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Shock

PN In the book you don’t embrace or push any single ideology. Why?

NK For this book, I did not want to be arguing for a particular ideology except democracy. This book is really about democracy, about how democracy has systematically been sabotaged through the harnessing of shocks and crises to bypass democracy.
So the extent to which I’m drumming away at any ideology, it really is deep democracy, participatory democracy.
The closest I ever came to focussing squarely on alternatives to capitalism is a documentary I made with my husband, about Argentina’s occupied factories; hundreds of closed factories in Argentina were occupied by the workers and democratically run as workers’ co-operatives.
I’m much more interested in spreading alternatives that way; I wouldn’t know where to start in writing a manifesto of my own, it’s just not who I am.

PN What to you have been the most inspiring forms of resistance against disaster capitalism? And looking at the long-term, what could actually pre-empt the disaster capitalist’s attempts to exploit shocks?

NK I think we always have to be wary of crisis opportunism, I don’t think we’re going to be able to escape that. We exist in a time of serial crises and we need political strategies for how we’re going to respond to those crises.
My motivation in writing the book is to make people more resistant to the shock doctrine; I hope the book will be a sort of “shock shield” precisely because these tactics are all about lack of information and disorientation. A state of shock is the gap between an event and your ability to understand that event. What you need to get out of that state of shock is a story; a narrative that explains what’s happening around you.
I think the most inspiring instances of shock resistance often come from indigenous communities. In the book I talk about how it was the indigenous communities in Thailand who were most able to resist the land grabs after the tsunami and led a movement of reclaiming land through direct action. Resistance has been led by indigenous groups in Latin America starting with the Zapatistas, who have a very clear story of how neoliberalism fits in within the narrative of a 500 year history of colonialism. The story is deeply felt and acts as a shock resister in those moments of disorientation.
As we strategise how to become shock resistant we need to talk about popular history, telling better stories, and we also have to think about an alternative to disaster capitalism.
A friend of mine in New Orleans says “they have disaster capitalism, we need disaster collectivism!” The best example of disaster collectivism that I have seen was the occupied factory movement; it was responding to a shock, but with engagement and with more democracy as opposed to less democracy. In every way this is the exact opposite of the opportunism and democracy avoidance that I documented in the book.

PN Do you think that the connective global movement of the ’90s is still strong after Seattle? Do you see the strands, especially looking from the North to the Global South, as fitting together into an effective movement at the moment?

NK I don’t think they are fitting together at the moment very well. What was extraordinary about that moment before 11 September, with the Seattle protests, the anti-IMF protests, the anti-G8 protests in Genoa, was precisely that it was happening in the North, because these protests had been happening in the Global South, and had been happening for years, and are seen very clearly as part of a long struggle against the pillage of natural resources, colonialism and, of course, the advent of free trade.
What happened after the shock of 11 September was that we lost our narrative, not all of us, but a lot of us. We lost confidence in our need to talk about this economic system.
Part of the reason why that happened in the Global North is because the movement that converged around Seattle lacked a sufficient understanding of the role that violence had always played in neoliberalism and capitalism. There was little understanding of the fact that, as they say in Latin America, neoliberalism arrived with blood and fire.
So after 11 September when this new era opened up, of armed robbery and what I’m calling disaster capitalism, our movements in the Global North (and here I’m making broad generalisations) were not able to make a really clear connection between these resource wars and the economic model that we had been protesting on the streets.
Two things happened. The people who were talking about trade and economics continued to talk about that and ignored the wars and didn’t talk about Iraq, or Afghanistan, or the new homeland security economy.
On the other side were people saying: “Look, the war is on, so now we talk about war, and we have an anti-war movement, and we don’t need to talk about economics, we just need to stop the war.” These two paths didn’t intersect, or they didn’t intersect enough. Of course there were exceptions, such as the group Hands off Iraqi Oil. But there weren’t enough.
However, in the Global South, particularly in Latin America, there’s an understanding that neoliberalism has always been a violent project. I was present in Argentina when the war in Iraq began, so I was at the anti-war marches in Buenos Aires and people were saying that they’re doing to Iraq what they did to us in the ’70s, which was impose this economic model through violence.

PN How do you deal with making connections and expressing solidarity across certain divisions – the fact that you and many activists in the North are well-off, white, from a rich nation and have very different experiences from the people who are at the other end of neoliberalism?

NK I don’t think there’s an easy answer except that it means taking direction from social movements. What we asked in Argentina was: “What can we in North America do to support your work?” We thought they would say “buy our products” or “send money”, but they never said that.
What they said was “do this at home”. Build your own movements then we can talk, because that’s a real exchange.
The big problem I see now is that I hear from a lot of social movement activists in Latin America that they’re sick and tired of “lefties” from North America and Europe coming down and putting their arm round the president saying “viva la revolution”, and offering completely uncritical support of their politicians.
I think it’s important to build connections with social movements and not become “super-fans” of any leaders. If we don’t live in a country we really don’t know what it’s like, and I don’t know that it’s the most effective solidarity.
A form of very effective solidarity is preventing our governments from meddling in and organising opposition to countries like Venezuela and Bolivia; that’s different, we can absolutely stand for the principle of sovereignty and for those countries having a democratic process and having that process respected.
But that’s different from offering unquestioning support to Hugo Chavez when you’ve never been to Venezuela. I think that’s a bit of a problem.

PN What advice can you give to activists here who are trying to create strategies for bringing their message to a wider public and get them involved?

NK This is a moment of great urgency; it’s a movement moment like before Seattle. The bankruptcy of the current economic model is revealing itself in ways that make our arguments for us and people want to do something; they’ve tried other models, thinking Bono and Bob Geldof were going to do it for them, and that didn’t work.
So they are looking for forms of activism that are energising and inspiring. I think the danger for activists who have been at this for a long time is that when that moment comes you are so burnt out, so cynical, so tired of repeating yourself that you don’t actually have the energy to be part of what is a seduction ritual.

PN Having written No Logo, about hyper-consumerism and the brand being everywhere, perhaps you could have predicted the kind of response to things like poverty and climate change, with the ironic slogan of “buy green products” and Bono’s Product Red. Do we need to guard against this?
NK This charity model of organising is such a step backwards from the global movement of movements, that, for instance, the World Social Forum represented.
For all its flaws, people weren’t being spoken for: they were speaking for themselves. It’s such a return to paternalism, and I do think we have to guard against it.
We have to be tougher in attacking it. There’s a sense that we don’t have to be too critical, after all they mean well and it couldn’t really hurt.
But it does hurt because it subverts the basic principles that people have the right to self-determination, that they can speak for themselves, that we don’t want charity, we want justice. We should have the confidence in our ideals to make the differences clear.

Interview transcribed by Claire Poyner. Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Penguin 2008, £8.99). A DVD featuring the full version of this interview, and the benefit talk for Hands Off Iraqi Oil, is available from Housmans, priced £4.50.