Proyect vs Chomsky
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Wed Oct 11 12:15:19 MDT 1995
Hi, everybody I've picked a fight with Noam Chomsky.
I just got sick and tired of his Lenin-bashing. I posted a comment on an
exchange that took place in Z magazine between Chomsky and Michael
Albert to the PEN-L list. (Albert is the editor of Z.) The fight
will probably be conducted on Chomsky's home turf, the Z magazine bulletin
Now, don't worry, I know what you are all thinking. I promise to go easy on
him. I do have a lot of respect for the critiques he's made of US foreign
policy and that will cause me to be gentler than usual.
Michael Albert: That's gone. Let's go back to this broad question of
intellectuals. What about left intellectuals? If an intellectual is
somebody who spends time trying to understand society, what's a left
intellectual? Are there any?
Noam Chomsky: One of the very few predictions in the social sciences
that I know of that ever came true was one of Bakunin's over a century
ago in which he predicted that intellectuals would fall into two
categories in industrial societies. Some would work for capitalists and
others would be left intellectuals who would try to rise to power on the
backs of mass popular movements, If they could gain power they
would then beat the people into submission.
Michael Albert: Leninism?
Noam Chomsky: Yes, what he was predicting was Leninism. If the
intellectuals find they can't or, if it is too dangerous or costly, they'll be
the servants of what we would nowadays call state capitalism. He
didn't use the term. Either of the two intellectuals, he said, will be
"beating the people with the people's stick." That is, they will still be
presenting themselves as representatives of the people, so they'll hold
the people's stick, but they'll be beating the people with it. It follows
from his analysis that it would be extremely easy to shift from one
position to the other. It's extremely easy, that is, to undergo what
nowadays is called the "God-that-failed" syndrome. You start off as
basically a Leninist who is going to be part of the Red bureaucracy.
You see later that power doesn't lie that way, and you very quickly
become an ideologist of the right and devote your life to exposing the
sins of your former comrades who haven't seen the light and haven't
shifted to where power really is. We're seeing it right now in the
Soviet Union. The same guys who were Communist thugs two years
back, are now running banks and enthusiastic free marketeers and
Listening to these two is like listening to Ted Koppel interviewing
Does Chomsky know what he's talking about when he throws around
terms like "state capitalism" and "Leninism"? He should stick to
linguistics and criticism of US foreign policy until he gets a solid
grounding in political economy and Soviet history.
It's interesting that the political currents and individuals that identified
with Lenin, except for the sect-cults, have gone through a profound re-
evaluation. Joe Slovo's speech on Stalinism is a case in point.
Anarchists, new leftists and social democrats have never gone through
that process. You get the same type of self-congratulatory smugness in
Z Magazine that you get in CPUSA publications, or In These Times.
Chomsky can sit on his lofty perch and make judgments about Lenin
and Trotsky, but what is the record of anarchism in the twentieth
I can't wait to free up the time to subject this tendency to the critique it
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