Naomi Klein’s “Doppelganger” – Dystopia Without an Exit Strategy
A book review by Barry Weisleder - Naomi Klein, a social democrat in Canada who claims to be anti-capitalist, complains obsessively that she is often being confused with Naomi Wolf, a former liberal feminist who has joined the populist, pro-Trump right wing.
So what, you say?
Well, Klein maintains in “Doppelganger, A Trip into the Mirror World” (Knopf Canada, Toronto 2023, 399 pages) that deliberate identity confusion, at least in the realm of social media, is symptomatic of a huge calamity that threatens nothing less than the triumph of fascism. Giant, private corporations, abetted by Artificial Intelligence and various marketing tools, are twisting and perverting progressive social causes into a semblance of their opposites. They are creating a Mirror World in which each of us is shadowed by an evil twin, a dastardly double, a doppelganger, which nullifies anything good one might seek to do.
Twisting and confusion exacerbate a deeper societal problem — deeper than the surveillance of everyone via cell phone mega-data collection, and more widespread than anti-vax misinformation, dissected in detail in chapter 2. It is exemplified by how the “Far-Right Meets the Far-Out”, examined with penetrating insight into how back-to-the-soil radical individualism intersects with extreme “free market” libertarians. The truckers’ Convoy that paralyzed Ottawa and several U.S. border crossings last January-February is examined as a festival of middle class angst that targeted medical science rather than decades of cuts to health services.
Klein points powerfully to the crisis of late capitalism with its economic and environmental disasters, its serial pandemics and forever wars. She shows that, systemically, it leaves many people stranded between better and worse, and ultimately between reform and revolution. Sadly, she does not stress the gross inadequacy, as an institution, of the current working class leadership. (Her partner Avi Lewis ran for the labour-based New Democratic Party in the 2021 federal election.) Klein explains that masses of the alienated and discontented are ripe for the picking by ultra-right wing demagogues and bully authoritarians. From this malaise, arch-conservatives offer an exit portal, however false.
Naomi Klein’s prescription, when she takes a break from restorative self-promotion, is to seek an alternative to “capitalism…which lights up our most uncaring and competitive parts and is failing us on every front that matters.” How to find that alternative? “Look for the roads not taken.”
But she does the opposite. Klein holds up failed roads. She promotes the reformist Jewish Labor Bund, which a century ago separated Jewish workers from the staunchly internationalist Bolshevik Party and the Russian Revolution that shook the world. She extols Red Vienna, with its exemplary social housing, health and childcare facilities under the municipal administration of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria, until fascists seized control in 1934.
Socialism in one ethnicity, or in one city, is impossible. Even workers’ political control cannot prevail for very long, if isolated. The Paris Commune of 1871, and many general strike experiences since then, tell the tale.
Klein in “Doppelganger” demonstrates a fluency with the literature of revolutionary Marxism, quoting Leon Trotsky, Abram Leon, the Trotskyist author of The Jewish Question, Rosa Luxemburg, and the venerable Marx. But she does not present, much less incorporate their strategy for world revolution, centered on the construction of a global, mass revolutionary workers’ party. Even when it comes to Zionism and its offspring colonial-settler state, which Klein rightly deplores, she does not adopt the call for a Democratic, Secular Palestine, from the river to the sea. It is not enough for her to say that Israel “has long been enlisted by the United States to act as a kind of subcontracted military base in the region” — without insisting on the need to dismantle that state.
“Doppelganger” is very well written, stocked with an abundance of artful metaphors and similes. I particularly chuckled over a verb that Klein newly coined, “pipiked” — a Yiddishism that describes how something important is trivialized. Truth is pipiked by the lies and the liars that dominate the Mirror World.
In “No Logo”, “The Shock Doctrine” and “This Changes Everything”, Naomi Klein lifted the curtain behind which corporate capitalism profits enormously from false advertising, natural and human-caused disasters, and catastrophic climate change.
She even names the system at the root of it all. Unfortunately, still absent is her presentation of a strategy that is equal to the ultimate challenges now facing humanity.
Barry Weisleder is the Federal Secretary of Socialist Action Canada/Ligue pour L’Action Socialiste