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     Meeting with Noam Chomsky
Add Time :2016-09-29      Hits:2110

August 15, 2010



10:30 a.m.


       Michael introduced all present and did so very nicely.


       Lu Wanru gave a brief history of Gong He from its beginnings at the time of the Anti-Japanese War through the 1940s.


       Q: Chomsky: Were the structure and administration of the Gong He cooperatives the same in the communist-held and other areas?


       A: Yes.  Lu Wanru explained that the cooperatives were strongly supported by both Mao and the Guomindang.


       Q: Chomsky: What percentage of the wartime production did the cooperatives make up?


A: About 10% or less.  Lu Wanru pointed out that throughout the cooperatives’ existence, the problem was that Gong He had trouble with finances and had to seek funding internationally.


Q: Chomsky: He asked about the existence of cooperatives in occupied areas and whether there were differences between areas held by the communists and the Guomindang?


A: Michael: Gong He could only flourish in unoccupied China, but there was an active trade between these areas.


Q: Chomsky: Did the Japanese not try to stop it?


A: Michael: He suggests that Chomsky read a book by George Hogg that covers some of this material.


Q: Chomsky: Was there an attempt to start cooperatives in Japanese-occupied areas?


A: Lu Wanru: In the Guomindang areas, they weren’t really functioning cooperatives.  There was a Cooperative Law, but no real cooperatives.  In the communist areas, it was not until Rewi Alley went to talk to Mao that the cooperatives began to really thrive.


Q: Chomsky: Was there then no real contradiction between the CCP and the cooperative movement?


A: Lu Wanru: Unoccupied China consisted of nationalist-controlled and communist-controlled areas.  It was very different in the Guomindang-controlled areas, and most successful where the traditional social fabric was disrupted by war.


Carl: As the Guomindang advanced, its policy was to remove anything that might be useful to the enemy.  Factory equipment was moved, owners fled, so socially and practically, there was an opening for cooperative organization.


Q: Chomsky: Was there any sentiment among the workers that supported this sort of organization?


(I didn’t get this answer.)


Q: Chomsky: What was the internal structure of the cooperatives?


A: Lu Wanru and Michael describe a structure including a Board of Directors, a Supervisory Committee, and members’ meetings, saying that the cooperatives were quite democratic.  One of them remarked that everyone shared about the same standard of living at the time.


Chen Lin: He felt that the importance of the cooperatives was political rather than anything else.


Q: Chomsky: He asks again about the internal structure.


A: Yes, they were democratic, but leadership was also important.


Here, Michael suggested that we move on to a more recent period.


Q: Chomsky: Before that, I want to ask what happened between the cooperatives and the communist government.  Did the communist government crush the organization?  (That is, ICCIC.)


A: (Someone responds with an overview of that period.)


Q: Chomsky:  He asks about the lower and higher level agricultural cooperatives of the 1950s and 1960s.


A: Du: He describes the mutual aid teams.


Q: Chomsky: He wonders if these did not arise from the traditional culture?


A: Someone describes the marketing cooperatives in the Red areas, their purpose being to exchange goods produced in the Red areas and Guomindang areas.


Q: Chomsky: What happened to these later?


A: The government amalgamated these cooperatives and the Gong He cooperatives. 


Q: Chomsky: But how did this lead to the demise of the Gong He cooperatives? 


A: Michael: They couldn’t be maintained, because Party leadership came into play – did you fit into the plan?


Q: Chomsky: What happened in the 50s?  Did the cooperatives survive then?


A: Michael: He describes the formation of the Communes, etc.


Jane: The mutual aid teams were democratic.  People had to do that in order to survive.  But then the Party started the lower and higher level cooperatives from the top down and from then on, the Party was in complete control.


Michael: When did leadership change from elected to appointed?  I think that was with the work team.


Du: In the early days, between 1953 and 1955, the higher-level cooperatives were organized.  Before that, it was more democratic.  The Commune movement started in 1957.  In 1957, the peasants were no longer share-holding.


Michael: When the Communes came in, you couldn’t leave, like it or not.  You were stuck there.


Q: Chomsky: Was it the same in the cities?


A: It was different there.  There was first private, then public ownership.


Michael: You mentioned the Great Leap.  There was a democratic element in that.  (He talks about the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shaoqi, the ‘hard years’, and the attempt following them to establish ‘bao chan dao hu’ - which did happen for two or three years – a period of family farming.)


Q: Chomsky: Was there an increase in production due to this system?


A: The three ‘hard years’ were 1959 – 1962.  The period of the family farming system came after that, so he doesn’t think it had an effect on production.


Michael: Then we move into the Cultural Revolution period.  This brought a greater push towards collectivization.  Could people make decisions at a lower level?  The team level was elected democratically – this was the level of the natural villages.  At the brigade level, you were at the level of the Party Branch.


Q: Chomsky: Did the government plan down to the lowest level?


A: Michael: People could maybe elect the work team leader, but they couldn’t decide what to plant.


Lu Wanru: She describes briefly how the Gong He cooperatives were revived in 1987.


Q: Chomsky: So, have the Gong He cooperatives really been revived?


A: Lu Wanru: That’s been our question all these years.  She talks about how the revived ICCIC did try to go around to the areas where there had been Gong He cooperatives – they had money that had belonged to Gong He, for example from the AFLCIO, that had been unfrozen – but they decided that this approach was not successful.  In 1994, they evaluated what they had done to that point and started off on a new tack – education. 


Michael: He talks about the ‘Little Angels’ cooperative in Baoding and about the ‘All Masters Print Shop’ in Shanghai. 


11:20 a.m.


Michael turns the meeting over to Chomsky, asking him to talk to us about why he is interested in cooperatives?




In the 19th century, for socialist and communist movements, nationalization of industry was very much part of the idea.  This was before the Bolshevik revolution.  Thus, the Bolshevik revolution was really a counter-revolution – it replaced the idea of workers’ control with central control.  Earlier ideas stood for workers’ councils, etc.  This was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment conception that people should be free to determine their own affairs.  So the real Spanish revolution occurred in the first year, 1937.  It was overthrown by fascists, communists, and liberal democracy – all three forces.  It is a natural impulse of people to want to control their own affairs – and the external system is constantly trying to crush them.  This is happening currently in the U.S.


He gives the example of a large lumber cooperative in the U.S. Northwest.  When it reached a level where it was fully developed and economically successful, it was taken over.  Nonetheless, he thinks that there is a large movement in U.S. society that is challenging authority.  He thinks that these forces are always there and that unless opposed by force they will rise up again.  He sees cooperatives as one part of this.


Q: Do small cooperatives stand a chance in today’s world?  


Michael: Without a central government, in his view, China would not be here.


Chomsky: This argument is that you have to have a centralized totalitarian state, but do you have to have this?  Couldn’t a popular democracy do it?  (He talks about India as being democratic in some respects, as compared with China.)  India is not a popular democracy.  800,000,000 people do not participate in government decisions.  But comparing India and China in terms of mortality, for example, China has done well.  People are being lifted out of poverty.  But in India, there is more personal freedom. 


Michael: If you talk about the Mao and Deng years – which was more free?  It is not that clear.  He gives the example of a worker’s council in the factory he worked in during the Cultural Revolution that, he feels, embodied elements of pure democracy. 


Jane: She would like to ask a question about the U.S.  In his new book, Chomsky says that it is corporations, not government, that have failed the U.S.  What can people on the Left do?  What are the possibilities for change?


A: Chomsky: There is a lot of hatred and fear in the U.S. – but it has a basis.  Real incomes have been stagnant for the large part of the population, and the wealth that has been created is concentrated in a few hands.  The country is moving to the right – because the two parties are only two factions of the business party.  There should have been no illusions about Obama because he was funded by the financial system.  They finished him.  The people are furious.  Where will they get answers?  Not from the Democratic Party.  The Right has answers, so the Left should have answers to give.  And it could be related to cooperatives.


For example, the auto industry - Obama essentially nationalized it, but he closed many plants, and this affected communities.  The U.S. is going to purchase high-speed rail systems from Spain – but U.S. workers could do it.  There would have to be a very strong workers’ movement to take over these sectors of the economy.  (The business class is very class conscious – they talk openly about their fears of the masses taking over.)  This is a task for the Left – but they could do it.  (He says that the Right in the U.S. is as fascist as it was in Hitler’s time.)  You have to get past that barrier where when something becomes successful, it is simply taken over.  He says that there are thousands of cooperatives in the U.S.


Carl: In China, the people who held on to collectivization did well, and became exploitative.  (They hired migrant labour and no longer worked themselves.)  He also talks about an example in Basque Spain.


A: Chomsky: You have to expand these ideas beyond the individual.  He talks about differences between Canada and the U.S.  In Canada, the same labour unions demanded health care not just for themselves, as in the U.S., but for the population as a whole.  The ideas of mutual aid and mutual support have to spread and become part of the culture.  (He talks about the social solidarity of the ‘New Deal’ period and of U.S. social security as representing the willingness of the working generation to care for the older generation.  He says that if the sentiment that continues to defend social security spreads, that would represent movement towards social solidarity.  It takes work, as it took work in Spain and caused a revolution. 


Bolivia, he says, is a success that is so important it is hardly ever discussed - so the meeting in Bolivia, the People’s Summit, after Copenhagen was important.


Q: Could climate change be an issue that would bring people together in solidarity?


A: Chomsky: This is one of the tasks of the Left.  If things don’t change, everything else we have talked about is irrelevant.  (He mentions the traffic in Beijing.) 


He says the fact is that the U.S. debt to Japan is bigger than its debt to China and that, as we can see through recent events in Japan, the U.S. debt has given Japan no power whatsoever.  


The shift all over the world is from the power of the workers to the power of the few…


At this point, it is clear that time has run out and Chomsky must leave for a quick lunch in order to get to his next appointment on time.   

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