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!