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Excerpt: "Noam Chomsky looks back at the rise of fascism in the 20th century and the growing ultranationalist movements of today, from Brazil and the United States to Israel and Saudi Arabia."

Noam Chomsky. (photo: e-flux)
Noam Chomsky. (photo: e-flux)

Noam Chomsky: We Must Confront the "Ultranationalist, Reactionary" Movements Growing Across Globe

By Democracy Now!

27 May 19


n April, hundreds of people packed into the Old South Church in Boston to hear the world-renowned dissident and linguist Noam Chomsky speak. He looked back at the rise of fascism in the 20th century and the growing ultranationalist movements of today, from Brazil and the United States to Israel and Saudi Arabia.


AMY GOODMAN: Today, a Democracy Now! special, an hour with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned dissident and father of modern linguistics. In April, Noam Chomsky visited his hometown of Boston, where he was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for more than half a century. He now teaches at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Over 700 people packed into the Old South Church to hear him speak. Later in the broadcast, we’ll air my on-stage interview with him, but first we turn to his speech.

NOAM CHOMSKY: If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to start with a brief reminiscence of a period which is eerily similar to today in many unpleasant respects. I’m thinking of exactly 80 years ago, almost to the day, happened to be the moment of the first article that I remember having written on political issues. Easy to date: It was right after the fall of Barcelona in February 1939.
The article was about what seemed to be the inexorable spread of fascism over the world. In 1938, Austria had been annexed by Nazi Germany. A few months later, Czechoslovakia was betrayed, placed in the hands of the Nazis at the Munich Conference. In Spain, one city after another was falling to Franco’s forces. February 1939, Barcelona fell. That was the end of the Spanish Republic. The remarkable popular revolution, anarchist revolution, of 1936, ’37, ’38, had already been crushed by force. It looked as if fascism was going to spread without end.
It’s not exactly what’s happening today, but, if we can borrow Mark Twain’s famous phrase, “History doesn’t repeat but sometimes rhymes.” Too many similarities to overlook.
When Barcelona fell, there was a huge flood of refugees from Spain. Most went to Mexico, about 40,000. Some went to New York City, established anarchist offices in Union Square, secondhand bookstores down 4th Avenue. That’s where I got my early political education, roaming around that area. That’s 80 years ago. Now it’s today.
We didn’t know at the time, but the U.S. government was also beginning to think about how the spread of fascism might be virtually unstoppable. They didn’t view it with the same alarm that I did as a 10-year-old. We now know that the attitude of the State Department was rather mixed regarding what the significance of the Nazi movement was. Actually, there was a consul in Berlin, U.S. consul in Berlin, who was sending back pretty mixed comments about the Nazis, suggesting maybe they’re not as bad as everyone says. He stayed there until Pearl Harbor Day, when he was withdrawn—famous diplomat named George Kennan. Not a bad indication of the mixed attitude towards these developments.
It turns out, couldn’t have known it at the time, but shortly after this, 1939, the State Department and the Council on Foreign Relations began to carry out planning about the postwar world, what would the postwar world look like. And in the early years, right about that time, next few years, they assumed that the postwar world would be divided between a German-controlled world, Nazi-controlled world, most of Eurasia, and a U.S.-controlled world, which would include the Western Hemisphere, the former British Empire, which the U.S. would take over, parts of the Far East. And that would be the shape of the postwar world. Those views, we now know, were maintained until the Russians turned the tide. Stalingrad, 1942, the huge tank battle at Kursk, a little later, made it pretty clear that the Russians would defeat the Nazis. The planning changed. Picture of the postwar world changed, went on to what we’ve seen for the last period since that time. Well, that was 80 years ago.
Today we do not—we are not facing the rise of anything like Nazism, but we are facing the spread of what’s sometimes called the ultranationalist, reactionary international, trumpeted openly by its advocates, including Steve Bannon, the impresario of the movement. Just had a victory yesterday: The Netanyahu election in Israel solidified the reactionary alliance that’s being established, all of this under the U.S. aegis, run by the triumvirate, the Trump-Pompeo-Bolton triumvirate—could borrow a phrase from George W. Bush to describe them, but, out of politeness, I won’t. The Middle East alliance consists of the extreme reactionary states of the region—Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt under the most brutal dictatorship of its history, Israel right at the center of it—confronting Iran. Severe threats that we’re facing in Latin America. The election of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil put in power the most extreme, most outrageous of the right-wing ultranationalists who are now plaguing the hemisphere. Yesterday, Lenín Moreno of Ecuador took a strong step towards joining the far-right alliance by expelling Julian Assange from the embassy. He’s picked up quickly by the U.S., will face a very dangerous future unless there’s a significant popular protest. Mexico is one of the rare exceptions in Latin America to these developments. This has happened—in Western Europe, the right-wing parties are growing, some of them very frightening in character.
There is a counterdevelopment. Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, a very significant, important individual, along with Bernie Sanders, have urged the formation of the Progressive International to counter the right-wing international that’s developing. At the level of states, the balance looks overwhelmingly in the wrong direction. But states aren’t the only entities. At the level of people, it’s quite different. And that could make the difference. That means a need to protect the functioning democracies, to enhance them, to make use of the opportunities they provide, for the kinds of activism that have led to significant progress in the past could save us in the future.

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+18 # DongiC 2019-05-27 17:11
The Fascists are coming again. The Progressives must rally, confront them, and remove them from political power. Otherwise, we are going to have trouble and all kinds of discord: economic, political, social.
+3 # Enoch E Birch 2019-05-28 04:20
We have discord - economic, political, social, anyway. Fascism starts where the everyday opinions of ordinary people shade into what we commonly call prejudice without them realising it. "America First"?
+2 # RLF 2019-05-28 05:14
We have Fascists coming because the business and government leaders of this country became convinced that if a few people got rich, it was a real economic expansion. The arrogance and tunnel vision of thee "elites" who were mostly of that same money making class thought it wouldn't matter if we prolonged the concentration by easing the pain incurred by the middle and lower classes by letting in a lot of migrant labor who were willing to do a lot of the low end jobs for less money while easy credit allowed the same people who were losing their quality of life to maintain it for a bit more but then 2008 hit and credit got harder and the dominoes started to fall. Until we deal with the unintended effects of global free trade or get rid of it, this will continue and the wealthy who are keeping a firm oligarchic hand on our government don't see a problem...just ask "corporate friendly" Bill and Hill.
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-28 07:17
I just can't agree with Chomsky on this. He's trying to use the political categories of 80 years ago to describe today. I think today is a lot more complex. There's sense in which these categories work but they are not accurate enough.

For example,

"Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil put in power the most extreme, most outrageous of the right-wing ultranationalis ts" -- In fact, he's a neo-liberal globalist. He pushed out a socialist and nationalist. Bolsonaro is the puppet of NY banks and the US military.

"Netanyahu election in Israel solidified the reactionary alliance " Israel is really a liberal, socialist state with a violent, racist, and imperialist ideology. Calling Netanyahoo a reactionary does not help. He a genocidal maniac. He hates Palestinians and wants to kill them all.

I think today we are in the collapse of neo-liberalism which is the radical free market or corporate control of everything. Current nationalism is a reaction to corporate globalism. Bannon, Farrage, UKIP. Brexit, Yellow Vests and other reactions against the EU are populism. Fascism is not populism. Fascism in corporate control of the state which is exactly neo-liberalism.

The really important movement today is the re-emergence of socialism and anti-war politics. We are, in my view, at a good place. The virulence of people like Bolsonaro or Netanyahoo is a sign of their desperation. Netanyahoo won't stop but he is not the future.
+1 # kyzipster 2019-05-28 16:36
Interesting take and I like that you can find some positives, I hope that's true but things could go poorly.

I don't know if you're using a quote attributed to Mussolini about corporate control of government but it has been discredited, I believe he never said it. I don't disagree that we can call neoliberalism, fascism but the dictionary definition is quite different and we are seeing it manifest around the globe. I don't think Chomsky is way off.

"a political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition"
+5 # kyzipster 2019-05-28 08:12
I've spent a lot of time focusing on what's gone wrong on the left instead of worrying so much about Trump and his supporters. There's plenty that's actually wrong about Trump but it's drowned out by exaggerations and lies.

I think Mark Lilla's book, The Once and Future Liberal, sums it up pretty well. We need to be more willing to tell people within our ranks to just shut up, focus on the greater good, it's not about you. We need to debate policy over the identity of candidates, we need to stop demonizing the very voters we should be trying to attract. We don't have to cater to any prejudice, but we should consider that not all 70 million Trump voters are morally reprehensible. Hillary said that half were deplorable, today, too many liberals act as if 100% are subhuman.

We can't see the forest for the trees, intersectionali ty is eating us up. Tribalism is feeding fascism. This speech by Chomsky is a good reminder of what's at stake if we don't get our chit together.

I don't know to what degree the election of Trump has empowered right-wing fascism around the world, but if we can right that wrong, it might have a big influence. There's no doubt in my mind that the left is as responsible for Trump as the right. It may be that the left hasn't hit bottom yet, I think the right hit bottom during the Bush years, but the failures of the Dem Party keep them strong.

Another good writer to pay attention to is Jordan Hall, a series of essays, Situational Assessment.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-05-28 15:46
kyz -- great comment. I'm with you on this.
+1 # Claw02 2019-05-28 09:13
Yes, the Facists are coming and must be resisted. However, despotic governements, both Far Right and Far Left, large and small have always gone out of their way to appeal to the nationalist sentiments. We must ask ourselves "why?" and , particularly at the moment, "why so successfully?"

Society is now very fractured, with the rich geting ever richer and the rest getting poorer, some faster than others. Large sections of our society in the developed parts of the world have been disadvantaged by the current system, with it's globalisation, trade and political groupings - many of which were set up with honourable intentions but have been corrupted by the rich, the corporates, the so-called elites - and can clearly see that it has failed them. They are desparate for radical change and therefore open to the appeal of those who offer it.

It is, therefore, more important to work out a practical radical alternative to the current system and an effective way to present it to the majority of people disadvantaged by the current system.

0 # Claw02 2019-05-28 09:22
This process is currently restricted by the demonisation by "Useful Idiots" of those who raise genuinely realistic questions about the effects of, for instance, immigration, as "fascist,right wing bigots", thus preventing reasoned discussion, resulting in frustration of those who fear their livelihoods and culture being destroyed while being denied a legitimate avenue to express their, often justified, fears.
+2 # Claw02 2019-05-28 09:26
Noam Chomsky has been around for long enough to see this, yet still allows himself to be distracted into calling for one perticular type of despotism to be resisted. That is not good enough!
+1 # kyzipster 2019-05-28 10:48
You make good points. Liberals despise the very demographic they have historically defended. Workers in middle America. If they wear a MAGA hat, they're the archetype of evil, representing 400 years of slavery, colonialism, misogyny and the rest.

It's become cult-like, void of real debate. The left has become obsessed with white identity and then act traumatized when there's a backlash. That's not to excuse the truly racist right-wing fringe, but it shouldn't surprise anyone that so many white people voted against this ideology. We can't even point out this truth without getting called racist.

I've heard good argument that by the mid-20th century, the failures of communist states could no longer be denied. Academics blended Marxist ideology with race, gender and queer studies, creating concepts around oppression, a hierarchy of oppression. This has become mainstream, liberals attacking their own more and more.

The left seems to be about defeating 'the white patriarchy' today, not the economic establishment. Lots of anti-capitalist rhetoric but all we're seeing is obsession around identity and victimhood, very little policy debate. Sanders is an exception and I'm supportive.

I think this may hand 2020 to Trump. Not unlike the Tea Party that manifested after the failure of Bush, extremes around immigration came out of this. Blaming Bush's failures on his 'liberalism', he was on the same page as Obama and Kennedy with immigration reform.
+3 # Shorey13 2019-05-28 12:40
As predicted by Paul Krugman, in his 2004 book "The Great Unraveling," we are in the midst of a Reactionary Revolution, as oxymoronic as that may sound. He noted that "Liberal" responses to these events over the last two centuries have been. tragically inadequate largely because they project their own reasonableness on those who are bereft of reasons.

Radical Reactionaries (of all stripes: political, religious, whatever) are existential cowards who are so frightened of the pace of change these days (Heraclitus' river is flowing too fast for them), that they sit backwards one the Horse of Live, searching the (fictional) past for relief. Their profound fear has made them incapable of reason, no matter how obvious the situation. Trump is not the cause of our worldwide epidemic of nationalism, he is merely a symptom, one that, unfortunately, is leading our country.

Mr, Chomsky, please write a book explaining to the Democratic Establishment that the only way to get rid of him is to nominate someone Like Bernie who is willing to attack them directly. Accommodation is a bad idea.
0 # chapdrum 2019-05-28 14:22
"...tragically inadequate largely because they project their own reasonableness on those who are bereft of reasons..."
That's it, right there. The right is (yet again) forcing our hand.

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