Hip: Chomsky (fwd)
spoons at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Wed Jul 12 01:11:02 MDT 1995
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 11 Jul 1995 23:01:16 -0800
From: jones/bhandari <djones at uclink.berkeley.edu>
To: marxism at jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
Subject: Hip: Chomsky
The subject line has been reading Hip, instead of Hip. Is Chomsky hip?
I thank all for their private and public comments on Noam Chomsky's
political analysis and would not mind at all if this thread continues.
The Year 501 (referring here to the first half) reminds me of Rosa
Luxemburg's theory of naked primitive accumulation in the colonies as an
on-going requirement of capital accumulation. Unlike RL, he even emphasizes
primitive accumulation within imperialist countries, e.g., mechanisms of
public debt In fact his account of oppression in the first world often
seems to reduce to that, as captured in his criticisms of many policies
guided by the principle of "public subsidy, private profit".
Chomsky does not seem to make much use of the first seven parts of Marx's
first volume of Capital (much less the law of the tendency for the rate of
profit to fall in the third volume).
Not surprisingly, it seems that he is most interested in the critique of
market "distortions" and "extra-market" oppression: neo-mercantalism, a
class-biased state, restrictive intellectual property rights, free speech
and due process infringements, the toppling of "freely-elected"
governments, other violations of sovereignty.
Though Chomsky refers back to the domestic "class war" more and more, I do
not note much concern for the abolition of wage labor itself though it is
hard to imagine that he is anything less than an advocate for some type of
workers' councils. It *seems* to me that Chomsky's real object of critique
is the state. But it seems to me to be a petty bourgeois outlook that
would see oppression in the state before powerlessness and exploitation in
an even undistorted market, even if the market were to take on truly the
characteristics of Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Of course
Chomsky defends unions but perhaps in bourgeois terms.
I also do not get a sense from Chomsky that there is any hope of the
class war ever being won. He lucidly attempts to show the persistence of
basic unequal, anti-democratic and genocidal social relations over 500
years on both an international and domestic scale, but does not show what
has changed and may change within them that would make qualititative change
possible. He seems to rely solely on our growth of knowledge or, as the
brilliant rock group The Who put it, our not being fooled again in the
struggle against domination and oppression. A consequence of his lack of
any theory of "economic" dynamics may be pessissism, cynicism or reformism.
At the same time, he is excellent at showing that what has remained the
same can easily be missed (and therefore unchanged) when we focus on the
massive transformations the world system has undergone in the development
Matt is I think correct about Chomsky's ultimate displacement of class
struggle. For though in Year 501 Chomsky is most insistent on
demonstrating the domestic class consequences of empire (relying on and
recovering Adam Smith's critical comments on mercantalism without
clarifying how modern imperialism is different, as did Maurice Dobb and
Henryk Grossmann), he still ends with the claim that solidarity struggles
are still our best hope. Such a conclusion is sure not to stimulate much
Is Chomsky's criticism on centralized state power an indication not only
of the attempt to free socialism from state capitalism but also of an
implicit reliance on a force theory of history, a la Duhring?
I found especially interesting Matt's comment that Chomsky reduces the
meanings of certain concepts to that which they have in bourgois
ideological structures. I must say yet again that Moishe Postone seems to
be to be the first theorist to attempt to free *Marx's* revolutionary
critique from the legacy of the bourgeois revolutions and enlightment
tradition. Of course there have been such attempts before (see the
fascinating article on Adorno by Michael Lowy in the last Radical
Philosophy for example or Dwight MacDonald's reprinted The Root is Man) but
I know of none grounded in Marx's theory of value. This makes possible new
objects of critique, often quite different from Chomsky's.
But I must say this to suggestions that Chomsky is harmful in the
development of revolutionary consciousness: no way. His analysis of the
role of intellectuals, his propaganda model, his teeth-crunching critiques
of the NYT, his deep concern for the actual conditions of ordinary people
worldwide and their autonomy and freedom is all at the very least
thought-provoking and inspiring. I don't see him as advocating bookishness
but rather often a critical attitude towards intellectual production. I
remember that in one of his chapters in Towards a New Cold War he tried to
show why those had least access to the major newspapers and advanced
education were least susceptible to the central dogmas of US foreign policy
in Indochina. At the same time, Chomsky is not an advocate of ignorance
which,as Marx once said in a tiff, never helped anyone.
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