The Miseducation of Naomi Klein


Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate. By Naomi Klein. Picador, 2002. 267 pages. $13.00.

Naomi Klein is arguably the most visible face of the anti-globalization movement. In this collection of essays, dating from the Revolution in Seattle to the repressive aftereffects of the war on terror, one would have expected to see some evolution in her thought to match what should have been the corresponding maturity of the movement. Instead, just as the anti-globalization movement seems to be on the ropes–struggling to find a coherent message to unify the disparate groups constituting it, and to resolve the inherent paradoxes of the anti-globalization message–so does Klein’s book frustrate for its lack of a sophisticated understanding of economics and culture. Since these are journalistic pieces, one doesn’t expect the second coming of Immanuel Wallerstein or Perry Anderson. Allowance must also be made for Klein’s lack of formal economics education (one hopes she is making every effort to correct that deficiency this semester at the London School of Economics). However, even if these are in-the-moment reports from the front lines, there ought to be the suggestion that behind them is a synthesizing intelligence–and there isn’t. The haphazardness of reflection in this book echoes the anti-globalization movement’s herky-jerky exertion to define itself both to its most zealous constituents as well as the elites occasionally willing to lend a sympathetic ear. The anti-globalization movement can make a virtue of its failings only so long, before the unconverted catch on.

Many of the fault lines of the anti-globalization movement are evident in these dispatches, which provide a good starting point for a protest against this movement’s anti-intellectuality. A central question for the anti-globalizers to ponder is that the kind of political and cultural globalization that would be good even on their account is not really possible without economic globalization, with its pernicious effects. The very idea of the anti-globalization movement rests on the kinds of international linkages that were inconceivable before economic globalization. A clear separation between economic and other kinds of globalization is not possible. Furthermore, a case can be made that the kind of development the anti-globalizers wouldn’t mind can best be provided by capitalism itself, rather than some of the atavistic economic practices the anti-globalizers implicitly seem to support. Which brings us to another paradox of the movement, which is that it almost never takes on “capitalism,” but limits its critique to greedy, rapacious multinational corporations. More than a semantic evasion is involved here: it points to the foundational confusion hampering the movement. Is it against capitalism itself or is it against unregulated corporations? In addition, anti-globalization has much in common with the isolationist, xenophobic ravings of the protectionist, ultra-nationalist right. Are nationalism and protectionism really the way to go in the twenty-first century? There is much in anti-globalization that would delight the heart of a Pat Buchanan.

Do Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader, Lori Wallach, and Tom Hayden want to make capitalism only more fair and just, and if they do, are they really working for its enhanced credibility? (One fails to see then the attraction of self-declared anarchists to this essentially reformist trend within capitalism.) The anti-globalizers get stuck in endless discussion of strategies of resistance. Anarchists call attention to novel tactics and provocations rather than intellectually convincing those on the outskirts of the movement that it might mean something for their own economic future. At the first hint of intellectual composition, the establishment should easily be able to co-opt the movement. (It has been allowed to persist so far only because it is intellectually muddled.) There are already the first indications of this happening toward the end of Klein’s book. Klein and her fellow anti-globalizers do not come to terms with the paradox of using the very narratives of postindustrial globalization to freeze some of the world in a pre-industrial stage of development.

In her preface, she says that “[t]he irony of the media-imposed label ‘anti-globalization’ is that we in this movement have been turning globalization into a lived reality, perhaps more so than even the most multinational of corporate executives or the most restless of jet-setters.” This sort of glib self-denial that doubles as self-congratulation consistently mars the book–it seems to reflect accurately, however, the predominant sensibility of activists in the movement. Klein barely has time to pause and reflect on what she has just said. She breezily adds that “thousands of people” are “sharing ideas and telling stories about how abstract economic theories affect their daily lives,” which is what makes globalization a living reality for its participants. Lurking below the text is an acceptance of the overall capitalist order as it is. The idea seems to be only to alleviate some of capitalism’s worst offenses, while raconteurs share intimate stories of injustice: a consciousness-raising circle–thanks to the internet–expanded to the instantaneous, global level, or therapy for the downsized masses, if you will.

What Klein presumes as existent is never actually proved: If abstract economic theories were being decomposed successfully at a global level to be humanized and given narrative shape, then this seems simultaneously too much and too little to ask of the movement’s participants and beneficiaries. Too much because most of the truly affected will never have the time or luxury to gather for the global fireside chat; too little because most of the talkers can’t be considered truly brutalized. The activists’ answer to this would be that only a few can be spokespeople for a mass movement, based on access to resources, and that grassroots mobilization includes widening numbers of people. That remains to be seen. Klein assumes breathtaking progress on this front since the movement took off in the mid-nineties, but the superiority of the forces aligned against even minimal consciousness-raising when it comes to settled economic paradigms is truly awesome. In sheer numbers, the movement may have expanded, but how finite is the actual core? Are the protesters the same people in Seattle and Washington, at Nader’s Green Party rallies, and at the present anti-war marches? It would be a mistake to judge the success of reformists by sheer numbers. Capitalism is most fearsome just when people come out on the streets in noticeable strength.

Has protest in the movement become an end in itself? The attraction of the movement appears to be movement itself–frantic, disposable, untraceable. Klein’s metaphor for the kinds of obstruction going up around the world to prevent ordinary people from enjoying the benefits economic globalization was supposed to have brought is “fences.” Her metaphor for the contradicting process is “windows.” But are windows really the opposite of fences? Fences are durable, visible, sometimes violable only at the cost of imprisonment or death. Windows are what allow a peek into the tableau of a better world, but cultural globalization has already constructed such windows of resentment in plenty. All the windows in the world won’t take down a fence. (Consider also windows looking out from within the fenced enclosure into only the rest of the encampment or war zone.) Moreover, the irony that anti-globalization is itself one of the largest fences going up seems to escape Klein and her cohorts for the most part. What they’re really looking onto from the Windows (of the Net, mostly) are fences to capitalism minus capitalism (content minus form), a contradiction in terms which offends the anti-globalizers no end if brought to their notice.

So Klein’s opening section, “Windows of Dissent,” celebrates Seattle, Washington, and other well-known venues of protest. Klein engages in her characteristic move of quickly acknowledging the obvious criticism, before hastily refuting it and moving on to the next exciting symbol of protest. She sums up her anxiety well:

. . .An odd sort of anxiety has begun to set in after each demonstration: Was that it? When’s the next one? Will it be as good, as big? To keep up the momentum, a culture of serial protesting is rapidly taking hold. My inbox is cluttered with entreaties to come to what promises to be “the next Seattle.” There was Windsor and Detroit on June 4, 2000, for a “shutdown” of the Organization of American States, and Calgary a week later for the World Petroleum Congress; the Republican convention in Philadelphia in July and the Democratic convention in L.A. in August; the World Economic Forum’s Asia Pacific Economic Summit on September 11 in Melbourne, followed shortly thereafter by anti-IMF demos on September 26 in Prague and then on to Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas in April 2001. Someone posted a message on the organizing e-mail list for the Washington demos: “Wherever they go, we shall be there! After this, see you in Prague!” But is this really what we want–a movement of meeting stalkers, following the trade bureaucrats as if they were the Grateful Dead?

Klein should have reflected more on this question. The true dilemma for the anti-globalizers is that, hampered by their own programmatic limitations, they have been unable to present an alternative economic message that makes sense to those not already attuned to either the fences or windows metaphors–or rather, since most of the anti-globalizers seem to be reformist capitalists in radicals’ disguise, they are constitutionally unable to take the next step to ideological coherence. They make much of anarchy, in protest methods, and in assembly and discussion. But so far the movement has drawn notice above all for escalating protest, not compelling enough substance behind it. Stiglitz and Soros have already pre-empted them, and in more credible fashion. The only remaining space is narcissistic marginality, and surely Klein wants no part of that.

The chosen option is to believe in the quixotic notion of leadership without leadership, another virtue fashioned out of necessity:

As I slipped in and out of lecture rooms, soaking up the vision offered by Arianna Huffington, Michael Lerner, David Korten, Cornel West and dozens of others, I was struck by the futility of this entire well-meaning exercise. Even if we did manage to come up with a ten-point plan–brilliant in its clarity, elegant in its coherence, unified in its outlook–to whom, exactly, would we hand down these commandments?

This is to construct, and quickly dismiss, a false ideal. No one looks to a ten commandments, but ideological coherence. Klein also admits the possibility that outsiders may interpret the movement’s followers as passive:

This is the flip side of the persistent criticism that the kids on the street lack clear leadership–they lack clear followers too. To those searching for copies of efforts from the sixties, this absence makes the anti-corporate movement appear infuriatingly impassive: evidently, these people are so disorganized they can’t even get it together to respond to perfectly well-organized efforts to organize them. These are MTV-weaned activists, you can practically hear the old guard saying: scattered, nonlinear, nonfocused.

Again, she constructs a binary opposition between linearity and nonlinearity, to implicitly approve the latter–the emphasis must be to reclaim the purity of the sixties (while denying mere imitation), to outdo the sixties activists where they failed in sticking to purist organizational strategies. Whether it is preempting criticism from outsiders or declaring a fantastic autonomy, the fixation continues to be with methods of organization. It is here that the movement sees its ultimate threat of disenchantment. One doesn’t detect an apprehension on their part that capitalism might come up with innovative strategies to take the steam out of the movement (the war on terror’s inevitable consequence); rather, the threat, apparently, is all from within. This is to underestimate, to a fatal extent, capitalism’s capacity to adapt and resist.

Klein poses, plaintively, the question: “Most activists agree that the time has come to sit down and start discussing a positive agenda–but at whose table, and who gets to decide?” But she knows that there can be no answer to this question, because this movement’s identity and appeal have rested so far in attracting disaffected youth to an agenda beyond agenda, in aiming to reach for an almost metaphysical assimilation of the stray rebellions that one otherwise practices in isolation. Once will and manner are imposed–the movement might not as well be. She says, “When critics say that the protesters lack vision, they are really objecting to a lack of an overarching revolutionary philosophy–like Marxism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy–that they all agree on. That is absolutely true, and for this we should be extraordinarily thankful.” Two hundred-plus years of ideology dismissed so off-handedly? But then, what are the choices? If activists were presented with a consequential plan of action, the movement would disintegrate.

So far the movement’s success has consisted in being all things to all people, but this is a state of being that cannot last durably. For Klein, process can suffice in place of agenda: “It is to this young movement’s credit that it has as yet fended off all these agendas and has rejected everyone’s generously donated manifesto, holding out for an acceptably democratic, representative process to take its resistance to the next stage.” Of course, no one knows what the next stage will be–and that’s the whole point of it, to keep all, including activists, in suspense. This is not even idealism. It is warm, fuzzy thinking, a mutation of the New Age movement that can never pinpoint problems for fear of alienating the spirits: “Before it signs on to anyone’s ten-point plan, it deserves the chance to see if, out of its chaotic network of hubs and spokes, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge.” So now we must wait for something entirely unprecedented to emerge, to deal with problems that are as old as capitalism’s entire history? Truly, youth is blissfully ignorant of wheels that have been invented and reinvented. The Black Bloc, situationists, street artists, savvy marketers, they all have a voice in the nostalgic search for a public space that cannot be reclaimed from the overarching reach of the final stage of capitalism.

Addressing in September 2001 the European Union President and Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, Klein lays the movement’s claim to internationalism–“only Luddites and narrow nationalists oppose” internationalism–but let’s see how she tries to fill out this picture. Klein insists that what the anti-globalizers really cringe about is the privatization of the commons, the “internationalization of a single economic model: neo-liberalism.” The infrastructure of trade being promoted by the WTO “swallows everything else–culture, human rights, the environment, democracy itself.” Is there not a reaction forming in the very mirror of the hegemony it claims to take on? Klein and the rest of the movement ascribe to trade as much power to shape societies around the world as do the internationalists at the WTO. There could be dialectical trends within social and political cultures around the world leading to certain kinds of dissolution, or even renewal, that might at first glance appear to be caused by the pervasive spread of neoliberal hegemony, but you wouldn’t know it from reading Klein.

It takes a certain kind of generational arrogance to reduce diverse cultural and political developments around the world, especially in societies that are in desperate need of not preservation and conservation but radical dissolution and decomposition, to the intellectual hegemony of a particular trade model advocated by the WTO. Does the WTO really have that much power? We’re not that far from the one-world-government conspiracists on the far right, who could get all the information they want from the pages of the New York Times but choose to devote manic attention to secret cabals and plots hatched behind closed doors. If the problem extends only to setting aside an unprivatized commons, this doesn’t seem to be a sufficiently threatening challenge to capitalism–it can always give the appearance, if pushed too far, of doing precisely that. It hasn’t responded that way so far in the neoliberal era because it can get away with mass illusion that under the rubric of the market it’s offering a broader sphere of autonomy for most people. It’s not the WTO that the anti-globalizers have to convince; it’s the aspiring members to the privileged consumerist club, particularly in the U.S.

In the end, despite the high-flown rhetoric, the ambition seems to be no higher than somewhat reformed corporations: corporations going slightly against their ultimate creed of maximizing profits. Perhaps the corporations’ charter can be modified to introduce an element of public concern. Perhaps externalities can be more responsibly accounted for. At the same time, the breadth of the anti-globalizers’ concern for the third world exceeds what has been accomplished by two centuries of institutionalized liberalism in the U.S., and in some cases contradicts what some development experts would say are necessary tradeoffs in periods of high initial economic growth:

That would mean enforcing basic human rights that make self-determination possible, like the right to form independent trade unions, through the International Labour Organization (ILO). It would mean eliminating the policies that systematically keep democracies in shackles: debt, structural adjustment programs, enforced privatization. It would also mean making good on long-delayed promises of land reform and reparations for slavery. International rules could be designed to make genuine democracy and empowerment more than empty phrases.

These desires come at a time when the current administration has just announced privatization of 850,000 federal government jobs, when the country has regressed so far and so quickly on matters of race that reparations sound like a perverse fantasy, and when the most secretive administration in recent history is shredding the last remnants of checks and balances. If capitalism on a global scale were a non-zero sum game–which is what the anti-globalizers seem to presume, and what the WTO presents as proven ideology–then stressing particular parts of the global system to make concessions could be more easily accommodated. Unprecedented fences–in every sense of the term–have gone up in and around the U.S. since the anti-globalization movement reached its peak. What is the connection? To claim to not be anti-globalization just because you engage in discussions with the elite of the third world–who can afford to travel to international conferences–is not enough. In a sense, among the MTV generation of anti-globalizers there is more mystical credence given to capitalism than even among its most rabid neoliberal proponents: trade can be reformed, the commons can be reclaimed, economic gains proceed at an even pace in the center and periphery, and human rights maintained and even enhanced for all during this whole process. Not even the WTO is that idealistic.

The ad hoc tendency of the movement–which often results in a desperate grasp for any method that gives the illusion of breaking down a fence and opening up a window, while ending up doing exactly the opposite–is evident in the incoherent critique of terror that the movement has come up with in the last fourteen months. Since the complaint is that neoliberalism has weakened the public sector in the United States, the anti-globalizers–and liberals–have pounced on the deficiencies of public infrastructure, particularly health delivery services and emergency response capabilities, to call for a renewed governmental commitment to the public sphere. As Klein fully legitimates the basic establishment narrative about terror, and buys into the fear of even greater future calamities–a deadlier anthrax attack, a smallpox epidemic–she seizes the opportunity to validate the role of government in meeting common needs. There seems to be no apprehension that this is essentially the Lieberman position–extend government by fear into private areas that it should have no business intruding into.

Thus Klein issues the following crisis alerts: “Half the states in the U.S. don’t have federal experts trained in bioterrorism”; “Many doctors in the U.S. public health care system have not been trained to identify symptoms of anthrax, botulism or plague”; “The only laboratory in the U.S. licensed to produce the anthrax vaccine has left the country unprepared for its current crisis”; and “As for smallpox, there are not nearly enough vaccines to cover the population, leading the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to experiment with diluting the existing vaccines at a ratio of 1 to 5 or even 1 to 10.” Dear Naomi, now that the government is set on a plan to have enough smallpox vaccines for all of us–whether we want them or not, and whether those who choose not to be vaccinated get infected with the disease by those who have been vaccinated–are you satisfied with this extension of the public sector? You seem to want a homeland security department more efficient, centralized, and powerful than even what the government has sought. Efficiency is not necessarily a virtue; much that is good about the U.S. emanates from programmed chaos, willful anarchy, intentional unaccountability.

As Klein talks about the crackdown on civil liberties Western governments have embarked on to get back at the movement, there are two questions to ponder: One, to what extent are the strategies of the anti-globalization movement responsible for the kind of backlash that has led to loss of civil liberties for all of us, on a scale immeasurably greater than anything that existed prior to the movement’s rise and the war on terror (and these two can’t really be disconnected in the narrative of what’s actually happened)? And two, where is the sense that civil liberties may not all be about the right of protesters to act out in certain ways, and that the far more crucial sense of them is in the day-to-day rights that go unnoticed and unremarked on until they become an issue–by which time, it is already too late to do anything about the loss. Immigration will not be rationalized or liberalized in the wake of the anti-globalization movement or the war on terror–it will become more irrational, hurting us all. When Mumia becomes a fetish, conservative governors shift the execution of minority prisoners into overdrive. Civil liberties are more meaningful not in the performance arena, but in the ordinary conduct of business. Both riot police and demonstrators by now play their expected roles, in the process only weakening civil liberties for all:

It [London] looked pretty much like every other mass protest these days: demonstrators penned in by riot police, smashed windows, boarded-up shops, running fights with police. And in the pre-protest media wars, there was more d?j? vu. Were protesters planning violence? Would the presence of six thousand police officers itself provoke violence? Why won’t all the protesters condemn violence? Why does everybody always talk about violence?

Indeed, the anti-globalizers talk as much about violence–even if only to forestall it–as the riot police. They are full participants in the spectacle; they have fetishized their role as unpaid actors, and it is their greatest act of glory. Again, Klein is not one to hide the obvious criticisms. So she remarks how the protests and demonstrations are all beginning to look alike–McProtests–and that while “It is an article of faith in most activist circles that mass demonstrations are always positive: they build morale, display strength, attract media attention. . .what seems to be getting lost is that demonstrations themselves aren’t a movement.” Of course, Klein and the anti-globalizers would claim that the real work of the movement–grassroots awareness, step-by-step inculcation of corporate responsibility, coalition building with responsible elements in the public sector–is going on behind the scenes, quietly and unobtrusively. But the fact that capitalism seems to have taken a massive step backward in the last few years, and that there seems to be unease within the movement itself about the fetishization of demonstration (that is really the key topic of this book), suggests that there is a real problem with spectacularization of protest to the extent that it has occurred.

All in all, there is a unilinear assumption of cultural progress, sourced in the West and devolving to the rest, that the anti-globalizers share with the builders of empire. Let’s give the ordinary people in the third world more credit, shall we? It’s not just that viewing television shows demonstrating Western opulence and potency somehow inflames the third world viewer to the extent that the old, stable order gets sickeningly ruptured and disorganized. And even if it does, perhaps that disorganization is necessary, even though it might come courtesy of a silly Hollywood product. The rest get Tiananmen and the Velvet Revolution reflected back to them via Western screens, and see something else–or see many things we don’t give them credit for–and perhaps even see themselves as authors of their own destiny in ways we don’t acknowledge. Or at least the anti-globalizers don’t. A certain na?ve faith in democracy, and mass equality, has been lost among this movement; but this suspicion of chaotic democracy has been a staple of American progressive politics from its inception at the turn of the last century. The elites–the CFR and WTO types–are more democratic and egalitarian in certain respects than their opponents, to the extent that the establishment must function according to na?ve paradigms that sometimes–often – become self-fulfilling. That has been liberalism’s great strength.

In yet another dispatch, this one from the first annual World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in March, 2001, Klein poses the movement’s paradox:

Is this a movement trying to impose its own, more humane, brand of globalization, with taxation of global finance and more democracy and transparency in international governance? [The Tobin and Stiglitz options.] Or is it a movement against centralization and the delegation of power on principle, one as critical of left-wing, one-size-fits-all-ideology as of the recipe for McGovernment churned out at forums like Davos?

Here we have the fatal infection by a postmodernism that denies the possibility of a universal ideology, and moreover matches the rhetorical claims of the free market fundamentalists who also rail against “one-size-fits-all” solutions in favor of radical market “choices.” Klein goes on to celebrate the fact that on the above question “there was no consensus” and leaves it at that. One solution put on the line for now is the transformation of “the anti-corporate movement into a pro-democracy movement that defends the rights of local communities to plan and manage their schools, their water and their ecology.” It is much more difficult to be for democracy than against corporations (or other easily vilifiable targets), and that gets us into the enigmas of independence faced by postcolonial societies. Now we are in familiar territory, with the whole history of disillusionment and betrayal laid out for all to see–not a pretty picture at all. But in the end, this positive construction is beyond the scope of the essentially negativistic (fence-obsessed) anti-globalization movement. Radical, local participatory democracy? The U.S. might be a good place to start such a trend.

No wonder that by the third day of the Porto Alegre conference “frustrated delegates began to do what they do best: protest.” “The Anti-Capitalist Youth contingent” and the “PTSU, a breakaway faction of the Workers Party” got upset about the evasion of class in favor of mushy talk about radical democracy. Perhaps they were on to something. For Klein, “there is a serious debate to be had over strategy and process, but it’s difficult to see how it will unfold without bogging down a movement whose greatest strength so far has been its agility.” The mobile Grateful Dead troops will become paralyzed into antagonistic spheres once divisive class issues are brought to the surface. What could be a more direct admission of ideological defeat before ideology has even formed? Klein pretty much takes away the thunder of the movement by speaking like a seventies localist:

Perhaps the real lesson of Porto Alegre is that democracy and accountability need to be worked out first on more manageable scales–within local communities and coalitions and inside individual organizations. Without this foundation, there’s not much hope for a satisfying democratic process when ten thousand activists from wildly different backgrounds are thrown on a university campus together.

If there is some na?ve optimism left among movement leaders, it seems to have been directed toward hopes for mystical third world revolutionaries to show the way to the blind and dumb in the West. Now we get into the sanctifying of Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson of the Zapatista National Liberation Army in Chiapas, Mexico. Again, admit first the obvious quality of illusion: “Back then [1994], Zapatista mania looked suspiciously like just another cause for guilty lefties with a Latin American fetish: another Marxist rebel army, another macho leader, another chance to go south and buy colourful textiles. Hadn’t we heard this story before? Hadn’t it ended badly?” Yes, Naomi, we have, and it will again. But miraculously, the fetishes of the twenty-first century that look like those of the rebellious sixties and seventies are in fact different!

This is the most entertaining part of the book, where we get a full treatment of Klein’s almost school-girlish crush on Marcos, far more riveting than the repetitious retelling of the demonic dangers of genetically modified food:

Marcos seems keenly aware of himself as an irresistible romantic hero. He’s an Isabel Allende character in reverse–not the poor peasant who becomes a Marxist rebel but a Marxist intellectual who becomes a poor peasant. He plays with this character, flirts with it, saying that he can’t reveal his real identity for fear of disappointing his female fans. Perhaps wary that this game was getting a little out of hand, Marcos chose the eve of Valentine’s Day this year to break the bad news: he is married and deeply in love, and her name is La Mar (“the Sea”–what else would it be?)

Ah, what can you say about a man like that! He sends “long meditative letters to Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano about the meaning of silence,” and “whimsical mock telegrams to all of ‘civil society.'” He writes to Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier. He is “pen pals with some of Latin America’s best-known novelists” and “writes letters addressed ‘to the people of the world.'” The Zapatistas declared war on the Mexican Army on the day NAFTA came into force. No guerilla warfare is possible in these postmodern United States, so the excitement of the Mexican substitute will have to do. The Zapatistas are the “theorists of a new movement,” although Klein goes on to say that Marcos is fond of speaking in riddles. Marcos is the anti-globalization movement’s answer to Osama bin Laden, with the same elusive quality. Just as bin Laden T-shirts are hot stuff in the Muslim world, so Marcos has been fully commodified:

And then there is the Zapatista cottage industry: black T-shirts with red five-pointed stars, white T-shirts with EZLN printed in black. There are baseball hats, black EZLN ski masks, Mayan-made dolls and trucks. There are posters, including one of Comandante Ramona, the much loved EZLN matriarch, as the Mona Lisa.

Beats textile shopping down south in the seventies. But Klein denies it’s that. She calls it “genuine, anachronistic folklore.”

Marcos is the masked man, although he “says that as soon as peace has been negotiated, he will take off his mask and disappear.” I’d like to believe that. He deals in New Age epigrams, haikus for a synthetic age: “What does it mean to be a revolutionary who is not trying to stage a revolution? This is one of the key Zapatista paradoxes.” Yes, for me too. Marcos says that “it is not necessary to conquer the world. It is sufficient to make it new.” What does that mean? Klein says that “What sets the Zapatistas apart from your average Marxist guerilla insurgents is that their goal is not to win control but to seize and build autonomous spaces where ‘democracy, liberty and justice’ can thrive.” I’m not sure what that means either. Marcos believes in “a revolution that makes revolution possible.” Actually, that’s possible to understand. It’s process, not ideology, again. “Marcos believes that what he has learned in Chiapas about non-hierarchical decision making, decentralized organizing and deep community democracy holds answers for the non-indigenous world as well–if only it were willing to listen.” And lest we mistake all this for sixties-style “dropping out,” that’s not it at all. Rather, “these free spaces . . .will eventually create counter-powers to the state simply by existing as alternatives.” All they’ll have to do is exist? If anything, this haphazard search for spaces that simply are has led to the return of the state in a major way.

National sovereignty, the biggest fence of all, is back in business in the U.S. and elsewhere. And as the state roars back in angry disapproval at the wispy children of Seattle, Marcos insists that “Zapatismo . . .is not a doctrine but ‘an intuition.'” What he found in the mountains of Chiapas he wants for all of us: “wonder, a suspension of disbelief, plus myth and magic.” We don’t need manifestos, but “long meditations, flights of fancy, dreaming out loud,” a form of “intellectual guerilla warfare.” That’ll do in a pinch, for American revolutionaries. When she listens to Marcos speak, Klein thinks that he sounds “like a poet”–remember what happened to Havel, a real artist-statesman, once he came to power. We end with a burst of high pomo fireworks: “And in their place [King, Che Guevara, Malcolm X, Emiliano Zapata] the world has a new kind of hero, one who listens more than he speaks, who preaches in riddles not in certainties, a leader who doesn’t show his face, who says his mask is really a mirror.” Klein notes that the Zapatistas’ “most enthusiastic supporters” in Mexico seem to be “middle-aged women”–perhaps they’re more honest down there about the nature of his appeal.

To truly tear down fences would mean embracing internationalism of a humanist variety in a way that the anti-globalization movement seems constitutionally predisposed not to do. Capitalism needs to be combated with more than “symbols” that “you hope . . .become metaphors for change.” Klein is even willing to accept the presumptions of the war on terror as long as it will lead to renewed commitment to “tattered public infrastructures.” This shows the confusions that can result without ideology. She says that “there needs to be social justice, but there also needs to be justice for the victims of these [terror] attacks and practical prevention of future ones” and that “terrorism is indeed an international threat.” An admirably liberal position. She concludes by calling for a merger between global and local movements, as the only way to go forward. In the end there is not much more to look forward to than defensive neighborhood maneuvers against the planetary conquest of neoliberal politics.

ANIS SHIVANI studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at:


Anis Shivani is the author of many critically-acclaimed books of fiction, poetry, and literary criticism. His recent political books include Why Did Trump Win?, A Radical Human Rights Approach to Immigration, and Confronting American Fascism