David Barsamian is an American radio broadcaster, writer and director of Alternative Radio, a weekly political program broadcast on 125 radio stations in a variety of countries. He has written widely on American foreign policy, corporate control, the media and propaganda.
Mark: Almost two years after a once in a lifetime financial crisis, finance capital seems more powerful than ever, as governments across Europe impose draconian cuts under the guise of austerity and fiscal responsibility. Why has the left been unable to articulate and fight for an alternative at a time of widespread discontent?
The question assumes that there is an organized and substantial Left. I find that problematic. The Right on the other hand controls state power and its representatives craft legislation to serve the needs of its corporate sponsors. The Right is also heavily funded by foundations. The discontent is largely unfocused although generally directed toward the banks and ruling elites. As unions have been greatly weakened, most dramatically in the United States, organized resistance, in the form of strikes, boycotts, workplace occupations, is episodic and is not sustained. The financial crisis has been used by corporations to make further cuts in jobs and reduce benefits. Workers live with the fear of unemployment. There is full scale class war going on to roll back many social gains particularly in Europe. The protests in Greece seem to have subsided. As the crisis continues there is always the possibility that workers will rise up. At the moment such revolts are sporadic.
Mark: How has American foreign policy changed under Obama’s Whitehouse? In spite of the assumed promise of a radical break with the Bush administration it seems, at least on the surface, as if many of the changes have been matter of diplomatic tactics rather than strategic aims.
Hardly at all. It is simply old wine in new bottles. At home Obama is a devout capitalist. Abroad he is a dedicated imperialist and believes the U.S. must “lead” the world. Obama said, “Now make no mistake, the nation will maintain our military dominance. We will have the strongest armed forces in the history of the world.” Recall he presented himself as the peace candidate during his presidential campaign. He presides over a massive military budget and an empire of bases straddling the globe. He has expanded the war in Afghanistan, kept troops in Iraq, bombs Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, and refuses to bring to justice Americans who are guilty of war crimes. In West Asia, it is more of the same. He continues to give Israel a blank check for its colonial policies while providing a full check to that country in the billions of dollars. He gives Israel diplomatic cover in the UN and other international fora. He props up feudal regimes and monarchies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And he threatens Iran with “all options are on the table.” The major change from Bush has been one of rhetoric and style. Otherwise it is business as usual..
Mark: How much influence does the media hold over contemporary politics? How should we go about trying to resist this influence? Could you say a little about the initiatives you are involved with towards this end? I’m thinking of things like Alternative Radio and Z Mag.
I began Alternative Radio (www.alternativeradio.org) in 1986 because I was fed up with corporate media. I think it is important to go beyond a critique to offer positive solutions. This is important not just politically but also for psychological reasons. Simply complaining gets old and boring very fast. The media landscape is rapidly changing and progressives must position themselves to take advantage. Digital editing has made the production of films and radio documentaries much easier. Influence is difficult to measure. Lack of historical knowledge and political illiteracy in the U.S. is very high. It’s our job to change that and provide alternatives.
Mark: Many readers of the website will be familiar with your interviews with Noam Chomsky. What has it been liking working with him? Are we likely to see less public intellectuals of Chomsky’s calibre emerging from universities in the future?
Chomsky is a rare figure. Working with him has been a joy and education. He practices the solidarity he preaches. He’s exceptionally witty too. I don’t think universities have or should have any special monopoly over public intellectuals. They can come from other parts of society.
Mark: A lot of the readers of the website are PhD students and early career researchers. How can this next generation of academics best aid ongoing social and political struggles?
Education and agitation. Find kindred spirits. Be humble. And always keep your sense of humor.