need to know that we are not losers. We did not lose the battle of ideas. We were not outsmarted, and we were not out-argued. We lost because we were crushed. Sometimes we were crushed by army tanks, and sometimes we were crushed by think tanks. And by think tanks, I mean the people who are paid to think by the makers of tanks. Now, most effective we have seen is when the army tanks and the think tanks team up. The quest to impose a single world market has casualties now in the millions, from Chile then to Iraq today. These blueprints for another world were crushed and disappeared because they are popular and because, when tried, they work. They’re popular because they have the power to give millions of people lives with dignity, with the basics guaranteed. They are dangerous because they put real limits on the rich, who respond accordingly. Understanding this history, understanding that we never lost the battle of ideas, that we only lost a series of dirty wars, is key to building the confidence that we lack, to igniting the passionate intensity that we need.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, author of the forthcoming book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.