What's wrong with Chomsky?

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Steven.
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Nov 13 2009 18:19
What's wrong with Chomsky?

I've been wondering for a while, I've seen a few throwaway comments from people on here and elsewhere slagging off Chomsky. Particularly saying that he is not an anarchist, for example.

I haven't seen much specifically though of his that is problematic - I'm a big fan. So what are peoples problems with him from an anarchist/ultraleft point of view? Any good critiques anywhere on the net?

I mean I've noticed a couple of things - in his Yugoslavia interview example he suggests that a particular partition of the country might have solved the problem. And also in a TV interview he stated that World War II may have been justified, but not much else.

Depending on how this discussion goes, if there are some good points or questions raised I thought we could possibly invite him to take part in a critical interview.

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Nov 13 2009 18:31

his focus on international relations means he's really popular with people without or hostile to class analysis, and he does sometimes come off as soft on 'anti-imperialist' governments (Sandinistas, Chavez). but i think that's partly just a reflection on his subject matter and position that he only addresses the crimes of 'his' government since the crimes of the official enemies are already well publicised.

he has a classical liberal view on free speech, which may put him at odds with no platform practices and often seems to have a similarly liberal deference to international law - althought to be fair a lot of the things proscribed by international law are things we'd oppose anyway. but again i think he stresses breaches of international law to emphasise the law is a tool of the powerfuul ignored at will, rather than to present equality before the law as something to fight for.

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Nov 13 2009 18:56

His recent visit to Belfast was to deliver a lecture for Amnesty International, I guess his attitude toward groups like Amnesty, NGOs, etc would differ from most on here. I think when he brings up stuff in relation to International Law breaches etc he does so to show up the hypocrisy of his targets, rather than defending IL per se as JK has said.

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Nov 13 2009 19:03

I'm a fan of a lot of Chomsky's stuff, and like his writing style. I think his analysis of the media is really excellent. But there are things to be critical of.

I mean he's made comments in support of Chavez, such as this during a recent visit to Venezuela:

Quote:
"I write about peace and criticize the barriers to peace; that's easy. What's harder is to create a better world... and what's so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created."

http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/news/4748

He also made the bog-standard leftist argument about voting for Obama "without illusions" during the presidential elections:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-real-news/chomsky-in-swing-states-v_b_136248.html

I'd also agree with JK's point about his focus on international relations leading to certain problems. I think he can take a somewhat statist view of matters, for instance around Palestine his arguments tend to centre around the need for an independent Palestinian nation-state based on pre-1967 borders, which again is common currency on the left but something I'd expect anarchists to be more critical of.

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Nov 13 2009 19:17

I'm not a big fan of his language learning theories but I don't think that that's too relevant smile

gypsy
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Nov 13 2009 19:22

can a mod email me? I got to ask them to take something off a blog which I cant seem to edit-cheers. Jeff what do you find wrong with his theories on language? I was abit surprised when he was cheerleading for chavez awhile back-chavez replied the compliment by cheerleading his book at the UN.

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Nov 13 2009 21:53

His critique of American and western imperialism is great, and meticulously documented. And his critique of the media is very good also. But his "positive" views are hardly anarchist or communist. Besides supporting ("critically" or otherwise) Chavez or the Sandinistas in the '80s, he generally supports a statist, essentially social democratic ("classic", not "neo" or contemporary), orientation. This is one reason (among many) why he often gets labeled as a "liberal" by American anarchists and communists.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 13 2009 22:04

I think much of his work is excellent and that he is often unfairly attacked by people attempting to make themselves feel and look oh so radical. But then again his longer chains and bigger cages approach is problematic.

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klas batalo
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Nov 13 2009 22:20

well there is the whole debate with foucault

trenchone
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Nov 13 2009 22:57

Chomsky spoke with the WSM in 2007 and recently had breakfast with them. Notes of that available here. Looks like a liberal who talks about a "Labour Movement" (whatever that's supposed to be). Notes conclude with

Quote:
Ger - can I ask for your opinions on Free Gaza and Viva Palestina movement
Chomsky - really inspiring development, something totally new in the history of
imperialism, if Israel rams the boats its an organizing technique, if they get through its
great, people have been beaten and kidnapped by Israeli forces, one thing that can turn US
government policy and that's the real target. One goal is to help the Palestinians
directly which is fine but also tactics that can shift US policy is critically
significant. Europe can take an independent stand and Ireland could help this happen

He has ideas about "tactics that can shift US policy." How would that be? What sort of change could "tactics" make to US imperialism? What sort of "independent stand" could "Europe" take that would have anything to do with the lives of the working class? How could Ireland "help"? None of this has anything to do with the struggles of the working class. He wants to change the policies of US imperialism, not destroy the capitalist system. What's the difference between him and, say, Ralph Nader? Yes, he's a member of the IWW, like his father before him.But surely he sees anarcho-syndicalism as just the form of liberalism that's proper for the modern age?

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Nov 13 2009 23:16
Quote:
and recently had breakfast with them

eek

Jason Cortez
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Nov 13 2009 23:18

Chomsky is not a left communist shocker!!

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jesuithitsquad
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Nov 13 2009 23:27

what about the time his friend's feelings got hurt here so he signed a letter condemning libcom?

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Nov 13 2009 23:35

he condemned libcom?

His critiques of US foreign policy appear cosmetic. Does he ever address capital directly?

Jason Cortez
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Nov 13 2009 23:49

probably every day of his working life, I would imagine.

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Nov 14 2009 00:10
jesuithitsquad wrote:
what about the time his friend's feelings got hurt here so he signed a letter condemning libcom?

that was very funny, but I get the impression he didn't read the discussion, he probably got an e-mail from his friend asking him to sign this statement and he just did it.

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Nov 14 2009 00:39
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he condemned libcom?

link plz

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Nov 14 2009 00:51

http://libcom.org/forums/libcom-wobblies/interview-w-iww-barista-alex-van-schaick-andrej-grubacic-z-magazine?page=1#comment-206385

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Nov 14 2009 01:19
waslax wrote:
His critique of American and western imperialism is great, and meticulously documented. And his critique of the media is very good also. But his "positive" views are hardly anarchist or communist. Besides supporting ("critically" or otherwise) Chavez or the Sandinistas in the '80s, he generally supports a statist, essentially social democratic ("classic", not "neo" or contemporary), orientation. This is one reason (among many) why he often gets labeled as a "liberal" by American anarchists and communists.

any links to him supporting the Sandinistas?

Like Joseph said, he often comes of looking soft on things like that, but that's because he's focusing on the crimes of the West - as the crimes of the "baddies" are always well known

Jason Cortez
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Nov 14 2009 01:28

Wow I had forgotten that trainwreck of a thread. Classic! I am now redoubling my efforts to get comrade Rata released, so he can post on here, again.

Caiman del Barrio
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Nov 14 2009 02:08

Can we start another thread: "What's wrong with David Graeber?"

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Nov 14 2009 04:11
trenchone wrote:
Chomsky spoke with the WSM in 2007 and recently had breakfast with them. Notes of that available here. Looks like a liberal who talks about a "Labour Movement" (whatever that's supposed to be). Notes conclude with
Quote:
Ger - can I ask for your opinions on Free Gaza and Viva Palestina movement
Chomsky - really inspiring development, something totally new in the history of
imperialism, if Israel rams the boats its an organizing technique, if they get through its
great, people have been beaten and kidnapped by Israeli forces, one thing that can turn US
government policy and that's the real target. One goal is to help the Palestinians
directly which is fine but also tactics that can shift US policy is critically
significant. Europe can take an independent stand and Ireland could help this happen

He has ideas about "tactics that can shift US policy." How would that be? What sort of change could "tactics" make to US imperialism? What sort of "independent stand" could "Europe" take that would have anything to do with the lives of the working class? How could Ireland "help"? None of this has anything to do with the struggles of the working class. He wants to change the policies of US imperialism, not destroy the capitalist system. What's the difference between him and, say, Ralph Nader? Yes, he's a member of the IWW, like his father before him.But surely he sees anarcho-syndicalism as just the form of liberalism that's proper for the modern age?

You haven't read that much of Chomsky of you think he isn't an anti - capitalist and is equivalent to Ralph Nader, he explicity identifies himself as an anarchosyndacalist plenty of times

I think people often mistake him for a liberal because he does support various 'reformist' things at times. Pesonally I fail to see how this makes him any less of an anarchist I mean yh capitalism is shit but its not as if nothing can be improved under it, supporting reform doesn't make you a liberal

also people just love to appear uber radical sometimes and crtique any1 who doesn't mention class struggle every two lines

most of Chomskys shit is good

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Nov 14 2009 04:59
D wrote:
also people just love to appear uber radical sometimes and crtique any1 who doesn't mention class struggle every two lines

I just don't get this attitude. Maybe said people are in fact "uber radical" in comparison with who they are they are critiquing, not in the sense of some poseur attitude, but in terms of the perspective they actually, seriously defend. I don't know what perspective Chomsky actually, deep down, defends. Maybe he's an anarcho-syndicalist, but then one needs to ask which specific form of anarcho-syndicalism he defends. If he does, though, one would expect him to have a class analysis of the various issues he deals with, and to defend a pro-revolutionary orientation with the working class as revolutionary subject in each case. But one doesn't see this in the majority (? not familiar enough to say for sure) of his texts. As was noted by trenchone above, his orientation is usually one of trying to get the state, or ruling class generally, to change ("reform") its policies, just like most of leftism does, with the working class all but left out of the picture. I would assume and hope that most contributors to libcom do in fact defend a perspective that is "uber radical" in comparison. To suggest that involves "mention[ing] class struggle every two lines" is to caricaturize (except maybe in a few ultra-workerist cases) and essentially dismiss pro-revolutionary class struggle perspectives.

Jason Cortez
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Nov 14 2009 09:05
Quote:
To suggest that involves "mention[ing] class struggle every two lines" is to caricaturize (except maybe in a few ultra-workerist cases) and essentially dismiss pro-revolutionary class struggle perspectives.

Yes everyone knows the correct acceptable frequency is one in at least every five sentences.Well done comrade.

no1
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Nov 14 2009 11:10

Of course Chomsky has a class analysis of the issues he deals with, except he doesn't put it in Marxist language. I think a lot of problems with Chomsky stem from the fact that it's hard to be an anarcho-syndicalist if you acts as an individual rather than a part of a wider anarcho-syndicalist organisation. Chomsky does have a pro-revolutionary orientation, but if, as an individual, you concern yourself mainly with revolution then you're bound to sound like a bit of a nutter, since it has no practical implications or concrete impact. What you can do as an individual is read the news and dissect imperialist foreign policy, which is what Chomsky's been doing since the beginning of the Vietnam war, having a massive impact. He doesn't really call himself an anarcho-syndicalist anyway, he just says that anarcho-syndicalism is his political background which he was involved in in his youth, and that since then he never had any reason to question or reject anarcho-syndicalist views.

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Nov 14 2009 12:23

No1, I think that's partially correct, but I think the reason he often doesn't couch things in those terms is because of the propaganda filters he criticises. I think if he did bang on about the class struggle every two sentences, then he wouldn't be a very popular author, named the world's most important intellectual.

However, in more obscure texts and interviews he does make clear that that is what his perspective is. I think that this is partly the reason for criticisms of him, people who don't realise this.

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Nov 14 2009 13:30
weeler wrote:
trenchone wrote:
here is a link to the wsm website

No pics of the banner? Seriously though, it makes sense for a pragmatic radical liberal like chomsky to be seen with the WSM, it gives them both a sense of legitimacy.

could you refer me to something which demonstrates he is a liberal? This is a serious question, not having a go.

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Nov 14 2009 13:59
waslax wrote:
D wrote:
also people just love to appear uber radical sometimes and crtique any1 who doesn't mention class struggle every two lines

I just don't get this attitude. Maybe said people are in fact "uber radical" in comparison with who they are they are critiquing, not in the sense of some poseur attitude, but in terms of the perspective they actually, seriously defend. I don't know what perspective Chomsky actually, deep down, defends. Maybe he's an anarcho-syndicalist, but then one needs to ask which specific form of anarcho-syndicalism he defends. If he does, though, one would expect him to have a class analysis of the various issues he deals with, and to defend a pro-revolutionary orientation with the working class as revolutionary subject in each case. But one doesn't see this in the majority (? not familiar enough to say for sure) of his texts. As was noted by trenchone above, his orientation is usually one of trying to get the state, or ruling class generally, to change ("reform") its policies, just like most of leftism does, with the working class all but left out of the picture. I would assume and hope that most contributors to libcom do in fact defend a perspective that is "uber radical" in comparison. To suggest that involves "mention[ing] class struggle every two lines" is to caricaturize (except maybe in a few ultra-workerist cases) and essentially dismiss pro-revolutionary class struggle perspectives.

he does have a class analysis

try reading chomsky 'class warfare' (title kind of suggests a cass analysis no?)

'understanding power' or 'notes on anarchism'

its just that in most of his books it doesn't come out that strongly which I supoose could be a crticism of him but I don't see how it makes him less of an anarchist

I think he focuses on reformist stuff cos he thinks its more realistic as of now and can make huge differences in peoples lives.

Take the vote for Obama (without dillusions) example. I actually don't see this as problematic as long as it is strongly emphasised that voting hanges very little and is not a solution

I think abortion is less likely to be baned with Obama than Mcaine and that is worth voting for

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Nov 14 2009 14:02
weeler wrote:
I would rank him as a liberal based on his focus on civil society, support for absolute free speech, political background that involves only pacifist anti-war organising, time spent analysing US imperialism without ever drawing revoutionary conclusions. It can be seen across all of his work - his stuff on media and international politics is great but its not revolutionary, imho, and anarchist claims to chomsky as an anarcho-syndicalist I think are a bit tenuous. He certainly didn't affirm himself as one when he was in Dublin.

he says he's an anarcho-syndicalist himself. It said very early on in his well-known film, manufacturing consent, it's also mentioned on his interview with Andrew Marr (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSuaGIKTaEA) and he doesn't hide it.

This was one of the reasons I wanted to have this discussion, because a lot of the criticisms like yours are actually based on ignorance, rather than reality.

But, like I said above, his job was mostly selling books, and those other books which sell. The more radical stuff is hidden away in more obscure places.

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Nov 14 2009 14:07

I think if you jst read his Foreign Policy stuff it is easy to come to the conclusion that he is a liberal which could be critism itself but I think its just his way of trying to expose how politics is a load of shit (not focusing on crimes of official enemies etc) I also think he tries to appeal to a wide audience and maybe feels clearly identifying himself as a libetarian communist all the tme would put some off?

trenchone
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Nov 14 2009 14:10

"Chomsky does have a pro-revolutionary orientation, but if, as an individual, you concern yourself mainly with revolution then you're bound to sound like a bit of a nutter, since it has no practical implications or concrete impact. What you can do as an individual is read the news and dissect imperialist foreign policy, which is what Chomsky's been doing since the beginning of the Vietnam war, having a massive impact."

So many interesting assertions.."if, as an individual, you concern yourself mainly with revolution then you're bound to sound like a bit of a nutter, since it has no practical implications or concrete impact." Well, obviously if "revolution" is just one of those words saved for May Days and "more obscure texts and interviews" then obviously it does have "no practical implications or concrete impact" It's just an empty expression, in much the same way as when used by stalinists and trots. If the need for revolution is seen as absolutely integral to millions of people transforming their lives then it means rather more (whether you're an individual or part of an organisation).

As for reading the news and dissecting imperialist foreign policy, that's done by all sorts of commentators. You can be on the right or the left and still have all sorts of insights. What's significant is when connections are made between insights about the world, workers' struggles and the possibility of consciously destroying the system that has imperialism at it's heart. But, as someone pointed out 3 years ago, "there is a problem here with his politics in that he ends up advocating a sensible 'what you can do tomorrow' and a sensible 'the sort of world I'd like to see in the long term' but because he doesn't advocate any sort of bridge between these things he ends up going for least worst options in 'real world' politics." Except "least worst" can be pretty dubious, as in endorsing Kerry and supporting sanctions against Iraq. So even when he has an impact it's often just as one voice among many supporting leftist or liberal causes.

Mind you, if there are "more obscure texts and interviews" in which Chomsky shows another side then it would be interesting to see them. Seriously. If something's obscured from view it should be brought into the light. For example, many people back in the 60s and 70s claimed to oppose the Vietnam war but in reality supported North Vietnamese state capitalism. Was that true of Chomsky? Or is it a slander? Certainly, coming a bit more up-to-date, the leftists that are the most ardent pro-Palestinians are very keen on Chomsky. That, in itself, is not an indication of either clarity or confusion. But is anyone suggesting that Chomsky has an internationalist approach to the Middle East situation? If there's evidence, it would be interesting to see.