The Shock Doctrine Of The Left by Graham Jones

The Blurb On The Back:

Shocks, from natural disasters to military catastrophes, have long been exploited by the state to impose privatisation, cuts and rampant free markets.  This book argues that the left can use such moments of chaos to achieve emancipation.

Graham Jones illustrates how everyone can help to exploit these shocks and bring about a new world of compassion and care.  He examines how combining mutually reinforcing strategies of ‘smashing, building, healing and taming’ can become the basis of a unified left.  His vivid personal experience underpins a compelling, practical vision for activism, from the scale of the individual body to the global social movement.

This bold book is a toolkit for revolution for activists and radical millennials everywhere. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Graham Jones is a social movement activist with experience in grassroots campaigns including Radical Think Tank and Radical Housing Network and in this so-so book aimed at helping those on the hard left to mobilise and build support he offers a left-wing response to Naomi Klein’s THE SHOCK DOCTRINE, enabling the left to benefit from chaos by offering new solutions and so to take power with an emphasis on smashing, building, healing and taming.

Jones clearly has a lot of experience at the front-end of political activism and the book is at its most convincing when he shares his experiences of participating in grass roots campaigns, although I wasn’t a fan of the interludes between chapters as it wasn’t clear to me what he was trying to convey and I thought they broke up the rhythm of his arguments. I also agreed with his argument about the need to make radical ideas accessible, which made it more of a shame that he uses a lot of social and body theory as a support for his arguments, including further reading sections which were fine but again, got in the way of the pragmatic take-aways from the text.

The “smashing” chapter takes a look at different ways in which direct action can be deployed to break apart the current political mechanisms in order to create and in turn harness the chaos that follows. He makes an interesting point about why some direct action (e.g. the march against the Iraq war) failed, but his fondness for direct trade union disruptive action is more open to challenge (witness the effects of the strikes against Amazon – sure the basic minimum wage went up but it came at the expense of long-term bonuses and other benefits) and it’s worrying that Jones apparently has no issue with bringing businesses to their knees, which begs the question of what he thinks will happen if businesses fold or – as happened in the 70s and 80s – move their production facilities to countries with less union power and more co-operative workforce.  I agreed with his point that currently left wing marches end and people go home and I think his suggestion of having further training and workshops after marches to keep people interested and involved is a strong one, but again it overlooks the fact that there needs to be something there – some underlying issue – that draws people to the cause and which the left can help to coordinate.

I found the ‘building’ chapter to be a little too theoretical.  Jones makes interesting points about the need to make bodies mutually empower each other, which requires financial stability (and he has some good ideas about how to tempt people into trade unions, which would be an obvious way of creating unity). Jones also really stretches his body metaphor in this chapter and although I enjoyed his argument about the need for social movements to have a story, a strategy and a structure (which offers an interesting insight into the failure of the 99% movement after the financial crash), his comments about the need to train new trainers to help bring people into the movements seems a little circular to me.  He also seems to predicate his strategy on existing groups and organisations to coordinate and cooperate with each other and grow into new areas but without concrete funding and dedicated personnel (many of these groups are run on a volunteer basis) he offers no real answers as to how this could happen.

The ‘healing’ chapter is probably the strongest in the book with Jones writing fluidly and compassionately about oppression and its effects.  However he lost me in a section that examines what work is and whether it’s for the benefit of personal resilience and health and I did kind of wonder what this had to do with healing and what the practical implications were.

The ‘taming’ chapter is strong on the central powers of the state with Jones making well trodden (but nonetheless correct) points about the increasing surveillance of private citizens.  But his arguments for a decentralised, participatory structure didn’t convince me and his examination of whether the state can be used to turn against itself left me unconvinced, not least because of his rejection of any possibility of incremental reform.

Ultimately there are some interesting points in the book but I was left with the impression that this is very much a book for like-minded left-wingers rather than one aimed at drawing undecideds into the left-wing tent.  And that for me is a big problem with the underlying argument because if left-wing activists like Jones are only interested in talking to their own bubble, then they will never be able to penetrate through to gain the support needed to take power in the event of a SHOCK DOCTRINE style event – and you only have to see current opinion polls on the parties to see the truth in that.

THE SHOCK DOCTRINE OF THE LEFT was released in the United Kingdom on 27thJuly 2018.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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