Overcoming Orthodoxies
Part Two of interview excerpts

David Barsamian: I want to come back to the idea of what individuals can do in overcoming orthodoxies. Steve Biko, the South African activist who was murdered by the apartheid regime while he was in custody, once said, The most powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

Noam Chomksy: He's quite accurate. Most oppression succeeds because its legitimacy is internalized. That's true of the most extreme cases. Take, say, slavery. It wasn't easy to revolt if you were a slave, by any means. But if you look over the history of slavery, it was in some sense just recognized as just the way things are. Well do the best we can under this regime. Another example, also contemporary (its estimated that there are some 26 million slaves in the world), is women's rights. There the oppression is extensively internalized and accepted as legitimate and proper. Its still true today, but its been true throughout history.

That's true in case after case. Take working people. At one time in the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, a hundred a fifty years ago, working for wage labor was considered not very different from chattel slavery. That was not an unusual position. That was the slogan of the Republican Party, the banner under which Northern workers went to fight in the Civil War. Were against chattel slavery and wage slavery. Free people do not rent themselves to others. Maybe you're forced to do it temporarily, but that's only on the way to becoming a free person, a free man, to put it in the rhetoric of the day. You become a free man when you're not compelled to take orders from others.

That's an Enlightenment ideal. Incidentally, this was not coming from European radicalism. There were workers in Lowell, Mass., a couple of miles from where we are. You could even read editorials in the New York Times saying this around that time. It took a long time to drive into people's heads the idea that it is legitimate to rent yourself.

Now thats unfortunately pretty much accepted. So that's internalizing oppression. Anyone who thinks its legitimate to be a wage laborer is internalizing oppression in a way which would have seemed intolerable to people in the mills, lets say, a hundred and fifty years ago. So that's again internalizing oppression, and its an [unfortunate] achievement [of indoctrination in our culture].

The Barsamian/Chomsky entire interview will appear in an upcoming South End Press volume later in 2001.

Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are [not only in practice, but even also] in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level -- there's little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I'm opposed to political fascism, I'm opposed to economic fascism. I think that until the major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it's pointless to talk about democracy.
-- Noam Chomsky, Language and Politics (1988) p.162.

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