On Anarchy & Anarcho-Syndicalism

Dr. Chomsky is famous the world over for his work in linguistics but more so his political philosophies and beliefs. He is a self-described anarchist, and more specifically, an anarcho-syndicalist.

Radio VR discussed a number of issues with Dr. Chomsky, including anarcho-syndicalism. Specifically, we inquired into what it is, how it arises, and how it can be applied by people that want to affect positive change in the world.

The transcript is below:

Sean Nevins: I kind of want to start off by asking you to briefly describe what is anarchism and more specifically anarcho-syndicalism?

Noam Chomsky: Well, I think the best characterization that I know is given by one of the leading thinkers and activists in the modern anarcho-syndicalist world, Rudolf Rocker, who described anarchism, in general, as not a specific set of beliefs that provides particular answers to all the questions that can arise, but rather what he called ‘a general tendency in the history of humanity’ which aims to inquire into the nature of social, economic, political structures to determine, to detect structures of hierarchy and domination and to challenge them to demonstrate their legitimacy. They are not self-justifying and if they cannot defend their legitimacy on some plausible grounds then to dismantle them and reconstruct then from below. And to do this in the context of the existing society, developing alternative institutions that are more free and more just in the hope of moving on to a world of free associations of workers’ communities controlling their own institutions, their own fate in association with one another of various kinds of federal arrangements and so on. That is the basic thrust of anarchism. Altogether it is my view and of anarcho-syndicalism in particular which is designed for complex industrial societies.

Sean Nevins: So, you are talking about workers controlling their own work and controlling the enterprises of that work and expanding out into the community?

Noam Chomsky: It’s one of crucial aspect of it. In fact, anarcho-syndicalism kind of shades off into left anti-Bolshevik Marxism. People like Anton Pannekoek, Paul Mattick, Karl Korsch and others have sympathetic relationships and ideas and the great anarchist achievement like the 1936 Spanish Revolution before it was crushed, did have the strong and sympathetic support of left Marxists who felt a community of interests and commitments.

Sean Nevins: Workers controlling their own work – How is this organized? And how does it arise?

Noam Chomsky: Well, it’s all over the place. First of all it is a constant development takes place all over. There were efforts in Eastern Europe, for example, in self-management in Yugoslavia. Right now in the United States, in the old decaying Rust Belt, where industries are collapsing, they’re being replaced, to a certain extent, by worker owned and partially worker-managed enterprises. There is one huge institution that’s Mondragon, a great conglomerate in Spain which is worker owned and the manager is selected by workers but not actually worker-managed which is a collection of heavy industries, banks, hospitals, community living and so on.

Sean Nevins: Do they arise, kind of, spontaneously and is there a system that regulates how the workers organize themselves, like maybe in the US, like they do it one way, and then over in Spain, [at] Mondragon, they’ll do it a different way. Is there any kind of vision?

Noam Chomsky: There is no leadership or Bible, things develop on the basis of the circumstances that exist. So the conditions in Rust Belt in Northern Ohio and in Catalonia and in Aragon in 1936 are quite different and the backgrounds are quite different. But there were similarities in the way the take-over by working people, peasants of their own lives proceeded.

Sean Nevins: Let’s say that Mondragon wants to have an association with somebody in the Rust Belt…

Noam Chomsky: That is what is happening in fact. I don’t know how far it’ll go, but one of the major US unions, the steel workers, has now entered into some kinds of interactions with Mondragon to try to work out ways to develop Mondragon-type system in the old industrial sections of the US and revive them on the basis of worker-ownership and community-ownership in control.

1 comment

  1. John Goodrich January 12, 2014 2:53 pm 

    Sadly, I have a huge disagreement with Noam Chomsky ,whom I respect to the point of reverence for all I have learned from his writings over the past 30 years.
    This disagreement has extended to a rather rancorous discussion with Michael Albert for whom I also have enormous respect.

    The reason is that for the past four years I have been studying what is called the coming technological singularity – the exponential/logarithmic development of what, in ten years will be super-human computing capacity and machine intelligence which, will obviate the need for human labor ..all human labor or so much of it that the anarcho-syndicalist/socialist/communist visions of a democratic WORKER-led society is rendered unworkable ..
    The rate of this development is what seems to be at the crux of the disagreement in that both Noam and Michael both see this near-total automation of the work force but in the distant future as opposed to that 30 -50 year time span people like Ray Kurzweil have predicted .

    Kurzweil bases his so-far highly accurate predictions on Moore’s Law’s dictate that computing capacity doubles every eighteen months and this has held up for some 30 years now.
    Noam insists Moore’s Law is not a law but a trend but since that trend does hold up and certainly will for the ten years it will take to achieve human and then super-human computing power/AI even utilizing the present silicon technologies .

    (Last year the Chinese announced development of a 12 petaflop computing array and utilizing Moore’s Law , super-human computing capacity will be reached in ten years) .

    The current race to the bottom of the wage scale by exporting jobs to low market areas of the world -called globalization – has been devastating in its effects on capitalism in richer countries as millions of jobs go away permanently .

    Simultaneously , there is also a race among all competitive capitalists to automate the workplace which might be termed a technological globalization in that it too is replacing higher-cost workers with much less expensive and infinitely more effective machines.
    As these currently dumb-program driven – robotics are themselves replaced or augmented with human and quickly after that, super-human-level AI driven robotics and at that exponential/logarithmic rate dictated by Moore’s Law , the jobs for humans at all levels will simply disappear .

    Foxconn-the giant electronics plant in China installed a dumb robotic assembler last year that replace 250 workers and the company announced plans to install tens of thousands of robotic devices this year , again to lower its costs .

    As it is with globalization no competitive manufacturer can afford to not participate in the race to automate which unlike the race to low labor cost nations has no limits as to the number of jobs it can take away from humans.

    This scenario taken to its conclusion means the end of capitalism but not through revolution of the type with which we are familiar .

    With no workers, there are no paychecks and with no paychecks there can be no paid consumption of the goods and services as required by capitalism and a new means of distributing the goods and services produced in even greater quantities and quality by super-human machines must be developed and implemented by humanity.

    Were it not for what I believe will be that technological future, Noam’s anarcho-syndicalist society and/or Michael’s superbly thought-out Parecon WOULD be the ideas and methods for a better future but IMO and that of Kurzweil, Diamandis et all , both will be rendered moot when machines replace humans in the (unbelievable and incomprehensible to most) very near future.

    You can Google “when machines replace humans ” and read what is NOW going on in moving towards this very near future .

    It is said by many skeptics that Moore’s Law will falter or fail but it has not so far, shows no sign of doing so and when the silicon technology currently in use has reached its limits, a new paradigm such as the carbon nanotube and graphene technologies now in development, will come on line and continue that exponential/logarithmic growth of AI well past human levels.

    I would like to be shown where the holes are in this thinking and in particular, where Kurzweil, now head of engineering at Google, is in error. .

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