Keeping the Rabble in Line Copyright © 1994 by Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian
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January 21, 1993
DB: It's a given that ideology and propaganda are phenomena of other cultures. They don't exist in the United States. Class is in the same category. You've called it the "unmentionable five-letter word."
It's kind of interesting the way it works. For example, there was quite an interesting study done by Vicente Navarro, a professor at Johns Hopkins, who works on public health issues. There are lots of statistics about things like quality of life, infant mortality, life expectancy, etc., usually broken down by race. It always turns out that blacks have horrible statistics as compared with whites; there's a huge gap. He decided to reanalyze the statistics, separating out the factors of race and class. So, let's look at white workers and black workers versus white executives and black executives. He discovered that a considerable part of the distinction between blacks and whites was actually a class difference. That's natural because there's a correlation between race and class. If you look at poor white people, white workers, and white executives, the gap between them is enormous. He did the study, obviously of relevance to epidemiology and public health. He submitted it to the major American medical journals. They all rejected it. He then sent it to the world's leading medical journal, Lancet, in Britain. They accepted it right away.
In the United States you're not allowed to talk about class differences. In fact, only two groups are allowed to be class conscious in the United States. One of them is the business community, which is rabidly class conscious. When you read their literature, it's all full of the danger of the masses and their rising power and how we have to defeat them. It's kind of vulgar Marxist, except inverted. The other is the high planning sector of the government. So they're full of it, too. How we have to worry about the rising aspirations of the common man and the impoverished masses who are seeking to improve standards and harming the business climate. So they can be class conscious. They have a job to do. But it's extremely important to make other people, the rest of the population, believe that there is no such thing as class. We're all just equal. We're all Americans. We live in harmony. We all work together. Everything is great.
There's a book, Mandate for Change, put out by the Progressive Policy Institute, the Clinton think tank. It's a description of the program for the Clinton administration. It was part of the campaign literature, a book you can buy at an airport newsstand. It has a section on "entrepreneurial economics," which is going to avoid the pitfalls of the right and the left. It gives up these old fashioned liberal ideas about entitlement, welfare mothers have a right to feed their children, that's all passé. We're not going to have any more of that stuff. We now have "enterprise economics," in which we improve investment and growth. The only people we want to help are workers and the firms in which they work. There are workers, there are the enterprises in which they work, and that's who we're interested in benefitting. We're going to help them.
There's somebody missing from this story. There are no managers, no bosses, no investors. They don't exist. It's just workers and the firms in which they work. We're going to help them. The word "entrepreneurs" shows up. Entrepreneurs are people who assist the workers and the firms in which they work. The word "profits" appears once. I don't know how that sneaked in, that's another dirty word, like "class." But the picture is, all of us are workers. There are firms in which we work. We would like to improve the firms in which we work, like you'd like to improve your kitchen. Get a new refrigerator. Improve the firm in which you work. That's all they're interested in, just helping us folks out there.
Another mechanism used to achieve the same result is a kind of interesting innovation in the language in the last couple of years. That's the word "jobs." It's now used to mean "profits." So when, say, George Bush took off to Japan with Lee Iacocca and the rest of the auto executives, you remember his slogan was "Jobs, jobs, jobs." That's what he was going for. We know exactly how much George Bush cares about jobs. All you have to do is look at what happened during his tenure in office, when the number of unemployed and underemployed has now reached about seventeen million or so officially. I don't know what is unofficially, about another eight million, a million of them during his term. He was trying to create conditions for exporting jobs overseas. He continued to help out with the undermining of unions and the lowering of real wages. So what does he mean when he says and the media shout, "Jobs, jobs, jobs"? It's obvious: "Profits, profits, profits." Figure out a way to increase profits. So it goes down the line.
The idea is to create a picture among the population that we're all one happy family. We're America. We have a national interest. We're working together. There's us nice workers, the firms in which we work, the media that labor to tell us the truth about the things that matter to us, the government that works for us. We pick them. They're our servants. And that's all there is in the world, no other conflicts, no other categories of people, no further structure to the system beyond that. Certainly nothing like class. Unless you happen to be in the ruling class, in which case you're very well aware of it.
DB: So then issues like class oppression and class warfare, equally exotic, occur only in obscure books and on Mars?
Or in the business press, where it's written about all the time, and the business literature, or in internal government documents. It exists there because they have to worry about it.
DB: You use the term "elite." Samir Amin says it confers too much dignity upon them. He prefers "ruling class." Incidentally, a more recent invention is "the ruling crass."
The only reason I don't use the word "class" is that the terminology of political discourse is so debased it's hard to find any words at all. That's part of the point, to make it impossible to talk. For one thing, "class" has various associations. As soon as you say the word "class," everybody falls down dead. There's some Marxist raving again. But the other thing is that to do a really serious class analysis, you can't just talk about the ruling class. Are the professors at Harvard part of the ruling class? Are the editors of the New York Times part of the ruling class? Are the bureaucrats in the State Department? There are differentiations, a lot of different categories of people. So you can talk vaguely about the establishment or the elites or the people in the dominant sectors. But you can't get away from the fact that there are sharp differences in power which in fact are ultimately rooted in the economic system. You can talk about the masters, if you like. It's Adam Smith's word, you might as well go back to that. They are the masters, and they follow what he called their "vile maxim," namely "all for ourselves and nothing for other people." That's a good first approximation to it, since Adam Smith is now in fashion.
DB: You say that class transcends race, essentially.
In an important sense, I think it does. For example, the United States could become a color-free society. It's possible. I don't think it's going to happen, but it's perfectly possible that it would happen, and it wouldn't change the political economy, hardly at all. Just as you could remove the "glass ceiling" for women and that wouldn't change the political economy at all. That's one of the reasons why you quite commonly find the business sector reasonably willing, often happy to support efforts to overcome racism and sexism. It basically doesn't matter that much. You lose a little white male privilege, but that's not all that important. On the other hand, basic changes in the core institutions would be bitterly resisted, if they ever became thinkable.
DB: And you can pay the women less.
You can pay them the same amount. Take England. They just went through ten pleasant years with the Iron Lady running things. Even worse than Reaganism.
DB: So in this pyramid of control and domination, where there's class and race and gender bias, sexism, lingering in the shadows, certainly in the liberal democracies, is coercion, force.
That comes from the fact that objective power is concentrated. Objective power lies in various places: in patriarchy, in race. Crucially it lies in ownership. It's very much worth overcoming the other forms of oppression. For people's lives, they may be much worse than the class oppression. When a kid was lynched in the South, that was worse than being paid low wages. So when we talk about what's at the core of the system of oppression and what isn't, that can't be spelled out in terms of suffering. Suffering is an independent dimension, and you want to overcome suffering.
On the other hand, if you think about the way the society works in general, it works pretty much the way the founding fathers said. The society should be governed by those who own it, and they intend to follow Adam Smith's vile maxim. That's at the core of things. Lots of other things can change and that can remain and we will have pretty much the same forms of domination.
DB: You've said the real drama since 1776 has been the "relentless attack of the prosperous few upon the rights of the restless many." I want to ask you about the "restless many." Do they hold any cards?
Sure. They've won a lot of victories. The country's a lot more free than it was two hundred years ago. For one thing, we don't have slaves. That's a big change. You recall that Thomas Jefferson's goal, at the very left-liberal end, was to create a country without "blot or mixture," meaning no red Indians, no black people, good white, Anglo-Saxons. That's what the liberals wanted. They didn't succeed. They did pretty much get rid of the native population. But they couldn't get rid of the black population and they've had to incorporate them in some fashion into the society over time. Women finally received the franchise one hundred and fifty years after the Revolution. The right of freedom of speech was vastly extended. Workers finally won some rights in the 1930s, about fifty years after they did in Europe, after a very bloody struggle. They've been losing them ever since, but they won them to some extent. In many ways large parts of the general population were integrated into the system of relative prosperity, relative freedom, almost always as a result of popular struggle. The general population has lots of cards. That's something that David Hume pointed out a couple of centuries ago as a kind of paradox of government. In his work on political theory, he asks why the population submits to the rulers, since force is in the hands of the governed. Therefore, ultimately the governors, the rulers, can only rule if they control opinion. He says this is true of the most despotic societies and the most free. There is a constant battle between those who refuse to accept it and those who are trying to force them to accept it.
DB: How to break from the system of indoctrination and propaganda? You've said that it's nearly impossible for individuals to do anything, that's it's much easier and better to act collectively. What prevents people from getting associated?
There's a big investment involved. Anybody lives within a cultural and social framework which has certain values and certain opportunities. It assigns cost to various kinds of action and benefits to others. You just live in that. You can't help it. We live in one that assigns benefits to efforts to achieve individual gain. Any individual can ask himself or herself, let's say I'm the father or mother of a family, what do I do with my time? I've got twenty four hours a day. If I've got children to take care of, a future to worry about, what do I do? One thing you can do is try to play up to the boss and see if you can get a dollar more an hour, or maybe kick somebody in the face when you walk past them. If not do it directly, do it indirectly, by the mechanisms that are set up for you within a capitalist society. That's one way. The other way you can do it is by spending your evenings going around trying to organize other people who will then spend their evenings at meetings, go out on a picket line, carry out a long struggle in which they'll be beaten up by the police and lose their jobs. Maybe they'll finally get enough people together so they'll ultimately achieve a gain, which may or may not be greater than the gain that you tried to achieve by following the individualist course. People have to make those choices. They make them within a framework of existing structures. Within the framework of existing structures, although it harms everyone in the long run, the choices for a particular individual are to maximize personal gain. In game theory it's called "prisoner's dilemma." You can set up things called "games," interactions, in which each participant will gain more if they work together, but you only gain if the other person works with you. If the other person is trying to maximize his or her own gain, you lose.
Let me take a simple case, driving to work. It would take me longer to take public transportation than to drive to work. As long as everybody else is driving, that's the way it's going to be. If we all took the subway and put the money into that instead of into roads, we'd all get there faster by the subway. But we all have to do it. It's only if we all do something a different way that we'll all benefit a lot more. The costs to you, to an individual, of working to try to create the possibilities to do things together can be severe. It's only if lots of people begin to do it, and do it seriously, that you get real benefits.
The same was true of every popular movement that ever existed. Suppose you were a twenty-year-old black kid in Atlanta in 1960, at Spelman College. You had two choices. One is: I'll try to get a job in a business somewhere. Maybe somebody will be willing to pick a black manager. I'll be properly humble and bow and scrape. Maybe I'll live in a middle-class home. That's one path. The other path was to join SNCC, in which case you might get killed. You were certainly going to get beaten and defamed. It would be a very tough life for a long time. Maybe in the long term you'll finally be able to create enough popular support that people like you and your family and your children will live better. It was hard to make that second choice, given the alternatives available. Fortunately, a lot of young people did, and it's a better world because of it. But society is very much structured to try to drive you toward the individualist alternative.
DB: You've noted polls that indicate that alienation from institutions keeps increasing. You've observed that the population is going in one way, toward Orlando, and the policy is going toward Santa Monica, in a completely different direction. Eighty-three percent regard the entire economic system as "inherently unfair." But it doesn't translate into anything.
It can only translate into anything if people do something about it. That's true whether you're talking about general things, like the inherent unfairness of the economic system, which requires revolutionary change, or about small things. Take, say, health insurance. Even though in public very few articulate voices call for what's called a "Canadian style" system, the kind of system that they have more or less everywhere in the world, an efficient, nationally organized public health system that guarantees health services for everyone and if it were serious, as Canada isn't enough, would also do preventive care. But polls have shown for years that most of the population are in favor of it anyway, even though they've never heard anybody advocate it. Does it matter? No. There will be some kind of insurance company based, "managed" health care system which is designed to ensure that the insurance companies and the health corporations that they run will make plenty of money. The only way we could get what most of the population wants with regard to health care is either by a large-scale popular movement, which would mean moving towards democracy, and nobody in power is going to want that, or else if the business community decides that it's good for them. Which they might. Because this highly bureaucratized, extremely inefficient system designed for the benefit of one sector of the private enterprise system happens to harm other sectors. Auto companies pay more in health benefits here than they would across the border. They notice that. They may press for a more efficient system that breaks away from the extreme inefficiencies and irrationalities of the capitalist based system.
DB: Edward Herman wrote a book about elections in U.S. client states called Demonstration Elections. That might describe what happens in the United States. What functions do elections serve here?
Today is the 21st of January. As anybody who bothered watching television for the last two or three days knows, it's supposed to make people feel good about themselves and that something wonderful is happening. We have a marvelous country. There's hope. There's a young man there with a pretty wife. They're baby boomers. Now everything's going to be great. So it's a way of overcoming the growing alienation, at least for a short period, without doing anything. It's like Roman circuses. I don't want to suggest it's of zero significance. There is some significance. How much, you can debate. But the hoopla about it, the big celebrations, is simply at the level of Roman circuses. You have to do something for the population.
DB: Talking about bread and circuses, the Romans would be in awe. Did you hear about the Elvis stamp? There were two choices. One showed the young Elvis in his prime, and the other a more mature Elvis. The Post Office ran an expensive publicity campaign and millions of people voted. They picked the younger Elvis and lined up in the middle of the night to buy the first stamps. Bread and circuses. Give them something really meaningful to vote on.
Right. And get people excited about that and they won't worry too much about the fact that the economy is inherently unfair or their real wages are declining or their children are not going to live as well as they do. Let them worry about Elvis.
DB: You've called the function of the President of the United States the "CEO of corporate America."
If you want to know how they feel about Bill Clinton, look at the stock market. It's doing rather nicely.
DB: Business right after the election was very positive.
There was an article yesterday in the London Financial Times, the major international business journal, pointing out that the stock market was looking at Clinton and thinking he was doing the right things. Investors are happy.
DB: It's only in America that a billionaire can run for President and pose as a populist, as Ross Perot did. What was your take on his candidacy and the whole Perot phenomenon?
The most interesting period, I thought, was when he just appeared, at the very beginning. He could have come from Mars, as far as anyone knew. Nobody knew what his program was. He probably didn't have one. He had nothing to say. He was just this guy who said, Look, I made a lot of money and I've got big ears and a big smile. Within about two weeks, he was running even with the two major candidates. I think what that indicates is pretty clear. It means the population is so desperate that if somebody lands from Mars, they'll try him.
DB: Calls for a third party assume that we have a two-party system. Is that off base?
It's a question of definition. We certainly have two candidate-producing organizations. We don't have two parties that people participate in. We don't have two parties with different interests. They basically reflect one or another faction of the part of society that you're not allowed to mention in Mandate for Change, namely the owners and investors and managers. They both represent their interests. But they have different takes on it. And they also have different popular constituencies. That in fact has some effect. The popular constituencies have to be offered some crumbs, just to keep the system of bureaucratic and other power functioning. The main structure of decision making, which has to do with profit, with international affairs, with strategic issues, the popular constituency is allowed no role in that, no matter who's in office. But it can be given other things. For example, the Republicans tend to be somewhat more openly the party of the business classes and the rich. They hide it less than the Democrats. Therefore it's harder for them to appeal to the general public. Their appeal quite often is in terms of jingoism, violence, religious fundamentalism, and the so-called social issues. They've got to give some crumbs to their constituencies, so they give them those things. That's why you have the Supreme Court appointments that you've had in the last ten years. The big attack on civil rights, the racism, the attacks on welfare mothers. That's a gift to that sector of the population. It doesn't affect profits. It doesn't affect power, so you can give it to them. The Democrats have tried to appeal to a different constituency. They pretend to be the party of the people. So they have to do something for the working people, women, minorities. That means that they can be expected to get the crumbs, like the Supreme Court appointments. And when I say "crumbs," I don't mean to demean it. Those are things that can have an enormous effect on individual life. They just don't affect the structure of the political economy.
DB: "The phenomenal concentration of property and business under the control of monopolies known as 'corporations' is changing the commercial aspect of the world and also changing the social relations. At no time in history has combination succeeded combination in greater and greater aggregations like the present. The little fellow is no longer in it." August 31, 1895. J.A. Whalen's first editorial in the Appeal to Reason.
The Appeal to Reason was an interesting left journal which about ten years after that appeared had about three-quarters of a million subscribers. One of the major journals in the country. It was part of a flourishing and lively labor press, all of which has disappeared, a big change over the last century. The comment is correct. Of course it has increased. The difference is that increasingly, especially in the last twenty years, the corporations have become much more international, with effects that we've discussed.
DB: Reagan comes to power in 1981 and the debt is one trillion dollars. Today it's four trillion dollars, and that's projected to grow by fifty percent over the next six years. Who owns the debt? Who's going to pay it?
Debt just means people who buy government bonds and securities. They own the debt. Mostly the rich, naturally, at home and abroad. The people who pay it are taxpayers. The debt is just another mechanism for transferring wealth from the poor to the rich, like most social policy. Of course, there's another form of payment. The debt takes away from the possibility of social spending that would benefit the general population. Incidentally, the debt itself, just the numbers, is not a huge problem. We've had bigger debts than that, not in numbers, but relative to GNP, in the past. What the debt is exactly is a bit of a statistical artifact. You can make it different things depending on how you count.
But whatever it is, it's not something that couldn't be dealt with. The question is, what was done with the borrowing? If the borrowing in the last ten years had been used for constructive purposes, say, for investment or infrastructure, we'd be quite well off. The fact is that the borrowing was used for enrichment of the rich, for consumption, which meant lots of imports, which built up the trade deficit; and for financial manipulation and speculation, which are very harmful to the economy.
DB: Given the economic situation, it would seem to be a propitious moment for the left, the progressive movement, to come forward with some concrete proposals. People are not unaware of what's going on: high rents, skyrocketing college tuition and medical costs, etc. Yet the left, if I can call it that, when not bogged down in internecine warfare, is seemingly in a reactive mode only. It's not proactive.
What people call the "left," the peace and justice movements, whatever they are, in terms of numbers, I think they've expanded a lot over the years. On particular issues they focus on them and achieve things. They tend to be very localized. There's very little in the way of broader integration, of institutional structure. They can't coalesce around unions because the unions are essentially gone. To the extent that there's any structure it's usually something like the church. There is virtually no functioning left intelligentsia. Nobody's talking much about what should be done or is even available to give talks. So you have a very large number of people, an enormous constituency, with a local focus, both regionally and in terms of issues, and nothing much in the sense of a general vision or picture. That's the result of the success of the class warfare of the last decades in destroying, breaking up popular organizations and isolating people.
Also I should say that the policy issues that have to be faced are quite deep. It's always nice to have reforms. It would be nice to have more money for starving children. You can think of lots of reforms that should be carried out. But there are some objective problems which you and I would have to face if we ran the country. One objective problem, which was kindly pointed out to the Clinton administration by the Wall Street Journal in a front page article the other day is that if they get any funny ideas about taking some of their own rhetoric seriously -- granted, that's not very likely, but just in case anybody has some funny ideas -- spending money for social spending, the United States is so deeply in hock to the international financial community because of the debt and the sale of Treasury bonds, that they have a lock on U.S. policy. The lock is very simple. If something happens here, say, increasing workers' salaries, that the bondholders don't like, that's going to cut down their short-term profit, they'll just start withdrawing from the U.S. bond market, which will drive interest rates up, which will drive the economy down. They point out that Clinton's twenty-billion-dollar spending program can be turned into a twenty-billion-dollar additional cost to the government, to the debt, just by slight changes in the purchase and sale of bonds, with their automatic effects on increasing interest rates, etc. So social policy, even in a country as rich and powerful as the United States, which is the richest and most powerful of them all, is mortgaged to the international wealthy sectors here and abroad. Those are issues that have to be dealt with.
To deal with those issues means to face problems of revolutionary change. There's apparently a debate going on within the Clinton administration over whether there should be efforts to protect American workers no matter who owns an enterprise, or U.S.-based enterprises. All those debates are taking place within a framework of assumptions: the investors have the right to decide what happens. So we have to make things as attractive as possible to the investors. As long as the investors have the right to decide what happens, nothing much else is going to change. It's like saying in a totalitarian state, shall we change from proportional representation to some other kind in the state-run parliament. Maybe it will make a little change, but it's not going to matter much. Until you get to the source of power, which ultimately is investment decisions, other changes are cosmetic and can only take place in a limited way. If they go too far the investors will just make other decisions, and there's nothing you can do about it.
To challenge the right of investors to determine who lives, who dies, how they live and die, that would be to make a significant move toward Enlightenment ideals, actually the classical liberal ideal. That would be revolutionary.
DB: There's another factor at work here, and I'd like you to address it. That is the psychological one that it's a lot easier to criticize something than to promote something constructive. There's a completely different dynamic at work.
You can see a lot of things wrong. Small changes you can propose. But to be realistic, substantial change, which will really change the large-scale direction of things and overcome major problems that we all see, will require profound democratization of the society and the economic system. If you take an enterprise, a business or a big corporation, internally it's a fascist structure. Power is at the top. Orders go from top to bottom. You either follow the orders or get out. There's very little else going on. Furthermore, the concentration of power in such structures means that virtually everything else, whether it's in the ideological or the political sphere, is sharply constrained, not totally controlled by any means, but sharply constrained. Those are just facts.
By now, the international economy imposes other kinds of constraints. You can't overlook those things. They're just true. If anybody bothered to read Adam Smith, instead of prating about him, they would see this pointed out very clearly. He pointed out that social policy is class-based. He took class analysis for granted. It wasn't even an issue. So, if you studied the canon properly at the University of Chicago, they taught you that Adam Smith denounced the mercantilist system and colonialism because he was in favor of free trade. That's half the truth. The other half of the truth is that he pointed out that the mercantilist system and colonialism were harmful to the people of England but very beneficial to the merchants and manufacturers who were the principal architects of policy. In short, it was a class-based policy which worked for the rich and powerful in England. The people of England paid the costs. He was opposed to that, because he was an enlightened intellectual, but he recognized it. Unless you recognize that you're just not in the real world.
DB: Huey Long once said that when fascism comes to this country it's going to be wrapped in an American flag. You have detected and commented on tendencies toward fascism in this country. You've even been quoting Hitler on the family and the role of women.
It was kind of striking. After the Republican convention (fortunately I saved my self the pain of watching television, but I read about it) it struck such chords that I began to look up some literature from the 1930s, contemporary literature on fascism. I looked up Hitler's speeches in the late 1930s to women's groups and big rallies. The rhetoric was very similar to that of the "God and country" rally the first night of the Republican convention. I don't really take that too seriously. The reason is that the levers of power are firmly in the hands of the corporate sector. They will permit rabid fundamentalists to scream about God and country and family, but they're very far from having any influence over major power decisions, as you could see from the way the campaign developed. They were given the first night to scream and yell. They were even given the party platform. It's pre-Enlightenment. But then when the campaign started we were back to business as usual.
However, that can change. One of the consequences of the growing alienation and isolation of people is that they begin to develop highly irrational and self-destructive attitudes. You want to try to identify yourself somehow. You don't want to be just glued to the television set. You want something in your life. If most of the constructive ways are cut off, you turn to other ways. You can see that in the polls, too. I was just looking at a study published in England, done by an American sociologist, of comparative religious attitudes in various countries. The figures are shocking. Three-quarters of the American population literally believes in religious miracles. The numbers who believe in the devil, in resurrection, God does this and that -- astonishing. These are numbers that you have nowhere in the industrial world. You've got to go to maybe mosques in Iran, or maybe do a poll among old ladies in Sicily. You might get numbers like this. This is the American population. Just a couple of years ago there was a study of what people thought of evolution. The percentage of the population that believed in Darwinian evolution at that point was nine percent. Like statistical error, basically. About half the population believed in divine guided evolution, Catholic church doctrine. About forty percent thought the world was created about six thousand years ago. Again, you've got to go back to pre-technological societies, or else devastated peasant societies, before you get numbers like that. Those are the kinds of belief systems that show up in things like the God and country rally. Religious fundamentalism can be a very scary phenomenon. That could be the mass base for popular movement of extreme danger. Also, these people are not stupid. They have huge amounts of money. They're organizing. They are moving the way they should, beginning to take over local offices where nobody notices them. There was a striking phenomenon in the last election, it even made the front pages of the national newspapers. It turned out that in many parts of the country ultraright fundamentalist fanatics had been running candidates without identifying them. It doesn't take a lot of work to get somebody elected to the school committee. Not too many people pay attention. You don't have to say who you are. You just appear with a friendly face and a smile and say, I'm going to help your kids, and people will vote for you. A lot of people got in as a result of organized campaigns to take over these local structures. That can build up and end up with a society that moves back to real pre-Enlightenment times. If that ties in with some charismatic power figure saying, "I'm your leader, follow me," that could be very ugly.
DB: There's also a huge increase in fundamentalist media, print, obviously in newspapers and magazines, but particularly in the electronic media. You can't drive across the country.
That was true years ago. I remember driving across the country in the 1950s, being bored out of my head and turning on the radio. Every station I could find was some ranting preacher. Now it's much worse, and of course now there's television.
DB: You talk about the standard techniques and devices that are used to control the population: construction of enemies, both internal and external, the creation of hatreds, religious enthusiasm, and then you say, "the techniques are constant for the same structural reasons." What are those structural reasons?
The structural reason is that power is concentrated. The general policy is exactly the way that Adam Smith described it: it's designed for the benefit of its principal architects, the powerful. It serves the vile maxim of the masters: all for ourselves and nothing for anyone else. Those are the basic rules of the world. The way it works out depends on what the structures are. In our case it happens to be basically corporate structure. Much of the population is going to be harmed by that. Those policies are designed to turn state power into an instrument that works for the wealthy. Maybe there are some crumbs for the rest of the population, maybe not. But that's given.
Somehow you have to get the general public to accept this. Hume's paradox does hold: power is in the hands of the governed. If they refuse to accept it, you're in trouble, no matter how many guns you have. How do you do that? There are not a lot of ways. One way is to frighten people and make them cower in terror that only the great leader can save them. Saddam Hussein is coming. You'd better hide in the sand, and by a miracle I'll save you. Then you save them by a miracle. So the combination of fear and awe is a standard technique, used all the time. Diverting people to other things. Elvis stamps. That's a technique. Professional sports are another. Get people to go insane about somebody or other. It also has the effect of creating attitudes of subservience. Somebody else is doing it, and you're supposed to applaud them. They're doing something you could never dream of doing in your life. So there are many devices, but not a lot. You generally find one or another of them being employed.
DB: You're predicting that the next big target is going to be the schools.
The schools are already a target. I think more generally what's going to happen is one or another move still further towards a two-tiered system designed for the two-tiered society. It's always been that, but more so than before. Better schools and more investment for relatively privileged sectors, what's called "choice." If you're in the slums, by some miracle you might be able to get in. Degradation or even elimination of the public education sector for large numbers of other people.
Increasingly, the assumption that it is not our responsibility as citizens to care for all of the citizens. What you have to do is work for yourself. That means try to create a system in which those with privilege, education and clout can get the education they want for their kids and the rest are out of luck.
DB: The conditions that form the U.S.-Israeli alliance have changed, but have there been any structural changes?
No significant structural changes. It's just that the need for the strategic alliance has intensified. Its viability has increased. The capacity of Israel to serve U.S. interests, at least in the short term, has probably increased. The Clinton administration has made it very clear that it's intending to go even beyond the extreme pro-Israeli bias of the Bush-Baker administration. Their appointment for the Middle East desk of the National Security Council is Martin Indyk, whose background is AIPAC, who has headed a fraudulent research institute, the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, which is basically there so that journalists who want to publish Israeli propaganda, but want to do it objectively, can quote somebody. The one hope that the United States has always had from the so-called peace negotiations is that the traditional tacit alliance between Israel and the family dictatorships that rule the Gulf states will somehow become a little more overt or solidified. And it's conceivable. There is a big problem, however.
The problem is that Israel's plans, which have never changed, to take over and integrate the occupied territories, are running into some objective problems. They have always hoped that in the long run they would be able to reduce the Palestinian population. Many moves were made to try to accelerate that. One of the reasons they instituted an educational system on the West Bank was in the conscious hope that more educated people would want to get out because there wouldn't be any job opportunities. For a long time it worked. They were able to get a lot of people to leave. They now may well be stuck with the population. This is going to cause some real problems, because they're intending to take the water and the land. That may not be so pretty and not so easy.
DB: What's Israel's record of compliance with the more than twenty Security Council resolutions condemning its policies?
It's in a class by itself.
DB: No sanctions, no enforcement?
None. Just to pick one at random: Security Council resolution 425, March 1978, called on Israel to withdraw immediately and unconditionally from Lebanon. They're still there. The request was renewed by the government of Lebanon in February of 1991, when everyone was going at Iraq. You can't do anything. The United States will block it. Many of the Security Council resolutions that the U.S. has vetoed have to do with Israeli aggression or atrocities. For example, take the invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
At first the United States went along with the Security Council condemnations, but within a few days the U.S. had vetoed the major Security Council resolution, which called on everyone to withdraw and stop fighting.
DB: The U.S. has gone along with the last few UN resolutions or deportations.
The U.S. gone along, but refused to allow them to have any teeth. The crucial question is, do you do anything about it? For example, the United States went along with the Security Council resolution condemning the annexation of the Golan Heights. But when the time came to do something about it, that stopped.
DB: Lebanon is a dumping ground for deportees. Israel has taken and dropped by helicopter and bussed scores of deportees in the 1970s and 1980s. Why has that changed now? Why has Lebanon refused?
It's not so much that it has refused. If Israel dropped some of them by helicopter into the outskirts of Sidon, Lebanon couldn't refuse. This time Israel, I think, made a tactical error. The deportation of 415 people is going to be very hard for them to deal with. It's an interesting background. I just read in Ha'aretz, the main Israeli journal, that the Shabak, the secret police, stated, which they rarely do, that they had only asked for seven people to be deported. The other four hundred or so were taken by the Labor government and added. Shabak announced that it wasn't on their initiative. They never said anything about deporting them.
But taking this big class of people, mostly intellectuals, clerics, etc., and putting them in the mountains of southern Lebanon, where it's freezing and they may start dying, that's not going to look pretty in front of the TV cameras, which is the only thing that matters. So they may have some problems, because they're not going to let them back in.
DB: International law transcends state law, but Israel says these resolutions are not applicable. How are they not applicable?
Just like they're not applicable to the United States. The United States was condemned by the World Court. States do what they feel like. Of course, small states have to obey. Israel's not a small state. It's an appendage to the world superpower, so it does what the United States says it has to do. The United States tells it: You don't have to obey any of these resolutions, therefore they're null and void. As they are when the U.S. gets condemned. The U.S. never gets condemned by a Security Council resolution, because it vetoes them. But there are repeated Security Council resolutions condemning the United States which would have passed if it was any other country, and the General Assembly all the time. Take, say, the invasion of Panama. There were two resolutions in the Security Council condemning the United States for the invasion of Panama. We vetoed them both.
DB: I remember talking to Mona Rishmawi of Al Haq in Ramalla. She told me that when she would go to court, she wouldn't know whether the Israeli prosecutor would prosecute her clients under British mandate emergency law, Jordanian law, Israeli law, or Ottoman law.
Or their own laws. There are administrative regulations, some of which are never published. The whole idea is a joke, as any Palestinian lawyer will tell you. There is no law in the occupied territories. There's just pure authority. Even within Israel itself, the legal system is a joke when it comes to Arabs. It has to be covered up here. Arab defendants who come to the Supreme Court come after having been convicted. The convictions are in the high ninetieth percentile based on confessions. When people confess, everybody knows what that means. Finally, after about sixteen years, when one of the people who confessed and was tried turned out to be a Druse army veteran who was proven to have been innocent, it became a scandal. There was an investigation, and the Supreme Court stated that for sixteen years the secret services had been lying to them, had been torturing people and telling them that they hadn't. There was a big fuss in Israel about the fact that they had been lying to the Supreme Court. How could you have a democracy when they lie to the Supreme Court? Not the torture. Everyone knew it all along.
I recall once after an Amnesty International investigation of torture in Israel, one of the Supreme Court justices was in London and was interviewed by Amnesty International. They asked him, could he explain the extremely high percentage of confessions of Arabs. He said, "It's part of their nature" to confess. That's the Israeli legal system.
DB: About the deportations again: I heard Steven Solarz on the BBC a couple of weeks ago. He said the world has a double standard. Seven hundred thousand Yemenis were expelled from Saudi Arabia and no one said a word. Which is true. Four hundred and fifteen Palestinians get expelled from Gaza and the West Bank and everybody's screaming.
Every Stalinist said the same thing. We sent Sakharov into exile and everyone is screaming. What about this other atrocity? There is always somebody who has committed a worse atrocity. For a Stalinist like Solarz -- which is exactly what is he, the typical Stalinist hack -- why not use the same line? In fact, as Solarz knows, Israel is treated with a very gentle hand, and the expulsion of Yemenis was part of the propaganda build-up for the war in the Gulf, hence acceptable.
DB: Israel's record and its attitude toward Hamas have evolved over the years. It once held it in favor, did it not?
They not only held it in favor, they tried to organize and stimulate it. In the early days of the intifada, Israel was sponsoring Islamic fundamentalists. If there was a strike of students at some West Bank university, the Israel army would sometimes bus in Islamic fundamentalists to break up the strike. Sheikh Yaseen, an anti-Semitic maniac down in Gaza, who is the leader of the Islamic fundamentalists, was protected for a long time. They liked him. He was saying, Let's kill all the Jews. It's a standard thing, way back in history. Chaim Weizman, seventy years ago, was saying, Our danger is Arab moderates, not the Arab extremists. The invasion of Lebanon was the same thing. They invaded Lebanon openly in order to destroy the PLO, which was a threat because it was secular and nationalist and calling for negotiations and a diplomatic settlement. That was the threat. Not the terrorists. The facts are familiar in Israel, unmentionable here, as part of the general cover-up of crimes of an unusually favored ally. They've done the same thing again, and always make the same mistake.
In Lebanon they went in to destroy the threat of moderation and ended up with Hezbollah on their hands. In the West Bank, they wanted to destroy the threat of moderation, people who wanted to make a political settlement, and they're ending up with Hamas on their hands. The mistake was predictable. The result was predictable. But it's important to recognize how utterly incompetent secret services are. Intelligence agencies make the most astonishing mistakes. For the same reason that academics do. They've got the same kind of background, the same assumptions. Especially when they're in a situation of occupation or domination, the occupier, the dominant power, has to justify what they're doing. There is only one way to do it, that's to become a racist: you have to blame the victim. Once you become a racist in self-defense, you've lost your capacity to understand what's happening. This is a very standard procedure. The U.S. in Indochina was the same. They never could understand. The FBI right here is the same. They make the most astonishing mistakes, for similar reasons.
DB: Get us through these Orwellisms of "security zone" and "buffer zone."
In southern Lebanon? That's what Israel calls it, and that's how it's referred to in the media. Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1978. It was obvious at the time that the Camp David negotiations would have the consequence that they did, namely freeing Israel up to attack Lebanon and integrate the occupied territories by eliminating Egypt as a deterrent. Any kindergarten child could have seen that, and by now it's even conceded. So Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 and held on to it. That's when the resolution was passed. They usually held on to it through clients, at the time it was the Haddad militia.
When Israel invaded in 1982, the border had not been quiet. There had been a lot of violence across the border, all from Israel north. There was an American-brokered ceasefire which the PLO had held to scrupulously. But Israel carried out literally thousands of provocative actions, including heavy bombing of civilian targets in an effort to try to get the PLO to do something so that they'd have an excuse for the invasion that finally took place. It's interesting the way that period is portrayed in American journalism. Universally it is portrayed as the period when the PLO was bombarding Israeli settlements. What was happening in fact was that Israel was bombing and invading north of the border and the PLO wasn't responding. They were trying at that time to move towards a negotiated settlement. Israel invaded Lebanon. We know what happened then. They were driven out by what they call "terrorism," meaning resistance by people who weren't going to be cowed. Israel succeeded in awakening a fundamentalist resistance which they couldn't control. They were forced out. They held on to the southern zone, which they call a "security zone," but there's no reason to believe that it has the slightest thing to do with security. It's their foothold in Lebanon. It's run by a mercenary army, the South Lebanon Army, backed up by Israeli troops. They're very brutal. It's got horrible torture chambers. We don't know the full details, because they refuse to allow any inspections, by the Red Cross or anyone else. But there have been investigations by human rights groups, journalists and others who attest to overwhelming evidence from independent sources, people who got out, what goes on there, even Israeli sources. There was actually an Israeli soldier who committed suicide there because he couldn't stand what was going on. Some others have written about it in the Hebrew press. Ansar is the main one, which they very nicely put in the town of Khiyam which is a place where they carried out a massacre back in 1948. There was another massacre by the Haddad militia under Israeli eyes in 1982. That's mainly for Lebanese who refuse to cooperate with the South Lebanon Army. That's the security zone.
DB: Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman, in a January 11, 1993 letter to the New York Times, says that since assuming leadership the Rabin government has "unambiguously demonstrated its commitment to the peace process." "Israel is the last party that has to prove its desire to make peace." What's been the Rabin record?
It's perfectly true that Israel wants peace. So did Hitler. Everybody wants peace. When you say somebody wants peace, that's a tautology. Everybody wants peace. The question is on what terms. The Rabin government, exactly as was predicted, harshened the repression in the territories. Just this afternoon I was speaking to a woman who has spent the last couple of years in Gaza doing human rights work. She reported what everyone reports, and what everybody with a brain knew: As soon as Rabin came it got tougher. He's the iron fist man. That's his record. Actually, Likud had a better record in the territories than Labor did. Torture and collective punishment stopped under Likud. There was one period when Sharon was there that it was bad, but under Begin it was generally better. When the Labor party came back into the government in 1984, torture started again, collective repression started again, the intifada came. Rabin stated publicly, it was published in February 1989 to a bunch of Peace Now leaders, that the negotiations with the PLO didn't mean anything. It was going to give him time to crush them by force, and they will be crushed, he said, they will be broken.
DB: It hasn't happened.
It happened. The intifada was pretty dead. He has awakened it again. His own violence has succeeded in reawakening the intifada. Several things, including the recent expulsion. But the increased repression after Rabin came in did reawaken the rather dormant protests and resistance -- possibly people just wanted to be left alone, they couldn't take any more. Rabin succeeded in reawakening it. He has increased settlement in the occupied territories, exactly as everyone predicted. There was a very highly publicized cutoff of settlement. It was obvious right away that it was a fraud. Foxman knows that. He reads the Israeli press, I'm sure. What Rabin stopped was some of the more extreme and crazy Sharon plans. Sharon was building houses all over the place, in places where nobody was ever going to go, and the economy couldn't handle it. So he eased back to a more rational settlement program. I think the current number is eleven thousand new housing units going up. Labor tends to have a more rational policy than Likud, one of the reasons the U.S. has always preferred Labor. They do it more quietly, less brazenly. Also, it's more realistic. Instead of trying to make seven big areas of settlement, they're down to four. But the theory is the same: try to break up the West Bank in a way which will make full Jewish settlement everywhere that's worthwhile, but surrounding pockets of Arab population concentration. So big highways, a network of highways connecting Jewish settlements, avoiding some little Arab village way up in the hills. All of this is continuing. The goal is to arrange the settlements so that they separate the Palestinian areas, so that there's no connection between them. That's to make certain that any form of local autonomy will never turn into any meaningful form of self government. That's continuing, and the U.S. is of course funding it, because it's in favor of it, as it always was. But true, Rabin is delighted to have a peace process if it can be on his terms.
DB: Critics of the Palestinian movement point to what they call the "intrafada," the fact that Palestinians are killing other Palestinians, as if this justifies Israeli rule and delegitimizes any Palestinian national anspirations.
You might look back at the Zionist movement. There was plenty of killing of Jews by other Jews. They killed collaborators, traitors, people they thought were traitors. And they were under nothing like the harsh conditions of the Israeli occupation. As plenty of Israelis have pointed out, the British weren't nice, but they were gentlemen compared with us. The first Haganah assassination, the Labor-based defense force, the first that's recorded, at least, was in 1921. I looked it up in the official Haganah history. It's described there straight. A Dutch Jew named Jacob de Haan, because he was trying to approach local Palestinians to see if things could be worked out between the new settlers and the Palestinians, had to be killed. One of the murderers is assumed to be the woman who later became the wife of the first President of Israel. They said in the history that another reason for assassinating him was that he was a homosexual. Don't want those guys around. There were Haganah torture chambers, assassins. Yitzhak Shamir became head of the Stern gang by killing the guy who was designated to be the head. Shamir was supposed to take a walk with him on a beach. He never came back. Everyone knows Shamir killed him. The American revolution was no different.
As the intifada began to self-destruct under tremendous repression, this killing got completely out of hand. It began to be a matter of settling old scores, gangsters killing anybody they disliked. Originally it was pretty disciplined. But when the repression got harsh enough and the leadership was taken away, thrown into concentration camps, the thing deteriorated. It ended up with a lot of random killing, which Israel loves. Then they can point out how rotten the Arabs are.
DB: It's a dangerous neighborhood.
Yes, it is. They help make it dangerous.
DB: David Frum, a Canadian journalist, in the January 2, 1993 Financial Post, calls you, among other things, the "great American crackpot." I think that ranks up there with the New Republic's Martin Peretz's comment placing you "outside the pale of intellectual responsibility." But Frum actually has some substantive things to say: "There was a time when the New York Times op ed page was your stomping ground." Have I missed something here?
I guess I did too. I did once have an op ed, one. It was in 1971, I guess. I had testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. This was the period when everybody in the New York Times was deciding we'd better get out of Vietnam because it was costing us too much. Senator Fulbright had in effect turned the Senate Foreign Relations Committee into a seminar. He was very turned off by the war at that time, by American foreign policy. He invited me to testify. That was respectable enough. So they ran a segment of ...
DB: Excerpts of your comments. There wasn't an original piece you had written for the Times.
Maybe it was slightly edited, but it was essentially a piece of my testimony at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. So it's true, the Times did publish a piece of testimony at the Foreign Relations Committee.
DB: And that was your "stomping grounds." What about letters? How many letters of yours have they printed?
Occasionally, when something appeared there which was an outlandish slander and lie about me, I've written back to them. Usually they don't publish the letters. Sometimes I was angry enough that I contacted friends who were able to put enough pressure on so they would run a letter of response.
DB: I haven't seen one in years.
Sometimes they just refuse. In the Times Book Review there were a bunch of vicious lies about me and the Khmer Rouge. I wrote back a short letter responding, and they just refused to publish it. I got annoyed and wrote back and I actually got a response, saying, we published a different letter that we thought was better.
DB: David Frum just can't stop lavishing praise upon you. He says, "Your views are exactly like the stuff peddled by Lyndon LaRouche and the Christic Institute." You had an incident involving the Larouchies that you've mentioned in several talks.
It went as far as death threats. I had been following them pretty closely, partly because I knew some of the kids involved. They were children of personal friends. It grew out of the Columbia strike in 1968. Originally it was the National Caucus of Labor Committees. It was a Marxist group of serious young people who were going to live in working-class areas and organize people. You could like it or dislike it. It was perfectly rational. This guy Lyndon LaRouche, who had some other name then, was the guru. At first he looked like some sort of standard ex-Trotskyite. After a while you could see what was happening. These are hard things to do. You're giving up your life, your career, the only world you live in is your surroundings. He gradually began to introduce slightly crazy themes into the ideology. You could see him do it little by little. At each point everyone in the group, nineteen-year-old kids, had to make a decision: Am I going to go along with this or am I going to give up my life? A lot of people went along. After a while they were off in outer space. The positions were so insane you couldn't even talk about it.
They then got quite violent. They started something called Operation Mop-Up. They were going to take the hegemony of the left by going into some movement meeting with baseball bats and beating everyone over the head. At first nobody knew what to do about it. After a while they figured, OK, we'll come back with bigger baseball bats. The next thing they started was what amounted to an extortion racket against parents. A lot of the kids had middle-class parents. The idea was to go back to your parents and tell them that unless they sold the store and gave it to LaRouche, they were enemies of the human race, objective fascists, and you were never going to have anything to do with them again.
This went on for a while. I started getting approached at talks I was giving. Some old couple would come up. I remember once a couple came up, a guy who had a little grocery store somewhere. He told me this was what his kids were saying, what did I think he ought to do? Usually I didn't answer. This once I said, if you want me to tell you the truth, I'll tell you the truth. I told him what I thought. About a week later I got a message signed Labor Committee Intelligence Service: our Intelligence Service has learned that you're spreading rumors about the party. You have one week to clear yourself of these charges. I threw it into the waste basket. Shortly after their newspaper started coming out with crazed attacks. The funniest one was a pamphlet they put out for the Bicentennial, July 4, 1976. It was called "Terrorist Commanders." It had on the front a picture of me and Marc Raskin. It was quite amusing. It was about how the two of us run the KGB and the CIA and the PLO and the Queen of England and whoever else was in their conspiracy at the time. They said we were planning to put atom bombs in major U.S. cities at the time of the Bicentennial. I got it in August, a month after. Usually these end-of-the-world people, when it doesn't happen they have some reason. But they were still predicting it a month after it didn't happen. That was put on the windshield of my car with a death threat scribbled on it. I won't go into the details of what happened next. I didn't hear from them for a while. Since then it's similar things.
DB: Anyone who comes to visit your office at MIT will see a very large black and white photograph of Bertrand Russell in the hallway next to your door. What's the story behind that photograph?
He's one of the very few people that I actually admire. I did have a big photograph of him. The office was vandalized during the Vietnam War years. A sauerkraut bomber. One of the things that was destroyed was that picture. Somebody succeeded in putting up another one.
DB: So does Russell exemplify the responsibility of intellectuals?
Nobody is a hero, but he had a lot of very good characteristics and did a lot of things that I admire.
DB: You do endless rounds of interviews, and I certainly inflict a fair share of them on you, how do you keep awake, much less sustain interest? What constitutes a good interview? What engages you? The questions are interminable, and usually the same.
They're not always quite the same. And I have to rethink things anyway. These are very important and interesting topics, and as long as people are interested in them, I'm going to keep talking about them.
DB: You can stay awake?
Most of the time.
DB: Thank you.
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