Another gem from The Chomsky Archive
, located at
. This interview dates from 1991.
Noam Chomsky On Capitalism
The Detroit Metro Times
Battling the New World Order -- Pushing aside media half-truths
and U.S. government propaganda, Noam Chomsky's
writings are an important source of information on American global policy.
David Finkel is an editor of Against the Current
magazine, and is a contributing writer for the Detroit Metro Times.
A professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of
Technology since 1955, Noam Chomsky has contributed to a veritable revolution in
linguistics theory. Chomsky, 62, has also been an outspoken critic of U.S. global policy,
publishing numerous articles and more than 20 books on topics such as Palestine and
Israel, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, East Timor, the ideology of terrorism and the
chilling effects of monopoly media. Chomsky's writings have played an important role in
American social change movements, providing information often unavailable from
conventional sources. David Finkel recently spoke by telephone with Chomsky at his
home outside of Boston.
David Finkel: Let's begin with the topic of the moment, the
collapse of the Soviet Union: Is this a victory for the free market? Does it solve
capitalism's problems, or create new ones?
Noam Chomsky: To begin with, I think terms like "capitalism"
and "socialism" have been so evacuated of any substantive meaning that I don't even like
to use them. There's nothing remotely like capitalism in existence. To the extent there ever
was, it had disappeared by the 1920s or '30s. Every industrial society is one form or
another of state capitalism. But we'll use the term "capitalism," since that is more or less
its present meaning.
Well, what happened in the last 10-15 years is that capitalism underwent an enormous,
murderously destructive catastrophe. There was a serious international crisis around
1980. Of the three major sectors of state capitalism -- the German-led European
community, the Japan-based sector and the U.S.-based sector -- the German- and
Japan-based sectors pulled out of the decline, but without regaining their previous rate of
growth. The United States also pulled out, but in a very distorted fashion, with huge
borrowing and very extensive state intervention....
The rest of the world didn't pull out, especially in the Third World. There was a very
serious crisis, amounting to catastrophe, in Africa, parts of Asia within the Western system
and Latin America. That's what's called the crisis of the South, and it's a catastrophe of
Now in the Second World of the Soviet Union's dominance, there was also economic
collapse... a stagnation of the command economy system, which has even less
to do with socialism than our system has to do with capitalism. This was
combined with nationalist pressures for independence and social pressures attacking the
tyrannical system, which by the early 1980s turned into the crisis that has now become the
collapse of the Soviet Union.
All this had little to do with Western policy, but primarily with internal problems and
also the general crisis of debt to the West. And there was a crisis of Soviet production,
though again not as severe as in the Third World. This is a victory for the West in the
Cold War, but that outcome was never seriously in doubt if you look at the relative
economic and other forces.
Finkel: Explain a little more what you mean by state capitalism.
Chomsky: The victory of the West in the Cold War is combined
with both this enormous catastrophe of capitalism, and with the move toward one kind
or another of state-interventionist forms. As an example, the Reagan-Bush
administrations are the most protectionist since World War II, doubling the
percentage of imports subject to various forms of restriction.
If you take a look at those Third World countries that pulled out of the crisis of
1980, it's the NICs [Newly Industrialized Countries] in the Japanese periphery. The
comparison with Latin America is striking: Up to around 1980 they had similar patterns,
then Latin America went into a free fall while the East Asian economies did well.
That's because Latin America was opened up to international capital, while East
Asia wasn't. You don't have capital flight from South Korea, because you get
the death penalty for that. They not only discipline and terrorize the workers in the usual
way, they regulate the capitalists, too. In general it's a move toward one end of the
spectrum of state capitalism -- the fascist end -- that turned out to be effective in warding
off the general crisis of the 1980s.
Finkel: How do you assess the Bush administration, especially in
terms of domestic policies? Where does it continue the Reagan era and where is it a
Chomsky: It's a continuation of the Carter-Reagan
policies. Remember that the Reagan policies were proposed by
Carter, who didn't have the muscle to push them through. Carter proposed
essentially the military buildup that Reagan carried through, except that Reagan escalated
it more rapidly in the beginning and leveled it off later.
The Carter administration also proposed to attack welfare spending and the social
support system for the poorer sectors, which the Reagan administration then carried
through with bipartisan support. What these policies amounted to is turning the state, even
more than before, into a welfare state for the rich: a much more interventionist
state that pours public resources into high-technology industry and distributes resources
away from the poor, combined with attacks on labor and civil rights.
It's objectively a sound policy, I believe, for the privileged and powerful in an
internationally complicated environment. They've internationalized capital to take
advantage of cheap labor abroad, and intensified the class war that business has always
waged against labor and the disadvantaged.
The program of the Bush administration is largely non-existent in
education, energy or the environment. There's rhetoric about the
"education president" and whatnot, but policies remain the same, because nobody
has figured out how to maintain high-tech industry without a state subsidy or without
the Pentagon to provide a guaranteed market for its waste products.
Since nobody has an alternative, this system will doubtless continue. The same applies
to fiscal policies, which are driving the United States itself toward a country with a Third
World look in infrastructure, services, the disgraceful state of health and mortality
standards -- a two-tiered society with enormous wealth and privilege amidst
poverty and suffering. It's not like Brazil, because it's a wealthier society -- but
fundamentally of the same type, created with bipartisan agreement.
The issues in presidential elections are virtually non-existent, as are the presidents. We
went through the Reagan years with basically no president at all. He could barely read his
lines. Bush is an executive, but in a very narrow sense. There is a lot of image creation --
the Great Communicator for Reagan, or for Bush it's the Master Statesman who
manipulates international politics. It's a complete fake: The only thing he knows
is how to beat up people who can't fight back.
Finkel: In your traveling since the disaster of the Gulf slaughter,
what hopeful signs do you see in the grassroots movements?
Chomsky: For some time now, I've been going out of my way to
go to the least organized, most reactionary places where I can get
invited. During the Gulf war, I was talking in areas like Georgia, Appalachia
and Northern California -- places that people who are organizing regard as hostile
territory, and where during the war everybody was wearing fatigues.
Yet I always find that people come out, and are interested. I think people are
mainly cynical; they don't believe in anything. That can take the form of
hysterical jingoism, but it's paper thin. Another form it takes is religious revivalism,
which I think is on a scale in this country that's unique outside of places like
Iran. Or it can take the form of immersion in something else, like football
I listen to the sports talk shows when I drive. It's incredible: People have long,
sophisticated arguments about what the New England Patriots should have done last
Sunday. It reminds me of when I was 12 years old and I could tell you who was the
quarterback for Texas Christian in 1937. A major radio station here in Boston just
changed its format from 24-hour news to 24-hour sports.
Finkel: Do you think the Vietnam Syndrome is dead?
Chomsky: Not only don't I believe that, the administration doesn't
believe it either. Somebody leaked to Maureen Dowd, who's basically a gossip columnist
for the New York Times, a very important document -- the first international policy
review of the Bush administration in its early months -- which she quoted in a column.
It said that in confronting much weaker opponents we must defeat them rapidly and
decisively. There cannot be classic intervention anymore -- U.S. soldiers
slogging in Vietnam for years -- it must be either clandestine warfare as in
Peru now, where not one American in a thousand knows there are U.S.
troops, or the Panama-Iraq game, with enormous propaganda about the enemy ready to destroy us, then a quick victory
without any fighting. There was no war, really, in the Gulf -- no fighting --
simply a slaughter, just as in Panama.
's note: Permission has been granted to repost Noam Chomsky's articles at E2 when a link to the original source is cited.
This interview originated in The Detroit Times and the text was obtained from: http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/interviews/dmt-capitalism.html