The one time I met Naomi Klein she thought I was a spy. It was during the September 2000 IMF protests in Prague, a big, tear gassy event in the heady pre-9/11 days of the anti-globalization movement. Klein was milling around at a safe distance from a memorable split-screen on the barricades: on one side of a tall security fence were heavily armed Czech riot cops; opposite them, militant South American protesters in sequined Mexican wrestling masks yelled “Ya Basta!” and charged the fence with improvised battering rams.
|The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
By Naomi Klein
Henry Holt, 558 pages, $28
A few blocks away, teenage anarchists hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at military police, who returned volley with tear gas, rubber bullets and concussion bombs. It was “Europe’s Seattle” at full heat. Klein, already famous for her anti-globalization tract No Logo, was its wandering chronicler.
I had seen Klein speak that morning at the protest’s “counter summit” and immediately recognized her behind the paisley pink bandanna she had daintily wrapped around her face. She looked like a frightened sorority girl on her first college newspaper assignment smelling tear gas for the first time, even though I knew from her reporting she was tough as nails and had seen more of these protests than anyone.
I approached her and said, “Are you Naomi Klein? I liked your talk this morning.”
She stepped back and stared at me over her bandanna like I had just pinched her ass. I repeated myself. After another hesitation, she finally stammered, “Thanks.” Then she turned around and walked away. Bitch, I thought. Did she think I was hitting on her?
Later that day I had a forehead slapping revelation: Of course—she thought I was an agent. I had a crew cut at the time and probably looked to her like a young recruit from the FBI’s Prague office, which the agency had opened in the run-up to the summit. Files were being created on people well before the “war on terror” was announced, something Klein understood better than most.
Before I freaked her out at the barricades, Klein had participated in a protest roundtable on the economic “transition” of post-communist Europe. It’s a subject to which she returns in The Shock Doctrine, this time schlepping a heftier theoretical tool-kit. More than just a denunciation of imposed-from-above neoliberal policies or a celebration of the people who oppose them, The Shock Doctrine attempts to explain exactly how and why some countries—such as Poland and Russia, her two main post-communist test cases—become Petri dishes for rapid and radical neoliberal economic makeovers. What are the political circumstances that accompany these dramatic overhauls? How are they imposed, and by whom?
The common denominator, Klein posits, from Latin America to Eastern Europe to South Africa, is a prior major shock to the system that disorients the public and results in the suspension or crippling of democratic institutions. Only then does the application of a second wave of shocks—unpopular and painful economic reforms—become possible. This is often followed by yet another round of more literal shocks when the population rebels.