Naomi Klein, Pseudo-Leftist Rejecting Progress and Growth


Over at The American Situation, Sean Collins has passed on a video of supposed radical Naomi Klein being as reactionary as she can. Collins says she’s "proving that what passes as "left" today is often the most reactionary in explicitly rejecting progress and growth." If you can’t see the video above, click here.

31 Responses to “Naomi Klein, Pseudo-Leftist Rejecting Progress and Growth”

  1. 1 Bill Kerr

    She presents it as a struggle against a dying, old male narrative of conquest, greed, hubris, recklessness, privilege and profit leading to crimes against mother nature and innocent humans (BP Oil spill, even mentions Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, wars, economic crisis, climate change, tar sand extraction, geo-engineering).

    ie. one sidedly touches base with just about everything in the litany

    Her final words, summing up the new, growing alternative narrative:

    “We badly need new stories with new heroes who put the precautionary principle into practice, like hundreds of young people being arrested blocking power plants and mountain top removal coal mining. (shows slide of young woman being arrested)

    We need new stories to replace the linear narrative of endless growth with circular stories that remind us what goes around, come around. This is our only home – there is no escape hatch – call it karma – call it physics, action and reaction – call it precaution – the principle that life is too precious to be risked for any profit”

    Standing ovation from the all woman audience.

    I was pretty upset that she invoked the laws of physics into her new narrative. I guess she doesn’t know much physics.

    at 10:39 – “SLAP mother nature in the face”, advertisement for a tough mobile phone. The battle of the narratives is not over yet.

  2. 2 keza

    Basically she’s preaching and the audience is her congregation. That’s how it struck me. Quite literally.

  3. 3 Dangph

    Naomi Klein, please give us some actual concrete suggestions on how to improve the world instead of just pointing out problems. And fantasies about windmills and solar cells don’t count.

  4. 4 Dangph

    Actually, let me have a go at this precautionary principle thing. Suppose we stopped exploiting coal and oil because, as Naomi Klein rightly points out, these sources of power have some major problems. Let’s replace them with windmills and solar cells. (I suspect Naomi Klein doesn’t likes nuclear power.) Okay, what will happen next. The best case scenario is that this go along much as they do currently but with those bad things removed from the world. But the more likely scenario, in my opinion, would be mass starvation on an inconceivable scale.

    I therefore hereby invoke the precautionary principle and say that we should not stop using oil and coal until something genuinely better comes along.

  5. 5 Dangph

    I have to say, when I invoked the precautionary principle just then, I had to embrace my feminine side. It felt kind of nice. Thanks, Naomi Klein!

  6. 6 jim sharp

    maybe it wud be too much to expect our YM & genuine pseudo lefty to ask him/her to read what a genuine old lefty as to say about
    Ecological Civilization
    Fred Magdoff

    Given the overwhelming harm being done to the world’s environment and to its people, it is essential today to consider how we might organize a truly ecological civilization—one that exists in harmony with natural systems—instead of trying to overwhelm and dominate nature. This is not just an ethical issue; it is essential for our survival as a species and the survival of many other species that we reverse the degradation of the earth’s life support systems that once provided dependable climate, clean air, clean water (fresh and ocean), bountiful oceans, and healthy and productive soils.… There are numerous ways to approach and think about the enormous harm that has been done to the environment. I will discuss the following: (1) the critical characteristics that underlie strong ecosystems; (2) why societies are not adequately implementing ecological approaches; and (3) how we might use characteristics of strong natural ecosystems as a framework to consider a future ecological civilization.… | more |

  7. 7 Youngmarxist

    You don’t need to support silly ideas of “harmony” to support clean air, water and so on for the benefit of humans.

    A genuinely left-wing perspective would ask “What will serve people best?”, instead of wallowing in the old superstitions of nature-worship and “harmony”, the language of every reactionary for thousands of years.

    We don’t need “harmony”, we need to challenge the limitations enforced on us by the natural world and build the best world we can for humans. Pseudo-leftists like Klein will be horrified by our presumption.

  8. 8 Dalec

    Suggest that you study the two old guys whose pants you hide behind.
    “”Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations.” K Marx

    “At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature.” More: “we have the advantage of all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly.” That is, we can organise society in step with nature’s limits.
    F Engels

  9. 9 youngmarxist

    Ah yes, the old “spew out a slab of text rather than actually give my own opinion” technique. Well done.

    I think there is a huge difference between saying “there are ecological principles it is wise to take account of while developing industrially” and rejecting the idea of development for a backwards, scared “harmony with nature” attitude.

  10. 10 Bill Kerr

    The Engels quote comes from The Part Played by Nature in the Transition from Ape to Man . Need to read more of it to get the full context but dalec has cherry picked. In the next paragraph after the one quoted Engels says:

    … after the mighty advances made by the natural sciences in the present century, we are more than ever in a position to realise, and hence to control, also the more remote natural consequences of at least our day-to-day production activities.

    The Marx quote (source vol 3, Ch 46) is saying that society ought to improve for succeeding generations, which we can all agree with. Naomi Klein though is arguing that the environment is now so wrecked that future development is impossible and our future history will be that the meek will inherit the earth.

    At any rate dalec, everyone knows that Marx was anti-Malthus wrt his plagiarised population essay, so, you won’t get far with these quotes.

  11. 11 keza

    Dalec didn’t provide details of his quote from Engels. So I will. It comes from

    The Dialectics of Nature ch 9 (The Part Played by Labour in the Transition Fom Ape to Man) .

    The preceding paragraph reads:

    In short, the animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction.

    Dalec has somehow tried to sum up Engels’ view as being synonymous with his own – by writing “That is , we can organise society in step with nature’s limits.’ (emphasis added)

    But Engels was not arguing that we need to respect nature and recognise that it limits us. He’s quite clear that humans can be the masters of nature – which is pretty much the same things as being masters of ourselves. We”re part of nature, we make nature, we make ourselves – none of this can be “unnatural”.

    When he wrote the sentence quoted by Dalec : “ At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside of nature. ” his point was that humans are part of nature, and not some sort of artificial ,external force. He goes on to discuss this with reference to our increasing ability to be able to predict the remote consequences of our actions, noting that “the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and anti-natural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body, such as arose in Europe after the decline of classic antiquity and which obtained its highest elaboration in Christianity.

    Sure he discusses (and gives examples of) the ways in which humans have done things which have led to negative, unforeseen consequences for future generations. But there’s no lamenting of this, no suggestion that the precautionary principle should have been applied. Never even the hint of any belief that we should see nature as setting limits, as being greater than us. He rejects the very idea that we’re outside nature in that way.

  12. 12 jim sharp

    like the gang of four you pick snippets of quotes to suit.
    “The Engels quote comes from The Part Played by Nature in the Transition from Ape to Man”
    but a genuine materialist looks for the dialectics in engels thoughts.
    coz he went on to say!

    Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first.

  13. 13 Barry

    Dalec, did you really think that people here would not follow up on the original source of your distortion of Marx and Engels’ views and show how you were being dishonest and completely misrepresenting them?

    All you’ve achieved is the provision of an opportunity for keza and Bill to show how Marx and Engels had nothing at all in common with the ‘harmony with Nature’ view and how their outlook is opposed to that view.

    As for Jim Sharp, it’s extraordinary that his knowledge and understanding of Marxism is so weak that he can openly support the concept “harmony” with nature (Note: I have edited my original wording here, which wrongly attributed the direct quote to Jim Sharp). Jim, I realize you don’t take me seriously, so please talk with Humphrey about this. He’ll set you right. The last time I heard him talk about harmony with nature he rightly lampooned the idea as reactionary.

  14. 14 jim sharp

    b.y. i’m the post stroke patient here.
    but a link please to where i said!
    he can openly use the term “harmony” with Nature

    & by the way the last time humphrey corresponded on this issue he said:
    Engels got it right – the only way we can control nature is to go with its laws.

  15. 15 youngmarxist

    And what do YOU think? Take a stand instead of just quoting the Old Testament!

    Do you think humans should attempt to control nature, within its actual concrete laws?

    Or do you think the pace of industrial development needs to be wound back? Do you think raising living standards in the poor world to Western levels and beyond is possible and desirable?

    Or do you, like Klein, reject development as hubris that can only end disastrously?

  16. 16 Dalec

    I have long argued that the problems that beset the developing world would vanish if the standard of living was massively increased.
    So what do you guys actually support ? – Imperial war against Iraq that has by any metric set the place back by at least 50 years. Oh you will bleat; they had a fascist dictator, we had to overthrow him.
    Get a grip fellers, over half the world is ruled by Fascist dictators, Quislings, feudal despots and totally corrupt regimes. The way to overthrow them is to massively raise the living standards of the people in those places. This strategy will totally destroy these regimes. So what is the strange times policy? Support for imperial war – guaranteed to set back the the productive forces both within the Imperial power and the recipient of war and endlessly delay global liberation.

  17. 17 Andony Melathopoulos

    I think Marx is pretty explicit that mastery over nature is desirable and that the increased productivity brought about by this mastery is what brings the possibility of a world without classes into history. Marx and Engels definitely do not espouse the precautionary principle, which is conservative. Also, what would set them apart from someone like Klein is that they also believe in a modern project for increased human freedom, something Klein has gone on record saying she opposes (she said she is against grand projects for anything, period).

    What Marx and Engles were uniquely adept at doing was showing how the commodity form both opens the possibility for increasing freedom, but frustrates it. It is centred not on natural limits (read Marx’s critique of Malthus in the Grundrisse) but on the unnecessary limits on human potentials generated by capital. In a sense, the romantic rejection of human ingenuity hearkens back to social responses to industrialization at the beginning of the 19th Century. So in a sense, the romantic rejection of technology is part of the same modern social whole as its uncritical affirmation. They only seem opposed because we lack the politics to render this visible. A true left position on the environment would attempt to use the forces of production developed under capitalism *reflexively* upon the process of production itself… this is in part what he means when he considers the goal to abolish proletarian labour by proletarian labour.

    The troubling thing this reveals to me is that there are no left positions in the present with respect to the environment… can you even say that in any meaningful sense when a someone like Klein is what passes as a leftist?

  18. 18 Andony Melathopoulos

    Last line was whipped off to fast… it should read:
    ” can you even say that a left exists today in any meaningful sense, when what comes to mind is someone like Klein?”

  19. 19 Barry

    Dalec moves on to Iraq as his misrepresentaton of Engels view of nature has been revealed by keza and Bill.

    Jim Sharp, there is no suggestion at all in Engels statement about the ‘revenge’ of nature that we should stop mastering it; indeed his dialectics supports exactly the continual exploitation of nature with a view to transforming social relations. Hence a Marxist-influenced left today would advocate the need for vastly increased funding for R&D into geo-engineering, nuclear fussion, etc.

  20. 20 jim sharp

    b.y.”Hence a Marxist-influenced left today would advocate the need for vastly increased funding for R&D into geo-engineering, nuclear fussion, etc.”
    thus more boozh-wah hankey pankeys at our great expenses. i.e.
    Dishonesty in Science Richard C. Lewontin
    source >>

  21. 21 Dalec

    Barry, ST has a problem, it goes from strident denial of climate change to grudging acceptance to plans for geoengineering and nuclear “fussion” (whatever that is).
    The geoengineering project (the injection of SO2 into the stratosphere)that Naomi derides is now seriously questioned by many mainstream scientists.
    Now Barry, even a totally rusted on Pseudo Marxist such as yourself would have to admit that any geoengineering project would have to be reversible, unless you wish to risk the entire planet on some untried technology. This is a rather rudimentary precaution Barry.
    My quotations from Marx and Engels demonstrate at the very least that they were not into world domination and that they recognised limits. You come across as a bullshit artist posing as a Marxist.
    On the question of the raising of global living standards we are in agreement.
    The difference between us is the means.
    I favour the massive increase in the means of production and productive infrastructure in developing countries; this will have the effect of motivating the population to overthrow corrupt and despotic regimes. You favour the destruction of the means of production and productive infrastructure as in Iraq.

  22. 22 jim sharp

    Y.M.sez: “Take a stand instead of just quoting the Old Testament!”
    well then marx emancipated himself from all religions way back when he were a very young fella
    Karl Marx
    The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature
    & your post modernism is as flat as the crepe paper it’s scribbled on

  23. 23 barry

    dalec, I’ll ignore the abuse (which is merely a reflection of your frustration) but will point out that the bit you purposely left out of Engels quote does not suggest that Marxists are into submitting to limits: “In short, the animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence; man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it. This is the final, essential distinction between man and other animals, and once again it is labour that brings about this distinction”.

    Need I add that neither Marx nor Engels were bemoaning this fact of humanity mastering nature and, through collective labour, changing it to serve humanity’s own interests thereby mastering it. Both celebrated it, embraced it with passion and enthusiasm, and wanted it to go further than capitalist social relations would allow.

    Global living standards will be raised through this same process of mastery of nature and collective labour (eg, building dams to generate hydro-electricity and for massive irrigation) and scientific/technological advances – not by harmony with your notion of ‘natural limits’.

  24. 24 Andony Melathopoulos

    @ Jim;

    I read over this list:

    “(1) the critical characteristics that underlie strong ecosystems; (2) why societies are not adequately implementing ecological approaches; and (3) how we might use characteristics of strong natural ecosystems as a framework to consider a future ecological civilization”.

    … and it is interesting that there is no mention of capitalism as a historic development that fundamentally changes how we might approach all of these questions. Rather it works, from ecology, from the ground up, as it were, to determine social reality. It reminds me of how ecological economists began trying to bind society (in the abstract) within a biophysical envelope in the 1980s, only to note, with alarm, when that envelope began falling under the treads of history, and the “sustainability gap” had ballooned to an unfathomable span. Clearly, one must admit there abysmal failure of generating a theory of social transformation that could meet even their own restricted ends.

    I would think this is the reason to revisit Marx on this issue; not as way to make the conservative precautionary stand of Klein, but to realize that such a stand is contained and readily integrated within a society of commodities. It is to recognize Klein’s opposition as objectively affirmative, not the negation of BP, but part of the same whole. For Marx the goal was not to draw moral outrage, but to comprehend social reality through the process of transforming it *consciously*. It is to do what 50 years of the environmental movement has completely failed to do, realize the potential of the present and transform society.

  25. 25 Arthur

    Hi Anthony, glad to see your contribution!

    I agree that the current reactionary romanticism has a long history. Also closely related to the Narodnik populism Lenin fought.

    What’s puzzling is the almost complete eclipse of what used to be broadly accepted as the “left” position on these matters.

    We seem to be agreed on at least that much.

    Could you elaborate on your perspectives, where you are coming from and any news of others you know of with similar views?

    Got to rush now but I hope to engage along with others here in serious discussions with you.

    PS FYI jim sharp and Dalec are basically tolerated here as offering insight into a mentality the main contributors find generally incomprehensible and an opportunity for light relief. Unfortunately there isn’t much hope of serious discussion with them.

  26. 26 Bill Kerr

    off topic:
    very interesting interview by Andony Melathopoulos of Terry Glavin, a founder of the Afghanistan Canada Solidarity Committee, here . Andony, this recent debate in Australia about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will probably interest you and your friends.

  27. 27 Arthur

    Hi again Andondy Melathopoulos. After posting above I googled you and then realized that since there is lots of platypus stuff online and we still don’t have any organized collection of non-ephemeral information in a functional website I should at least provide you with something to respond to.

    Please checkout this article from 1979 on Technology and Progress” (buried inaccessibly).

    That provides some background on where most of us came from and have been stuck at for more than 30 years.

    Way back then the substitution of reactionary romanticism instead of leftism was already so complete that it was possible to write:

    This paper has nothing new or startling to say but will simply try to raise the banner of a position of whose existence most “radicals” seem quite unaware, without undertaking a comprehensive defence of that position. Since in surveying the literature I couldn’t find a single article advocating the position I hold, and which I understand to have always been the “orthodox” Marxist view on these questions, I felt obliged to write one myself. Any assistance from readers who can point me to relevant material would be most appreciated.

    … what process of mental atrophy could produce such patent nonsense, repeated so often with such authority?

    The only answer I can see is that the extinction of Marxism by revisionism during the period of capitalist re-stabilisation has been so complete that most “radicals” have never even heard of Marxist views and have had to re-discover for themselves all the pre-Marxian socialist theories. (This certainly seems to have been the case with the “New Left” that grew up in the middle sixties, even when Marxist phrases were used.)

    Its now got to the point where quite bizarre stuff from the reactionary romantic pseudo-left fringes of 3 decades ago has become fairly mainstream (eg climate alarmism) and the term “left” has become more or less synonymous with “virulently reactionary”.

    It’s interesting that the (rightist?) site youngmarxist linked to for Naomi Klein referred to what passes as “left” today is often the most reactionary in explicitly rejecting progress and growth.

    Identifying what passes as “left” today as “pseudo-left” and popularizing that concept might be something that could be taken up quite widely (including on the right) and help clarify the situation.

    Whats your reaction to the outlook expressed in the 1979 article?

  28. 28 Andony Melathopoulos

    I am actually just trying to work through ecological issues myself, but as you said Arthur, without taking for granted that there is a left in the present that could give such an issue a determinate political character. I was glad to find this post by YM.

    Yes, you are right to connect Klein to earlier forms of protests against modernity. Klein’s conservative orientation has become fully visible with the BP crisis. It was always there, but it becomes very hard to ignore now. I applaud YM for raising it to the level of a discussion. I am a member of a group based in Chicago, the Platypus Affiliated Society, who organized an event with Klein a few years back. She was attempting a critique of Friedman that appeared to be coming from his Right. We called her on it, asking her how she would view a political project for freedom, was Friedman just a bad example, couldn’t there be a project from the Left? Her response was that she distrusted them and considered them dangerous.

    One other orphaned observation. It is interesting to me that those who look to environmental issues to provide the axis around which existing social relations will be modernized (ecological modernization) and those like Slavov Zizek, who view environmental degradation as opening sites of social contestation to revolutionize these relations, share something in common. Whether modernizing or revolutionary, these approaches look to environmental degradation as a means to catalyze change in social relations. In other words they approach degradation as a tocsin that necessitates the alteration of these relations. Yet such an agency, an alien agency that emanates from a seemingly external catastrophe, bare a resemblance to the dynamic driving the sustainability gap by its very uncontrollable, unthinking and automatic character. This is where Marx would seemingly appear to become relevant again… the raising of the problem which Rosa Luxemburg highlights in the Crisis of German Democracy “how to try to take its history into (humanity’s) own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history.”

  29. 29 Andony Melathopoulos

    I quite forgot, the New Yorker published a piece on Klein that reported on our event:

    “Given its emphasis on self-criticism, Platypus was not a natural constituency for Klein’s work, but because she was coming to the campus the group read “The Shock Doctrine,” and also Hayek and Friedman. “The conservatives engage the questions of freedom and utopia directly,” Ian Morrison, the editor of Platypus’s newsletter, said. “We were very struck that Klein seemed to back away from utopianism, because we feel that the left has liquidated itself in part because it’s conceded talk about freedom to someone like Bush.”

  30. 30 keza

    Two things:

    (1) I just retrieved a comment from Arthur out of the spam folder. Apologies Arthur, I think it took offence to a missing html tag which had turned a link you posted into something gigantic and spammish. Have fixed that now. Unfortunately that comment which is an important one in my view, appears further back in this thread (because of the original time stamp), so could be missed. Scroll back, it’s the 3rd one above this. Time for me to try to get a ‘Numbered Comments” plugin to work (again)

    (2) Hi Andony, it’s great to be able to engage with others who have some rather similar views about the current absence of a real Left. I’ve just had a quick browse at the Platypus site , and intend to go back and read more of it as soon as I get time.

    I love the name and its explanation, it captures so much:

    On surviving the extinction of the Left

    A story is told about Karl Marx’s collaborator and friend Friedrich Engels, who, in his youth, as a good Hegelian Idealist, sure about the purposeful, rational evolution of nature and of the place of human reason in it, became indignant when reading about a platypus, which he supposed to be a fraud perpetrated by English taxidermists. For Engels, the platypus made no sense in natural history.

    Later, Engels saw a living platypus at a British zoo and was chagrined. Like Marx a good materialist, and a thinker receptive to Darwin’s theory of evolution, which dethroned a human-centered view of nature, Engels came to respect that “reason” in history, natural or otherwise, must not necessarily accord with present standards of human reason.

    This is a parable we find salutary to understanding the condition of the Left today.

    In light of the history of the present, we might ask, what right does the Left have to exist?

    Every right — as much as the platypus has, however difficult it might be to categorize!

    We maintain that past and present history need not indicate the future. Past and present failures and losses on the Left should educate and warn, but not spellbind and enthrall us.

    Hence, to free ourselves, we declare that the Left is dead. — Or, more precisely, that we are all that is left of it.

    This is less a statement of fact than of intent.

    — The intent that the Left should live, but the recognition that it can, only by overcoming itself. And we are that overcoming!

    I had a little laugh too. We are Australians and thus hail from the land of the platypus!

    You declare the Left to be dead and then go on the remark “we are all that is left of it”. That’s been our feeling too. It’s very, very cheering to know that there are others out there who think somewhat similarly about the state of the Left.

    We’re a pretty small and disorganised group, but have plans to rebuild our old site ( and get down to the hard work of developing a deeper understanding, and seeking out others who want to get on with the job of rebuilding the Left.

    I’ll leave it here because I need to put some time into that.

    Congratulations to you and your comrades on having created .

  31. 31 Bill Kerr

    It is always the medias fault

    It turns out that the dire predictions by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) of the BP Oil spill spreading to the Florida coastline and beyond were false:
    – the chemical dispersants worked
    – bacteria broke down the oil more than expected
    – it’s hard to predict ocean currents accurately
    – the computer simulations were not accurate

    A scientific organisation, which is also under fire for over hyped predictions about climate change based on their computer models, was exaggerating the extent of the disaster and is now blaming the media when the fault was in their press release. See Pielke jnr’s earlier article about this too, Sexing up the Spill

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