Noam Chomsky: Global Democratic Uprisings and New Challenges to US Empire

Noam Chomsky.Noam Chomsky. (Photo: John Soares)As the US engages in military and intelligence overreach to try and preserve its role as the sole post-cold war empire, Noam Chomsky continues to offer trenchant analysis of how American hegemony is a self-destructive force to the nation – and at times a lethal world police force to maintain its position of privileged consumption.

In his latest book, Power Systems, Chomsky reflects on outbreaks of democracy in the world and a declining ability of the United States to control nation-states who are important economic markets, energy suppliers, and geo-political allies that are vital to the US empire.

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Excerpted from Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire by Noam Chomsky in interviews with David Barsamian. The following section is from the first chapter, “The New American Imperialism.” It begins with Barsamian reflecting on a talk given by Arundhati Roy that he and Chomsky attended.

Barsamian: We were both at a talk that Arundhati Roy gave at Harvard describing the rather extraordinary amount of resistance to neo-liberal policies in India. There is a tremendous amount of push-back. I wrote to Howard Zinn about her talk. He wrote back to me, in one of the last e-mails I received from him, “Compared to India, the United States seems like a desert.”

Noam Chomsky: It wasn’t at one time. If you go back to the nineteenth century, the indigenous population of the United States resisted. In this respect, the United States is a desert because we exterminated the native people. The United States won that war. By the end of the nineteenth century, the indigenous people were essentially gone. India is now in the stage the United States was in during the nineteenth century.

Barsamian: I’m thinking more of workers here who have lost their jobs, who have lost their pensions and benefits. At a talk you gave in Portland, Oregon, called “When Elites Fail,” you decried the fact that the Left has not been able to mobilize dissent. The Right has certainly been able to.

Noam Chomsky: That’s true. But I don’t think India is a good comparison. Earlier periods in U.S. history are a better comparison.

Take, say, the 1930s. The Depression hit in 1929. About five years later, you started getting real militant labor organizing, the forming of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, sit-down strikes. That’s what basically impelled Roosevelt to carry out the New Deal reforms. That hasn’t happened in the current economic crisis. Remember the 1920s were a period when labor was almost completely crushed. One of the leading labor historians in the United States, David Montgomery, has a book called The Fall of the House of Labor. The rise of the house of labor was from the nineteenth-century militants on through the early-twentieth-century labor agitation that was crushed by Woodrow Wilson, who was as brutal internally as he was externally. The Red Scare almost decimated the workers’ movement. That was the 1920s. There was a change in the 1930s, in the course of the Depression. But it took quite a few years. And the Depression was much worse than the current recession. This is bad enough, but that was much worse.

And then there were other factors. For example, we’re not supposed to say it, but the Communist Party was an organized and persistent element. It didn’t show up for a demonstration and then scatter so somebody else then had to start something else. It was always there—and it was in for the long haul. That’s not the type of organization we have now. And the Communist Party was in the forefront of civil rights struggles, which were very significant in the 1930s, as well as labor organizing, union struggles, union militancy. They were a spark, which is lacking now.

Barsamian: Why is it lacking?

Noam Chomsky: First of all, the Communist Party was totally crushed. In fact, the activist Left was crushed under President Harry S. Truman. What we call McCarthyism was actually started by Truman. The unions did grow in size, but they grew as collaborationist unions. That’s one of the reasons why, say, Canada, a very similar country, has a health care system and we don’t. In Canada, the unions struggled for health care for the country. In the United States, they struggled for health care for themselves. So if you’re an autoworker here in the United States, you had a pretty good health care and pension system. Union workers won health care for themselves in a compact with the corporations. They thought it was a deal. What they couldn’t see was that it’s a suicide pact. If the corporation decides the compact is over, then it’s over. Meanwhile, the rest of the country didn’t get health care. So now the United States has a completely dysfunctional health care system, while Canada has one that more or less works. That’s a reflection of different cultural values and institutional structures in two very similar countries. So yes, the working class did continue to develop and grow here, but with class collaboration, that is, in a compact with the corporations.

You may recall in 1979, Doug Fraser, who was the head of the United Auto Workers, gave a speech in which he lamented the fact that business was engaged in what he called “a one-sided class war” against working people. We thought we were all cooperating. That was pretty dumb. Business is always engaged in a one-sided class war, especially in the United States, which has a very class-conscious business community. They’re always militantly struggling to get rid of any interference with their domination and control. The labor unions went along with it. They benefited their own workers temporarily. Now they’re paying the penalty.

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Published by Metropolitan Books, an imprint of Henry Holt and Company. Copyright © 2013 by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian. Not to be reprinted without permission.