[Marxism] Chomsky on the responsibility of intellectuals

Dan d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Wed Sep 7 08:53:00 MDT 2011

Yeah ! Way to go, Chomsky !

>> It is not seriously in question [...] that from 1960 to the Soviet
collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims,
and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America
vastly exceeded those in the Soviet Union and its East European
satellites. [...] there were mass slaughters as well [almost 800 000
dead], consistently supported or initiated by Washington.

>> Why then the distinction? It might be argued that what happened in
Eastern Europe is far more momentous than the fate of the South at our
hands. It would be interesting to see the argument spelled out. And also
to see the argument explaining why we should disregard elementary moral
principles, among them that if we are serious about suffering and
atrocities, about justice and rights, we will focus our efforts on where
we can do the most good—typically, where we share responsibility for
what is being done. We have no difficulty demanding that our enemies
follow such principles.


>> Since power tends to prevail, intellectuals who serve their
governments are considered responsible, and value-oriented intellectuals
are dismissed or denigrated. At home that is. 

>> With regard to enemies, the distinction between the two categories of
intellectuals is retained, but with values reversed. In the old Soviet
Union, the value-oriented intellectuals were the honored dissidents,
while we had only contempt for the apparatchiks and commissars, the
technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals. Similarly in Iran we
honor the courageous dissidents and condemn those who defend the
clerical establishment. And elsewhere generally. 

>> The honorable term “dissident” is used selectively. It does not, of
course, apply, with its favorable connotations, to value-oriented
intellectuals at home or to those who combat U.S.-supported tyranny


>> The role of the masters in the political arena is not deplored, or
discussed, presumably because the masters represent “the national
interest,” like those who applauded themselves for leading the country
to war


>> Like The New Republic progressives during World War I, the authors of
The Crisis of Democracy extend the concept of the “intellectual” beyond
Brunetière’s ridiculous eccentrics to include the better sort as well:
the “technocratic and policy-oriented intellectuals,” responsible and
serious thinkers who devote themselves to the constructive work of
shaping policy within established institutions.


>> During WWI, Randolph Bourne was dropped by the progressive journals
after criticizing the “league of benevolently imperialistic nations” and
their exalted endeavors. 

>> The pattern of praise and punishment is a familiar one throughout
history: those who line up in the service of the state are typically
praised by the general intellectual community, and those who refuse to
line up in service of the state are punished. Thus in retrospect Wilson
and the progressive intellectuals who offered him their services are
greatly honored, but not Debs. Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered
and have hardly been heroes of the intellectual mainstream. Russell
continued to be bitterly condemned until after his death—and in current
biographies still is.


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