Glitzqueen’s blog post
Sept. 29, 2007
Two Naomis, Klein and Wolf, are lately notable for their release of new books: Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Wolf’s The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. So far I’ve seen only reviews and interviews, both volumes being so hot off their respective presses, but they’ve separately commanded so much attention over the past week that it’s possible to conclude they’d be better read and considered together.
The topic in each case is the rise or reassertion of dictatorships around the world, although considerably different lenses are applied.
Wolf escorts her readers from 1920s Italy to 1930s Germany to Soviet-dominated East Germany in the 1950s and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and then beyond Europe to Chile during the Pinochet years that began in 1973 and China of the late 1980s/early 1990s. In a Buzzflash interview published September 25, the author stated, “(T)he practice of crushing an open society was essentially invented by Mussolini. It was … developed and elaborated on by the other great tyrants of the 20th century and then they studied each other. Hitler studied Stalin. Both … studied Mussolini.” What she often calls a “blueprint” involving 10 key steps now comes into play whenever tyrants wish to crush a democracy. As she told Mark Karlin, “I start the book saying in Thailand this coup took a week. This is what they did — boom, boom, boom. It’s like they had a shopping list and really they did.”
The 10 steps Wolf identified are these:
Invoke a Terrifying Internal and External Enemy
Create a Gulag
Develop a Thug Caste
Set up an Internal Surveillance System
Harass Citizens’ Groups
Engage in Arbitrary Detention and Release
Target Key Individuals
Control the Press
Dissent Equals Treason
Suspend the Rule of Law
Not yet having read her book or seen anything relevant to the question, I can’t say how Wolf addresses distinctions between dictatorships of the right and of the left, or if it’s on grounds of these that she omits economic issues from her master-list. The lack of them does leave quite a hole.
Klein, by contrast, makes economic issues her focus, seeing them as the root of repressive actions taken in spots subject to corporate dominance and what she calls “the dictatorship of debt” (sadly including everything Wolf named and more).
As a bridge between these authors, I find Dr. Lawrence Britt’s analysis of the 14 defining points of fascism useful. These have been making the rounds in cyberspace for several years, so I’ll touch on them only briefly. Most of his points are equally applicable to both political extremes. Like Wolf, he emphasizes scapegoating an enemy; obsessing with national security, crime and punishment to the detriment of human rights (which parallels Wolf’s next six steps); controlling mass media; suppressing dissent as unpatriotic; and militarism.
Britt construes exaltation of the military more broadly in economic terms than Wolf’s final step, imposition of martial law, and he also introduces some attributes notably absent on the left — religious zealotry, sexism and corporate protection at the expense of labor — plus two that merit spots on Wolf’s all-purpose list: fraudulent elections and the financial machinations of corrupt cronyism. Even in the supposedly classless Soviet Union, an economic elite set policy and profited from it.
Wolf’s work may fall short in failing to emphasize who benefits. Perhaps this struck her as obvious and extraneous to the step-by-step action plan she wants us all to recognize. Even so, in a book meant as a clear and comprehensive alert to the uninformed, it’s hard to understand why there wouldn’t be a fervent “follow the money” admonition. She believes an urgent state of crisis exists in this country and vehemently calls for a public outcry against perversions of our Constitution, yet The End of America seemingly doesn’t name the real culprits — who were exactly the same sorts backing Mussolini and Hitler.
By all accounts, The Shock Doctrine suffers no such lack of clarity. Klein goes straight for the throats of the Milton Friedman gang, who with the “full force of the US military machine … serving their corporate agenda” have created “an ever-widening chasm between the dazzling rich and disposable poor” just about everywhere. Through the past 35 years, they’ve availed themselves of each national crisis to impose the further shocks of privatization policies that quickly proved counterproductive for all but a few, but were maintained through repression and deception of the citizenry.
It’s no accident that South Americans are the first people waking up from this collective trance; after all, they were the first to get clobbered. Pinochet’s Chile was the Friedman system’s prototype, followed by many neighboring countries in desperate need of development aid, then Thatcher’s England (where the Brits got duped into a mass sell-off of public assets in the aftermath of their silly Falklands skirmish), Eastern Europe as it emerged from the Iron Curtain, South Africa, Russia, the Asian Tigers, Israel, occupied Iraq, tsunami-struck Sri Lanka (now a beachfront developer’s delight), the countless areas succumbing to the biofuels boondoggle and, alongside all of these, ourselves. New Orleans is only the starkest example of our fall from democracy into the global “epidemic of inquality” engineered by corporatist dominion.
Both Wolf and Klein end on notes of hope. Wolf’s hinges on mobilizing millions to “drive Congress” through the American Freedom Campaign and and its Republican counterpart, the American Freedom Agenda. “We’ve got a 10-point legislative agenda,” she stated in the Buzzflash interview, explaining that this “includes restoring habeas corpus and protecting journalists from prosecution. That would do a lot to give us some time. If we don’t restore these laws we have almost no time, according to the blueprint.”
Not one of the 10 points on the AFC site, as important as they are, even hints at the underlying problem of our Congress’ being bought-and-paid-for.
Among the hopeful signs Klein sees are growing refusal of IMF and World Bank “assistance” and “free trade” agreements that cede further advantage to transnational corporations; voter rejections of a European Constitution; exposure and prosecution of some leading tyrants and tycoons; protests by Chinese workers and peasants; grassroots activism through groups like Brazil’s Landless People’s Movement; and “land re-invasions” by Thai villagers who rebuilt tsunami-ravaged communities in defiance of the government and with no outside aid.
By combining both of those approaches, we could really see a new day. My suggestion is that we “drive Congress” to get corporate money out of politics and back into the tax revenue pool at a just level; to abolish the obscenity of corporate personhood; and to make companies cease robbing us through endless subsidies, unfair laws and wars we overwhelmingly oppose.