Illustration af Molly Christensen
I dag bringer Eftertryk Magasin et interview med den legendariske amerikanske lingvist, filosof og venstreorienterede intellektuelle Noam Chomsky. Vi bruger vores lille time med professoren til at stille ham spørgsmål om krigen i Afghanistan, den nye kolde krig med Kina, klimakrisen og socialistisk anarkisme.
Vi foretog vores interview d. 8. oktober 2021 med Chomsky over en internetforbindelse, og vi har optaget interviewet på video, så du kan se det i sin helhed eller delt op i underemner. Når man har 45 minutter med en historisk skikkelse som Chomsky, så står man med et dilemma. Bør man bruge tiden på at bore ned i et enkelt anliggende, eller skal man bruge tiden på at lade ham tale om flere emner, fordi det har en værdi for de mange, der endnu ikke har stiftet kendskab til hans virke? Vi har valgt den sidste model, fordi vi synes, flere skal have mulighed for at danne sig et indtryk af ham.
Eftertryks held med at få et interview med Chomsky i hus skyldes en henvendelse, magasinet fik af CBS-studerende Benjamin Magnusson. Benjamin fik hul igennem til den ellers travle professor og deltager sammen med Eftertryks jourhavende redaktør, Poya Pakzad, i interviewet. Ambitionen er, at vi fremover i samarbejde med Benjamin kan foretage endnu flere video-interviews med kendte (venstresnoede) tænkere fra ind- og udland.
Noam Chomsky er i dag æresprofessor i lingvistik og politologi ved University of Arizona og professor emeritus ved Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), hvor han har haft sin gang i mere end et halvt århundrede. Han er en af verdens mest citerede nulevende forfattere og den ottende mest citerede person i historien. Chomsky er desuden forfatter til flere end 150 bøger, der emnemæssigt spænder over teoretisk lingvistik, filosofi, imperialisme, klimakrise og propaganda i massemedier. Ideologisk set befinder han sig på den libertære venstrefløj, den socialistiske anarkisme.
Bemærkning: I transskriptionen markerer brugen af gåseøjne, at Noam Chomsky gengiver, hvad han mener er essensen i synspunkterne hos dem, han snakker om. Som det også fremgår af videoen, er der ikke tale om ordrette citater.
Poya Pakzad: Professor Chomsky, we want to talk to you about four or five different subjects. The first of them being Afghanistan, the second one being the new alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States vis-à-vis China, the third one being the climate and then we will end on some political philosophy, possibly on anarchism.
Noam Chomsky: Okay.
Poya Pakzad: So, with regard to the war in Afghanistan, which has been dubbed “the good war”, usually in contrast to the war in Iraq… I know you have an alternative view of what the war in Afghanistan was. So, I would like to hear your thoughts about the justification for going into Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.
Noam Chomsky: It’s a very interesting question. So, let’s go back twenty years [to] 9/11. It’s important to recognize first that the United States didn’t know who was responsible for 9/11. In fact, eight months later the director of the F.B.I, Robert Mueller, had his first major press conference. This is eight months after. He was asked of course “Who was responsible for 9/11?”. This is now after the most intensive multinational investigation, probably in human history. He said, “we presume that the perpetrators were al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden, but we haven’t been able to establish it”. That’s eight months after the invasion.
Okay, let’s go back to the invasion itself. So, what was the motivation for it? Actually, I think the best answer to this was given by the leading figure in the anti-Taliban Afghan resistance, Abdul Haq. Highly respected Afghan leader, [who was] leading the resistance to the Taliban from within. He had an interview in October, right after the bombing started, with a leading Central Asia scholar, Anatol Lieven. And Lieven asked him, “What do you think about the invasion?”. He [Abdul Haq] said, “The invasion will kill many Afghans [and] it will undermine our efforts to overthrow the Taliban-regime from within”, and he laid out those efforts and thought they were promising. This [the invasion] will undermine them. “But the Americans don’t care about the Afghans, and they don’t care about overthrowing the Taliban. What they want to do is show their muscle and intimidate everyone in the world”. Well, that was pretty much repeated, in different words, by the American Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who was one of the main agents of the invasion. The Taliban very quickly offered to surrender. They would just go back to their villages and be left alone, and the United States could take over. Of course, [the United States] could then have Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in their hands. Rumsfeld’s response to this offer was “We do not negotiate surrenders”. It was then seconded by the President, George W. Bush, who said the same thing: “We do not negotiate surrenders, we just use force”. He was asked questions about al-Qaeda and [Osama] bin Laden. He said, “I don’t know anything about them. We don’t really care about them. We have a bigger game in mind”. The “bigger game in mind” was of course outlined publicly, it was not a secret. They want to go after Iraq – that’s the real prize. Afghanistan is nothing. So, [they wanted to] go after Iraq, the major prize, and then use that as a base for going on to other countries in the region, which were spelled out. That was the plan. In fact, if the United States had wanted to capture [Osama] bin Laden – who was then a suspect, remember, not guilty – it wouldn’t have been very difficult. [They] could have done it with a small police action, which probably would have been supported by the Taliban. They would have been happy to get rid of him. He was a nuisance for them. They [the Taliban] couldn’t just throw him out because of tribal rules – you don’t throw out somebody who’s taken refuge. That’s important for the Pashtun conception of proper behavior. But they wouldn’t have offered any opposition if the United States wanted to send in a police action. [But], that’s no good. We have to show our muscle and intimidate everyone.
Well, then what happened after that is, the Taliban went back to their villages – they’re Afghans, after all. The United States came in [and] its allies came in. At first, there are very good reporters who have been following this on the ground from the beginning. The best is Anand Gopal, [who] has written several books. [He] has a recent article about it in The New Yorker repeating it. Others have reported the same thing. A report in The Washington Post today is saying basically the same thing, from another one of the few reporters who was actually in the rural areas – that’s where Afghanistan is. They all say the same thing: At the beginning, the Afghan rural population was relieved that the fighting is over. They can have some peace. And they had this idea – they didn’t know much of the United States – that many people in the world have: “Here’s this super rich country, which can do all kinds of good things for us”. So, they hoped that the United States would somehow come in and deal with their problems with poverty and so on. That didn’t last very long. [As] soon as the US forces came in, they started attacking Afghans. Started bombing them. You know, a bomb could be aiming at somebody that they thought was a Taliban, but it could hit a wedding party and kill 40 people. So now [the Taliban] can recruit a couple of people – the relatives. [US] Special Forces break into people’s houses during the night, humiliate them, take somebody out and send them to a torture chamber. You have created more Taliban. This continued to go on until you had a substantial resistance in the countryside. How did the US deal with it? Intensifying the violence. Either itself or the Afghan army that had mobilized, which used the same tactics [as the US]. What they say now, the same reporters, is “everyone hated the Americans, including the Afghan army”. For pretty good reasons.
Meanwhile, something else was happening. The United States, when it came in, didn’t know anything about Afghanistan. So, they looked for people who could carry out their orders. Who were they? The warlords. The monsters who were running the place. There, the ones who have savvy can put themselves forth in saying “I’ll work for you”. But they’re not stupid. One warlord could approach the Americans and say “In this village over here there’s some Taliban, namely one of his enemies. Then the Americans would come in and smash up that village and create more Taliban recruits. This went on through the twenty years. The British co-op… pretty much the same in Helmand Province. By the end, there was a huge resistance. A popular resistance. Actually, the Taliban originally were based in the Pashtun – it’s the largest of the ethnic groups [in Afghanistan] – but it’s extended. One of the few surprises, very few surprises, in the last few weeks was that the warlords in the Tajik and Uzbek areas immediately moved to the Taliban. That was unexpected. Everything was perfectly well expected. It was obvious that the government would collapse. The government is just a morass of corruption, [for] which there’s no support. The Afghan army, half of it was just on paper, ghost soldiers. Others were soldiers who didn’t get paid, didn’t have ammunition. The corrupt leaders and officials were stealing everything. They’re not going to fight for the Americans, so they just disappear. All of that was plain. I wrote about it in advance [and] others did [as well]. Now, the only people who didn’t seem to understand it was the people who had access to intelligence. Intelligence had a different story. That’s one of the ways in which intelligence gets distorted. But, if you looked at the facts on the ground, it was plain what was going to happen. The surprise was the joining of Taliban by their former enemies, the warlords in Herat, Mazar al-Sharif, and others, that’s how it was unexpected. So, now it’s apparently a multi-ethnic ruled based organization.
Well, what about the withdrawal? Now, this goes back to President Trump. February 2020, Trump made a deal with the Taliban. Didn’t even bother to inform the Afghan government, [because] they’re nothing. Afghan people, of course, don’t count at all. [Trump] made a deal with the Taliban that American troops will withdraw in May 2021. Worst possible time. Onset of the fighting season. No opportunity to accommodate, to make local arrangements. “We will pull out and you can do anything you like”. He imposed no conditions. He just said one condition: “Don’t fire at American soldiers, which wouldn’t look good for me”. But anything else is your business. [It’s] interesting to see the reaction of the Republican Party, which tells you something about US politics. The Republican Party hailed this as a historic achievement by our great leader, President Trump. Take a look at their webpage, it was featured on the Republican Party webpage. And it stayed there, up until the time when the debacle began. Actually, Biden slightly improved Trump’s conditions: He delayed it a couple of months, so there was a little more time [and] added some conditions on the Taliban. So, he [Joe Biden] carried out an improved version of what they were hailing as a marvelous historic achievement by the genius Trump. Soon as the debacle began, they pulled it off their webpage and turned to attacking the Democrats and the army for the disaster. You may have seen the Senate hearing, where General Milley and others were called to account by Republicans who, a month earlier, were hailing the historic achievement, now denouncing the military for following what they had hailed. This carries shamelessness to a higher level – but that’s the so-called Republican Party. It’s not a political party anymore. Well, that’s the basic story.
Now comes the next stage. Now, there’s a split in the so-called international community about how to deal with it. One approach is advocated by the China based regional powers – it’s basically the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO] – China, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. Now, their approach is to accommodate somehow with the Taliban regime. It’s a miserable situation in Afghanistan. A mass of people is starving [and] the economy [has] collapsed, so, their approach is “Well, let’s give them some aid and support for the population, engage with them and make an effort to make their government more inclusive, less repressive and shift the economy from opium production to export of minerals and their other resources”. That’s one approach. There’s another approach, which is led by the United States and includes India, a U.S. ally. They prefer the US approach, which is to deprive Afghans of any aid and assistance. To hold their resources – [their] treasury resources happen to be in US banks -, pressure the IMF and the World Bank not to offer them assistance. Just punish the Afghans as much as possible. This doesn’t punish the leadership. Sanctions – we have plenty of experience with sanctions – to hurt the population. They usually make the leader stronger, as the population has to huddle under the leader’s umbrella just to survive. Happens over and over. The United States is the only country that can impose sanctions. Others go along sometimes, but if they try to do it on their own, nobody would pay the slightest attention. When the United States imposes sanctions, everyone has to obey, even if you oppose them. So, take the sanctions against Cuba, the oldest ones. The entire world opposes them. The vote at the United Nations, the last one, is 184 to 2. Israel goes along with the United States – it’s a client state, so it has to. The rest of the world says no, but they all abide by the sanctions, because US sanctions are third party sanctions. They tell others “If you don’t abide by them, we throw you out of the international financial system”. And you have other punishments. The world is basically the mafia, and the Godfather gives the orders and others obey – whether they like it or not. It’s reality, [it’s] not political science. So, pretty much that’s what’s happening. So, if the United States imposes sanctions, like on Afghanistan, like it or not, the rest of the world have to obey. Maybe not China. They won’t. They’re on the wrong, that’s one of the reasons [that] China is an enemy. They don’t just follow orders. It’s not tolerable. But maybe the Central Asian states will go along with China. In fact, they have been shifting – they have kicked out the American bases and are moving towards the China based Eurasian system. The Belt & Road [initiative], the investment system that China’s been carrying out. So, that seems to be the way in which it’s developing.
On China and AUKUS
Poya Pakzad: Thank you very much. This brings us quite neatly to the question of China, which is portrayed as a threat to the West – namely Europe and the United States. And recently there has been this new alliance, which seems to be a weapons-sale alliance.
Noam Chomsky: AUKUS.
Poya Pakzad: AUKUS, yeah. And we have a big reaction from [Emmanuel] Macron in France, because he is losing market share. What do you make of it?
Noam Chomsky: It’s very interesting. First of all, why is China a threat? Well, a good statement about this, about a week ago by distinguished international diplomat, former Prime Minister of Australia, Paul Keating. He is right in the dragon’s claws. You know, right there [in the situation]. He said, “What’s the China threat? Well, here’s a country that raised 20 % of the world’s population from poverty moving on to become a functioning state”. It’s moving forward in the economy, [but] it’s independent of the United States – that’s the China threat. The China threat, he said, is China’s existence. That can’t be tolerated. Let’s go back to the mafia. The Godfather does not accept centers of power that don’t follow the rules, so China’s a threat. It’s not a military threat. The military threat is against China. China is ringed with US bases with nuclear armed missiles, right offshore aimed at China. It’s China that’s under threat. Not the United States. The United States is under threat from a potential rival that doesn’t follow orders. That’s the threat.
Well, let’s take look at AUKUS. What’s portrayed in the press and the governments is [that] it’s a problem of freedom of navigation. [But] there is no problem of freedom of navigation. Actually, one of Australia’s leading strategic analysts just wrote an important article about this. Again, he’s right there [in the situation]. He said, “[There’s] no threat to navigation”. And there is none. There’s none that’s been raised. The problem is what are called the ”Exclusive Economic Zones”. The Law of Sea in 1982 established what are called “Exclusive Economic Zones”. 200 miles offshore there has to be complete freedom of navigation. But there should be no “Threat or use of force”. Now, that’s interpreted by China and India to mean no military intelligence operations. The United States disagrees. [They] say that United States has the right to carry out military and intelligence operations in the exclusive zone, which they recently did, just a couple of weeks ago, in the Indian zone. And India protested vigorously, but [they], of course, can’t do anything about it. Well, China also protests, and they can do something about it. That’s the contention: Can there be US military intelligence operations in China’s exclusive economic zone? Well, the wording again is “no threat or use of force”. I should mention on the side that the United States is the only maritime power that does not ratify the Law of the Sea. Side comment. [The] US doesn’t ratify international conventions, that’s an interference with its sovereignty. Because the Godfather doesn’t accept that. So, the issue is kind of a technical one: How do you interpret the Law of the Sea with regard to does rule of force bar military intelligence operations? That’s the issue. The United States on one side. China and India on the other. Well, obvious place for diplomacy to move in. [But] the United States does not pursue sissified things like diplomacy. We can go back to Afghanistan. When the Taliban surrendered, the answer is “We don’t do negotiations. We use force”. Here’s another example. So, we send in a naval armada.
Now, let’s come to AUKUS. The United States made a deal with Australia to send them a fleet of advanced hunter-killer submarines with nuclear weapons. China has none of these [and] this is the South China Sea. China has four submarines. Old submarines [that are] noisy, non-nuclear, easily detected and hemmed in the South China Sea. They can’t go anywhere. That’s China. [The] United States of course has [a lot]. Take a look at the nuclear submarines in the United States. There’s a fleet of advanced submarines. Each one of them – a single one – has, I forgot how many, Trident missiles. Each Trident missiles has many warheads. Each US submarine can attack about 200 cities all over the world. That’s the balance of submarines in the Southeast China Sea. Well, to correct this, the United States is sending more nuclear submarines to Australia. Which Australia pays for, but then they’re folded into the US naval command. It’s a very serious threat to China. There’s no strategic purpose, notice. These subs won’t even be in operation for probably 15 years. By that time of course, China will have built up its military forces to counter this new threat – so we get an escalation. Again, show our muscle. Show that we intend to dominate the world. Same with France. France had already made a deal with Australia to send conventional submarines. The United States did not even notify France that it was being abrogated by the US-Australia deal to send advanced nuclear submarines. So, naturally [Emmanuel] Macron was pretty upset. It’s a blow to French industry. A serious blow. They weren’t even informed. There’s a message there. It tells the European Union, “Here is your role in world affairs. If we need you, we’ll ask you to do something. If we want to do something, we won’t even bother notifying you. You’re vassals.
France withdrew its ambassadors in protest. The ambassadors to Australia and the United States – they didn’t’ bother withdrawing their ambassador from England, because everybody knows that England is just a vassal state. Don’t bother with them. But that’s how world affairs are shaking up. Well, that’s the AUKUS deal. It’ll escalate to crisis. It’s tense. It’s very tense. There’s a mutual escalation. So, the United States escalates tensions off the China coast. China sends warplanes into Taiwan’s protected area. Those are the ‘tit for tat’ actions. They expand. They can lead to war, [and] a war between China and United States means we’re finished. It’s over. Not just them – everybody. You can’t have a war between nuclear powers. China doesn’t have much of a nuclear system. Nothing like the United States. But enough to attack the continental of the United States from the mainland [of China].
On climate change
Benjamin Magnusson: Thank you so much. If I could just get you to speak a bit about climate change. What do you see as the greatest obstacle in solving the climate crisis?
Noam Chomsky: Two major obstacles. One is of course the fossil fuel companies. Second is the governments of the world, including Europe and the United States. We have just seen that very dramatically in the last month. On August 9th , the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] issued its lasted analysis of the climate situation – I’m sure you’ve seen it. It was a very dire warning. Much more than before. The message basically was “We have two choices”. We can either start right now cutting back on fossil fuel use [and] do it systematically every year until we phase them out by mid-century. That’s one choice. The other choice is cataclysm. The end of organized human life on earth. Not immediately, you know, we’ll just reach irreversible tipping points, and it goes on to disaster. Those are the options. [So], how did the great powers react? Well, the day after the IPCC report, Joe Biden issued an appeal to the OPEC cartel [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] to increase production. Europe chimed in by calling on all producer, including Russia, to increase production. Increase production. This is a response to the IPPC warning that we have to start reducing right now. That’s for political reasons, for profit for the oil companies. [The] political reason is that they want the price reduced. It’s better for them. [For] Joe Biden, if the gas prices are high, it harms his electoral prospects. Well, that’s the reaction. [If] you read the business press right now, major business press in the world, [there’s] a big discussion going on: What’s best way to increase production? Is it through the American shale oil – the fracking industry – or is it through OPEC? But how do we produce increased production best? That’s the business press. Turn to the petroleum journals. [They are] euphoric: “We just found new fields to exploit. Demand is going up. It’s great”. Well, let’s go to the US Congress. The Biden program – under pressure from young activists, the Sanders movements and so on – is actually a big improvement on any previous ones, on paper. Not wonderful, but much better than anything else. That’s the program. Well, the current negotiations in Congress taking place right now, over the, let’s call it “The Reconciliation Bill”, initiated by Bernie Sanders, cut back very sharply from Sanders’ proposals. It’s a very valuable bill. It somewhat reverses the huge assault on the population during the neoliberal era, a topic in itself. But it’s very much needed in the United States, and it’s very popular among the population, they like it, including Republicans, incidentally. They all favor it. [It is the] kind of things that Europe takes for granted, like childcare, maternity leave, paid vacation – things that are normal in Europe. They don’t exist in the United States, but they are slight moves in that direction, so it’s very popular – except with Congress. The Republicans are a hundred precent opposed. Nothing. [They] won’t accept anything. The Democrats do have a swing vote. The so-called “Moderate Democrats”, who should be called “Ultra Reactionaries” are the swing vote. One of them is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, [who] also happens to be the champion in Congress of receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry, which is quite an achievement because they pay off everyone – but he’s the champion. His name is Joe Manchin. He has a policy, he’s made it explicit, that’s taken from the playbook of the oil companies. He made it very clear, he said: “No elimination, only innovation”. So, no cut back of the use of fossil fuel if you can make up something new, it’s okay. So, he’s blocking it. There are climate change provisions in it. They’re already out. Blocked. [They] probably won’t allow anything else either. So, the whole proposal is probably doomed. But on climate change, it’s already taken out.
Well, go to Europe, it varies. There are some countries like Denmark for example, which are moving towards renewable energy pretty significantly. Others vary. But, when it comes to the crunch, telling the oil companies and the producers right now what to do, Europe is, as far as I know, unified in saying “Increase production”, right after the warning that we have to decrease production. That’s the world we live in.
Benjamin Magnusson: Considering this, do you think it’s possible to find solutions at the scale and time we need within the capitalist system?
Noam Chomsky: Very simple. Straightforward. There are very careful and detailed proposals that have been worked out. Even by the International Energy Agency [IEA], which is a producer-based group. Detailed proposals. Others by a number of economists. Very good economists. One of them is my co-author Robert Pollin, Jeffrey Sachs at Columbia. Using different models, they all come up with the same results. There are perfectly feasible measures to meet the IPPC goals and, at the same time, make a better world. Better jobs, better living conditions [and] improvement of the nature of society. It’s all possible. Furthermore, it’s well-known. The leaders in Europe who are calling for increased production know it perfectly well – if they’re literate. And it’s within, maybe, 2-3 % of the GDP. Easily manageable. It’s actually less than what the US treasury spent to bail out the financial institutions during the current crisis. Easily within range. [It is a] tiny fraction of what was spent during World War II. But the problem is: Can you get the will to do it? It’s not going to come from the leadership. It’s going to have to come from mass popular action. And the scandal and tragedy is that that’s coming only from young people. The climate strike a couple of weeks ago – young people. The ‘Sunrise Movement’ in the United States, which impelled the Biden administration to at least adopt a reasonable proposal on paper – it’s young people. When Greta Thunberg stands up at the Davos meeting and says “You have betrayed us”, she’s exactly right. She got a light applause and then they said “Nice little girl, why don’t you go back to school? We’ll take care of it”. It’s an interesting reaction. But, you know, it can be done. But it’s going to take plenty of effort and energy. There are major problems. Actually today, this morning [October 6th 2021], they reported an IMF [International Monetary Fund] study that came out yesterday. They tried to estimate the subsidies that are being given to the fossil fuel companies. Their estimate is around 11 million dollars a minute in subsidies. Mostly by the rich countries to the fossil fuel industry. Some of them are direct, others are indirect, like by underestimating the cost of the use of fossil fuel. That’s a pretty significant sum. It’s going on every day. Well, those are the battles that have to be waged. There will be one in Glasgow at the COP26 (UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) meeting in a couple of weeks and then it goes on. It has to be unrelenting, constantly.
The whole neoliberal period was basically class-war. It had nothing to do with the markets or anything else. Just class-war. And this is another form. Do we want to hand the future of our children and grandchildren into the hands of elements that want to make as much profit as possible and then don’t care what happens tomorrow? That’s one choice. The other choice is to move onto a livable and better world – and it’s not going to be an easy struggle.
Anarchism and classical liberalism
Benjamin Magnusson: Great. If we could just move onto anarchism. I think it’s a term that’s greatly misunderstood. A lot of people believe that anarchism has to do with a chaotic society without any rules, which is quite different to the anarchism that you speak of. So, could you briefly try to explain what you mean, when you speak of anarchism?
Noam Chomsky: Well, I mean, anarchism covers a very wide range. There are all sorts of things. But even the ultra-right calls itself anarchist – meaning, we want power to shift from government to private tyranny. It’s called anarchism. But the mainstream, and the kind I think we should take seriously, has been based on a very simple principle. [A] basic principle: Any form of hierarchy and domination is illegitimate unless it can justify itself. It has a burden of proof. Sometimes that burden of proof can be met. Very rarely. If it can’t be met, dismantle it and turn it into a more free participatory cooperative society. So, what an anarchist system would be is… It could very well have hierarchy, as long as it’s controlled by below. Like, if I need surgery I go to a doctor, not a carpenter. Now, that’s hierarchy. But I chose it – he’s a doctor by virtue of my decision, our decision collectively that some group of people can gain skills that the community needs. So, as long as responsibility is vested in the democratic participatory community in every institution, in the workplace, in communities everywhere, then we’re moving towards a free and just society. It will be a highly organized society. There can be a lot of planning about how we should distribute resources, what our policies ought to be. It could be, or should be, in fact, international in scope, ideally. So, a rich and complex organization but based on popular and democratic control and meeting the condition that any form of hierarchy that can’t justify itself has to be dismantled in favor of more freedom. Then you can spell that out in many detailed ways.
Poya Pakzad: I suppose that the practical realization of this philosophy in economic terms would be to do something about those private tyrannies.
Noam Chomsky: Well, there are many things that can be done and, in fact, are being done. So, one thing that should be done is the classic position of the workers’ movements and the farmers’ movements back in the 1900th century – in fact, it has its roots in classical liberalism: “Those who work in an enterprise should own and manage it”. We should move towards what radical farmers called a cooperative commonwealth, where the farmers themselves organized collectively [and] freed themselves from the rule of the Northeastern bankers and market managers [and instead] did it themselves. That was the populist movement in the United States in the 1900th century. They were beginning to link up with the growing workers’ movement, which held that “Those who work in the mill should own them. No one has the right to expropriate the labor of someone else”. This is, actually, classical liberalism. Go back to someone like Wilhelm von Humboldt, one of the main founders of classical liberalism said that “the peasant who works the fields has more right of ownership than the landlord who sits in some palace somewhere”. Well, that’s classical liberalism. Abraham Lincoln in the United States was a classical liberal. For him, and indeed for the Republican Party, what they called “wage-slavery” – subordination to a master – is just like slavery, except that it’s temporary, until you can free yourself. Now, there’s a little difference. He talked about individual freedom [and] the farmers and workers talked about collective freedom – a cooperative commonwealth. So, that’s the difference. But other than that, the roots are in the classical idea [which] goes way back to the Romans – that subordination to a master is a fundamental attack on basic human dignity and human rights. That’s been beaten out of people’s heads by a century of propaganda. Now, it’s supposed to be a wonderful thing if you can subordinate yourself to a master for most of your working life. It’s called “getting a job”. It was considered a horrible attack on human dignity for millennia. Millennia, literally, up through the 1900th century. It’s taken a lot of work to impose on people the idea that it’s a wonderful thing to spend your waking hours following somebody else’s orders. And doing it in a way which is actually more extreme than totalitarian states. Like, Stalin couldn’t tell you “You’re allowed to go to the bathroom for 15 minutes at 3 p.m.”. He couldn’t do that. That’s what’s called “getting a job” – [someone telling you] what kind of clothes to wear [and] if you’re working at an Amazon warehouse, what kind of path to take between two spots. If you’re working for a delivery company, you’re not allowed to stop for coffee for 15 minutes, and we control you because we have a surveillance system in the truck. So, if you do that you get a demerit, and if you get a couple of them, you’ll get thrown out. Now, that’s called “getting a job”. Subordinating yourself to a master. Well, not only the anarchists, but even the socialist movement – when it used to be a real movement – took that as a slogan. “Worker’s control of enterprises” was the basis for the traditional socialist movement, [but] it’s long changed from that. But I think all these ideas can be reconstructed quickly – they are [already] to a certain extent. There is worker-controlled enterprises, cooperatives, localist initiatives developing, which are sort of pieces of a more free and just society, which would follow general anarchist principles. Unfortunately, this cannot happen in time to deal with our immediate crises. Timescales are wrong. The immediate crises, [are] crises of survival, [and] will have to be dealt with within more or less the existing institutions. They can be modified, but they are not going to be fundamentally changed in time to deal with the crises. That doesn’t mean that you stop working on the long term. You do it, it changes consciousness, changes understanding, builds elements of freedom within a highly repressive society. It can be done. But the immediate crises are going to require working with the institutions that exists, maybe modified, but basically them. We’re stuck with that.
And I’m afraid that I’m stuck with the fact that I have to get off. I have another interview coming.
On Bertrand Russel:
Poya Pakzad: Thank you so much for your time Professor Chomsky, it’s been a true privilege to talk to you. We’re not going to hold you up any longer, but the text behind you, is that the quote from Bertrand Russel?
Noam Chomsky: Sorry?
Poya Pakzad: There’s a text behind you. Is that a quote from Bertrand Russel?
Valeria Wasserman: Yes.
Noam Chomsky: Yes, it’s a quote from Bertrand Russel. His famous quote about… Bring it over [Valeria] so I can read it.
Valeria Wasserman: I can’t.
Noam Chomsky: Oh, you can’t. Well, okay. You know the quote. The things he cared about in life. It’s a wonderful quote.
Poya Pakzad: We’ll put it up there. Thanks.
Benjamin Magnusson: Thank you so much.
Noam Chomsky: Good to talk to you.
“Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.” – Bertrand Russel