Thursday, 7 October 2010

VIDEO & TEXT: SONS OF MALCOLM's SUKANT CHANDAN & HICHAM YEZZA ON CHOMSKY'S NEW BOOK - 'HOPES AND PROSPECTS'










Press TV recently conducted an interview with journalist and political analyst Sukant Chandan and Hlchaim Yezza, the editor of Ceasefire magazine to discuss Professor Noam Chomsky's new book Hopes and Prospects.


Following is the text:

Press TV: Sukant, tell us what you thought of the book and Prof. Chomsky?

Sukant Chandan: I first came across Chomsky as an undergraduate student at the university where I used his book Manufacturing Consent for my final thesis on the rising impact of Arabic Aljazeera. It was an incredible work, incredibly detailed, incredibly comprehensive. So I am a great admirer of Chomsky, the way he deconstructs the structure of power and control.

On the other hand, Chomsky is not always the most optimistic of writers and analysts. Hlchaim and I went to his lectures in London late last year; we noticed that he wasn't exactly full of hopes, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the title Hopes and Prospects.

However, the title of the book doesn't necessarily reflect the… He emphasizes his hopes and prospects, particularly for Latin America but I think he doesn't perhaps really see some of the fundamental changes that are happening around the world

Press TV: Hlchaim, what did you find in the book?

Hlchaim Yezza: I think the title is quite apt actually. Chomsky has the reputation of being a sort of pessimist or somebody who may not have the sunniest attitude toward the future but I think it is really hard to blame Chomsky for that. The evidence is overwhelming, if you look at this book for example or indeed any of his books over the last 30 or 40 years, he does go hard with the evidence and sets up exactly the reasons why he is doubtful about whether humanity has any future if things continue the way they are. I think this is the key point. The aim behind his book, his activism and behind attempts to demystify power is simply to get people to react and change things. He does believe that change is possible and I think this is the hopes and prospects. So things are bleak but there is good work to be done.

Press TV: I suppose if you study history, it's rather pessimistic on how mankind behaves, and I suppose the professor is so emerged in that… But I thought part of his analysis didn't touch on what is happening in say Singapore or what's happened in Japan. So development of a wealthy economy hasn't always come up at the behest of the British Empire. There are plenty of examples of countries around the world where they have had very little natural resource where they have become very successful economies. So I wonder if his analysis is quite accurate.

Chandan: That is interesting and where I agree with you Derek is how Chomsky does mention some East Asian economies. He mentions the tiger economies in East Asia. And he does highlight the fact that unlike the neo-liberal model the West and the US exports, sometimes by force across the world, the East Asian economies do emphasize this kind of welfare state, this more kind of social democratic leaning for economic policies. So he does very fleetingly touch upon that and he doesn't go into it anymore. He doesn't suggest that East Asian economies are models for us to follow. But that is an interesting question. But I think that raises issues of for example China. There are no pages on China. There is an odd paragraph here or there where Chomsky clearly says that China has an independent cause from that of the European and the US neoliberal model, but he doesn't analyze why that is and what impact it has on the world and within China. So there are some quite serious gaps in the book in my opinion.

Press TV: Do you think he has tried to force everybody in camps as it were rather than accepting as with the case of China. 15 to 20 years ago who would have thought that China would be as significant economically as it is now. I wonder if sometimes such events overtake a professor who is getting on in his years now. It is all happening rather rapidly for his academic background, do you think?

Yezza: I think, to be honest, we have to be mindful that the book does not lay claim to be some sort of encyclopedia of current world affairs. It's Chomsky saying this is what I think about this political picture in every single detail. I think indeed if you look at the beginning he explains the origins of the book in regards to various talks he gave. It just so happens that a lot of it was based on lectures he gave in Latin America over the last couple of years and lectures he gave in London as Chandan mentioned earlier, which he had the privilege of attending. I think in terms of the point he raised about Singapore and Japan; he does mention South Korea which is not a very different case from Singapore. The South Korean model of development was based on a form of protectionism. This is really important, a form of privileging domestic important products over the consumer approach and importing products from the West. And I think he contrasts very favorably with Haiti, and I think he mentions Colombia and other countries in Latin America. I think Chomsky is simply saying let's look at the last 10 years, especially in terms of Latin America, and compare how the countries in Latin America have faired under the neoliberal model, and his conclusions, I think, are very well argued, and it's an unmitigated failure. The attempt by the US to influence the region has been detrimental to the majority.

Press TV: I mean, it's quite difficult to compare what is happening in China or India with what is happening in Haiti, where a lot of countries in South America that Chomsky focuses on have sort of needed the American market. Like the tin market for Bolivia. Their exports are entirely US-focused. Korea, obviously after… the Korean peninsula conflict, was heavily relying on US subsidies and exports, whereas economies like China and India are so big they export to the West and success for the West is not important to them. It is not critical for their development because their nations are big enough to get the engines going for them. I found Chomsky hopping back and forth between really tiny little economies with very little control over their destinies compared to the big boys, who pretty well do what they want in the world today.

Chandan: Well… here I disagree with you some, but you're right, Chomsky's work is not an encyclopedia of politics over the last ten years. But it is very clear in the Western mainstream media that over the last five or ten years even China has become a very fundamental player. Whatever your opinion on China is, that's irrelevant. China is there and the Beijing Consensus has replaced the Washington Consensus of the nineties. These are major strategic and major political shifts in the world, which were just frankly not given justice in the book. I think Chomsky has his own particular politics and he focuses all of his hopes and prospects in the world by containing them only in South America. I just find that incredibly strange. There are incredible shifts and changes occurring in the world. Africa is no longer a subject to Western domination. It has alternatives such as China, Brazil, and the… countries: you've got Brazil, South Africa and India. You got the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. So there are all kinds of new power blocs that are coming about in the world, which have completely demolished US monopolization on the economic, political, and diplomatic fields. This is something Chomsky is not picking up on by just focusing on Latin America. I can sympathize in a way but not wholly agree with his focus on Latin America because in terms of the social movements of the social movements, Latin America is really way ahead of any other region in the world.

Press TV: I couldn't quite get from Chomsky if America is like this aging giant that is just going to fade on the world stage because if can't sustain what its ambitions are or whether he's upset about that or if he thinks justice is served. What did you take from his conclusions?

Yezza: Well, to be honest, Chomsky is very explicit about what he chooses to focus on -- Latin America. Indeed he says so in the book. It's because the US foreign policy does give Latin America very heavy prominence. He quotes the Nixon administration as saying, "The key to world domination is establishing US hegemony in the world and we will have to start in Latin America. If you can't control Latin America, you cannot get any further." I think this is the reason why Chomsky has given it this [focus]. It's not Chomsky's decision. It is him looking at foreign policy and taking that into consideration. It is not surprising that Latin America is a prominent feature of that. In terms of whether if he thinks justice is served, I mean he always says that America is the best country to live in. He is always portrayed as an anti-American, as somebody who rejoices in America's downfall. He is very clear that the only reason he is very critical of the US foreign policy is that he is a US taxpayer. He feels that being someone who is responsible, he is a person that always has a stake in his government's actions. It is his duty to speak about what the government does and when it does wrong, he speaks about it. That is what Chomsky is about.

Press TV: I think you raised what is happening in South America and this is obviously something very interesting and this is a very significant part of the book. Let's take a look at something that will take us closer to that.

(An excerpt of the book is read out here):

Latin America has real choices for the first time in its history. The traditional modalities of imperial control: violence and economic strangulation are much more limited than before. There are lively and vibrant popular organizations providing the essential basis for meaningful democracy. Latin America and other former colonies have enormous internal problems. There are sure to be many setbacks. But there are promising developments as well. It is in this part of the world that today's democratic wave find its basis and its home.

I suppose this is a bit of the book where it becomes a little more optimistic, where the hopes and prospects come into the title. But there are still internal problems in South America whether economically or democratically.

He seems to favor Venezuela. He keeps coming back to Venezuela all the time and I suspect he is a great admirer of Chavez. Do you think his conclusions on South America were accurate? Do you think that is the way it's going to go?

Chandan: I agree with Chomsky's conclusions on South America. I'm dissatisfied within the historical context in which he puts this. I mean don't get me wrong. It's really interesting and probably some of the best historical context you can come across. But I think we still need to go deeper. Why is it that Latin America has achieved its successes, particularly in the last ten years? And Chomsky alludes to this and implies it, but he doesn't explicitly say this. It is at the fifth or sixth stage of historical stages, mass pan-regional struggle against oppression from North America and Western Europe. The problem we have in the left is an over emphasis on Latin America. There is nothing on Africa in the book. If you look at the index, there are two references to Africa: one on the ANC and one on South Africa. And that's not more than one paragraph or perhaps two or three. That is not even one page. There is a major problem there. Africa is the region lagging behind most in the world in a sense. But in a sense it's perhaps the most important region in the world in the sense that it is the last region to really start to stand up on its feet. It has been in a terrible situation until recently, although, we had the liberation movements, the post-colonial liberation movements. We had all these in the eighties and nineties and now we are stepping out of that. So again to focus everything on South America leaves other regions of the world without analysis. There are amazing hopes and prospects in Africa. And there is a African renaissance starting to happen, which the former South African President Mbeki was very much pushing forward. It's not the same forms as in Latin American. Not every region in the world is going to have the same forms as another region with struggle and change.

Press TV: That's interesting, as he starts off in the initial paragraph about the Inca empire and how developed it was until the nasty Europeans came along with the diseases and firepower and did all the horrible things that happened. So I think the basic contention is that South America is full of able and capable people until the nasty Europeans and then the North Americans came to influence their lives. Do you think this is an accurate reflection of Latin American development?

Yezza Well I think we should always keep in mind what Chomsky does. He takes the prevailing mainstream view and tries to puncture it. He feels that this is really the duty of somebody like him that is swimming against the tide. The picture that is often portrayed is that Latin America is basically this desert that's been made to gloom by the European conquest of the Spanish and then the Americans later, the American influence. Chomsky is saying this was and is one of the richest places on Earth. Bolivia is a good example as you mentioned earlier. The reason why Bolivia's exports have been so completely made into the image of American market needs is not an accident. This is a deliberate attempt to try to force a very rich country's resources to the service of another country's demands. Again, in regards to Chomsky not mentioning Africa, we need again to keep in mind that this is not what Chomsky is working on in the book. There is no claim in the book that this is an overall geo-strategic global vision of things. It's quite explicit by its looking at particular topics. There are arguments given as to why focus on specific regions is given. Also, in addition to South America, there are chapters on the Middle East, with the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a very interesting part talking about the nuclear issue, to which he gives a lot of attention, which touches upon India and the subcontinent.

Press TV: It's interesting that his focus, as I mentioned earlier, he keeps coming back to Venezuela. It's an interesting example because part of the argument is all of these smaller countries in South America under the shadow of the government of the big brother the United States, both economically and in foreign policy terms. Except that is not quite the case with Brazil, which does not follow the American line by any stretch of the imagination in foreign policy terms, economically, and obviously is not that reliant on the US… Venezuela… does tweak the American tail a lot. But interestingly he doesn't mention in his book that Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of oil to the United States. So Chavez and… US presidents may have difficult relationships, but economically there is a lot there.

Chandan: That's the point Lula makes. They are literally brothers, comrades in arms. But Lula makes that point: Chavez needs the Americans as much as the Americans need Chavez in terms of that oil connection. I think we need to problematize Chomsky's analysis of Latin America a little more. I'm open to hear what Hlchaim has to say on these criticisms I'm going to make. Now why has Latin America been able to develop in the last ten years? The Latin American leaders will tell you themselves it's because the Americans and NATO have been caught up in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and also the situation in Palestine and throughout the Middle East and North Africa… the moral crisis that the West faces is because of these conflicts. That has kept the West busy over there basically, so Latin America can rise. And the other reason… we could not have seen Latin America develop to that extent without the economic alternative of China. Now only in one sentence I think does Chomsky say Venezuela is very close to China. They have made a lot of strong, strategic economic deals. Again you have alluded to this a couple of times. Why does he only focus on Venezuela and partly Bolivia? Why not Brazil? Why not Ecuador? Why not Chile? Why not Uruguay? Why not Paraguay? He mentions Honduras as well, which is very important of course. But it's obvious Chomsky has his own political opinions and political colorations. In my opinion, Lula is the single most important Latin American leader today. He is a very important emerging world leader. That means a lot more from an in-depth analysis. I'd like to see more prominent Western intellectuals analyze these things as well.

Press TV: Maybe the book is just too wide. He does cover the way countries in South America try to come together in a way which is very much European Union style, but they don't really come together very effectively because within three weeks of making the agreements each country goes off and does something separate with America. So it's quite difficult to get… a number of countries together to act as a bloc. He says America is using this drug war as a replacement for the old Cold War conflicts we had with Cuba. Do you think that I'm egging it on a bit too much?

Yezza: I think to answer your question we need to be looking at Chomsky's opinions in the wider context of his work over the last 40 years and not just at this particular book. If the criticism is about him focusing only on one or two countries, there needs to be a look at Chomsky's views overall. If one does that, you will find that is a very consistent body of work which is very comprehensive. The countries that he did not mention, I mean in this book in particular, they are not as much as a focus as Venezuela, for example. There is a mention of the role Colombia plays in the war on drugs by the US. Also there is a mention of Chile in the first 9/11 when Allende was removed from power through US intervention back in 1973. Chomsky's record on exposing US intervention --sometimes very fatal intervention -- in Central America and in Haiti and other places is very well documented and he has millions of texts on these countries.

Press TV: Towards the end of his book, obviously we focused on the Latin American part of it. He does deal in the final future with America's attitude to the Middle East in particular, which comes across as a disappointment that President Obama hasn't been quite as forceful with the Israelis as people had hoped and expected. Do you see this disappointment that comes across in the book as being a sort of liberal professor's disappointment with a man who was the most left-wing member of the American Senate?

Chandan: I wouldn't put Chomsky's opinion on Obama as you have. Again, I think Chomsky misses a major important issue in his book. Where he is standing politically now is that US hegemony is in an incredibly precarious situation, if US hegemony has historically been pierced and is on the decline. This is not a part of Chomsky's frame of analysis at all in the book. Apart from Latin America, the US still has the advantage, and it still has the initiative. I would say it's the opposite. The US is at a strategic disadvantage and there are other powers which are emerging and have the initiative in the world.

Press TV: That's probably a good point to end on because I'm afraid that is all we have time for. Hopes and Prospects is hardly light reading. Those inclined to the left in politics will get greater sustenance from the professor's polemic than those favoring the march of global capitalism. But whatever your personal political stand, this is a thought provoking work well worth the effort of reading. I'd like to thank Sukant and Hlchaim for joining us and I hope you have enjoyed the show. We would like you to keep getting in touch and here is how. You can email us at epilogue@presstv.co.uk

No comments: