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On Anarchism On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky
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“With regard to freedom of speech there are basically two positions: you defend it vigorously for views you hate, or you reject it and prefer Stalinist/fascist standards. It is unfortunate that it remains necessary to stress these simple truths.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Institutional structures are legitimate insofar as they enhance the opportunity to freely inquire and create, out of inner need; otherwise, they are not.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“power that isn’t really justified by the will of the governed should be dismantled.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“[A]s long as individuals are compelled to rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if meaningful.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The public must be reduced to passivity in the political realm, but for submissiveness to become a reliable trait, it must be entrenched in the realm of belief as well.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The idea that we must choose between the method of "winning hearts and minds" and the method of shaping behavior presumes that we have the right to choose at all. This is to grant us a right that we would surely accord to no other power. Yet the overwhelming body of American scholarship accords us this right.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Un sistema de adoctrinamiento que funcione como es debido debe cumplir diversas tareas, algunas bastante delicadas. Uno de sus objetivos son las masas estúpidas e ignorantes. Deberán ser mantenidas en ese estado, distraídas con simplificaciones groseras y de gran fuerza emocional, marginadas y aisladas. En una situación ideal, cada persona debería hallarse sola frente a la pantalla de su televisor, viendo deportes, telenovelas o comedias, privada de estructuras organizativas que permitan a los individuos carentes de recursos descubrir cuáles son sus pensamientos y creencias en interacción con otras personas, formular sus propias preocupaciones y planes y actuar para hacerlos realidad. Llegada esa situación, se les puede permitir ratificar las decisiones tomadas por quienes son mejores que ellos en elecciones celebradas periódicamente, y hasta animarles a hacerlo. La "multitud canallesca" es el blanco apropiado de los medios de comunicación y de un sistema de educación pública encaminado a generar obediencia y formación en las destrezas requeridas, incluida la de repetir lemas patrióticos en ocasiones oportunas.
El problema del adoctrinamiento es un tanto distinto para aquellos de quienes se espera que participen en la toma de decisiones serias y en el ejercicio del control: los gestores de las empresas, del Estado y de la cultura, y los sectores culturizados en general. Estas personas deben interiorizar los valores del sistema y compartir las ilusiones necesarias que permitan su funcionamiento en interés de quienes concentran en sus manos el poder y los privilegios. Pero también han de tener cierta comprensión de las realidades del mundo, pues de lo contrario no serán capaces de realizar sus tareas con eficacia. Los medios elitistas y los sitemas educativos deben encontrar la forma de resolver esos dilemas, lo cual constituye una labor nada fácil. Es interesante ver en detalle cómo se lleva a cabo dicha labor, pero se trata de algo que cae fuera de los límites de estas observaciones.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“No state, however democratic,” Bakunin wrote, “not even the reddest republic—can ever give the people what they really want, i.e., the free self-organization and administration of their own affairs from the bottom upward, without any interference or violence from above, because every state, even the pseudo–People’s State concocted by Mr. Marx, is in essence only a machine ruling the masses from above, through a privileged minority of conceited intellectuals, who imagine that they know what the people need and want better than do the people themselves. . . .” “But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labeled ‘the people’s stick”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Social action must be animated by a vision of a future society, and by explicit judgments of value concerning the character of this future society.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The record of anarchist ideas, and even more, of the inspiring struggles of people who have sought to liberate themselves from oppression and domination, must be treasured and preserved, not as means of freezing thought and conception in some new mold but as basis for understanding of the social reality and committed work to change it. There is no reason to suppose that history is at an end, that the current structures of authority and domination are graven in stone. It would also be great error to underestimate the power of social forces that will fight to maintain power and privilege.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“For the anarchist, freedom is not an abstract philosophical concept, but the vital concrete possibility for every human being to bring to full development all the powers, capacities, and talents with which nature has endowed him, and turn them to social account.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The core of the anarchist tradition, as I understand it, is that power is always illegitimate, unless it proves itself to be legitimate. So the burden of proof is always on those who claim that some authoritarian hierarchic relation is legitimate. If they can’t prove it, then it should be dismantled.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“You’ve said, “You can lie or distort the story of the French Revolution as long as you like and nothing will happen. Propose a false theory in chemistry and it will be refuted tomorrow.” How does your approach to the world as a scientist affect and influence the way you approach politics? Nature is tough. You can’t fiddle with Mother Nature, she’s a hard taskmistress. So you’re forced to be honest in the natural sciences. In the soft fields, you’re not forced to be honest. There are standards, of course; on the other hand, they’re very weak. If what you propose is ideologically acceptable, that is, supportive of power systems, you can get away with a huge amount. In fact, the difference between the conditions that are imposed on dissident opinion and on mainstream opinion is radically different. For example, I’ve written about terrorism, and I think you can show without much difficulty that terrorism pretty much corresponds to power. I don’t think that’s very surprising. The more powerful states are involved in more terrorism, by and large. The United States is the most powerful, so it’s involved in massive terrorism, by its own definition of terrorism. Well, if I want to establish that, I’m required to give a huge amount of evidence. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t object to that. I think anyone who makes that claim should be held to very high standards. So, I do extensive documentation, from the internal secret records and historical record and so on. And if you ever find a comma misplaced, somebody ought to criticize you for it. So I think those standards are fine. All right, now, let’s suppose that you play the mainstream game. You can say anything you want because you support power, and nobody expects you to justify anything. For example, in the unimaginable circumstance that I was on, say, Nightline, and I was asked, “Do you think Kadhafi is a terrorist?” I could say, “Yeah, Kadhafi is a terrorist.” I don’t need any evidence. Suppose I said, “George Bush is a terrorist.” Well, then I would be expected to provide evidence—“Why would you say that?” In fact, the structure of the news production system is, you can’t produce evidence. There’s even a name for it—I learned it from the producer of Nightline, Jeff Greenfield. It’s called “concision.” He was asked in an interview somewhere why they didn’t have me on Nightline. First of all, he says, “Well, he talks Turkish, and nobody understands it.” But the other answer was, “He lacks concision.” Which is correct, I agree with him. The kinds of things that I would say on Nightline, you can’t say in one sentence because they depart from standard religion. If you want to repeat the religion, you can get away with it between two commercials. If you want to say something that questions the religion, you’re expected to give evidence, and that you can’t do between two commercials. So therefore you lack concision, so therefore you can’t talk. I think that’s a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, and that nothing else is heard.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“[...] a time when anarchists were truly fearsome —less because they were willing to put a brick through a Starbucks window than because they had figured out how to organize themselves in a functional, egalitarian, and sufficiently productive society.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“I think that’s a terrific technique of propaganda. To impose concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, and that nothing else is heard.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“If it is plausible that ideology will in general serve as a mask for self-interest, then it is a natural presumption that intellectuals, in interpreting history or formulating policy, will tend to adopt an elitist position, condemning popular movements and mass participation in decision making, and emphasizing rather the necessity for supervision by those who possess the knowledge and understanding that is required (so they claim) to manage society and control social change.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“[...] in a predatory capitalist economy, state intervention would be an absolute necessity to preserve human existence and to prevent the destruction of the physical environment [...].”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“It [predatory capitalism] is incapable of meeting human needs that can be expressed only in collective terms, and its concept of competitive man who seeks only to maximize wealth and power, who subjects himself to market relationships, to exploitation and external authority, is antihuman and intolerable in the deepest sense.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The suppression of the State cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the Revolution to finish with the State.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“the basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified—it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that’s an authoritarian situation: it’s got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification. But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it—invariably.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything else—they’re just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top. So”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Take language, one of the few distinctive human capacities about which much is known. We have very strong reasons to believe that all possible human languages are very similar; a Martian scientist observing humans might conclude that there is just a single language, with minor variants. The reason is that the particular aspect of human nature that underlies the growth of language allows very restricted options. Is this limiting? Of course. Is it liberating? Also of course. It is these very restrictions that make it possible for a rich and intricate system of expression of thought to develop in similar ways on the basis of very rudimentary, scattered, and varied experience.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“When understanding fails, there is always more force in reserve. As the "experiments in material and human resources control" collapse and "revolutionary development" grinds to a halt, we simply resort more openly to the Gestapo tactics that are barely concealed behind the facade of pacification. When American cities explode, we can expect the same. The technique of "limited warfare" translates neatly into a system of domestic repression - far more humane, as will quickly be explained, than massacring those who are unwilling to wait for the inevitable victory of the war on poverty. Why should a liberal intellectual be so persuaded of the virtues of a political system of four-year dictatorship? The answer seem all to plain.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“at every stage of history our concern must be to dismantle those forms of authority and oppression that survive from an era when they might have been justified in terms of the need for security or survival or economic development, but that now contribute to—rather than alleviate—material and cultural deficit.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“The civilization and justice of bourgeois order comes out in its lurid light whenever the slaves and drudges of that order rise against their masters.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“In fact, I should say to begin with that the term anarchism is quite a range of political ideas, but I would prefer to think of it as the libertarian left, and from that point of view anarchism can be conceived as a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of say Bakunin and Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization, which might be national or even international in scope. And the decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return and in which, in fact, they live.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Representative democracy, as in, say, the United States or Great Britain, would be criticized by an anarchist of this school on two grounds. First of all because there is a monopoly of power centralized in the State, and secondly and critically—because representative democracy is limited to the political sphere and in no serious way encroaches on the economic sphere. Anarchists of this tradition have always held that democratic control of one's productive life is at the core of any serious human liberation, or, for that matter, of any significant democratic practice. That is, as long as individuals are compelled to rent themselves on the market to those who are willing to hire them, as long as their role in production is simply that of ancillary tools, then there are striking elements of coercion and oppression that make talk of democracy very limited, if even meaningful.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“A good example of a really large-scale anarchist revolution—in fact the best example to my knowledge—is the Spanish revolution in 1936, in which over most of Republican Spain there was a quite inspiring anarchist revolution that involved both industry and agriculture over substantial areas, developed in a way which to the outside looks spontaneous. Though in fact if you look at the roots of it, you discover that it was based on some three generations of experiment and thought and work which extended anarchist ideas to very large parts of the population in this largely pre-industrial—though not totally pre-industrial—society. And that again was, by both human measures and indeed anyone's economic measures, quite successful. That is, production continued effectively; workers in farms and factories proved quite capable of managing their affairs without coercion from above, contrary to what lots of socialists, communists, liberals and others wanted to believe, and in fact you can't tell what would have happened. That anarchist revolution was simply destroyed by force, but during the period in which it was alive I think it was a highly successful and, as I say, in many ways a very inspiring testimony to the ability of poor working people to organize and manage their own affairs, extremely successfully, without coercion and control. How relevant the Spanish experience is to an advanced industrial society. one might question in detail.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“I’m quoting, so pardon the sexist language, but somewhere or other he said: socialism is an effort to try to solve man’s animal problems, and after having solved the animal problems, then we can face the human problems—but it’s not a part of socialism to solve the human problems; socialism is an effort to get you to the point where you can face the human problems”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism
“Man: Don't these precedents suggest that there is something inherently pre-industrial about the applicability of libertarian ideas—that they necessarily presuppose a rather rural society in which technology and production are fairly simple, and in which the economic organization tends to be small-scale and localized?

Well, let me separate that into two questions: one, how anarchists have felt about it, and two, what I think is the case. As far as anarchist reactions are concerned, there are two. There has been one anarchist tradition—and one might think, say, of Kropotkin as a representative—which had much of the character you describe. On the other hand there's another anarchist tradition that develops into anarcho-syndicalism which simply regarded anarchist ideas as the proper mode of organization for a highly complex advanced industrial society. And that tendency in anarchism merges, or at least inter-relates very closely with a variety of left-wing Marxism, the kind that one finds in, say, the Council Communists that grew up in the Luxemburgian tradition, and that is later represented by Marxist theorists like Anton Pannekoek, who developed a whole theory of workers' councils in industry and who is himself a scientist and astronomer, very much part of the industrial world.

So which of these two views is correct? I mean, is it necessary that anarchist concepts belong to the pre-industrial phase of human society, or is anarchism the rational mode of organization for a highly advanced industrial society? Well, I myself believe the latter, that is, I think that industrialization and the advance of technology raise possibilities for self-management over a broad scale that simply didn't exist in an earlier period. And that in fact this is precisely the rational mode for an advanced and complex industrial society, one in which workers can very well become masters of their own immediate affairs, that is, in direction and control of the shop, but also can be in a position to make the major substantive decisions concerning the structure of the economy, concerning social institutions, concerning planning regionally and beyond. At present, institutions do not permit them to have control over the requisite information, and the relevant training to understand these matters. A good deal could be automated. Much of the necessary work that is required to keep a decent level of social life going can be consigned to machines—at least in principle—which means humans can be free to undertake the kind of creative work which may not have been possible, objectively, in the early stages of the industrial revolution.”
Noam Chomsky, On Anarchism

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