Interview with Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Timo Stollenwerk

Z Magazine, June 11, 2004

Oldenburg: In one chapter of your book Understanding Power – recently published in Germany under the title Eine Anatomie der Macht – you describe an interview situation in Canada. The interviewer got angry, cause you started criticizing Canada and not – as he preferred – the United States. You point out that one of the reasons for the foreign mainstream press to interview you is because you criticized the United States, but not the guest country you’re interviewed in. So, I would like to talk to you about what implications your writing and activism could have for European countries and especially Germany.

I do try wherever I go to focus criticism on the country I’m going to but it’s not my main concern. Actually, what happened in Canada was – I remember that – it’s the main national sort of interview program in Canada and every time I landed in Toronto they were delighted to have me come, and this one time I decided that I was sick and tired of it. The first question I was asked was “When did you come?” I said that I just landed at the war criminal airport, what you called Lester B. Pearson Airport. He said: “What do you mean, Lester Pearson was a war criminal?” Then I started running through Lester Pearson’s record. He is there a big hero, Nobel Prize Winner. He has a horrendous record. The guy was getting red in the face and I sort of went from the air. He just broke it up and started screaming.

When I was walking out, you know, they have those switchboards that light up from calls all over the place – there were calls from all over the country. They were very angry at him. Not people who liked what I was saying but, you know, but you just can’t act like that. As I left, they said we would really like you to come back and we’ll do this right. I said that I don’t know if I have the time, maybe next time I’m here. They actually sent a team to Boston for an interview just to calm down their public but I was never invited back. That has happened a few other times in Canada and elsewhere.

Oldenburg: Yesterday, you received the Carl von Ossietzky Prize for your lifework (congratulations) as someone criticizing US foreign policy, but also for your research work concerning the function of the media in democratic societies. Together with Edward Herman you have developed an analytical framework that tries to explain the performance of the mainstream media in the US. According to this propaganda model, the media serve the interests of state and corporate power and present the world view they represent. Do you think the propaganda model can be applied to the European, respectively, German, media market as well?

Well, I don’t read the German press regularly, so I can’t tell you. But, to the limited extent I know, yes. And I suspect if the German press were investigated as intensively as the American press is, one would find the same things. It’s a rather striking fact that media criticism is very heavily concentrated in the United States. In the United States there are a lot of people working on this – and there’s a lot of analysis and discussion.

In Canada, there’s virtually nothing, in England, there’s some, there’s a good media institute in Glasgow and a couple of other things. In France there’s very little. In Germany, as far as I knew up until yesterday, there was none, but I was told last night by a professor here that they do some work on it. So, maybe, there’s some but I couldn’t go into it. But, that’s really a question you’d have to ask yourself. You have to look at your media systematically. It’s not enough to read the papers when you show up every couple of years. When I do, it seems to me that it’s the same as what I’ve left behind.

Oldenburg: Do you think that the range of the media is influenced by the fact that in Europe we used to have workers’ parties, like Social Democrats – they’re disappearing very quickly – but, we used to have that. Do you think this influenced the range of opinions that appear in the press?

Probably, you’d expect to. In England – that I know better – there’s still a labor movement and something called Labor Party. But there was a labor-based press and it was widely read, supported, and effective. The Daily Herald was the most widely read newspaper in England, with a strong readers’ involvement. It lasted until the early sixties. In fact, in the 1960s the tabloids, like the Daily Mirror, were labor-based and labor-oriented. This had been declining for a long time and by the 1960s it sort of ended. Mainly through processes of capital control and reliance on advertising and so on.

There is less and less reflection of the point of view from the world of working people. Actually, I saw this a couple of days ago in England. I gave talks in many different places, this was in Liverpool. There was a talk organized by the dockers who had been sacked a couple of years ago – it was a big labor incident, hundreds of dockers were thrown out, replaced by scabs, as part of the efforts to destroy the unions.

This happened to be post-Thatcher, but it’s the same thing. They didn’t give up, they fought quite a struggle about it and they were finally sacked, but they turned to other activities, cultural activities in Liverpool and political activities, and among other things they had an annual event and this was part of the annual event. The audience was just more mixed. Their kind of point of view of the world does not get to the media. In the United States, if you go back to the early part of the century, about a century ago, there was Appeal to Reason, which was kind of a left social-democratic journal which had the scale of the commercial press. If you go back to the mid 19th century, there was a very lively workers’ press, and by the 1950s there were still about 800 labor-based newspapers which reached maybe 20-30 million people, by now it’s down to almost nothing. And gradually, as capital control took over, the independent media declined.

Every newspaper used to have a labor columnist, somebody in the paper who covers labor news, nobody does now. Now sometimes the business correspondent writes an article on a strike or something but they have all got big business sections. Every newspaper has separate sections on business but the idea that they should have separate articles on labor – that is almost unheard of, which tells you quite a lot.

If, say, you want the stock market prices you can find them easily, but if you want to get the wage level, or the work hours, you’ve got to do some work through complicated statistics. And, in fact, some information is not even presented in the United States. The United States is one of the few, maybe the only, industrial society, where the official data, the government data – although it’s extremely extensive on everything – has no class-based data. If somebody wants to study, say, health and mortality among industrial workers as compared with professionals, the only way you can do it is by working through the data that they do have and working out complicated correlations. There’s a reasonably close race/class correlation and there are plenty of data on race, and if you work through them and work through other things, you can figure out some of the class related data…

Oldenburg: In Germany there are very few data on rich people. On the wealthy end it’s very hard to find out. You have to use the same methods that you described for the health of the working people if you want to find out who has what and how much.

Part of the reason is something different. There are sociological studies on the poor, but there are very few sociological studies on the rich. Part of the reason is, they won’t talk to you. It’s only vulnerable populations who will let you come in and ask your questions. If you go to a slum and start asking people questions, maybe they will talk to you. If you go to the rich suburbs they will throw you out of the house. This is none of your business – plus other biases attributed to you then.

But it’s perfectly true, anthropological, sociological or psychological studies are mostly studies of the oppressed. And that’s interesting about the data, you can find data about the distribution of wealth but if you try to look at things that correlate with it, like health, it’s tricky.

In fact, in the United States people have drilled into their heads that they are all middle class. My daughter teaches in a state college, where people come from what we would call working class or less, many of them are just transients… people are underclass. But, the first day of class she always asks people “What class do you belong to?” and everybody says middle class and then she starts bringing out what their aspirations are. “What you go to college for?”, “What is your father doing?” and so on. It turns out, you know, my father is a janitor, when he has a job and I’m hoping to be a nurse, but they’re middle class. Everybody is middle class.

Actually, I read the British press – coming over yesterday. I read an article in one of what is called the left journals, the Guardian or the Observer. Somebody had an interview with Michael Moore down in Cannes, and he tries to write a kind of critical article saying he is a hypocrite and a fraud and one of the things he said was that the guy pretends to be working class in his background but the truth is that he was really from the middle class suburbs. It turns out later that his father was an autoworker – but that doesn’t make him working class. He was able to buy his own home. This guy was an autoworker and he is faking and pretending to be working class. I’m sure the writer didn’t see anything funny about it, probably the readers don’t see it either.

Oldenburg: In the discussion about the Gulf War, the German chancellor and the government have been praised for their anti-war attitude, even though Germany allowed US warplanes to overfly German airspace on their way to Iraq and to use NATO infrastructure. Germany also reinforced its own engagement in Afghanistan so that the US could send more of its own troops to Iraq. What do you think were the motives for Germany and other European countries to oppose the US intervention in Iraq?

I don’t know enough about Germany to give a serious answer, but it’s kind of an interesting question. It is the question that ought to be asked: What were the motives for France and Germany to not go along with the US war? Nobody asks, why Italy agreed to go along, or why Spain agreed. The fact of the matter is that their populations were strongly opposed to this war, in fact, they were more opposed in Italy and Spain than they were in France and Germany. If anybody believed in democracy – unfortunately nobody does – but if anybody believed in democracy, they wouldn’t ask this question. There’s nothing to ask when a government accepts the same position as the will of the majority of the population, that’s what they’re supposed to do in a democratic society. But, the question only arises for those who didn’t take their orders from Crawford, Texas. You’ve got some kind of a problem. The ones who disregarded 90 percent of the population and took their orders from the boss, no question. As, to why the German government decided to follow the will of 70 percent of their population, I don’t know. But in a democratic society such a question shouldn’t come up. They shouldn’t have a choice. Yes, that is what they should do or they’d be kicked out.

Oldenburg: Are the differences between “Old Europe” and the US over Iraq an expression of a increasing political and economic rivalry between “Old Europe” and the United States?

The concept of “Old Europe” is kind of interesting for a number of reasons. It was invented by Rumsfeld and then picked up by the world. It is standard in the Western elites. As for the criteria whether a country is in “Old Europe” or in “New Europe,” that’s very sharp. A country is in “Old Europe” if the government, for whatever reason, took the same position as the vast majority of the population. It’s in “New Europe” if it overruled an even bigger majority of the population and took its orders from Washington. “Old Europe” is condemned and “New Europe” is praised and the hope for the future. This is an expression of such hatred for democracy that it’s indescribable. And it passed virtually without comment.

The most dramatic case was Turkey. In Turkey 95 percent of the population was opposed to the war and everybody was surprised: By a slim, small vote the parliament voted to go along with 95 percent of the population. Colin Powell immediately told them, they’re gonna lose all their aid, Paul Wolfowitz, the great visionary, condemned the Turkish military because they didn’t intervene to prevent the government from this horrible mistake. He ordered them to apologize to the United States and recognize that their task is to help America. He’s still the great visionary.

Actually, the press reacted quite interestingly. Almost All of them condemned Turkey and, for the first time, they started reporting the Turkish atrocities against the Kurds in the 1990s – they’d never done that before – but, just to show how awful the Turks were for not taking orders they started describing what the Turks had done to the Kurds. Of course, they kept very quiet about the fact that they were able to do this because they got all the military aid from the United States and that this aid went up when the atrocities went up. And, obviously, they (the press) didn’t mention that they themselves had been silent about it when they could have stopped it. That never comes up.

In fact, Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times correspondent, had an article on hypocrisy. That was the topic. It was on the hypocrisy of the Arab states who are now protesting US atrocities but never protested the atrocities of the Turks against the Kurds. That’s true, that’s hypocritical. But, what about Nicholas Kristof when the atrocities went on, funded by the United States? If he had talked about it, they might have easily stopped, but not a word. In fact, now not a word either, nor will anybody make that comment about him because they don’t know or they don’t want to talk about it.

So, that’s one criterion, there’s another criterion which more or less correlates with it. “Old Europe” is the economic, commercial, industrial and financial center of Europe. “New Europe” is where the fringe is. The U.S. is deeply concerned since the Second World War, not just now, that Europe might move to an independent course. By about 1970 it had recovered enough so that it was economically on a par with the United States. 1973 was “The Year of Europe.” Europe was supposed to celebrate its recovery from the war. Henry Kissinger made an important address here – the Year of Europe Address – in which the basic theme was that he told the Europeans that they should keep to their “regional responsibilities” within the “overall framework of order” managed by the United States.

Potential European independence will be rooted in France and Germany, that’s the problem. That’s one of the reasons the United States is so interested in EU enlargement. They figure they can dilute the influence of Europe by bringing in those former satellites, which they figure, probably correctly, will be more under US influence. The US wants Turkey in for the same reasons, for the EU to be more under US influence.

And by now there’s an even bigger threat: Northeast Asia. Northeast Asia is the most rapid-growing economy in the world, its GDP is well beyond North America’s or Europe’s, it’s got about half of the financial reserves of the world, they have resources in Siberia and they could move in an independent direction. It has two of the biggest industrial economies in the world: Japan and South Korea. China is growing in the area of the periphery of Eastern Siberia where there are plenty of resources – a large percentage of the world’s oil reserves, for example.

So, these are the real problems of global order and a lot of what’s going on in the Middle East has to do with it. The US needs to control the major sources of energy to ensure that Europe and Asia don’t go off on the wrong path. And, they’re partially obedient but, not completely, like, for example, their policies towards Iran. The US is trying very hard to prevent Europe and Japan from investing in Iranian oil, but they’re doing it. Japan just made a multi-billion dollar contract for the development of a big Iranian oil field. The US didn’t like it but there’s not much they can do about it and these conflicts are serious.

Part of the reason for the invasion of Iraq was that France and Russia had the inside track, they were running the Iraqi oil system – okay, that’s finished now. So, yes, these are issues that go way back.

I mean, in fact, they involve Germany seriously. In 1952 Stalin made an offer to allow Germany to be unified with democratic elections – internationally supervised democratic elections which the Communists would have certainly lost. He had only one condition, that Germany not be rearmed as part of a Western military alliance – which made pretty good sense if you take a look at recent history. That was kind of suppressed in the United States when it was announced because it was an embarrassing moment, since they were just trying to get funding for a huge increase in military spending, but it was kind of leaked out and there was some discussion about it.

There was a book by a pretty well known and influential political commentator, James P. Warburg, of the Warburg family, such a big guy, in which he brought this up. It was called “Germany, Key to Peace” and came out 1953, and in it he brought this up but he was criticized and he was bitterly ridiculed: “How could you think that Stalin would have made peace?” Well, we don’t really know. As it turns out in the Russian archives they were probably serious about it.

Oldenburg: Actually, what we’ve learned in history class was that it wasn’t a real offer, that it was just a tactic by Stalin.

That’s just not true. That’s what was said at that time but, the way to find out if it was a tactic was to accept it. To say, okay, let’s do it and if he backs off, then it was a tactic, if he doesn’t back off it was real but they didn’t want to do that. And the historians won’t state this simple point. So now, the archives and other materials are coming out and this increasingly indicates, that it was probably serious – for one reason because it turns out that the Russians understood very well how the United States was hoping to drive them into the ground, namely by an arms race. They knew the US had a much stronger economy, they couldn’t possibly keep up with the United States in military spending. Even the worst monsters like Beria made the same offer as Stalin about Germany: to unify Germany with democratic elections, as long as it is not militarized. And this is one of the worst monsters. Both he and later Khrushchev said straight out, the United States is trying to spend us to the ground, we can’t compete with this military spending and in 1954, when Khrushchev took over, he offered Eisenhower a proposal to the effect that both sides should reduce military spending and cut back offensive military forces. The Eisenhower Administration disregarded it but they did it anyway, on the Russian side, unilaterally and over the objections of the Russian generals who didn’t like it. Later, they cut back Russian military forces – offensive forces – quite sharply and asked the Kennedy Administration to do the same. They thought about it and what they did was escalate military spending. Then came the Cuban missile crisis in which the Russians were really humiliated. The Kennedy Administration went all the way to humiliate them and the Russian military couldn’t take it anymore, they threw Khrushchev out and went in this mad arms race and they did kind of match the U.S. in military spending, but they ruined the economy. In fact, if you look at the Russian statistics, it’s in the 1960’s when the economy started to stagnate and the health statistics started to decline and so on and so forth. It’s really the Kennedy Administration that drove them into bankruptcy. If they had gone along, if they had agreed, it is possible that a Gorbachev figure might have come along earlier, the world would have been saved from all sorts of horror, and Russia might have made a smooth transition to some kind of social-democratic economy, instead of the catastrophe of the last 10 years. I doubt that they teach you that lesson in history, either. But among serious scholars this should not really be controversial anymore.

Even the most anticommunist scholars, like Adam Ulam, who I happen to have known personally, and who was a very good Polish-American Sovietologist at Harvard, hated the Russians, like every Pole, and he was very anti-communist, he died a few years ago – but, towards the end of his life he started to write articles on the 1952 offer and said that it looks more and more that this was really serious: We can’t prove it but it was certainly a mistake to not explore it, so if your teachers are to the right of Adam Ulam, they’re very far to the right, I can tell you.

Oldenburg: There is a discussion in our intellectual elites about a problem called the “democracy deficit,” with regard to the European Union institutions. This problem is commonly discussed as a mere public relations problem – it was understood that democracy meant “a situation where leaders are accountable and ultimately removable by a majority of people” and according to this, it was sufficient when the elected parliaments appointed their representatives for the European institutions. What is your opinion on that? Does the European Union constitute an attempt to reduce public influence on politics?

It’s interesting that the right wing in the United States is appalled by the democratic deficit in Europe. You find articles in Foreign Affairs – that’s not really rightwing but, you know, like mainstream conservatives – that harshly condemn the independence of the European Monetary Bank which is highly undemocratic and has a huge impact on European economy – mostly harmful – and it’s completely out of any public control, I mean, it’s much more than the Federal Reserve in the United States, that’s been condemned in Foreign Affairs.

This idea, that representatives can be removed by their constituencies, is sort of true if you have actual democratic function, but democratic function means participation of the public and it’s not a matter of pushing a button every few years, so it means organizations, picking your own candidates, regularly recalling them and so on and so forth, nothing like that exists. What exists is a kind of political class, closely connected to the economic elites and leadership, selected among them. And the people are able to ratify their choices but that’s not democracy. In fact, in political science it’s called polyarchy, not democracy.

It’s true to an extreme extent in the United States but it’s largely true in Europe, not quite so much because of what you said before, Europe had popular parties – labor-based parties, social-democratic parties and so on – and that made some kind of difference. For example, the voting participation in the US is far lower than in Europe and there have been extensive studies on this, the most important of which was a long time ago, back in 1980. Today it’s even more extreme.

Walter Dean Burnham – who is a political scientist, he did a kind of social economic analysis of the nonvoters in the United States – and it turns out that their profile is very similar to the voters in Europe who vote for the labor-based or social-democratic parties. That option just isn’t there in the United States, so these people just don’t vote. But it is less and less true in Europe. Europe is kind of a drag-along of the American model – which means moving away from democracy and toward polyarchy. In the United States it was set up that way, so that’s the way the Constitution was framed and it kind of stayed that way, for all sorts of reasons. But European countries have their own history, and it’s clearly a drift in that direction.

In fact, you know better than I know, I don’t like to talk about Europe, but my impression is that Europe is moving in two directions. On the one hand it’s moving towards centralism and democracy deficit, on the other hand it’s moving toward regionalism, I think, in reaction. If you look around Europe there’s a lot more pressure for regional autonomy, revival of traditional languages, of cultures, a degree of political autonomy and so on and so forth. The place where it is most advanced is Spain. Spain is becoming rather federalized, like Catalonia. Catalan has revived completely – it’s the language of Catalonia – Catalan practices have revived. I stayed in the hotel in the town center of Barcelona a couple of years ago and on Sunday, in the morning the people were streaming into the town square in front of the Cathedral from all over the place, doing traditional Catalan folk dances with Catalan music and things like that. The same is happening in the Basque country, it’s happening in Asturia, in Galicia, and there is pressure to break up the quite artificial Spanish state into more authentic regional areas. It’s happening in England. In Wales the local language is revived, kids on the street speak Welsh, there’s a Welsh national identity, it’s happening to an extent in Scotland, it’s a little bit happening in France.

My own feeling is, these are pretty healthy developments, they’re, maybe, a counterweight to the centralizing tendencies of the European Union and they may weaken the clear democratic deficit that comes from a centralization that’s making power more remote from the population. It’s not a bad idea. The national state system is a very artificial and brutal system, and that’s why Europe was the most savage place in the world for centuries: Because they tried to impose this crazy system, and most of the conflicts in the rest of the world are residues of European attempts to impose it. Breaking down this system could be a very healthy development.

Oldenburg: You often point out that there is a basic moral principle you follow: “You are responsible for the predictable consequences of your own actions, you’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions.” Does this imply that European activists should focus more on what their own governments do and less on what the US does globally?

That depends on asking yourself: “What are the consequences of my involvement in what the US does globally?” Actually, there are consequences, it’s not zero. Like, if Germany takes a position and German people in Germany take a position on something, that indirectly influences US action. So, you always have to evaluate. For example, for Germans to go out on the streets and protest against the war in Iraq was highly significant, that affects US policy.

But, it’s the same criterion, I mean, that criterion is not even debatable. If somebody can’t understand that, they should just shut up and say okay, I’m a Nazi. Because that is just elementary in personal affairs, but what that criterion implies is a complicated matter. It may imply that you should pay more attention to the local problems of Oldenburg, it may imply that you should worry about the World Trade Organization, the US initiatives there. How the criterion applies to real cases you have to figure out, but the criterion isn’t debatable. The fact is that Germany is not Rwanda, it has a huge impact on world affairs, so what is going on in Germany can make a big difference. Take the issue you raised before, about European independence. If Europe moves towards a more independent role in the world, that could have a huge effect. Actually, Europe could play a very effective role right now in settling the Israeli-Arab conflict. It would have to break with the master. It would have to stop taking orders from the master. European elites don’t want to do this, but if they were pressured to do it, they could intervene and mediate a solution to the conflict outside of US control. And the same is true in plenty of other areas.

Oldenburg: There is one question in this regard that is almost automatically raised by the German and European left: How can you prevent your own state, once it has a more independent role, from trying to play a new imperial role? For example, I was at a rally where Palestinians raised the idea that Germany should send troops to the Middle East. I had to tell them this was absolutely absurd.

This is crazy. This is absolutely absurd. But an international force is not a bad idea. They’ll never allow it in Israel, so you can forget about it, but in the occupied territories, why not? An international force in the occupied territories, monitoring total Israeli withdrawal, or the implementation of something like the Geneva Accords. It makes perfect sense, it would protect the Palestinians, it would protect them against Israeli attacks, so why not? Obviously not Germany.

But how do you stop unified Europe from playing an imperial role? By stopping it, that’s always gonna happen, you always expect it to happen. It’s not an argument against independence, it’s like asking: “How do you deal with the question that the post-apartheid regime in South Africa will impose horrendous economic conditions?” It’s not so simple. In fact, the people are probably worse off now than most of them were before apartheid ended. But, that’s not an argument for keeping apartheid. It’s just saying, look, you make this small gain and you have the next mountain to climb.

Oldenburg: I would like to stick to that particular point. There’s an upcoming conference in Cologne against the wall in Palestine, where this is of interest. What could the composition of such an international force be? I agree that this is a reasonable idea, but the composition is of course an important question.

Europe and Latin America are the obvious choice. It can’t be South-Asia, in this case. It could be in some cases, but not in this case. Obviously, it can’t be the Arab states. Europe is a possibility. Latin America is far away from it, it could contribute a force. There are problems because Latin America is largely under US control. I mean, there’s no perfect answer but, something basically under the authority of the UN General Assembly, so it is not controlled directly by the great powers.

I don’t think much of an international force is needed, frankly. If Israel would withdraw, the problems are mostly solved. They’ll not be totally solved, there’re still gonna be problems inside, and problems of ensuring that Israel doesn’t encroach. But, an international force can have an effect. The very weak UN force in Southern Lebanon did have an effect, it didn’t make anything perfect but it did have an effect. For example, in the 1996 Israeli invasion Clinton had to call them off, after they, Israel, started attacking the UN forces. They had no military force, a few people, like the Fiji Islands. That was a difficult situation, and that was kind of a buffer. It gave some protection to the population and that’s important.

This separation wall is a total atrocity. What Europe could do right now is support the people that are protesting it. I mean, there are people like Tanya Reinhart who writes for ZNet, she is right out there now, in fact.

Oldenburg: There is this conference in Cologne, and the Education Minister of the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia was supposed to be introducing it and he was called to the “Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland” (“Central Council of the Jews in Germany”) together with his whole cabinet. He was told that this would be a total atrocity and an affront and it couldn’t be done – and now it will not be done.

Germany is obviously in a sensitive position. Israel and the Jewish community here obviously use the Holocaust as a battering ram to prevent criticism of Israel and they know Germany is particularly vulnerable. I mentioned to you that they use it against Catholic universities in the US also. They’re using it in any way and it’s totally disgraceful, I mean, the idea to use the Holocaust to justify these things is beyond discussion. Germany ought to resist that, but you can see that it’s not going to be easy. It should be dealt with. But, opposition to this wall ought to be universal. There’s opposition in the United States – so much opposition that, to my amazement, the New York Times asked me to write a piece on it. That never happens unless there’s strong elite opposition. And there is.

I’m sure I that the Times’ editors are worried about how the lunatics are running the asylum, or something like that. The wall is just crazy, or, if it’s not crazy that they’re doing it, it’s certainly a horrendous idea. It has nothing to do with security, it’s caging Palestinians into dungeons. It’s worse than in South Africa. Importantly, there is nonviolent resistance going on but, of course, it’s being smashed cause nobody is paying attention to it. Putting that aside, German journalists could be there. Just taking photographs – that takes away violence. They’ll be arrested and deported but that’s okay too, they’re not going to be killed.

Oldenburg: There is a huge question hanging in the air and that’s always brought up by Palestinians I’m talking to: The question of the refugees, what to do about them? How is it possible to get them involved as agents of their own fate?

I must say, this is an argument I’ve had with Palestinian friends for 35 years. Palestinians can, if they want to, stand on principles and forget the consequences for the victims – which is fine if you are in Europe and the United States, if you’re teaching at a university and you can have a seminar where you stand on principles, but that’s dooming the people to misery and suffering. There is a real world, you can not pretend it is not there because you don’t like it. In the real world the refugees will never return to Israel in more than a token return, I mean, that is just a fact of life. There’s no international support for it. If international support ever developed, which is extremely unlikely, Israel would actually refuse American orders. They would never permit it, they would turn to nuclear weapons, if they had to, to stop it. They’re not going to accept giving up their own country anymore than people in Massachusetts would accept to give their land to the people that were driven out. There are just things that are not going to happen and we might as well face it. It’s not doing any favor to the refugees to dangle in front of their eyes hopes that are never going to be realized. Things have to be done to help them to come to terms with the reality of the world. There may be token returns, they can certainly be given compensation. If there’ll ever be Palestinian independence, they can be returned to Palestine, which is not where they come from, mostly. Or they have to be given a chance to have their own choice to settle elsewhere, actually, here is something which Europe could do easily. Bring them to Europe. Most of them would probably rather be in Europe than in a savage refugee camp. This would be a concrete step.

Actually, the US ought to do it, cause it’s mostly responsible for it. But I think we probably can’t manage that. But offering hope of return is just an insult to them, in my opinion, and it’s also blocking the hope for any political settlement, cause there’s no visible group in Israel – maybe five people – who would agree allowing them to come back there. In fact, the demand is a gift to the rightwing in Israel. It’s an argument that the rightwing can use, saying, look, the Palestinians want to drive us out, so, therefore we just have to drive them out. This is essentially what the meaning of it is. There’s no point in pretending otherwise. I must say that I’ve been having big arguments with my own Palestinian friends and Israeli dissidents for about 35 years, and I haven’t convinced them.

Oldenburg: This is going on all the time and the interesting thing is that many of the people who are bringing up this argument are from Europe and have a safe distance.

There is a safe distance. If you’re sitting in a refugee camp or in the West Bank – there, it is preserving settlements and offering more arguments for building a wall and shooting them and so on.

Oldenburg: Could you say something on the subject Latin America – since the implementation of the Plan Colombia, since the Uribe Government came to power?

Since Plan Columbia came in, atrocities have increased, the struggles were militarized, the numbers of people who have been murdered have increased, the number of Union activists murdered has increased sharply, in fact, Columbia – I forget the numbers – has a large percentage of the worlds’ union activists murdered. The number of people who have been driven out of their land has increased, more people are driven into the slums, I have some figures about it in the Hegemony or Survival book. You’re always a year behind in statistics. Another effect is that it turned FARC into just another paramilitary force, I mean, whatever FARC had been, it did grow out of peasants’ concerns and demands and had a kind of political program that had some meaning – that all has gone. Now, it’s just another terrorist force preying on the peasants. So, it did succeed in militarizing the conflict. Not very good for Columbians. I was down there in Southern Columbia about a year ago.

They are just afraid of talking about it, peasants who have been driven out of the land by these chemical warfare programs. They are just as afraid of the FARC as they are of the paramilitaries at this point.

Oldenburg: Can you explain this in more detail?

The Columbia Plan intensified the war and, in reaction to it, FARC became more of a military force and dropped their social program. That is a pretty natural reaction when you come under military attack. They did come under harsher military attack. They were driven out of some of the areas that they controlled, and they responded to it by becoming more of a militant terrorist force and you could see the changes. By now, they barely have a social program, I don’t think the peasants and human rights activists that were kind of sympathetic to them see them any longer as a social political force. ELN, maybe, likely, but they are a pretty marginal group. There is now an effort going on to integrate the paramilitaries into the society which means to sort of formalize their role as enforcers. How that will go, I don’t know.

It’s extremely hard to say anything about public opinion in Columbia because they take polls, but they are totally meaningless. The polls are mostly taken by telephone – three quarters of the population never heard of a telephone. This is one of the reasons why they were so surprised at the last election. Even in Bogot√° they got the predictions all wrong. That’s kind of what happened in India, they just don’t know what most of the population is thinking because they’re kind of out of the wealthy system. It just looks like an intensification of every ugly feature there. As for the effects on cocaine production – which is irrelevant anyway – but, it appears to have no effect. The way to measure the cocaine production is to look at the price in New York and London: It is going down. I just read in England when I was there a couple of days ago that cocaine prices are at about the lowest level they have been in recent memory, which means, the production is soaring. You drive it out one place and then to somewhere else. But the whole idea of fighting drugs this way is grotesque anyway. But even if you somehow accept it, it probably has little or no effects. It does have the effect to drive peasants off their lands. You drive them off the land, the mining company comes in, they strip-mine the mountains, agro-business comes in, produces export crops, the usual business.

The indigenous communities and the peasants are resisting at various places – which is pretty amazing – but without outside assistance they don’t have a chance.

Oldenburg: Can you estimate the role of the US in the coup d’√©tat against Chavez and the recent actions against him?

We don’t know if the US instigated the coup. I wouldn’t be surprised but there’s no direct evidence. But they certainly supported it, that’s very clear. They immediately recognized the coup government. They had to back off because of the Latin American reaction. Latin America was strongly opposed to recognizing the coup, so, the US kind of backed off. But then the coup was thrown out in a couple of days. That’s not the end of the story. The Supreme Court, which is the residue of the former regime, refused to allow the government to try the coup leaders and amazingly, they agreed. So, they didn’t bring the coup leaders to trial. This didn’t get reported cause this doesn’t fit in the image of the totalitarian Chavez government. A couple of weeks later there was a terrorist bombing in Caracas, and the investigation of it led back to two of the military officers who had been participating in the coup. They fled the country to Florida and asked for political asylum. Venezuela asked for them to be extradited, to face charges – tells you how much they care about the war on terror. That was in early March – I have never heard anything about it, as far as I know, there was nothing in the media. That’s very hard to find out because nothing is reported.

Oldenburg: Justin Podur wrote about it. He had an article about Columbia, combining it with the situation in Venezuela, talking about the Columbian paramilitary forces which were recently found in Venezuela…

We really don’t know. We have two sides saying different things. The Venezuelan government claims are perfectly reasonable, but Columbia denies it and we don’t have independent evidence. We have no evidence, no investigators, it’s kind of guess work at this time. The whole region, from Venezuela to Argentina, is out of control, from a US point of view. These things are happening everywhere. That, they don’t like and they really can’t do a lot about it. You can imagine what they are trying to do but the US is in a fairly weak position. If they had won the war in Iraq easily, as I rather suspected – I assumed they would, but they didn’t, amazingly – if they had succeeded in Iraq, my guess at the time was that the next target was gonna be the Andean region. It is surrounded by military forces, military bases, troops all over the place. It’s extremely important for the US. It’s even an oil resource. Right now, I think, they’re too weak to carry it out. They may try subversion. I don’t think the US population would tolerate any military actions at this point, after the Iraq fiasco.

They’ve got other problems, take Argentina, they are refusing to take IMF orders and the IMF can’t really do anything about it. They can’t really let the economy collapse because US banks and lenders have too much invested there. So, they sort of go along with the Argentinean refusal, they don’t have a lot of options. And Argentina is doing pretty well.

Oldenburg: A few weeks ago some Argentinean people came to Hamburg, explaining to us that the Kirchner Government is not as fine as it is portrayed in German newspapers. They suppress the piqueteros and so on.

I’m sure that’s true, but they’re also refusing IMF orders. Nobody expects them to be a left government. They don’t like piqueteros – for obvious reasons. No central government likes independent action.