Noam Chomsky has advice for the Occupy movement, whose encampments all over the country are being swept away by police. The occupations were a "brilliant" idea, he says, but now it's time to "move on to the next stage" in tactics. He suggests political organizing in the neighborhoods.
The Occupy camps have shown people how "to break out of this conception that we're isolated." But "just occupying" has "lived its life," says the man who is the most revered radical critic of American politics and capitalist economics.
Chomsky gave his counsel answering questions in a small group after a speech Monday evening, December 12, in the 1000-seat Westbrook Middle School auditorium (a/k/a Westbrook Performing Arts Center), which was filled to capacity. The speech was sponsored by the University of New England's Center for Global Humanities.
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The Occupy movement's repression, which Chomsky decried, has a saving grace, he said: the opportunity for it to expand more into "the 99 percent" by engaging people "face to face."
"Don't be obsessed with tactics but with purpose," he suggested. "Tactics have a half life."
Much is at stake. An angry and frustrated population, as exists now in this country, provides "a combustible mix," he said, adding: "Look at Weimar Germany" — the economically and politically turbulent time in Germany in the early 20th century that led to the rule of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
Chomsky's speech was entitled "Arab Spring, American Winter." In it, he presented the Occupy movement as the first popular reaction to a "vicious class war" waged against working people for over 30 years in the United States, just as the Arab Spring uprisings this year in the Middle East and North Africa were reactions to decades or centuries of repression by wealthy elites supported by the United States and other Western powers.
Greeted with a standing ovation, on top of his game at 83, he stood, in jeans and sweater, talking and answering questions for two hours in his always-even voice.
Riffing from one topic to another, Chomsky — who, an emeritus professor at MIT, also is known as the father of modern linguistics — demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of American foreign policy and history, citing stunningly revealing official documents chronicling our country's economic and military predations abroad.
He compared the rule of international elites over Middle Eastern, African, Latin American, and Asian countries to the rule of the rich 1 percent — it is often the rule of one-tenth of one percent, he suggested — in the United States.
Quoting Adam Smith, the 18th-century father of capitalist theory, Chomsky delved into the roots of the neoliberal soak-the-poor philosophy dominant worldwide. "We're essentially living in a nightmare" that the classical economists predicted, he said.
This nightmare's concentration of wealth "accelerates" political-campaign-money competition, he said, driving politicians into the arms of wealthy interests. One result: "The Democrats are now what used to be called moderate Republicans."
(Recently this reporter asked a prominent Augusta figure if he thought the Occupy movement would make Maine Democrats less like Republicans. He replied that the occupiers "don't finance the campaigns.")
Palma Ryan, 59, who is staying at the Occupy camp in Portland's Lincoln Park, said about 40 occupiers were at the speech. Her reaction to hearing Chomsky: "He is so validating. You leave saying 'yes, yes, yes!'"
Despite what counts in the Portland area as an enormous crowd, the daily press barely covered the event — commonly the case for Chomsky.