- Anti-capitalist activist
- Environmental activist
- Bestselling author
Naomi Klein was born on May 8, 1970 in Montreal, Canada. Her paternal grandparents were longtime Communist Party members whom Klein has described as “pretty hard-core Marxists [who] in the thirties and forties … believed fervently in the dream of egalitarianism that the Soviet Union represented.”1 Klein’s father, a pediatrician by training, wholeheartedly embraced the Communist ideology of his parents. In the ’60s he became an anti-Vietnam War protester and joined Physicians for Social Responsibility. Klein’s mother, meanwhile, was a left-wing activist who once created a series of films about the famed community organizer Saul Alinsky. According to Larissa MacFarquhar of The New Yorker, Klein’s parents “would play tapes of a Pacifica Radio show that related American history through folk music—the story of McCarthyism through the Weavers, the civil-rights movement through the Freedom Singers.”
In the late 1980s Klein enrolled at the University of Toronto, where she studied literature and philosophy and served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, The Varsity. The New Yorker reports that as an undergraduate, Klein was immersed in campus “identity politics” and “spent all her time protesting the underrepresentation of women and minorities in the curriculum and the media.” After her junior year, Klein dropped out of college to take an internship at the Toronto Globe and Mail, and later an editorship at This Magazine. She returned to school in 1996 but soon dropped out again, this time to write a book about what she viewed as the excessive power and inadequate social conscience of corporations.
Klein finished writing her book in 2000 and published it under the title No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, which has been described as the “Das Kapital of the anti-corporate movement.” In her book, Klein laments that corporations have become vendors not merely of products, but of brands, which, according to the author, advance greed at the highest corporate level—to the economic detriment of the workforce and the consumer. According to The Guardian, Klein’s book, which sold approximately a million copies, “politicised a generation of twentysomethings” and “became the handbook of the anti-globalisation protests” at the turn of the 21st century.
In 2002 Klein published Fences and Windows: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Globalization Debate, a collection of anti-globalization essays and articles that she herself had written during the preceding three years.3 Also in 2002, Klein voiced support for the World Social Forum, an annual anti-globalization event condemning the “domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism.” She praised the militancy of protestors who “have concluded that it’s not enough to overthrow one political party and replace it with another, [but] are instead attempting … to topple an economic orthodoxy.”
In 2007 Klein published The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, which spent 28 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and was translated into some 30 languages. In this book, Klein casts the late Nobel laureate Milton Friedman as the “grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism,” which she describes as a “fundamentalist” economic system of “free-market absolutism” whose devotees favor “the elimination of the public sphere, total liberation for corporations, and skeletal social spending.” Moreover, Klein argues that conservative politicians view natural and political disasters alike as “exciting market opportunities” to conduct “orchestrated raids on the public sphere”—with the aim of imposing predatory free-market policies upon unwilling citizens who first have been disoriented, or “shocked,” by something hugely traumatic.4
In 2011 Klein supported the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, lauding its efforts “to change the world” and urging its activists to fulfill the promises of the anti-globalization protests in which she herself had participated a decade earlier. Klein called OWS a “beautiful movement” and told its members, “I love you.”
In 2014 Klein published This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, a book claiming that the greenhouse gas emissions associated with industrialization have caused immense environmental harm, as evidenced by a growing incidence of “extreme weather events” like hurricanes, typhoons, droughts, and heat waves. (Klein’s premise of an increase in the frequency of such natural disasters is inaccurate.)
In an October 2014 interview about This Changes Everything, Klein denounced capitalism as an “increasingly … discredited system” that “venerates greed above all else,” and as “a pretty battered brand” that “is failing the vast majority of people” by causing “so much more inequality,” “destabilizing the climate,” and “waging a war on the planet’s life-support system.” Moreover, she suggested that the perceived threat of “climate change” could be utilized as a justification for the enactment of sweeping economic reforms: “There are a hell of a lot [of] people who recognize the need to change our economy, and would put that at the front of their economic agenda. Every time the economy and climate are pitted against each other, the climate will lose. But if climate can be our lens to catalyze this economic transformation that so many people need for other, even more pressing reasons, then maybe that’s a winning combination.” “I don’t know why it’s so important to save capitalism,” Klein added, explaining that meaningful “climate action” would “requir[e] actions that I think are pretty antithetical to what we think of as a free market.” “I think,” she speculated, “we might be able to come up with an economic system that is ecologically rooted that is better than anything we’ve tried before.”
To save the environment from catastrophe, Klein, as Reason.com reports, calls for a ban on such technologies as fracking, nuclear power, genetically modified crops, geoengineering, and carbon sequestration; opposes the construction of the Keystone Pipeline, which would transport Canadian petroleum to U.S. refineries; exhorts pension funds and endowments to divest their assets from fossil fuel companies; and calls for the United States and other industrialized nations to transfer trillions of dollars to poorer countries, as penance for having released a disproportionate share of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Klein’s proposed “Marshall Plan for the Earth” would replace all coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power with wind, solar, and hydropower by the year 2030.
In the summer of 2015, Klein, who has praised Pope Francis for being “right on the economics” of global warming, was asked not only to speak at a Vatican press conference on the pope’s recently published climate-change encyclical, but also to co-chair a Vatican conference on climate change alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson. Recognizing the degree to which a left-wing religious figure could potentially help move his followers’ thinking in a leftward direction, Klein, citing “Christ’s proto-socialist teachings,” noted in July 2015 that “at the end of his life, Vladimir Lenin supposedly said that what the Russian Revolution had really needed was not more Bolsheviks but ten St. Francises of Assisi.”
In her speech at the Vatican, Klein praised what she described as “the core message of interconnection at the heart of the [pope’s] encyclical,” and lauded the Holy See’s “particularly courageous decision” to take on stand on climate change despite “the attacks that are coming from the Republican Party” and “the fossil fuel interests in the United States.” “In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet,” she said, “climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.” Emphasizing that “we can save ourselves” by taking concrete actions like cutting carbon emissions, she urged her critics to “stop making the difficult the enemy of the possible,” and to join “the climate justice movement” in the noble cause of “making the possible real.”
A longtime hater of Israel and its people, Klein proudly recounts that at age 12 she wrote her own Bat Mitzvah speech “about Jews being racist.” Eight years later at the University of Toronto (1990), Klein wrote an editorial in the student newspaper stating that Israel was “a country with racism and misogyny at the core of its being”; that Israeli men were raised with a “siege mentality” that caused them “to hate Arabs” and to “reach maturity by brutalizing and degrading Palestinians”; that Israeli men exhibited rampant “misogyny toward Israeli women”; and that “Jews made the shift from victims to victimizers with terrifying ease.” “I am a Jew against Israel,” Klein declared, “just as Israel repeatedly proves itself to be against me.”
In 2006 Klein was a signatory to a letter that appeared in a number of international newspapers, condemning Israel’s “illegal military occupation of the West Bank and the systematic appropriation of its natural resources.” Among Klein’s fellow signers were Noam Chomsky, Harold Pinter, Arundhati Roy, Howard Zinn, Richard Falk, and Gore Vidal.
In 2009 Klein recruited Jane Fonda and other movie stars to boycott the Toronto International Film Festival for showing films that were produced in Tel Aviv. As UNWatch.org notes: “Klein has never called for a boycott of films or any other products from the dozens of Arab and Islamic countries that systematically subjugate their women, torture dissidents and persecute religious and ethnic minorities….”
Endorsing “punitive measures” against Israel as retribution for its “collective punishment on Gaza,” Klein avidly supports the Boycott, Divestment, & Sanctions (BDS) movement as a means of “bringing justice, so long denied, to Palestine.” Maintaining that Israel should “become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa,” she served as a board of advisors member with the Free Gaza Movement in 2010.5
A self-identified “secular Jewish feminist,” Klein today is a contributing editor for Harper’s magazine, a reporter for Rolling Stone, a regular columnist for The Nation and The Guardian, a board-of-directors member of 350.org, and a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. She was formerly a Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics, a contributing editor with the socialist journal In These Times, and an endorser of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy.
For additional information on Naomi Klein, click here.
3 All proceeds from Klein’s 2002 book, Fences and Windows, went to the Fences and Windows Fund, “a not-for-profit organization that provides financial support to grassroots activists who are directly resisting privatization and corporatization around the world.”
5 But as historian Ronald Radosh has noted: “Klein does not even purport to show any concern, indeed any awareness of, [Gaza-based] [Hamas]’ self-proclaimed goal to destroy Israel, its Islamist ideology that calls for permanent war against all Jews, or its continued and sustained rocket attacks on Israel.”