[Marxism] Marxist critique of Chomsky

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jun 24 12:29:20 MDT 2004

Noam Chomsky and His Critics

posted to www.marxmail.org on Aug. 15, 2002

In the aftermath of September 11th, certain sectors of the US left 
buckled under ruling class pressure and turned against Noam Chomsky. His 
uncompromising anti-imperialism might have been acceptable during the 
1980s when the Sandinistas were under Washington's gun, but in today's 
repressive atmosphere no quarter is given to the dissident intellectual. 
Of course, no quarter is asked from Chomsky, who remains fearless and 
principled as ever.

To the chagrin of ruling class pundits and weak-kneed leftists, a 
collection of interviews with Chomsky, which has been published under 
the title "9/11," has become a best seller. According to a May 5th 
Washington Post article, the book had already sold 160,000 copies and 
been translated into a dozen languages, from Korean to Japanese to two 
varieties of Portuguese.

In an attempt to warn people away from the book, the Post cites Brian 
Morton, supposedly "a novelist and essayist of the left," who regards 
Chomsky as an important intellectual whose arguments have suffered a 
sclerotic hardening. He says, "Chomsky sees the world in a very stark 
way and gets at certain truths in that way, but ultimately his view is 
so simplistic that it's not useful. He's become a phase that people on 
the left should go through when they are young."

It should come as no surprise that the Washington Post failed to 
identify the segment of the left Morton is associated with. As it turns 
out, he is an editor of Dissent Magazine, a publication that might be 
described as social democracy in a state of advanced rigor mortis. 
Irving Howe, the founder of the magazine, was a critical supporter of 
the Vietnam War who reserved most of his animosity for the antiwar 
movement rather than imperialism. The current editor, Michael Walzer, 
stumped for Bush's war against terrorism in the Fall 2001 issue, 
stating: "We have to defend our lives; we are also defending our way of 
life. Everyone says this, but it is true. The terrorists oppose and hate 
our way of life--and would still oppose and hate it even if we lived our 
lives far better than we do."

Eric Alterman and Christopher Hitchens, contributors to The Nation 
Magazine, a left liberal weekly that has published continuously since 
the Civil War, have jumped on the anti-Chomsky bandwagon with a 
vengeance. Although the magazine has had a reputation for principled 
anti-imperialism in the past, it has shifted noticeably to the right in 
recent years. Most would explain this as a function of tail-ending the 
Clinton administration.

Alterman, admits on his MSNBC.com 'blog' that Chomsky "did a lot of good 
work on East Timor." But when he accused the United States of 
"perpetrating a holocaust in Afghanistan" and compared the attack on the 
pharmaceutical factory in Sudan with that on the Twin Towers, he went 
out of bounds and became "the mirror image of the ignorant jingoism of 
Bennett, Krauthammer, Kelly, Will, etc."

Christopher Hitchens has been the author of the most visible and 
controversial attacks against Chomsky. In flag-waving attack on the 
peace movement in the September 24, 2001 Nation titled "Of Sin, the Left 
& Islamic Fascism." Hitchens describes Chomsky as "soft on crime and 
soft on fascism." With such people, he adds, "No political coalition is 


For some on the postmodernist left, Chomsky has also become 
objectionable. Michael Berube, a commentator on the arts and society, 
feels that "the Chomskian left has consigned itself to the dustbin of 
history." In accounting for the split between the "Chomskian left" and 
"the Hitchens left," Berube surmises that "the simple fact that bombs 
were dropping" might have something to do with it. He writes:

 >>For U.S. leftists schooled in the lessons of Cambodia, Libya, and the 
School of the Americas, all U.S. bombing actions are suspect: they are 
announced by cadaverous white guys with bad hair, they are covered by 
seven cable channels competing with one another for the catchiest "New 
War" slogan and Emmy awards for creative flag display, and they 
invariably kill civilians, the poor, the wretched, the disabled. Surely, 
there is much to hate about any bombing campaign.<<


Dispensing with the relativism and playful irony that characterizes the 
postmodernist left, Berube reminds his readers that war is a serious 

 >>Yet who would deny that a nation, once attacked, has the right to 
respond with military force, and who seriously believes that anyone 
could undertake any "nation-building" enterprise in Afghanistan without 
driving the Taliban from power first?<<

Bad Subjects, another postmodernist outlet, has joined the anti-Chomsky 
crusade as well. In the latest online edition 
(http://eserver.org/bs/reviews/2002-3-11-4.49PM.html), Joe Lockard 

 >>The excursion begins with a simple postulate from which flows all 
manner of derivatives: the United States is the leading terrorist state. 
Mr. Smith isn't going to Washington; Mr. Smith is going to Terrorism 
Central. Why ever do Chomsky-quoters wonder why their hero isn't invited 
to address a special joint session of Congress?<<

My only wonder is how a member of the Bad Subjects collective would deem 
a trip to Congress worth the trouble. One supposes that despite all the 
transgressive gestures of our postmodernist friends that bourgeois 
respectability remains their underlying desire.

It is simple to understand why Chomsky has been targeted. As the most 
visible and respected figure in the radical movement, he is a tempting 
target. When one is involved in a street fight, it is good psychology to 
knock out your biggest and most powerful opponent and thus demoralize 
the ranks of the enemy. This article will consider how Chomsky became 
such a preeminent figure. In the course of this discussion, we will 
examine some of his limitations that, needless to say, are of a totally 
different sort than those alleged by his foes. We understand that it is 
exactly his ability to stand up to wartime pressures that distinguishes 
him from the run-of-the-mill intellectual.

full: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/fascism_and_war/chomsky.htm


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