This is just great. Says quite a lot of important things in eight minutes.
Thank you so much for this. Like you say, she crams a lot into 8 minutes, and it’s all great. I’m going to check out her other stuff.
wonder why this entry’s received so little feedback? anyway, and as usual, always thoughtful stuff here.
I don’t understand it myself.
Quite OT, but I thought you may like to know of these folks given your penchant for looking at star celebrities’ funding and actual missions
One is Cory Morningstar on Twitter (AT)elleprovocateur, the other is http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/
They’re reprising a few investigations and exposés for obvious reasons. Hope you’re doing okay, or okay enough.
I’m aware of them both. They’re good.
OT: not that I’m a Bernie Sanders fan, but thought you might be interested in this Adolph Reed interview, as it fits within your critique of some involved in the “Black Lives Matter” movement
Adolph Reed correctly calls out Ta-Nehisi Coates for using reparations to attack Sanders’ economic policies while staying silent about Hillary’s more corporate ones which are worse for black people, everyone except the wealthy, in fact, than Sanders’, concluding that Coates, McKesson and Legend are “the shock troops for neoliberalism”
This is OT and rather long, but you once told a commenter to never apologize for comment length, so here goes. I am a lurker here (rarely post), because I find many thoughtful and eye-opening things, though I don’t agree with many conclusions.
I read one of your comments where you approvingly linked (https://ohtarzie.wordpress.com/2015/06/13/conspiracy-and-class-interest/#comment-17422) to a piece by Michael Parenti: http://conservancy.umn.edu/bitstream/handle/11299/151744/nst122.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (“Another view of Chomsky”)
I am only interested in that piece inasmuch it critiques Chomsky’s views on Communism and Leninism, which is the bulk of the article. You are also interested, as far as I can see in “Chomsky’s muddled, ahistoric, reactionary views on communism”. I agree otherwise with the piece (and you as well if I’m not mistaken) that Chomsky has made much appreciated and substantial contributions to many things, though of course he should be criticized like everyone else.
Throat clearing done.
To put it in a nutshell, I found the piece shallow and demonstrably wrong on many things, and rather pointless. I try to demonstrate it below, using quotes. The main problem is that Parenti has only limited himself to Chomsky’s interviews and general articles, where Chomsky did not cite every statement he made. If Parenti had bothered to look a little deeper, he would know that Chomsky has cited many reasons for his beliefs, and is simply not talking out of his ass. One may agree or disagree with his reasons, but it is dishonest to pretend that he didn’t explain himself.
(a) “Libertarian socialist” is a sweeping designation, safely covering
both sides of the street. Of course, the ambiguity is not
McChesney’s but Chomsky’s. As far as I know, Chomsky has
never offered a clear explication of his anarcho-libertariansocialist
ideology. That is to say, he has never explained to us
how it would manifest itself in organized political struggle or
actual social construction.”
In fact, Chomsky has written a lot about his ideology. The classic is of course “Notes on Anarchism” (https://chomsky.info/1970____/), in which he traces anarchist thought as he sees it and says why he thinks “From this point of view, anarchism may be regarded as the libertarian wing of socialism”. Agree with him or not, one can hardly make the charge that he has not outlined his views. There are of course many many other pieces, for instance, the talk – Government in the Future (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5uagjAtit7E)
It in indeed correct that Chomsky has not explicated many details. This is not a weird oversight, but he explains it many times. He stated that he thinks that we don’t know enough to outline many things in general, and it should be discovered by experimentation to see what works in particular cases. He regards, for instance, “After the revolution” by Diego Abad De Santilan, as interesting but ultimately not possible. Again, one may disagree or agree, but it is senseless to make the charge that he has “evaded all the hard questions about organized struggle”, as Parenti charges.
(b) Parenti then goes on to give a sample of Chomsky’s criticism of Communism and Leninism. Almost every one is off the mark. For instance, Parenti charges “Chomsky treats Communism
and fascism as totalitarian twins, offering no class analysis of either, except to assert that they are both rooted in some unspecified way to today’s corporate domination”. In fact Chomsky has cited many times, how they are similar. An example is: “the intellectual backgrounds for granting such extraordinary rights to “collectivist legal entities” lie in neo-Hegelian doctrines that also underlie Bolshevism and fascism: the idea that organic entities have rights over and above those of persons. Conservative legal scholars bitterly opposed these innovations, recognizing that they undermine the traditional idea that rights inhere in individuals, and undermine market principles as well.” He cites The Transformation of American Law (the relevant chapter is https://www.unsw.adfa.edu.au/school-of-humanities-and-social-sciences/sites/default/files/documents/Horwitz%20chapter%203.pdf), which discusses corporate personhood. See also where he cites Business as a System of Power by Robert Brady. Again, agree with him or not, it is dishonest or simply lazy to pretend that no evidence is cited.
Another instance is: “In his book Powers and Prospects (1996, 83), Chomsky
begins to sound like Ronald Reagan when he announces that
Communism “was a monstrosity,” and “the collapse of tyranny”
in Eastern Europe and Russia is “an occasion for rejoicing for
anyone who values freedom and human dignity.” Tell that to the
hungry pensioners and child prostitutes in Gorky Park. ” Cheap shot, not to mention illogical. If some system is a monstrosity, it does not follow that what succeeds is angelic. Mubarak was a monster, does that mean that Morsi was an angel or Egypt now is a paradise, or that one should be bringing back the earlier regime (of course Sisi is a creature of the earlier regime)?
(c) “What we used to say about the Trotskyites can apply to the
Chomskyites: they support every revolution except those that
succeed. (Cuba might be the exception. Chomsky usually leaves that country unmentioned in his sideswipes at existing or once existing
Communist countries.) Most often, organized workingclass
struggles and vanguard parties are written off by many on
the left (including Chomsky) as “Stalinist,” a favorite, obsessional
pejorative made all the more useful by remaining forever
undefined; or “Leninist,” which is Chomsky’s code word for
Communist governments and movements that have actually
gained state power and fought against the west to stay in power.
Through all this label-slinging, no recognition is given to the
horrendous battering such countries and movements endure from
the Western imperialists. No thought is given to the enormously
distorting impact of capitalist counterrevoltuionary power upon
the development of existing and once-existing Communist
governments, nor the evils of international capitalism that the
Communists and their allies were able to hold back, evils that are
becoming more and more apparent to us today.”
This is an amazing paragraph. No evidence is cited at all, of “struggles and vanguard parties” being dismissed by Chomsky, or the supposed “evils of international capitalism that the Communists and allies were able to hold back”. And is it really believable that Chomsky gives no recognition to the horrendous batterings endured by the countries by Western imperialists?
Let’s look at concrete examples: Nicaragua. Sandinistas were not communists, but since the communist party actually joined the opposition to topple them in 1990, one can hardly blame them. Sandinistas were supported partly by the Soviet Union and Cuba. Did Chomsky attack them or support them? And did he not argue that the militarization of the Sandinistas occurred due to their battering by the United States?
Did Chomsky attack the communist party in Indonesia (who he described as the “only mass-based political party in the country”), when he discussed how they were decimated by Suharto and battered by Western imperialists?
(d) To discover Chomsky’s view as to why he did not consider the Soviet Union as communist in any sense of the word, one only has to read what he writes. See https://chomsky.info/1986____/ for an example. Why should he bother supporting anything the Soviet Union did then? Chomsky did write elsewhere that the Soviet Union supported certain struggles for its own cynical reasons, and the disappearance of the Soviet Union led to curtailing of opportunity of countries who could no longer play the superpowers against each other.
You make a fair point about overstatements without citations, but I think Parenti’s overall point is entirely correct and mostly supported by his piece. Chomsky’s function in discourse is to reconcile Marxist analysis with capitalist political practice. If Chomsky didn’t exist, the Ruling Class would have to invent him. Oh wait, that’s what they did.
Thanks for the response.
I did not intend to defend Chomsky per se, only to try to think through the issues. If his characterization/thinking about Communism/Leninism is ahistorical, muddled and reactionary, I wanted to see why.
I am aware of what you think about Chomsky and his role as a heat vampire etc. That is not relevant to my goal.
Fair enough. After a more careful reading, I concede that some of your points are valid. This deserves a more comprehensive and respectful response than I first gave it. I will offer that in this space when time permits.
I guess I have to guard against my own fanboyism which is rather kneejerk where Parenti is concerned.
BECAUSE PARENTI IS GOD!
Thanks for giving us food for thought. More later.
Ok my more detailed response. I’ll take each of your helpfully delineated points in turn.
a) “In fact, Chomsky has written a lot about his ideology.”
I think Parenti’s wording in this section is the source of the trouble. It’s rather evident that his complaint here isn’t that Chomsky is silent on his ideology overall, but on where his ideology leads us in actual practice. This is an indisputably valid complaint even by your own account:
It in indeed correct that Chomsky has not explicated many details. This is not a weird oversight, but he explains it many times. He stated that he thinks that we don’t know enough to outline many things in general, and it should be discovered by experimentation to see what works in particular cases.
So you agree with Parenti that Chomsky backs away from practice. That’s good, considering how common this complaint is even among his admirers. A standard feature of any Chomsky talk is some young person standing up, after Noam has, with his infuriating, soul-killing monotone, given ten thousand reasons to kill yourself, and asking, “so what should we do?” The answer is invariably some variation on “Become an activist.” What’s so particularly disgusting about this perennial, insipid, intellectually dishonest evasion, is that Chomsky shows no reluctance to make specific recommendations about voting — Vote Democrat in swing states! — or the proper way to bring about social change — rallies and marches good, things like Aaron Swartz’s “pathological” attack on academic publishing, bad. Parenti hasn’t accused him of an oversight in this regard, so your remarks are a concession with a side of straw.
b) Again Parenti is annoyingly bunching multiple complaints into one and thereby gives you an opening to annoyingly refute one in the guise of refuting them all. In this case, you’re right that Chomsky has offered more explanation “than both [Fascism and Communism] are rooted in some unspecified way to today’s corporate domination.” But you haven’t addressed the complaint that he offers no class analysis, which is the more important criticism. To make fascism equal to communism without addressing their extremely different relationship to the Ruling Class is perniciously half-baked, reactionary even, but no doubt the Ruling Class that invented our official “radical” and which most def marks a difference between communism and fascism and clearly prefers the latter, appreciates it.
c) Extolling Chomsky’s support for two failed revolutions is a rather odd way to refute the charge that he only likes failed revolutions. You have a valid complaint that Parenti hasn’t given any examples of what he’s talking about, but neither have you. You’re undeniably right about Parenti understating Chomsky’s recognition of the “horrendous battering such countries and movements endure from the Western imperialists.” However, how often does Chomsky recognize that when enumerating Marxist-Leninist deficiencies? This isn’t something I know much about. I’m simply clarifying what I think Parenti’s complaint is. If that is the complaint, it’s not enough to say that Chomsky occasionally wrings his hands over Nicaragua and the like unless he does it in the context of mitigating his criticism of Marxist Leninism.
d) I don’t know what you’re addressing here and this has gotten really tedious, so I’m gonna leave it.
Thanks again for the response. I will reply briefly. Feel free to stop anytime you are tired of me. I have gotten a fair bit out of the exchange already.
(c) It seems you did not like the example of Nicaragua or Indonesia. Fine, take China. In a debate with William F. Buckley, Chomsky had this to say about China (transcript here: http://buckley-chomsky.weebly.com/debate-part-5.html)
“I think that in looking at China one has to recognise a great deal of repressive practice, a great deal of authoritarianism – and one also has to recognise a great deal of spontaneous democratic structure of a sort which never existed in Asia before, and if you want to know the truth, to some extent doesn’t even exist in our society. Now these things exist side by side…Look – in which people, in which the peasants who live in a village control the institutions of their lives. They control the organisation of work…”
Chomsky has elsewhere favourably compared China with India, in the context of famines (quoting an argument of Amartya Sen). In 1950, China and India had roughly the same life expectancy. After 1950, China of course experienced a big famine, and India didn’t. But if one looks at life expectancy, the years lost in India are an order of magnitude bigger than China. The difference is rooted in the class character of the two regimes.
Or take another example. It is a staple in capitalist apologetics to compare Eastern and Western Europe to “prove” that capitalism is better. Chomsky points out in many places (https://chomsky.info/199606__/ for example) that this is comparing apples and oranges. Eastern Europe was the original Third World, serving as the service area for Western Europe. Living standards in Eastern/Western Europe have diverged for the past 500 years. He states, for instance, that Soviet Union was considered a model or regarded with envy in large parts of Asia because it extracted itself from the domination of Western imperialism. Chomsky has argued that one should compare the Soviet sattelites with Central and Latin America to compare like with like.
(b) and (d) Sorry, I didn’t make myself clear, as to why (d) is relevant. Chomsky considers the Soviet Union as state capitalist, not socialist. The article I linked to is an analysis (citing Bolsheviks and Workers Control: https://www.marxists.org/archive/brinton/1970/workers-control/), to argue about the class character of the Soviet regime. He did not simply make the charge that fascism and Bolshevism are both totalitarian.
(a) I agree with you a bit here. I myself have been quite frustrated by Chomsky’s refusal to recommend concrete steps often. But I think Chomsky’s point that he can’t tell you “what is to be done” (in general) is a truism. If one looks at the practice of supposed Communist parties, they are all over the map, depending on the circumstances. In India it ranged from armed struggle to opportunistic support for bourgeouis center-left parties. I already gave the example of the communist party in Nicaragua. Or take the Iraqi communist party, which actually collaborated with the 2003 invasion. As far as I know, this wide range of behaviour is typical of of communist parties everywhere.
Thanks for replying.
You have effectively refuted Parenti’s claim that Chomsky only likes failed revolutions, and shown that he has been dishonestly hyperbolic.
But I think Chomsky’s point that he can’t tell you “what is to be done” (in general) is a truism.
This formulation equates having a plan with being a fortune teller and thereby rules it out. Yes, of course, you can’t know your end result up front, and yes, you improvise with changing conditions, but it’s useful to have a well-imagined outcome as a guide and a complement of strategy. As I’ve pointed out, Chomsky shows no reluctance to make very specific recommendations that set off no alarms for his Ruling Class patrons. Like admonishing Aaron Swartz’s corpse for not going by a playbook that has helpfully failed over and over again. Like spending Zinn’s “five minutes in a voting booth” to vote for a Democrat.
I sincerely believe this is on purpose — and NOT because oh golly gee we can’t predict the future — but his intentions don’t matter. Any true radical is going to say that the ruling class must go and the current state along with it and the violence is likely to be necessary. This is just basic shit that doesn’t require a crystal ball, but going this far will get you boycotted. Whether he knows it or not, this silence is the price of his high perch, and it might even be useful for those that see him as a gateway drug to genuine radicalism. But to say this is the result of some theoretical nuance is the kind of degradingly idiotic thing that people only say in defense of an icon. It also minimizes the stifling effect this has on the left imagination.
I have often wondered at Chomsky sometimes counselling very mild measures, which are indistinguishable from a liberal prescription. I recall a line from somewhere (I think it was Freddie DeBoer talking about Chris Hayes) “Karl Marx in description, Tom Daschle in prescription”. It does not apply always to Chomsky, not even mostly, but sometimes it is true.
I am rather confused in my own thinking as well as to what to do, so I cannot judge whether this is bad or good. But I know that Chomsky has discussed this, and I cannot offhand refute it easily.
I will end with two links where Chomsky discusses tactics. As a background, Chomsky says elsewhere that he is not good at thinking about tactics:
(a) Regarding your comment that “the violence is likely to be necessary”. I read this from Chomsky (https://chomsky.info/19671215/): “On The Legitimacy of Violence as a Political Act”, a 1967 discussion with Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag and Conor Cruise O’Brien (incidentally, he favourably compares Chinese communism with Soviet communism there).
Sample quote: “I don’t accept the view that we can just condemn the NLF terror, period, because it was so horrible. I think we really have to ask questions of comparative costs, ugly as that may sound. And if we are going to take a moral position on this — and I think we should — we have to ask both what the consequences were of using terror and not using terror.”
(b) About tactics in general. I think this comes into Aaron Swartz territory. (https://zcomm.org/zcommentary/chomsky-sessions-five-international-relations-part-two-by-noam-chomsky/).
Sample quote: “I think there are a lot of things that could have been done better. For one thing, you have to make a distinction between two kinds of tactics: you could call them feel-good tactics — makes me feel good about myself — and do-good tactics, does something for somebody else. Well, you know, the antiwar movement dissolved to a large extent into feel-good tactics, which were harmful. In fact, the Vietnamese were aware of it. I talked to them. What they liked was quiet, non-violent demonstrations which, you know, a group of women standing quietly somewhere. What they didn’t like was what was being done. Say, Weathermen. These are tactics that are understandable from the point of view of the people. They were frustrated, they were bitter, nothing was working, OK, let’s go out and smash some windows. Or let’s go out and have a fight in a 3rd Avenue Bar and show the people we’re authentic and so on. Well, these are like just gifts to the ultra-hawks. They helped to build up support for the war. And it was obvious that they were going to have that effect, especially as the movement sort of dissolved into sects, like after ’68. So, a lot of it was just self-destructive.”
Thanks for this. This discussion has been useful and you’ve pointed to material that is well worth looking at.
I know that Chomsky doesn’t rule out violence altogether, but as your examples indicate he’s far more likely to discuss it sympathetically with respect to other countries. What you’ve quoted about the NLF is a very far cry from even suggesting such tactics for the US, and the exceptionalism that informs his disgusting and chronic whitewashing of domestic repression keeps impressionable minds from making any dangerous inferences.
I’ve never seen that extremely interesting quote about the Weathermen, but that is just classic left gatekeeping, in form as well as content. We’re seeing this a lot now, where “I know a guy from Syria” morphs into “I know what the Syrians want” which is invariably what empire wants, and anyone who insists otherwise is denying agency. There is so much bullshit in that quote it’s hard to know where to start. Since you haven’t quoted it approvingly I won’t burden either one of us with stepping through it.
Again thanks so much for the discussion.
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