[Marxism] Chomsky on Obama, Cuba, and how he keeps his strength

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Wed Jul 23 10:39:32 MDT 2008

(These are excerpts from a much, much longer interview.)

Interview to Noam Chomsky by Vincent Navarro

Published by victoriaon Juliol 18, 2008in English, Internacional i

For the Progressive Summer University of Catalonia (UPEC).


Interviewed by Vincent Navarro. at M.I.T., Cambridge, Massachusetts,
on May 13, 2008. Vincent Navarro is Professor of Public Policy at the
Pompeu Fabra University, and The Johns Hopkins University.

Vincent Navarro: Thank you so much for welcoming us here.

Noam Chomsky: Delighted to have a chance to talk to you.

VN: We are here on behalf of the Summer Progressive University of
Catalonia. As I told you before the interview, the University's
intention is to recover the history of Catalonia, recalling the time
during the thirties when workers and academics would get together in
the summer to discuss matters of interest to them. This was, of
course, forbidden during the Franco dictatorship. When the left-wing
parties regained the government of Catalonia in 2003, they renewed
this commitment to restarting the Summer Progressive University. We
would have liked you to give the inaugural address for this
reopening. I'm sorry you couldn't make it. We hope you will come to
visit us there some day.

NC: I hope so.

VN: I want to chat with you about yourself and about the United
States. Outside the United States you are the best-known U.S.
intellectual, and most people outside the country are not fully aware
of what it means that the best-known U.S. intellectual seldom appears
in the U.S. media. So, when we watch the major TV channels - CBS,
NBC, and the many other channels - you are never there. Many people
do not understand this, because the United States is frequently
idealized and presented as an extremely dynamic, active democracy,
and they do not fully realize how much the left is discriminated
against in the United States. This discrimination occurs even within
the left of the liberal establishment. How do you respond to this?
How do you explain this discrimination in most forums?

NC: I should say that the place where I am most feared and despised
is probably in left liberal intellectual circles. If you want to see
a graphic indication of this, take a look at one of my favorite
journal covers, which is framed and posted right outside my door.
It's the more or less official journal of left liberal intellectuals,
The American Prospect, and the cover depicts the terrible
circumstances in which they try to survive - the enormous forces that
are virtually destroying them.


The Obama phenomenon is an interesting reaction to this. Obama's
handlers, the campaign managers, have created an image that is
essentially a blank slate. In the Obama campaign the words are hope,
change, unity - totally vacuous slogans said by a nice person, who
looks good and talks nicely - what commentators call "soaring
rhetoric" - and you can write anything you like on that blank slate.
A lot of people are writing on it their hopes for progressive change.
In the campaign, as the Wall Street Journal correctly notes, issues
have received little attention. Personal characteristics are the key
element. It's character that's up front.

But, yes, the support for Obama is a popular phenomenon, and I think
it reflects the alienation of the population from the institutions.
People are grasping at a straw: here's a possibility that maybe
somebody will stand up for what they want. Even though he's not
saying so, he looks like the kind of person who might do it. It's
quite interesting to look at the comparisons that are made. Obama is
compared to John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan - Kennedy and Reagan
were media constructions, Reagan particularly. He probably didn't
even know what the policies were, but he was a creation of the media.
He wasn't particularly popular, incidentally, but the media created
the image of this wonderful cowboy who would save us, and so on and
so forth.


When the U.S.-U.K. tried to construct a thin legal cover for their
invasion of Iraq, they appealed to U.N. Security Council Resolution
687 in 1991, which called on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass
destruction, and they claimed it had not done so. That much was
publicized, but not the fact that the same Resolution commits the
signers to move to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the
Middle East (Article 14). But no candidate can even mention this
possibility. If the United States were a functioning democracy in
which public opinion influenced policy, the very dangerous
confrontation with Iran might well be settled peacefully.

Also, consider Cuba. For 45 years the United States has been
dedicated to punishing Cubans - we have the internal documents from
the Kennedys and so on to show it. We've got to punish the Cuban
people because of their "successful defiance" of U.S. policies going
back to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. The Monroe Doctrine established
the United States' right to run the hemisphere. The Cubans are
successfully defying that, so the population must be punished by a
very substantial war, a terrorist war. This aim wasn't concealed.
Arthur Schlesinger, the semi-official biographer of Robert Kennedy
and a Kennedy adviser, says that Robert Kennedy was put in charge of
bringing "the terrors of the earth" to Cuba.

This was his prime responsibility. They were fanatical about it -also
about bringing economic strangulation to punish the Cuban population
for its misdeed. What does the U.S. public think about this? In polls
taken since the 1970s, about two-thirds of the public says we should
enter into normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, just as the rest of
the world does. But the fanaticism of the establishment includes the
whole spectrum here - the Kennedys, the ones who started it, along
with others. No political candidate will ever mention it.

The same is true for a host of other issues. So, as I say, the United
States should be an organizer's paradise. I think the possibilities
for the left are extraordinary, and that's one reason for the
clamping down on opinion, on expression of attitudes, and so on. And,
in fact, the country has a pretty activist population. There are now
probably more people involved in activism on one serious issue or
another than in the 1960s. It's just kind of subdued, and atomized.
There are many popular movements that never existed in the past.
Take, say, the solidarity movements with the third world: that's
something totally new in the history of European Imperialism, and it
came from mainstream America in the 1980s.

Rural churches, evangelicals, people from the mainstream, thousands
of people, were going to Central America to live with the victims of
Reagan's terrorist wars, to help them, to try to protect them, and so
on; and this was thousands or tens of thousands of people. One of my
daughters is still there, in Nicaragua. This has never happened
before in the history of Imperialism. Nobody from France went to live
in an Algerian village to help the people, to protect them from
French atrocities. It wasn't even an option that was considered,
during the Indochina wars either, apart from a very scattered few.
But in the 1980s this developed spontaneously - not in the elite
centers, so you didn't find it in Boston, but in rural Kansas and
Arizona, and it's now spread all over the world. So you have
Christian peace-keepers, and heaven knows who else. Another very
important new development is the international global justice
movement, which is called, ridiculously, "anti-globalization."


I suspect that, underneath the surface, a class struggle still exists
and is understood, and is ready to burst out at any moment. It's true
you're not supposed to talk about it. One of my daughters teaches in
a state college that has students from relatively poor families whose
aspirations are to be a nurse or a policeman, or something like that,
for the most part. In her first class she asks them to identify
themselves, their class background, give a classifying word. Most of
them have never heard this, you're not supposed to use that word. The
answers that she gets are "underclass" or "middle class." If your
father has job as a janitor somewhere, you're middle class. If your
father is in jail, you're underclass. Those are the two classes.
That's an ideological trap. The understanding that class has
something to do with who gives the orders and who follows them has
been driven out of consciousness, at least on the surface. But it is
there, right below. As soon as you talk to working-class people, they
respond quite promptly because they feel it.

VN: Thank you. I had promised not to take too much of your time. Just
one last question, a personal one. A lot of people in the world thank
you so much for the work you do, but where do you get your strength?

How do you carry on? Here you are, in the center of the Empire,
speaking quite clearly to the powerful forces and being silenced,
ostracized, marginalized. Meanwhile, all over the world, people
admire you, read your work, find it extremely helpful.

NC: I don't feel marginalized in the United States. When I get home
tonight I will spend five hours answering e-mail, and probably
several dozen letters will be invitations.

VN: I meant marginalized by the power structures.

NC: I don't care about the power structures, that's not where I live.
If I wasn't their enemy I'd think something was wrong. That's why I
have that picture of the magazine cover [The American Prospect] I
described earlier so prominently displayed.

VN: It's the best way to indicate you're doing the right thing.

NC: Yes, that I'm doing the right thing. It's partly that. But what
keeps me working is things that are illustrated by some of those
photographs over there [pointing]. One shows the worst labor
massacre, probably in history. In Chile, a century ago, in Iquique,
miners worked the mines under indescribable conditions. They and
their families marched about thirty kilometers to the town to ask for
a slight increase in wages. The British mine owners welcomed them,
showed them into a schoolyard, allowed them to begin their meeting,
and then brought in soldiers and machine-gunned them all: men, women,
children. Nobody knows how many were killed - you don't count the
number of people that we kill - maybe thousands. It was a century
before there was any commemoration of this. That [shown in the
photograph] is a small monument, which I saw last year; it was put up
by young people who are just beginning to break out of the iron grip
of the dictatorship. It's not just Pinochet. Chile has a bitter
history of state violence and repression. But now they're breaking
out. So, yes, the atrocity took place, and now they begin to pay
attention to it.

That one over there [pointing] is - you know what it is, of course -a
painting given to me by a Jesuit priest. On one side, Archbishop
Romero, who was assassinated in 1980. In front of him, six leading
intellectuals, Jesuit priests, who had their brains blown out in 1989
by U.S.-run terrorist forces who had already compiled a hideous
record of massacre of the usual victims. And the Angel of Death,
standing over them. That event captures Reagan - not the cheerful
uncle. That's the reality of the 1980s. I just put it there to remind
myself of the real world. But it's been an interesting "Rorschach"
test. Almost no one from the United States knows what it is; because
we're responsible for the massacre, we don't know. People from
Europe, maybe 10% know what it is. From South America, I'd say,
everyone knows what it is. Until recently. By now, young people often
don't know because they, too, are having history driven out of their
heads. History and reality are too dangerous. On the other hand,
they're now coming back. The Iquique commemoration was mostly
initiated by young people, rising up, wanting to recover the past,
recover idealism, and do something about it. So that's enough, I
would say, more than enough, to keep me going.

VN: Thank you. It has been great. You have a standing invitation to
come to Barcelona and Catalonia. Thank you on behalf of millions of
people. See PDF

FULL: http://www.vnavarro.org/wp/?p=497&langswitch_lang=ca

Los Angeles, California
Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
"Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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