Author Naomi Klein speech to Labour Party Conference
Naomi Klein, speaking
at Labour Party Conference, said:
Kate for that lovely introduction and all the work that you do to put social
justice on the world agenda.
such a privilege to be part of this historic convention. To feel its energy and
friends, it’s bleak out there. How do I begin to describe a world upside down?
From heads of state tweeting threats of nuclear annihilation, to whole regions
rocked by climate chaos, to thousands of migrants drowning off the coasts of
Europe, to openly racist parties gaining ground, most recently and alarmingly
there is simply too much to take in. So I want to start with an example that
might seem small against such a vast backdrop. The Caribbean and Southern
United States are in the midst of an unprecedented hurricane season: pounded by
storm after record-breaking storm.
meet, Puerto Rico – hit by Irma, then Maria – is without power and could be for
months. It’s water and communication systems are also severely compromised.
Three and half million US citizens on that island are in desperate need of
their government’s help.
But just like
during Hurricane Katrina, the cavalry is missing in action. Donald Trump is too
busy trying to get Black athletes fired – smearing them for daring to shine a
spotlight on racist violence.
a real federal aid package for Puerto Rico has not yet been announced.
reports, more money has been spent securing presidential trips to Mar-a-Lago.
As if all
this weren’t enough, the vultures are now buzzing. The business press is filled
with articles about how the only way for Puerto Rico to get the lights back on
is to sell off its electricity utility. Maybe its roads and bridges too.
This is a
phenomenon I have called The Shock Doctrine – the exploitation of wrenching
crises to smuggle through policies that devour the public sphere and further
enrich a small elite.
this dismal cycle repeat again and again. We saw it after the 2008 financial
crash. We are already seeing it in how the Tories are planning to exploit
Brexit to push through disastrous pro-corporate trade deals without debate.
reason I am highlighting Puerto Rico is because the situation is so urgent. But
also because it’s a microcosm of a much larger global crisis, one that contains
many of the same overlapping elements: accelerating climate chaos; militarism; histories
of colonialism; a weak and neglected public sphere; a totally dysfunctional
overlaying it all: the seemingly bottomless capacity to discount the lives of
huge numbers of Black and brown people.
an age when it is impossible to pry one crisis apart from all the others. They
have all merged, reinforcing and deepening each other….. like one shambling,
it’s helpful to think of the current US president in much the same way.
tough to know how to adequately sum him up. So let me try a local example.
that horrible thing currently clogging up the London sewers. I believe you call
it the fatberg?
Trump, he’s the political equivalent of that.
of all that is noxious in the culture, economy and body politic, all kind of
glommed together in a self-adhesive mass. And we’re finding it very, very hard
so grim that we have to laugh. But make no mistake: whether it’s climate change
or the nuclear threat, Trump represents a crisis that could echo through
is my message to you today:
of crisis do not have to go the Shock Doctrine route – they do not need to become
opportunities for the already obscenely wealthy to grab still more.
also go the opposite way.
be moments when we find our best selves….. when we locate reserves of
strength and focus we never knew we had.
We see it
at the grassroots level every time disaster strikes.
witnessed it in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe.
people responsible were MIA……. the community came together…… Held one
another in their care, organized the donations and advocated for the living –
and for the dead.
are doing it still, more than 100 days after the fire.
there is still no justice and, scandalously, only a handful of survivors have
not only at the grassroots level that we see disaster awaken something
remarkable in us.
also a long and proud history of crises sparking progressive transformation on
a society-wide scale.
the victories won by working people for social housing and old age pensions
during the Great Depression….. Or for the NHS after the horrors of the Second
should remind us that moments of great crisis and peril do not necessarily need
to knock us backwards.
also catapult us forward.
progressive ancestors achieved that at key moments in history, in your country
and in mine.
can do it again – in this moment when everything is on the line.
we know from the Great Depression and the post-war period, is that we never win
these transformative victories by simply resisting….. by simply saying “no”
to the latest outrage.
To win in
a moment of true crisis, we also need a bold and forward-looking “yes”
– a plan
for how to rebuild and respond to the underlying causes.
plan needs to be convincing, credible and, most of all, captivating.
to help a weary and wary public to imagine itself into that better world.
is why I am so honoured to be standing with you today.
transformed Labour Party in 2017.
the next Prime Minister of Britain,
in the last election, that’s exactly what you did.
May ran a cynical campaign based on exploiting fear and shock to grab more
power for herself – first the fear of a bad Brexit deal, then the fear
following the horrific terror attacks in Manchester and London.
party and your leader responded by focusing on root causes: a failed “war on
terror”…. economic inequality and weakened democracy.
did more than that.
presented voters with a bold and detailed Manifesto.
laid out a plan for millions of people to have tangibly better lives:
funded health care,
of lowered expectations and asphyxiated political imagination, finally voters
had something hopeful and exciting to say “yes” to.
many of them did just that, upending the projections of the entire expert
proved that the era of triangulation and tinkering is over.
public is hungry for deep change – they are crying out for it.
trouble is, in far too many countries, it’s only the far right that is offering
it, or seeming to, with that toxic combination of fake economic populism and
very real racism.
showed us another way.
speaks the language of decency and fairness, that names the true forces most
responsible for this mess – no matter how powerful.
is unafraid of some of the ideas we were told were gone for good.
nationalising essential public services.
thanks to all of your boldness, we know that this isn’t just a moral strategy.
It fires up
the base, and it activates constituencies that long ago stopped voting
can keep doing that between now and the next election, you will be unbeatable.
showed us something else in the last election too, and it’s just as important.
showed that political parties don’t need to fear the creativity and
independence of social movements – and social movements, likewise, have a huge
amount to gain from engaging with electoral politics.
very big deal.
let’s be honest: political parties tend to be a bit freakish about control.
grassroots movements….. we cherish our independence – and we’re pretty much
impossible to control.
we are seeing with the remarkable relationship between Labour and Momentum, and
with other wonderful campaign organizations, is that it is possible to
the best of both worlds.
listen and learn from each other, we can create a force that is both stronger
and more nimble than anything either parties or movements can pull off on their
you to know that what you have done here is reverberating around the world – so
many of us are watching your ongoing experiment in this new kind of politics
with rapt attention.
course what happened here is itself part of a global phenomenon.
wave led by young people who came into adulthood just as the global financial
system was collapsing and just as climate disruption was banging down the door.
out of social movements like Occupy Wall Street, and Spain’s Indignados.
began by saying no – to austerity,
fracking and pipelines.
came to understand that the biggest challenge is overcoming the way neoliberalism
has waged war on our collective imagination, on our ability to truly believe in
anything outside of its bleak borders.
these movements started to dream together, laying out bold and different
visions of the future…. and credible pathways out of crisis.
importantly they began engaging with political parties, to try to win power.
We saw it
in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries…. which was powered
by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe
way…. Bernie, is the most popular politician in the United States today.
something similar with Spain’s still-young Podemos party, which built in the
power of mass movements from Day One.
In all of
these cases, electoral campaigns caught fire with stunning speed.
got close to taking power – closer than any genuinely transformative political
program has in either Europe or North America in my lifetime.
still, in each case, not close enough.
this time between elections, it’s worth thinking about how to make absolutely
sure that next time, all of our movements go all the way.
part of the answer is: Keeping it up.
building that yes.
it even further.
the heat of a campaign, there is more time to deepen the relationships between
issues and movements, so that our solutions address multiple crises at once.
In all of
our countries, we can and must do more to connect the dots between economic
injustice, racial injustice and gender injustice.
to understand and explain how all of those ugly systems that place one group in
a position of dominance over another – based on skin colour, religious faith,
gender and sexual orientation – consistently serve the interests of power and
money and always have.
it by keeping us divided.
keeping themselves protected.
have to do more to keep it front of mind…. that we are in a state of climate
emergency…. the roots of which are found
in the same system of bottomless greed that underlies our economic emergency.
states of emergency, let’s recall, can be catalysts for deep progressive
draw out the connections between the gig economy – that treats human beings
like a raw resource from which to extract wealth and then discard – and the dig
economy, in which the extractive companies treats the Earth in precisely the
same careless way.
show exactly how we can move from that gig and dig economy to a society based
on principles of care – caring for the planet and for one another. Where the
work of our caregivers and of our land and water protectors, is respected and
valued. A world where no one and nowhere is thrown away – whether in fire-trap
housing estates or on hurricane-ravaged islands.
the clear stand Labour has taken against fracking and for clean energy. Now we
need to up our ambition and show exactly how battling climate change is a
once-in-a-century chance to build a fairer and more democratic economy.
as we rapidly transition off fossil fuels, we cannot replicate the wealth
concentration and the injustices of the oil and coal economy, in which hundreds
of billions in profits have been privatized and the tremendous risks are
and must design a system in which the polluters pay a very large share of the
cost of transitioning off fossil fuels. And where we keep green energy in
public and community hands. That way revenues stay in your communities, to pay
for childcare and firefighters and other crucial services. And it’s the only
way to make sure that the green jobs that are created are union jobs that pay a
needs to be: leave the oil and gas in the ground, but leave no worker behind.
And the best part, you don’t need to wait until you get to Westminster to start
this great transition. You can use the levers you have right now.
take a page from Barcelona and turn your Labour-controlled cities into beacons
for the world transformed.
start would be divesting your pensions from fossil fuels and investing that
money in low carbon social housing and green energy cooperatives.
That way people
can begin to experience the benefits of the next economy before the next
election – and know in their bones that yes, there is, and always has been, an
I want to
stress, as your international speaker, that none of this can be about turning
any one nation into a progressive museum.
wealthy countries like yours and mine, we need migration policies and levels of
international financing that reflect what we owe to the global south – our
historic role in destabilizing the economies and ecologies of poorer nations
for a great many years.
instance, during this epic hurricane season, we’ve heard a lot of talk of “the
British Virgin Islands,” the “French Virgin Islands” and so on.
was it seen as relevant to observe that these are not reflections of where
Europeans like to holiday.
reflections of the fact that so much of the vast wealth of empire was extracted
from these Islands in bonded human flesh.
that supercharged Europe’s and North America’s industrial revolution,
positioning us as the super-polluters we are today.
is intimately connected to the fact that the future and security of island
nations are now at grave risk from superstorms storms, sea level rise, and dying
should this painful history mean to us today?
welcoming migrants and refugees.
means paying our fair share to help many more countries ramp up justice-based
green transitions of their own.
going rogue is no excuse to demand less of ourselves in the UK and Canada or
anywhere else for that matter.
the opposite -that we have to demand more of ourselves.
up the slack until the United States manages to get its sewer system unclogged.
believe that all of this work, challenging as it is, is a crucial part of the
path to victory.
more ambitious, consistent and holistic you can be in painting a picture of the
world transformed, the more credible a Labour government will become.
you went and showed us all that you can win.
have to win.
is a moral imperative.
stakes are too high, and time is too short, to settle for anything less.