Noam Chomsky has not just been watching the Occupy movement. A veteran of the civil rights, antiwar and anti-intervention movements of the 1960s through the 1980s, he’s given lectures at Occupy Boston and talked with occupiers across the United States. A new publication from the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series brings together several of those lectures, a speech on “occupying foreign policy” and a brief tribute to his friend and co-agitator Howard Zinn.
From his speeches, and in this conversation, it’s clear that the emeritus MIT professor and author is as impressed by the spontaneous, cooperative communities some Occupy encampments created as he is by the movement’s political impact.
We’re a nation whose leaders are pursuing policies that amount to economic “suicide,” Chomsky says. But there are glimmers of possibility—in worker cooperatives, and other spaces where people get a taste of a different way of living. We talked in his office, for Free Speech TV on April 24.
Let’s start with the big picture. How do you describe the situation we’re in, historically?
There is either a crisis or a return to the norm of stagnation. One view is the norm is stagnation and occasionally you get out of it. The other is that the norm is growth and occasionally you can get into stagnation. You can debate that, but it’s a period of close to global stagnation. In the major state capitalist economies, Europe and the US, it’s low growth and stagnation and a very sharp income differentiation a shift—a striking shift—from production to financialization.
The US and Europe are committing suicide in different ways. In Europe it’s austerity in the midst of recession, and that’s guaranteed to be a disaster. There’s some resistance to that now. In the US, it’s essentially off-shoring production and financialization and getting rid of superfluous population through incarceration. It’s a subtext of what happened in Cartagena [Colombia] last week with the conflict over the drug war. Latin America wants to decriminalize at least marijuana (maybe more, or course); the US wants to maintain it. An interesting story. There seems to me no easy way out of this….
Again there are differences, In Europe there’s an dangerous growth of ultra-xenophobia, which is pretty threatening to any one who remembers the history of Europe…and an attack on the remnants of the welfare state. It’s hard to interpret the austerity-in-the-midst-of-recession policy as anything other than attack on the social contract. In fact, some leaders come right out and say it. Mario Draghi the president of the European Central Bank had an interview with the Wall Street Journal in which he said the social contract’s dead; we finally got rid of it.