Occupy and Nonviolence

Published on ZNet, by Noam Chomsky and D.J. Buschini, April 25, 2012.

DJ Buschini: A good deal of committed organization helped lay the groundwork for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. For years, activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) drew inspiration from Gandhian practices and Christian pacifism. What’s your take on Occupy and the nonviolent philosophy?  

  • Noam Chomsky: It’s certainly what one should prefer. Some prefer it to the extent of never being willing to do anything else. So, for example, Martin Luther King wanted to just keep to it strictly – nothing else, not even in self-defense.  Others have a less rigid view. And there are also more complex conceptions of nonviolence.
  • One of the leading figures in 20th century American nonviolent movements, and kind of a mentor of King and others, was A. J. Muste, who is not too well known, but he should be. He was a nonviolent pacifist, a pacifist during WWII. But he advocated what he called Revolutionary Pacifism. He said that pacifism in the face of injustice is not enough. So unless you confront the structural violence of ordinary life, then it is hypocritical and meaningless to object to the fringe of violence by more marginal groups who are also struggling against injustice.
  • We should object to what they’re doing, but we can’t take ourselves seriously unless we’re confronting the whole system of violence under which most people try to survive somehow. That includes violent repression, but also just what’s sometimes called structural violence: the system of exploitation, repression and subordination. So that is Revolutionary Pacifism. And it can be a very effective force … //

… DJB: And say you’re advocating for “occupations,” not “jobs” – in a democracy predicated on conserving healthy societies and ecosystems. What’s your conception of work as it relates to human nature?

  • NC: Well, there are fundamentally two different ways of looking at work. One is capitalist ideology. That basically takes for granted that the natural state of a person is to vegetate. You have to be driven to work. If you aren’t driven to work you’ll lie around watching television or take your money from the welfare office and you won’t do anything. So therefore there have to be punishments for not working and rewards for working.
  • There’s a different conception, which goes right back to the Enlightenment. And that’s one that regards work as one of the highest goals in life. But they’re referring to a special kind of work: creative work taken under your own control and under your own initiative. That’s a very different conception of work, one that’s pretty familiar to all of us. If you just walk down the halls around here [at MIT], you’ll see people working, maybe 80 hours a week, working hard. Because they like what they’re doing! They’re fundamentally controlling their own work – challenging issues, etc.
  • But you don’t have to be an engineer and a scientist to do that. The same is true of carpenters, plumbers. I know artisans who just love their work; they’ll do it in their spare time. Maybe they have to do it in a factory during the day, but during the weekend they’ll go in the garage and build a car or something like that. Because it’s something they want to do. And I think almost all work can be like that.
  • But, fundamentally, it’s back to just different conceptions of what work is. And what human beings are. I mean, are they, kind of, in their nature, dependent couch potatoes? Or are they people who want to become involved in creative, exciting, challenging work that they control themselves and cooperatively with others?
  • Again, if you walk down the halls you see students talking to each other. A lot of the work that gets done is cooperative work. That’s the way things happen almost anywhere.

DJB: What would it look like if we could work to encompass the broader public and its economic activity in the Occupy Movement’s ethic of transparent, direct democracy?

  • NC: Well that’s a very big “if”. But if in fact you could expand the Occupy Movement – if we all could – to include the workforce, communities, places of production, commercial enterprises, the media and so on…it would be a major revolution which would dramatically change the world. But of course there would be plenty of efforts to restrain it. Power systems don’t just give up easily and say, “thank you, I’ll go home.” So it would be a huge enterprise.

(full interview text).

Comments are closed.