Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 29, 2010

The Shock Doctrine

Filed under: Film,imperialism/globalization — louisproyect @ 4:37 pm

As today’s selection at the 2010 Sundance Festival, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s “The Shock Doctrine” is a reminder that some of the most hard-hitting political documentaries make their first appearance here despite Utah’s reputation as a reactionary sump, a distinction shared by the University of Utah’s Marxist-friendly economics department that is the home of Marxmail, a mailing list I moderate. You are also invited to take a look at The Mormon Worker, a website that describes itself as modeled on the radical Catholic Worker, where you will find an article raising the question “Are the Rich Damned”. Amen!

“The Shock Doctrine” is a taut 86 minute journey through the wreckage of the free market revolution spawned by the late Milton Friedman, who is featured prominently as an interviewee throughout this documentary based on Naomi Klein’s best-seller.

It should be stated that Klein  disowned the movie at one time, considering it an oversimplification of her book. She felt that the movie relies too heavily on narration at the expense of interviews with leftwing analysts such as her presumably. Klein does appear throughout the film lecturing a large student audience, but apparently this did not assuage her. The latest development, however, is that Klein has warmed up sufficiently to at least participate in a panel discussion after the movie today. Perhaps she intends to trash it, but I don’t think that’s her style.

While I have not read “The Shock Doctrine”, I am familiar enough with Klein’s ideas to state that the movie does not misrepresent them. While she was expecting something closer to “The Take”, a movie about the economic collapse of Argentina that she produced, I found “The Shock Doctrine” to be a totally engrossing work similar in spirit to “Hearts and Minds”, another movie heavily reliant on stock footage.

Indeed, it is the director’s skillful use of stock footage, a gift they share with Michael Moore, that makes this movie so compelling. Starting with the Pinochet coup in Chile, it tracks the implementation of Milton Friedman’s “shock therapy” economics in one country after another, from Videla’s Argentina to Putin’s Russia.

While the events depicted in the movie might not be unfamiliar to veteran radicals, much of the film footage will likely have the same attention-grabbing effect it had on me. For example, it details the murder of Orlando Letelier on Embassy Row in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976. As Allende’s ambassador to the United States, Letelier crusaded against Pinochet’s coup after he became a citizen-activist rather than an official. For his efforts, he received a death sentence from the CIA. Just as is the case with the Cuban counter-revolutionary who blew up a Cuban airliner, Letelier’s assassin never spent a day in jail.

Michael Winterbottom, one of the co-directors, is a left-leaning Briton who has not worked in documentaries before, except for the docudrama “The Road to Guantanamo”, about the “Tipton Three”, three British Muslims captured by US forces in Afghanistan who spent two years as prisoners at Guantánamo Bay as alleged enemy combatants. He is also—unfortunately—responsible for “Welcome to Sarajevo”, a Serb-bashing affair that I reviewed here.

If I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Winterbottom, I would ask him whether he had ever considered NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in the same terms as he considered Pinochet’s coup. After all, the neo-liberal regime forced upon the poorer regions of the former Yugoslavia has followed the same dismal recipe described in his excellent documentary.

As a kind of experiment, three movies from this year’s Sundance Film Festival can be downloaded as video on-demand from your local cable provider such as Time-Warner or Direct TV. I recommend this film for people who are familiar with the sorry narrative of the past nearly 40 years, and especially to others who are first finding out about the unspeakable crimes of American foreign policy to this day, now being promoted by a candidate promising “change”.

Shock Doctrine trailer


  1. Despite this “sorry narrative” over the last 40 years I could never get my grad school sociology professor/mentor, an avowed DSAer, to concede that “foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy.”

    When Chomsky visited the campus my prof raved about him & insisted I join him to hear this lecture on the “500 Year Reich”. Chomsky deftly explained to the 500 attendees that the USSR (which had just collapsed) was merely a pro-longed speed bump in the 500 Reich’s ability to crush all resistance in the North/South conflict; that historically the USSR represented the South; that all through the 3rd World (the South) there was no fanfare & glee over the Soviet’s demise because, of course, many in the South wished to emulate that planned economy; that when Chomsky toured North Africa a few months before the 1st Gulf War most of the kids in the streets wore t-shirts with sloagans like “Long Live Saddam Hussein”; that at the outset of that war Uncle Sam wound up carpet bombing tens of thousands of Iraqis hunkered down in the desert, virtually all Shia of them conscripts who would have glady overthrown Saddam if given a chance.

    During the Q & A at the end I asked Chomsky from the back of the auditorium would he agree that “US foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy” and he said: “Of course. It’s the same people making both policies!” It was truly one of the best political speeches I’ve ever heard.

    After the crowd dispersed and we were walking back to the Sociology Dept I asked my prof what he thought of the lecture and he said: “I think it was the worst speech I ever heard Chomsky give.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 29, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

  2. Yo, give the dude a link why doncha? Here it is


    Comment by Sheldon — January 31, 2010 @ 4:16 am

  3. Speaking of progressive Mormons, I was impressed by Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of SLC.

    Comment by m.c. — February 2, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

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