November 17, 2009
Libertarian Socialism Part 1
The Relevance of Anarcho-syndicalism
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Peter Jay
The Jay Interview, July 25, 1976
QUESTION: Professor Chomsky, perhaps we should start by trying to define what is not meant by anarchism — the word anarchy is derived, after all, from the Greek, literally meaning “no government.” Now, presumably people who talk about anarchy or anarchism as a system of political philosophy don’t just mean that, as it were, as of January 1st next year, government as we now understand it will suddenly cease; there would be no police, no rules of the road, no laws, no tax collectors, no post office, and so forth. Presumably, it means something more complicated than that.
CHOMSKY: Well, yes to some of those questions, no to others. They may very well mean no policemen, but I don’t think they would mean no rules of the road. In fact, I should say to begin with that the term anarchism is used to cover quite a range of political ideas, but I would prefer to think of it as the libertarian left, and from that point of view anarchism can be conceived as a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of, say, Bakunin and Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally, they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization which might be national or even international in scope. And these decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return, and in which, in fact, they live.
QUESTION: So it doesn’t mean a society in which there is, literally speaking, no government, so much as a society in which the primary source of authority comes, as it were, from the bottom up, and not the top down. Whereas representative democracy, as we have it in the United States and in Britain, would be regarded as a from-the-top-down authority, even though ultimately the voters decide.
From the archives: