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Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Mon Aug 16 11:37:30 MDT 1999



Noam Chomsky on Socialism: A Critique
by  Li'l Joe (JoeRadical at aol.com) and Connie White (connierw at earthlink.net)

(in response to the 08/05/99 BRC-News "Quote of the Day")


Noam Chomsky says:  "One can debate the meaning of the term 'socialism,' but
if it means anything, it means control of production by the workers
themselves, not owners and managers who rule them and control all decisions,
whether in capitalist enterprise or an absolutist state.  *****  To refer to
the Soviet Union as socialist is an interesting case of doctrinal double
speak."

Chomsky is considered an expert in the science of language - i.e., a
professor of linguistics, and a partisan, linguistic theoretician.  The
notion of "doublespeak" is, of course, taken from George Orwell's
anti-utopian science fiction, futuristic novel 1984.  If there is a
totalitarian or "absolutist" state-society within which operates a "Ministry
of Truth," it is the United States -- with its educational institutions --
and Chomsky is its "Obrian."

Noam Chomsky has made significant contributions to the study of language - to
the study of words and their meaning.  But, what is the meaning of the word
"meaning" as it is used in the above quote of the day (from the BRC-News
listserve)?  Chomsky is concerned with the "meaning" of the word "socialism,"
yet he removes it from its social, political and historical context.
Furthermore, Chomsky is interested in socialism as it exists as an idea -- a
concept ascertained through a dialectical process like the idea of right or
justice in the Dialogue of Plato's Republic.  As in the Republic, it is the
determinateness of the idea and its proper definition -- or its reality as
idea -- against which material activities are judged.  Since socialism in the
Soviet Union did not reach the standard of Chomsky's idea of what it "meant"
to be socialist, the Soviet Union - the real -- is discarded.  However, the
reality of the Soviet Union cannot be so easily discarded in history.

Terms, such as "socialism" and "capitalism," have meaning not only in
linguistic sophistry, but also as description of economic phenomena.  For
Chomsky, the idea -- the concept denoted by the term -- has prior reality.
Chomsky is an idealist (not a materialist like Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemberg
- all contemporaries of the Russian Revolution) and, therefore, if the
material phenomenon he examines does not correspond to the concept, he
dislodges the reality from the concept.  For example, Chomsky's idea of
socialism and the economic reality of the Soviet Union do not comport so, in
order to keep his concept in tack, Chomsky dislodges the reality from the
idea and refers to the Soviet Union as "socialist. . . doublespeak."  To
Chomsky we say that we are not dealing with an Orwellian novel, but economic
reality.

We agree with Chomsky in that: the Soviet Union was never socialist.
(Socialism is an economic category -- like capitalism - which is only
possible at a certain level of the development of the productive forces.
Since we do not believe in socialism in one country, we posit that the
productive forces present in Russia in 1917 had to develop further - under
state monopoly capitalism - before they would be at the level needed to
accommodate socialism.  But, that is another discussion.)  Chomsky's
explanation of what went wrong and why does not, however, coincide with or
take into account the material (economic) reality.  Economic reality in
Russia in 1917 had nothing to do with Orwellian symbols and systems, and the
reason why the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was not maintained in Russia
cannot be explained by attributing ill will to what Chomsky considers a few
power hungry "usurpers" -- viz. Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin.

The Soviet Union, in its reality in 1917, was operating in the capitalist
framework of a market economy.  On the other hand, the Russian bourgeoisie in
1917 were unwilling -- but more correctly unable -- to carry its revolution
to its logical, and historical conclusion.  The model bourgeois-democratic
revolution was the French Revolution of 1789-93, where the bourgeoisie made
its revolution by forging an alliance with the rural peasantry.  Positioned
by industrial developments in Russia in 1917, the Russian working class was
able to operate as a concentrated, independent political party, a class, and
it was able to challenge the bourgeois Constituent Assembly.  The Bolshevik
party of proletarians and communists recognized that the laboring masses in
Russia were, in overwhelming majority, mainly poor peasants (see Lenin's
April Thesis), and exposed the real intent of the bourgeoisie in order to
throw aside its political representatives.  In contradistinction to the
historical precedent of the bourgeois-dominated French Revolution, the
Russian proletariat was able to exploit the nascent bourgeois democracy, and
form an alliance with the vast masses of a revolutionary peasantry.

The Russian Revolution was based on Soviet power - soviets of workers,
peasants, and soldiers. Chomsky's idea of socialism is "control of production
by the workers themselves, not owners and managers who rule them and control
all decisions, whether in capitalist enterprise or an absolutist state"
(emphasis added).  Historically speaking, there are no absolutist states in
the world today.  The age of the absolute monarch is long gone.  The absolute
monarchy was a political power of dynastic and colonial rivalries in the
framework of mercantilism and centralized political power.  This
politico-economic framework gave rise to the development of the bourgeoisie
and of the modern state.  But, perhaps what Chomsky means by "absolutist
state" is the Orwellian totalitarian state (fiction clashing with reality
again?).  Whatever.  Socialism has nothing in common with either "capitalist
enterprise or an absolutist state."

The Russian Revolution brought the workers and peasants to power in the form
of democratic soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers and sailors
deputies.  The Soviet State nationalized the means of industrial production,
and the peasants expropriated the lands of the aristocracy.  But, this was
not accomplished over night by an October, Bolshevik coup-de-tat.  For three
decades, the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party organized and prepared
for revolution.  The myth that the Bolsheviks were an isolated, sectarian
group of intellectuals in exile is unsubstantiated nonsense.  The Bolsheviks
were the majority (e.g., "bolshevik" means majority) in the Russian
Social-Democratic Labour Party, and that Party was based in the Russian
workers' movements.  As part of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party,
the Bolshevik Party saw itself as a vanguard detachment of the workers'
political struggle for power and a party of professional revolutionaries.
When the revolution did come, it was as much a response to the bloody war of
1914 as a response to the economic hardship of workers and peasants.  Chomsky
would have us believe that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was in
opposition to Czarism.  In fact, the Czarist autocratic government was - in
any meaningful sense of the term - an absolutist state.  The overthrow of
that state was the first phase of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in
April-May 1917.  Yet, there was also Soviet power along side of the bourgeois
government of the Constituent Assembly.  Following the example of the Paris
Commune, the Bolsheviks called for "all power to the Soviets" in opposition
to the power held by the National Constituent Assembly.  This was class
struggle personified.  The Soviet was the political representative of
workers, peasants, soldiers and sailors, while the National Constituent
Assembly was the political representative of the bourgeoisie.  When the
Soviets got the upper hand, the Bolsheviks (as the majority in the Soviets)
seized the initiative and disbanded the National Constituent Assembly.
Perhaps the disbanding of the National Constituent Assembly (the bourgeois
political power) in favor of the Soviets (the power of the masses of workers,
peasants, soldiers and sailors) is what Chomsky bemoans.  On the contrary, we
do not bemoan this victory by the Bolsheviks but celebrate it!

Chomsky's idea of "socialism" is workers' control of industry, "whether in a
capitalist enterprise or an absolutist state."  Well, what if the capitalists
who own the enterprise do not want to subject it to the "control" of the
workers?  They don't, and they won't.  Workers' control of the economy in an
absolutist state is impossible.  The Bolsheviks had to send armed detachments
to break up the bourgeoisie's' constituent assemblies, and the Soviet power
became the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics - and we are not here talking
about an "absolutist state."  The bourgeois industries were nationalized and
the peasantry seized the lands.  The Bolsheviks were only a part of this
revolution.

Chomsky charges that "The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 placed state power
in the hands of Lenin and Trotsky, who moved quickly to dismantle the
incipient socialist institutions that had grown up during the popular
revolution of the preceding months - the factory councils, the Soviets, in
fact any organ of popular control - and to convert the work force into what
they called a 'labor-army' under the command of a leader."  Chomsky continues
by saying: "In any meaningful sense of the term 'socialism,' the Bolsheviks
moved at once to destroy its existing elements.  No socialist deviation has
been permitted sense."  Chomsky's perception was very much different from the
reality.

Lenin explains the facts as follows: "One of the most vicious and probably
most widespread distortions of Marxism practised by the prevailing
'Socialist' parties consists in the opportunist lie that preparations for
insurrection and generally the treatment of insurrection as an art are
'Blanquism.'  *****  To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon
conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class.  That is the
first point.  Insurrection must rely upon the revolutionary spirit of the
people.  That is the second point.  Insurrection must rely upon the crucial
moment in the history of the growing revolution, when the activity of the
advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in
the ranks of the enemies and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and
irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest.  That is the third point.
 And these three factors in the attitude towards insurrection distinguish
Marxism from Blanquism."  (Emphasis in original) (Marxism and Insurrection: A
Letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour
Party, V. I. Lenin Selected Works, Volume VI, p.213).  "We must prepare a
brief declaration in the name of the Bolsheviks, sharply emphasising the
irrelevance of long speeches and of 'speeches' in general, the necessity for
immediate action in order to save the revolution, the absolute necessity for
a complete break with the bourgeoisie. . . ." (Marxism and Insurrection: A
Letter to the Central Committee of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour
Party, V. I. Lenin Selected Works, Volume VI, p.222)

Furthermore, Lenin speaks to the workers: "The workers' and peasants'
revolution has definitely triumphed in Petrograd, having dispersed or
arrested the last remnants of the small number of Cossacks deceived by
Kerensky.  The revolution has triumphed in Moscow too.  Even before the
arrival of a number of troop trains dispatched from Petrograd. . . .  *****
Daily and hourly reports are coming in from the front and from the villages
announcing the support of the overwhelming majority of the soldiers in the
trenches and the peasants in the uyezds for the new government and its
decrees on peace and the immediate transfer of the land to the peasants.  The
victory of the workers' and peasants' revolution is assured because the
majority of the people have already sided with it.  *****  It is perfectly
understandable that the landowners and capitalists, and the top groups of
office employees and civil servants closely linked with the bourgeoisie, in a
word, all the wealthy and those supporting them, react to the new revolution
with hostility, resist its victory, threaten to close the banks, disrupt or
bring to a standstill the work of the different establishments, and hamper
the revolution in every way, openly or covertly.  Every politically-conscious
worker was well aware that we would inevitably encounter resistance of this
kind.  The entire Party press of the Bolsheviks has written about this on
numerous occasions.  Not for a single minute will this resistance intimidate
the working class; they will not falter in any way before the threats and
strikes of the supporters of the bourgeoisie.  *****  The majority of the
people are with us.  The majority of the working and oppressed people all
over the world are with us.  Ours is the cause of justice.  Our victory is
assured."  (Emphasis in original) (To the Population, V.I. Lenin Collected
Works, Volume 26, p.296-7)

Chomsky claims that, once the Bolsheviks realized democracy and Soviet power,
they then destroyed it!  This is unsubstantiated nonsense!  In fact, what
really happened was that the Bolsheviks nationalized capitalist enterprises,
because socialism could not exist in conjunction with bourgeois enterprises.
But, to say the revolutionary workers and peasants, engaging in civil war -
and, consequently, armed to the teeth - would allow two men, Lenin and
Trotsky, to "dismantle" the incipient socialist institutions that had grown
up during the popular revolution, is pure nonsense.  If Chomsky wanted to
derive his perception of reality from fiction, he should have read Doctor
Zhavago, rather than 1984, and he would have had a better understanding of
the Russian Revolution and the popularity of Lenin and Trotsky, and the
degenerate Stalinist bureaucracy overseeing a state-capitalistic economy.
During the years of revolution and civil war, the Bolsheviks and Anarchists
were allies against the bourgeoisie and gentry, and fought foreign
interventionists.  Workers seized the factories, in which they worked,
managed those individual factories, and peasants owned and managed their land
in communes.  Trotsky organized the Red Army, and Macho's Insurrectionary
Army in Ukraine fought a common enemy.  It was also during these years of
"war communism," that the concept of a "labor army" was developed, but
disbanded after victory, and the New Economy Policy in 1921.

Since Chomsky believes that "socialism" is workers' "control" of production
in capitalist enterprises, he probably dislikes the Bolsheviks' scheme of
expropriating capitalist enterprises and making them state enterprises under
the auspices of a workers' state.  We would agree with the perspective of
social ownership of the means of social production - even if control of that
ownership were centralized in workers' state.  Chomsky seems to believe in
the private ownership of the means of social production with workers'
"control" (or management) of that production.  That is what we have under
capitalism.  The capitalist class owns the means of social production, but
the workers manage society and, through those management positions, control
the means of social production.  Those same managers work long hours in order
to optimize control of what they manage - and they rarely get paid overtime.
Ownership is the key - not management or control.

Chomsky further criticizes the Russian Revolution: "These developments came
as no surprise to leading Marxist intellectuals, who had criticized Lenin's
doctrines for years (as had Trotsky), because they would centralize authority
in the hands of the vanguard party and its leaders.  In fact, decades
earlier, the anarchist thinker Bakunin had predicted that the emerging
intellectual class would follow one of two paths: either they would try to
exploit popular struggles to take state power themselves, beginning a brutal
and oppressive Red bureaucracy; or they would become the managers and
ideologists of the state-capitalist societies, if the popular revolution
failed.  It was a perceptive insight, on both accounts."

We take issue with Chomsky's portrayal of Lenin (and the Bolsheviks) as
dictating to the armed proletariat, peasantry, soldiers and sailors.
Contrary to Chomsky's portrayal, the finest Marxist intellectuals - such as
Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebnick -- supported the Bolshevik insurrection as
part of the Russian Revolution, while certain Marxist reformists -- such as
Karl Kautsky -- opposed the Russian Revolution becoming a dictatorship of the
proletariat in an alliance with the peasantry.  More importantly, the Russian
Revolution found support - and gave support to - workers' and oppressed
people around the world.  Chomsky probably would have stood with Karl Kautsky
in opposing the dictatorship of the proletariat in an alliance with the
peasantry.  We stand with Lenin, Luxemberg and Liebnick.

Although Chomsky praises Bakunin for his "perceptive insights," the Anarchist
Bakunin was not a contemporary of Lenin, but of Marx.  He wreaked havoc in
the International Working Men's Association in an effort to place a clique of
Anarchists in its leadership with himself at the head!  Bakunin was opposed
to the proletarian revolution, in its political form of "the dictatorship of
the proletariat."  Marx writes about Bakunin in a Report on Disunity in the
International Working Men's Association:  "Some intrigues, directed
ostensibly against the General Council but in reality against the
Association, were hatched in its midst.  At bottom of these intrigues was the
inevitable International Alliance of Social Democracy, fathered by the
Russian Micheal Bakunin.  On his return from Siberia, the latter began to
write in Herzen's Kolokol, preaching the idea of Pan-Slavism and racial war,
conceived out of his long experience.  Later, during his stay in Switzerland,
he was nominated to head a steering committee of the League of Peace and
Freedom, founded in opposition to the International.  When this bourgeois
society's affairs went from bad to worst, its President, Mr. G. Vogt, acting
on Bakunin's advice, proposed to the International's Congress - which met at
Brussels in September 1868 - that it make an alliance with the League.  The
Congress unanimously proposed two alternatives: either the League should
follow the same goal as the International, in which case it would have no
reason for existing, or else its goal should be different, in which case an
alliance would be impossible.  At the League's Congress, held in Bern a few
days later, Bakunin made an about-face.  He proposed a makeshift program
whose scientific value may be judged by his single phrase:  'economic and
social equalization of classes.'  Backed by an insignificant minority, he
broke with the League in order to join the International, determined to
replace the International's General Rules by a makeshift program, which had
been rejected by the League, and to replace the General Council by his
personal dictatorship."

Neither we nor Chomsky were a part of the Russian Revolution, but if we were
-- and based on the information at hand today about the Russian Revolution
and the material conditions that gave rise to the dictatorship of the
proletariat - we would have stood against Chomsky, and with Lenin and the
Bolsheviks in calling for "all power to the Soviets."









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