Noam Chomsky interviewed by David Dobereiner, John Hess, Doug Richardson & Tom Woodhull

C. P. Otero (ed.), Language and Politics, Black Rose, 1988, pp. 166-196, January, 1974

BLACK ROSE: In your article Notes on Anarchism, you were pretty sympathetic to anarchism. You talk about the “process of rehabilitation” of Daniel Guerin, reintegrating anarchism into the twentieth century. Do you see anarchism as being really that relevant to social problems in the advanced capitalist countries?

CHOMSKY: Well, as you know very well, anarchism covers a broad spectrum. That particular strain that Guerin isolated and studied I think is a valuable one. It’s one that converges pretty much with libertarian Marxism, I think. Marxism also covers a pretty broad spectrum and there is a point at which some varieties of anarchism and some varieties of Marxism come very close together, as for example, people like Karl Korsch, who was very sympathetic to the Spanish anarchist movement, though he himself was sort of an orthodox Marxist. And out of that complex of ideas, anarcho-syndicalist ideas and libertarian socialist ideas, it seems to me that there is a very applicable… In fact, I think those are exactly the appropriate ideas for an advanced technological society, one which… It seems to me that anarchism in that sense suggests certain principles of organiation which are extremely realistic. Sort of a natural evolution with a high enough level of technology and communication and elimination of onerous, but necessary, labor. Under those conditions it seems to me entirely possible, in fact, essential , to move toward these social forms so very much appropriate to advanced industrial society.

BLACK ROSE: In that context, (a) what do you think of Marx’s class analysis and (b) what social economic group in this country do you think is the most relevant to radical transformation?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think the general idea of class analysis is indispensable. Whether Marx’s particular formulations were either historically accurate or applicable today may be questioned. I would tend to agree with Bakunin’s criticism of Marx that the notion of “the dictatorship of the proletariat” in a partially agrarian society would be a very repressive and destructive system, as in fact… I’m not implying the Bolsheviks introduced the dictatorship of the proletariat, they did not, but the particular perversion of it they introduced gives some justification to that analysis and I think one could make other comments of that sort. But the insight that class analysis is indispensable to understanding of social processes, I don’t have any doubt that that’s true.

BLACK ROSE: Which Bakunin agreed with.

CHOMSKY: Right. There are questions of interpretation and so on, but I don’t see how any socialist could fail to agree with that, or any social scientist for that matter. As far as contemporary society is concerned, it seems to me that you can identify roughly a class of productive workers which now includes a pretty diffuse spectrum going all the way from manual laborers to technicians to scientists to creators of intellectual culture.

BLACK ROSE: You mean productive in the sense of material goods?

CHOMSKY: No, not necessarily. I mean, artists are productive in this sense, creating parts of our material and intellectual culture.

BLACK ROSE: Professors…

CHOMSKY: Some of them. Occasionally. They could be, in principle. Like in any other field. Artists, for example, could be drawing posters for the state or something. But this seems to me a very diffuse sort of class, but it’s a class of productive people, and I think that class should play the role that Marx’s proletariat played. That is, it should include everyone. It should have control directly of its own productive work, both the conditions of it, the distribution of it, and so on.

BLACK ROSE: So, the proletariat as defined by Marx, the industrial workers, is not as important because it is a minority.

CHOMSKY: Well, if you really think of the proletariat as being blue-collar laborers, of course, that’s a diminishing part of the working class in this broader sense. I doubt that Marx would have disagreed with this, frankly. As I read Marx, what he regarded as crucial to the notion of the proletarian was that of productive work, and in different societies different people have to deal in productive work.

BLACK ROSE: I think Sweezy makes the point that certain sectors of the working class have more power because what they produce seems more essential.

CHOMSKY: Well, that’s kind of a technical issue almost. You have to look and see what is more important in a particular factory, the engineer who decides what machines will be there and what they’ll do, or the guy who stands on the assembly line and turns screws. I have no objections about that. I’m sure it varies. I don’t think you can make a generalization at that technical level. It would depend on the industry. Let’s take a laboratory, certainly a part of the productive apparatus of the society. And there the technicians are certainly essential as regards ideas. I don’t see fundamentally any difference between them as far as contribution to production is concerned. Neither can get along without the others.

BLACK ROSE: Do you sort of see this proletarian class being radicalized by material privation or much more psychological aspects of alienation? One could scarcely argue that most professors at MIT are materially deprived, yet many of them suffer tremendous psychological alienation or displacement.

CHOMSKY: No, in fact professors at MIT and so on belong to the very top few percent of income. But it’s always been true… You couldn’t say that Engels was materially deprived either. I don’t see anything peculiar about that. I think a lot of people happen to be concerned about others or something. It may vary. But as a class, I wouldn’t expect professors at MIT to be spearheading the revolution.

BLACK ROSE: No, but you mentioned technicians and others. The experience in Chile and other areas seems to prove that they are essential. The question then is radicalizing them. Does that come out of…

CHOMSKY: Material deprivation or some psychological understanding?


CHOMSKY: Well, I think it’s very demeaning… There’s a kind of strain in the radical tradition that sort of runs like this caricature: it says, “Look, I understand about the problems of oppression, lack of democracy, and so on. But those guys over there, all they understand is that they’re not getting enough to eat. So therefore I have to put it all in their terms. I have to sort of put it terms of material deprivation and so on, because that’s the only way they’ll connect with me.” And that’s considered very radical by a lot of people, but I don’t see any reason particularly to believe that sort of nonsense. There’s no special reason why wealthy or educated people should have more concern over oppression, let’s say… If you look at some of the actual documentary material that’s come out of real revolutionary struggles — for example, some of the Spanish collective stuff — what is very striking about it is that at the very poorest, most oppressed level of the population you see a tremendous concern for justice, not for material goods.

BLACK ROSE: But that’s not the case, for example, with Marxist parties.

CHOMSKY: Okay, but they don’t grow out of revolutionary struggle. These really were groups of intellectuals.

BLACK ROSE: But what we’re trying to get at would be, here you have a difficulty where there’s a fuel crisis and people are talking of another collapse of capitalism like the Depression, and the revolutionary movements tend to see things in apocalyptic terms, mainly that we try to build our organization and when capital collapses we move right in.

CHOMSKY: I don’t see that or believe in that, though there is a kernel of truth to it. The kernel of truth is that affluence and, even more than affluence, the prospect of endless growth, had been a very effective technique of social control. The logic is sort of this: The prevailing ideology asserts in effect that each individual is purely a consumer, a person who tries to maximize consumption, and, in that act, life is given… life is exhausted or something. Now, if you accept that ideology, and furthermore you believe that material production will increase without limit, then you can conclude that it’s sort of rational not to be opposed to the inegalitarian society even though you may suffer from it, even though that society is biased against you, if you are an “economic man” in this sense that you can hope that more commodities will be produced or something or other, it’s sort of rational to accept the society biased against you in the hope that in the future you’ll be able to consume more than you consume today. Now, there are all sorts of things wrong with this ideology, but the point is that if the factual assumptions… the effectiveness rests in part on the ability to get people to adopt the ideology that they are nothing but atoms of production and maximizers of consumption. But the other part of it is that it rests on the fact, or the former fact, that you could rely on the prospects of endless growth. In this perspective, I think that material deprivation can have an important effect in challenging the whole ideological system, which does not lead to the conclusion that you ought to be subservient and obedient. It’s in this respect that I think there’s a kernel of truth to the idea that material deficit or the fuel crisis or whatever can contribute to some sort of new consciousness.

SITUATIONIST: I’d like to get the meaning of “psychological alienation” more precise. I’ll set up two poles and you can play with them as a point of definition. One pole is the moralist pole, whose essence is appeal to the emotions of guilt, duty, and sacrifice, which heavily affected the New Left. The other pole sees subjectivity as basically pleasure seeking, appealing to emotions of desire and the imagination. Those are the two poles and I’d want to know how you see that kind of psychology operating.

CHOMSKY: Well, I don’t think you have to make a choice. I think both poles are quite valid. That is, I think there’s a very good reason for feeling guilt, let’s say, over our treatment of poor people or the Vietnamese. I do feel responsible because I contribute to the functioning of this society, by passivity, for example. I allow it to go on. In all these respects, in any respect in which you don’t act in an extreme way to put an end to these things, you contribute to it, through passivity, through obedience or whatever. I don’t see any reason not to feel guilt about that nor do I see any reason not to appeal to the guilt that I think ought to be shared by other people like me, students or faculty or any other people I’m talking to. I think that’s quite valid. I don’t see any reason to reject what is a proper, I think, and an accurate response to these conditions of inequality and oppression.

At the same time, I don’t see any point in getting a kind of guilt hang-up over it, and sort of deploring my own guilt or anything of that sort. The thing to do is use that perfectly valid emotional response as a basis for changing your pattern of action with respect to those things. So, at one pole, I see a lot of validity to what you’re deprecating. At the other pole, it seems to me entirely that if a revolutionary movement is to have any validity for the great mass of the population, it has to open up new options to them and the option of being able to live in a society in which you are not an oppressor can be, could be very liberating. Should be. And it seems to me, for example, to get back to what we were talking about before, the possibility of living in a society where the human essence is not defined as by the assumption that you have to be a kind of economic man that maximizes production and who produces on demand, these are very liberating possibilities just as much for the wealthy as for the poor, for the privileged, as for the underprivileged. And here too at the opposite pole again, it seems to me there’s a good deal of validity to what you say. But it seems to me true that it’s an objective fact about our society that people like me, let’s say, contribute in many ways to the perpetuation of oppressive and destructive institutions and I don’t see any reason to be blind to that fact. I don’t therefore take a vow of poverty because I don’t think that would help in the least. Nevertheless, I am aware of it, and I respond to that awareness and I think it’s perfectly appropriate that one part of the awareness should be a kind of feeling of guilt.

BLACK ROSE: Isn’t the point that the left, in this country particularly, never got past that?

CHOMSKY: What I disliked more about the New Left, I guess, response was not the guilt trip, which I thought was legitimate and proper, but rather the other thing I mentioned before, the business about trying to pretend to be a mamber of the working class and talk in terms of the values which it was assumed must be their values-material deficit rather than the need for freedom or something along those lines. And I thought that was completely phony.

BLACK ROSE: It seems to me that operating from principles and such things is not totally the same as operating from psychological sacrificial guilt tripping. In most of your writings you stress a lot moral principles and you affirm action based on these principles. How do you think the principles and moral sensibilities can be restored to a cynical, mass-indoctrinated, consumption-oriented society like ours?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think the principles of this society, namely consumption-oriented, etc., just have to be confronted with better principles which will be more appealing to people. Plainly people have other needs. People in their daily lives do not really live as maximizers of consumption. I mean, it’s not true, let’s say, in a family that everyone tries to get as much food as he can away from other members of the family. The official values of society are very remote, I think, from most of our actual life with other people. And that conflict ought to be made perfectly clear. Then I think there’s a necessity to attack, to criticize, actively the official values, in part by a demonstration of how far they really are from the way you really act as a human being, and want to act. Now that’s of course only one part of the story.

BLACK ROSE: Is that demonstration possible through logical argument, or do you think that possibly the way those other values are instilled makes it kind of almost impossible to change?

CHOMSKY: There is obviously a disparity between the values that people really live by, when they can exercise a choice and the values that they are taught to live by. And I think it’s important that that be brought out any way you can. But the idea of maximizing consumption is only one aspect of that. Other aspects which also have to be integrated into that are the idea of being subservient as a producer, which is probably more important. Now, the idea that production, in the broad sense, has to be organized in a hierarchic and autocratic system, that too is an essential part of the governing ideology, and here the critique of that ideology goes well beyond logical argument. It’s precisely at this point that radicals want to build alternatives. And in fact at every level. I think you could say the same things about consumer cooperatives or other efforts to build solidarity among people by whatever means. All of these things which are not really alternative to a logical argument. They are complementary to it. First of all, they illustrate by action and organization, the ways in which the logical arguments are correct and how the gaps between official values and human values can be overcome. So these go hand in hand. On the other hand, it’s going to be true, at least I think, that if we ever get anything like a kind of just society, things like my standard of living may very well not exist. In that sense, there will be, I think, material deprivation in some manner for a large part of the population. And I think there ought to be. I don’t think we should overlook that fact and just pretend that everyone will have more.

BLACK ROSE: You see economic democracy as basic to that because in your article on anarchism you sort of merged anarchism with anarcho-syndicalism. You didn’t talk about, for example, anarcho-communism. Lately we’ve been doing work on Reich and it doesn’t seem to us that merely economic democracy is sufficient. Although it’s a necessary condition, it’s not sufficient. Reich claimed that people internalize in their character structure a great deal of the authoritarian, autocratic society and it’s very difficult to exorcise that. How does that sort of fit in to what we should do, if you want to give advice or whatever, in our “propaganda” and how does that fit in to the question of merely workers’ councils or perhaps something much wider?

CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, I’m not very good at advice. I mean, if I could give you advice, I’d be doing it myself. So I don’t know what to do. But I think your general point is quite well taken. I wouldn’t want to suggest that propaganda or attempts towards workers’ councils is the end-all of socialist agitation. But I do think that it’s crucial for people to be able to… I think that a central aspect of the authoritarianism you mention is internalized, a very central aspect of this is the authoritarianism of work. It’s in this respect that I think I have a personal privilege. The fact of the matter is that people like myself do have workers’ control. We do control our own labor enormously. There’s very little constraint on it. We can decide when we work, why we work, how we work, what we do. To the extent that there are responsibilities, they are self-imposed. They may be very extensive but they are self-imposed. And, if somebody wanted to fink out, he could do it. Nothing would ever occur.

SITUATIONIST: Like yourself? You mean everyone in the knowledge factory?

CHOMSKY: Not everyone. This is an elite institution. I mean professors who have sort of made it at MIT. I don’t think that kind of privilege has to be reduced, rather that kind of privilege I think has to be generalized. But it may very well be that some of the material things that go along with that would have to be reduced in a very just society.

BLACK ROSE: But you’re not talking of a return to scarcity?

CHOMSKY: I don’t think there’s any return to scarcity. I think that people of my standard of living are just tremendously wasteful probably, from the point of view of what potential exists. Now, maybe that’s wrong. Maybe there are productive resources that haven’t been used and that will be shown under some other society. I don’t know. I’m skeptical myself. Incidentally, I think that I and others would benefit by that reduction in many ways. Take the obvious thing. It is almost physically impossible for me to get to work without a car. It would take me around two hours to get to work without a car, because of where I feel like living. Now, there’s no necessity for that. Very trivial, rational alternatives can be devised. For example, there is a railroad line that goes within a mile of my house, and they could put railroad trains on it. So there would be a trivial way in which my material standard would be reduced by an economist’s measure if I were to go to town by railroad, but my personal comfort would be increased enormously. So in this respect I’m not meaning to suggest that reduction of material level necessarily means even less physical comfort — quite apart from any ideological or psychological factors, it may mean more physical comfort.

BLACK ROSE: I think what you’re saying reflects back on the polarity that’s been made earlier between the sort of masochistic character and the pleasure-oriented person. I think the real issue behind that is not that they’re both valid, but that the character structure gets fixated in one pole or the other. In other words, Reich makes the point that the masochistic character will put all its energy into that side and will express that in political work. Whereas somebody who is oriented toward life and the development of his own sexuality, his own powers, will be oriented the other way, but will still have a moral sense. The New Left did seem to have this very masochistic attitude. It expressed itself in trashing and had a predilection toward authoritarian organization.

CHOMSKY: You call that masochistic? You mean the Weatherman sort of thing?

BLACK ROSE: Well, Weatherman clearly.

CHOMSKY: I didn’t get that sense. I mean I wasn’t really close to it and I disagreed with it, but the people I knew at least seemed to have a very different rationale, one which I thought was wrong but different. It seemed to me what they were saying was the way you can reach the working classes is by approaching them on their level, namely violence and destruction. I even remember being told by academic intellectuals, people kind of like myself, that if you really want to be serious about opposing the war what you have to do is go down to a bar on Third Avenue and pick a fight with a guy sitting next to you over any issue. And, after you beat each other up for a while, then he takes you seriously, and you start talking about the war. I mean I was told that in those words and I think that that was sort of the core of the Weatherman ideology, at least as I understood it, and that’s extremely…

SITUATIONIST: But that’s the problem with the New Left: always working to be like someone else, to bring some group into the mainstream of American life. This Christian service ethic.

CHOMSKY: From what I could see of the early 60s civil rights activity, it was trying to help with self-organization of poor and oppressed people, and I’m all in favor of that.

SITUATIONIST: But to what end?

CHOMSKY: Well, to ends that they will choose when they get into the position to choose. You know, the activist who’s coming in from the outside may very well have his own ideas, but his main idea ought to be that they’re going to make the choice. And to compare…

SITUATIONIST: But they’re going to be entirely Christian…

CHOMSKY: Well, why? Once they’ve decided to set up rural cooperatives or that they can organize their own unions and fight for their rights, and so on, why should they make Christian choices? If they do, well, that’s the state of their cultural and other commitments, and fine, I’m not going to force them to do something else. But the point is, the outside activist, like the civil rights worker, was doing just the right thing when he tried to integrate himself as much as possible into those struggles, suffer with the people, work with them, help as much as he could, bring his talents where they were valuable, but not try to dictate any solutions.

BLACK ROSE: One of the attractive things about the early New Left, was the earmark of joy, with a lot of interesting and fun-like activities.

SITUATIONIST: Oh, yeah? Well, I went to meeting after meeting without joy.

CHOMSKY: That sounds more like the late sixties to me. Around ’67 or ’68 that became true and then everybody had to be more of an orthodox Marxist-Leninist than the guy sitting next to him and all sorts of strange things happened then.

BLACK ROSE: It’s exactly when fine ideological distinctions began being made that that sort of behavior, that sort of attitude emerged. When people began being very self-righteous and becoming the two percent of the group that was correct that I experienced those attitudes coming into the New Left.

CHOMSKY: See, I think this is connected with the kind of point you were making. That is, there were certain almost built-in limits to what could be achieved by the earlier movement. And those were given by very powerful institutional facts about this society that just couldn’t be transcended by that kind of movement. And it seems to me that when the New Left ran up against them, when it ran up against the realization that all we’re doing, with all that, we’re not going to accomplish more than getting some people organized in a better union than they might have been in otherwise or that they could vote where they couldn’t vote before, so they could vote for Humphrey or some damn thing. When those realizations began to sink in, then I think the New Left disintegrated into this, it tried to find a messianic solution in Marxist-Leninism for the most part. So I kind of agree with what you’re saying about the institutional structures that were just too rigid, too firmly embedded, for any of the earlier activities to shake them much and understandably this did lead to… well…

BLACK ROSE: The late George Lichtheim once said : “The history of Marxism is too important to be left to the post-Leninist sects, those tiny, ferocious creatures devouring each other in a drop of water.” And this seems to be particularly true of the left in America. But at the same time, it seems that Leninism is a sort of consistent extension of certain aspects of Marx’s writings, at least his public writings, and it’s always described as “Marxism in practice.” So how do you see Marxism as different from Leninism, and where did Lenin deviate?

CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, there are, I think, very different strains of Leninism. I mean, there’s the Lenin of 1917, the Lenin of the “April Theses” and State and Revolution. And then there’s the Lenin who took power and acted in ways that are unrecognizable as far as I can see when compared with, say, the doctrines of State and Revolution. For a Marxist, maybe for Lenin himself had he looked back, this would not be very hard to explain. There’s a big difference between the libertarian doctrines of a person who is trying to associate himself with a mass popular movement to acquire power, and the authoritarianism of someone who has taken power and is trying to consolidate it. So I don’t think that transition is maybe very difficult to explain. So, in talking about Lenin, I’d ask which Lenin you are talking about. And, of course, that is true with Marx also. There are competing strains in Marx. But I think it’s characteristic, and unfortunate, that the lesson that was drawn from Marx and Lenin for the later period was the authoritarian lesson. That is, it was the authoritarian Lenin that persisted, the one that concentrated on the conquest of state power by the vanguard party and destruction of all popular forums in interests of the masses. That’s the Lenin who became known to later generations. Again, not very surprisingly, because that’s what Leninism really was in practice. And I think it’s a tremendous tragedy for the socialist movement as a whole that the Russian Revolution was identified as socialist.

See, here Lenin himself was ambivalent. He never identified it as socialist. He said [it was] some kind of state capitalism and probably you can’t have socialism in a country like Russia and so forth. He varied, but basically that is what he was saying and that’s sort of accurate. But then, of course, the kind of party ideologues and their various slaves in the so-called socialist movements, for their own purposes, had to identify what they were associating themselves with as something a little better than just state capitalism, though that’s in fact what it was. And so, they then incorporated the whole socialist tradition within this extremely reactionary structure and thereby virtually destroyed it.

BLACK ROSE: In terms of building a movement in this country around concepts that are embodied in libertarian socialism, do you think that it’s useful to continue to use the word anarchism? Do you think that it has an historical value, or do you think we should be more specific and to talk about council communism or libertarian socialism?

CHOMSKY: Well, I think it has value. I think it’s a very significant part of the whole broad anarchist movement. I mean the various socialist variants of it, whether anarcho-communism or anarcho-syndicalism, which were concerned with organization in a complex society based on equality and solidarity. Now, there is another strain of anarchism which is concerned only with, which really gives no weight to notions like equality, solidarity, and so on. That’s the right-wing anarchism; and that’s an extreme form of authoritarianism as far as I can see. It’s perfectly obvious that under the formulations of someone like, say, Murray Rothbard, you will get such inequalities of power that it would be like living under Gengis Khan or something like that. Even though everyone would be technically free, they’ll be free to make contracts with the person who has all the power, who owns the police, and so on, or they’ll be free not to. That kind of thing, in my opinion, just has to be discounted. But I don’t see any reason to abandon the notion of anarchism just because it has some strange periphery that also uses it.

BLACK ROSE: Just as you wouldn’t abandon Marxism.

CHOMSKY: Yeah, like I wouldn’t abandon Marxism. After all, we’re not interested in making heroes and identifying ourselves with them, but of finding what’s valid in various ideas and concepts and actions of the past that have some use for us.

BLACK ROSE: To get back to Leninism, what about the question of, for example, Vietnam, or China, or the Third World movements in general? There is a real disagreement between anarchists on the question of the NLF [National Liberation Front] and the worth of these movements in general

SITUATIONIST: May I rephrase that a bit? Would you apply the same paradigm to, say, the response of the western European and, to some extent, the American Communist Party, and the way they sort of idolized the Bolshevik revolution as their model or as the proof of what they said? Do you think you could apply the same thing to the Third World currents in the New Left?

CHOMSKY: I think it’s similar except less pernicious because… It’s less pernicious only for accidental reasons, namely because the impact on Western socialist ideology is much slighter, partly because it doesn’t exist anymore, and it did exist then more. In that respect, it’s less pernicious. But basically it’s the same error. A very similar error, let’s say. I wouldn’t regard the Third World revolutionary movements as socialist in any sense. I still do think that they can be treated with sympathy and call for support, but that’s a different issue. I did follow Solidarity’s position on the NLF, and that’s the one thing I disagreed with, very seriously. In fact, virtually everything else I agreed with on down the line. They were perfectly correct and perfectly irrelevant in pointing out that North Vietnam is not a libertarian socialist society. I mean, they don’t claim it, it’s not true, it couldn’t be true. And I think they are also perfectly correct in saying we ought to criticize that society. However, not while the bombs are falling, in my opinion. There were a lot of things wrong, let’s say, with England in 1943. But I don’t think that was the time or the place to point them out, particularly if you happened to be living in Nazi Germany. And that’s the situation here. The West is really trying to crush these movements and I think that everyone, here and in England, is responsible for that. London Solidarity, you see, by not preventing the British government from assisting in the crushing of Vietnamese independence, were, in a certain sense, contributing to it. And, therefore, I think that they are in a very weak position to be criticizing North Vietnam as non-socialist, though that criticism is nevertheless correct.

SITUATIONIST: Okay. I agree with that. For the most part. Except it seems that the way the left in general, the antiwar movement, presented or managed to sell the NLF and the North Vietnamese was very much that they were creating a revolution, a socialist revolution. Thus, they were bringing about a situation like that after the Bolshevik revolution , leading to the support of socialism in one country, etc.

CHOMSKY: See, I think the right attitude to take toward the Bolshevik revolution was the kind that Bertrand Russell took. He said, Look, you know, this is pretty rotten. But he also said for the people of the West to talk about the oppressiveness of the Russian revolution while they’re contributing to it by supporting the counter-revolution, this is grotesque.

SITUATIONIST: In the sense that… if you’re being moralistic, it seems like it is really hard to keep more than one idea in your head at one time… if you’re going to whip people into a frenzy to do something, it has to be directed toward that one thing; it has had a tendency toward Manicheanism basically, right?

CHOMSKY: But I think this is all quite apart from being opposed to the American war. I think that is just off in a different dimension.

You see, it seems to me that it was always a mistake for the antiwar movement here to take the position of being for the NLF, or for North Vietnam, or anything. What we should always have been for is getting the bloody hands of Western imperialism out of there. After that, it is their problem.

Incidentally, I think it is a complicated issue. If we really look at North Vietnam, or say the Pathet Lao in Laos which I did try to learn something about, I mean, first of all, it is an egalitarian society that they’re building; it’s a society that has a lot of commitment to social welfare. It has some version of local democracy. It is hard to know what version, something though. There is some kind of participation at the level of planning and so on at the local level. But all of this is embedded within a fantastically authoritarian structure. You know, with total control from the top, with very little leeway for free access to information, or I suspect, though I couldn’t say for sure. And what elements of democracy or popular control there are, probably are what function through the Communist Party apparatus. Now, that’s a tricky thing itself. You see, the Communist Party structure extends from the central committee down through the cells and factories, and from the little I could make out, I think that there probably is some sort of flow of control and so on through that structure, but of course, that is very far from workers’ control. And, you know, I think the thing to do is to understand what those societies are about, sympathize with what’s good, criticize what is bad, offer alternatives, etc. In fact, I was interested to see that they’re kind of open to this. For example, I had an interview with Pham Van Dong, who had read American Power and the New Mandarins in the French translation, and his first remark about it was that it was too anarchist… We had some discussions about that, you know… I’m sure I didn’t convince him, he didn’t convince me. Though he perceived at once that this was kind of an anarchist critique of Communism, among other things, and you know, I think if you have any respect for those people at all, you would be quite plain and clear about your critique of them, try to enter a discussion with them if you can.

SITUATIONIST: I think that you may have inadvertently played against yourself, though, because, you know, both the capitalists and the state capitalists, in their global chess game, have tried to represent a world where there’s only two options; there’s no third force. They did this in the Spanish Civil War. They did it very much in Hungary. I mean it was incredible the similarity the way the Americans presented it as: “these people want capitalism” and the way Russia presented it as: “these people want fascist counter-revolution”. Neither one of them would let any voice emerge and say, “No, they don’t want either, they want something that is neither capitalism as we know it, nor quote, socialism as we know it”. In other words, it ruled out the possibility of a third force. The failure of the American New Left to identify itself as, “No, we don’t want what they have in Russia” every time someone said: “Well, why don’t you move to Russia?” is, I think, one of the most damaging things you could have done. That is a lot of the reason we didn’t reach more “ordinary” Americans who have these heavy anti-communist fears, is because we didn’t identify ourselves clearly as not that, and a whole lot of people, my parents among them, really thought that we were knowingly, or inadvertantly because we were naive, playing into the hands of the second force.

CHOMSKY: Well, I get letters about this all the time. I’ve got one right here, let’s see if I can find it… Here, read this, that’s a typical response of that kind. It says: Are you a card-carrying Communist or just a sympathizer?” or something like that… Or “how could say all those bad things about President Nixon if you weren’t…” But the point is, though I think your point is correct, I think that as a criticism, it is not valid. Because a lot of people, me included, made a big effort to do this. It is just very hard to break through the given ideological assumption that, you know, you’re either for us or for the Russians. No matter how you say, no matter how much you do about it, it is just very hard for a lot of people to see that there is another possibility, even when you keep saying that there is, and so on. Maybe more could have been done in that direction, but…

SITUATIONIST: Did you ever precisely, ah, mention the councils?

BLACK ROSE.: Sure, in Notes on Anarchism.

CHOMSKY: Sure and in American Power and the New Mandarins, one of the big discussions was about Spanish anarchism, and in fact one of the main points that I tried to make there was that Bolshevism and American liberalism are basically manifestations of the same thing. Now, that was kind of abstract and I don’t think that many people knew what I was talking about, really, and I probably didn’t do it right, and so on, and I’d agree with all that, but, you know, I was by no means alone in this. A lot of people were trying to do that kind of thing. But it is very hard to break through when the prevailing assumption is you’re either a communist, meaning Russian apologist, or you support American imperialism. You see, I think a more valid criticism would be that the New Left did kind of idealize Cuba and China and Vietnam in particular, which was really quite silly. You know, I’ve seen people come back from Vietnam talking about how the Vietnamese were all into love and, you know, this sort of thing, which is ridiculous. Whatever they’re doing may be valid or not valid, but it’s surely not that.

BLACK ROSE: You have always argued, even in your latest book, that the NLF was independent, not a puppet of China, or the USSR, or anyone. Last year, you argued that the agreement that Kissinger signed was, essentially, the program of “the enemy”. In view of Kissinger’s globetrotting, and what everybody is saying about an engineered solution by the superpowers, with China and Russia putting pressure on the DRV [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] to thwart any offensive by the NLF, is it still possible after Tet to say that the NLF is an independent force, and that the DRV is independent, of either China or the Soviet Union?

CHOMSKY: See, I don’t think Kissinger’s globetrotting or his global plans had any effect, really, on what happened in Vietnam. I think he tried to make it have an effect. For several reasons, for one thing because neither the Russians nor the Chinese ever were very enthusiastic about Vietnamese communism, and they didn’t need Kissinger to make them any less enthusiastic than they were likely to be in the first place.

BLACK ROSE: Why do you think that was?

CHOMSKY: Well, in the case of China, in part because I think China does not want to see independent and strong societies on its borders. And a Vietnamese-dominated Indochina under the communists, well, that would be a strong and very independent force which would have no use for China and would go its own way. And the Chinese have no interest in that. It’s kind of the same reason why Stalin was opposed to the Greek communists — he didn’t want to see a Balkan communist federation. It’s really great-power politics, basically. It didn’t matter whether they were communist, fascist, or anything else, they would be strong, independent, have popular support, and so on.

As far as the Russians are concerned, I think they are terrified in part by precisely the libertarian elements in Indochinese communism, which are there, alongside the authoritarianism. I mean, it is just this kind of thing that is very frightening to the Russians, just as those elements in Chinese communism are frightening to the Russians, and for obvious reasons. But quite apart from that, the Russians are very racist, and I think that there is probably just a lot of race hatred involved, and that kind of thing. But the main point, really, as far as the Russians are concerned, is that their international policy has always been to try to achieve what they call “detente”, and that means subordination to the United States. What they want to be, as far as I can see, is to be accepted within the American system as a sort of junior partner: they do their job, we don’t bother them, etc. For this, support of Vietnamese nationalism is kind of inconsistent. They couldn’t refuse to do it, because then they would have lost whatever credibility they had, internationally, or in the third world, or whatever, and that is important to them too, as leverage, and for power purposes. But nevertheless, I think that’s a fundamental aspect of their policy, and it didn’t take much convincing to get them to go along. But I don’t think they had anything more than marginal effect on the affairs in Indochina, simply because they do not have that much leverage.

Now, however, I do think that there is a very good sense in which you are right when you ask if the NLF has ceased to be an independent [force] around the time of Tet, or something like that. But I don’t think that had anything to do with China or Russia. I think that just had to do with the success of the American offensive. See, I think that the United States really did succeed to a large extent in grinding them down. The American war really was against South Vietnam, the other stuff was a side-show. And the war against South Vietnam was, in a sense, successful. That is, it pretty much destroyed that society, and since the NLF was a social force rooted in that society, by destroying that society I think the U.S. undermined the movement. I think that was part of the purpose of the war, was to force the NLF into dependence on the outside, so it could not be an authentically South Vietnamese movement. Just the same reason the United States tried to drive China into the hands of the Russians.

BLACK ROSE: How do you see a decision like that being made?

CHOMSKY: By the United States, you mean?

BLACK ROSE: Yes, in terms of strategy: “What we want to do is force the NLF into a close association with the north, in order to discredit them.”

CHOMSKY: Yeah, that’s hard to say. I guess the more sophisticated people were probably aware of it, and what they were doing. The ordinary hack probably just did that work in a sort of reflex fashion. He probably believed his own propaganda. I mean, the propaganda from the beginning was: these are agents of the north. And, you know, the Bundy-types probably believed it, and went ahead and acted on it. But some people in there must have known what was going on, better than what comes out on the surface. Take somebody like Robert Perlman, the guy who ran the pacification programs, who is a real technocrat, I mean a real brutal technocrat, but, you know, he said it very openly: “Look, none of our programs are very effective, but we’ve just got to grind them down by sheer weight and mass,” or something like that… And that’s about it.

BLACK ROSE: How much influence did people like [Ithiel de Sola] Pool, who argued similar things like that — the destruction of the countryside, saturation bombings, concentration compounds — have on policy?

CHOMSKY: That’s really hard to know. I suspect that all these people like Pool, [Samuel] Huntington and the rest, were really just peripheral ideologists; people who sort of viewed what happened and tried to sugar-coat it a bit.

BLACK ROSE.: For example, the role of a research institute like the Center for International Studies, are they mainly sugar-coating ideologists, or do they in fact have an influence on policy?

CHOMSKY: Well, again, it’s hard to judge, but I just can’t believe that those people ever really had much to do with anything. They wanted to do it, I think, but I doubt if they succeeded. See, Huntington I don’t think understands, even to this day, why people are so outraged by the stuff he wrote. I, for example, probably his main critic, I never even criticized him. I just said, “Look what the guy is saying,” you know, and quoted long passages. And he doesn’t understand, he says, “Well, so what? I mean, what’s the fuss about, what’s wrong with that?”

BLACK ROSE: There has been such a tie between the university and the military. Kissinger was plucked from Harvard, and there was this thing, the Foreign Affairs Association, that a lot of university people belonged to, that apparently did have some real inputs into the government. Does Nixon act independently of the liberal intelligentsia of the northeast, [or] does he just throw them out?

CHOMSKY: No, I think that there’s a sort of filtering system, though a very substantial part of the liberal intelligentsia does aspire to government service. They really are the Bolsheviks, basically. But, of course, only those get in who have the proper commitments and ideology. When Kennedy is looking for an historian to adorn his administration, you know, he’ll pick Arthur Schlesinger and not Barrington Moore. That is because he says the right things, he believes the right things, you know, that kind of business. The same thing here; if a guy like Kissinger wants to gain power, he’ll propose the kind of international policies that are acceptable to the people who run the society, then they’ll make it look like he is determining things. You can find out exactly how much Kissinger is determining policy by asking yourself what would happen if Kissinger made a proposal that went counter to the interests of the American ruling class. Well, he’d be teaching history at Georgia Tech, or something.

BLACK ROSE: He seems like a clever technocrat, a yes-man, sort of thing.

CHOMSKY: He manages to articulate and formulate policies that are very much in the interests of ruling class groups, so they make him their manipulator.

BLACK ROSE: Then the question becomes how policy is made. Because Vietnam and Watergate have brought out a lot, and there’s all this cowboy-Yankee stuff, and all the rest. How do you think the decisions are made? I mean, they are clearly made to strengthen the capitalist system, but there also seems to be competition, and I can’t seem to accept the mechanical Leninist view that the state is merely the executive committee of the capitalist class.

CHOMSKY: Well, there is something to that, I think.

BLACK ROSE: Yeah, there is some truth there, but yet there is such conflict.

CHOMSKY: Yes, because the ruling class itself has internal conflicts and, I think, there is a kind of dynamic involved that goes on everywhere. It’s the kind of dynamic that lead to the Interstate Commerce Commission being taken over by the railroads. Those elements of the ruling class that have a particular interests in one or another sphere of governmental activity, will probably tend to dominate them. What they do may be in conflict with class interests of others, but the others do not care that much, it’s not a major thing with them, so they let it go.

And I think pretty much the same is true of foreign policy. There are some elements of the ruling class, I mean, the corporate lawyers, who deal with multinational corporations and therefore represent a kind of general interest, in a free, international, global economy, and such things. Those are the people who will try to take over, and succeed in taking over, decision-making positions in the foreign policy system, exactly the way the railroads will try to take over the ICC, or any other utility will try to take over the government structure that regulates it. Of course, this means that often they will be doing things that are harmful to other elements of the corporate system that may not care that much about it, and suffer marginally. And sometimes this can break out into real conflicts — serious conflicts. But still, with all those qualifications, it seems to be not unfair to speak of the state executive as simply a branch of the ruling class which is governing this particular centralized structure.

BLACK ROSE: I thought that was important because if you see the state merely as a class organ, then the dictatorship of the proletariat as a class organ becomes feasible, but if you can see that the state, particularly in modern society, where the government is thirty percent of the economy, the largest employer and corporation, etc., then something is different there, and the state is much more than just the executive committee of the ruling class. In fact, it has its own interests.

CHOMSKY: It does have its own independent interests, and I think you see that, for example, to some extent in some of the particular directions that state capitalism takes. Part of the impetus towards militarization of state capitalism has to do with special interests that have developed within that sector itself, and have achieved a lot of decision-making power. Here, I think, someone like Seymour Melman is on to something important, though I don’t accept his analysis completely. It seems to me that he is on to something when he says that there is a partially independent managerial system in the whole Pentagon structure which simply has tremendous assets at its disposal. And though, of course, it could be liquidated by the real ruling class at any moment by simply withdrawing its resources, nevertheless, that’s not what happens, because of its interpenetration with them, and so on.

BLACK ROSE: There is a lot of talk around about military coup, fascism, etc… It seems that, while the military has tremendous tie-ins with the defense industry, etc., that it may in fact have interests of its own, an ideological interest or whatever, that coincide with certain segments of the ruling class. But one suspects that, from seeing fascism in operation, that there are independent elements within it that can dominate the activities, that aren’t in fact necessarily business elements.

CHOMSKY: They can, but I think the record pretty well supports the view that fascism is a last resort on the part of the ruling class that simply can’t hold on to its privilege any other way. And that’s why I wouldn’t expect this happening in the United States, in the short term at least.

SITUATIONIST: Do you see the dangers of narrowly seeing fascism in those terms? I mean, the whole of Reich’s Mass Psychology was an attempt to point out to the Leninoids running around at that time that to cast fascism in those terms was far too facile. That it has also to do with character structure, authoritarian character structure, people raised in father-dominated families from early in life, the church, you know, the whole complex of institutions that predate adult life. Also this thing of people’s conscious, calculating motives, economic man, and the subconscious of people. I mean, if fascism were just in the most narrow, reductionist sense, economic, then where did the role of the marching bands and the whole macho appeal that had people having collective orgasms at the Nuremberg rallies, where did that come in? It obviously went to something much deeper in people’s psyche.

CHOMSKY: Yes, I don’t disagree with that, but those same factors of personality structure, family structure, and so on, are just as true in prefacist periods. And I think it is correct to say that those are factors which can be easily exploited by a fascist organization, or by a so-called communist organization, or by any effort to carry out mass mobilization. In fact, to some extent, the whole Kennedy mystique here, at a lower level appealed to that kind of thing, and there are elements of that in the New Deal, and so on.

But, the question is, when will the ruling class resort to such methods, when will they try to make such an appeal to these strains of authoritarianism in family and personality? Well, I think, by and large, it is true to say they will do so when it’s the last resort for the preservation of their privilege. And I think there is a really good reason for that, and that has to do with the nature of capitalism, and such. I mean, true, we really don’t have capitalism, we have some variant of it. But if you think about the ideal form, which we approximate to some extent, capitalism is basically a system where everything is for sale, and the more money you have, the more you can get. And, in particular, that’s true of freedom. Freedom is one of the commodities that is for sale, and if you are affluent, you can have a lot of it. It shows up in all sorts of ways. It shows up if you get in trouble with the law, let’s say, or in any aspect of life it shows up. And for that reason it makes a lot of sense, if you accept capitalist system, to try to accumulate property, not just because you want material welfare, but because that guarantees your freedom, it makes it possible for you to amass that commodity. So, this means that, quite apart from just material welfare, even the need for freedom, and so on, these needs are to some extent met if you have enough wealth and power to purchase them on the sort of free market. And that means, I think, that what you’re going to find is that the defense of free institutions, will largely be in the hands of those who benefit from them, namely the wealthy, and the powerful. They can purchase that commodity and, therefore, they want those institutions to exist, like free press, and all that. However, this is only true up to a point. If those free institutions ever turn out to be striking at their privilege, of course, the rules of the game are changed, like, say, Chile, as a case in point. I would expect the capitalist class to defend the freedom of press, so-called, and the freedom of the legal system, because they’re the beneficiaries of it, but only up to the point where there really is some kind of an effort to redistribute privilege.

BLACK ROSE: I think this raises the issue of what the anarchist attitude to transitional form should be, and how deeply we should get involved in politics, because it is very tricky, in this country, to distinguish between genuine decentralizations of power, which presumably we would support, and decentralizations of power that simply make the whole structure more powerful and efficient in its repression.

CHOMSKY: Yes, that’s a very serious issue and you have to face it concretely at every instance. Take the impeachment issue right now, that’s a case in point.


CHOMSKY: I am very skeptical about the radical involvement in any of these impeachment things. It seems to me that they tend to contribute to the mystification of the presidency. While I think you may make a point that Nixon is a crook and a bastard and all this sort of thing, and let’s get him out. But for the left to contribute to the belief that that’s going to introduce any serious changes, is simply to add to the belief that the president is some kind of god or king, and that what we have to do is get the right god in there, and then the whole story.

Some of the things that have come out are really bad. For example, I got this thing from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, who are really a good bunch of people, the people who take all the hard cases that the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] won’t touch, etc. But they had this petition and, I mean, I usually sign everything that comes around, but this was so bad that I just couldn’t sign it. It was saying we had to impeach the president, because this is the only way to restore the dignity of the presidency and to build our national honor, and it was contributing to the worse sort of beliefs, you know, exactly the reasons the intelligent corporate elite wants to get rid of Nixon in the first place — because he’s diminished all of these. It’s hard to revere the president when he’s busy robbing everybody to build something in San Clemente. They want this guy out of there, he’s striking right at the heart of the ideology.

BLACK ROSE: How do you view the process of decentralization, then? Do you have a scenario of that, is it apocalyptic, or gradual? Does it happen in phases?

CHOMSKY: Well, I don’t have much of a sense of apocalypse. In principle, I think it’s right that you have to build the organization of the future in the present society somehow. People have to have a picture of how they would run their community, or industry, or whatever it is, and they have to fight to do that to whatever extent they can. At the same time, I suppose that, at some point, the ruling class will simply strike back by force, and there has to be defense against that force, and that probably means violent revolution. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that is inevitable at some stage, simply in order to resist the force that remains in the hands of the privileged, who as in Chile or anyplace, will try to strike at any kind of free institution if it begins to take away their privilege.

BLACK ROSE: You included a chapter “On the Limits of Civil Disobedience” in your last book, For Reasons of State. Then you think that we definitely will have to go beyond that sort of thing?

CHOMSKY: Oh, yeah, that was about the Berrigans really and I think that what they’re doing is really important and I have a lot of respect for them, and so on, but that has a very narrow social significance. It’s precisely useful in a case like the Vietnam war, when there is a kind of marginal class interest of the ruling class which will be conducted if the costs aren’t too high at home, and where a large part of the population sees that it is sort of wrong. Now, under that combination of circumstances, civil disobedience can be effective. It can be a way of mobilizing this large part of the population that sees that it’s wrong to raise the cost, to the point where people who run the society will decide that it’s not worth it. And that is useful and important and, you know, a courageous thing to do, and I’m all for it, but it has nothing to do with social change as far as I can see.

BLACK ROSE: Do you want to make any suggestions as to some kind of organization form, or comment on what kinds of strategies could effectively resist the modern technological police state, which seems so far to have resisted to all attacks?

CHOMSKY: That is going to be very important. The techniques of surveillance and control and all that stuff that’s developing, is a very serious thing. And, well, I think we just have to organize people in communities to tear down television cameras and to organize the technicians to try to disrupt this. It’s very serious. Somebody told me about an article in the National Review recently, I don’t know whether or not you read it, I don’t; but someone told me about this article by a guy named Miles Copeland, who was, maybe still is, in the CIA. The article was about domestic surveillance and how great it’s getting along. Apparently, James Buckley introduced some kind of a bill saying that there should be a special category of people whom it are permitted to get all the intelligence information from all sources, and since they are very respectable, we can be certain that they won’t do anything wrong with it, and so on.

BLACK ROSE: It’s amazing how very little popular resistance there has been to this.

CHOMSKY: There’s not very much awareness of it. In fact, the kind of awareness that’s coming is coming from funny places. A lot of the left-wing journals now have letters from prisoners, really interesting letters about stuff going on in prisons. Well, you know, that’s where you would expect it first, in the total-control institutions, like prisons and schools. That’s where you first see the behavior modification… the drugs….

BLACK ROSE: The electrodes in the brain…

CHOMSKY: The psycho-surgery… Incidentally, we’re going to have a big meeting here Friday, to try to at least get some information out about this sort of thing, and see if there isn’t something that kind of technically-oriented people can do, simply as a service, as a defense to communities, against this kind of intrusion and operation. Well, here’s a concrete step where I think you can see the beginnings of a way of relating an immediate community interest to an immediate interest of MIT technicians. Of a lot of things like that, here is one.

BLACK ROSE: I hear that MIT is wiring one of the housing projects with cable TV, free of charge. I can’t imagine why they would go to such lengths of generosity.

BLACK ROSE: There was a story going around about cable TV having a two-way capability.

CHOMSKY: It has control possibilities beyond surveillance. It allows for much more selective programming in propaganda terms. You can devise one set of programming for housing projects, another for suburban neighborhoods, thus specializing and refining propaganda input.

BLACK ROSE: I know a lot of people on the left interested in media thought that there were a lot of opportunities in this cable TV thing. But it would be so voracious…

CHOMSKY: I think that what’s developing out of that whole situation is that this so-called free access, or open access, is being recognized as an illusory public relations gimmick, used by cable corporations to obtain franchises in towns and communities. Since the community groups don’t actually own or operate the TV systems, as soon as something controversial gets on, it gets put off.

BLACK ROSE: Who runs the whole thing? Is it a corporate thing?

CHOMSKY: The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] has designed certain free access rules, but they’re very vague, and right now, in New York City, they’re in the process of being defined, and they’re being defined mostly in restrictive terms. As far as ownership and ultimate control, and probably control of the FCC are concerned, these are basically the same people who own everything else: Sylvania, Hughes Aircraft, and AT & T. are all big in the cable industry.

I think that a lot of the radical groups that tried to snatch cable TV up when it first came out had a very manipulative sense toward it, viewing it in traditional power-structure terms, as an opportunity to be slick and trick people into the revolution, or to advertise their organization, or something like that.

BLACK ROSE: Could I ask a philosophical question? I wondered why you are much more sympathetic to Marx’s economic determinism, than say, Skinner’s behaviorist theory, which is another form of determinism.

CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, again, I don’t read Marx as an economic determinist. I mean, I think he was talking about how patterns of choice are influenced by material interests and other interests that are defined in class terms; and he was talking about the significance of relations to production in defining classes, and what they will be. And all of that is correct. I think he was identifying crucial factors that play a role in social action in a class society, but that need not be determinist.

Now, as far as the Skinner thing is concerned, my feelings are really rather different. I just think it’s a fraud, there’s nothing there. I mean, it’s empty. It’s an interesting fraud. See, I think there are two levels of discussion here. One is purely intellectual: What does it amount to? And the answer is zero, zilch… I mean, there are no principles there that are non-trivial, that even exist.

BLACK ROSE: Skinner, not Marx.

CHOMSKY: Yes, Skinner. Now the other question is, why so much interest in it? And here I think the answer is obvious. I mean, the methodology that they are suggesting is known to every good prison guard or police interrogator. But, they make it look benign and scientific, and so on; they give a kind of coating to it, and for that reason it’s very valuable to them. I think both these things have to be pointed out. First, you ask: Is this science? No, it’s fraud. And then say, okay, then why the interest in it? Answer: because it tells any concentration camp guard that he can do what his instincts tell him to do, but pretend to be a scientist at the same time. So that makes it good, because science is good, or neutral, and so on.

What it does is give a kind of cloak of neutrality to the techniques of oppression and control; it’s the same kind of thing that the liberal intelligentsia gave to imperial domination. They tried to make it seem like an exercise in pragmatism, in problem solving, which is perfectly neutral. In fact, it’s interesting… I’ve quoted dozens of times remarks by some of these counterinsurgency specialists, who try to say: Look, it’s just like physics; certain inputs, certain outputs, you know, totally neutral ethically. Just a matter of solving certain problems. Only some kind of crazy moralist would be concerned about it. Well, that is the behaviorists’ contribution: to take the standard techniques of control and oppression and coercion, and to try to make them disappear, to insulate them from criticism or understanding by assimilating them into science. And that has nothing to do with Marx.

BLACK ROSE: I still feel that there is perhaps an analogy between saying, you know, that a class of people will do certain things under certain economic conditions, like if the ruling class is really threatened, they will use violence to defend themselves, and Skinner’s assertion that if you use certain behavior-reinforcing devices, an individual is bound to…

CHOMSKY: Well, it’s the “is bound to” part that’s significant. If you say “he tends to”, then of course, it’s true. I mean, you can make very good generalizations about what people tend to do under certain circumstances. You know, you tend to go to the beach when the temperature is high, not when it’s low.

BLACK ROSE: But it’s not law.

CHOMSKY: Right, first of all, it’s not a law, you have individual control. And the principles of tendency themselves are kind of trivial. You don’t have to go to scientists to find out anything about them.

BLACK ROSE: But, by the same token, could you say that in certain situations, the ruling class could, for moral reasons, say, voluntarily give up their privileges?

CHOMSKY: Sure, it’s conceivable, I just don’t think there’s any reason to believe it’s going to happen. And, you know, Marx speculated that it might happen in England. And it could be; I could imagine that in a country like Sweden, say, which is a funny sort of mixture of things (and I don’t know that much about Sweden), but it seems conceivable that if it were not for external pressures, the deterioration in control and self-confidence and so on, on the part of the ruling class might reach a point where they would simply have no effective defense, either physical or moral. They’ve got to have a moral defense as well. That is, they have to convince themselves that what they’re doing is right. Very few people can act if they don’t convince themselves of that. Of course, it wouldn’t happen in Sweden because it would be conquered or something if that took place. But apart from that, that describes the kind of an evolution, of both the sort of moral deterioration, and the deterioration of power on the part of the ruling class groups that might make them maybe defect, or refuse to fight for their privilege, or something of that sort.

BLACK ROSE: You have written a great deal about the technocratic mentality of the planners of Vietnam, etc., who are always working within a certain framework that they never question. How would that fit in with the trend in Western, or at least Anglo-American society, towards positivism? I mean, I can see where, for example, the Soviets and the Germans could use Hegelianism. But it seems in the West there is this positivistic tendency that tends to exclude all morality as pure subjectivity. How would this fit in with that mentality?

CHOMSKY: Well, positivism has nothing to do with science or anything like that; it has nothing to do with capitalism. It has to do with solving technical problems in the interest of whoever sets those problems and determines what are the right solutions. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If, suppose let’s say, we had a community that was controlling its own local organizations or industries or whatever, and they wanted a certain type of problem solved — well, you’d solve it any way which best met those conditions.

The ideological utility of this kind of pragmatism is that it contributed to the belief that there is nothing ideological about this, that it’s simply neutral, that it is scientific, that it does not reflect privilege of power, which is, of course, garbage. In order to establish that, it was elevated to a universal ideology centuries ago. The whole “end of ideology” debate is very amusing in that respect, because what many of the exponents were correctly criticizing in previous ideologies, pointing out that they did in fact universalize particular interests; but then they went on to say, you know, we just solve problems, technically, and we have no ideology at all. Which, once again, is carrying out exactly the same activity that they themselves had accurately criticized in an earlier generation. The belief that they are just neutrally solving problems is, of course, nonsense, when you realize who places the conditions on an acceptable solution, who defines the problems, who is going to be able to make use of the solutions that you come up with, who will reject the ones he doesn’t like, and so on.

BLACK ROSE: This is a problem that always fascinated me. You know, philosophy can define a great deal, and limit a lot of choices. I’m not sure that there is a revolutionary philosophy, but I can’t see anything progressive, any sort of libertarian thing coming out of positivism. It just seems to exclude it completely. The whole thing that moral choices are purely subjective.

CHOMSKY: Well, I’m not sure about that.

BLACK ROSE: A lot of the mentality of The Backroom Boys, etc., seemed to reflect that.

CHOMSKY: I don’t think it’s fair to put the guilt for that kind of thing on the positivists, who were mostly sort of liberals and socialists, and that sort of thing, you know, who felt that it was possible, by application of reason, to achieve goals that are humanly desirable . Take someone like, say, Bertrand Russell. He’s a person who always agreed, basically, with Hume, that reason is the slave of passion; I mean, you just have to decide what kind of things you want, for whatever reason, and you use intelligence to try to achieve them. And someone like, say, Rudolf Carnap, who was a positivist par excellence, who was nevertheless a very strong civil libertarian and a courageous liberal, and one of the earliest people to oppose the Vietnam war, and all that. And that’s perfectly consistent with his believing that you can’t give a scientific justification for value judgments, which may very well be true.

The fact that guys like the Bundy-types later made use of this terminology and framework, and distorted it into an instrument of class-rule, that’s something else.

BLACK ROSE: I didn’t mean the people, but rather that tendency of thought.

CHOMSKY: Well, insofar as it tends to put to the side value judgments, or questions of choices and where they come from and so on, of course, it can have a very reactionary effect. But that is not inherent to the point of view; it is inherent to the distortion of it.

BLACK ROSE: Anarchism is often criticized for being utopian and unable to deal with complicated practical situations. One of the most complex situations around now is in the Middle East.

CHOMSKY: Yes, I think it’s a perfect example of the utility of anarchism. What you have in the Middle East is an almost classic example of the total absurdity of people organizing themselves into states. I mean, what do the Jews of Israel gain, as human beings, by identifying themselves as the ruling group in a Jewish state? The only effect of that decision is destructive to them themselves. Take the rise of the whole theocratic control in Israel. That has nothing to do with roots in Judaism at all, it never existed. It’s a reflection of the establishment of the state system. And to the people of the country that is terribly oppressive. Most of them aren’t religious; they don’t want any of that nonsense. But they are wedded to it once they insist that there be a state system which somehow distinguishes them from everyone else. Well, how does it distinguish them? By some kind of ideology that has to be created. Obviously, it’s going to be theocratic. And that means all kinds of interference in everyone’s daily life, like they’re not going to let you get married when you feel like it, and every other kind of thing. So, aside from the fact that it breaks up obvious common interests among, say, Palestinian and Jewish workers, or intellectuals, or anyone, apart from the fact that it leads to endless wars and will probably end up destroying both sides, apart from all that, just in their daily lives it turns out to be oppressive and destructive, for those who win as much as for those who lose. I mean, there couldn’t be a more dramatic example of the absurdity of people organizing themselves into state systems, for the purposes of mutual destruction. And until that is overcome, there is just no hope there.

BLACK ROSE: Do you have a scenario for a libertarian solution there?

CHOMSKY: Yes, I think the only solution there, ever, and I’ve always believed this, has been to develop a common interest on the part of Jews and Arabs which would transcend the national conflict. And there is such a common interest, namely, building a libertarian socialist society. If they want to identify themselves nationally in that society, okay. I don’t see much interest in it, but if that is what people want, fine, that’s their choice. There’s no reason why you can’t have national institutions even existing side by side, you know, and people choosing to identify themselves one or another, if that’s the way people want it. And also it ought to leave an option for people who don’t want it, who don’t want to be part of one or the other of those systems. And that’s perfectly feasible, you know, it could be done. Imean, it seems to me the only hope there, really, for the people of that region is to be able to build on that kind of joint socialist commitment. Incidentally, you know, there was an early strain of the Zionist movement that insisted on this. And they were right, all along. They were right in opposing the Jewish state, and they’re right today.

BLACK ROSE: Would you also say that the world fuel crisis points to the absurdity of national control of international resources?

CHOMSKY: But here I think one has to be pretty cautious, because, you see, the line of thinking is arising in the United States which says: Why should those crazy sheiks have all this resource to themselves?

BLACK ROSE: The next thing is to invade.

CHOMSKY: Yes. They don’t say: Why should we have General Motors all to ourselves, or why should we have grain to ourselves, or something like that.

BLACK ROSE: The [Boston] Globe just had an editorial that said if we don’t solve the problem soon, we’ll all be at the mercy of troupe of “sheiks in bedsheet”, which in view of their recent comments on racism seems…

CHOMSKY: Oh, I’m sure we are going to hear a lot of that stuff pretty soon.

BLACK ROSE: Do you think we will also see a corresponding rise in anti-semitism?

CHOMSKY: Yes. If you look at the election we had out in Lexington, the local newspaper had the first anti-semitic letters that I ever encountered, the last week or two.

BLACK ROSE: Around the campaign?

CHOMSKY: Actually, what it was is they have a thing at Lexington Green, at Christmas, with a display of Christ, and so on. And a lot of people objected to it on the grounds of separation of church and state, etc. And there’s always a fight about it, every Christmas. So this year, the letters in defense of it have a distinctly anti-semitic tone to them, a couple of them; saying, well, you know, you’re criticizing our putting the display on the green, but we have got to freeze because of you, and that sort of thing.

But, you know, I think both things can go side by side, that is, anti-semitism can develop alongside of racist anti-Arab feeling. And I think that is just what is going to happen this winter.

BLACK ROSE: Both sides are being set up to be sacrificed.

CHOMSKY: I think that’s just what’s happening. You know, they have worked themselves into a system where they are both pawns of the superpowers. Purely on the basis of a commitment to a state system. That’s the whole trouble right there. There couldn’t be a better argument for anarchism.

BLACK ROSE: In view of what we were talking about earlier, and just what you were saying, what hope do you see for the future? I mean, many people in the movement are depressed of late, a lot has collapsed, and there seems to be a retrenching backwards. We’ve been trying to come to some grips with this. What do you see for the future?

CHOMSKY: Well, it seems to me as hopeful as it did a couple of years ago. I mean, the movement of the last ten years was very reactive. It was reacting to particular atrocities. It was never sort of structural, it was never really dealing with the society — why it should change, how it should change. Not much, at least, there were parts that were. Well, you know, it seems to me that now is the time to try to rebuild real popular structures, that aren’t based on peripheral, marginal groups like students, but that really grow out of living communities that will continue and that have a very great need to overcome repressive structures.