Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Celebrating the Christmas Truce of 1914

This week marks 100 years since the Christmas truce of 1914—which is usually dismissed as a minor episode of the First World War, sanitized as a celebration across all the ranks, or used as a commercial to sell chocolate. But the accounts of soldiers themselves show that it was widespread and in some places long-lasting, driven by rank-and-file soldiers and only stopped through repression from the higher command.

A century ago the imperial competition that had produced a scramble for colonies drove Western powers against each other. They each demonized the other side and claimed it would be a short war over by Christmas. But over the new few months the soldiers sent to die for the Empire experienced the brutal reality of trench warfare. Knee deep in mud, fighting frostbite and trench foot, soldiers shot and were shot at by people just like them, at close quarters. 

Governments had ignored the Pope's call for a one-day truce, and when it came it was not a “Christmas miracle” that simply materialized on December 25. Instead the truce emerged from the trenches themselves in the weeks leading up to the holiday, as minor episodes of fraternization amongst ordinary soldiers began to multiply—including breakfast truces, shooting matches, exchanging items and sharing songs. As one soldier wrote, “On a quiet night we used to sing to each other…Then an officer of one side or the other would come and stop it by ordering a few rounds of fire. We used to be sporting and fire high with the first round.”

As early as December 2, General Smith-Dorien wrote about the “danger” of the emerging friendship: “Weird stories come in from the trenches about fraternizing with the Germans. They shout to each other and offer to exchange certain articles and give certain information…There is a danger of opposing troops becoming too friendly…I therefore intend to issue instructions to my Corps not to fraternize in any way whatever with the enemy.”

A few days later he wrote instructions trying to prevent an outbreak of peace, so the slaughterhouse of war could continue: “Troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a ‘live and let live’ theory of life. Understandings—amounting almost to unofficial armistices—grow up between our troops and the enemy, with a view to making life easier, until the sole object of war becomes obscured, and officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises…Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistice (eg ‘we won’t fire if you don’t, etc) and the exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.”

But, contrary to military orders, that’s exactly what happened—though in an unorganized and uneven way that shaped its outcome. As Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton document in their detailed account, Christmas Truce, “It was possible for a battalion to be completely unaware as to whether its near-neighbours were or were not taking part in a truce, so that what happened on Christmas Day was not, so to speak, a contagion of goodwill spreading along the line, but a series of individual initiatives at a very considerable number of places and times…The Christmas truce held—to a greater or lesser extent—over more than two-thirds of the British-held sector; but elsewhere Christmas came and went leaving little trace.”

As early as December 20 in some places, soldiers used the holidays to put down their weapons and bury the bodies littered across No Man’s Land. By interacting with each other, working class soldiers discovered they shared much in common. As a British soldier wrote, “one of the two Germans jocularly remarking that he hoped the war would end soon, as he wanted to return to his former job as a taxi-driver in Birmingham.” Some remarked that “the papers had been responsible for the whole war,” and that “the Germans are just as tired of the war as we are, and said they should not fire again until we did.”

At its height 100,000 troops participated in the truce. German, French, Belgian and British soldiers (including troops from India) exchanged music, gifts, played games and took photographs, and held up Christmas treesa German tradition that was in the process of spreading across Europe. “We achieved what the Pope himself could not do and in the middle of the war we had a merry Christmas,” one soldier wrote.

Restoring “order”
While some officers were ambivalent about the truce, others quickly tried to stop the “dangerous” peace. As one officer wrote, “Hearing of the fraternization I hastened to the scene to investigate, and found the whole of No Man’s Land crowded with our men and the Germans amicably intermixed…For a moment I gazed at the curious sight, and then realized how absolutely wrong and dangerous it was, and decided to stop it.”

But the truce did not end so easily. As a frustrated General Smith-Dorien claimed, the only path to peace was more war: “Any orders I issue on the subject are useless, as I have issued the strictest orders that on no account is intercourse to be allowed between the opposing troops. To finish this war quickly, we must keep up the fighting spirit and do all we can to discourage friendly intercourse. I am calling for particulars as to names of officers and units who took part in this Christmas gathering, with a view to disciplinary action.”

Far from being a “war for freedom and democracy,” WWI was not only launched to defend colonialism but it only continued by repressing the troops sent to fight. It was not human nature but military discipline that enforced the war. French officers replaced some of their soldiers who refused to shoot, while German officers threatened some of their soldiers with the death penalty. But even then, some soldiers did what they could to resistin a tragic last effort to maintain peace. According to one account, “The difficulty began on the 26th, when the order to fire was given, for the men struck…Finally, the officers turned on the men with ‘Fire, or we do—and not at the enemy!’ Not a shot had come from the other side, but at last they fired, and an answering fire came back, but not a man fell. ‘We spent that day and the next,’ said Herr Lange, ‘wasting ammunition in trying to shoot the stars down from the sky.’”

On December 29, the German army issued an order forbidding all fraternization, which would be considered high treason (which carries the death penalty). But still ordinary soldiers tried to maintain peace with their real comrades on the other side of the trenches. As a German message to the British trenches said, “Dear Camarades, I beg to inform you that is forbidden us to go out to you, but we will remain your comrades. If we shall be forced to fire we will fire too high.”

As Brown and Seaton document, “In certain sectors the mood inspired by the events of Christmas lingered on with incredible stubbornness… It can reasonably be claimed that the Christmas truce lasted in places almost to Easter, but there is also little doubt that by Easter it was over and done with, consigned to history, a thing of the past. The long truce was finally broken, after a little over a hundred days.”

From spontaneity to organization
The Christmas truce came only five months into a 52 month war that killed 10 million soldiers and 7 million civilians; if soldiers had succeeded in maintaining the peace they would have saved millions of lives. But they were unorganized and up against a military command that used threats of execution to restore order. As the German army commanded in the lead up to Christmas 1915: “Any attempt at fraternizing with the enemy (agreement not to fire, mutual visits, exchange of news, etc) such as occurred last year at Christmas and New Year at several points on the Western Front, is strictly forbidden; this crime will be considered as verging on high treason. General HQ have issued instructions, dated the 12th December, that fire will be opened on every man who leaves the trench and moves in the direction of the enemy without orders, as well as on every French soldier who does not make it clear that he is a deserter.”

It took three more years of slaughter for the spontaneous instinct of the truce to become an organized opposition to war—including mutinies in the French army in April 1917, a revolution in Russia in October 1917 and a revolution in Germany in November 1918 (which gave us Remembrance Day). Similar organization—outside and inside the military—ended the Vietnam War, as a panicked US Colonel wrote in the Armed Forces Journal in 1971: By every conceivable indicator, our army that now remains in Vietnam is in a state approaching collapse… Widespread conditions among American forces in Vietnam that have only been exceeded in this century by the French Army’s Nivelle mutinies of 1917 and the collapse of the Tsarist armies in 1916 and 1917.”

The centenary of the Christmas truce reminds us of the real roots of war, the potential resistance from rank-and-file soldiers, and the importance of an organized anti-war movement. This holiday season support war resisters and the campaign for Peace & Prosperity not War & Austerity. And for a holiday movie watch Joyeux Noel

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Breaking the code about WWII

Building support for the latest US war, Hollywood seems bound by a code to produce at least a movie a year glorifying World War II by portraying the Allied countries as bastions of human liberation. By telling the true story of Alan Turing, The Imitation Game has broken the code.

Turing was a British mathematician who worked at Bletchley Park, a secret centre for cryptographers who were trying to break the German Enigma code—allowing the Allies to read Nazi military communications. By designing a machine that could rapidly process information, Turing broke the code—which ended the war an estimated two years sooner, saving millions of lives—and through the process laid the foundation for modern computers.

How was Turing rewarded? The British state drove him to suicide, and wrote him out of history, for being gay. He was persecuted in 1952 with the same law that destroyed Oscar Wilde, avoided prison only by agreeing to be chemically castrated, and ate a cyanide-laced apple in 1954 (urban legend claims Apple’s original logo of a rainbow apple is an homage to Turing).

Reviving Turing
The Imitation Game intertwines Turing’s early life as a schoolboy, his work breaking the code, and his post-war persecution. Benedict Cumberbatch could win a well-earned Oscar for his portrayal of Turing, and took the role in order to restore Turing’s place in history. As he explained, “The feeling you have for the man after getting to know him through the duration of the film is really exacerbated by the frustration and anger, not just at the injustice served him, but also at the fact that, why don’t I know this story? It seems unbelievable that someone who is a war hero, someone who is the father of the modern computer age—and a gay icon—could remain in such relative obscurity to the scale of his achievements in his brief time on this planet. One of the main reasons I was really attracted to playing him was to try and bring his story to as wide an audience as possible.”

Bringing Turing to the big screen is a process that has taken decades. In 1983 Andrew Hodges wrote his biography, Alan Turing: the Enigma, which was adapted for the stage—and portrayed by the brilliant Derek Jacobi in the 1996 BBC film Breaking the Code (available on Youtube). In 2011 the new screenplay was voted the top of the Hollywood Black List—representing the best unproduced films in Hollywood—and was finally released this year.

Bringing Turing’s life to film has been part of a campaign to challenge his persecution. In 2009 the British government issued a posthumous apology but in 2012 refused to pardon him—and the other 49,000 gay men criminalized under the former law. Justice Minister, Lord McNally, claimed, “A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offense.” The Queen issued a royal pardon to Turing last year, but as Cumberbatch said, “It’s an insult for anybody of authority or standing to sign off on him with their approval and say, ‘Oh, he’s forgiven.’ The only person who should be (doing the) forgiving is Turing, and he can’t because we killed him. And it makes me really angry. It makes me very angry.”

The film also has a strong performance from Keira Knightly as Joan Clarke, who worked at Bletchley and was briefly engaged to Turing. (The BBC mini-series The Bletchley Circle is another recent attempt to recount the role of women cryptographers, including the sexism after WWII that drove them back into the home.) The Imitation Game has been criticized for over playing their relationship and not showing Turing’s relationships with men (unlike the 1996 film). The film also reinforces the myth of the solitary genius, ignoring the role of Polish code-breakers in providing their initial work on Enigma to the British.

WWII: the good war?
As Cumberbatch said, “To think that a society and a democracy—that Turing could save from fascism in the second World War—rewarded him with that (punishment) is the most sickening irony of all.” But this irony pervades the history of WWII. Films that glorify WWII use the horrors of Nazism to obscure an understanding of how fascism arose, whitewash the history of the Allied countries, and pave the way for more Western intervention.

Fascism did not emerge from the deranged mind of Hitler but from the economic crisis of capitalism (which has reappeared and giving rise to new fascist parties across Europe), and the defeat of the workers’ movement in challenging it. Before WWII it was clear what the Allies thought of Hitler: Ford and General Motors collaborated with the Nazis, Hitler was Time Magazine’s “man of the year,” and Germany was rewarded with the Olympics. When Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King met Hitler in 1937 he described him as “one who truly loves his fellow man.” While many on the left supported the fight against fascism in Spain in the 1930s, the future Allied powers had a policy of non-intervention—while those who went to fight fascism in Spain were labeled “premature anti-fascists.”

WWII has been called a “war for freedom and democracy,” but at the time the US was running it apartheid Jim Crow system, Canada has its concentration camps—the residential schools—and both countries interned families of Japanese descent, and turned away boats of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust. Canada had the same homophobic laws as Britain, criminalized abortion and had eugenics programs in BC and Alberta based on forcible sterilization. Meanwhile Britain and France were repressing their colonies while sending their soldiers to die. (France belatedly acknowledged the role of Algerian soldiers, documented in the movie Days of Glory). The Allies refused to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz, and carried out their own atrocities—from the firebombing of Dresden to the atomic bombing of Japan.

After the war the US recruited Nazi scientists like Werner von Braun, while Britain supported fascists in Greece. The WWII mythology around Churchill erases the rest of his career, including sending troops against British miners in 1910, using chemical weapons against Iraqis in 1920, and after WWII supporting fascists in Greece. As a recent article in The Guardian pointed out, Churchill “switched allegiances to back the supporters of Hitler against his own erstwhile allies.”

The Imitation Game leaves the impression that the persecution of Alan Turing was an isolated abnormality in an otherwise noble war effort—instead of a symptom of imperial rivals bombing each other while repressing their own citizens. But by breaking the official code of WWII, The Imitation Game encourages us to learn more, and to challenge the bigotry on which war depends.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

From Mike Brown to Jermaine Carby: Toronto rallies for justice

Less than 24 hours after a St. Louis grand jury failed to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Mike Brown, Toronto rallied with cities across the country to say that Black lives matter.

Wilson shot the unarmed Black teenager six times and got away with murder. Meanwhile dozens of Black people have been arrested for protesting the lack of justice.

Three thousand people assembled across from the US consulate against police brutality, from Ferguson to Toronto.

Last year Toronto was rallying against the killing of Sammy Yatim, this year it is Mike Brown and Jermaine Carby, amongst others. As people chanted, "the system's not broken, it was built this way."

As La Tanya Grant, a cousin of Jermaine Carby explained, he was also unarmed, also shot to death, and also criminalized after the fact as justification. "Justice for Jermaine," the crowd chanted.

The campaign for justice continues. For more information visit Justice for Jermaine Carby.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Harper's crocodile tears for fallen soldiers

Harper claims his “thoughts and prayers” are with the family and friends of Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the two Canadian soldiers tragically killed last week. Then why is he sending troops to kill or be killed in Iraq, while cutting pensions to veterans amidst rising suicides? If they "gave their lives so that we can live in a free, democratic and safe society," why is Harper using their deaths to  further restrict our civil liberties and make us less safe?

Highjacking tragedy
Americans saw the tragedy of 9/11 used to wage war on Afghanistan and Iraq—which helped create ISIS, while fueling military spending, Islamophobia and attacks on civil liberties at home. As the 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows wrote on the 10th anniversary of that tragedy, “On this day we ask those who feel compassion for our loss to expand their compassion to include others who continue to experience loss ten years later: innocent families in Afghanistan and Iraq experiencing the loss of their loved ones and displacement from their communities as the result of war and political strife; Muslim-Americans subjected to bias and violence at home; those denied the protections of our Constitution and law, whether in Guantanamo or in our own country; those suffering from job loss and economic dislocation related to the cost of war and rising military budgets; and those who have seen their civil liberties and freedoms exchanged for the false promise of security.”

Harper is similarly highjacking tragedy, and not for the first time. As an article in The Guardian explained, “Harper is no stranger to Manichean politics, or to repackaging unpopular security measures in the wake of tragic events. For example, Bill C-13, the so-called cyberbullying act, shamelessly exploited the death of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons and other victims of cyberbullying to reintroduce components of its unpopular online surveillance bill, C-30.”

While Harper hid in a cupboard, it was a nurse and former medic who tried to save Cirillo, shot by a homeless man with addiction and mental health issues. When Harper emerged it was not to stop Canada’s participation in the war that is fuelling ISIS, reverse the government’s deregulation of gun safety (though they did quietly delay a bill so they can pass it later), cancel his planned $36 billion cut to healthcare, or announce investments to end homelessness and support those with mental health and addiction issues. Instead Harper vowed to redouble wars abroad and “national security” at home—using the tragic deaths of Vincent and Cirillo to multiply tragedy around the world, while eroding civil liberties and continuing austerity at home.

Shell shock
Given the violence unleashed on Afghanistan, it’s no surprise that troops following orders would suffer as well. The war and occupation of Afghanistan was sold as peacekeeping, rebuilding and women’s liberation, but as Canadian General Rick Hillier clarified in 2005, “We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.” This has a traumatizing impact on soldiers. Just last month it was revealed that more Canadian soldiers have killed themselves than were killed in Afghanistan, and military families are desperately trying to prevent this statistic from rising.

Corporal Thomas Dixon has tried to kill himself three times since coming back from Afghanistan. His mother is concerned he has undiagnosed PTSD and is not getting the help he needs. As she told the CBC, “Growing up [in the] cadets, he loved it. Then he went over to Afghanistan. That’s when things turned around for him. He came back, he was very moody, he had a temper—all the signs you would see of people who have PTSD…He tried to hang himself with a t-shirt. He’s crying out for help and nobody’s there. I do not want my son to become a statistic, but that’s what’s happening.”

Denying the trauma of war is built into the very terminology of PTSD, as George Carlin explained years ago: “There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can't take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the First World War, that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables, shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago. Then a whole generation went by and the Second World War came along and very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to hurt as much. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock! Battle fatigue. Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called operational exhaustion. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It's totally sterile now. Operational exhaustion. Sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years, and thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called post-traumatic stress disorder. Still eight syllables, but we've added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-traumatic stress disorder. I'll bet you if we'd of still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.”

The military continues to bury the pain. Lieutenant Shawna Rogers died of a drug overdose in 2012 and her parents tried to find out why. Her mother, a nurse, compiled documents relating to her daughter’s complaints against the military. The military threatened legal action against her parents if they didn’t turn over the documents and attend the military board of inquiry. As her father, a retired plumber, told the Ottawa Citizen, “The board of inquiry is a kangaroo court and we didn’t want any part of it. There’s no bigger hell than losing your daughter. We were grieving and they were kicking us while we were down.”

The fight to defend pensions
The military is not only kicking but also cutting. While Harper wants to spend $490 billion on the military over the next 20 years, it’s clearly not to support veterans. In 2006, veteran Sean Bruyea criticized the pension cuts contained in the New Veterans Charter as a “callous, bureaucratic move to save money on the backs of disabled veterans.” The military responded by leaking his medical information in an attempt to discredit him. But this hasn’t stopped veterans from fighting to defend their pensions.

According to Major Mark Campbell, who was wounded in Afghanistan, the New Veterans Charter cuts 40% of veterans’ income. As he explained in 2011, “This New Veteran's Charter is a grotesque travesty. It is an abject betrayal by the government of Canada to our new generation of disabled and wounded veterans. What kind of deal is that? The people of Canada should be outraged…Junk the New Veteran’s Charter. It’s crap.”

In 2012 some veterans removed their medals on Remembrance Day, and last year some turned their backs on Conservative MPs during Remembrance Day ceremonies, “just like the Conservatives are turning their backs on veterans,” veteran Claude Latulippe explained.

This is part of a pensions fight across the country, which can link jobs and services and build unity between civilian workers and workers in uniform—a prospect that worries the Tories. This January, veterans joined protests organized by the Public Service Alliance of Canada against the closing of eight Veteran Administration offices that provide services and benefits. Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino claimed “the veterans were used by the union. They were duped.” Veterans were furious and demanded Fantino’s resignation, and WWII veteran Roy Lamore reacted to Fantino’s apology by calling it “ridiculous, stupid and the worst thing” he had ever heard. Another veteran, Daniel Drapeau, shredded his Conservative membership card, saying, “They keep hurting us and they won’t stop.”

Remember when soldiers said no
A few months ago veterans rallied on Parliament Hill to defend their pensions. As organizer David MacLeod said, “If you can’t afford the wounded, you can’t afford the war.” This is the real spirit of Remembrance Day, when soldiers tired of being used as cannon fodder refused to fight.

Even the first Christmas during WWI saw this spirit, when British and German soldiers declared an unofficial truce and exchanged gifts rather than bullets. The military command cracked down on fraternizing, but the spirit continued. In April 1917 after another bloody offensive, tens of thousands of French troops refused to fight, and the military resorted to mass arrests and death sentences to restore “order.”  In October 1917 millions of Russian soldiers joined the revolution for peace, land and bread—which ended the eastern front. In late October 1918, German sailors refused to fight and triggered a revolution. Soldiers and workers organized democratic councils that swept the country in the first week of November, on the 10th the Kaiser fled the country and on the 11th the armistice was signed. Canada and other imperial powers tried to keep the war alive by sending troops to invade Russia, but Qu├ębecois soldiers resisted deployment from Victoria to Vladivostok in December.

Now, as we approach the anniversary of the “war to end all wars”, Harper has joined yet another war in Iraq—a continuation of the 2003 war and occupation that killed a million Iraqis and paved the war for ISIS. The Iraq War also killed thousands of soldiers, which would have included Canadian troops if Harper had his way in 2003. But the peace movement saved Canadian troops from joining the death toll—by stopping Canada from joining the war—and continues to support US Iraq War resisters.

A recent Military Times Poll found 70% of active-duty soldiers opposed sending combat troops to Iraq, but the US went ahead—and already a 19-year old Marine is dead. Harper now wants to use the tragic deaths of last week to justify sending more troops to Iraq. He will turn Remembrance Day on its head—turning a day of peace and healing created by war resisters into a celebration of war, a justification for eroding civil liberties, and lip service to veterans while he cuts their pensions and ignores their suffering and the suffering of all victims of war. The real legacy of Remembrance Day is to support the wounded—including both veterans and refugeesnot the war. This means peace not war, solidarity not racism, strengthening not eroding of civil liberties, and redirecting military spending into jobs and pensions, healthcare and education, and environmental justice.

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Changes Everything, including Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is a must-read guide to the climate justice movement. It summarizes the science of climate change, the extractivist industries driving it, the system to which they are connected, and the growing resistance. Through her dynamic style, Naomi Klein describes the changes in the climate, the changes in the movement, and inspires us to change ourselves as well—just as her own politics have changed.

Climate change
This Changes Everything warns of the severe consequences of climate change, the industries (like tar sands, fracking, and mountain top removal) that are pushing us to the precipice, and the racism and profiteering that accompany it. Klein shows that the proposed capitalist solutions—from industries like nuclear power, market schemes like carbon offsets, technology like geoengineering, or faith in the 1%—only compound the problem. As she explains, “The idea that capitalism and only capitalism can save the world from a crisis created by capitalism is no longer an abstract theory; it’s a hypothesis that has been tested and retested in the real world. We are now able to set theory aside and take a hard look at the results.”

Faced with a capitalist climate change, she debunks simplistic solutions—whether it’s calling for individual lifestyle changes while ignoring the socioeconomic conditions that constrain choice, claiming there aren’t enough resources while billions have gone to corporate bailouts, or blaming China and India while ignoring Western corporations profiting from the exploitation of their workers. This is not only a critique of the system that produces climate change but of the record of the mainstream environmental movement in challenging it. Klein outlines the coopting of the earlier environmental movement, “what had been a rabble of hippies became a movement of lawyers, lobbyists, and UN summit hoppers” who presented climate change “as a narrow technical problem with no end of profitable solutions within the market system.”

The failure of mainstream environmentalism has eliminated gradual and incremental options: “We are left with a stark choice: allow climate disruption to change everything about our world, or change pretty much everything about our economy to avoid that fate. But we need to be very clear: because of our decades of collective denial, no gradual, incremental options are now available to us.” This Changes Everything is an urgent call for mass action, connecting the increasing climate disasters to the radical transformation needed to stop them. As Klein explains in her poetic style, climate change is “a civilizational wake-up call. A powerful message—spoken in the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions—telling us that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing this planet.”

Movement change
This Changes Everything profiles the rising climate justice movements, introducing readers to campaigns and activists around the world, and showing concrete and inspiring examples of how people are organizing. “All of this has changed so rapidly as I have been writing that I had had to race to keep up. Yes, ice sheets are melting faster than the models projected, but resistance is beginning to boil.”

Klein profiles the indigenous communities leading the climate justice movement, from the Ogoni people in Nigeria to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at ground zero of the tar sands. Contrasting the lack of solidarity to the Mi’kmaq blockade at Burnt Church 15 years ago with the broad support for the Mi’kmaq blockade at Elsipogtog last year, she describes the sea change that the movement is producing: “The movements against extreme energy extraction are becoming more than just battles against specific oil, gas, an coal companies and more, even, than pro-democracy movements. They are opening up spaces for a historical reconciliation between Indigenous peoples and non-Natives, who are finally understanding that, at a time when elected officials have open disdain for basic democratic principles, Indigenous rights are not a threat, but a tremendous gift.”

Arguing that “exploited workers and an exploited planet are, it turn out, a package deal,” Klein shares lessons from the Northern Cheyenne in building community-run solar panels, and explains how that the technology for renewables exists and provides an alternative both for front-line Indigenous communities defending their land and for non-Indigenous workers needing jobs: “Manufacturing in North America is as battered as family farming, which means that well-paying union jobs are so scarce that people will fight for whatever jobs are on offer, no matter how dangerous, precarious, or polluting to themselves, their families, or their communities. The solution, as the more visionary sectors of the labor movement understand, is to fight for policies that do not force workers to make those kinds of choices…Today’s climate movement does not have the luxury of simply saying no without simultaneously fighting for a series of transformative yeses—the building blocks of our next economy that can provide good clean jobs, as well as a social safety net that cushions the hardships for those inevitably suffering losses…There is no more potent weapon in the battle against fossil fuels than the creation of real alternatives. Just the glimpse of another kind of economy can be enough to energize the fight against the old one.”

As a great theorist for the movements, Naomi Klein has both influenced and been influenced by them. This Changes Everything represents another change in Naomi Klein’s own politics, that have shaped and been shaped by movements against corporate globalization, war and climate change.

From brand bullies to state bullies
In No Logo she explained the rise of multinationals as the result of a marketing idea in the 1980s, and wrote that the “virtual brick and mortar” of branding was replacing production. Taking aim at the “brand bullies” she praised a resistance “both focused and fragmented” that could subvert and hold the multinationals accountable by culture jamming and reclaiming the streets. Released in the wake of the 2001 Seattle protest against the WTO, No Logo reflected the emerging anti-globalization movement and provided activists with a global framework to understand corporations and the diverse threats they pose. But it left open the role of the state.

The Iraq War of 2003 and the historic movement against it showed that corporate profits don’t just derive from marketing strategies but from state violence—whether it’s to steal Iraq’s oil or profit from disasters in New Orleans. The Shock Doctrine reflected this radicalization and deepened it. As Naomi Klein wrote, “Most of us chose to oppose the way as an act of folly by a president who mistook himself for a king, and his British sidekick who wanted to be on the winning side of history. There was little interest in the idea that war was a rational policy choice, that the architects of the invasion had unleashed ferocious violence because they could not crack open the closed economies of the Middle East by peaceful means, that the level of terror was proportional to what was at stake.”

The Shock Doctrine was released in 2007 just at the time of the economic crisis, and armed activists to confront the resulting austerity. As the moderator introducing her at the Climate Convergence last week explained, Chicago teachers had reading groups of her book during their successful strike.

Whereas the word “capitalism” did not even make the index of No Logo, it was on the front cover and throughout The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism. But it was not capitalism itself that was the problem, but a particular “fundamentalist” “unfettered” and “deregulated” version. Rather than a bad marketing idea of the 1980s, Klein located the problem decades prior in Milton Friedman’s economic theories that led a “50 year campaign for total corporate liberation.” As she wrote, “I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent…A free market in consumer products can coexist with free public health care, with public schools, with a large segment of the economy—like a national oil company—held in state hands…Markets need not be fundamentalist… Keynes proposed exactly that kind of mixed, regulated economy…that system of compromises, checks and balances.”

From disaster capitalism to capitalist disasters
The climate science and the indigenous-led climate justice movement have led to another exciting shift in politics. As she wrote in the introduction of This Changes Everything, “this is the hardest book I have ever written, precisely because the research has led me to search out such radical responses.” Her search encourages us to do the same. Now the problem is not years of marketing or decades of neoliberalism but centuries of colonialism and capitalism: “the things we must do to avoid catastrophic warming are no longer just in conflict with the particular strain of deregulated capitalism that triumphed in the 1980s. They are now in conflict with the fundamental imperative at the heart of our economic model: grow or die.”

Rather than defending state-owned oil companies, she argues: “These have never been safe or low-risk industries. Running an economy on energy sources that release poisons as an unavoidable part of their extraction and refining has always required sacrifice zones—whole subsets of humanity categorized as less than fully human, which made their poisoning in the name of progress somehow acceptable.”

As a result, she takes on the record of the “extractivist left” who have tried to make change without fighting for climate justice—including trade unions “trying to freeze in place the dirtiest jobs, instead of fighting for the good clean jobs their members deserve,” centre-left Keynesians obsessed with GDP growth regardless of how it’s achieved, the former Soviet Union whose environmental record was just as bad as the capitalists, the Latin American government who have reduced economic inequality but not ecological injustice, and Greece’s left alternative Syriza that counterposed the environment with economic recovery.

Rather than calling for compromises, Naomi Klein denounces the “fetish of centrism” in the face of climate catastrophe: “What the ‘moderates’ constantly trying to reframe climate action as something more palatable are really asking is: How can we create change so that the people responsible for the crisis do not feel threatened by the solutions? How, they ask, do you reassure members of a panicked, megalomanical elite that they are still masters of the universe, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary? The answer is: you don’t. You make sure you have enough people on your side to change the balance of power and take on those responsible.”

Strategic debates
Shifting from subverting brands to calling for a climate revolution leads to a shift in strategy: “I have, in the past, strongly defended the right of young movements to their amorphous structures—whether that means rejecting identifiable leadership or eschewing programmatic demands…As many are coming to realize, the fetish for structurelessness, the rebellion against any kind of institutionalization, is not a luxury today’s transformative movements can afford…Despite endless griping, tweeting, flash mobbing, and occupying, we collectively lack many of the tools that built and sustained the transformative movements of the past. Our public institutions are disintegrating, while the institutions of the traditional left—progressive political parties, strong unions, membership-based community service organizations—are fighting for their lives.”

There’s also the question of the ultimate aim of this fight. If the climate crisis is rooted in centuries of colonialism and capitalism, then we need to replace the corporations and states responsible. But while This Change Everything leads us in that direction, it constantly returns to the theme of The Shock Doctrine: that the problem is not capitalism itself but the “reigning ideology” of “market fundamentalism,” created by the “free market counterrevolution” that has “infiltrated virtually every government” and “binds the imagination of our elites.” This makes it seem like neoliberalism is a conspiratorial highjacking of a system that could otherwise be sustainable, leading to nostalgia for the Keynesianism of the 1930s and social programs after WWII.

But Keynesianism failed to solve the Great Depression, which only disappeared through the barbarism of WWII and a permanent arms economy that temporarily sustained a capitalist boom. This allowed states to develop health and education both under pressure from social movements but also in order to compete with other capitalist rivals. The re-emergence of economic crisis led to neoliberal ideology—not the other way around—and the limitations of its “corporate liberation strategy” was made clear when decades of deregulation and financialization failed to prevent the worst (and ongoing) economic crisis since the Great Depression. Economic crisis and war (whose ecological impacts are hardly mentioned) are both intrinsic features of capitalism, whether Keynesian or neoliberal. But because the democratic and revolutionary waves that ended WWI and inspired the world were first crushed and then buried in history, the only answer to her question “has an economic shift of this kind ever happened before in history?” is some reformist version of capitalism.

This Changes Everything does not quite change everything. But released in the context of 400,000 marching for climate justice—along with thousands of actions across the world—it reflects and advances the hope that this new movement can change everything: “The climate movement offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late.”