This is the first of a three-part interview with Institute Professor Noam A. Chomsky, conducted in early September by Subrata Ghoshroy, a researcher in the Science, Technology, and Global Security Working Group at MIT. In this part, Ghoshroy and Chomsky discussed the then-pending U.S.-India nuclear deal and why a “majority of the world supports Iran.”
Another version of this interview was previously published at Alternet.org.
Subrata Ghoshroy: What in your opinion is the future of the Left in India, broadly speaking, and the Communists?
Noam Chomsky: On one hand, there has been significant growth and development in the past 20 years or so. On the other hand, the internal problems are simply overwhelming.
If you look at the human development index, for example, when the neo-liberal reforms, so-called, began, India was 125th or so. Now it is 128th, the last time I looked. Meaning that the fundamental internal problems of India which are so overwhelming when you just even walk the streets have clearly not been addressed.
If you go to places like Hyderabad or Bangalore, you see wonderful laboratories, high tech industries, software and a few miles away a sharp increase in peasant suicides coming from the same source. The same social and economic policies are driving both processes.
In places like West Bengal, there of course has been serious internal strife over land rights and industrial development and I don’t think that the left has worked out a way to come to terms with that constructively.
On issues like the U.S.-India nuclear pact, from what I read of the Left’s positions, I have found them quite disappointing. They seem to be opposing the pact on nationalist grounds, that India might be surrendering some element of sovereignty. But the real problem is quite different; it is a major step towards undermining the Non-proliferation Treaty. As of course India’s refusal to join it and its secret bomb was in the first place.
You know that India does have a tradition about disarmament and nonalignment and so on going back to Nehru, of pressing for nuclear disarmament, nonalignment and so on, and the U.S.-India pact is directly counter to that honorable tradition. And I would have expected the Left to be emphasizing this.
SG: To their credit, the communist Left has talked about the independence of foreign policy. It was one of the planks of the common minimum program between the UPA and the Left.
NC: I realize that. That’s why I was particularly surprised that it did not come up in the context of the U.S.-India nuclear program just being implemented, because it is anything but a step toward independence of foreign policy.
In fact, the growing U.S.-India-Israel alliance is a very dangerous development in world affairs. I should say that India has kept a degree of distance from it so, for example while it sometimes goes along with the U.S. on its anti-Iranian hysteria, India has also rejected U.S. pressures to terminate energy relations with Iran. It also joined the non-aligned countries, I noticed …
SG: Statement about Palestine, for example?
NC: Yes, and also about Iran, in strongly emphasizing Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy.
SG: Although they have not gone through with the pipeline. They have been foot-dragging there.
NC: Exactly. They seem to be playing both sides of the street and I would have liked to see the Left take a stronger stand on this. So there are both internal problems and questions about international relations which seem to be at best unclear and at worst rather negative.
SG: So, as you were just saying, in comparison with the situation in Latin America with the Pink Tide and so forth, [in Latin America] there is a lot more explicit stance against imperialism and toward independence and toward South-South relations.
NC: They exist [in India], but I think that India should be in the lead, as it was in the l950s when it was in the lead in the nonaligned movement.
SG: So this is, I guess, the tension in the Indian situation. The Indian government, the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, they think NAM is anachronistic and a relic of the cold war.
NC: I think that they are quite wrong. I think that it is a sign of the future. The positions of the Non-Aligned Movement, and the South Commission before it, and along side of it, are pretty sound.
A good indication of how sound they are: they are almost entirely suppressed in the West, which tells you a lot. For example, take the question of Iranian enrichment. The U.S., of course, takes a very strong militant position against it, which is kind of ironic because the same officials who are now having tantrums about it are the ones who supported the same programs under the Shah.
MIT is right at the center of that. I can remember in the l970s there was a big internal crisis at MIT when the Institute authorities pretty much sold the nuclear engineering department to the Shah in a secret agreement, which of course leaked and then students were upset about it and had a lot of protests which ended up with a student referendum strongly opposed to it.
The agreement was that the Nuclear Engineering Department would agree to bring in Iranian Nuclear Engineers and, in return, the Shah would provide some unspecified but presumably large amount of money to MIT. The details never came out. So, when information leaked, there was a lot of student protest and the student referendum, something like 80 percent of students were opposed to it, some large number.
There was so much turmoil about it, the faculty had to have a large meeting. Usually faculty meetings are pretty boring things, nobody wants to go, but this one pretty much everybody came to it, there was a big discussion. It was quite interesting. There were a handful of people, of whom I was one, who opposed the agreement with the Shah. But it passed overwhelmingly.
It was quite striking that the faculty vote was the exact opposite of the student vote which tells you something quite interesting because the faculty are the students of yesterday, but the shift in institutional commitment had a major impact on their judgments, a wrong impact in my opinion. Anyway, it went through.
Probably the people running the Iranian program today were trained at MIT. Strongest supporters of this U.S.-Iranian Nuclear Program were Henry Kissinger, Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.
SG: This was right around Nixon?
NC: This was in the mid-70s. Kissinger now says how can Iran be pursuing a peaceful program when they have so much oil, they don’t need nuclear energy. In l975, he was saying the opposite.
He was saying, Iran, of course, has to develop nuclear energy. It cannot rely upon its oil resources. Kissinger was asked by the Washington Post, why he had completely changed his judgment on this issue. He was quite frank and honest. He said something like, “They were an ally then, so they needed nuclear energy. Now they are an enemy, so they don’t need nuclear energy.” OK. I appreciate honesty. It is ironic to see this developing right now.
When you read the media on this, say the New York Times, the coverage is uniform. “Iran is defying the world.” “Iran is defying the international community.”
The fact of the matter is that the majority of the world supports Iran. The non-aligned movement [NAM] supports Iran. The majority of the world is part of the non-aligned movement. But they are not part of the world, from the U.S. point of view.
It is a striking illustration of the strength and depth of the imperial mentality. If the majority of the world opposes Washington, they are not part of the world. Strikingly, the American population is not part of the world.
A large majority of Americans — something like 75 percent — agree that Iran has the right to develop nuclear energy, if it is not for nuclear weapons. But they are not part of the world either. The world consists of Washington and whoever goes along with it. Everything else is not the world. Not the majority of Americans. Not the majority of countries of the world.
All of this illustrates many things, among them the importance of the nonaligned movement. Just as the South Commission was important, the same is true of NAM. But the Commission’s important positions were never quoted or mentioned; they were treated as insignificant. They are not insignificant.
The same is true of NAM. India should be in the lead of ensuring that the voice of what is euphemistically called “developing countries” should be heard, should be influential, and should be powerful. Not just what comes out of Washington and London!
SG: And what you are saying is that this is where the left should be much more vocal and active?
NC: To an extent, they are. It is very hard to break through western propaganda. This was dramatically true in the l970ss in the early period of decolonization when there were calls for a new international economic order, a new information order — a restructuring of the world to give the voiceless some voice.
UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development] was an important institution at the time. UNESCO was pressing for an international information order in which the Third World would have a voice. There was bitter opposition to that here. It was really brutal here; UNESCO was practically destroyed.
SG: And the U.S. left UNESCO for a while?
NC: First it practically destroyed UNESCO and then it left it for a long time. Media and commentators were full of outright lies about how UNESCO was trying to destroy freedom of the press. And so on and so forth.
What they were trying to do very clearly was to break the Western monopoly and to allow independent voices to appear. That is intolerable to Western intellectual communities. We have to have an absolute monopoly, otherwise it violates freedom.
There is quite a good book on this running through the details. It is called Hope and Folly by William Preston, Herbert Schiller, and Edward Herman, and that book, published by a university press [University of Minnesota Press, 1989], could never be reviewed. Because of the devastating story that it tells about the efforts of the media and the intellectual community and so on to destroy UNESCO out of fear that it might open the international communications system to Third World voices.
Take a look at the book, it is very devastating and what happened is incredible. The same thing happened with the new international economic order.
Instead of a new international economic order of the kind that UNCTAD was pressing for, which made a lot of sense, what happened was the opposite. That’s when the West with U.S. and Britain in the lead, and others rammed through neo-liberal programs which have been pretty much of a disaster.
International economists often say it has been a great success, pointing to average growth rates and the rise out of poverty during the past 30 years. That is a scam! The rising growth rates and rise out of poverty are primarily from China.
But China was not following neo-liberal rules. They were pursuing a policy of export orientation with a state-directed economy. State-directed export orientation is not the Washington consensus. Muddling the two things together is real dishonesty.
SG: I see. Because of sheer numbers in China? A billion Chinese are growing.
NC: If you have a billion Chinese who are growing, the average growth rate increases. So you have an increase in average growth rate mainly through the efforts of countries that are not following the rules. The same is true of India. One of the reasons that India escaped the Asian financial crisis was that it maintained financial controls.
SG: Right, which would not be the case anymore.
NC: Not anymore. But in that period … It escaped the disaster that took place. Take South Korea, it has had spectacular growth. It is heralded as a success of neo-liberal principles. That is not even a bad joke.
In South Korea the controls over capital were so strict that a capital export could bring the death penalty. What does that have to do with neo-liberalism? It was a state-directed economy, more or less on the Japanese model.
Incidentally, just to make the irony even more extreme, one of the leading state-based economies in the world is the United States. Surely, everyone at MIT knows that. What pays their salaries? MIT is part of the funnel by which the taxpayer pays the costs and takes the risks of high tech development and the profits are ultimately privatized.
NC: That’s where you get computers and Internet and the biotech. The entire high tech economy almost derives from the dynamic state sector.