[Marxism] Noam Chomsky on education

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Mon Jul 18 11:05:40 MDT 2011

Louis Proyect wrote


One thing that's interesting, and frustrating, about Chomsky's critique 
is that he shows only how far one can go without a Marxist analysis. 
Class and capitalism are not part of his critique, except to acknowledge 
occasionally and peremptorily that the problem occurs within the 
confines of"state capitalist democracies".

    For example, in his reply to these questions:

    "As a student especially, you hear a lot of complaints from students
    that the system doesn't work for them. What's the fix? How does a
    student direct their own academic career?

    There's no single magic answer for that. There can be a lot of
    problems. I got into college at age 16. By age 17 I was ready to
    drop out because it was so boring. Then I sort of found my own way.
    But there's no single answer to what is the failure of the
    university system to address your own needs, concerns and wishes.

    What do you see as some of those major issues that stand out to you
    in the American system?

    The major issue, which varies from place to place of course, is the
    tendency to move towards a model of teaching, which sort of back a
    couple centuries ago, used to be called filling a vessel with water
    instead of encouraging students to be creative and independent and
    develop their own interests and concerns. Now that's not everywhere.

    For example, my own university, which is a science-oriented
    university, is quite different. Students aren't expected to
    regurgitate what they heard in a lecture. They're expected to
    challenge, to innovate, to question and so on. Science couldn't
    survive without that. But that's unfortunately not the general pattern."

There's much about how as an individual student one might find one's way 
to a more "fulfilling" education, but there's no injunction to 
solidarity and to class action as the solution to a systemic problem. 
There's no delving more deeply into the nature of that systemic problem. 
Only the offhand, drab assertion that "There should, in my opinion, be 
student participation" [in the way universities are run at the 
administrative level or governing level.]

There's no treatment in any meaningful sense of the content of 
curriculum, how, even in the orientation of basic science, it follows 
the imperatives of capital accumulation, in the sciences, in the "social 
studies" departments, as well as in the arts, rather than facilitating 
at every turn the essential critique of capital, what an education could 
look like if it were to be shaped toward human fulfillment rather than 
fulfillment of the requirements for return on capital investment, and 
how we can begin our own history in making the transition to a system 
truly serving our collective needs. And that includes the elite schools 
like MIT, where the difference is that, unlike the lower-order 
educational institutions which turn out the mid-level "proles" for the 
economy,  these schools are set up to turn out the higher-order 
managerial cadre, the social interpretive and manipulative masters of 
apologia, and the technologically proficient cogs in the capitalist 

We on this list for the most part know all this, but here the context is 
Chomsky's analysis, where you won't find what we find in common here 
discussed in any penetrating manner by Chomsky. In this regard his 
dismissal of Marxian analysis is his most egregious failing, derived 
surely from an indifferent reading of what Marx actually wrote and from 
the failed experience of attempts at transition in the name of Marx in 
the last century.

That pretty much defines for me the difference between an informed 
anarchist and an informed Marxian socialist. Not only in the sense that 
the disparate adherents who identify themselves as anarchist and who 
derive their critique mainly from Godwin, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, 
Malatesta, Goldman and Bookchin have no collective program of any kind, 
but most importantly that the various anarchist analyses, which most 
commonly hinge on abolishing authority tout court, generally lack a 
transition program based on a scientific analysis of capitalism that 
enables an informed, measurable and deliberate transcendence of capital 
toward a system in the complete control of what Marx termed the 
"associated producers."

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