Noam Chomsky & the WSM discuss politics over breakfast


During Noam Chomsky's recent visit to Ireland five members of the Workers Solidarity Movement met him over breakfast to talk over a range of issues from Palestine to the capitalist crisis to social partnership to Iran to Obama and the US Labour Movement. Notes on the discussion are below followed by the audio recording itself.

The conversation is about 52 minutes long and as its recorded over breakfast there is a fair bit of cutlery noise included. The notes below are a very rough outline to the conversation noted down as I edited the audio file, it is not a transcript but a summary and there are substantial gaps in it as the conversation goes back and forth.

Note the acronym BDS is used a couple of times in the conversation, this stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)

Farah - Voices in the Wilderness, going to Iraq and Lebanon, what the Israelis did to Lebanon in 2006, problems getting the facts to the American people
Chomsky - you can't non violently shoot down fighter jets
Etain - Gaza protests in Ireland
Ger - Palestinian solidarity groups in Ireland, the Goldstone report and Israeli war crimes
Chomsky - the flaws of the Goldstone report, lies in the NY Times, unprovoked aggression is a war crime, problems with the tactics of the Palestinian solidarity movement, have to change US policy, the successful South African example
Ger - Irish activists should target our government, suspend EuroMed agreement, Irish government position is just rhetoric
Chomsky - Europe voted with US to block an International Atomic Energy Commission demand that Israel open its reactors for inspection, did Ireland vote for this.
Farah - the difficult of pro Palestinian activism in the US
Chomsky - experience of protests against him speaking on the issue at US colleges and using that to build events
Julian - how is the financial crisis being reported to the working class in the mainstream media
Chomsky - somewhat accurate but it doesn't explain why the crisis is happening and so the Murdoch right press and lunatics are providing cry answers. The Liberal Democrats can't give the right answers so they are stuck with Rush Limbugh and Sarah Palin.
Etain - what should the anarchist response be
Chomsky - explain how the policies of the last 30 years enrich rich people, these are policies of Carter, Clinton and Obama. Obama's financial advisors should be in jail.
Etain - Irish media trying to divide public and private sector workers, unions only strong in public sector, what can we do
Chomsky - build the labour movement, there has been a major campaign since WWII to undermine unions, its part of the reason the US has no health care, UAW in the US only fought for its own workers, in Canada the unions fought for everyone.
Johnny - how can anarchists and Irish workers counter anti-union
Chomsky - education, organization and tactics that are at the level of people's understanding, union bureaucracy is usually the enemy but the workforce may trust them so you can't simply say they are the enemy.
Gerry - we need to go back to Larkin
Chomsky - the working class is in trouble if it accepts the one big family line. There was some rational to partnership in giving a broader range of the workforce the benefits of the Celtic Tiger.
Etain - the fear of a return to emigration and unemployment is real
Julian - heads of ICTU put pension levy on the table, 120k workers wanted a general strike but the strike never happened, was very demoralizing
Chomsky - the degeneration of workers solidarity has been pretty remarkable, Obama spoke at a Caterpillar factory but there were no protests from the Labor Movement, it was the first factory in generations back in the 80's to call in scabs, strikers did not get community support because of collapse of working class culture, that's where Obama goes to give his solidarity speech
Ger - how does that compare with workers struggles in Argentina in 2001
Chomsky - that crisis really destroyed the economy, there have been little revolts in the US like the Republic Windows and Doors sit in in Chicago, lot of the workers got their jobs back, auto plants are being shut down but high speed rail could be build in those plants
Ger - Waterford crystal & Visteon occupations in Ireland
Chomsky - I followed that. In the New Deal as soon as workers started sitting in that is when legislation was passed. In Argentina it happened after everything collapsed, you don't want to wait till that. Youngstown, Ohio saw an attempt to have a legal take over of the plants by the workers rather than a closure, that is where anarchists should be pushing to take the next step. From giving talks in working class areas people think its kinda reasonable, that is labor history, someone has got to light that spark.
Etain - importance of education, how do you deal with apart and people not getting terms like anarchist
Chomsky - subtract the terms, they scare people, just talk about taking over the plant
Etain - what is the best way to communicate that
Chomsky - house to house organizing, neighborhood meetings, remember antiwar and civil rights movement started with small meetings of 4 people
Johnny - what is the medias role in driving a wedge between workers
Ger - media furore about the release of last two (provo) IRA prisoners but no reporting of military refueling at Shannon
Chomsky - they are doing their job, they are part of the state corporate system, praise them for occasionally breaking out. Journalists believe in what they are doing just like soviet party hacks. They can criticize someone else's crimes but not those of their own state.
Julian - media crusade against Shell to Sea campaign
Chomsky - media critique is a good thing to do but you can't act if your surprised. Purpose of critique is not to change media but to get people to understand the filters
Etain - should grassroots groups be advocating strikes or a building social centers
Chomsky - does the population understand what tomorrows (ICTU) demonstration is about? Impressions of the audience at the Pat Kenny discussion about the demonstration, they seemed very split about it. This can be harmful, happened to the anti-war protests in the 60's with split to maoist cults and weathermen which turned into a gift for Nixon. People can understand taking over a factory. It's pretty straightforward. All tactics need to be adopted to the circumstance
Etain - why are so few women involved in politics
Chomsky -are you sure its true, there are plenty of women now and in the past e.g. Women's Strike for Peace. The anarchist tradition has plenty, participation is better now then before due to feminist movement, there are less barriers. Back in the Spanish Civil War the women anarchist leaders were supporting sexist practise that wouldn't happen now.
Farah - some of biggest social justice movement in Middle East are women's movements, even on agenda of Iranian election
Chomsky - a bit on Iranian election, feminist movement in Afghanistan preceded that in the US.
Farah - perception that women don't have rights in a lot of Islamic countries, going to a protest after that about execution of scholars, do you have thoughts on Iran
Chomsky - will there be a demonstration in Iran outside the US embassy tomorrow as they have banned all demonstrations. It's a very touchy situation, its unclear how we can best help, a strong stand against the government is good from one point of view but it helps the government paint the demonstrations as a western plot. You don't want protest to take a form that can be exploited by the ruling clerics. On Afghanistan we can make sure their voices are heard.
Farah - Code Pink recently came out against a timetable for US withdrawal after visiting Afghanistan, it was very disappointing
Chomsky - who did they talk to, Afghan women are caught between awful forces, where do you find a way out that doesn't leave one of these forces in power.
Farah - EU ambassadors saying they don't want to tell Afghan government how to treat their women as its culturally insensitive
Chomsky - best period for women in Kabul was probably during the Russian occupation, big problem was with US backed Islamic radicals, wasn't possible to get stuff published that said this.
Ger - can I ask for your opinions on Free Gaza and Viva Palestina movement
Chomsky - really inspiring development, something totally new in the history of imperialism, if Israel rams the boats its an organizing technique, if they get through its great, people have been beaten and kidnapped by Israeli forces, one thing that can turn US government policy and that's the real target. One goal is to help the Palestinians directly which is fine but also tactics that can shift US policy is critically significant. Europe can take an independent stand and Ireland could help this happen

Listen to the audio on, 24mb, 52 minutes

When Chomsky was in Dublin in 2006 he did a private questions and answers session for the WSM and guests at the Teachers Club. You can view the video recording of this at our youtube channel at
That presentation if more focused on a discussion of anarchism and anarchist history

Noam Chomsky on Anarchism, Marxism & Hope for the Future
Interview between Noam Chomsky and Kevin Doyle of the WSM from 1995