Interesting observations on Chomsky, Cuba, etc.

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon May 12 08:00:01 MDT 2003

(from Walter Lippmann's Cuba news list)

Subject: Re: More on Chomsky & Co. on Cuba

On Jim Yasko's comments on my article on Chomsky, Zinn, Aronowitz etc.
and Cuba.

From: Emile Schepers, in Chicago

The main point of my article was not to divine the motives of Chomsky et
al, but as a cautionary memo against getting sucked into the Cuba
bashing. So I did not really go into that in depth. I think that the
big-name "left" Cuba bashers' behavior may have some sort of personal
roots, and certainly has to be criticized, but more useful is an
ideological analysis of their point of view, e.g. what can cause them to
be so wrong on some things (Cuba, Yugoslavia) and so right and useful on
some other things (e.g. the Iraq war). Chomsky and Zinn both have
genuine libertarian-left roots, and that is a position that is much
better at criticizing, sometimes very ably, the capitalist society in
which they live than it is at understanding the things that happen in
the building of socialism, as they have shown time and time again.

There is a further problem, which is idealism versus materialism. Most
of these folks are idealists, in the Platonic or Hegelian sense. They
correctly fault capitalist society because it does not measure up to
their ideals of how a society should be. But then they create a hazy
platonic ideal of what a society after capitalism should be like, which
is completely unrealistic -- a quasi-anarchist fantasy of sweetness and
light and freedom from repression for all, that does not take real world
issues of development and struggle nto account. Of course, no "really
existing socialism" would ever measure up to that sort of thing. (This
is different from a really scientific criticism of mistakes made by
socialist governments).

This philosophical idealism, by the way, is also found in Chomsky's
voluminous contributions to the field of linguistics. Ironically, back
in the 60's, Chomsky first gained fame by his profoundly correct and
trenchant criticism of B.F. Skinner's book VERBAL BEHAVIOR. In this
critique of a bone-headed attempt by Skinner to apply operant
conditioning theory in psychology to language learning, Chomsky
ironically took the first step of giving a materialist twist to this
important theoretical question in linguistics.

However, he then did not follow through, and his further theorizing on
"transformational generative grammars", while interesting, was always an
idealistic exercise.

Study of Zinn's historical work, some of it of extreme value for the
hidden facts of US history that it brings to light, will seldom reveal
to you any materialistic analysis of the "why" aspect, Marxist or
otherwise. In Zinn's historical work, his writing on the labor movement
in the US shows similar idealistic errors--as organized labor in this
country exhibits both negative and poslitive characteristics, Zinn,
typically for a libertarian idealist, discounts the former and all but
concludes workers would be better off without unions and labor laws. His
heroes are, of course the IWW, fellow libertarians.

I don't know how to analyze Aronowitz, other than to say he has always
been anti-communist since I have been reading his stufff -- pretty poor
stuff, by the way.

As for Saramago, he is a great novelist and, as you are aware, a member
of the Portuguese Communist Party. He has been a supporter of the
Zapatista movement in Mexico. But this is the second time in a year he
has created a political problem for himself and others by flamboyant
overstatement based on emotional responses.

After the attack on Jenin by the Israeli Defense Force, he created a
non-useful distraction by saying that what the Israelis were doing in
Palestine was "just like the Holocaust", which was not a useful thing to
say because (a) it was an exaggeration: The Israelis behave horribly but
have not tried to actually exterminate all the Palestinians (b)

It played into the hands of the Israeli regime and ite apologists
because it lent credence to the idea that people who support the
Palestinian cause are insensitive to Jewish suffering and even
anti-Semitic (which I don't think Saramago is), and (c) made the issue
being debated in the public be Saramago's comments and not Israeli
atrocities. So maybe the problem with Saramago is lack of political
clarity plus ineptitude in expressing himself on real world topics--not
unusual in literary people.

I have no particular comments on Galeano.

The importance of the critique of libertarian idealism in Chomsky and
Zinn is that this is a very widespread point of view on the US left, esp
. in the anti-war movement right now. In Chicago where I live, there are
two idealist libertarian trends in the anti-war movement: One among the
religious pacificsts, the other among the ultra-left. Note, by the way,
Zeitlin's analysis of this, vis a vis Zinn and Chomsky, in the latest
edition of the magazene Political Affairs (, but I
don't think this edition is on line yet), in which he sees this kind of
trend as a political space where the ultra-left and the idealistic
liberals can form a united front against the Marxists.

The practical issue is how to effectively combat these tendencies within
the left, which are certainly not new in this country or the world.


The Marxism list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list