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Democracy and Power

Noam Chomsky

5. Militarism, Democracy and People’s Right to Information1

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  • 1 Lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on 5 November 2001, at the invitation of the Na (...)

1It is no great insight that we live in a world of conflict and confrontation, and that one crucial element of it is class war. Class war has many dimensions and complexities, but in recent years, the lines have been drawn very sharply. To oversimplify, but not too much, on the one side there are concentrated power centers, state and private, very closely linked. On the other side is much of the population, worldwide. Though one can’t estimate with any precision, I think it is fair to guess that a large majority of the world population is unable to get involved in issues of broad significance, as this requires a degree of privilege. As for concentrated power centers, they pursue their war relentlessly. They never stop. They use every opportunity to press their agenda forward in the harshest possible way. In particular, they use crises, whether it’s an earthquake, or a war, or September 11th and its aftermath. And in such circumstances, you can expect, and you discover, that they exploit the atmosphere of fear and anguish. They hope that their popular adversary will be distracted, focus attention elsewhere, and be frightened, while they continue to pursue their programs without any pause – in fact intensifying them, using the window of opportunity. And that’s what is happening right now.

2The adversary should, of course, refuse to accept this cynical framework. It should focus its efforts, also relentlessly, on the primary issues, which remain as they were before the latest crisis. The issues include the threat of militarism, which is indeed a threat to the survival of the species at this point, and a far-reaching assault against democracy and freedom, which has been part of the core of the neoliberal program for the past twenty, twenty-five years.

3Well, those are the things I’d like to talk about. Everything, of course, is open for later discussion, so don’t feel constrained by that. But I can’t really bring myself to turn to those topics without at least a word on the immense human tragedy that is unfolding before us right now. This tragedy is being planned and implemented very consciously by the United States and its allies since September 11th. The High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, Mary Robinson, was not exaggerating when she pleaded with the United States to stop the bombing of Afghanistan and warned that if it continued there could be a Rwanda-style slaughter. In fact, she might have been underestimating. According to US estimates, the number of people at risk of starvation, which was about 5 million, has increased by fifty percent since the bombing started. That’s 2.5 million people who are being pushed right across the border of death from starvation. Mary Robinson’s appeal was of course rebuffed. It was also unrecorded. Literally, it received three scattered sentences in the entire US press. Other appeals from senior UN officials, aid agencies and others were not even mentioned.

4On September 16th, that’s just five days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the US demanded of Pakistan that it terminate food supplies to Afghanistan. The country has been on a kind of a lifeline. And as one aid worker said afterwards, we’ve just cut the lifeline. The decision on September 16th to cut food supplies was a conscious, determined decision to starve several million people to death. Again, there was no reaction. The next day, as it happens, I was on national radio and television around Europe. No one was aware of this decision or could think of a single reaction to it in their own country. There was no reaction in the United States. So apparently it’s considered entirely normal for western civilization to make a decision to kill 2.5 million people within a few months. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with history. It is in fact normal, which is why there is no reaction to the silent genocide that may be under way.

5Already before the bombing, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had warned that the threat of bombing had driven out the aid agencies, and driven people out of the cities into the countryside, in fear and desperation, and that a humanitarian catastrophe was taking place. After the bombings began, the Food and Agriculture Organization further reported that about eighty percent of the crop plantings had been disrupted, which means an even more severe famine for the next spring. The bombing itself has turned major cities into ghost towns. About seventy percent of the population has fled. As in other cases, like Iraq and Serbia, the bombing is directed against power stations, electrical supplies, water supplies, sewage systems, and so on. That’s a form of biological warfare. That’s exactly what it means to do this in an urban area. The population either flees to the borders, which are mostly closed, or to the countryside, where they are heading into the most heavily mined areas in the world. Even in normal times, the mines cause ten to twenty deaths or injuries every day, often among children. Now the casualties are increasing sharply. One reason is that the UN has been compelled to terminate its mine-clearing operations. Another reason is that the mines are now superseded by much more lethal weapons, namely the cluster bombs dropped by the US. These are antipersonnel weapons, which are designed to murder people. They don’t affect tanks or buildings or anything like that. They are little things that a child will pick up or a farmer will hit with a hoe, and then they explode and send flashes that tear them to shreds. And they’re extremely hard to dismantle. Some areas where they’ve been used in the past – like Vietnam and Laos, in what was then the heaviest bombing in history, in an isolated peasant society – are still littered with millions of cluster bombs, and hundreds or thousands of people are killed there every year. The manufacturer says, twenty to thirty percent of them don’t explode, which can mean only one of two things: either incredibly incompetent quality control or else a purposeful concern to murder civilians. You can form your own view.

6All this is happening essentially without comment, because in a way it’s kind of normal, that’s what the West has been doing to the rest of the world for hundreds of years. But the millennium begins with two monstrous atrocities: the terrible terrorist crime of September 11th, and an even worse atrocity that’s following it, namely a purposeful, conscious program of mass murder, which may have excruciating dimensions. And while this is regrettably normal business in Europe and its offshoots, it’s kind of remarkable to see that a country like India, which has been subjected to this torture for hundreds of years and might be expected to have some appreciation of what it means, is nevertheless enthusiastically joining the bandwagon.

7These accumulating horrors bear very directly on the question of people’s right to information. It’s extremely important to ensure that that right is denied. So the facts I have just mentioned, though not really controversial, are almost totally unknown in the United States. Not one person in a million is aware of them. And there is a good reason for that: if people did have the slightest idea of what is being done in their names, there would be mass protests and policies would have to change. The United States is a very free country, it’s uniquely free – I think, the freest country in the world – with regards to the right to information. And the task of suppression of that right is not undertaken by the state. The state may try now and then, but it is pretty ineffectual. The task of depriving the population of information is the solemn duty of the intellectuals, of the educated classes. It is what you’re trained for when you go to a good university. Ensuring that the right to information is denied is also the task of the free press. That’s why facts like these remain unknown. You can’t carry out a mass genocide if the population is aware of what is being done. And when these controls break down, you do get strong popular reactions. Well, we’re now living through this, it’s not the first case by any means; we’re living through an illustration which is so shocking that words fail, at least my words. It’s not novel, we should be aware of that, and nor is it restricted to the United States and Europe. It goes back through history, as does the role of the priesthood, either religious or – in modern days – secular priesthood.

8Well, with these hopelessly inadequate words on a crime that we should be working day and night to try to bring to a quick end, let’s turn to the topics at hand. Perhaps the best way to approach them is within the framework of this fashionable notion of globalization. But before doing that, it’s important to clarify what globalization means. Like most terms of political discourse, this one has a literal meaning and a propagandistic meaning. In the literal sense, globalization just means international integration, mostly economic integration. And that’s neither good nor bad in itself; just as trade is neither good nor bad in itself. It depends on what the human consequences are. It can be done in many different ways. That’s the general meaning. The propagandistic meaning of globalization, which is used and enforced by concentrated power, refers to a very specific form of international integration: one which has been implemented with considerable intensity in the past twenty-five years or so, and which is designed in the interests of private concentrations of power. The interests of others are incidental. They may gain, they may lose; it doesn’t really matter. The fact of the matter is that most of them lose, but that’s just an incidental consequence.

9So that’s the propagandistic sense of globalization. And with that ridiculous terminology in place, the great mass of the people of the world who object can be labelled as “anti-globalization.” They must be primitivists who want to go back to the Stone Age and are resisting inevitable forces. They want to harm the poor. I’m sure you’re familiar with these and other terms of abuse. Opponents of globalization, I think, make a very great mistake if they accept this framework of power and agree to call themselves “anti-globalization.” No one sensible is opposed to international integration, least of all the left. The left has been animated by a vision of globalization since its origins, certainly its modern origins. The whole vision of the left has been one of internationalism, of international solidarity and cooperation. And there have been very important strides in this direction, many achievements in recent years. We should be committed to that. We should be committed to far-reaching globalization, but designed to improve the lives and opportunities of people, of the people of the world, and the people of future generations. That’s a task that cannot be put off. These are not empty words. The possibilities for moving forward are very real; they are illustrated in many ways. By now, the annual meetings at Porto Alegre in Brazil are important expressions of this. They bring together a very broad international constituency: Brazilian workers, the landless workers’ movement, North American unionists, environmentalists, peasant movements, women’s rights activists, many others. A very wide range of people who in the past have had nothing much to do with one another. They went on separate paths, but are now moving forward together in impressive ways, thanks to a constructive form of globalization that we ought to support, and this is part of the traditional vision of the left. Their actions are in part defensive, defending themselves against attack, but in part quite constructive, working on ways to dismantle concentrated power systems to extend popular control worldwide. That’s the form of globalization that should be pursued, at least by people who want to create a world in which a decent person would want to live.

10The specific form of globalization that is being officially pursued is quite different. That’s called, as you know, neoliberal. That term, too, is highly misleading. What it refers to is not new, and by no means liberal. That should be obvious in India, more than any other place. The whole history of India, for the last several hundred years, is a classic example of how liberalism can be distorted into an instrument of power and destruction. And the current version of neoliberalism is similar to what destroyed India, based on a combination of imposed liberalization on India alongside of massive state power and protectionism in the imperial power. The current version of neoliberalism also adopts the traditional double-edged doctrine of liberalism and free trade. This doctrine says, free trade is fine for you, so that I can demolish you. But for myself, I’m going to insist on state protection and other devices to avoid the costs of market discipline, except when the playing field is levelled, to use the standard term, which means when it’s tilted so sharply in my favor that I am confident that I can win. In that case, I’ll favor free trade.

11The fact that the new doctrines adapt the traditional ones to current circumstances should not be very surprising. Actually, it’s exactly what you would expect if you look at the designers. The designers are the richest and most powerful states, the international financial institutions that follow their directives, and an array of huge corporations which are tending towards oligopoly and anti-market principles in most sectors of the economy. These mega-corporations rely heavily on the state sector, which is very dynamic in the rich and powerful countries like the United States. They rely on the state sector to socialize costs and risks, to privatize profits, and to maintain the dynamism of the economy. That’s the real world economy. It’s quite different from what you study in an economics class.

12The designers of the system modestly call themselves the “international community.” But maybe a more appropriate term is that used by the world’s leading business journal, London’s Financial Times, which described them as “the masters of the universe.” That was last January when they were meeting in Davos, Switzerland, to organize the world. Maybe that was intended as ironic, I don’t know, but it’s accurate. The masters of the universe profess to be admirers of Adam Smith, so you might expect them to abide by his description of their behavior, although he only called them “masters of mankind” – but that was before the space age, remember. Smith was referring to the “principal architects of policy” in England, merchants and manufacturers, who, as he put it, attended to their own interests carefully and made sure that they were satisfied, no matter how grievous the effects on others, including the people of England, but, incidentally, primarily India. He wrote with particular anger about the savagery of the English in India and especially Bengal. He stated that the principal architects followed what he called “the vile maxim of the masters of mankind,” namely all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else. That’s an accurate description of the masters of today’s universe, who follow this model, not noticing that Smith was denouncing them, not providing a model for them.

13In subsequent developments over time that would have appalled Adam Smith or any other classical liberal, these huge concentrations of power have emerged, which are basically tyrannies. The courts have assigned to them the rights of persons, immortal persons, and proceeded to attribute the rights of persons to corporate management. That’s true in the United States, and I think elsewhere. In recent agreements, mislabeled trade agreements, the rights of these private tyrannies have gone way beyond the rights of persons. For example, General Motors can now demand and receive, under WTO rules, what’s called “national treatment” in Mexico. They have to be treated as a national company. On the other hand, if a Mexican of flesh and blood tried to obtain national treatment in New York, he wouldn’t last very long, if he could even make it that far. So the corporate entities, the immortal persons, now have rights far beyond human beings. They’re a strange sort of person, apart from their massive scale and immortality. The recent agreements give them even further rights, which are being explored and implemented for corporate entities to undermine regulatory legislation in the United States, Canada, and other countries, on the grounds that these regulations are what is called “tantamount to expropriation.” To take a recent case that was won, a US corporation wanted to store toxic wastes somewhere in Mexico. The people of Mexico objected, they didn’t want toxic waste stored there, and they turned the area into a national park. The corporation, Metalclad, charged Mexico with actions that are “tantamount to expropriation,” because they infringe on future profits of the corporation. And they won. They won in a NAFTA hearing and finally in a judicial hearing, and the judicial hearing was correct, because the NAFTA rules do permit that. This is under an imaginative doctrine called “regulatory takings.” Any regulation is a taking of people’s rights, meaning corporate rights, because it might reduce their future profits. Well, those are no rights that a person of flesh and blood can think of, but they apply to these totalitarian institutions that dominate the international system, the masters of the universe.

14All this is simply one part of a very dedicated assault against popular sovereignty, which means democracy. This assault is expected to become more severe. In the western hemisphere, there are now plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas. There was a summit of the countries of the western hemisphere, last April in Quebec, with plenty of disruption and violent protest. The plans are being kept secret. Nobody knows in any detail what the plans are for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and it’s important to ensure that they remain secret, because if they become public, opposition will be overwhelming. I’ll come back to that interesting exercise in thought control in a free society.

15Well, the crucial point is that the public has to be kept unaware. That’s been true all along. NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is now seven years old. To this day, the press has refused to publish the official position of the labor movement on the form that NAFTA should take. That goes back to 1992, almost ten years. The press has also refused to publish the analysis of NAFTA that was done by Congress’ own research bureau, the Office of Technology Assessment, which is very much like that of the labor movement. The reason is that this analysis was critical of the form of international integration that was being imposed by the masters of the universe, and therefore the public better not know about it. Because if the public knew about it, the already majority opposition to NAFTA would grow substantially, as people came to understand that their own individual criticisms were in fact well-grounded in substantial institutions. A central part of the neoliberal reforms is to reduce the threat of democracy – in this and other ways.

16I mentioned that the one participant in the class war always exploits every opportunity to institute harsh and regressive measures, with unrelenting intensity. That’s happening right now. The victims are told that they have to be subdued and acquiescent out of patriotism. On the other hand, patriotism does not prevent the masters of the universe from using the opportunity to give new tax breaks to Enron, to mention a company you’ve heard of around here; to increase the military budget substantially while nobody is looking; even to institute what’s called “fast-track legislation.” It’s interesting how the US trade representative Robert Zoellick announced, immediately after the September 11th attacks, that the best way to combat terrorism is to implement fast-track legislation. What is fast-track legislation? Well, it’s legislation that literally turns the United States into the Kremlin under Stalin. The legislation grants the executive branch the right to negotiate international treaties in secret, with no Congressional participation and, of course, no public knowledge. And then Congress is allowed to say yes. That’s the degree of public participation. So that’s fast-track legislation. It’s often called “free trade legislation,” and that’s not entirely untrue. You couldn’t pass legislation that’s mislabeled free trade if the public had any participation. So it has to be done Kremlin-style. Undoubtedly, Osama bin Laden will just be shaking in his boots if this legislation is passed. It’s such an obvious attack against international terrorism. Well, that’s the kind of thing that it makes sense to press through when you have a window of opportunity, and the general public can be induced to keep quiet out of so-called patriotism or fear or whatever.

17All this does raise a question. It’s been very obvious over the past years that opposition to corporate-led globalization is overwhelming across the world. That’s been particularly dramatic in the South, where the main opposition developed. It later spread to the North, where it becomes harder to ignore – so when it reaches Seattle, you can’t pretend it’s not happening. This raises the question of why there is such massive public opposition in the United States, in England, everywhere else. It seems paradoxical because globalization, so-called, as we are told every day, has led to enormous prosperity. In the United States particularly, it has led to what’s called a fairy-tale economy. Just to give one quote from the extreme left of the admissible spectrum, Anthony Lewis, writing last March in the New York Times, said that globalization has created the greatest economic boom in American history, in fact the greatest economic boom in world history. So, why are people opposed? Well, it’s admitted that the process has some flaws. Not everyone is participating in the glorious experience, and since we’re good-hearted people, you know, especially the left, we have to be concerned about this. We have to worry about these people who lack the skills to join us in participating in the greatest economic boom in world history. And that also poses a dilemma. Why is it that this enormous prosperity that’s developing and leading to fairy-tale economies is also leading to inequality? What do we do about that? Well, that picture is so conventional that it takes a bit of a wrench to recognize that it is entirely false in every respect, except one. The one true statement is about rising inequality. Everything else is totally and uncontroversially false. During the economic boom in the United States in the nineties, per-capita economic growth was about the same as in Europe. It was much less than in the pre-globalization period, the period before the neoliberal reforms of the 1970s. It was vastly less than during World War II, which saw the greatest economic boom in American history under a semi-command economy. So the question is how can the conventional picture be so different from the absolutely uncontroversial facts? Well, the answer is very simple, and you know it very well in India. A small sector of the society has in fact benefited enormously. And that sector happens to include the people who tell everybody else the wonderful news. And they’re not being dishonest. You can’t accuse them of dishonesty. They have every reason to believe what they are saying. They can read it every day in the journals for which they write. Furthermore, it’s exactly what they see around them. You go to an elegant restaurant or the Faculty club, or the editorial office, or wherever you hang out. That’s what you see. People who are enjoying a fairy-tale economy. So there’s no reason to doubt it. It’s only the world that’s somehow different, and who knows about that.

18Let’s take a quick look at the historical record on this. Economic integration – globalization in the neutral sense – increased very rapidly in the half-century or so before World War I. It stagnated between the two world wars. Then it began to pick up again after World War II. By now, it’s reached a level which is more or less comparable to about a century ago in gross measures, but only gross measures. If you look at the finer structure, it’s quite different in interesting respects. Prior to World War I, there was much more international integration at the level of people. That is, movement of people was much freer, and those of you who care about free trade may recall that “free circulation of labor” is a foundation of free trade, according to old-fashioned radicals like Adam Smith. So the movement of people is cut back a lot by state regulation. On the other hand, the free flow of short-term speculative capital has risen to astronomical levels, way beyond anything in the past. This contrast reflects the central features of contemporary globalization. It expresses the relative value of people and capital. Capital has priority and people are incidental. Note that this is exactly the opposite of classical economics, from Adam Smith to David Ricardo. Both insisted that people should be mobile, and capital should be immobile. Everyone’s heard of Adam Smith’s invisible hand, and how wonderful it is. But apparently, not many people have read the one passage in The Wealth of Nations where he uses the phrase. It appears once, and it appears in the course of an argument against capital mobility and imports – against neoliberalism. He argues that the invisible hand will prevent this disaster from happening. Somehow, this passage has been suppressed. There are other interesting differences between economic integration in these two periods; I’ll come back to some of them.

19There is also a more technical definition of globalization, whereby globalization is measured by convergence to a single market, to a single price and wage around the world. Well, that’s exactly the opposite of what has happened. Globalization has gone in exactly the opposite direction, creating enormous inequality. So there’s a theory on one side, and there’s a real world on the other side. And that’s expected to continue. The US Intelligence Services recently put out a document, a projection for the next fifteen years, with the cooperation of academic specialists in the business world. The document describes various possible scenarios for what’s ahead. The most optimistic scenario, it says, is that globalization will continue “on course,” I’m quoting now, “its evolution will be rocky, marked by chronic financial volatility and a widening economic divide.” That means there’ll be less globalization in the technical sense, but more globalization in the doctrinally-approved sense – wealth for the rich. Financial volatility, of course, means slower growth. So the best scenario, best possible scenario is even slower growth and much less globalization in the technical sense, meaning more globalization in the sense that they like.

20Military planners adopt exactly the same assumptions. There’s now a vast expansion of armaments going on, primarily in the United States. Since September 11th, it’s been escalated, using the window of opportunity. And there’s a reason. If you look at the planning documents of the past years, they make the same prediction: they predict, in contrast with economic theory, but consistent with reality, that globalization is going to lead to an increasing divide between a small number of haves and a large number of have-nots. And that raises a problem, a problem that has the technical name “enforcing stability.” Here stability means, “you do what I tell you or else,” and it’s hard to enforce stability when you have a growing mass of have-nots who are disruptive and unpleasant. Accordingly, it’s necessary to have a huge expansion of the military.

21The United States is already far in the lead in conventional forces and weapons of mass destruction. Actually, it outspends the next fifteen countries. But that’s not enough; it has to move to a new frontier which hasn’t been militarized yet – space. That requires a violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which has been observed so far. It has prevented the militarization of space. The United Nations is aware of this, in fact the world is aware of this, so there’s been a reaffirmation of the Outer Space Treaty for the last few years, passed almost unanimously with two abstentions: the United States and Israel (and probably India next year, which is keen to join the race to destruction, for reasons you can explain to me). The UN Conference on Disarmament has been stalled all year for the same reason – it is trying to put a restriction on the militarization of space, and the US blocks this. All this goes unreported in the American press, for the usual reason. It’s not wise to allow citizens to know of plans that put the survival of the species at serious risk. Extending the arms race to space is, in fact, the core program, and it has been for years – it’s not just Bush. “Race” is not a very good term since the United States is racing alone for the moment, though there are others eager to join – India, for example, has won a lot of respect from hawks and jingoists in the United States for its enthusiasm about this, which is in fact unique.

22The plans to cross the last frontier to militarization of space are sometimes disguised as “missile defense,” ballistic missile defense. Anybody should understand that when you hear the word “defense,” you think “offence.” Any offensive action is always called defense, and it’s pretty straight in this case. One of the goals of militarization of space is to place offensive weapons, destructive offensive weapons, in space. And the goal is very frankly expressed. It takes real discipline for the educated classes to keep people from knowing this. It’s all in public documents, very frank and clear for years, you can even read them on the internet. The goal, as the US Space Command documents explain, is to obtain global dominance, “hegemony” as they call it, and the purpose is (I’m quoting) “to protect US interests and investments.” They also give a history. They say that in the past, countries constructed armies and navies to protect and enhance commercial interests, but now there’s a new frontier we can cross. We can take the next step in protecting and enhancing commercial interests and investment, namely the militarization of space.

23Now, this is known to be extremely threatening. There’s no question about this, because of the predicted reaction among potential adversaries, or for that matter because of what are called “normal accidents” in the technical literature. A normal accident is the kind of accident you know is going to take place in any complicated system, you just can’t tell when. And what’s being planned are systems of great complexity, weapons of destructive power comparable to nuclear weapons, laser weapons powered by nuclear power, which itself is extremely dangerous in space. These weapons are to be on a hair-trigger alert, with automated launch-on-warning systems, because you can’t take any chances. If anyone starts shooting down your satellites, your system is gone. So you have automated systems of massive destructive power, which are likely to undergo normal accidents, and maybe wipe everyone out. This could be stopped, nobody doubts that it could be stopped, namely by treaty. But to stop it would be inconsistent with the prevailing value system. The prevailing value system is that hegemony is much more important than survival. And that’s not new, in fact, it’s the history of hundreds of years, but the change now is that the stakes are far, far greater.

24Back to globalization, the crucial point here is that these decisions are motivated by the expectations for globalization. Globalization is expected to lead to a widening divide, meaning failure in the technical sense but success in the doctrinal sense, and that requires weapons of mass destruction targeting the growing number of have-nots that globalization is expected to produce, and severely raising the threat to survival. And it’s all very rational, within the framework of a kind of lunatic system of institutions.

25Well, let’s return to “the greatest economic boom in American and world history.” Remember that this was written before the crash, before the fiscal bubble crashed early this year, at a time when things really looked fantastic. Since World War II, there have been two sharply different phases in the world economy. There was a phase called the Bretton Woods period, from shortly after the Second World War to the early 1970s, and then the neoliberal phase which followed it, when the Bretton Woods regulations were broken down. The Bretton Woods system in the first period was based on regulation of capital flows, so states could regulate outflows and inflows of capital, and currencies were fixed pretty closely to one another. That was terminated in the seventies. Of these two periods, it’s the second that’s called “globalization,” though, in fact, international integration proceeded more quickly during the first period. But remember, this is a propagandistic sense of the term globalization, interpreted as neoliberal globalization. These two phases are quite different. Economists commonly refer to the first phase, the Bretton Woods phase, as a golden age, and to the second phase, the neoliberal phase, as a leaden age. And if you look at standard macroeconomic indicators, that’s exactly what you find. They all decline considerably during the globalization period. That’s true of the rate of growth of the economy, of productivity growth, of capital investment. In fact, even trade – the growth of trade has declined during the globalization period. The interest rates have gone way up because countries, especially in the South, have to protect their currencies from attack. That slows down growth, increases financial volatility, and has many other harmful consequences.

26Let’s come back to that profound dilemma everyone’s worried about: what are we going to do about the fact that globalization has created this enormous prosperity, but also led to rising inequality? Well, there’s no dilemma. There’s nothing to answer. There’s no prosperity. In fact, globalization has reduced prosperity, even by standard macroeconomic measures, which are highly ideological, but even by those. And it’s not controversial. Many economists attribute the severe economic deterioration during the globalization period to the liberalization of capital flows (Eatwell and Taylor, to mention two prominent ones). You can debate that. So little is understood about the international economy that the causal relations are hard to establish. But the correlation is pretty clear, down to fine detail in fact.

27What is even clearer is that financial liberalization does lead to an attack on democracy. That’s not controversial. In fact, that was the primary reason why the framers of the Bretton Woods agreement, back in the 1940s, insisted on capital controls and regulation of currencies. They understood that this would provide some space within which countries could pursue social democratic policies, welfare state policies, without being overwhelmed by obstructive market forces. And they were right; capital control is needed to protect that space. Free movement of capital creates what’s sometimes called a “virtual parliament,” a parliament of investors and lenders who have veto power over government decisions, sharply restricting democratic options. Actually, I’m quoting from technical papers in the economics literature. Free capital movement creates what’s called a “dual constituency.” Namely, voters as one constituency, and investors and lenders as the other constituency. And the investors and lenders conduct “moment by moment referendums” on government policy. If they don’t like a policy because it’s harming them, they veto it by withdrawing capital from that country or attacking the currency. And of course, the second constituency, the investors and lenders, prevails over the first constituency. The voters can’t compete with them, even in the rich countries. And that’s one of the most striking differences between the current phase of globalization and the phase before World War I.

28Again, this is well understood. Let me just quote from a standard history of the international financial system by a highly-regarded American economist, Barry Eichengreen. He points out that before World War I, government policy had not yet been “politicized” by universal male suffrage and the rise of trade unions and parliamentary labor parties. Therefore, the very severe costs of market discipline, the costs imposed by the virtual parliament, could be transferred to the general population. Notice that the logic is exactly the same as that of structural adjustment in poor countries today: you impose the costs on the poor, and they can’t do anything about it. Now, that’s the way it was a hundred years ago. But that luxury was no longer available during the more democratic Bretton Woods period, after the Second World War. There was universal male suffrage, and parliamentary labor parties and unions, and furthermore the world population was very radical at that time. People had been greatly radicalized by the war, and there was enormous popular support, including in the United States, for a welfare state program. Therefore, it was necessary to do something. What Eichengreen points out is that limits on capital mobility substituted for limits on democracy as a source of insulation from market pressures, which is quite true. The limits on capital mobility allowed democracy to function. He doesn’t follow the argument to the next step, but we easily can. Dismantling the Bretton Woods agreement should lead and has led to a sharp attack on substantive democracy, just as you would expect. This is particularly striking in the United States and Britain, which are in the lead on this, but in fact it’s happening worldwide.

29This attack on democracy is a very significant feature of the current phase of globalization. And there are other components of the “Washington consensus” with the same consequences. The basic idea of neoliberalism is to shift decisions, socioeconomic decisions, to unaccountable concentrations of power. That’s a central feature of the neoliberal reforms, privatization for example. But remember, the powerful state remains to protect the masters. They need state protection. Another attack on democracy is being negotiated right now, in secret as always, at the Geneva negotiations on GATS (General Agreement on Trade and Services). What is this general agreement on trade and services? What are these “services”? Services are anything that could be within the public arena: education, health, welfare, water resources, communication, anything like that. There’s no meaningful sense in which what is at stake is “trade in services.” It’s just called “trade” so that you can put it under the trade agreement. If you privatize these government services, you can have a perfectly functioning democracy, and it will do nothing, because nothing is left in the public arena. So privatizing services, which is what these negotiations are about, essentially eliminates from the public arena anything (or virtually anything) that might be subject to popular decision-making. That’s called “trade in services,” and naturally you have to negotiate that in secret. To the extent that anything leaks out about it, there is a huge public uproar.

30The importance of protecting the public from information was revealed very dramatically at the April Summit of the Americas. Every editorial office in the United States had on its desk two major publications, which were timed for release at the summit. One was by Human Rights Watch, the main human rights organization in the US. The second was by the Economic Policy Institute, a major economic analysis institute in Washington. Both studies investigated in depth the effects of NAFTA on working people in the three countries (the United States, Canada and Mexico). Now, NAFTA was presented at the summit as a tremendous triumph, that’s what George Bush said, and that’s how the headlines read, and it’s very easy to see why both studies were totally suppressed. The Human Rights Watch report described, in extensive detail, how labor rights were harmed in all three countries. The Economic Policy Institute report studied in detail how the wages, working conditions, etc., of working people were harmed in all three countries. This is one of those rare trade agreements which succeeded in harming everybody, in all three countries, at least apart from the people who count – they did fine.

31If you look at the effects on Mexico, they are particularly instructive for countries like India, or for any place in the South. There, the effects of NAFTA were particularly severe. In fact, Mexico began the neoliberal reforms about twenty years ago, and wages have declined steadily since then. That continued after NAFTA, with a twenty-five percent decline for salaried workers and a forty percent decline for the self-employed. And these are underestimates, because they don’t take into account the fact that the number of unsalaried workers increased greatly. So the actual effects were even worse. Foreign investment, for its part, grew after NAFTA – big headlines. There were no headlines for the fact that total investment declined. So foreign investment went up, but domestic investment went way down, and the economy was transferred into the hands of foreign multinationals. The minimum wage lost fifty percent of its purchasing power. Manufacturing declined and development stagnated, it may have reversed. Meanwhile, trade between the US and Mexico did increase. However, this increase related mainly to the component of trade that is internal to a firm, and that is centrally administered by a totalitarian system. That’s called “trade” by economists, but it is not trade in any meaningful sense. If General Motors moves something to Mexico to be assembled and sends it back to the United States for sale, that’s not trade. If you discount that, trade between Mexico and the United States may well have declined after NAFTA. Agriculture suffered a particularly severe blow for the usual reasons: Mexican farmers can’t compete with highly subsidized US agribusiness. These findings confirm what had been reported in the business press and academic studies, and the story is familiar around the world.

32Most of this had been predicted by critics of NAFTA, but they were wrong in one respect. Most critics, including me, anticipated that there would be a sharp increase in Mexico’s urban-rural ratio after NAFTA, as hundreds of thousands of peasants were driven off the land. In fact, this did not happen. The urban-rural ratio remained the same. The reason, apparently, is that conditions deteriorated so badly in the cities that there was a huge flight of people to the United States, from both countryside and city. And those who survived the crossing (many did not) work for very low wages, without benefits, under awful conditions. The effect is to destroy lives and communities in Mexico, but that’s not counted when you measure the effects of trade agreements. And it improves the US economy. One study of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation points out that consumption in the United States is subsidized by impoverishment of farm workers both in the United States and in Mexico. So it’s a benefit for the economy, for the health of the economy.

33These are the costs of NAFTA and of neoliberal corporate globalization generally. But those are costs that professional economics chooses not to measure. It’s a choice. You could measure those costs, if you wanted to. They’re called “externalities.” We don’t count them. But even by the highly ideological standard measures, which dismiss these, the costs have been very severe. And from what I’ve read, I understand that the same is true in India. But none of this was allowed to disturb the celebration of NAFTA and the Free Trade Agreement at the Summit of the Americas. In fact, unless people are connected to activist organizations, they cannot know any of this. They may know in their own lives or in the lives of people near them, but they can’t know that this is the general situation. And one effect of this is to make people feel like failures. There’s a fairy-tale economy out there, but my income is declining, and the people around me work harder, and so on. So there must be something wrong with us. In fact, “us” happens to be almost everybody. For about seventy-five percent of the US workforce, wages have stagnated or declined over the last twenty-five years, and the only way incomes are kept up is by increasing working hours. That’s globalization in the richest country in the world. People around the middle of the American working class – who are called middle-class Americans – work about a month extra a year per family just to keep wages stagnant. That’s by now, perhaps, the highest workload in the industrial world.

34That picture generalizes around the world, with some variations. The main exceptions are countries which did not follow “the religion that markets know best.” I’m quoting here from the latest Nobel Prize Laureate in economics, Joseph Stiglitz, in an article he wrote just before he was appointed Chief Economist of the World Bank, a position which he did not keep very long, because he kept making such annoying statements. He was kicked out. But what he said is correct. The countries that didn’t follow the religion that markets know best did succeed in extensive growth during the neoliberal period. Almost everywhere else, it was as I have just described, worse for countries like Mexico than for the United States.

35Furthermore, this is expected to continue. If you look at the provisions of the World Trade Organization, they deprive countries of exactly the mechanisms that were used for development. All of them are based on market interference. There isn’t a single rich, developed country that didn’t rely crucially on extensive market interference. That holds from England up to the East Asian NICs (Newly Industrialized Countries), and the United States dramatically. If the United States had followed the principle of comparative advantage that the poor must accept under contemporary neoliberalism, it would now be exporting fish. It would certainly not be exporting textiles. The only way it could develop textiles was through extremely heavy protectionist barriers that kept superior British textiles out. Actually, the reason Britain was producing textiles is because it did the same thing to India. It imposed heavy duties to keep Indian textiles out, and not just textiles, but also ships, steel, iron, manufacturing, all sorts of things, because they couldn’t compete. Meanwhile, India was compelled to follow liberal rules. It became what economic historians call “an ocean of liberalism,” and the results are obvious. Countries like the United States couldn’t have developed a steel industry, for the same reason. British steel was superior, just as Indian iron had been superior to British iron a century earlier, and it was changed the same way. And this goes right up to the present.

36Often a military cover is used for this. The dynamic source of the US economy is under the cover of the military system. It’s a massive state sector of the economy. That includes just about everything, the whole “new economy,” you know, electronics, computers, internet, telecommunications. You just go through the list; it’s mostly developed under a military cover. And if you look at the WTO rules, you’ll notice that they have a way of dealing with this. They allow for what’s called a national security exemption. So you’re allowed to violate the rules on grounds of national security. Okay, for Haiti that doesn’t help much. But for the United States it helps quite a lot, because it includes virtually the whole economy. The whole economy can be developed within a national security exemption, by placing it under the cutting edge of the military, and that’s exactly what is done. You can hear Alan Greenspan speaking about the wonders of the entrepreneurial economy and rugged individualism and so on, and he even lists examples of these things. If you look at these examples, every single one of them was developed in the state sector, extensively, over a long period. And it’s inconceivable that he doesn’t know this, this is common knowledge, but it’s not the kind of information that people have the right to.

37All this is dramatically clear from economic history. Just ask yourself the simple question: which countries developed? Well, the countries that developed were Europe, North America, Japan, a couple of the countries in the Japanese colonial system, and that’s about it. The rest of the world not only didn’t develop, but it was pretty much destroyed. There’s a characteristic in common to the countries that developed – they maintained their sovereignty; they were not colonized. And the correlation is extremely close; there are few correlations like that in history. Countries that maintained their own sovereignty and were able to violate the rules and integrate themselves into the economic system on their own terms, many of them did develop. Countries that lacked sovereignty and were subjected to external control, with only marginal exceptions, did not develop. Again, it takes a lot of discipline for economists and other intellectuals not to notice this fact. It’s quite striking. Under the contemporary versions, Britain succeeded in developing a textile industry by destroying the superior Indian textile industry, by protectionist devices and state intervention. But textiles were based on cotton, and cotton was cheap, and why was cotton cheap? Well, cotton was cheap because of an institution called slavery. Slavery is a rather severe market interference. But when you study market economies, you don’t count that. You don’t count the fact that there was a massive market interference, based on state violence of the most extreme kind, that kept the basic commodity cheap. Cotton was like oil today, and in fact, oil is kept cheap the same way. A huge part of the Pentagon budget is directed towards maintaining the price of oil within a certain range. A few studies count that about thirty percent of the oil price is a subsidy, and there are plenty of other energy subsidies. Well, those things just aren’t counted.

38But even if you take the things that are counted, the facts are very clear. Under the current version of traditional mechanisms, about half the population of the world right now is literally in receivership. That means their economic policies are managed by bureaucrats in Washington. But even in the rich countries, democracy is under attack by virtue of the shift of decision-making from governments, which may be partially responsible to the population, to private tyrannies that don’t have those defects. They are unaccountable, so they’re fine. Shift decisions to them, everything’s great. And that has very striking effects.

39Take, say, Latin America. Latin America has undergone a wave of democratization in the past fifteen years. Military dictatorships were replaced by democracies. But academic specialists who follow this closely have been observing for years that as democracy is extended in Latin America, disillusionment with democracy is increasing. And that trend continues. A recently-released study revealed that about half the population of Latin America would now support democracy, and about half would be willing to accept military dictatorship. The military dictatorships in Latin America were extremely brutal affairs, but after the wave of democratization about half the population wouldn’t mind if they came back. And the reasons are very clear. They’re reported, in fact, even in the business press. Commenting on this, the London Financial Times said that the reason is an alarming trend, which links declining economic fortunes with a lack of faith in the institutions of democracy. And the reason is that this much-praised new wave of democracy happened to coincide with neoliberal economic programs, which undermine democracy. So you get more formal democracy and more disillusionment with democracy. And indeed Latin America, which has followed the rules most religiously, has been one of the regions that had the worst economic record. It’s a correlation that holds world-wide.

40That also holds for the United States. I’m sure you read a lot about the big clamor about the “stolen election” of November 2000, you know those Florida votes, the Supreme Court, and so on. If you read closely you’ll notice that there was a huge issue for the press and elite commentators: they were very surprised about the fact that the public just didn’t care. The public expressed no concern over the fact that the election was stolen. And the reasons are very clear from extensive public opinion studies. They reveal that on the eve of the election (well, before the Florida shenanigans), about seventy-five percent of the population regarded the whole process as a farce. It was a game played by rich corporations who do the funding, party leaders who are all crooks, and the public relations industry, which is just crafting candidates to say things that you can’t believe even if you can understand them. So who cares what happens? If it’s stolen, what’s the difference? It doesn’t make any difference anyway. As these same studies reveal, there is a measure of what they call “helplessness,” an inability to affect anything that happens. That’s been going up very fast. It hit its highest level last November, with about half the population saying that people like us have little or no influence on what government does. That’s a very sharp rise right through the neoliberal period. Where there are issues that separate the public from the business world, they simply don’t appear on the agenda. Take international economic issues. The public has very strong feelings on this, and business has very strong feelings, but they’re opposite feelings. Accordingly, these issues cannot arise in the campaign. The Free Trade Area of the Americas, for example, could not be mentioned in the campaign. And that’s true in general of these things called “free trade agreements.” Actually, the business press more accurately calls them “free investment agreements.” That’s what we ought to call them. The free investment agreements are opposed by the public, supported by the business world and elites generally, therefore they cannot appear as issues in electoral campaigns.

41The constitutional system in the United States was actually designed, very consciously, to have this effect. James Madison, who was the main framer at the Constitutional Convention, explained that the goal of government is “to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” To achieve this, he said, political power must be placed in the hands of the “wealth of the nation,” men who can be trusted to secure “the permanent interests of the country,” which are the rights of the property owners, and to defend these interests against what he called “the levelling spirit” of the general population. And that continues to the present. It takes various forms, but that same principle is a leading principle of progressive political thought. Technical political scientist-types who write about these things say that it is wrong to describe the United States as a democracy, it should be described as a polyarchy. That is, a system where elites rule and the public ratifies. The public is supposed to show up every couple of years and say, you make the decisions, and then go home and buy shoes or something like that. That’s the ideal system, and from that point of view the November 2000 election didn’t reveal a flaw of American democracy, but revealed its triumph. And that triumph has been greatly enhanced by the neoliberal programs.

42Throughout all this, a crucial element is restriction of information. That’s why there is a huge public relations industry. They tell you what they are doing, it’s not a secret. Back in the 1920s, one of the founders of the PR industry (a kind of Roosevelt-Kennedy liberal) wrote in a classic manual that the goal of the industry is to regiment the public mind every bit as much as an army regiments the bodies of its soldiers. Indeed, that’s necessary, you can’t have democracy otherwise. Unless the population is totally regimented, you can’t allow democracy, because the population will do what they want, and that won’t be securing the permanent interests of the country, namely the rights of the rich who have to be protected from the majority. This is quite conscious, there’s nothing secret about it. It’s the standard political science literature, supported by major figures like Joseph Schumpeter, Walter Lippmann and others.

43The struggle to impose that regime takes many forms, and it never ends. It’s going to continue as long as there are high concentrations of power controlling decision-making. And it’s only reasonable to expect the masters to exploit every opportunity that they have, at the moment the fear and anguish in the face of the terrorist attacks. But there’s absolutely no reason to accept those rules, and fortunately many people are rejecting them. There has been a very impressive increase of opposition, in recent years, taking totally new forms. It mostly developed in the South, with the North joining recently. The masters of the universe are very scared. They recognize what is happening. The meeting in Qatar, I’m sure you know, is an expression of the fear that the public may become involved. If they could figure out how to meet in a space shuttle, they’d meet there. Just keep the public away, because it’s too dangerous. Every time the public breaks through, there is panic in the business press, literal panic. They know their control is extremely fragile; it can be destroyed at any time. It’s mainly a matter of not accepting the injunction to be passive and acquiescent, and realizing that power actually is in the hands of populations, particularly in the more free and democratic societies, where it’s impossible to use really massive force and violence to suppress the general population. These popular movements are unprecedented in scale. There’s been nothing like them in history, in the range of constituency and in international solidarity. And I think the future, to a very large extent, lies in their hands – and it’s very hard to overestimate what is at stake.

Question and Answer Session

44Moderator: There are many questions, about fifty, so they’ve been classified into four broad categories. The first set of questions, Professor Chomsky, refers to the so-called “clash of civilizations.” I’ll read one of them, and there are several like that: “Do you think that the present conflict between the Taliban and the US and its allies can take the shape of a clash of civilizations, as expected by Samuel Huntington?” Along with that there are related questions about the concept of religious fanaticism, and how fundamentalist tendencies around the world can be stopped.

45Chomsky: Let’s start with the first question, whether the US-Taliban confrontation has something to do with Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilizations. Remember the context of Huntington’s thesis, the context in which it was put forth. This was after the end of the Cold War. For fifty years, both the US and the Soviet Union had used the pretext of the Cold War as a justification for any atrocities that they wanted to carry out. So if the Russians wanted to send tanks to East Berlin, that was because of the Cold War. And if the US wanted to invade South Vietnam and wipe out Indochina, that was because of the Cold War. If you look at the history of this period, the pretext had nothing to do with the reasons. The reasons for the atrocities were domestically based in power interests, but the Cold War gave an excuse. Whatever the atrocity carried out, you could say it’s defense against the other side.

46After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pretext is gone. The policies remain the same. In fact, the policies continue about as before, with slight changes in tactics, but you need a new pretext. In fact, there’s been a search for pretexts for quite a long time. Actually, it started twenty years ago. When the Reagan Administration came in, it was already pretty clear that the pretext of the Russian threat was not going to work for very long. So they came into office saying that the focus of their foreign policy would be to combat the plague of international terrorism. That was twenty years ago. There’s nothing new about this. We have to defend ourselves from other terrorists. And they proceeded to react to that plague by creating the most extraordinary international terrorist network in the world, which carried out massive terror in Central America and southern Africa and all over the place. In fact, it was so extreme that its actions were even condemned by the World Court and Security Council. With 1989 coming, you needed some new pretexts. And it was very explicit. Remember, one of the tasks of intellectuals, the solemn task, is to prevent people from understanding what is going on. And in order to fulfill that task, you have to ignore the government documentation, for example, which tells you exactly what’s going on. And this is a case in point.

47Just to give you one illustration. Every year, the White House presents to Congress a statement of why we need a huge military budget. Every year, it used to be the same: the Russians are coming. The Russians are coming, so we need this monstrous military budget. The question that anyone who is interested in international affairs should have been asking himself or herself is what are they going to say in March 1990? That was the first presentation to Congress after the Russians clearly weren’t coming – they were not around anymore. So that was a very important and extremely interesting document. And of course, it is not mentioned anywhere, because it’s much too interesting. That was March 1990, the first Bush administration giving its presentation to Congress. It’s exactly the same, as every year. We need a huge military budget. We need massive intervention forces, mostly pointed at the Middle East. We have to protect what’s called the “defense industrial base” – that’s a euphemism for high-tech industry. We have to ensure that the public pays the costs of high-tech industry by funneling it through the military system, under the pretext of defense. So it’s exactly the same as before. The only difference was the reasons. It turned out that the reason we needed all this was not because the Russians were coming, but – I’m quoting – because of the “technological sophistication of Third World powers.” That’s why we need the huge military budget. The massive military forces aimed at the Middle East still have to be aimed there, and here comes an interesting phrase. It says that they have to be aimed at the Middle East, where “the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door.” In other words, sorry, I’ve been lying to you for fifty years, but now the Kremlin isn’t around anymore, so I’ve got to tell you the truth: the threat to our interests could not be laid at the Kremlin’s door. Remember, it couldn’t be laid at Iraq’s door either, because at that time Saddam Hussein was a great friend and ally of the United States. He had already carried out his worst atrocities, like gassing Kurds and everything else – but he remained a fine guy, hadn’t disobeyed orders yet, the one crime that matters. So nothing could be laid at Iraq’s door, or at the Kremlin’s door. In fact, the threat had to be laid right at the door where it always had been: subjugated nations might take control of their own destiny, including their own resources. And that can’t be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support brutal, oppressive states like Saudi Arabia and others, to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil – it’s not so much the oil as the profits from oil – flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Corporation, and so on. So that’s why we need massive military forces. Other than that, it’s the same.

48What does this have to do with Huntington? Well, he’s a respected intellectual. He can’t say this. He can’t say, look, it’s exactly the same as before. It’s always the method by which the rich run the world, and the major confrontation remains what it has always been: small concentrated sectors of wealth and power versus everybody else. You can’t say that. And, in fact, if you look at those passages on the clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds. So let’s put that out of our minds. You can’t think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can’t be the conflict. It’s got to be something else. So it will be the “clash of civilizations” – the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism.

49Well, you can test that. It’s a strange idea, but you can test it. You can test it, for example, by asking how the United States, the leader of the western civilization, has reacted to Islamic fundamentalists. Well, the answer is, it’s been their leading supporter. For instance, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist state in the world at that time was Saudi Arabia. Maybe it has been succeeded by the Taliban, but that’s an offshoot of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism. Saudi Arabia has been a client of the United States since its origins. And the reason is that it plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. And as long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, they’re just fine. That’s the most extreme fundamentalist state in the world.

50What is the biggest Muslim state in the world? Indonesia. And what’s the relation between the United States and Indonesia? Well, actually the United States was hostile to Indonesia until 1965. That’s because Indonesia was part of the Non-Aligned Movement. The United States hated Nehru, despised him in fact, for exactly the same reason. So they despised Indonesia. It was independent. Furthermore, it was a dangerous country, because it had one mass-based political party, the PKI, which was a party of the poor, a party of peasants, basically. And it was gaining power through the open democratic system; therefore it had to be stopped. The US tried to stop it in 1958, by supporting a rebellion. That failed. Then they started supporting the Indonesian army. And in 1965, the army carried out a coup, led by General Suharto. They massacred hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people (mostly landless peasants) and wiped out the only mass-based party. This led to unrestrained euphoria in the West. The United States, Britain, Australia – it was such a glorious event that they couldn’t control themselves. The headlines were, “A gleam of light in Asia,” “A hope where there once was none,” “The Indonesian moderates have carried out a boiling bloodbath,” “The greatest event in history.” I mean, they didn’t conceal what happened – staggering mass slaughter. The CIA compared it to the massacres of Stalin and Hitler, and that was wonderful. Ever since that time, Indonesia has been a favored ally of the United States. It continued to have one of the bloodiest records in the late twentieth century (mass murder in East Timor, hideous tortures of dissidents, and so on), but it was fine. It was the biggest Islamic state in the world, but it was just fine. Suharto was “our kind of guy,” the way Clinton described him when he visited in the mid-1990s. And he stayed a friend of the United States, until he made a mistake. He made a mistake by dragging his feet over IMF orders. After the Asian crash, the IMF imposed very harsh orders, and Suharto didn’t go along the way he was supposed to. And he also lost control of the society. That’s also a mistake. So at that point, the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, gave him a telephone call and literally said, “We think it’s time for a democratic transition.” Four hours later, merely by accident, he abdicated. But Indonesia remained a US favorite state.

51So that’s two of the Islamic states. What about the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors? Let’s say the Al Qaeda network. Who created them? That’s the creation of the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt, and so on. They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere in north Africa and the Middle East – trained them, armed them, nurtured them to harass the Russians, and not to help the Afghans. These guys were carrying out terrorism from the very beginning (they assassinated President Sadat twenty years ago), with the support of the United States. So where is the clash of civilizations?

52Let’s move a little further. During the 1980s, the United States carried out a major war in Central America. A couple of hundred thousand people were killed, four countries almost destroyed, I mean it was a vast war. Who was the target of that war? Well, one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. The decade of the 1980s began with the assassination of an archbishop. It ended with the assassination of six leading Jesuit intellectuals, including the rector of the main university. They were killed by basically the same people – terrorist forces, organized and armed and trained by the United States. During that period, plenty of church people were killed. Hundreds of thousands of peasants and poor people also died, as usual, but one of the main targets was the Catholic Church. Why? Well, the Catholic Church had committed a grievous sin in Latin America. For hundreds of years, it had been the church of the rich. That was fine. But in the 1960s, the Latin American bishops adopted what they called a “preferential option for the poor.” At that point, they became like this mass-based political party in Indonesia, which was a party of the poor and the peasants, and naturally it had to be wiped out. So the Catholic Church had to be smashed.

53Coming back to the beginning, just where is the clash of civilizations? I mean, there is a clash alright. There is a clash with those who are adopting the preferential option for the poor, no matter who they are. They can be Catholics, they can be communists, they can be anything else. They can be white, black, green, anything. Western terror is totally ecumenical. It’s not really racist – they’ll kill anybody who takes the wrong stand on the major issues. But if you’re an intellectual, you can’t say that. Because it’s too obviously true. And you can’t let people understand what is obviously true. You have to create deep theories that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we’re supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense.

54Moderator: Firstly, people seem to be very keen to know what you see as an alternative. What kinds of people’s movements do we need, and is there any hope of breaking this concentration of power and influence? That’s one. As for the other set of questions, I’ll just read one, which captures many others: “How many students whom you have taught continue to follow or act upon your teachings? And in essence, is there some kind of mass hypnosis, or what kind of reaction do you get to your speeches in the United States?”

55Chomsky: Well, the second question is easier, so let me start with that. I teach graduate courses in linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’ve been involved in things like this most of my life. I’ve been involved in resistance, in and out of jail, all sorts of things. But I don’t let it interfere with teaching. So it does not enter into my teaching. If students know about that side of my life, it’s because they come to talks, or read what I write, or something. So essentially, the influence on students, say, in my own department is the same as it is everywhere else. It’s nothing to do with anything that happens in a graduate seminar. You can argue about this approach, but in my view that’s the way it ought to be done. Anyhow, that’s what I’ve done.

56As for my influence on others, well, you know the way the United States works. It’s a very free country. There is very little state repression by comparative standards, especially if you’re more or less privileged, as I am, like most of us are. But you can be excluded. So you’re excluded from the mainstream, especially the parts that are more to the left-liberal side. Those are the real connoisseurs. They have to make sure that you go this far and not one millimeter further. So there are blocks. On the other hand, there are plenty of opportunities to reach other people. I mean, a few days before I came here, I gave a talk in Boston which had an audience of about two or three thousand people and was broadcast live over the internet, and all sorts of things. And that goes on all the time. And it’s not just me. It’s other people who spend their lives the same way. So there’s very large outreach. Today’s gathering is also part of it. This doesn’t create popular movements by any means. In fact, it responds to them. It’s the popular movements that create the opportunities for things like this. All these hundreds of talks I give all over the place are organized by somebody; they’re organized by local people who are carrying out some kind of work. It may be with women or working people or the homeless or immigrants or a million other things, and they want somebody to come and give a talk for a fundraiser, or take part in a demonstration, whatever it may be. Those are the opportunities, and they reach huge numbers of people. It is because of these activities that the country has changed radically in the last thirty or forty years. It’s a totally different country, much more civilized than it was forty years ago. That’s why the sixties are so hated, so denounced in elite discussion. The reason is that they had a very substantial civilizing effect on the society, in many different ways. Women’s rights, environmental issues, opposition to aggression, the anti-nuclear movement, and so on – all this goes back to the sixties. It was there before, but it really took off after the sixties.

57In fact, a striking indication of this civilizing effect of the sixties is that this is the first time in US history, after hundreds of years, that some attention was paid to the fate of the indigenous population. Remember, that country was built on massive ethnic cleansing. Millions of people were exterminated. There were 7 or 8 million indigenous people, maybe more. They’re not around anymore. They were just exterminated. And this was never an issue, never discussed. Textbooks, if they talked about it, praised it. When I grew up, as a kid we would play cowboys and Indians, where we were the cowboys, and we’d kill the Indians. That was just normal. The leading diplomatic history of the United States, by Thomas Bailey, a liberal historian writing in 1969, describes how the colonists, after kicking out the British, turned to their next task, namely “felling trees and Indians and expanding their natural borders.” So there were trees in the way, and there were Indians in the way, and we sort of knocked them all down and expanded the national borders. That wasn’t considered an odd thing to say at that time. I mean, it’s so deeply rooted that some of the things that happened are mind-boggling. For example, think about the Israeli helicopters being used to assassinate Palestinian political leaders. Two questions: Where did the helicopters come from? Israel doesn’t produce helicopters. They were sent by Clinton and Bush for that purpose, knowing that that’s what they are for. Furthermore, what’s the name of the helicopters? Tomahawk, Apache, that sort of thing. In fact, the weapons of war in the United States are named after the victims of genocide. If in Germany these days they named the helicopters of the Luftwaffe “Jew” and “Gypsy,” people would think there’s something wrong with that culture. But this goes on, and nobody notices it. Well, thirty years ago nobody would have noticed it. Now, some people do notice it. And there is some concern over what happened. That’s part of the civilizing effect of the sixties.

58And out of this grew mass popular organizations of all kinds. The Central American solidarity movements of the 1980s were something completely new in the history of imperialism. First of all, they were huge. Secondly, people didn’t just protest. They didn’t just have demonstrations. They went and lived with the victims. There were people who went and lived in Salvadoran villages, partly in the hope that they could help, but also because they thought that perhaps if there is a white face around it will restrain the state terrorists that their own country was organizing. This had never happened before. I mean, in no imperial war that I can remember did massive numbers of citizens go to protect the victims of their own country. That level of engagement is quite new. Thirdly, it’s also interesting that this was not coming from the left. Some of it was, but not most of it. In fact, it was mainly rooted in conservative Christian mainstream communities, many of them were fundamentalists – in fact, Christian fundamentalists. It was very deeply rooted in mainstream US society, right out of main street Iowa. And it was very courageous and very honorable, something totally new. Well, that’s another reflection of the same developments.

59And this does not come from nowhere. We all know where it comes from. It comes from people organizing in their own community, or their own workplace, or whatever group they happen to be involved in, integrating with one another, making bigger organizations, linking up. By now, the linkages are worldwide. The major movements, by far, are in the South, in countries like India, and Brazil, and others. They’re not noticed much in the West, because who cares what those people are doing, but that’s the source of the anti-corporate globalization movement and plenty of other things. I don’t have to tell you, you know way more about it than I do. That’s the way things change. Every significant change in history has come about that way. And the next ones will too. And I think the next big changes are closer than we think, because the system of domination is extremely fragile, as I mentioned. And they know it. That’s why it is based on such extensive secrecy. If you let people know what’s going on, it’s going to collapse. That can hold together for a while, but it’s a fragile system, and we know just how to change it – by popular organization. It’s not just a matter of opposing what’s going on, but also of creating – I’ll quote Bakunin – “the facts of the future in the present society.” You build up the kinds of institutions that should exist in the future society, and let them begin to work and to flourish. Whether they are workers’ control in industry, or cooperative villages, or women’s groups, whatever they may be. Start building them. Let them work and function, and they’ll be the future, once concentrated power is so weakened that it can’t survive. How you get the changes, you can’t predict, but that’s the path that’s worked in the past. That’s why we don’t live under feudalism, and slavery, and all kinds of horrors of the past that are mostly gone. And that’s the way you go on.

60Moderator: The fourth set of questions focuses on globalization. Here is one that subsumes many others: “What do you think would be the effect if India continues with the present policies of globalization and integration with the global economy?”

61Chomsky: What would be the effect if India continues with accepting neoliberalism and integrating into the global economy on neoliberal terms? Well, I think there are a couple of centuries of history that give you an answer to that. There are differences of course, but in many ways that’s what happened since the eighteenth century. England imposed a very liberal regime on India. Meanwhile, England itself maintained a very powerful state, the most powerful in Europe, with very high protection. Its labor management system was also quite different from India’s; in fact, there is some very interesting scholarly work just coming out on this. The Cambridge University series on Indian history and society has just published a book by Prasannan Parthasarathi, based on a Harvard dissertation, I forget the title, but it’s about weavers in South India in the eighteenth century. By the early nineteenth century, the weaving economy in South India was a total disaster story. The bones of the weavers were bleaching the plains of India, and all that. In the eighteenth century, they were doing quite well. In fact, his investigations show, fairly convincingly, that they were better off than workers in England. They had higher purchasing power. They had much more control of their work. They were mobile. This was ended by British state power. The British came in first through the East India Company, which basically was a state outfit, and then just by force, and they introduced British-style labor management rules. That meant cutting back mobility, so that workers can’t resist by going somewhere else, imposing tight restrictions, breaking down the market relations which did exist in India. And that smashed the weavers. So within a century you get a disaster, which still continues. And if you look at history, that’s the way it has been. Countries that were compelled to adopt real market principles were destroyed, and those that were able to control their own destiny by resisting colonization, and invariably relied quite heavily on state intervention for development (often in brutal ways), those countries developed.

62If India decides to go back to what it was in the eighteenth century, you can predict what will happen. Right through the Raj, there was a sector of Indian society that was very wealthy. The Raj was run by Indians, not by the British. The British were in the background, but the place was mostly run by Indians, even the army. Until the 1857 Anglo-Indian war, the army was mostly sepoys. They were controlling the Indian population. Furthermore, that’s the way it is in every other country too. So there’ll be a sector of Indian society that will do fine. Most of the population will suffer. The general economy will be reliant on outsiders, won’t be able to control itself. And you’ll somehow probably relive the past. That’s what I would suspect. On the other hand, of course, the world isn’t the same as it was two hundred years ago, so it’s not going to be a duplicate. But the patterns are pretty clear.

63Just think about it, there’s not a single society that is rich and developed today that followed liberal principles. Every single one of them radically violated them, including England. I mean, England did finally turn to free trade in 1846, but at that time England had already achieved twice the per capita capitalization of any other country, so the playing field looked level – you know, tilted in our direction. By that time, Indian manufacture had been pretty much destroyed. And even in the free trade period, England didn’t rely on free trade. I mean, I think about forty percent of English exports went to India, its own colony. That’s not free trade. When England could no longer compete with Germany in manufacturing, it still had the controlled Indian market. This continued until the 1920s. In the 1920s, England was no longer able to compete with Japanese manufacturing, so they simply called the whole game off. In 1932, England closed off the Empire, including India, to Japanese imports. That’s part of the background for the Pacific War. The Dutch did the same in what was then the East Indies. The United States did the same in the Philippines. That’s part of the background for the Second World War. I mean, everybody’s perfectly happy with free trade, as long as we’re going to win. If it looks like there’s some problem, then you stop it.

64The United States is the perfect example. I mentioned the national security exemptions. The national security exemptions in the WTO are just a way for the United States to have a very dynamic state sector, which is the innovative part of the economy, where the public pays the costs. Look at Ronald Reagan – nobody was more full of passionate rhetoric about free trade than the Reaganites. Yet they were the most protectionist government in postwar US history. They doubled the barriers to imports. They were bitterly denounced by the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the predecessor of the WTO, for having led the assault against free trade. But that didn’t stop them from spouting the wonders of free trade for other countries. And it’s the same right up to the present.

65Moderator: We’ll end with two questions from the press. The first one is: “Mr. Chomsky, could you tell us something about the depoliticization process associated with the involvement of Non-Governmental Organizations and funding agencies in Third World countries?”

66Chomsky: Yes, I understand. Well, I mean, all of you know, it’s a very double-edged kind of business. There are many NGOs that do really good things. On the other hand, one effect of the NGOs, quite commonly, is to take decisions away from the communities, and also to give the state an excuse not to be concerned with the things it ought to be concerned with, like health and education and so on. Serious NGOs, those that are concerned with authentic development and democratization and rights (a lot of them are just kind of power agencies, agencies of some state, or corporations, or whatever), have to be very wary of this. They should follow the lead of the communities, not dictate to them. And they should not provide a means for the governing authorities to transfer power to corporations and say, we’re not going to care about health and welfare. And there’s no simple answer. I mean, they deal with these things in different ways. Some of them, I think, do pretty well. Like, take Oxfam. As far as I’m aware, around the world, it’s handled these problems reasonably well. In other cases, the results are not so good.

67Moderator: Here is the final question, again from the press: “Do you suggest some change in the political system? You oppose democracy, you oppose communism, so what kind of political system should we have so that all these issues are taken care of?”

68Chomsky: Well, I think democracy might be a good idea. This reminds me of a statement attributed to Gandhi. I don’t know if he actually said it or not, but he is supposed to have been asked what he thought of western civilization, and to have answered, “It would be a good idea.” And I think you can say the same about democracy. True, functioning democracy, meaning local control of decision-making in every structure (community, a workplace, a collective, a peasant association, whatever), that should be the basis of a decent, reasonable society, with further integration and federation from the bottom up, as is feasible and beneficial, all the way to international organizations. This is just the traditional anarchist idea. It’s not a novel idea; I’m not saying anything new. And it’s the natural direction in which a commitment to democracy ought to lead, I think. There are plenty of barriers to it, but they can be overcome. In fact, just think of the barriers. In the twentieth century, three forms of totalitarianism developed: Bolshevism, fascism, and corporations. They really are three forms of totalitarianism. And in fact they have the same, pretty much the same intellectual roots. They come out of neo-Hegelian ideas about the rights of organic entities over individuals – a big attack on classical liberalism. Well, two of those forms of totalitarianism were overthrown. The third one is rampant. But it’s no more engraved in stone than the other two. In fact, I think it’s weaker. It doesn’t have the same kind of coercive force behind it. So it can be overthrown, too, in favor of democratic control.

Notes de fin

1 Lecture delivered at the Delhi School of Economics on 5 November 2001, at the invitation of the National Campaign for the People’s Right to Information.


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