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Noam Chomsky on the economy and democracy Pt.4

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re in Cambridge with Professor Noam Chomsky. Thanks, Noam. So look at big picture. The oppositional movement in the United States—progressive, you could say sometimes it’s libertarian—it has various aspects to it. I said in the earlier interviews, in the election people get caught between wanting to vote for something they think is a better set of policies represented by politicians that can’t get elected and concerned about the far right taking power again. In terms of the next four to eight years, if this economic crisis deepens, even if there’s a certain kind of patchwork of it, the extent of unemployment’s likely to hit double digits and the sharpening of the political crisis internationally. What should people do? What do people ask you, ordinary people? What should we do here to create some kind of a movement? What’s your answer? And what’s the obstacles to creating a national movement in the United States?

NOAM CHOMSKY, PROF. OF LINGUISTICS, MIT: Well, the main obstacle is that the country has become extremely atomized. There’s very little in the way of association. I mean, we talked in an earlier discussion about what happened to the labor movement. I mean, the labor movement was a major form of association that helped push through significant reforms. I mean, the New Deal reforms were to a substantial extent the reflection of large-scale labor organizing, CIO organizing, you know, sit-down strikes, and so on. Or take, say, health care, which we discussed a little. Take Canada, a society very much like ours. Canada has a national health-care system, you know, not the best in the world, but something. We don’t. It’s much worse. It’s even more expensive. So General Motors, for example, says that it costs them, you know, over $1,000 to produce a car in Detroit than across the border in Windsor, Canada, ’cause they don’t have the huge health costs. Now, why does Canada have a national health-care system and we don’t? Well, you know, it’s because of the relative atomization of American society. There are unions here, strong unions, in the ’50s, unions in Canada, but they took a different approach towards health care. In Canada, the unions took the approach that health care should be available for everyone. In the United States, the unions took the position that health care should be available for us. So UAW, for example, has, you know, good (for working people) comparative standards and had a reasonable living standard, including health care, pensions, and so on, but it was tied to the corporations. It means when the corporation—first of all, others don’t get it. And, secondly, if the corporation bails out of it, you’re in trouble. It’s what’s happening now. Well, that’s the difference between trying to work for the benefit of the larger community and working for yourself. Now, in the United States, drilled into people’s heads, you know, massively by huge propaganda campaigns is an effort to get people to just focus on themselves and not on others. And it’s not human nature. It’s not even American history. If you look back at American history and the early stages of the labor movement, say right around here in Massachusetts, there were workers—had their own own newspapers and so on—they were against wage labor. In fact, Abraham Lincoln was against wage labor. He said wage labor is better than slavery, but the reason it’s better is ’cause it’s temporary. What he really wanted was free labor, not wage labor. And that really goes right back to the enlightenment. Workers in plants in eastern Massachusetts thought that those who work in the plants should own them: "We don’t want to hire ourselves out to others, become tools in the hands of others." Now, that can be brought back.

JAY: Would you say that both on the economic side and the political side, in terms of the democratic side, issue of democracy, that the fate of America’s going to be tied to whether there’s a reinvigorated trade movement union or not?

CHOMSKY: I think that’s one core part of it. I mean, there are other forms of popular association too, but an organized public of the kind, in fact, we discussed before, say, the town in New Hampshire that makes their own policies and picks a representative, rather than voting someone who says, "I’ll be your man." You know. There are all kinds of associations which can become engaged in large-scale efforts to determine and fix the political and economic agenda and the form of social life. Incidentally, this is going to be necessary if we’re going to survive. There’s not going to be any other way to overcome the looming environmental crisis. That requires a real change in social organization. And we should remember how we got into this. I mean, there was—say, take mass transportation. I mean, take, say, maybe the worst transportation problem in the country, maybe, Los Angeles—it’s a total nightmare. You know, go back 60, 70 years, they had an efficient mass-transportation system, electric transportation. It was destroyed consciously by what in fact was technically a conspiracy—they were sentenced in court for it, General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and—.

JAY: To get to what you’re talking about, there’s still this issue of state power, especially at the national level, two political parties that ever seem to have a chance to win. What do you do about this kind of paralysis at that level of partisan politics, and particularly the Democratic Party?

CHOMSKY: We have a one-party system: there’s the business party, which has two factions, Democrats and Republicans. They’re a little different, but over time people do somewhat better under Democratic than under Republican administrations. So there’s a difference, but they’re basically business parties: their policies are determined largely by funding; they’re staffed by representatives of the business community; the business world, which feeds off of public money, sets the parameters within which policy is made. So it’s this sort of technical problem at the top level. But the real problem is just lack of political participation. Let me take a concrete example. Take, say, the Obama campaign. It mobilized a lot of people. I mean, there is, you know, what people call an army of Obama supporters. Well, if you look at the managers of the campaign and the commentators in the press, they have an agenda for it, and they say it. The agenda is for the Obama army to be waiting till they get instructions from the leader, and then they’re supposed to push doorbells and so on to try to advance what’s actually called Brand Obama. Okay, that’s a totalitarian model. In a democratic model, what would happen is that the army of supporters would be getting together, formulating policies, electing their own representatives to implement them. If Obama goes along, okay; otherwise, we disregard him and get good policies implemented in some other way. We’re not implementing Brand Obama; we’re pursuing policies we want. Now, that’s just a different conception of how politics ought to work and how the society ought to work at every level, from, you know, business to—at university, to the national economy, in fact internationally.

JAY: Thanks very much for doing this. Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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