No Logo! A Book Review
by Hagar the Horrible
[Note: Quotes from the book »No logo!« may differ from the original American edition. They have been re-translated into English from the text of the German language review which was first published in Wildcat-Zirkular #59/60, July/August 2001]
Yes, I read it: »No Logo!« by Naomi Klein. Don't ask me for the last time I was so angry about a book. Which was the case, even though in between reading the actual standard works on the globalisation of the trademarks and on the resistance against it, at the same time I also read »Blow Job« by Stewart Home, some hardcore trash novel about bisexual anarchists, silly trotzkyites, gay and non-gay nazis, evil man-eating feminists and the revolutionary street-fight of the lumpen proletariat, which wasn't one of my greatest experiences either.
Not that I was annoyed having read it at all. Sometimes it may be good to read something that annoyes you. So this woman, meanwhile also in her thirties, has done several years of research and probably met twice as many interesting people as I personally know [:-)] - adbusters in San Francisco and New York, english »Reclaim The Streets« militants, dutch hackers, filipino revolutionaries, indonesian workers in the export production zones (EPZ). Und now this.
Well, the book has its good aspects, too. But one after the other.
Most people will know by now that the book of 500 pages, including notes and statistic material, is about globalisation as being pushed by the big trademarks Nike, McDonald's, Shell, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger etc.. It is also about the resistance against globalisation and about the question how best to organise it. All this is not wrong. Most of it isn't really new, though. If you read Naomi Klein's book, for the first time encountering facts like your Nike shoes are being sewn and glued together by little girls in sweatshops in Indonesia or China, then at least up to now you didn't really care about the issue. But in my mind it seems that it is exactly this level of facts in the book making the reading of it bearable at all. Naomi Klein has made lots of interviews and collected loads of facts. On the one hand, her book appears a bit overloaded, e.g. when ten people one after the other are being quoted telling more or less the same. On the other hand, amongst the masses of stories about the big trademarks and their policies, about the workers organising themselves in the EPZ, about »Reclaim The Streets« or about creative ways to deal with unwanted advertising in your mail, there sure is something new to find for most of the readers. Nothing really surprisingly new for me, not to mention anything overthrowing my way of looking at the world, but what did I expect?
The thesis carrying the whole book, i.e. today's world being the product of a few trademark trusts and governments, the latter usually being their stooges, this thesis, I had the feeling, at the end of the book had just been withdrawn. Which is part of the very making of this book, as well as, meanwhile, part of the techniques of every skilful discourse: to simultaneously qualify one's own position by means of contradictional arguments, so that noone is able to criticise it. E.g., after pages and pages have been filled with meditations about the creativity of adbusting (using or alienating commercial advertisements or elements of which, in order to pass on one's own critical messages), this special form of »resistance against the trademarks« is being understood as itself being absorbed by the marketing machine. Whereby the problem is not, if the single activists make a deal with the promotion agencies and finally sell out, but that industry has found ways to raise attraction by these very means of anti-promotion.
But still there is a thesis throughout the whole book: In the beginning there was the crisis of the trademarks. Which is to say that today's blown up super-trademarks that sell through megastores, concert tours, definitions of life-style etc., are the result of a crisis of trademarks in the beginning of the 1990s. At the time, some enterprises had taken the bulls by the horns and multiplied their promotion budgets, the prerequisite of generating super-trademarks. Following Klein, it was about emancipating themselves from the profane world of the production of goods and just selling the trademark. As a quasi necessary by-product, production got outsourced and shifted to low wage regions, mainly in Asia and Latin America. The enterprises fled from their »entrepreneurial responsability for the workforce in the North« because their huge promotion budgets simply prevented them to keep on paying fringe benefits or US American wages. Besides the naive ideas of »entrepreneurial responsability«, »democratic legitimation« and other (left) bourgeois nonsense jumping at us from between the book covers, the book is mainly characterized by the concentration on market and trademarks. Even the most important currents of the resistance that Naomi loves so much relate to this surface: the trademarks and the struggle against them. Sure, even in the US you can't sell books any more on the issue trademarks without pointing at child labour and sweatshop production. But the standpoint of the North American consumer who, naturally, first sees the megastores, makes the conditions in the EPZ of the Third World consequences of a wrong trademark policy instead of viewing them as basically capitalist relations.
Instead, she characterizes the idea EPZ as an actually good one, for: »Principally, the zones could be an ingenious mechanism for the re-distribution of global wealth. Surely they cost the North jobs, but hardly any fair watcher would disagree that it would be only just to share the jobs which we in the industrialised countries owe our wealth to with poor countries, as soon as the coming up of a technically further developed economy is creating new jobs here.« What a pity that all of that doesn't really work the way the UN is said to have thought it to do in 1964, when the council on economy and social affairs passed a resolution in favour of EPZ as a means to promote trade with the developing countries. Not a glance of a thought that EPZ might be working exactly the way they are supposed to: people working their asses off and the trusts gaining profits like hell. No chance for the idea that this could be the very purpose of the game »factory« in the first place because »in the North« »we« owe »our« wealth to the factory jobs who unfortunately have fallen victim to the wrong trademark policy of Nike & Co. Reading spots like this makes you wanna claim your money back.
The parts on Naomi Klein's own history as a left wing student identity politician belong to the more interesting ones. Here, she reports quite frankly about the would-be radical »political correctness wars« of the late 80s and early 90s. The big McDonaldisation of the universities and the pharma trusts' »sponsoring« of professors took place simultaneously to the discussions on the question why the committee for racial equality had to meet at the same time as the council on lesbian and gay affairs. What a pity for Naomi Klein to have wasted her student years in such a way - it seems like since those days she hasn't become much more radical, though. First she couldn't trust her eyes seeing the hated trademarks beginning in their promotion to leave all symbols of the old, racist, patriarchical, homophobic ways of thinking behind them, playing progressive and provoking with the seeming radicalism of identity politics. Now she don't trust them when she sees how all those formerly split movements against the exploitation of nature, of the Third World, the animals, women and blacks merge in one issue: against the power of the trusts. And the »freelancing editor in chief« has conserved her soft spot for »students« who can be found in the front-lines nearly everywhere: with ad-busting, at »Reclaim The Streets«, in organizing the most recent campaign against ... or even at the universities. You can see them everywhere, those agile and state of the art young persons, always organised in some network, turning the deliberate presence of the trusts at the universities against those. You can also feel her shivering in her finger-tips when she writes about »long-haired anarchists« taking part in some meetings or trials against McDonald's. She gets the feeling to be amidst a global movement, which is not really wrong. But, and Naomi Klein's book shows this more than clearly, this movement is at least divided. For Naomi and her friends, it's about taking away control from the trusts and to strengthen »democratically elected governments«, the UN and its human rights organisations. She answers the question how the inhuman conditions in the EPZ can be improved by lengthy bubbling about »performance codices« meanwhile being set up by many a trust, university or government etc., and how these could be controlled. She translates the statement of a filipina worker »The best way to solve these problems lies with the workers themselves, inside the factory« into her own terms: »To some, this radical refusal may sound stubborn and unthankful, an unfair rejection of all the well-meaning work being done in the conference halls of Washington, D.C., London and Toronto. But the right to sit at the negotiating tables themselves, even if no perfect result will be reached, is a fundamental right the international trade union movement has been fighting for ever since its origins. It has always been about self-determination.« Here, she implicitly uses all the translations necessary for leftist politicians: the necessity of solving problems inside the factory for her means taking part in negotiations; people looking for solutions themselves to her means that the result will not be perfect; when workers want to talk about their conditions, she brings in the international trade union movement; and one conclusion further, the table of negotiations with the bosses for her equals self-determination - unfortunately it seems that more self-determination is not to be expected. The very obvious idea to use her connections into the EPZ of this world to make possible a global network of producers just doesn't come to her mind. She's into politically advising, controlling, administrating ...
Hereby, to her, every kind of »violence« naturally is a horror. Annoyed she turns away when in London bottles are being thrown against cops and in Prague »the justified criticism remains unheard behind the rattling of bursting shop windows«. When in Berkeley the shop windows of a local bookstore are being smashed, she finds this to be no efficient protest against the evil guys in the big trusts. What shines through again and again, is the romanticism of petty bourgeois relations from times when you still could buy your rolls around the corner and didn't have to sip your coffee at Starbuck's. She doesn't complain that she has to buy her clothes in the first place. No, to her it's rather about the where and how. What way do the trusts determine her life? How many choices does the system leave open to her?
Insofar, the book is no standard works for global revolution but rather a guide for a globalised social democracy, no matter in what kind of NGOs, »grass roots movements«, local administrations oder committees ever it might organise.
I'm afraid, a book that investigates the world-wide movements in terms of their tendencies towards global revolution still has to be written. Well, just do it...