Reform & Revolution: Noam Chomsky on Anarcho-Syndicalism

An interview with Noam Chomsky was conducted in Boston on behalf of the ASR Editorial Collective by Jon Bekken and Mike Long on March 26, 1999. It took place in FW Chomsky’s office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he is professor of linguistics and philosophy. Minor alterations have been made to clean up the transcript (removing false starts and such), and references and notes have been added where we think they may be useful to readers. It was published in two parts, in ASR 25 and 26. Some positions taken by FW Chomsky are highly controversial within anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist circles, as he is fully aware. ASR 26 and 27 also published responses and commentary on the interview.

This online version incorporates minor corrections and addenda appended to part 2 of the interview as published in ASR 26.

ASR: Barsky’s recent book [1] and snippets in your own essays over the years provide some background information on what first drew you to anarcho-syndicalism, and particularly to Rocker’s work [2] while still quite young. [3] What has maintained your allegiance over the years, preventing you, for example, from converting to some variety of Marxist belief system? Do you think anarchists have anything to learn from authoritarian socialists, and/or vice versa?
Chomsky: Well, a couple of the words I think are bothersome, like ‘allegiance’ and ‘convert’ and ‘belief system’ and so on. I don’t think anyone should be wed to a belief system any more than you are in the hard sciences. It’s not that these problems are simpler than the hard sciences. You’re not wedded to a belief system, you don’t convert, and as far as learning things from other people, no one owns truth and insight. You hunt it all over the place, you find your own mistakes, and you learn things from others.
This goes in every imaginable direction. So I don’t think there’s ever a question of maintaining allegiance. If we start thinking of dealing with the problems of life in terms of allegiances and conversions and belief systems and so on – if we can’t learn something from others – then we’re already lost. We’ve already departed from the realm of constructive, rational, moral discourse where any of these questions arise. Continue reading

Finnish workers resisting attacks

Finland’s right-wing government has proposed several laws reducing social benefits and restricting union activities. One proposed law would limit salaries to the rate paid in the export sector (part of the global capitalist effort to drive down wages to the lowest level at which it is possible to sustain life, enforced through global trade deals), and to restrict the right to general strikes and other strikes addressing issues that go beyond pay and working conditions so that they could not last more than a day. Some of these right-wing “reforms” have already been adopted.

Continue reading

ASR 89, Summer 2024


EDITORIAL: Are you serious, Mr. Fain? 

WOBBLES: Resurgent Labor?, Flirting With Trump, Workers’ Control & Safety, Expensive Rich Folk… 

SYNDICALIST NEWS: Argentine Workers Resist, Bangladeshi Unions, Spain… compiled by Mike Hargis 

ARTICLES: North Korean, Myanmar, Indian, Turkish Migrant Workers’ Resistance by John Kalwaic 

Labor Resistance to the War in Gaza by John Kalwaic 

The Vicious Cycle of Bourgeois Politics by Wayne Price

“Let them call me an anarchist!” M.P.T. Acharya and the Indian struggle for freedom by Ole Birk Laursen 

National Security: Bruised and Battered in the PRC by Marc B. Young 

A Forgotten Wobbly: José Ángel Hernández Across Two Nations by Steve Rossignol  Continue reading

Special Issue Call: Imagining a Future Worth Fighting For

Democratic politicians insist that the economy’s doing great and people are being misled by the media into believing otherwise. But many workers who have turned to Trump say they have no choice because the elites have abandoned them to poverty and early death. The economy is in fact doing quite poorly for about half the population, as is clear from looking at factors such as median income, survey data, rising personal debt, and the emergence of “services” allowing workers to buy groceries and other necessities on a buy now, pay later basis. Continue reading

ASR 88 (winter 2024)

EDITORIAL: For an Unconditional Ceasefire
WOBBLES: Organizing Tesla, Rejecting War, Strike Bans, Criminalizing Protest, Searching for Prosperity
Syndicalist News: Solidarity with Myanmar Workers, Nepalese Teachers, IWW Organizing, Spanish Syndicalists Strike… compiled by Mike Hargis
ARTICLES: Heat Waves/Strike Waves by Jeff Shantz
Canadian Labor & Green Transition Bargaining: A Green Syndicalist View by Jeff Shantz
The Summer of Strikes
Can Anarchists Support the Ukrainian People Without Supporting the Ukrainian State? by Wayne Price
Rudolf Rocker at 150 by Jerome Warren
Anarchist Work in a Capitalist State by Rudolf Rocker
The Danger of Nationalism by Rudolf Rocker
Why Join a Minority Syndicalist Union? by Rasmus Hästbacka
REVIEWS: Bullshit Work by Chad Anderson
Sewn in Coal Country by Bill Barry
Italian Anarchists in America by Martin Comack
Socialism as Apple Pie film review by Jeff Stein
Left Americana by Iain McKay
Putting Work in its Place by Jon Bekken
Letters: War in Ukraine, American Autocracy


Rudolf Rocker on Anarcho-Syndicalism

ASR 88 features a short biographical sketch of Rudolf Rocker (marking the 150th anniversary of his birth) and excerpts from his writings. Here is an excerpt from his Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice (1938):

Participation in the politics of the bourgeois states has not brought the labor movement a hairs’ breadth closer to Socialism, but, thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. The ancient proverb: “Who eats of the pope, dies of him,” has held true in this content also; who eats of the state is ruined by it. Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist labor movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity and, worst of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above. Continue reading

Swedish syndicalists battle fascism, gig work and discrimination

The SAC (Central Organization of Swedish Workers) marched in Stockholm on May Day, behind a banner calling for workers’ solidarity in several languages, including Russian. SAC construction workers led the parade. In Uppsala, SAC joined with other organizations in an anti-fascist May Day demonstration. (A fascist party recently entered the government, continuing decades of attacks against Swedish workers – especially immigrants.)

The June issue of Syndikalisten also reports on SAC participation in nationwide wildcat strikes across Stockholm in April (with the attacks on Sweden’s traditional labor relations system, workers may increasingly be forced into wildcat strikes and other actions outside of the increasingly restrictive labor laws), a complaint that SAC has brought against the company Svealands Bygg after company representatives not only refused to negotiate over wages owed to two SAC members but made death threats against union representatives, discusses union efforts to address the widening pay gap between men and women workers, and publishes another in a series of excerpts from a recent history of the SAC.


US Supreme Court Attacks Right to Strike

from ASR 87

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 on June 1, 2023, that a union can be sued if a strike causes the employer economic harm simply as the natural result of workers withdrawing their labor. The bosses dispatched concrete truck drivers after their union contract had expired. When negotiations broke down, Teamsters Local 174 struck. Rather than abandon the trucks in the field, they returned them to the yard so management could clean out the concrete before it set. But they left it too long, and much of the concrete was spoiled. Rather than swallow their losses, the bosses sued the union. Continue reading

Shorter Hours, Everywhere But Here?

from ASR 86

Nearly a third of U.S. workers are putting in 45 hours or more a week in their jobs, and many have been forced to take second jobs to make ends meet in the face of precarity, low wages, and the rising cost of living. About 8 million US workers put in 60 or more hours a week at work, and these are among the worst paid of all workers.

The U.S. has officially had a 40-hour workweek since 1938 (about 50 years after national strikes demanded the 8-hour day), though the Fair Labor Standards Act covers only about 15% of workers. And for a time, the 8-hour work day and 40-hour week were nearly universal. Indeed, New York City electricians and many workers at Kellogg’s won the 30-hour work week. Continue reading