Naomi Klein’s Disappointing Book Compels Strategic Shift

On this website I describe a strategy for achieving environmental sustainability through revolutions that permit rapid economic contraction. In formulating this strategy I assumed that progressives, if provided with adequate theoretical guidance, would increasingly adopt a revolutionary posture as environmental destruction continued. This assumption was based in part on Naomi Klein’s 2011 article in The Nation, “Capitalism vs. the Climate”. Here she pointed out that, “… deep changes [are] required not just to our energy consumption but to the underlying logic of our economic system …”. I found this statement promising because it avoided the common error of focusing on energy systems instead of addressing the capitalist system as a whole. Moreover, it hinted at the possibility that Klein, and thus the progressive movement she strongly influences, would develop a penetrating critique of capitalism and adopt my view that it must be quickly superseded.

Unfortunately Klein’s recent book, This Changes Everything, has shattered this rosy picture. The book offers no analysis of capitalism, its logic, or the power of its ruling class, and therefore lacks a workable plan for moving to a post-capitalist economy. It asserts that, “only mass movements can save us now” (p. 450), but fails to provide credible support for this far-reaching claim. It dismisses more radical possibilities with a simplistic condemnation of “violent, vanguardist revolutions” (p. 452). It concludes that the task before progressives is to develop an alternative worldview and set of policy proposals – a thoroughly reformist program that leaves capitalism firmly in place. The likely effect of Klein’s book will be to steer progressives and environmentalists away from seriously challenging the system that is now eradicating complex life on earth.[i] This means that my existing strategy has been largely invalidated, at least for the rich capitalist countries. A new approach is therefore required.

If my current thinking holds, the new strategy will be based on the sole remaining social force that can implement the necessary economic changes in the time available: rational capitalists and their conservative allies. These relatively enlightened members of the ruling class are beginning to understand that their personal and business interests are existentially threatened by the ecocidal fanatics in their midst. They may soon be ready to organize themselves and take decisive action against this threat. Progressives will have an important role in pushing for systemic change and social justice, but I no longer see them as primary agents in the economic transformation. As a life-long progressive I am saddened by this strategic shift, but it appears to be humankind’s last chance to salvage the biosphere.

The new approach will be fully explained in my third book, which is scheduled for completion in the first half of 2015. My working title is Conservative Revolt: Halting capitalist ecocide to conserve nature and business.

Below are two links to a half-hour interview by Alex Smith of ecoshock.org, which outlines my current thinking.

http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/ecoshock/ES_Rotering.mp3 – CD Quality
http://www.ecoshock.org/downloads/ecoshock/ES_Rotering_LoFi.mp3 – Lo-Fi Quality

If you want to discuss the above, please email me: frank (at) contractionism.org.

Frank Rotering
October, 2014


[i] “The LPI [Living Planet Index], which measures trends in thousands of vertebrate species populations, shows a decline of 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010 … In other words, vertebrate species populations across the globe are, on average, about half the size they were 40 years ago.” (WWF International, Living Planet Report 2014, p. 8)