Noam Chomsky : Rebellious Occupation

Rebellious Media Conference
8 – 9 October 2011
“For radical social change movements to succeed, they will need radical media organisations to provide channels for information, insight and internal debate. In turn, for radical media organisations to develop and thrive, they need to be part of movements for radical social change.”

Warning : this material is taken from scribbled long-hand notes, and is not a complete account of what was said. The full account will be available later in DVD format. Meanwhile, follow the #rebelliousmc Twitter hashtag…

Introductory Plenary “Radical Media, Radical Priorities”

1. Michael Albert introducing Noam Chomsky

[In reference to the introduction he had himself received] “A pioneer”. Does that mean I’m dead ?

[I would] bet you know the views of Noam Chomsky better than you know the ideas of your friends.

How to introduce Noam Chomsky ? What the hell can I say ? I’ve known him for 45 years. [Met at university – Noam had an] influence on what became the rest of my life. He is a special person, not least in denying that he’s a special person. He’s the only person in the universe that believes that !

He works hard and long – he barely sleeps. It would be a mistake to learn not to sleep. That’s not the thing to emulate. You can’t emulate bringing the amount of brain power he brings to his work. You cannot replicate that.

[One thing he does, as you will find today, is use] analogies [to take an argument out of the domain of presumptions].

Emulate his scrupulous honesty. “The truth is always revolutionary” [Gramsci].

Commit to clarity of expression. He just IS smart and says it clearly. Communicate [with you] on anything substantive – communicate until the point is gotten across. Write him a letter […] get back […] you’ll see.

2. Noam Chomsky

[Now I get the chance to] introduce Michael Albert. The first time (and the last time) we agreed on something, we were both wrong. It radicalised MIT [Massechusetts Institute of Technology]. In the middle of the [Vietnam] war […students proposed to offer…] santuary to a deserter, a Marine. It was the first time it was tried in a university. These things can take off. Have to have careful judgement. Have to think about [similar] experiences.

The Occupy movement is extremely important, not least the participation of young people.

Radical priorities. Radical media. [Need to] talk about flaws.

[The Occupy movement] quite unusual. Mainstream support for it. Bernanke says it’s “understandable” – unusually supportive statements. [The Financial Times…]

Under [Richard] Nixon, the last liberal President [laughter from the audience], the unions accepted the “social contract” – a labour-management partnership [but this led to] the collapse of the radical movement in the 1970s. The contract never existed. There was a growth period [in the economy, which “floated all the boats” and brought prosperity to many], and the labour leadership accepted it [the compromise with private management]. They saw the light far too late.

In the 70s people were striking not for income or benefits – they were striking for control of [the means of] production. By the late 70s, the labour movement started to decline […] period of last 35 years : undermining of workers’ rights, stagnating incomes, increasing inequality, wealth going into [the owners’ or management] pockets. Now it’s back to the occupations.

The main thrust of the occupations – not very critical. Radical demands are tacked on at the end [of the lists of demands] – can be put aside.

[Takes out list of demands from Occupy Boston and reads out loud. The first section] Not very radical demands – in normal discussion. The final demand [is very radical – but to get anything like this] the mass of the population has to be behind it […] understand it.

[These demands are] things that don’t happen if you have a demonstration for a couple of weeks. Corporations have been buying elections for a 100 years [for example].

[What I note is] the thin character of the demands – get back to the “good old days”. There are radical priorities that should be brought into it – to explain the gap [between the obvious, non-challenging demands and the more radical, complex demands] and fill it; otherwise it’s going to reach a point where [there’s absorption/appropriation of] the “tolerable” demands, which are [fine to appear] in the business press.

Maybe [the Occupy movement] will galvanize the Democrats.

[The radical demands are] so far beyond what’s attainable – would need to mobilise the country behind them [to attain them]. [The Occupy movement will] maybe initiate a long-term effort. Dedicate yourself.

If it doesn’t happen [if demands are not met, you find a lot of people get demoralised and say things like] “I’ll become a stockbroker”. Take protest against the Iraq war. Really amazing protests before the war was officially launched […] [People had] a sense that it [protest] failed. It did put constraints on the invasion. It didn’t have the results that the protesters intended. [The effect on people that took part in the demonstrations against war was to] quit.

[In the Occupy demands text] there are words missing : Iraq, Afghanistan, war, drones, participation, industry, factory, women, healthcare – nothing said. Nothing beyond some scattered [words on] solutions. Nothing on organised activity.

Revolution begins at home.

[Consideration of what happened in previous strikes. People said] we’ll run it ourselves. Sit down in a factory is a step before taking it over.

The Civil Rights movement didn’t come out of nowhere – on the wave of that popular movement […] Remember what happened to the Civil Rights movement – as soon as Martin Luther King started moving towards class issues his popularity declined rapidly […] Racism in the North is worse than it was […]

The Arab world [revolution] taking place successfully where there has been a radical labour movement. It’s when the labour movement got involved – significant gains. [Discussion of the name of the movement “April 6” and what that means] It ought to be known.

If the Occupy movements are going to have some success […] Adam Smith talked about it. It’s not new […]

[Quoting from the Occupy movement demands] “They have used military [and police] to repress us”. Other uses of the military are not mentioned. To be radical, ought to fill what’s missing. Instill consciousness and understanding in activists, and in public.

[Discussion of recent factory closure in North America]. The workforce proposed to buy the factory and run it themselves [but the company prefered to close it down to retain control of profits from the sale of the products, by sending the work to a country with lower wage costs]. Bitter, unending, savage [industrial] wars. The multinationals would rather lose money than [see the option] of self-managed plant. The multinationals are waging a class war.

[On Obama and the automotive sector restructuring] There were other options. Nationalisation might not be the right answer – an option would have been to hand it over to the workers – skilled workers – to produce things that people actually need. For example, decent railway systems. [That didn’t happen because of the] power of the auto industries and the energy industry. The input [into a worker-owned manufacture option] would have been nothing like the subsidies to hand it [the automotive manufacture industry] back to the owners. [Remember] at the same time, Obama [or his deputies] were in Spain negotiating for the technical skills for rail.

America’s becoming a Third World country. There is no shortage of tasks to undertake, and I think it’s pretty clear what they are.

[Question from the floor] : [In light of Ed Miliband’s conference speech] Who are “predators” and who are “producers” ?

[Noam Chomsky asks] : What you mean like banks and factories ? [The main problem arising from globalisation was that] production went offshore […] Sure, the distinction is real.

Production should be taken over by the workforce.

[Question from the floor]

[Noam Chomsky] Egypt – a law outlawing unions that were behind the revolution. Tunisia won’t recognise “unauthorised” unions. National Nurses United put on a demonstration before the Occupy. England had a pretty comprehensive healthcare system – destroying it [by privatisation]. Take a look at where you’re going – twice the costs, worst outcomes, reasons : unmentionable – virtually unregulated. Hopelessly inefficient. [All this debate aboute the US] deficit – woolly nonsense. If the US had public healthcare, there would be no deficit.

[Question from the floor] Is Fukushima shifting consciousness ?

[Noam Chomsky] With nuclear power [compare it to the climate change being caused from fossil fuels] we have to evaluate the options. I think they’re both wrong – if the only choice we’re given is between nuclear power and fossil fuels. Hard choice. In nuclear power, Fukushima [explosions and meltdowns] one kind of problem. [Then there’s] storage [of the nuclear waste] There is a limit to sending it off to poor countries. [Discussion on the problem of piracy in Somali waters, nobody mentions the destruction of the seas that is impoverishing the country, including] sending [nuclear waste] off to Somalia. There’s a limit to sending it off to Northern England…

Fracking is a “new” “exciting” idea. Environmental destruction – massive use of water.

We’re coming pretty close to a tipping point. The International Energy Agency figures on Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Two degrees [of global warming] may be irreversible.

The right answer is get away from both of them (nuclear power and fossil fuels).

First of all, just plain [energy] conservation. It’s low tech and it keeps people employed.

There is a fair amount of investment in sustainability [sustainable energy] in the US. Most in China. The Chinese provide the conditions to make it feasible. The US complains that this is market interference. Why should we pick any of the horrible alternatives ?

[New subject]

[Why] blaming the media for keeping people atomised [and powerless] – that’s what they do [as a corporately-owned media – it’s a corporate consumer strategy].

The population is just too dangerous for their own good. Keep them away from decisionmaking. The mainstream media [is about] keeping people out of the hair of the people that matter. Why blame them ? Get around it !

[Remember, things change] These awful tabloids were once left-based [union journals, journals of labour].

Occupy Wall Street – that’s what they feel – let’s get back to when it worked. My feeling is pretty [grim ? They are] rather naive – failure to comprehend the way the world works. The very term “greedy” is out of place – that’s what they’re [profitmaking corporates] are supposed to do [make a profit]. It’s not because they’re “bad” people – [tendency towards inequality and power bias] it’s the nature of the market system.

[Economic] transactions [don’t take account of] externalities [the damages caused to society and environment by corporate profitmaking ventures]. One of the externalities is destroying the species – but it’s not because they’re “greedy” or “bad”.

[In the reign of] Reagan (when I say Reagan, I have no idea if he knew what was going on) – they were radical statists. We do not have free market economies. There are free market components, which is why they crash all the time. The state interferes all over the place. The bailouts alone… Procurement alone is a huge subsidy. Take the computer industry – developed by government funding for example at MIT. And the whole Internet revolution. IBM [International Business Machines] did their transition from punch cards at government expense. That’s the way the high tech economy develops. The state is closely linked to private power.

Extending the cooperative business model could succeed where capitalist business model has failed. A very heterogenous category. [For example] Mondragon – worker-owned but not worker-managed – exploiting overseas cheap labour.

We have to ask what cooperatives are – do they satisfy the values we want. If a hierarchy [is built into a cooperative] all the old rot returns. They kept the old division of labour – over time distorted – left the demoralising feeling that nothing is possible.

[Question from the floor] Give some example of what Occupy demands should be. What are your suggestions for the demands ?

[Noam Chomsky] Decisions of what to do depend on intimate details… general principles pretty clear – should not make the mistake of a litany of complaints. [Producing] a list of feasible objectives then tacking on unattainable goals that require real work to achieve – that won’t come from a demonstration. [They start with] feasible goals that the Financial Times says are fine, then there’s no bridge [to the more radical demands]. Setting things up for disillusionment. You’re not going to win tomorrow. We’ll learn from the defeats. Retain a memory of how to do things. We’ll be there the next time. Ready for whatever comes next.

[Question from the floor] regarding liberalisation and protectionism

[Noam Chomsky] Best way to deal with it is to compensate for people fleeing their own country – save industry, improve conditions for everyone so people in rich countries don’t have to give up [their manufacturing jobs]. The European Union [as an example] integrated poor southern countries into the EU. The way it was done was a prior period of compensatory funding and [enforcement of equal production] standards.

Being human brings along problems.

So-called “Free Trade” Agreement (North American Free Trade Agreement NAFTA) [caused border issues] ruined Mexican economy – people are going to flee.

One thought on “Noam Chomsky : Rebellious Occupation”

  1. Readers here might like to read and sign The Sirisuk Declaration; a charter designed to limit top peoples’ pay and inject some ethical behaviour into politics, industry and banking.
    Comments from Noam Chomsky, Ken Loach, Peter Tatchell, George Monbiot and many others.
    http://www.sirisuk.org
    Best wishes,
    Nick Nakorn

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