Yesterday evening a crowd of more than 1000 anti-war activists
gathered at the Friends Meetings House – a traditional venue for the
left in London – to listen to Naomi Klein. Some of those present had
been queuing for more than an hour before the start of the meeting.
Naomi Klein is a Canadian born journalist who became famous worldwide through her book No Logo,
published just one month after the massive protests against the World
Trade Organisation in Seattle in 1999. In her usual style Naomi Klein
in her book lambasts the consumerist culture imposed on us by the
capitalist system, but she fails to reach any concrete conclusions of how
we can abolish capitalism or even whether it is actually necessary to
abolish it. This means she denounces the evils of the system, but would
like another kind of capitalism, a more humane capitalism, which of
course is utterly utopian.
Since publishing that book she has continued to write on various
issues, such as the invasion of Iraq. In a September 2004 article for Harper’s Magazine entitled “Pillaging Iraq in pursuit of a neocon utopia”,
she argues that, contrary to popular belief and criticisms, the Bush
Administration did have a clear plan for post-invasion Iraq, which was
to build a fully unconstrained free market economy. She
describes plans to allow foreigners to extract wealth from Iraq, and
the methods used to achieve those goals. She is also a regular
columnist of the British newspaper The Guardian where she always puts forward her anti-war views.
Jeremy Dear, the NUJ General Secretary, introduced her, explaining
that she has been one of the main public voices against the war. She
started her speech by apologising for the fact that not everybody could
get into the venue. In fact the venue was far too small for the numbers
wishing to attend, which was a bit of a disappointment for some.
In her speech she mainly touched on two issues – the imperialist war
in Iraq and the recent US elections. She put forward a very strong
criticism of the atrocities that are being carried out in Iraq and also
condemned the bully-boy approach of US imperialism (although she never
mentioned the word imperialism once throughout her speech).
She pointed to the problems that the occupying troops are facing and
the distorted coverage of the US media of events in Iraq. She described
how the mainstream media portrays the US troops as “cowboy soldiers”
and they try to hide or give a low profile to facts such as the US
soldier who shot dead an unarmed prisoner in Fallujah.
The campaigning journalist gave her views on the Republican National
Convention and the protests that took place there. Those protests
showed how angry an increasing layer of US society is becoming.
However, she failed to explain why the movement has been galvanised
around opposition to US imperialism instead of putting the emphasis on
“democracy and freedom” for Iraq. She failed to analyse the situation
inside Iraq, where the political initiative is unfortunately in the
hands of fundamentalist reactionaries. She cannot see the potential
role that the working class and labour movement in Iraq could play.
She also spoke about the US elections and criticised the “lesser
evil” approach that some people on the left took in the US and also
outside. It was good to hear her saying we could not support Kerry just
for the sake of our hatred of Bush. We must recall that well-known
figures on the “left” like Tariq Ali or Noam Chomsky among others did
give their public support to the other candidate of the US ruling class.
The Canadian journalist reminded us that, “Kerry never mentioned
Guantanamo Bay”. She also pointed out that Kerry never criticised the
“War on Terror” as such nor the nature of the war in Iraq. She listed
the facts that produced Kerry’s electoral defeat, but she failed to
give an analysis of Kerry’s real nature and why he would never be a
real alternative to Bush.
Throughout the meeting the audience could feel that the speaker was
afraid of mentioning the “C” word, capitalism, as the root of the
problems of society. In her usual manner, yesterday evening she gave
many examples that condemn the imperialist intervention in Iraq. Some
of them really enraged the anger of the audience.
Naomi Klein, however, failed to analyse the imperialist
nature of the war. Although she pointed out how the massive
corporations jumped into Iraq to plunder it she did not link the very
existence of capitalism and its current crisis with the greedy
behaviour of the corporations.
She appealed to people to fight for “Democracy and Freedom” as the
way to end imperialist atrocities, but unfortunately Naomi Klein never
pointed out what kind of democracy we have to to fight for.
After a long applause, questions, answers and contributions were
taken. Different activists put forward their views. Amongst them were
people from War on Want (the organisers of the event), Voices in the
Wilderness, Iraq Occupation Focus, Ewa Jasiewicz (spokesperson for the
SOC independent Basra trade union in Britain) and Jorge Martin from the
Hands Off Venezuela Campaign among others.
Jorge Martin called on the audience to pay attention to what is
happening in Venezuela. The comrade pointed out that Venezuela was an
example of genuine anti-imperialist struggle. After pointing out that
no one had dared use the word capitalism in the debate, he quoted
Chavez who has said that: “The capitalist economic system is a system
of domination imposed on our people so that a wealthy minority
dominates an impoverished majority. This is economic tyranny”. Jorge
received three applauses during his 6-7 minute contribution.
Some asked Naomi to clarify her concept of democracy – a word she
used 25 times. In her reply, the Canadian journalist admitted that the
anti-war movement should have used the economic analysis provided by
the anti-capitalist movement and linked the war in Iraq to the real
roots of the problem, the economic reasons which originate in the
system. But Naomi Klein did not carry her analysis to the logical end.
In other words, she never drew the conclusion that capitalism is the
root cause of imperialist atrocities and therefore should be overthrown.
Her role as a public voice against the imperialist war and her
honesty should be recognised, but this is not enough. In this sense
Naomi Klein did not help the movement in drawing all the necessary
conclusions. The only way of putting a final end to imperialist wars is
by removing the system that spawns them.
Fortunately a revolutionary answer to this question was available to those taking part.
Before and after the meeting the audience had a chance to visit
various stalls of different campaign groups, from Palestinian olive oil
sellers to sellers of progressive literature. Among these stalls was
that of the Hands Off Venezuela campaign!
November 25, 2004