Sunday, May 03, 2015

Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian, 18 March 2015 (on South America, Podemos and Syriza)

Noam Chomsky with David Barsamian, Conversation, 18 March 2015

(this is an excerpt) starts at 

Barsamian: You were just in Argentina and met with some activists from the Podemos movement in Spain. What were your impressions?

Chomsky: Well, this was an international conference of activists from around the world, mostly South America but some from Spain, some from Greece, Syriza and others. And it reflects some of the positive developments in the world. One of the major positive developments internationally in the past, for a long time, has been what has taken place in South America over the past roughly fifteen years. South America for five hundred years since the early conquests had been dominated by foreign powers. The South American countries themselves were—the typical structure was that a small Europeanized, mostly-white elite, extremely wealthy, in the sea of misery and poverty. The elites were oriented towards the outside. They had their second homes in Riviera, they sent their money to Zurich and so on. There were little interactions among South American countries.

In the South American countries where the most religious students of the neoliberal policies, structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the IMF and Treasure department, they were the ones who suffered most naturally. But in the last ten or fifteen years they pulled out of this for the first time. It’s a major change in world affairs. South America used to be regarded here as what's called our backyard. They did whatever we told them, we don't pay attention to them. Now, South America's out of control.

You take a look at the hemispherical conferences, the United States is isolated. In fact, the primary reason why Obama made some steps towards normalizing relations with Cuba is that the US was utterly isolated on that issue in the whole hemisphere. They were trying to get some kind of arrangements before the Summit of Americas which is coming up soon and they didn’t quite make it. But that's the goal. This is a huge change. And that's why the conference was in South America but there were participants from particularly Podemas and Syriza. These are in Greece.

Europe has been subjected to a program of…a kind of a savage economic program which has seriously undermined European democracy. It has been devastating for the weaker, peripheral countries. It's beginning to dismantle Europe's major post Second World War achievement. The social democratic welfare state programs, I think that’s the purpose of the policies, is economically destructive. These are the policies of austerity under recession, even the International Monetary Fund's is crazy from an economic point of view. But they make some sense from the point of view of class war. They are enriching the big banks and they're dismantling social programs and so on.

Well, there's a reaction. The reaction was from first in Greece, which has suffered most. And the German banks which are basically responsible for these crises are reacting in an absolutely savage way to try to prevent Greece from taking steps that might extricate itself from the disaster that's been imposed. Greece is calling for restructuring of its debt, delaying debt payments and so on.

This is particularly ironic because Germany in 1953 was permitted by the European countries to cancel its major debts. That's the basis for German recovery. That's why it's the dynamic center of Europe. Secondly, Germany practically destroyed Greece during the Second World War. Well, put all this together, Greece is now asking for a limited element of what Germany was granted in 1953. And the powers in Germany, the bank of Bundesbank, is just flatly refusing in a very savage way.

They may get away with Greece, because Greece is a pretty weak country. Spain is going to be harder nut to crack. That's a bigger country and a more powerful economy. In Spain, in the last couple of years, two or three years, a new political party developed. Podemas, which, by now, is running first in the polls. And it is also a party dedicated in a pretty pragmatic sensible way to reversing the austerity programs, sustaining, rebuilding the shadow economy, so-called welfare state programs, and moving the country towards constructive development. In Spain as well, the criminals, the ones who caused the crisis, were the banks. The Spanish banks and the German banks. But they want the population to pay.

Notice that none of them believe in capitalism. In a capitalist society, (to Barsamian) I lend money to you and since I know you, I know it’s a risky loan.(laughs) Therefore, I get a lot of interests and make a lot of money out of it. If to a certain point you can't pay, it's my problem in a capitalist society, but not in a society in which we live. The problem is your problem and your neighbors’ problem. Your neighbors didn't take that debt that they got to pay for it. That's the way our system works, radically anti-capitalist. It makes sense on class warfare grounds but has no resemblance to markets or capitalism.

And that's what's been going on but there is a struggle against it. And Podemos is worth keeping an eye on. They have sensible programs. They might win the next election which is coming up soon. And it's not going to be easy for the Brussels bureaucrats and the German banks, northern banks, to crush Spanish initiatives.

Barsamian: One last question. You grew up in the 30s at a time when solidarity meant something. There was mutual support. There was an active labor movement. What is it going to take in 2015 to rekindle that spirit of solidarity?

Chomsky: Well, remember what happened in the 30s. The labor movement was in fact in the forefront. There was CIO organizing, sit-down strikes and so on. They had a sympathetic administration. So, the Roosevelt administration was willing to accommodate to some extent to the pressures developing among the public labor movement spearheading it, which did lead to the New Deal legislations which were very beneficial to the population and to the economy. But go back to the 1920s, the labor movement had been destroyed. There was practically nothing left of it. One of the leading labor historians, David Montgomery, who died recently, has a book “Fall of the House of Labor.” And it's about the 1920s when there had been a lively vibrant active pretty radical American labor movement. But it had been crushed by a brutal attack.

 This is a very much business-run society. And the business classes are highly class conscious, constantly fighting class war, have state power supporting them. And they were able to crush and destroyed the labor movement. But it revived. And it can revive again. And other popular movements can as well too. And there is a basis for it. (applause)

The basis for it is the quite positive changes that have taken place since the 1960s. In many ways, it is a much more civilized society than it was at that time, in many issues. And I think that is a basis for recreating the kind of solidarity, mutual aid, working together, dedication and commitment. That is very necessary today. We can’t overlook the fact that we're in a moment of human history, which is entirely unique. For the first time in human history, we're at a position where the decisions that we will make will determine whether the species survives. That was not true in the past. It is very definitely true now. These are not small questions.

Barsamian: It is quite a sobering note. And as we bring this evening to a close, in Hindi there's a word called Sēvā. It means service. And I can think of no one who has performed more sēvā,  more service for humankind than you. Thank you very much.