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23/09/00 . Katharine Viner . the Guardian . UK  
As a teenager, Naomi Klein was a dedicated mall rat, fixated on designer labels. A bare decade later, the author of a life-changing book on anti-corporatism and the new politics, she is at the heart of the protest at the current World Bank summit in Prague. She tells Katharine Viner how everything turned around for her  

From the age of six, growing up in Canada, Naomi Klein was obsessed with brand names, and what she could buy. She had a thing about the bright signs she saw from the back-seat window of the family car: McDonald's, Texaco, Burger King and, especially, the fluorescent yellow gorgeousness of Shell: "So bright and cartoon-like I was convinced that, if I could climb up and touch it, it would be like touching something from another dimension - from the world of TV." She used to stitch little fake alligators on to her T-shirts so they would look like Lacoste, had a Saturday job in Esprit (they had the best logo), and her biggest fights with her parents were over Barbie and the price of designer jeans. In her high-school yearbook - where some are labelled "most likely to succeed" - she was "most likely to be in jail for stealing peroxide". She was defined by the products she used to change the colour of her hair.

But now, aged 30, Klein has written a book, No Logo, which has been called "the Das Kapital of the growing anti-corporate movement". The teenager fixated on brand names has become a campaigner against our over-branded world, and a populariser of the kind of anti-corporate ideas that are currently fuelling protesters against the IMF/World Bank meeting in Prague. The book has been a word-of-mouth sensation, giving voice to a generation of people under 30 who have never related to politics until now. The band Radiohead were so inspired by No Logo that they have banned corporate advertising from their British tour, deeming all venues "logo-free" - Ed O'Brien, the guitarist, says, "No Logo certainly made me feel less alone. She was writing everything I was trying to make sense of in my head. It was very uplifting."

As a chronicler of what she calls "the next big political movement - and the first genuinely international people's movement" - Klein writes that Nike paid Michael Jordan more in 1992 for endorsing its trainers ($20 million) than the company paid its entire 30,000-strong Indonesian workforce for making them; why, in her opinion, this makes people angry; and why that anger is expressed in rallies outside the Nike Town superstore, rather than outside government buildings or embassies. She shows how globalisation has hit the poor the most, and how this new political movement is both historically informed and absolutely of the moment, like nothing that has gone before.

And, as we shall see, it was bound to be some- one such as Naomi Klein who would be both at the heart of anti-corporatism and interpret it for everyone else. The anti-corporate movement is resolutely disparate, and has no leaders; but it is no coincidence that its most prominent populariser should be a 30-year-old woman from North America (the heart of wealth and power), whose political background is a leftwing family and a teenage rebellion through shopping. As we shall see, she is perfectly placed to reflect these times.

Klein's argument starts with what we all recognise. Logos, she says, are "the closest thing we have to an international language, by force of ubiquity". Most of the world's six billion people could identify the McDonald's sign, or the Coca-Cola symbol - we are united by what we are being sold. And the selling, these days, isn't just in magazines or on billboards: Gordon's gin fills British cinemas with the smell of juniper berries; in some Scandinavian countries, you can get "free" long-distance calls if you consent to ads cutting into your telephone conversations; Nasa has solicited ads to run on its space stations. There's no escape.

Furthermore, advertising today is not merely about selling products; it is about selling a brand, a dream, a message. So Nike's aim is not to sell trainers but to "enhance people's lives through sports and fitness". IBM doesn't sell computers, it sells "solutions". And as for Polaroid, well, it's not a camera - it's a "social lubricant". You sell the message of your brand, not your product, and you can expand as widely as you like. As Richard Branson says, you "build brands not around products but around reputation" - and leap from record shops to cola to banking to trains.

But Branson's trains show how fragile this strategy might be - if Virgin trains don't run on time, why should you trust his bank? Or look what happened to Nike - from being "the spirit of sports" in the early 90s, the campaign against its use of atrocious sweatshops in developing countries led CEO Phil Knight to confess in 1998 that his shoes "have become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime and arbitrary abuse". When it's no longer just about trainers, when the corporations have promised so much more - a way of life! - they have very much more to lose.

What's more, says Klein, people start to resent the colonisation of their lives. Fine, they say, I'll buy my shoes from you, but I don't want you to take over my head. Young activists, says Klein, feel that their cultural and political space has been taken away and sold back to them, neatly-packaged, as "alternative" or "anti-sexist" or "anti-racist". So Seattle grunge (including its star, Kurt Cobain) implodes through commercialisation, and the designer Christian Lacroix says, "It's terrible to say, very often the most exciting outfits are from the poorest people." So the Body Shop displays posters condemning domestic violence and Nike runs an ad saying, "I believe high heels are a conspiracy against women." So Nike signs up black stars such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, and then adorns the walls of Nike Town with quotes from Woods saying, "There are still courses in the US where I am not allowed to play, because of the colour of my skin." It's anti-racism without the politics; 50 years of civil-rights history reduced to an anodyne advertising slogan.

Next, the big brands effectively force out small businesses and take over as much physical space as possible, with mergers and synergy being the business buzzwords. Starbucks coffee shops (once they have co-opted a right-on, third-world-loving, world-music-playing milieu) operate by "clustering": an area becomes saturated with branches, local cafes close down (preferably well-liked independent ones in groovy areas) and the big brands take over. Meanwhile, McDonald's wages a 26-year battle against a man called Ronald McDonald whose McDonald's Family Restaurant in a small town in Illinois was founded in 1956. How dare he be born with the same name as a corporate giant?

And while the corporations are busy doing what they think is important - branding a way of life, putting the squeeze on independent shopkeepers, and the like - someone, somewhere, has to make the stuff. This may be a time of "degraded production in the age of the superbrand", as Klein puts it, but corporations do tend to need a product somewhere along the line. The "death of manufacturing" is only a western phenomenon - as we're consuming more products than ever, someone must be making them. But it's difficult to find out who. As Klein says, "the shift in attitude toward production is so profound that, where a previous era of consumer goods corporations displayed their logos on the facades of their factories, many of today's brand-based multinationals maintain that the location of their production operations is a 'trade secret', to be guarded at all costs." Very often, it seems, they are produced under terrible conditions in free-trade zones in Indonesia, China, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere.

The sweatshops Klein visited in Cavite, the largest free-trade zone in the Philippines, have rules against talking and smiling. There is forced overtime, but no job security - it's "no work, no pay" when the orders don't come in. Toilets are padlocked except during two 15-minute breaks per day - seamstresses sewing clothes for western high-street chains told Klein that they have to urinate in plastic bags under their machines. Women like Carmelita Alonzo, who sewed clothes for the Gap and Liz Claiborne, had a two-hour commute home, and died after being denied time off for pneumonia, a common illness in these factories. As Klein says, people are now demanding to know why, if the big brands have so much power and influence over price and marketing, they do not also have the power to demand and enforce ethical labour standards from such suppliers.

And don't think, says Klein, that the developing world is the only place for exploitation by western industry. "Cavite may be capitalism's dream vacation, but casualisation is a game that can be played at home," she writes. Europe and North America have played host to the most extraordinary rise in impermanence at work over the past two decades. The "McJob" is a contemporary template: low-paid, no benefits, no union recognition and no guarantee that your job will be there in the morning. At Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer which opened its first British shop in July after buying Asda, "full time" in its US branches means just 28 hours a week; the average annual wage is a barely-livable $10,920. "You can buy two grande mocha cappuccinos with my hourly salary," says Laurie Bonang, a worker in Starbucks. Microsoft, the gleaming testament to the hi-tech products of our future, has an extraordinary one-third of its workforce working as temps. As Klein says, "It was Microsoft, with its famous employee stock-option plan, that developed and fostered the mythology of Silicon Gold; but it is also Microsoft that has done the most to dismantle it."

So what happens when working conditions and modes of production fail to match up to a glorious, positive, right-on brand identity? People start to get angry.

Anticorporate activism is on the rise precisely because branding has worked so well, believes Klein, in a neat example of the Marxist idea that capitalism contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction. "Multinationals such as Nike, Microsoft and Starbucks have sought to become the chief communicators of all that is good and cherished in our culture: art, sport, community, connection, equality. But the more successful this project is, the more vulnerable these companies become. When they do wrong, their crimes are not dismissed as the misdemeanours of another corporation trying to make a buck. This is a connection more akin to the relationship of fan and celebrity: emotionally intense, but shallow enough to turn on a dime." Having lived that relationship with consumer goods herself, Klein knows just how it feels.

She says that anti-brand activism is taking place on two fronts. "On the one hand, it's throwing bricks through McDonald's window in Seattle. On the other, it's saying that we actually want the real thing, the real 'third place' [not home, not work] that Starbucks tries to sell to us, the real public space. People are saying: 'I do want real community, this is a strong and powerful idea, and I resent the fact that this idea has been stolen from me.' You've got these products that are held up on insane pedestals - all of the collective longings of our culture have been projected on to lattes or trainers. So there's a process of actively denting the facade of the brand with the reality of the production."

This deconstruction takes many forms, some more successful than others. The activism includes "culture jamming", whereby ads are subverted by "guerrilla artists" to send anti-corporate messages out to the public; jammers paint hollow skulls on the faces of Gap models, or change an Apple ad featuring the Dalai Lama and the slogan "Think Different" to "Think Disillusioned". It includes the campaign group Reclaim The Streets, which started in Britain partly in response to the 1994 Criminal Justice Act and which focuses its concerns on environmentalism and the removal of public space; they stop cars, block a road and have a party on it. Reclaim The Streets is now an international movement - on May 16, 1998, 30 Global Street Parties took place around the world.

Students in North America, meanwhile, have been active in anti-sweatshop campaigns, most noticeably since 1995-96, which Andrew Ross, author of anti-sweatshop textbook No Sweat, calls "the year of the sweatshop". It was a year that brought many revelations. One typical example: a factory manager making clothes in El Salvador for a major US clothing firm announced that "blood will flow" if anyone joined a union. And another, more shocking for the American public: the named-brand clothes line of TV presenter Kathie Lee Gifford (a bit like Lorraine Kelly, only cheesier) was manufactured by child labourers in Honduras and in illegal sweatshops in New York. (She cried on TV and became an anti-sweatshop campaigner herself.) Guess, Mattel, Disney and Nike were the targets of similar exposés.

The tactics of many of these anti-sweatshop groups involve "head-on collisions between image and reality", says Klein, whether it is filming an Indonesian Nike worker gasping as she learns that the trainers she made for $2 a day sell for $120 a pair in San Francisco Nike Town, or comparing the hourly salary of Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney ($9,783), with that of a Haitian worker who stitches Disney merchandise (28 cents).

Other brand tactics simply hit companies where it hurts most. Nike didn't seem too bothered about the campaign against it that took off so vehemently in the US in the mid-90s, until a group of black 13-year-olds from the Bronx, the company's target market and the one exploited by it to get a street-cool image, learned that the trainers they bought for $180 cost $5 to make, which led to a mass dumping of their old Nike trainers outside New York's Nike Town. (One boy, reports Klein, looked straight into the TV news camera and, showing a brand understanding that should alert his elders, said, "Nike, we made you. We can break you.")

The UK's McLibel trial, which began in 1990, hurt McDonald's so seriously - even though the firm eventually won the case - because it forced the hamburger giant to be open about its business practices. After suing two British environmentalists for libel, the firm was forced to spend a humiliating 313 days in court, the longest trial in British history, defending every last detail of its business and making a number of spectacular gaffes along the way, such as one executive's claim that Coca-Cola is nutritious because it is "providing water, and I think that is part of a balanced diet"; and another's that McDonald's burial of rubbish in landfill sites is "a benefit, otherwise you will end up with lots of vast empty gravel pits all over the country".

Some activists use the courtroom; others, such as those opposed to Shell's involvement with the Nigerian military government that devastated the Ogoni lands and executed their champion, the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa in 1994, focus on issues of freedom of expression. Others humiliate corporations on TV, take over roads, jam ads, gather wherever there is an international summit (Auckland, Vancouver, Manila, Birmingham, London, Geneva, Kuala Lumpur, Cologne, Washington DC, Seattle, Prague), wreck a McDonald's before it has even been built (the Peasant Confederation in Millau, France). And in the developing world, home to the main victims of the global economy, rural activists burn GM seeds and hold laughing protests (Karnataka state farmers in India, who claim to number 10 million), revolt against the privatisation of the water system (Bolivia), strike and take over the national university over a World Bank edict to raise student fees (Mexican students). The protest in Seattle was so huge because it was diverse; the US union movement marched side by side with the head of the Filipino peasant movement. It is global, anarchic and chaotic, like the internet it uses to organise; it is, says Klein, "the internet come to life".

When we meet, Klein serves a fruity drink that, its maker's claim, is packed with intelligence-boosting herbs. (I don't remember the brand name.) She is shy at first, and then not shy at all. She doesn't wear Gap or drink Starbucks, and is a lively and witty speaker (in public, too); her conversation is full of pop culture vernacular and jokes against herself. We sit in her backyard in Toronto, which has a flourishing 'No Logo' clematis (named to celebrate finishing her book), and are interrupted a couple of times: first by her husband, Avi Lewis, a big TV star in Canada for his hugely successful, four-times-a-week political discussion programme; then by his mother, Michele Landsberg, one of Canada's foremost radical feminists, bearing gossip and a salmon. Klein and Lewis married because they wanted to "have a big party", but they don't wear rings because they don't want to be branded as married. Entertaining, political, down-to-earth, they clearly have a great time together; Lewis says that, since he met Klein, he's "got a lot more serious and had a lot more fun".

Klein grew up with politics all around her. Her grandparents were American Marxists in the 30s and 40s; her grandfather was an animator at Disney who was fired and blacklisted for organising the company's first strike. Her parents, who are also American, moved to Canada in protest at the Vietnam war. Her father is a doctor and her mother, Bonnie Klein, made the seminal anti-pornography film, This Is Not A Love Story, in 1980. "My mother was really involved in the anti-pornography movement, and when I was at school I found it very oppressive to have a very public feminist mother - it was a source of endless embarrassment. When This Is Not A Love Story came out, there was a lot of backlash against my mother. The headline in the Toronto Globe And Mail was "Bourgeois Feminist Fascist", and she was made Hustler magazine's asshole of the month; they took my mother's head and put it on the back of a donkey. It was not cool in 1980 to be making films about pornography. Not at my elementary school, anyway."

This, she says, is part of the reason she wanted nothing to do with politics when she was growing up. "I think it's why I embraced full-on consumerism. I was in constant conflict with my parents and I wanted them to leave me the hell alone." Her brother, who is two years older, did not go through the same kind of rebellion: "I don't think he was quite so much a victim of the 80s as I was. We had no culture growing up. We had Cyndi Lauper."

So, after years of obsession with Barbie, Girl's World and Disneyland, what brought about the change? "I know the only way that I escaped the mall - which is not to say that I don't ever go, or enjoy it - the only way I got consumerism and vanity into a sane place in my life, though I don't think we are ever rid of them, was just by becoming interested in other things. It's that simple. Saying that you're a bad person for buying this or wanting this only turns people off." Klein was all set to go to the University of Toronto to study English and philosophy when her mother had a very severe stroke aged 46. She took a year off to care for her. "I think that's what stopped me from being such a brat."

When she went to university a year later, a major news event ensured that her politicisation was inevitable. "The pivotal moment politically for me was in December 1989, when there was a massacre at the University of Montreal. A man went into the engineering school - he had failed to get a place - and he separated the men from the women, shouted, 'You're all a bunch of fucking feminists', and opened fire. He killed 14 women. There was nothing like that incident in Canadian history - this is not America, where serial murders happen all the time - and it was a hate crime against women. It was a cataclysmic moment. It politicised us enormously. Of course, after that you call yourself a feminist."

It was also at university that Klein learned what it's like to be attacked for her opinions. She is Jewish, and during the intifada she wrote an article in the student newspaper called Victim To Victimiser, in which she said "that not only does Israel have to end the occupation for the Palestinians, but also it has to end the occupation for its own people, especially its women". As a result of this one 800-word article, Klein received bomb threats at her home and at the newspaper office - "and to this day I have never been more scared for my life".

"After the article came out, the Jewish students' union, who were staunch Zionists, called a meeting to discuss what they were going to do about my article - and I went along, because nobody knew what I looked like. And the woman sitting next to me said, 'If I ever meet Naomi Klein, I'm going to kill her.' So I just stood up and said, 'I'm Naomi Klein, I wrote Victim To Victimiser, and I'm as much a Jew as every single one of you.' I've never felt anything like the silence in that room after that. I was 19, and it made me tough."

Klein became an outspoken feminist activist at college, campaigning on issues of media representation and gender visibility that constituted feminism at the end of the 80s - she received rape threats as a result - and, rather than finish her degree, she dropped out to work as an intern on the Toronto Globe And Mail. She left to become editor of an alternative political magazine, This Magazine. "When I was there [in the early 90s], I did not feel that we were part of a political movement in any way - in that there was not a left. We had to kind of invent it as we went along. The stress of it was the stress of the left. It burned us out." The left that did exist Klein found depressing. "The only thing leftwing voices were saying was stop the cuts, stop the world we want to get off. It was very negative and regressive, it wasn't imaginative, it didn't have its own sense of itself in any way."

It was around this time that advertising and branding started to co-opt alternative politics and culture. "On the one hand, there was this total paralysis of the left. But, at the exact same time, all these ideas that I had thought were the left - feminism and diversity and gay and lesbian rights - were suddenly very chic. So, on the one hand, you're politically totally disempowered, and on the other all the imagery is pseudo-feminist, Benetton is an anti-racism organisation, Starbucks does this third-world-chic thing. I watched my own politics become commercialised." This imagery was, she says, a "mask for capitalism. It was making it more difficult to see the power dynamics in society. Because this was a time when there was a growing income gap between rich and poor that was quite staggering all over the world - and yet everything looked way more equitable, in terms of the imagery of the culture."

Klein went back to university in 1995 to try to finish her degree, and something very clearly had changed. "I met this new generation of young radicals who had grown up taking for granted the idea that corporations are more powerful than governments, that it doesn't matter who you elect because they'll all act the same. And they were, like, fine, we'll go where the power is. We'll adapt. It didn't fill them with dread and depression. When I was at university before, we thought our only power was to ban something - but they were very hands-on, DIY, if you don't like something change it, cut it, paste it, download it. Even though I don't think culture jamming by itself is a powerful political tool, there's something about that posture that's impressive - it's unintimidated hand-to-brand contact. The young activists I know have grounded their political activism in economic analysis and an understanding of how power works. They're way more sophisticated than we were because they've had to be. Because capitalism is way more sophisticated now.

"I think I'm lucky because I got to witness a significant shift, something that changed, and I wanted to document that shift. And it seemed very, very clear to me that if there was going to be a future for the left it would have to be an anti-corporate movement."

And so, Seattle in November last year - where 50,000 demonstrators actually prevented a major WTO meeting from happening - did she expect it to be so big? "Oh no. Seattle surprised me with its militancy. It surprised the organisers. It surprised everyone. I mean, this was the States . There were all these underground networks of activism, and it just came to life. Right now, the movement is at the stage of grassroots ferment - and it'll either degenerate into chaos or it'll come together organically into something new."

The first thing people tend to ask Klein is where she shops. Does she buy Nike trainers? Does she never nip into Starbucks for a grande cappuccino? Is her wardrobe certifiably sweatshop-free? "I'm the worst person to ask these questions," she says, "because since the book came out people really are watching what I buy. If I walked around Toronto with a Starbucks, it would be seen that I was endorsing that brand." But, she says, for anyone who hasn't written a book about corporations and sweatshops, it's a different matter. "I firmly believe that it's not about where you shop. I'm lucky in that I happen to live a few blocks from some great independent designers, so I actually can shop in stores where I know where stuff is produced. But I can't say that to a 17-year-old girl in the suburbs who can only shop at the mall. It's not a fair message.

"This is not a consumer issue; it's a political issue. There is a way for us to respond as citizens that is not simply as consumers. Over and over again, people's immediate response to these issues is: what do I buy? I have to immediately solve this problem through shopping. But you can like the products and not like the corporate behaviour; because the corporate behaviour is a political issue, and the products are just stuff. The movement is really not about being purer-than-thou and producing a recipe for being an ethical consumer. That drains a lot of political energy."

Is this why she published in Britain with Flamingo, part of the Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, a major corporation if ever there was one? "To be honest, I really did not have my pick of publishers in Britain. Only one wanted the book. What I said when I signed with HarperCollins was that I was going to go out of my way to write about Murdoch, more than I would have done otherwise. I did, and they didn't touch it."

As a populariser of the movement's arguments, does Klein consider herself an activist or a journalist? "I see myself as an activist journalist," she says. "I became a journalist because I'm not comfortable being an activist. I hate crowds - I know, great irony - and I'm physically incapable of chanting. I'm always slightly detached, so I write about it to feel more comfortable. I like to believe that I can be part of this movement without being a propagandist. There's a really strong tradition of this, like Gloria Steinem, Norman Mailer, Susan Faludi. I do think that there's so much fragmentation in this movement that if someone tries to work out a coherent thesis - even if you don't agree with all or even much of it - it can be helpful by making something more solid."

In Prague, at the protests against the IMF/World Bank, she will be speaking at today's counter-summit, but she is concerned that the media has already portrayed the protesters as mad terrorists crossing continents with the sole intention of kicking some Czech police. "Months ago we were already seeing the most extreme attempts to criminalise protest. This is a protest about the IMF and the World Bank, and the effects they're having on poorer countries. We must not let the reaction of the state and the police entirely define the message. I'm going to Prague because I believe it is a crucially important opportunity to show the world what this movement really is - the first genuinely international people's movement."

There are some who wonder, though, whether the IMF and corporations are the right target. Isn't it governments that we should be aiming at, since it is governments, initially led by Reagan and Thatcher with their dramatic lowering of corporate taxes, which gave the corporations such power in the first place? "I think these corporations are not really targets, they are metaphors," says Klein. "They're being used by this generation of young activists as a popular education tool to understand the global economy. When I was at university, we were intimidated and didn't understand anything about globalisation. So we tuned out from that and turned in on ourselves and became more and more insular - which is the great irony of those years, because that was when all this accelerated globalisation was happening. We weren't watching. And what I see happening with, say, the campaign against Nike is a tactic on the part of activists who've decided to turn these companies into metaphors for the global economy gone awry."

In other words, when the global economy is so huge, so forbidding, the corporations are an accessible way in. "When the WTO was created in Uruguay in 1995, there were no protesters outside. These trade bureaucrats created a world of incredibly complex institutions and arcane trade agreements written by policy wonks with no interest in popularising. So I believe that anti-corporate campaigns are the bridge: they're the first baby-step to developing an analysis of global capitalism."

Indeed, an important and fascinating aspect of the movement has been popular education - groups holding mass teach-ins on global politics, international economics, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO (the "iron triangle of corporate rule"); Naafta, the EU, Gatt, Apec, G-8, the OECD, structural adjustment. At Seattle, activists in their 20s sat for eight hours at a stretch listening to speakers from around the world decode globalisation for them.

Is this a re-invention of left politics? After a decade in the wilderness, is anti-corporatism the post-cold war new New Left? "I think it is," says Klein, "but it's only at the early stages of re-invention. Sometimes, I think it's moving towards creating a global new deal, and sometimes I think it's way more radical than that. And it might be - I don't know." I mention the impact of the very word "capitalism", which had gone resolutely out of fashion until June 18, 1999, when demonstrators staged an "anti-capitalist" demonstration in the City of London. "Since June 18, the comeback of the word 'capitalism' is just extraordinary," laughs Klein. "It's like Santana - what the hell's going on? Suddenly they're talking about 'capitalism' on CNN, and in Washington there are all these little girls wearing caps with 'Capitalism Sux' on them. For a long time, the very word has been invisible - it's just the economy, the way the world works." And that change has happened in little over a year. "That's why I feel optimistic, and I'm not impatient about the pace of change."

The trouble is, we're used to thinking that something that is anti-capitalist must be straightforwardly socialist or communist, which is not the case with this movement. It is, instead, "an amalgam of environmentalism, anti-capitalism, anarchy and the kitchen sink", says Klein - which leads us to the central criticism levelled at all the anti-corporate protests. What do they stand for? What are their goals? Where is their vision?

"I think I have more patience for finding this out than most people," says Klein. "I've been following this movement for five years, and I know where we were at five years ago and I know where we are now. We were nowhere. That a genuine political movement can begin to emerge in that timespan, organically, on its own - it's extraordinary. I think a lot of those demanding a manifesto or a leader are people of a different generation who have an idea in their mind of what a political movement looks like, and they want Abbie Hoffman or Gloria Steinem and where are they?"

Even such diverse campaigns - from groups fighting against Nike, or agribusiness, or world debt, or the Free Trade Area of the Americas - "share a belief that the disparate problems with which they are wrestling all derive from global deregulation, an agenda that is concentrating power and wealth into fewer and fewer hands". And the fragmentation of the campaigns, says Klein, is a "reasonable, even ingenious adaptation of changes in the broader culture". The movement, with its hubs and spokes and hotlinks, its emphasis on information rather than ideology, reflects the tool it uses - it is the "internet come to life". This is why it doesn't work well on television, unlike the anti-Vietnam protests of the 60s with their leaders, their slogans, their single-issue politics.

When people say that the movement lacks vision, believes Klein, what they really mean is that it is different from anything that's gone before, that it is a completely new kind of movement - just as the internet is a completely new kind of medium. "What critics are really saying is that the movement lacks an overarching revolutionary philosophy, such as Marxism, democratic socialism, deep ecology or social anarchy, on which they all agree." But the movement should not, says Klein, be in a hurry to define itself. "Before they sign on to anyone's 10-point plan, they deserve the chance to see if, out of the movement's chaotic, decentralised, multi-headed webs, something new, something entirely its own, can emerge."

No Logo has been leapt upon by some commentators who are thrilled by Naomi Klein's rejection of the identity politics of her youth, and so see it as anti-feminist. "This is not a rejection of feminism," she says. "It is a return to the roots of feminism - early feminism was very involved in anti-sweatshop action, and the current anti-sweatshop movement very much sees it as a feminist issue, since it is overwhelmingly women of colour who are being abused by the systems. I feel that we lost our way in the late 80s, when feminism became disengaged from its roots, which originally had critiques of capitalism and of consumerism. I am a feminist and this is a feminist book."

This, I believe, is crucial to understanding both why the movement is so popular with young people and why Klein is so perfectly placed to be its chief populariser. In the 60s and 70s, activists concentrated their anti-racism and feminism on matters of equality - equal rights and equal pay. In Klein's 80s and 90s, they campaigned instead on issues of culture and identity: portrayal in the media, who gets to the board. But the new generation of activists is taking the best bits of both: developing a radical critique of the global economy, while incorporating identity politics as a matter of course. So, whereas Sheila Rowbotham was greeted with a barrage of wolf-whistles and guffaws when she got on stage to speak about education at a leftist conference in 1968, no one is surprised that this movement's main theorist is a woman. This is a far more inclusive movement than those that have gone before.

There's a personal recollection in No Logo in which Klein talks about being 17 and wondering what to do with her life. She was frustrated, because if you wanted to be a traveller Lonely Planet had got there first; if you wanted to be an avant-garde artist, someone had done it all already, and put the image on a mug for you to take home. "All my parents wanted was the open road and a VW camper," she writes. "That was enough escape for them." Now it feels as if there is "no open space anywhere". It is as if this generation's culture is being sold out as they are living it; there is nothing left to discover.

Her thesis is about trying to find some space that hasn't been bought up by anyone; trying to rediscover our identities as citizens, and not just consumers. It is about globalisation, and the power corporations have over our lives. But it is also about being 30, having spent your youth in a disaffected age. Her grandfather, the animator blacklisted by McCarthy, would be proud: Naomi Klein might just be helping re-invent politics for a new generation.

• No Logo, by Naomi Klein, is published by HarperCollins, priced £14.99. For links, visit the book's website.

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