The Tribune - Spectrum


June 8, 2003

Freedom to rob & exploit
Shelley Walia

On Power and Ideology: The Mangua Lectures
by Noam Chomsky. South End Press, Cambridge, US. Pages 140. $13

THE US international and security policy forms the main subject of Chomsky’s five lectures at the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua. The intellectually daring audience at these lectures consisted of academics from Nicaragua and other Costa Rican universities. It is here that Chomsky is reminded of what Simon Bolivar said almost a century and a half ago: "The United States seems destined to plague and torment the continent in the name of freedom." This torture of Nicaragua has been a ‘historical vocation’ for the US for over a century. Delivered in a Nicaraguan university, the lectures become all the more significant in their analyses of the consistent US foreign policy in this part of the world which is not different from what the US does in other parts of the world.

Chomsky’s emphasis at the outset is on the understanding and awareness of the principles and geopolitical analyses found in both the written documents and the experience of history. This knowledge would enable us to understand what America does around the world and why. Interests and power work in tandem to show the working of contemporary history with not much departure from the broad underpinnings of fixed patterns of operation.


The first general principle that Chomsky draws attention to is the interest of American economic adventure into ‘open societies’ which allows free movement of capital and complete exploitation of labour. Economic and political control of these societies is possible only if there is full control over the material and human resources with exploitation by the corporate sector in full connivance with the local agencies of power. And all this is taken up with the rhetoric of initiating or promoting democratic rule in these societies. Democracy, it must be realised, according to its American definition, is the power of the elites in decision-making and control of economic resources. The aim, therefore, is to "guarantee the freedom to rob and to exploit."

These manipulations are part of American "annexationist plans." The cry is for world security; and war is to avert any danger to humanity. But finally the motive is clear: an "open access for everyone, as long as its own economic power is so overwhelming (with latent military force at hand if things go wrong) that US corporations are well-placed to win the competition’. Don’t we know that free trade was always the false rationalising behind imperial designs for dominance. This is a historical fact.

The challenge to the mainstream corporate media, the propaganda offensive, and the psychological war comes from the creative aspect behind individualistic usage of language that can be independent of stimulus or manipulation. This innovative use of language is subject to social conditioning with an ideological underpinning, but any thinking and politically conscious individual aware of the question of freedom can imaginatively deconstruct social texts in a radical manner, by, as Chomsky suggests, going to the root of the problem in a scientifically logical analysis.

Controlled and coerced by authority and media, the individual either accepts the message blindly and unthinkingly, or reacts creatively and critically because he understands dominance, a view that Descartes maintains throughout his writings. The cognitive system is at work all the time, recollecting, reformulating, contextualising and recontextualising so as to not take things for granted.

Interestingly, Chomsky is one such individual who has put his theory into practice by constantly critiquing the systems of exploitation around the world. He refers to the notion of ‘the Fifth Freedom" (the freedom to rob and exploit), the other four being freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. These freedoms are meant to gain public approval "for crusades in defense of the Fifth Freedom, the one that really matters."

What is interesting in Chomsky’s lectures is the argument that America has always stood for anti-imperialism, but the ‘open society’ policy has indicated how duplicitous it has been in using a so-called "democratic" policy to subdue or show the door to nation after nation.

As Chomsky writes, ‘The US conception of "open access" is marvelously expressed in a State Department memorandum of April 1944 called "Petroleum Policy of the United States," dealing with primary resource. There must be equal access for US companies everywhere, the memorandum explained, but no equal access for others.’ On the face of it, it is an "open door" policy, but there is a blatant emphasis on the absolute position of the rights of the US corporates and the protection of existing concessions enjoyed by it. In the assertion of this absolute position, the idea of free competition becomes absolutely redundant. This practice is clear in the case of Japan that became an enemy as soon as it asserted its right of having a "co-prosperity zone" or when the client regime of Marcos in the Philippines turned renegade and began to have its own economic ambitions.

As Chomsky goes on to explain, the main enemy of this kind of one-sided policy is the "indigenous people" who are always of the opinion that all national resources belong to their benefit. These "enemies of stability" have to be constantly worked upon. The anti-communist stance is to discipline nations so as to bring them under an overall system of world order run by the US. A fully controlled global environment to suit the foreign policy of the US will not permit the communists who Chomsky defines as who attempt to use their resources for their own purpose, thus interfering with the right to rob and to exploit."

And to put an end to such ‘communists’ it is important to construct an ideological system that tactfully uses the media, the education system, and the political institutions to make sure that the population both in the exploited area and at home remains ‘passive, ignorant and apathetic,’ thereby serving the interests of the dominate class.