The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Book Review:
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Mar 17, 2008

Iraq was not the first victim of a U.S. "shock and awe" attack. In The Shock Doctrine, Canadian author Naomi Klein describes the development of this deliberate form of state-inflicted terror.

Research by Klein and her staff exposes behind-the-scenes evidence of the way the U.S. government used "shock and awe" – that is, out and out terrorism – against populations from Indonesia to Poland to Iraq. The purpose? To clear the way for some of the biggest businesses in the world to mercilessly exploit the resources of country after country.

But first, Klein shows us New Orleans.

After Hurricane Katrina wipes out the impoverished parts of town, a congressman tells lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." A developer calculates that "with that clean sheet we have some very big opportunities."

As we know today, the opportunities he spoke of did not include any for the poor and working class families flooded out of New Orleans!

But the capitalists and their governments don't simply wait for natural disasters like New Orleans, or the tsunamis of Indonesia, to get rid of people. To show this, Klein turns to Suharto's military coup against Indonesia's president Sukarno, in 1965, supported and pushed by the CIA.

Sukarno was one of those nationalists who, during the post-World War II period, tried to keep hold of part of their nation's wealth that was previously exploited by the big imperialist powers. In Indonesia, Sukarno's policy was to restrict multinational corporations' access to resources like precious metals and, in particular – offshore oil fields.

Those rebuffed corporate interests, aided by CIA and U.S. Embassy personnel, gave their money, weapons and intelligence to General Suharto, enabling him to seize power.

When General Suharto's military coup succeeded, his forces immediately moved to kill several thousand union, community and political leaders. With them out of the way, the military then organized death squads to inflict "shock and awe" on the population, that is, to terrorize people. An estimated one million were killed in these sweeps.

Resistance to the invasion of multinational corporations was broken. Workers' conditions dropped into misery. General Suharto passed laws giving over ownership of 100% of Indonesia's oil and mineral resources to corporations in the big imperialist countries.

Senior CIA operations manager Ralph McGehee said Indonesia was a "model operation ... You can trace back all major, bloody events run from Washington to the way Suharto came to power. The success of that meant that it would be repeated, again and again."

But – and this problem, Klein ignores – U.S.-organized terrorism did not begin with Indonesia.

The U.S. government, fronting for U.S. corporations, during World War II destroyed whole civilian populations in urban centers such as Hamburg, Dresden, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki – also to inflict "shock and awe" terrorism. Just as, in its turn, Germany used the bombing of London to terrorize the British.

Both imperialist governments, representing their own capitalist classes, were ready to inflict the most unspeakable horrors on civilian populations. For no other reason than to rearrange by force the world's corporate holdings and corporate spheres of exploitation.

And before that was World War I, another war that devastated Europe and its peoples, merely to redivide the imperialist holdings of its day.

Today's imperialism is no different from yesterday's or the day's before, except for certain technological improvements in methods of inflicting terror. There's nothing new under imperialism's sun. But Klein in her book avoids this problem.

Nevertheless, The Shock Doctrine contains very interesting and useful research by Klein and her staff about the most recent era of U.S. history.