Globalizing Resistance to Corporate Power
- Noam Chomsky speaks to Socialist Worker about
Globalising resistance to corporate power
NOAM CHOMSKY is one of the most well known writers
and anti-imperialist campaigners in the US today. He
has written on many subjects, including the role of
the media and NATO's war in Kosovo. He spoke to Socialist
Worker about the growing mood against capitalism.
HOW SIGNIFICANT were the protests in Seattle against the
World Trade Organisation and in Washington against the
International Monetary Fund and World Bank?
VERY SIGNIFICANT. I don't recall anything like it. For a
long time there have been vocal protests against what's
misleadingly called globalisation, this particular mode of
corporate-run international integration which has harmed a
great many people-probably the majority of the population
of the world.
This has led to local protests over specific issues. But
in the last couple of years the protests have become
integrated. You see many examples of it. The international
efforts that undermined the Multilateral Agreement on
Investment were extremely impressive. They were done very
quickly with virtually no publicity.
Seattle was a major protest, and the major institutions had
to back down. In Washington it was again the same story. The
variety of constituencies involved in these protests is
remarkable. They involve people who in the past did not have
much to do with each other, like steel workers, gay activists
and environmentalists. The protests also have an international
character, bringing together people from movements like the
landless workers' movement in Brazil, the peasant movement in
India and working people in the US.
IN WASHINGTON the movement seemed to be deepening and becoming
more politicised. People were making links in a way that we
haven't seen for a long time.
YES. THE protesters know what they are talking about. People
are asking more fundamental questions. People who call the
protests reformist are missing the point. For one thing the
reforms are good-if you can achieve them, they help people.
But also when there is a limit placed on reforms it helps you
come to understand the way the world works, and that's
important. You begin by calling for a minor reform. You find
you can make a little progress on that, but then you face an
iron wall. That teaches you something. You ask questions about
why there's an iron wall and you look a little deeper into the
way the system works. Then there's more pressure and sometimes
more reaction. Part of the point of the protests is that they
educate the protesters. You learn about where the institutions
will be willing to bend and where they will not. That sharpens
the protesters for the next stage.
AMONG THE protesters there seems to be a sophisticated
understanding of the way corporations are choking the life out
of the world, and also a vision of essentially a socialist
IT IS true of some of them. And those people are to a large
extent people who have learned that through the experience of
trying to carry out corporate reform. You start by going to an
investors' meeting and calling for socially positive investment.
You find you can make a minuscule difference, but you can't go
too far. You ask why you can't, and you get to what you're
TEN YEARS ago we were told it was the "end of history", the end
of wars and civil conflict. How does that fit with the reality
of the world today?
THE SOVIET Empire collapsed, and other regions like Yugoslavia
collapsed. When that kind of collapse happens you get violent
ethnic conflict because imperial systems, like totalitarian
states, tend to suppress internal conflict. When the British
Empire collapsed there were atrocities much worse than anything
going on today in Eastern Europe. In south Asia there was a
huge war between India and Pakistan that is still going on 50
years later. In Palestine it is the same.
When the French Empire collapsed there were wars all over Africa.
So too when the Portuguese empire collapsed in the mid-1970s.
There were major wars in Africa where South Africa acted as the
front guy for the US and Britain to try to undermine the newly
independent countries. In south east Asia where Portugal had a
small empire you had the same thing, except this time Indonesia
played the role of South Africa. Atrocities in East Timor went
on right through until last year. When the Russian Empire
collapsed it was the same story. Many of the conflicts in Africa
today, like in Rwanda, are a lingering result of the breakdown
of the Belgian, German and French imperial systems.
WHERE DOES US foreign and military policy fit into the picture
IT'S THE same story. One interesting index is arms transfers.
The main countries that get arms are Israel and Egypt. Egypt
gets them because it supports Israel. That has to do with US
domination of the Middle East's oil resources. Turkey is also
a leading recipient of US arms. Turkey is a NATO country and
was on the frontline of the Cold War. But the level of arms
transfers was fairly steady and not all that high until 1984.
Then it went much higher and stayed high. The peak year was
1997. In that single year Turkey got more arms from the United
States than in the entire period of 1950 to 1984.
This was because in order to crush the Kurds the Turkish state
needed a huge flow of US arms. So US arms were pouring in for
massive ethnic cleansing operations and massacres in
southeastern Turkey. By 1998 they had suppressed the Kurdish
movement, so the arms sales declined. Until then Turkey was the
leading recipient of US arms apart from Israel and Egypt. In
1999 it was replaced by Colombia. Colombia had been the leading
recipient of US arms in the western hemisphere through the
1990s. It also had one of the worst human rights records in the
1990s. Why? Because Colombia has a powerful guerilla movement
which the state has not been able to crush.
HOW DOES NATO's bombing in the Balkans last year fit in?
WHEN NATO bombed Yugoslavia it was not because of human rights
problems. They don't give a damn about human rights. NATO did
it because Serbia didn't follow the rules. Milosevic is
doubtless a war criminal and a gangster. But the US and Britain
have no problem supporting war criminals and gangsters-they do
it all the time. Take Saddam Hussein. Tony Blair and the United
Nations tell you he is the only monster in history who has not
only developed weapons of mass destruction but even used them
against his own population. All that's missing is, "Yes, he
used weapons of mass destruction against his own population,
but with the SUPPORT of the US and Britain."
The real reason they are after Saddam Hussein is because he
disobeyed orders. Now that's a crime. You can gas Kurds if you
like-we don't care about that-but don't disobey orders! That's
the way great powers work. The United States works that way.
Britain, which is by now more or less the attack dog of the
United States, works that way. Russia is doing the same in
HOW DO the big corporations fit into this picture?
STATES ARE to some extent independent actors. But overwhelmingly
they reflect the concentration of power inside them. That
concentration inside contemporary industrial countries is
concentrated corporate power. This concentration of power is
extremely high in the US but it is also international-although
big corporations are rooted in, and heavily dependent on, their
own home countries.
What's called globalisation, a development that has taken place
in the last 25 years, is a real power play on the part of
concentrated corporate power and the states that are linked to
that. They are trying to develop a particular form of global
integration which is in the interests of financial institutions.
What happens to the population is incidental. In fact, what
happens to economic growth is incidental. You get a lot of
excited talk about how wonderful the economic record has been
in the last 25 years. It's total nonsense. In the period from
the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s economic growth in the industrial
countries was cut by about half.
Wages have either stagnated or declined in most of the
industrial countries, and primarily in the US. Working hours
are going way up. Benefits are down. Although growth has slowed
there is highly concentrated profit. In the Third World the
growth rate in the 1990s is about half what it was in the 1970s.
That's one of the effects of one particular form of globalisation,
traceable in substantial measure to the financial liberalisation.
These changes in the last 25 years have had the effect of harming
the international economy. It still grows, but not like before.
And it concentrates wealth and power far more than before, and
undermines democratic processes.
There are other ways of undermining democracy. Take the European
Union. One of the crucial parts of the European Union is the
transfer of power to unaccountable central banks. That's a
tremendous attack on democracy. In fact, it's so extreme that
even conservative sectors in the United States have been shocked
WHAT ABOUT future prospects? Is something shifting in the US
AVERAGE WAGES in the US have only now, maybe, reached the level
of 20 years ago. To have a 20 year period when average wages are
stagnant or declining when there is still economic growth is
probably unprecedented. US workers have the highest workload in
the industrial world. They passed Japan a couple of years ago.
You have to have two members of the family working in the US
just to keep food on the table.
You don't have daycare systems for children so you have to figure
out what to do with the children. That's not so easy for a working
family. This is a tremendous burden on families. One associated
factor, which may well be a consequence, is that things like child
abuse have gone up. By most social indicators the US has declined
since the mid-1970s. People feel that in their own individual
lives, but they are also beginning to feel it collectively.
It's not just industrial workers. It's all through the economy.
Small farmers are getting smashed, as are small store owners.
Except for a pretty small sector most people are suffering, and
you get this coming together. That's one of the striking things
about Seattle. As for the future, conflicts and struggles always
go on. They are never predictable. These are things you do
- 1. Chomsky either doesn't distinguish between state capitalism
and a free market, or else he does it very badly.
2. Chomsky doesn't mention, either because he doesn't
understand or because he is uncomfortable admitting it, that
more free trade has helped raise standards of living in the
Third World, especially for the poorest of the poor.
3. Chomsky doesn't seem to understand the positions of his
opponents, much less have any compassion for them. In
everything I've read by him, he comes across as the cliche'd
arrogant ivory-tower intellectual, cold and unfeeling.
4. This may be one reason why, for over 30 years as one of the
leading figures of the intellectual left, his influence has always been
marginal at best. I don't have much sympathy for Chomsky
personally, nor for his ideology, so this actually doesn't bother me,
but in order to be honorable I am willing to offer honest advice even
to those I disagree with (while hoping that they will refuse the offer,
so I can wash my hands of them without feeling guilty).
"The satisfactions of self-righteousness are strong and
addictive, but the problems of the human race will not
be solved by junkies." <http://www.impel.com/liblib/>
>1. Chomsky either doesn't distinguish between state capitalismYes, that's because it's not true. The period
>and a free market, or else he does it very badly.
>2. Chomsky doesn't mention, either because he doesn't
>understand or because he is uncomfortable admitting it, that
>more free trade has helped raise standards of living in the
>Third World, especially for the poorest of the poor.
of structural adjustment since the '80s has led to
continual declines in standards of living in the poor,
lower rates of education and access to health care, in
almost all of the countries most affected, in comparison
with say the 1970s. The only main exceptions were the
East Asian countries which did not adopt free market
models but instead opted for state-directed protectionist
policies and export-oriented industrial development,
usually combined with strict capital controls. I'm not
saying rah rah protectionism, but I am sick and tired
of seeing lies repeated to justify brutality. I've seen
the effect of these "free trade" "free market" policies
with my own eyes and I work with people who have to see
it every day, in dozens of different countries, and if
someone else prefers to go only to sources which will cook
the books to tell him what he wishes to be true, that's
hardly my problem.
>3. Chomsky doesn't seem to understand the positions of hisChomsky is a person who spends just about every
>opponents, much less have any compassion for them. In
>everything I've read by him, he comes across as the cliche'd
>arrogant ivory-tower intellectual, cold and unfeeling.
waking hour campaigning for human rights and justice as
he understands them - yes, he's dedicated his entire life
to the cause of human liberation and that's because he's
cold and unfeeling.
>4. This may be one reason why, for over 30 years as one of theBoy talk about projection...
>leading figures of the intellectual left, his influence has always been
>marginal at best. I don't have much sympathy for Chomsky
>personally, nor for his ideology, so this actually doesn't bother me,
>but in order to be honorable I am willing to offer honest advice even
>to those I disagree with (while hoping that they will refuse the offer,
>so I can wash my hands of them without feeling guilty).
Dan, why on earth do you want to waste my time
with this? I don't appreciate it. If you want to put up
a discussion list and then place people who utterly disagree
with the premises or even version of reality of those
to whom the group is mainly directed, this is what's going
to happen. Me, I want off.
- David Graeber wrote:
> Dan, why on earth do you want to waste my timeand
> with this? I don't appreciate it. If you want to put up
> a discussion list and then place people who utterly disagree
> with the premises or even version of reality of those
> to whom the group is mainly directed, this is what's going
> to happen. Me, I want off.
> Now if I have to deal with the same tediousDavid, I started this list to create an alternative source for the
> free-market ideology here as on the net I'm going to
> have to ask Dan to take me off the list. This shit is
> tiresome and I have _much_ better things to do with
> my day. Mr. Fast is obviously a nice guy personally,
> but for whatever psychological reasons he seems to have
> decided to become an apologist for brutality - mainly,
> it would seem, because of a wishful-thinking desire not
> to have to face up to the ugliness of what really goes on
> in the world. Whatever the reason, I don't want to know.
> I am tired of debating with such people. Could this
> please be the last?
things I post on the Usenet groups. I didn't intend it to be a
discussion list, though I did approve the first few responses (I have to
approve all messages for them to be sent). For now I'll ask that
everyone limit responses to factual issues and things of that sort
(David's response to the Anarkids post is I think I fairly good
example). I don't think egroups.com provides a way to set up a separate
list for discussion, which would be the ideal option. So for now,
everyone please try to keep responses limited. Some of John Fast's
responses might have better gone to me by direct e-mail.
PS: Do however feel free to send news items, communiqués, articles,
essays, and things of that sort that you think would be of interest to
those on the list. Also be aware that messages also go to the moderators
at misc.activism.progressive and may be posted there.
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and Ssa in Ngovonyidj; alone Tho-og Yinsin in
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-- The Book of Dzyan.