In defense of Naomi Klein

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Radicals who attack Klein’s book ‘from the left’ just expose their political irrelevance

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Radicals who attack Klein’s book ‘from the left’ just expose their political irrelevance

I’ve been meaning to respond to the leftish folks who have been busily demonstrating their ideological superiority by condemning Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything as insufficiently revolutionary. My Australian comrade Dave Riley has beaten me to the punch, in this short but eloquent rant, which he has given me permission to post. 

Related reading: What ecosocialists can learn from Naomi Klein

naomi kleinThe level of myopia flagged by some of the purists who seek to denigrate Klein’s perspective amazes me.

The ready penchant for one solution/revolution is just indulgent phrase mongering. The core questions that Klein’s book asks is what are we going to do? and how are we going to do it?

Asks … that’s its main contribution, given that capitalism is the problem.

That’s the debate, the discussion right there. Now if we have an agreement that the problem is capitalism then we are way way ahead in the green movement — ideologically —  than we’ve been for yonks.

To argue that Klein isn’t up to the task (whereas we Marxists are) merely serves to marginalize the socialist revolutionary left. The fact is that the Marxist left generally is not up to the task because it treats climate change as a sideline issue.

So what does that confront us with, what sort of program do we need to generate and promote?

You gotta have a revolution or else! is not that program. In effect a good bit of that essential program is embedded in Klein’s book. She may skirt some of the DIY but at least she has the guts to argue that we are being screwed because of what is generic to capitalism.

I think Richard Smith’s Climate Crisis, the Deindustrialization Imperative and the Jobs vs. Environment Dilemma is an excellent response to Klein, but even there he is standing on her shoulders, so to speak, and using her POV to advance the discussion.

There’s this whole new discussion opening up that seeks to transcend the social democratic program being proffered by the green parties because these reformist greens are wedded to capitalism. Indeed, the penny is dropping that they are —  or may indeed be — part of the problem and NOT the solution.

Klein’s book is reflective of that.

Dave Riley

For the record: I agree with Dave, 100%.


More from my notebook …


  • The ‘core question’ is about tactics and strategy.That we need system change is a no brainer(at least for those in the know) — but to do that we need to engage in a lot of dialogue and do a lot of side-by-side campaigning to get there.
    The conundrum is that the red green struggle is so diverse (geographically especially) and, in a sense of what we’ve been used to, unfocused.
    So my feeling is that it begs for a red green party to coalesce it — one built on a very clear climate ameliorating, anti-capitalist, platform.
    Otherwise we are captured(and contained) by Klein’s movementism…
    Essentially, I think that’s Klein’s major failing.But then her perspective reflects the core contradiction in the whole environment movement.

    • I think Dave’s pretty much hit the nail on the head: we need to advocate concrete measures that address GHG emissions but also challenge the economic and social relations of capitalism. Lots of socialists have actually been saying this and devising policies/programmes on climate change for a long time and the debates are now more about questions such as extractivism, the scope of a renewable energy programme, how to implement “one million climate jobs”, Hansen’s tax and dividend proposals and – at the margins – population. Less developed are strategies of workers’ / community control of of programmes and resources.

      My problem is that I’m not sure the slogan “system change, not climate change” fits into a transitional strategy.

    • Or, as Karl Marx puts it in this climate action performance poem, in which the poet pickets a mall with Naomi Klein, “It’s not easy being Red / Just as hard being Green / We must synthesize the two / And smash this vile machine.” —

  • Isn’t a little late in the day to be lauding a book that merely asks the “core questions” of: “what are we going to do? and how are we going to do it?” Isn’t it about time we started coming up with the answers? I also find it ironic that Riley defends Ms Klein’s book with lines like: “You gotta have a revolution or else! is not that program.” That certainly seems to be her program — change everything.

  • Our collective problem — and everyone else’s — who are even the teeniest climate aware, is that we NEED a tactical way forward — a ‘transitional program’ — that is consciously engineered to move us beyond capitalism — around which we can organise and mobilise.

    While I know that my own party, the Australian Socialist Alliance has done much work in this direction(see the slightly outdated Climate Change Charter for example) as has the eco-socialist networks, I think Klein’s book delivers a challenge for us to do even better and match her advocacy and articulation.

    The Charter’s The 10-point Climate Action Plan I think is a useful anti-capitalist starting point.

  • One minor quibble with Riley. I don’t think Smith is standing on Klein’s shoulders though I am sure that each could and should learn from the other. If anything Smith works with a clearer definition of what capitalism is than Klein and so maybe Smith has more to teach Klein re the subject of capitalism at least. It is good to know what capitalism is and thus what are the limits of its capacity to regulate the use-value life of societies.

    And just to stir the pot, I do not think capitalism is the problem. It is the ongoing disintegration of a no longer economically viable or ecologically sustainable capitalism that is the problem. There was a time when capitalism was largely self- regulating, self-reproducing and thus self- defining. Those days are gone. Now state and supra-state agencies can neither formulate policies that support regulation of the real economy by the impersonal capitalist market and its commodity economic logic nor can they devise policies that reliably reproduce real economic life in the absence of reliable capitalist market regulation. This raises all kinds of life and death questions re our immediate future that tend to be overlooked by those who think we are still dealing with capitalism as usual.

  • As an independent socialist I see one of the reasons for the continued weakness of the left is a product of the education of many leftists, who consider spouting revolutionary leftist slogans and tracts, without understanding the underlying logic, to be the epitome of vanguardism, where nobody else can match their particular zeal.

    This short article touches on just one of the areas of blindness of leftists – to consider that greens are all of one shade, allied to maintaining the capitalist model. This is such crap I am surprised to even see it repeated in this day and age but then it is, as i noted in my introduction, a product of the blinkered vision of the left.

    Just as the left has socialists, communists, trade unionists (at least in SA where I live) and a swathe of other shades of red and pink, so too greens range from light green (where recycling is mysteriously going to solve our problems) to deep green, where the thinking is generally far more revolutionary than many who conisider themselves leftists.

    The real issue we need to grapple with is why do we continue to bicker and sledge about who is more left, more green more this or that when we are all on the same side in seeing the evil of the present system and the need to change it. We do not need to drive in artifical wedges when we already have a swathe of corporate PR trolls being very effective in doing so already ( – for some examples of how these bastards mess with everyones heads).

    So please people, instead of driving in artificial wedges, lets rather sing the same tune and agree that capitalism is the problem and it is not that Marx or Schumacher or Capra or Chomsky pointed it out first or second or whatever. Rather it is what we all know and how we can unite to sort out the forces who would weaken us rather than allowing ourselves to get sidetracked into scrapping amongst ourselves in some god forsaken, ego ridden game of intellectual one-upmanship.

    I think Klein has done a smash up job in pointing out the bleeding obvious to a bunch of people who may not have connected the dots, so lets not go off half cock sledging her now and as a result undermining what we all really need to do – change the bloody system for a better one, which still needs to be decided on. It ain’t going to be communism either, I can promise you that, as much as I like some of its ideas and some of the great people who remain dedicated communists.

    Lets work together on this people, not pull apart.

  • Yes, sectarian mean-spiritedness is a tired pose that needs to be left behind among the lessons of the 1960s. Klein is incredibly brave, erudite and an extraordinary writer who makes it all compellingly clear. She’s indispensable to our contemporary progressive movements. Ian, I’m sure you have something to add about her too.