Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Shock Doctrine: Mining Companies used the Pandemic for Profit

Editor’s note: The shock doctrine is a concept proposed by Canadian journalist Naomi Klein and is outlined in her book, The Shock Doctrine. The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, published in 2007. Its central proposition is that the capitalist markets take advantage of moments of tragedy or disaster, such as the pandemic, to propose or impose policies that benefit them. People’s inability to react at these times favors this strategy.

But the shock doctrine is part of a continuum. Civilization has been doing the same thing now that it has been doing for 10,000 years. Civilization traumatizes individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. Modern capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community unless they have first been broken as a human being and built up again as a citizen. The shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches its inevitable suicidal endgame.

By Jen Moore/Counterpunch.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Arundhati Roy, April 2020

Just over two years ago when lockdowns were being declared like dominoes around the world, there was a brief moment when the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to hold the potential for much-needed reflection. Could it lead to a reversal away from the profit-driven ecological and socio-economic dead end we’ve been propelling toward?

Arundhati Roy’s call to critical reflection was published in early April 2020. At the time, she was observing the early evidence, on one hand, of the devastating toll of the pandemic as a result of extraordinary inequality, the privatized health care system, and the rule of big business in the U.S., which continued to play out along lines of class and race.

She was also writing with horror at how the Modi government in India was enacting an untenable lockdown on a population of over a billion people without notice or planning, in a context of overlapping economic and political crises. While the rich and middle class could safely retreat to work from home, millions of migrant workers were forced out of work into a brutal, repressive, and even fatal long march back to their villages. And that was just the beginning.

The jarring “rupture” with normality that Roy wrote about two years ago has reinforced many “prevailing prejudices”, as she anticipated. Whether we’re talking about Amazon, the pharmaceutical industry, or mining companies, big business managed to have itself declared “essential” and profit handsomely. Meanwhile, poor and racialized people have paid the highest costs and experienced the greatest losses in the U.S., India, and many other countries around the world.

But we have also seen how people have fought back hard showing tremendous resilience in the face of greater adversity.

This is very much the case in mining-affected communities around the world, many of whom were already in David and Goliath battles before the pandemic to protect their land and water from the harms of mineral extraction. They have found no reprieve since the pandemic began.

While taking measures to protect themselves from COVID-19, these movements have refused to let their guard down as governments and corporations have taken advantage of greater social constraints to advance the mining industry.

A Pandemic Made to Fit the Mining Industry

Land defenders block mine-related traffic in Casillas, Guatemala, 2019. (Photo: NISGUA, via EarthWorks Flickr)

Since April 2020, the Institute for Policy Studies(IPS) Global Economy Project has been participating in the Coalition Against the Mining Pandemic, which came together to help document what was happening in the mining sector during the pandemic. The coalition is made up of environmental justice organizations, networks, and initiatives from North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that work in solidarity with mining-affected communities.

The group observed early evidence that mining companies would be among the worst pandemic profiteers. In the past, after all, these corporations have sought to benefit from floods, coups, dictatorships, and other disasters to rewrite laws and push projects through while local populations are busy dealing with catastrophe and living under the gun.

In addition, the coalition especially wanted to understand what the pandemic meant for the struggles of Indigenous peoples and other mining-affected communities on the frontlines with whom we work in solidarity.

This collaborative research effort has involved local partners in 23 countries to document what it’s been like trying to protect community health from the ravages of the pandemic — while also fighting against the threat of losing their water and territory from the long-term impacts of gold, iron-ore, copper, nickel, coal, and lithium mining.

The 23 countries where we looked at cases have recorded 29 percent of the world’s known COVID cases, 43 percent of recorded COVID-related deaths, and include two of the top ten countries for the highest mortality rates (calculated by dividing the number of recorded COVID cases by the number of COVID related deaths). In order, these are Peru and Mexico. (Ecuador, where we looked at another case study, now ranks 11th.)

As expected, our recently released Latin America report No Reprieve demonstrates how COVID-19 restrictions seem to have been made to fit the mining industry. As Price Waterhouse Cooper observed in its 2021 Great Expectations report on the global mining industry, “by any important measure, mining is one of the few industries that emerged from the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic economic crisis in excellent financial and operational shape.”

Precious metal prices rose in the context of the uncertainty created by the pandemic, leading to historic profits for some companies despite lower production in 2020. Prices for base metals, such as copper, soon followed as markets opened up. This was much earlier than the lifting of social constraints, putting affected communities at an even greater disadvantage than before the pandemic in their struggles for water, land, and survival.

No Reprieve for Mining Affected Communities

The lengthy lockdowns and other public health measures that were put in place not only spelled greater socio-economic crisis than before for these communities. They also meant greater difficulty or outright bans on meeting together to discuss concerns about environmental contamination, hardship, mining projects, and the greater difficulty of dealing with government offices responsible for permitting and inspections.

Online meetings were often inadequate or unavailable. When there was no other option but to get together to protest, the risks were greater than ever.

In Brazil, as in many other countries in Latin America, mining has continued pretty much without interruption since the start of the pandemic. For over a year, the community of Aurizona in the state of Maranhão has been living without an adequate supply of drinking water since the rupture of a tailings dam at the Aurizona gold mine owned by Mineração Aurizona S.A. (MASA), a subsidiary of the Canadian firm Equinox Gold.

On March 25, 2021, at the height of the pandemic in this part of northwestern Brazil, the Lagoa do Pirocaua tailings dam overflowed, contaminating the water supplies of this community of 4,000 people. Despite company promises, the community continues to lack adequate water supplies. Meanwhile, the company obtained a legal ruling that prohibits street blockades and filed a lawsuit against five movement leaders to try to deter their organizing.

In Colombia, Indigenous Wayúu and Afro-descendant communities in the La Guajira region experienced heightened risks from the continued operation of the Cerrejón mining complex, the largest open-pit thermal coal mine in Latin America. This mine is now owned exclusively by Swiss commodities giant Glencore, which consolidated its control over the mine in January 2022 when it purchased the shareholdings of Anglo American and BHP Billiton.

This mine has already operated for over three decades and displaced dozens of communities. In September 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment, David Boyd, asked the Colombian government to at least temporarily suspend Cerrejón’s operations, pointing out that the contamination, health impacts, and lack of water the communities already faced increased the risk of death from COVID-19.

Instead, the mine continued and even accelerated operations, while communities suffered serious physical and emotional impacts from greater social confinement and loss of subsistence economic activities. The company donated food and safety equipment to improve its image, but this generated divisions and disagreements among communities that were difficult to resolve given the restrictions on meetings.

Making this situation worse, the government and companies have refused to respect a 2017 Constitutional Court decision that recognized violations of community rights to water, food, sovereignty, and health in authorizing the diversion of the Bruno Creek’s natural course to expand coal extraction. Instead, since mid 2021, Glencore and Anglo American have been suing the Colombian government under the terms of bilateral international investment agreements with Switzerland and the United Kingdom for not letting them expand the mine.

Militarized Mining

Not only did the spaces for community organizing shrink, disappear, or just get a lot harder, violence got worse in many places. In many cases, there was heavy-handed repression, heightened militarization, and ongoing legal persecution of land and environment defenders.

In Honduras, the Tocoa Municipal Committee for the Defense of the Natural and Public Commons spent nearly the entire first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic fighting for the freedom of eight water defenders who were arbitrarily detained for their peaceful opposition to an iron ore project owned by the Honduran company Los Pinares Investments.

They were only freed in February 2022, after the narcodictatorship of former President Juan Orlando Hernández lost power to the country’s first female president, Xiomara Castro. Meanwhile the company, which has ties to U.S. steel company Nucor, managed to start operations in mid 2021 without obtaining the required environmental permit, immediately putting in danger the future of the San Pedro river on which downstream communities depend.

In Mexico, a special group of public armed forces called the Mining Police was inaugurated in 2020, aimed at protecting mining facilities from mineral theft. The recruitment of troops was announced for the first time in July of that year, during an online event entitled “The reactivation of mining in the face of the new normality.” By the end of September 2020, the first 118 federal officers with military training had graduated and were deployed to guard the La Herradura gold mine owned by the Mexican company Fresnillo plc, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange and owned by Industrias Peñoles.

In contrast, no measures have been taken to lower the levels of subjugation, extortion, forced displacement, and violence against the communities that inhabit these same areas — such as the community of El Bajío, which neighbors the La Herradura mine, where the Penmont company from the same business group operated illegally until 2013.

Members of the community of El Bajío have faced violence since this time, despite receiving 67 favorable rulings declaring the land occupation agreements of the community members affected by the Mexican company Penmont (a subsidiary of Fresnillo plc) null and void. These rulings have yet to be executed and the risks for the community have intensified.

Two members of this community were brutally assassinated in April 2021. Beside their bodies a piece of cardboard was found on which 13 names of other community members involved in the resistance to the mine were written, a clear threat. The state has not provided any protection to family members either — although there are constant patrols by state police, the National Guard, and the army to intimidate the population.

Mining for Supposed Economic Recovery

At the same time, administrative processes for companies to get new permits got easier and projects moved forward. The justification was that mineral extraction would supposedly contribute to post-pandemic economic reactivation, but it’s well known that mining tends to divert attention from more sustainable economic sectors at a national level and impoverish local communities.

In Panama and Ecuador —  both countries with few industrial mines in operation due to widespread rejection by the affected populations — there have also been attempts to accelerate mining expansion in the name of economic reactivation.

In Ecuador, there is widespread opposition to mining in the country due to its impacts on water, the country’s exceptional biodiversity, and the well-being of small farmer and Indigenous communities.

During his election campaign, current President Guillermo Lasso promoted “human rights and the rights of nature… and the protection of the environment with a sustainable agenda.” However, once he took office in May 2021, he showed his willingness to serve transnational mining interests.

On August 5, he issued Executive Decree No. 151, an “Action Plan for the Ecuadorian Mining Sector,” which seeks to accelerate mining in fragile ecosystems such as the Amazon and high-altitude wetlands (páramos). It gives legal certainty to mining companies by providing a favorable environment for investors, indicating explicit respect for international agreements that favor corporate interests. It likewise proposes the acceleration of environmental permits for mining projects without taking into account the socio-environmental impacts.

Similarly, on May 19, 2021, the Panamanian government presented its strategic plan to base its post-pandemic economic recovery on mining. Given the prevalence of corruption and the constant violations of environmental regulations and the Constitution by mining companies in Panama, citizens see this mining stimulus plan as the government aiming to enrich itself and its cronies.

Faced with the fallacy of national economic recovery through mining, a national campaign platform arose called the Panama Worth More Without Mining Movement (MPVMSM). This broad based movement of environmental organizations, teachers, workers, youth, small farmers, and Indigenous communities opposes mining and the renegotiation of the contract over the only operating mine in Panama, Cobre Panama owned by First Quantum Minerals, which they consider unconstitutional and argue should be canceled.

Despite evidence that upwards of 60 percent of Panamanians support this movement’s aims, the government insists on continuing to promote initiatives aimed at making way for mining expansion in the country.

Truly Essential Resilience and Resistance 

Despite the conditions for peoples’ struggles having gotten harder over the last two years, the resilience and resistance of people fighting from the margins for their land, their water and their community health has persisted, often with women, Indigenous peoples, and small-scale farmers at the forefront.

From Mexico to Argentina, the communities and organizations who shared their experiences for this report have found ways to continue fighting for respect for their self-determination, community health, and their own visions of their future. While some projects moved ahead, others have not been able to overcome tireless community resistance.

Whether communities are fighting to address mining harms or standing in the way of these unwanted projects, their struggles are potent examples of the sort of reimagining and digging in for fundamental change that Arundhati Roy urged at the start of this pandemic.

Through their resistance, mutual care, traditional knowledge, and efforts toward greater food sovereignty and collective wellbeing, these communities and movements demonstrate the urgent need to shift away from a destructive model of economic development that has been forced on people around the world, based on endless extraction to serve international markets with primary materials that are turned into products for mass consumption.

They point out the vital need for a serious reckoning to address the harms that have taken place and to pull back the reins on such militarized mass destruction in order to prioritize peoples’ self-determination and more sustainable ways of living. This is what is truly essential if we hope to ensure collective health and wellbeing now and for future generations.


Jen Moore is an Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Photo by shahin khalaji on Unsplash

The Shock Doctrine: How Climate Fear is Being Weaponized to Make Billions

The Shock Doctrine: How Climate Fear is Being Weaponized to Make Billions

Editor’s note: As the climate catastrophe worsens, chaos and contradiction reigns. Grassroots people’s resistance to the fossil fuel industry is growing, but so is government repression, and investment in coal, oil, and gas continues to grow (last year, more than 83% of global energy was supplied by fossil fuels). Meanwhile, governments are censoring the true depths of the crisis and a rush of big-businesses are seeking to capitalize on global warming, seeing a massive “shock doctrine” opportunity for profiting off the crisis.

Today we bring you an excerpt from the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert, a book which Chris Hedges says “asks the questions most refuse to ask, and in that questioning, that seeking, uncovers profound truths we ignore at our peril.”

This excerpt uses Naomi Klein’s concept of the “Shock Doctrine” to analyze how big business has co-opted the environmental movement into a de-facto lobbying arm for the so-called “green” technology industry, and in the process has turned away from the fundamental values of the environmentalism.

bright green lies book cover - shock doctrine excerptIt shouldn’t surprise us that the values of the environmental movement have degraded so much in the last 30 years.

Now more than ever, people are immersed in technology instead of the real world. As one report states, “The average young American now spends practically every minute—except for time in school—using a smart- phone, computer, television or electronic device.” A recent poll in Britain found that the average 18-to-25-year-old rated an internet connection as more important than daylight.

We’ve come a long way from the naturalists we were born to be; from inhabiting a living world flush with kin to serving a society in thrall to machines.

It’s no wonder, then, that so many people believe in nonsensical technological solutions. Technology does it for them and the real world doesn’t.

And so, the absurd becomes normal. We hear that green technology will stop global warming. We hear that cutting down forests and burning them is good for the planet. We hear that damming rivers is good for the planet. We hear that destroying the desert to put in solar panels is good for the planet. We hear that industrial recycling will save the world. We hear that commodifying nature is somehow significantly different than business as usual. We hear that we can invest our way to sustainable capitalism. We hear that capitalism can be sustainable.

A global growth rate of 3 percent, which is considered the mini- mum for capitalism to function, means the world economy doubles every 24 years. This is, of course, madness. If we can’t even name capitalism as a problem, how are we to have any chance of saving the planet?

There’s no doubt that global warming is apocalyptic. I (Max) have stood on thawing permafrost above the Arctic Circle and seen entire forests collapsing as soils lose integrity under their roots. This culture is changing the composition of the planet’s climate. But this is not the only crisis the world is facing, and to pretend otherwise ignores the true roots of the problem.

The Sierra Club has a campaign called “Ready for 100.” The campaign’s goal is to “convince 50 college campuses, a dozen key cities and half a dozen key states to go 100 percent renewable.’” The executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, explains,

“There are a few reasons why Ready for 100 is working—why it’s such a powerful idea. People have agency, for one. People who are outraged, alarmed, depressed, filled with despair about climate change—they want to make a difference in ways they can see, so they’re turning to their backyards. Turning to their city, their state, their university. And, it’s exciting—it’s a way to address this not just through dread, but with something that sparks your imagination.”

There are a lot of problems with that statement. First, is Ready for 100 really “working,” like Brune says? That depends on the unspoken part of that statement: working to achieve what? He may mean that the campaign is working to mobilize a larger main- stream climate movement. He may mean that Ready for 100 is working in the sense that more “renewable” infrastructure is being built, in great measure because more subsidies are being given to the industry.

If he means Ready for 100 is working to reduce the burning of coal, oil, and gas—which is, in fact, what he means—he’s dead wrong, as “fossil fuels continue to absolutely dominate global energy consumption.”

There’s more about Brune’s quote that’s bothersome. He’s explicitly turning people’s “outrage, alarm, depression, and despair” into means that serve the ends of capital; through causing people to use these very real feelings to lobby for specific sectors of the industrial economy.

If a plan won’t work, it doesn’t matter if people have “agency.” The ongoing destruction of the planet, and the continued dominance of coal, oil, and gas, seems to be less important than diverting people’s rage—which, if left unchecked, might actually explode into something that would stop capitalism and industrialism from murdering the planet—into corporate-friendly ends.

Led by, the Fossil Free campaign aims to remove financial support for the coal, oil, and gas industries by pressuring institutions such as churches, cities, and universities to divest. It’s modeled on the three-pronged boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) resistance to South African apartheid (a model used today against Israel). The Fossil Free campaign has thus far pressured 800 institutions and 58,000 individuals to divest $6 trillion. Some of these are partial divestments, such as withdrawing from tar sands but continuing to fund fracking.

Still, sounds great, right? Anyone fighting to stop coal, oil, and gas is doing a very good thing.

But given how little time we have, and how badly we’re losing the fight for the planet, we have to ask if divestment is an effective strategy.

The answer, unfortunately, is not really. Jay Taber of Intercontinental Cry points out that “All this divestment does is make once publicly held shares available on Wall Street, which allows trading houses like Goldman Sachs to further consolidate their control of the industry. BDS, when applied against apartheid states by other states and international institutions, includes cut- ting off access to finance, as well as penalties for crimes against humanity.” He states quite bluntly that divestment acts to “redirect activism away from effective work.”

Bill Gates—not usually someone we’d listen to—seems to agree. “If you think divestment alone is a solution,” Gates writes, “I worry you’re taking whatever desire people have to solve this problem and kind of using up their idealism and energy on something that won’t emit less carbon—because only a few people in society are the owners of the equity of coal or oil companies.”

If it occurs on a wide enough scale, divestment makes previously held stocks, bonds, and other investment products available for purchase. This glut drops prices, making it easier for less ethical investors to buy. This not only consolidates the industry, but it also makes fossil fuel stocks more profitable for those who snatch them up. As journalist Christian Parenti writes, “So how will dumping Exxon stock hurt its income, that is, its bottom line? It might, in fact, improve the company’s price to earnings ratio thus making the stock more attractive to immoral buyers. Or it could allow the firm to more easily buy back stock (which it has been doing at a massive scale for the last five years) and thus retain more of its earnings for use to develop more oil fields.”

It’s unlikely any divestment campaigner believes divestment alone will stop global warming. The Fossil Free website recognizes this, writing: “The campaign began in an effort to stigmatize the Fossil Fuel industry—the financial impact was secondary to the socio-political impact.” But as the amount of money being divested continues to grow, reinvestment is becoming a more central part of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. The website continues: “We have a responsibility and an opportunity to ask ourselves how moving the money itself … can help us usher forth our vision.”

Great! So, they’re suggesting these organizations take their money out of oil industry stocks, and use that money to set aside land as wilderness, for wild nature, right?

Well, no. They want the money to be used to fund “renewable energy.” And they’ve slipped a premise past us: the idea that divestment and reinvestment can work to create a better world. It’s an extraordinary claim, and not supported by evidence. As Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project writes, “Can the very markets that have led us to the brink of the abyss now provide our parachute? … Under this system, those with the money have all the power. Then why are we trying to reform this system? Why are we not transforming it?”

Activist Keith Brunner writes, “Yes, the fossil fuel corporations are the big bad wolf, but just as problematic is the system of investment and returns which necessitates a growth economy (it’s called capitalism).” His conclusion: “We aren’t going to invest our way to a livable planet.”

Is it better to fight for “achievable, realistic” goals through reform, or address the fundamental issues at their root? Usually, we’re in favor of both. If we wait for the great and glorious revolution and don’t do any reform work (which we could also call defensive work), by the time the revolution comes, the world will have been consumed by this culture. And if we only do defensive work and don’t address the causes of the problems, this culture will consume the world until there’s nothing left.

But it’s pretty clear that the real goal of the bright greens isn’t defending the planet: Everyone from Lester Brown to Kumi Naidoo has been explicit about this. The real goal is to get money into so-called green technology. A recent article notes, “Climate solutions need cold, hard cash … about a trillion a year.”

One of Naomi Klein’s biggest contributions to discourse is her articulation of the “shock doctrine,” which she defines as “how America’s ‘free market’ policies have come to dominate the world—through the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.” In her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Klein explains—brilliantly—how the same principles used to disorient and extract concessions from victims of torture can be leveraged to extract political concessions from entire nations in the wake of major disasters. She gives many examples, including the wave of austerity and privatization in Chile following the Pinochet coup in 1973, the massive expansion of industrialism and silencing of dissidents following the Tienanmen Square massacre in China in 1989, and the dismantling of low-income housing and replacement of public education with for-profit schools in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The shock doctrine also perfectly describes the entire bright green movement: Because of a terrible and very real disaster (in this case, climate change), you need to hand over huge subsidies to a sector of the industrial economy, and you need to let us destroy far more of the natural world, from Baotou to the Mojave Desert to the bottom of the ocean. If you don’t give us lots of money and let us destroy far more of the natural world, you will lose the luxuries that are evidently more important to you than life on the planet.

Once you start looking for this trend, it’s really clear. There’s a 2016 article in Renewable Energy World magazine about the Desert Renewable Energy and Conservation Plan. The plan allows major solar energy harvesting facilities to be built in some areas of the California desert, but not other areas. Shannon Eddy, head of the Large-Scale Solar Association, considers protecting parts of the desert “a blow.” She says, “The world is on fire—CO2 levels just breached the 400-ppm threshold. We need to do everything we can right now to reduce emissions by getting renewable projects online.”

Everything including destroying the desert. This is reminiscent of a phrase from the Vietnam War era, which originated in 1968 with AP correspondent Peter Arnett: “‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it,’ a United States major said today.”

If you enjoyed this excerpt, you can order the book Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It to your local bookstore or anywhere you find books. It’s also available in audiobook format on Audible and other platforms.

We also invite readers to get involved in people’s movements against greenwashing and for degrowth, resistance to industrial civilization, humane population reduction, and for the land. You can learn more about an active struggle over these issues at Protect Thacker Pass.

Radical Discourse: A Critical Review of “The Shock Doctrine”

Radical Discourse: A Critical Review of “The Shock Doctrine”

This episode of The Green Flame revolves around a group discussion ofNaomi Klein‘s 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. We discuss the points of the book that are on point, other areas where the book fails, and how in some ways Klein’s own analysis describes how her mainstream climate movement operates.

In this book, Klein describes the spread of neoconservatism (aka neoliberalism, in some cases), and how it has been facilitated by a deliberate strategy of “shock treatments.” The shock treatments, Klein argues, has always required dictatorship for enforcement. Also read an analysis of the book.

Our music for this episode is “Drag the Forests Down” by Foxpockets.

A Critical Review Of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine

A Critical Review Of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine

Ross Carter offers a critical review of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. He arguably enriches Naomi’s own assessment of the situation by adding a DGR analysis.

By Ross Carter

Using crisis as an opportunity to get rich

In her book, the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein details a particular trope of modern capitalism. That of using and/or creating shock and disaster to advance its agenda. Like the majority of liberal literature this book left me with more questions than answers. For example, is it just capitalism that uses crises to advance? Was life amazing before neo-liberal capitalism came along? Are discussions about different shades of civilization a waste of time? Is this whole book a distraction? Although frustrating at times and limited in its perspective, the history mapped out in this book did still have a lot to offer and to ponder.

The Traumatised Traumatise

One thing I take home from this book is how modern Capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. Due to Naomi’s blind commitment to Democracy and liberalism this would not be a take home though without a mild awareness of the history of civilization, particularly how it has always depended upon war, colonisation, control of populaces (social structure, slavery, police, media, religion and law etc.), and environmental and technological expansion, to sustain a hold over humanity and the planet. Civilization has also always fed off of disaster. This can be clearly seen in the fact that although individual civilizations collapse, disasters in themselves, civilization itself has continued to spread across the planet eating up wildlife, including wild humans, in its path.

The story that Naomi tells is not an isolated story, it is one that has been going on in one form or another for as long as civilization has existed. The logic of Civilization is to protect itself at any cost, and that logic continues unabated. Without a deeper analysis you are stuck in the limited perspective that if only we could get rid of those horrible capitalists then everything would be ok. This is a naive over-simplification of the issues we face. It ignores the current and rapid murder of the planet by Industrial civilization.

It ignores the reality of the lives of passive desperation, the mental trauma, anguish and grief that humanity, as a whole, currently lives with.

Another lesson or reminder I took away from reading the book was how war and conflict is integral to civilization and its expansion and survival. All expansion (aka colonisation) has depended on violence and conflict and left destruction in its wake. Civilization in turn traumatises individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. This was true in Iraq in 2004 and it was true in Iraq (AKA the Fertile Crescent) in 6-8,000bc when one of the first civilizations is said to have formed/spread their leaving decimation and desert in its wake.

This needs repeating. The land that Iraq now sits on was being pillaged and destroyed by civilization 10,000 or so years ago. The language I am writing in, it is said, evolved out of the Middle Eastern languages of the time. The Shock Doctrine is part of a continuum. We, the civilized, are doing the same things now that civilized peoples were doing 10,000 years ago. Changing from neo-liberal capitalism to a more social capitalism, replacing oil wells with lithium and rare metal mines (for ‘green’ technologies), isn’t going to change anything. The Shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches, what seems like an inevitable suicidal endgame. The almost complete end of life on this planet.

“I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent”  p20.

The Shock process that Naomi defines and recognises is at the core a continuation of colonialism. It is hyper-colonialism. It is a confirmation by those in power that they are in power and that they are willing to do anything to stay in power. It is an extra layer of colonialism. And therefore an extra layer of trauma and destruction. Competition is at the core of all civilized relationships and the civilized psyche itself. It is at the core of agricultural societies who fight each other and wild nature for the space to deforest and grow. It is at the core of modern civilization in all its teachings and all it upholds. Competition we are told is natural and good. We appear to have forgotten what is natural and good. We have seen no other path. We are conquerors and dominators. Takers. We do not know what it is to be human be-ings, only human war-ings. This is apparent in Naomi’s book.

From Chile to Iraq via New Orleans. The only direction we can go is towards increasing levels of control and dominance. Unless we change this mindset we will continue on this path indefinitely. Civilization can wear a facade of democracy or liberalism but it is merely that. A facade. Equality and co-operation are not possible in civilization. They are in direct contradiction to its inbuilt needs to expand and control.

Changing this mindset is an intense and thorough task, but it is the only one that will make a difference long term.

Joe Biden and solar panels are not going to cut it. Just as different leaders and more technology have never made a difference before. Only increased and sped up the expansion and control of civilization. There will be no simple solution or saviour. Our desperation to control and dominate from the White House and board room, to our patriarchal nuclear family, stems from the same place. Mass cultural trauma. As Naomi points out, a broken individual is easy to manipulate and control. And we are all broken by civilization. We are traumatised in the womb. We are traumatised in birth. We are born into generational trauma. We are traumatised within our dysfunctional families and social structures. We are traumatised by our ‘education’. We are traumatised by the boxes we are put in and the masks we have to wear. We are traumatised by pollution, by food, by technologies. Etc. Etc.

The traumatised mind is a warring and competing mind. It is one that cannot be satiated. Civilization commodifies and others us. It turns us into objects and roles. Slave, farmer, chief, wife, husband, etc. THAT is shock and awe. The shock that Naomi defines is an interesting story and one worth hearing, but it is also an addendum, and like all leftist analysis it ignores or denies the rest of the book. It ignores what led to that addendum. If we continue not to see how violence and (our own) trauma and shock are integral to the establishment and sustenance of civilization, not just neo-liberal capitalism, then our solutions and actions, like all leftist/liberal solutions, are going to achieve absolutely zero when facing the bigger picture of the murder and enslavement of the planet and of ALL life on it by civilization.

Our blindness to reality is related to our mass trauma, perpetuated by our education system and media.

The media are masters of shock. Naomi points out how the military targeted certain industries in Iraq to increase the shock to the populace. Just as important was the taking over of the media. Of the stories being told to the Iraqi people. The media pacifies through dumbing populations down, through fear mongering, and simply through lying or covering up the truth,  It is quite amusing but also sad to note that Naomi, and all of her other liberal pals, are suffering from the very symptoms she herself defines. That of a forgetting. A cultural amnesia. A reconditioning, brainwashing (let’s call it what it is). Let’s not forget that liberals are traumatised too.

One only needs some basic understanding of the history of civilization to know that at its core since its inception it has depended on slavery (by the whip or by economic/cultural control), genocide, ecocide and colonisation. This is completely ignored though. Why? Why would liberals continue to preach for, and believe in, those very things which are used to oppress them? The Green New Deal and Democracy aren’t going to remove the shock to the system that living hollowed out lives on a hollowed out planet perpetually puts us through. Yet they are worshipped. How could you read this 533 page book, in your break at the office, or sitting in your city apartment, the sound of sirens and cars droning around you, smell of pollution in the air, zero wildlife, about how capitalism uses shock to further its agenda, and not recognise the shock, all around you and within you? The obvious answer is that liberals have been shocked themselves.

We have all been shocked.

Then in this lost, disconnected state we are all susceptible to the easy solutions of religion, gurus, demagogues and techno-fixes. We are all malleable. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community, to civilization, unless they have first been broken as a human and built up again as a citizen. We will only really be able to think clearly and connect to one another and the earth again once we throw off the myths that civilization holds us down with. Once we, as individuals and communities, destroy civilization as a concept and a physical system. For it is only beyond civilization that we can really be free from continued shock and perpetual disaster.

Ross Carter is a sytems thinker, critic and DGR guardian based in the UK.

Learning From History

Learning From History

This article is from the blog buildingarevolutionarymovement.


Writing about history is important for this project, but why is that? I took for granted how important learning from history is without really thinking about why. When I read How Change Happens by Duncan Green, he clarified things. This got me thinking about wanting to understand learning from history better to then write about it.

Successes and failure of the left
Duncan Green, who’s area of focus is international development, describes how looking at history lets us question the world we take for granted and understand the long-term trends that shape it. By understanding how our current world has been created, we can find more realistic methods to change it. He describes how the success of the abolitionist movement shows that massive, immovable objects have been changed before. Green describes how history can inspire a deep respect for the personal sacrifices and campaign skills of our predecessors. History can also provide intellectual material to challenge the current narrow window of what’s acceptable. By studying historical examples that are an alternative and different from the norm, it gives new insights and ideas. Green explains that history encourages curiosity and humility and reminds us that activists are usually less influential than political, economic or unexpected changes. [1]

Campaigning for change: lessons from history by the History & Policy Network and Friends of the Earth explain that the case studies in the book: “illustrate, documenting activism and organising for change in the past gives us greater understanding of strategic choices, communications strategies, timing and serendipity in campaigning, as well as some extraordinary examples of mobilisation on a scale that today’s campaigners can scarcely dream of.” [2] The book explores ten case studies from the last 200 years in Britain.

They reference the famous quote ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, and describe how politicians and pundits regularly use history to try to understand the present but without thinking how to do that appropriately. [3]

The History & Policy Network and Friends of the Earth describe the three questions that academic historians focus on the most:

  • how you choose your questions/choosing your histories,
  • the truthfulness of historical explanations/choosing your historians,
  • the unique character of historical events/translating past into present/challenge of drawing parallels. [4]

The conclusion of Campaigning for change: lessons from history identifies four areas of learning:

  1. Big game-plan and proxy campaigns – many modern-day campaigns do not have a bigger game plan compared to campaigns of the past.
  2. Approaches – using economics arguments instead of moral arguments is now common; movements do reach out to elites to build coalitions as they did in the past; we now have loose networks heading in the same direction compared to broad-based cohesive movements and coalitions of the past.
  3. Tactics – strong individual and group identities are important; people have relationships with the place they live in and the people who live there; direct action has contributed to successful campaigns in the past when used strategically; over time women have extended their sphere of influence in movements resulting in novel and successful tactics.
  4. The backlash – prepare for and understand what possible backlashes may appear and from where, and prepare how to use them to benefit the campaign; and understanding that those in power cannot always control the narrative so aim to control or change the narrative. [5]

In Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy Rinku Sen describes how looking at the history of community organising shows several different models, that are based on a “specific theory of constituency building and social change”. These specific models of organising can be beneficial and limiting. Understanding the model that our tactics are based on means we can “follow that model to a logical conclusion, get help from others who have used it, avoid its pitfalls, and describe ourselves effectively in our attempts to raise money and train new leaders.” Models can also limit campaigns ability to innovate, which is key to success. Sen explains that pure models do not exist and effective organisers mix and match. Community organising and social movement history are full of examples of tactics from past campaign being applied to ongoing struggles. She argues the importance of being able to articulate the theory of social change being applied to then stick with it or adjust it as necessary. [6]

Professor Jodi Dean describes how historical accounts are meant as lessons and guideposts, ways of thinking that let us learn and do better next time. She argues that sometimes leftists forget this and get bogged down in lessons of the past as if they tell us exactly what will happen. As if history is completely determinist [7] and there is no alternative. She argues that the determinist perceptive is an academic approach and instead need to think in more political and revolutionary terms. Dean describes that we need to look at the past for guidance and the future should determine how we apply this guidance in terms of ‘strategy, tactics, practices, and slogans.’ [8]

Jodi Dean also argues that we need to learn the positive lessons from terrible historical periods. Jodi Dean wrote The Communist Horizon intending to reclaim ‘communism’, argues that when people reduce communism to the Soviet Union, they don’t want to learn from history. Instead, they want to universally criticise and condemn the Soviet Union. I’m no fan of the Soviet Union for obvious reasons (it was responsible for the mass murder of millions of people and highly repressive) but like Jodi Dean, there were experiments in self-management and collectivisation that we can learn from. It’s important to not write the whole period off. The people that undertook these experiments – scientists, doctors, farmers – do have something to teach us. [9]

Ben Reynolds who wrote The Coming Revolution: Capitalism in the 21st Century describes how we need to learn where the left has made missteps or gone wrong. Not so much about blame as being able to conduct an honest appraisal of our historical and current failures that will help us to build a strong and solid movement going forwards. He links this to how fractured the left is, with people being very ideological and not many reading or listening to opposing voices on the left. Reynolds describes how those on the left caricature those in other tendencies, so they are seen as evil and the enemy. The result is that no one learns from the historical experience and instead everyone is just regurgitating their talking points. He describes some of the lessons from the victory of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and the mistakes the left made there. [10]

Naomi Klein describes the emotional benefits of learning from this past in a talk she gave in 2011 about her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She explains that the large amounts of terrifying information that we are bombarded with result is us being in a state of shock so we don’t make important connections or construct analysis. This keeps us in the immobile state we’re stuck in. She describes that when we gather and tell ourselves stories then the clicks of connection happen. We can’t be effective activists if we’re hysterical. We can be calm and angry at the same time. Our role models in the effective political struggles of the past weren’t hysterical. They were focused and calm. Klein describes that when we make the connections between issues – war, torture, economics – between the present and our past, then our bodies start to relax. We calm down, get more focused and we can feel some of that rage as opposed to just fear. So we can be much more effective activists and fighters. [11]

The Marxist economics Professor Richard Wolff, explains in many of his youtube videos how important learning from history is in relation to why the 2008 economic crash happened and also what happened in the US in the 1930s in response to Great Depression – labour movements forced President Roosevelt to implement the New Deal by taxing the rich. [12] He also explains that most people know a lot of what he explains in his talks but he shares his understanding of history with a narrative in the hopes that it will cause people to join with other people to make a change. [13]

Richard Wolff explains clearly in this video how since 1980 the capitalists in the US rolled back the New Deal gains for ordinary people of benefits, pensions, and full employment. He explains near the end of the video that although the rich were heavy taxed during the New Deal period and post-war boom, they were left with the resources to be able to support the neoliberal project of think tanks and academics from the middle of the twentieth century. It then became the dominant political and economic ideology from the late 1970s. I will describe the history and nature of neoliberalism in a future post.

Richard Wolff argues in the video that what we learning from the last fifty years is that: if taxes are drastically increased and regulations are put in place to stop another financial crash, the rich have the resources to undo them again and they will do this. He concludes that “you can not leave some people in control of a disproportionate amount of the wealth of society and then be surprised if they use that wealth to keep themselves at the top. If we don’t want that, then let’s not fight over redistributing the wealth. Let’s not distribute unequally in the first place. We shouldn’t have some people earning millions of dollars and other people fighting to get $15 an hour as a minimum wage. That creates inequality and the corruption of politics to keep that inequality in place.’ [14]

History from below
In All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History from Below Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts describe two perspectives of ‘history from below’: “‘radical history’ – the history of more or less organised political movements which challenge and sometimes shape the order of things – and history from below as the history of unheard voices and experiences per se.” [15]

All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History from Below has eight chapters. The introduction describes core figures and institutions that are used as a starting point to explore the field. Chapter two looks at class, ‘the people’ and ‘the below’, and how history from below has expanded these categories. Chapter three explores questions related to the discovery and use of historical sources. Chapter four looks at how the working class developed intellectual practices and developed distribution networks for the dissemination of dissent. Chapter five focuses on the relationship between history, literary forms and myth-making, and how people construct their own identities and experiences about the dominant culture. Chapter six looks at education – university institutions, their critique and protest against them. Chapter seven looks at history and state politics, focusing on the Coalition Government concept of the ‘Big Society’. The final chapter describes some of the disputes and controversies that ‘historians from below’ have initiated.

Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements edited by Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally brings together “radical adult education and historical theoretical frameworks to explicitly examine the knowledge production, learning and politics involved in processes of retrieving and critically engaging with movement histories and developing activist archives, and further, in ways which put them into dialogue with contemporary activism.” [16] Its asks important questions “How do educators and activists in today’s struggles for change use historical materials from earlier periods of organizing for political education? How do they create and engage with independent and often informal archives and debates? How do they ultimately connect this historical knowledge with contemporary struggles?” [17]

The book is divided into four sections:

  • engagement with activist/movement archives,
  • learning and teaching militant histories,
  • lessons from liberatory and anti-imperialist struggles,
  • learning from student, youth and education struggles.

Six of the chapters focus on social movements in South Africa. Struggles are explored from other countries including Argentina, Iran, Britain, Palestine and the US [17]

The introduction (download here) gives an overview of the book and aspects of learning from history. It describes the importance of developing “context-specific, locally relevant ways to connect historical movement knowledge with contemporary organising.” [18] It also states that “histories from below can be fraught with contradictions, silences, omissions, distortions, and absences in similar ways to official histories, just as learning and knowledge produced in activist milieus can sometimes replicate rather than disrupt dominant power relations.” [19] Using ideas and concepts from previous struggles requires us to be aware of potential problems of “constructing imagined histories and continuities with the past”, so we need to avoid romanticising earlier struggles. We need to avoid copying past victories and applying now in different conditions and contexts. We also need to seriously consider to value of ‘old tactics’ that did not work in the past. [20]

The introduction stresses the importance of being aware of the problems of historical and social amnesia. This amnesia “risks losing the thread and texture of what it takes to bring about social change, with all of its tensions and contradictions and threatens to leave us with a version of history that glosses over or ignores the significance of behind-the-scenes organising. Such amnesia can paper over the conflicts, tensions and power dynamics that have been part of these organising efforts and from which we can also learn.” [21]

It also underlines how important it is for many movements to identify the “historical context for the conditions in which people live and struggle”, related to capitalism and colonialism. It describes the essential need to fashion “tools from forms and histories of resistance that are sometimes forgotten and buried.” It is important to appreciate struggles “at the margins or dissenting currents within larger movements, the ideas that they produce and their contributions to organising.” Finally, the introduction describes the need to be aware of revisionism “we need to also bring to light ways in which the latter struggles sometimes get overwritten by dominant accounts which focus on individual leaders and more visible or more powerful organisations.” [22]


  1. How Change Happens, Duncan Green, 2016, page 76/77
  2. Campaigning for change: lessons from history, History & Policy Network and Friends of the Earth, 2015, page 9
  3. Campaigning for change, page 11
  4. Campaigning for change, page 12
  5. Campaigning for change, page 160-174
  6. Stir It Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy, Rinku Sen, 2003, page lxiv
  7. Determinism is the philosophical theory that all events, including moral choices, are completely determined by previously existing causes. Determinism is usually understood to preclude free will because it entails that humans cannot act otherwise than they do.
  8. Jodi Dean, Launching the 2018 Register: Rethinking Democracy, 11m
  9. Jodi Dean – The Communist Horizon, 13m
  10. Bey Reynolds, The Coming Revolution, 29m,
  11. Naomi Klien, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, 129m,
  12. Richard Wolff, Crisis and Openings: Introduction to Marxism,
  13. Richard Wolff, the Game is Rigged, 121m,
  14. Richard Wolff, How Reaganomics Killed America’s Middle Class, 47m,
  15. All Knees and Elbows of Susceptibility and Refusal: Reading History from Below, Anthony Iles and Tom Roberts, 2012, page 6
  16. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, Aziz Choudry and Salim Vally, 2017, page 8
  17. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page vii
  18. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page 4
  19. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page 6
  20. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page 8
  21. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page 9
  22. Reflections on Knowledge, Learning and Social Movements, page 14