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