Quotes – Chomsky, N. (2003). Understanding Power.

—–Before you read the quotes, please keep in mind, anything inside brackets ‘[ ]’ is either my words, paraphrase or additional information to make the quote make sense. Do not pass off text inside the square brackets as Noam Chomsky’s words. Enjoy reading some of the fascinating quotes by Noam Chomsky, get informed, and most importantly, get organising.—-

Chomsky, N. (2003). Understanding Power. London: Vintage Books.

The military, they’re the guys who overthrow a government. In fact, that’s the main reason for giving military aid training all around the world in the first place, to keep contacts with our guys in the place that counts, the army. (60)

If you want to overthrow a government, you arm its military, and of course you make it hard for the civilian government to function. (7).

The main purpose of secrecy is to make sure that the general population here does not know what is going on. (10)

Every government has a need to frighten its population, and one way of doing that is to shroud its workings in mystery. (11)

The media will present a picture of the world which defends and inculcates the economic, social and political agenda of the privileged groups that dominate the domestic economy, and who therefore also largely control the government. 15

Every time popular movement have succeeded in dissolving power to a certain extent, there has been a deepening recognition among the elites of the West that as you begin to lose power to control people by force, you have to start to control what they think. 16

(Belief of the ruling class in the west): if you lose the power to control people by force, you need better indoctrination. 17

All of the opposition parties (opposition to the Sandinistas) had the support of only 9 per cent of the population. 25

Part of the structure of corporate capitalism is that the players in the game try to increase profits and market shares – if they don’t do that, they will no longer be players in the game. 26

I was never in favour of ending the draft… when it turned into anti-draft activities, I pulled out of them. 36

What’s called ‘Communism’ is supposed to be ‘the far left’: in my view, it’s the far right, basically indistinguishable from fascism. 37

[Post WWII] American manufacturers needed those export markets [Japanese and Western European] desperately. 39

[Sandinistas in Nicaragua] Were carrying out social programmes that were beginning to succeed, and which would have appealed to other people in Latin America who want the same thing. 40 (If nationalisation programmes in one country succeeds other countries are encouraged by this development. This is a threat to corporate interest who own certain industries that are likely to be nationalised. Sabotaging one country sends a message to all others pursuing a similar plan: if you copy them the same thing awaits you]

That is what US planners call the ‘domino theory’, of the threat of good examples, and pretty soon the whole U.S dominate system starts to fall apart. 41

The term ‘peace process’ in used to refer to whatever the United States happens to be doing at the moment – and again, that is without exception. So it turns out the United States is always supporting the peace process by definition. 43

‘Moderate’ is word that means ‘follows us order’. 43 (in other circumstance it may mean support the interest of those in power)

East Harlem:  your grandmother has to stay up at night to keep you from being eaten by rats at night. 45

The crime [in inner cities] is mostly the poor preying on one another, the statistics show that very clearly – because the rich are locked away behind their barricades. 49

When you started to get serious organisation in the urban ghettos in the 1960s, all of a sudden there was a huge flow of drugs which absolutely devastated the inner-city communities. 49

The criminal justice system has been set up ever since then has a lot do with social control… sentencing rules for ghetto drugs like crack and suburban drugs like cocaine… this is a war on poor and minorities. 49

Marijuana’s a weed, you can grow it un your backyard, so there’s nobody who would make any money off it if it were legal. 49

[Religious fanaticism in America] United States was at the level of Bangladesh and it was very close to the level of Iran. Eighty per cent of Americans literally believed in religious miracles. 50

The United States has an unusually weak Labour movement… If social and political life don’t offer you opportunities to form communities and associate yourself with things that are meaningful to you, people look for other ways to do it, and religions an obvious one. 50

If the country seeks deeply into recession, a depoliticised population could very easily be mobilised into thinking its somebody else’s fault. (51)

No reporter would even dream of going out to see Regan to ask him of his opinion on anything- because everybody knows he has no opinion on anything. 54

The United States is permitted to carry out war crimes, its permitted to attack other countries, its permitted to ignore international law. On those things there is a complete consensus. 56

Nuremberg Trials [maxim]: If the West had done it, it wasn’t a crime; it is only a crime if the German had done it and we hadn’t. 57

Britain throughout its whole modern history has tried to prevent Europe from becoming unified -that was the main theme of British history, prevent Europe from being unified, because we’re just an island power off of Europe, and if they ever get unified we are in trouble. 59

George Keenan [line of thinking was], if we control Japans energy resources, we will have veto power over Japan- if they ever get out of line, we will just choke of their energy supply. 60

[Capitalism is defended on the belief] private vices lead to public benefits. 62

If a country begins to pay attention to its own population, it’s not going to be paying adequate attention to its overriding needs of US investors. 65

The Japanese were very brutal colonisers, they weren’t nice guys, but they nonetheless developed their colonies economically; the West just robbed theirs. 66

Capital from Latin America is constantly flowing to the West… That’s not a problem in South Korea: they have the death penalty for capital exports. 66

The cost are paid by the people, though, while the profits are made by the rich [privatise profit; socialise loss]. 67

Remember, any state, any state, has a primary enemy: its own population. If politics begins to break out inside your own country and the population starts to get active, all kinds of horrible things can happen – so you have to keep the population quiescent and obedient and passive. And international conflict is one of the best ways of doing it: if there’s a big enemy around, people will abandon their rights, because you’ve got to survive. 70

Business leader know perfectly well what every economist knows: that spending for civilian purposes is maybe even more efficient, more profitable than spending for military purposes. 71

Social spending increases the danger of democracy – it threatens to increase popular involvement in decision making. 71

Since one of the main purpose of social planning is to keep the population passive, people with power are going to want to eliminate anything that tends to encourage the population to get involved in planning. 71

Capitalism is fine for the Third World – we love them to be inefficient. 73

Fascism does not mean gas chambers, it means a special form of economic arrangement with state coordination of unions and corporations and a big role for business. 74

[During the second world war US was a Fascist state with a command economy, wage and price controls, allocation of materials, all done straight from Washington.] 74

If you want to make sure that government can finance [private for-profit industries with public money] … you have to maintain a pretence of constant security threats – and they can be Russia, they can be Libya, they can be Grenada, Cuba, whatever’s around. 75

What’s the tyranny of the majority? Its what’s known as democracy elsewhere, but when we happen to be in the minority, it becomes ‘tyranny of the majority’. 85

Mass education was first introduced in the United States in the nineteenth century as a way of training the largely rural workforce here for industry. 88

‘Indochina’ was the French colony comprising the area of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. 90

See, libertarian structures aren’t very resilient – they can be easily wiped out by violence, whereas tough authoritarian strictures can often survive that violence. 90

China wasn’t Vietnam to suffer because they are an ideological competitor, and they don’t like having an independent state like that on their borders. 91

[Due to a lack of creative and important sources of outlet, the general population tends to have great focus on sports as well as other pointless activity, and they waste a vast amount of their intellectual capacity on these activities that have limited importance] 99

[Sports plays a role in developing] chauvinism – you start by developing these totally irrational loyalties early in life, and they translate very nicely to other areas… irrational competition, irrational loyalty to power systems, passive acquiescence to quite awful values. 100

American Communist Party were fighting for civil rights in those days when it was no joke… it was a matter of being alone in the South in places where you could very easily get killed. 104

The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive. 111

The Bretton Woods System… multinational corporations and international banks relied on that system, and they did not like it being broken down. 119

If you’re isolated, like Winston Smith in 1984, then sooner or later you are going to break, as he finally broke. That was the point of Orwell’s story… keep people isolated and if you can keep them isolated enough, you can get them to believe anything. 121

Remember the media have two basic functions. One is to indoctrinate the elites, to make sure they have the right ideas and know how to serve power. [Second] Mass media, whose main function is just to get rid of the rest of the population – to marginalise and eliminate them, so they don’t interfere with decision making. 121 (Sitcoms, Sex and Violence, Babies with three heads, football).

I mean, you’d have to go back to the worst days of the American South to know what its been like for the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. 124

Basically, the United States does not give a damn about Israel… But what they do care about is the control of enormous oil resources of the Middle East… In the late 1950s, the United States began to recognise that Israel would be a very useful ally in that respect. 125

A useful weapon against ‘radical Arab nationalism’ would be a highly militarised Israel. 126

Saudi Arabia, pre-revolutionary Iran and Israel… were supposed to protect Saudi Arabia from the Indigenous nationalist forces in the area. 126

Camp David Peace Process

Water [is the reason] Israel is never going to give up the West Bank. 130

A lot of wars in the middle east have been about water- for instance, the wars involving Israel and Syria have usually been about the headwaters of the Jordan, which comes from Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 130

Israel is getting about a third of its water from the West Bank. [Israel wants the Litani River in Jordan and the Nile in Egypt] 130

The first thing Lenin and Trotsky did when they took power in October 1917, was to destroy all of the forms of socialist initiative that developed in Russia since the start of the Russian Revolution in February 1917. 141

Bolsheviks… dismantled every form of popular organisation in Russia and set up a command economy with wages and profits, on a soft of a centralised state capitalist model. 141

Brazil for may 5-10 per cent of its population, is indeed like Western Europe – and for around 80 per cent of its population, it’s kind of like Central Africa. In fact, for probably 80 per cent of the Brazilian population, Soviet Russia would have looked like heaven. 142

Soviet economic development looked too good to poor third world countries, it was a model they wanted to follow. [Americans and the Soviet] each using fear of the other to mobilise its own population. 143

Workers control over production, elimination of wage labour. 146

Castro did not align with the Soviet Union until May 1961. 149

The US is attacking a substantial part of the world that happens to be Muslim, but we’re not attacking it because they’re Muslims – we don’t care if they are Martians. The question is, are they obedient? 155

[Saudi Arabia] torture and murder and kill and all that stuff, but they also send oil profits from their country to the West and not to be people of the region, so they’re just fine. 155

It was after the gulf war was over, the US was in a perfect position to ram through its rejectionist program and fully extend the Monroe doctrine to the Middle East. 170

Sometimes the steps you have to take to make changes require taking things to the level of violent revolutionary struggle. 187

The worst waste of time and effort is court – so any time you can stay out of courts, you’re well off. 187

Martin Luther King was able to play a role in bringing about change because the real agents of change were doing a lot of work [ the grassroots organisers such as the SNCC]. 188

It is necessary to distort history and make it look as if great men did everything – that’s part of how you teach people they can’t do anything, they’re helpless, they just have to wait for some Great Man to come along and do it for them. 189

Rosa parks came out of a community, a well-organised community – Rosa park was an agent of that plan. 189

When you start to encroach on power, you may find it necessary to defend your rights – and defence of your rights sometimes does require violence, then either you use it or you don’t, depending on your moral values. 193

Talking about non-violence is easy, but personally, I can’t really see taking it as an absolute principle. 194

The only parts of the US economy that are internationally competitive are the parts that are the planned part, the state-subsidised parts. 195

Socialism is an effort to solve man’s animal problems, after we have solved that, then we can face the human problems. 199

Humans are very complicated creatures and have lots of ways of torturing each other in their inter-personal relationship. Everybody knows that, without soap operas. 199

If you can’t be ignored, and you can’t be answered, you’re vilified – that’s obvious: no institutions is going to help people undermine it. 205

Intellectuals are specialist at defamation… they’re the ideological managers, so they are the ones who feel the most threated by dissidence.

FBI: the information they get typically is being transmitted to them by agents and informants who are ideological fanatics, and they always misunderstand things in their own crazy way. 207

It’s a world of concentrated power, and those who have that power are not going to reward people who question that power. 212

Socio-biology: it fine when it talks about ants; when it gets to the level of humans, it starts being guesswork. 217

Adam Smith… believed that people fundamental character involved notions like sympathy, and solidarity, the right to control their own work, and so on and so forth: all the exact opposite of capitalism. 221

Universities do not generate nearly enough funds to support themselves from tuition fees alone: they’re parasitic institutions that need to be supported from the outside, and that means they are dependent on wealthy alumni, on corporations. 233

[Noam Chomsky described his school as being] extremely competitive – because that is one of the best ways of controlling people. 237

In every modern economy, the taxpayers are forced to subsidise the private corporations, who then keep the profits for themselves. [privatise the profits, socialise the loss]. 240

[US government] don’t actually use the weapons you’re paying for, you just destroy them in a couple of years and replace them with the next array of even more advanced stuff you don’t need. 240

The first stage of a doctoral process is that the candidate has a meeting with a couple of faculty members and presents her proposal… ‘What’s your methodology going to be?’ ‘What test are you going to use?’. 244

Ireland was actually exporting food to England during famine, because the sacred principle of Political Economy said that’s the way it has to be. 249

Part of the process of trying to develop a degraded and obedient labour force was to make the workers stupid and passive – and mass education was one of the ways that was achieved. 250

People had to have it knocked out of their head that they had an automatic ‘right to live’ beyond what they could win for themselves on the labour market. And that was the main point of classical economics. 252

Classical economic said: no one has the right to live, you only have the right what you can gain for yourself on the labour market. 252

Laissez-faire: the idea that the economy functions best without government intervention. 253

Neo-Liberalism: an economic stance stressing cutbacks in social services, stable currencies, and balanced budgets. 253

The ‘free market’ ideology is very useful – it’s a weapon against the general population here, because it is an argument against social spending, and it is a weapon against poor people abroad, because we can hold it up to them and say ‘you have to follow these rules’ then just rob them. 256

The industrial revolution was fuelled by textiles, meaning one commodity: cotton. And cotton was cheap, that was crucially important. Well, why was cotton cheap? Was it because of market forces? No. Cotton was cheap because they exterminated the native population here and brought in slaves – that’s why cotton was cheap. Genocide and slavery: try to imagine a more severe market distortion than that. 257

Dacca, [which was described by the British when they first arrived to the Indian subcontinent] ‘the Manchester of India’, is the capital of Bangladesh – the absolute symbol of disaster. 257

India was generally a competitor with England… [post colonisation] the British just proceeded to de-industrialise the country by force and turn it into an impoverished rural society. 257

[Monopolisation of resource = domination of all those who don’t control the resource]. 258

Managers have selected automation even when it cuts back on profits – just because it gives them more control over workforce. 259

Cowboys and Indians = Aryans and Jews. 264

‘Political correctness’…. is just a tantrum over the fact it has been impossible to crush all of the dissidence and the activism and the concern that’s developed in the general population in the last thirty years. 265

There is nothing in the mainstream culture that is ever going to tell you you’ve succeeded – they are always going to tell you you’ve failed. 265

When they [people in power] bow to pressure, they are going to present that as their benevolence. 266

American constitution was basically for white male property owners. 267

Now, in general I think it’s true that popular revolutions fail, and one or another elite grouping take over afterwards. 268

[In England in 1275, it was a crime to produce ‘false news’] What that means is, the state decided what is true. 271

[Negative Freedom: freedom to do what you like without being stopped. Positive Freedom: freedom from the constraints that stop you from doing what you want.] 273

If the goal is to achiever positive freedom, it doesn’t help to destroy negative freedom. 273

NAFTA… its going to make a lot more people superfluous from the point of view of profit – so the Crime Bill just will take care of a lot of them, by throwing them in Jail. 282

Canada was always denouncing the United States during the Vietnam War for its criminal actions, meanwhile Canada was probably the leading military exporter in the world per capita, enriching itself on the destruction of Indochina. 270

What happened in Korea was essentially this. When the American forces landed in 1945 at the end of WWII, they found that an already functioning local government had been set up… When the United Stated moved into South Korea, we dismantled all of that, destroyed it by force. 303

The Labour Party in Israel, despite its name, is the party of the rich elites and professionals and the Europeanised segments of the population. 310

There was an Indian leadership which became very rich and privileged by being the agent of the British Imperial system – and it’s the same everywhere else. 313

[Colonised states] are all being run by local agents of the imperial power, whose internal power depends on their support from the outside, but who very much enrich themselves by their client rules status. That’s the standard colonial relationship, and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organisation) is intending to play that role. 313

The nation-state system was exported to the rest of the world through European colonisation. 314

‘The people who own the country ought to govern it’ – that’s the principle of which the United States was found. 315

Its extremely important for people with power not to let anybody understand this, to make them think there are big leaders around who somehow get things going, and then what everybody else has to do is follow them. 322

There are plenty of Union bosses who are crooked, but nowhere near as many CEOs who are crooked. 322

‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’. Karl Marx. 329

Whenever somebody says, ‘I want to become president’’, you can forget it- as President, they won’t be any different from George Bush. 335

Employers in England are allowed to pay different wages to workers depending on whether or not they Unionise – in other words they can say, ‘If you refuse to join the union I’ll increase your wages; if you join the union I’ll lower your wages’. 342

[In politics the options are] One choice is to assume the worst, and then you can be guaranteeing that it’ll happen. The other is to assume that there is some hope for change, in which case it’s possible that that you can help to effect change. 352

French Court in the seventeenth century… would as a sport take Lady So-And-Sos favourite dog and kick it and beat it to death. 357

From one point of view, a child up to a certain point of view is an organ of the mother’s body, and the mother ought to have a decision what to do – and that true. From another point of view, the organism is a potential human being, and it has rights. And those two values are simply in conflict. 358

The second kind of welfare that’s being extended is regressive fiscal measure – which is just another way of disguising welfare to the rich. 369

The drug of choice in the ghetto happens to be crack cocaine, and you get huge mandatory sentence for it; the drug of choice in the white suburbs, like where I live, happens to be powder cocaine, and you don’t get anywhere near the same penalties for it. In fact, the sentence ratio for those drugs in the federal courts is 100 to 1. 371

The urban poor are kind of a useless population from the perspective of power, they don’t really contribute to profit-making, so as a result you want to get rid of them – and the criminal justice system is one of the best ways of doing it. 372

Social policy is not directed against the rich, its directed against the poor. 372

All of this ‘crime control’ spending is another huge taxpayer stimulus to the economy – mainly to parts of the construction industry, and to lawyers, and other professionals. 373

One of the best means of controlling people has always been to induce fear: for Hitler it was Jews and Homosexuals and Gypsies; here [ America] its blacks. 375

Lockheed Corporation [an armaments contractor], a publicly subsidised/private profit corporation that wouldn’t exist except for taxpayer subsidies. 377

About a trillion dollar moves around in international speculative markets…- and that has just a huge effect on national governments. In fact, by this point, what it means is international that the international investing community has virtual veto-power over what any national government can do. 379

People who speculate against currencies are afraid of inflation – because it decreases the value of their money, so therefore it is a big threat to them. [government spending and high employment impacts inflation] 380

[Those that hold the treasury securities have a veto on US government, they can start selling off the treasury bonds and cause huge increase in interest rate and government inability to spend in deficit]. 380

[America] the only country in the industrial world that does not have legally mandated vacations. And with that, incomes are at best stagnating for the majority of the population. 382

Labour movement simply has to be international today. 383

The ability of big transnational organisation to play one national workforce against another to drive down work standards everywhere, there just has to be international solidarity today if there is going to be any hope – and that means real international solidarity. 384

If it turns out that building genuine mass popular movements on an international scale can’t be done, its not so obvious that there will continue to be a human civilisation for very long. 386

A corporation is something that is trying to maximise power and profit: that’s what it is. 391

German businessman who supported Hitler were probably thinking about the same thing in 1937 and ’38. They’d been perfectly happy to pay off the Nazis to organise the population of the basis of fear, hatred, racism and jingoism, in order to beat down the German labour movement and kill of the Communists there – but of course, once the Nazis got in power, they had their own agenda. The big industrialist in Germany did not want war with the West – but by then it was too late. 395

[Militias and Paramilitary organisations in the US] If you look at who is involved in them, they are people from the sector of the population that has really gotten it in the neck in the last 20 years: they’re high school graduates, mostly white males, a segment of the population that has really taken a beating. 396

Every time Regan would announce some Libyan terrorist action or something, the entire tourism industry in Europe would collapse, because everybody in the United States was afraid to go to Europe. 398

The country is in a state where people are disillusioned, frightened, sceptical, angry, don’t trust anything, want something better, know that everything’s rotten. [perfect condition for organises, from the left or right]. 400

It is quite possible that much of Central America will become uninhabitable in another couple of decades. For instance, Nicaragua’s losing its water supply. Why? The reason is, in the aftermath of the American attack of the 1980s, people are starving, and they’re doing the only thing they can do – they go up into the hills to cut wood and try to find some land to work, they do whatever they can to survive. 400

More and more people get marginalised because they play no role in profit making, which is considered the only human value. 401

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