Crying conspiracy is no reply – disaster capitalism


Seumas Milne

September 13, 2007 8:00 PM

There’s something slightly desperate about the tendency of neo-liberal apologists to cry “conspiracy theory” whenever anyone lifts the curtain on the political and corporate forces driving their devastating crusade to remake the world. It’s long been a tendency of Anglo-Saxon culture to sign up to the “cock-up” rather than the “conspiracy” view of history, of course, but the refusal to accept that powerful interests and ideologies have shaped the post-1991 world – rather than simply random events – is just bizarre.

It’s certainly already been one persistent response to the Guardian’s extracts from Naomi Klein’s new book The Shock Doctrine – in John Lloyd’s blog, on the threads and in some broadcast interviews. Lloyd calls Klein’s account of Russia’s path to catastroika and social meltdown under the tutelage of free-market fundamentalists and their western sponsors “conspiratorial” – and even grossly tries to link it with the Tsarist anti-semitic forgery Protocol of the Elders of Zion.

If you’re short on arguments, portraying your critics as paranoid unsophisticates and somehow akin to “Elvis lives” freaks may be the best you can do. But it’s got nothing to do with Klein’s chilling rehearsal of the deliberate destruction of Russia’s economic and social infrastructure and its developing democratic culture under Gorbachev in the name of the free market.

Russia’s own Chicago boys were unashamed admirers of General Pinochet’s Friedmanite immolation of Chilean society. And the parallels and connections Klein meticulously draws between Latin America’s original 1970s economic shock treatment under rightwing dictatorships and the shock therapy imposed on Russia and eastern Europe in the 1990s lay the basis for an unanswerable thesis: namely, that radical neoliberal policies have thrived and depended on social crises and violence for their dramatic advance across the globe over the past generation. This is the “disaster capitalism” that Klein argues has reached its apogee in the war on terror and the corporate feeding frenzy it has involved both in Iraq and the US itself.

Klein has been criticised in the past few days for trying articifially to force varied and complex experiences to fit her thesis – including that of monetarism and privatisation under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. But the wider picture she paints in fact illuminates familiar territory. Thatcher’s free market transformation of the British economy followed the Chilean model pretty closely. But full-scale privatisation only took off on the back of the Falklands war and the huge turnaround in her political fortunes it brought about.

The war unleashed a wave of jingoistic fervour, but it also delivered a jolting shock to the political culture of the time. Epitomised by the defence ministry spokesman Ian McDonald’s almost nightly dead-pan statements to camera on the TV news, there was a powerful sense of the state reasserting itself after years of social disorder. That would then be followed through after the 1983 election with the state-driven assaults on the miners and other centres of labour movement resistance to the new order.

Conor Foley is right that Klein’s book is the most creative attempt yet to draw out the links between the global corporate takeover and the US-led imperial wars that have been the focus of international protest over the past decade. And it is precisely because she is so effective at both reporting and dramatising those links to a new generation of activists that she is attacked and patronised by those who would prefer they were never made.

All this week, we will be debating The Shock Doctrine on Comment is free. Read all the blogs in our series and exclusive extracts from the book here. Visit the Guardian Unlimited microsite here.


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