"The people who work in the mills ought to own them"
--"Factory Girls", working in the mills in
Lowell, Mass in the 1840s

Noam Chomsky on Enlightenment Principles
3:20 minute MP3 on the internet (on Gnutella)
Transcribed for www.EconomicDemocracy.org

Q: "I was curious about your remarks about the millhands of Lowell and that maybe the best idea was for them to own the firms themselves."

NC: Ok let's just talk about the principle.

The principle, as far as I can see, goes right back to the Enlightenment. Like if you go back to classical Enlightenment thought. I'm now talking about Adam Smith, and Jefferson and those guys. The sort of core idea, is: people have the a right to control their own work.

Ok that -- here I'll quote a standard formula, back in the 18th century, OF leading heros of the Enlightenment, is: "if a person does beautiful work, [but] under external command" -- meaning for wages -- "we may admire what he does, but we despise what he is" -- because he's not a free human being, ok?

That goes all the way through classical liberal thought, Enlightenment thought, I mean .. Alexis de Tocqueville says, "Under wage labor, the art advances, the artisan declines".

Now, you find this going right into the working class movements in Lowell and Lawrence -- I think that's just natural. I wouldn't try to convince anybody of it.

It seems to me [that] if you think about it, yeah, why should you work on command?

I mean, if you work on command, you're some kind of slave, you know?

Why not work because it comes out of your needs and interests?

I mean, it's like cheap for me to say, I'm at a fancy university in a science department and I can do that. One of the nice things about being in a science department at a fancy university is you really do have worker's control -- I mean, to a very large extent -- we control what we do. "Want to work on this topic, or work on that topic?" I mean, you gotta sell it to funders, and this and that, but the degree of workers' control at the elite level is quite substantial. I mean, that's why it's such a privilege to be in a science department. An enormously privileged existence. Forget the money. If they paid you one tenth the money it would still be a much better existence than working on command.

Now, I think people do know that, you know. I don't think that these Enlightenment ideas are hard to grasp. I think people know that if you work under external control, "you may admire what the person does, but we despite what he is", because, his labor, you know, the sort of central part of your life, is being done at somebody else's orders. And you're not controlling the way it's done, or why it's done, or how it's used, or anything else. Well, you can't have every individual controlling every single thing -- but that's why you have democratic structures, 'cause [so] people control things together.

I don't know how to, I wouldn't try to convince anyone of this, 'cause frankly, I just don't believe that everyone doesn't already know it. I think -- maybe I'm sentimental -- but it seems to me that if you sort of cut away waves of, layers of distortion and illusion, these things that were considered pretty obvious 200 years ago, are still obvious.