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 
board. 

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.

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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 
praising Americans.

Louis Proyect:

Listening to these two is like listening to Ted Koppel interviewing 
Henry Kissinger.

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 
century?

I can't wait to free up the time to subject this tendency to the critique it 
truly deserves.




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