[Updated with a Postscript April 7, 2015]
Along with his great intellectual contributions, Noam Chomsky, the Guru of American Left, has taken some erroneous positions, some of which are astounding strategic blunders. As much of the left in this country and a considerable part of it in other Western countries has been, and continues to be, influenced by him, it is important to identify these, without denying or negating the accuracy and depth of much of his voluminous analyses and writings on various issues. Below is a brief summary of some of these:
1. In his latest and otherwise excellent interview and article on Libya (1, 2), Chomsky is using the same terminology about Gadhafi being a “dictator” and “brutal tyrant” that the mainstream media and Western governments are using, without mentioning or citing the specific facts of the political economy of Libya, within which, free education, including higher education, and free medical care are the substantial and legal rights of all Libyans. In the Green Book, Gadhafi also writes about the right of all human beings to own their own houses, and according to some published information in this regard, all Libyans have been provided with their own housing. Moreover, the prices of food and other basic necessities are heavily subsidized by the Libyan state and are very cheap and affordable. If that is dictatorship, then probably everyone-especially the tens of millions of impoverished and suffering people in the US-should have it too. Libyans have incomparably superior economic democracy than in the US, the most boastful citadel of capitalist democracy, which is engulfed in the swamp of a prolonged and all-round structural economic, political, cultural, and social crisis. The more it tries to extricate itself from it, the deeper it sinks. With close to $14 trillion national debt; more than 50 million of its citizens without health insurance (according to a recent Harvard Medical School Study, 45,000 Americans die every year because of lack of health insurance and medical treatment); 20 percent unemployment; 43 million so poor that they cannot even feed themselves and have to depend on food stamps to survive; 22 percent poverty and hunger rate in the children; 3 million suffering the horrors of homelessness; the greatest inequality of wealth and income in the industrialized world (according to a recent publication, relative inequality in the US is greater than even in Egypt. It certainly is much greater than in Libya.); and systematic state violations of domestic and international laws and its own constitution; application of draconian laws and practices, like the Patriot Act; prolonged incarcerations without judicial trials; international tortures and kidnappings; putting around half a million of its citizens and residents on the “No Fly List”, without even informing them that they are on it; widespread espionage and violations of the privacy of its own citizens; systematic firing of people from their jobs because of minor political dissent; widespread racist discrimination and injustice against the minorities, etc. etc., in the US, the American intellectuals-who need to address these problems in their own country-must also take these comparative substantial factors into account, when passing wholesale judgments on the politico-economic systems and regimes of other countries. It is also important to be open-minded to understanding the nature of alternative models of democracy that may be different than the conventional model of western capitalist democracy. Very few American intellectuals have attempted to do that. Instead, in spite of their criticism of the politico-economic system of the US, they generally act as if it is the bastion of freedom and democracy or has the best relative democracy in the world, in spite of its various flaws. With few exceptions, when they talk about democracy, they do not specify the kind of democracy they are talking about. In particular, they confuse the capitalist democracy with democracy in general, which is totally erroneous and leads to a plethora of blunders.
Why did the interviewers and Chomsky totally exclude these most important and substantial facts from the interview? Is it ignorance or deliberate undermining of the substantial issues, and restricting discourse to only subjective, idealistic, and positivistic-analytic realm, which is free from the need to relate to the objective politico-economic facts and reality? This interview is not an isolated case. Almost all the other ZNet articles and writers are also infected with similar biases, flaws, and deficiencies. ZNet is overflowing with such speculative articles that, with rare exceptions, float above the concrete political economy of Libya. This is also the general approach of almost all the authors at ZNet to other events, issues, and problems. Some of these are truly bizarre, e.g., Robert Zaretsky, in his piece, compares the Libyan rebellion to the Spanish Republican resistance against the fascist forces of Franco, implies that their fight is anti-imperialist, and advocates the imperialist intervention and support of the rebellion, on the basis that Orwell would have done that too!(3). Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan also follows a similar line, strongly advocates the active support of rebellion and imperialist intervention, and admonishes those sections of the Left that are not taking such a position, for not doing that (4). There seems to be censorship of articles that do not follow the ZNet Party-line. Also, ZNet and other so-called “leftist” Western “intellectuals” restrict democracy only to its Western capitalist forms and do not even bother to inform themselves on alternative forms of democracy, like the innovative form that it took in Libya after the 1969 Revolution. Chomsky and numerous other bourgeois or petty bourgeois intellectuals in the US have no experience of poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of medical care, inability to afford the high costs of higher education or proper housing etc., as a lot of them are well off and some have become very rich, compared to not only the poor and unemployed, but also to the working and middle classes. Therefore, they do not really understand or relate to the great importance of the solutions of such problems for the people who suffer such deprivations in the capitalist “democratic” systems. For them, the non-substantial subjective-intellectual dimension of democracy and imperialism-and their incessant analyses, sprinkled with volumes of arguments and relevant and irrelevant examples-becomes the determining criterion in assessments of diverse politico-economic and social systems, conflicts, and problems. The objective and substantial dimension of economic democracy and issues are relegated to such a secondary position in this regard that these are not even mentioned in such assessments. This is particularly the case when the former is contradicted by the reality of the latter, as in case of Libya and Gadhafi. These leftists float above the concrete political economy.
Chomsky’s approach to invasion of Libya is similar to that of Afghanistan, in which, in spite of his opposition to the invasion, he had stated that it was good that the Taliban were overthrown by the invaders, even though, he would have preferred that Afghans themselves had done it, with the arming and support of the West (5). But Taliban were popular at that time and the imperialist intervention and invasion have made them even more popular now, as they constitute the main force of resistance to the invasion. It was impossible to replace them democratically or otherwise. They could only be overthrown by the kind of imperialist invasion that actually took place. Now, the puppets of imperialism are heading the government there, do not have control over much of the country, except in the capital, and even there they are in the process of losing it. Corruption, cronyism, warlordism, crime, war and destruction of lives and property, opium and heroin production and smuggling etc. have all multiplied. So, was the overthrow of Taliban government by the invaders a good thing or bad? Chomsky has been proven completely wrong in this connection. In Libya, the situation is even more complex, as the main mobs and leaders of the rebellion are being controlled by the CIA, MI6, and other imperialist masters. So, if the current Libyan leadership and government are replaced by them, it would be an incomparably worse development.
Some references and links have been included in the Notes that contain such facts and analyze the Libyan politico-economic system, and its invasion by Western imperialism, far more comprehensively, concretely, and accurately (6, 7, 8, 9).
2. The foundation of politico-economic and philosophical positions of Chomsky remains murky, varying between anarchism and socialist anarchism. In general, even most of the socialists and communists in the US have contradictions between their ideology (socialist or communist), on the one hand, and their psychology and behavior (predominantly capitalist), on the other. This is not surprising and is to be expected in a society that is dominated by such an extremist form of capitalist political economy, like the US. Mass psychology and behavior in a given society are overwhelmingly determined by its political economy. US is no exception in this regard. To the contrary, it is the best proof and example of it.
3. The greatest blunder of Chomsky has been, and continues to be, in his appraisal of the collapse of USSR, as a positive and good thing. To my knowledge, he has never repudiated that position, even though, it has now become crystal clear even to many of the not so intellectual leftists and other progressives that it has been one of the greatest disasters that mankind has suffered in its history. As a result of that collapse, the US imperialists are now claiming and acting as the “Sole Superpower” and “Full Spectrum Dominance” over the whole planet. If the USSR had not collapsed and socialism was not betrayed there, there would have been no invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, or Libya; no bombing of Yugoslavia; no millions of dead and wounded; no tens of millions of refugees, impoverished, and subjugated people; and numerous other unchecked manifestations of US militarism and aggression.
4. Chomsky also continues to stick to his extremely bizarre and irrational position on Lenin and Leninism, which he considers to be anti-socialist! In an email, he had informed the author that Lenin had destroyed socialism in Russia! It does not make any sense. How can such a great intellectual, with such a great intellect and reservoir of knowledge, can come up with and maintain such an anti-factual, anti-logical, anti-historical, and grotesque position. Lenin was the greatest genius of communism and politico-economic knowledge after Marx, and, under his leadership, the first successful communist revolution took place in the largest and most diverse country on the planet, Russia, which was transformed into USSR, in which progress and development in all areas of life and society were achieved with unprecedented speed. The greatest traitors of all history-Gorbachev, Yeltsin et. al., inflicted the greatest betrayal on revolution, the USSR and its people, and all the progressive mankind on this planet, restored capitalism there, and gave the greatest gift to the imperialists and capitalists, creating immense demonic joy and gratification in the latter. But, why would the Guru of leftists in the main imperialist country be also gratified and happy about such most sinister setback for the USSR and mankind? The following critical assessment of Michael Parenti is relevant in this regard:
“Noam Chomsky, who is an inexhaustible fount of anticommunist caricatures, offers this comment about Leninism: “Western and also Third World intellectuals were attracted to the Bolshevik counterrevolution because Leninism is, after all, a doctrine that says that the radical intelligentsia have a right to take state power and to run their countries by force, and that is an idea which is rather appealing to intellectuals.” Here Chomsky fashions an image of power-hungry Leninists, villains seeking not the revolutionary means to fight injustice but power for power’s sake. When it comes to Red-bashing, some of the best and brightest on the Left sound not much better than the worst on the Right. […] According to Noam Chomsky, communism “was a monstrosity,” and “the collapse of tyranny” in Eastern Europe and Russia is “an occasion for rejoicing for anyone who values freedom and human dignity.” I treasure freedom and human dignity yet find no occasion for rejoicing. The postcommunist societies do not represent a net gain for such values. If anything, the breakup of the communist states has brought a colossal victory for global capitalism and imperialism, with its correlative increase in human misery, and a historic setback for revolutionary liberation struggles everywhere.” (10).
Postscript April 7, 2015
It is obviously very important to assess the ideologies and various positions of influential intellectuals, like Chomsky, accurately and objectively. Too many just follow lockstep with them and their positive and accurate as well as negative and erroneous positions. Some of Chomsky’s negative and erroneous positions and flaws are of fundamental and ideological nature. He usually writes and speaks in abstraction from those and therefore these remain hidden, and, in abstraction, he appears to be convincing and brilliant on various individual issues, even though the foundations of his thinking affect and color these in usually subtle ways, and sometime, nakedly and transparently. If one reads or listens to him with knowledge of his flaws and contradictions, and with a critical mind, one can select and benefit from a lot of important and accurate contents in what he is saying. But, one has to be able to differentiate and abstract these from the overall ideology and flawed contents. One does not have such problems with writers like James Petras or Michael Parenti, as they do not have such flaws of fundamental and ideological nature and their various positions are transparently consistent with such foundations. Of course, one may, as I do, disagree with them on certain issues or some of their analyses, but such disagreements are of logical and factual nature, and do not involve dealing with the author’s inherent. contradictions.
A couple of specific examples of Chomsky’s contradictions:
- His anti-communism, anti-Leninism, and anti-Sovietism-which are the very essence of the foreign policies and actions of imperialism-coincide with those of the American and Western European imperialist ruling classes, and yet he claims to be opposed to US and European militarism and imperialism. In the international affairs, the most important essence of communism, Marxism-Leninism, and Soviet policies and actions has consisted of anti-imperialist and anti-militarist policies and actions. This is a fundamental and objective contradiction. He cannot resolve it by ignoring it, floating above it, and resorting to abstract subjective discussions, which may only make sense and appear rational and convincing if one treats them in abstraction from the above contradiction.
- Similarly, if he is opposed to Cuban communism and Marxism-Leninism, his opposition to the US interventions in Cuba are politico-economically and logically contradictory, as the primary goal of US imperialism has been, and continues to be, to overthrow and destroy the politico-economic system there, which has been constructed on the basis of communism and Marxism-Leninism.
Noam Chomsky is a famous American writer who has written some penetrating critiques and analyses of the American foreign and domestic policies and actions. However, some of his positions, like his anti-Sovietism, anti-Leninism, anti-communism, and glee at the overthrow of socialism and restoration of capitalism in the former USSR, have been extremely irrational and bizarre. These positions, regardless of his intentions, objectively coincided with those of the American and European imperialists. They must have been overjoyed that such an influential leftist, with large followings, held the same positions, in such crucial matters, as themselves. Whether he realized it or not, these positions were very useful to the powers that controlled the levers of imperialism and were applying them throughout the world, their biggest goal being the reversal of history in the former USSR, Eastern Europe, China, and other socialist countries, which were trying to create classless societies, and in which the monstrous inequalities and injustices of capitalism had been greatly reduced and replaced with unmatchable relative equality, justice, and satisfaction of the essential human needs of housing, food, healthcare, employment, education etc., for everyone in society. These goals were accomplished to variable degrees in different socialist societies, depending on the level of development of their productive forces. Even Cuba, a relatively under-developed Third World country, was able to make great strides in implementing many of these objectives. After the counter-revolutions, overthrow of socialism, and restoration of capitalism, all the sinister problems of social inequality, injustices, corruption, prostitution etc. have exploded in the former socialist societies with such great speed and force that they have even surpassed those in the US and Western Europe.
How can such a bright intellectual like Chomsky not see the connection between the betrayal and destruction of socialism in the USSR and USSR itself and the invasions and devastation of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria by the US and its NATO allies, in which more than three million humans have been slaughtered, countless millions injured, uprooted, and turned into refugees, with all the immense sufferings that result from that, infrastructures and economies destroyed, sectarian and other civil wars started that continue unabated, victims hardened into brutal revenge seekers, creation of Taliban, Al Qaeda, Islamic State (Daesh), and numerous other militant groups? If socialism had not been betrayed, capitalism not restored, and the USSR had remained what it was, the US and NATO would never have dared to engage in such invasions and aggressions. Even people with average intelligence understand that. How can an extraordinary intellectual like Chomsky not understand that?
The catastrophic dangers of the Third World War have also multiplied because of the multiplications of aggressive inter-capitalist and inter-imperialist competition for the world’s resources, markets, and spheres of influence and domination, as a direct result of the betrayal and destruction of socialism in the former socialist countries. And yet, Chomsky has not repented or rectified this one of the greatest blunders of his life. And his numerous followers continue following his footsteps. So, what is the great Guru of the American left so happy about? What is happening in the post-socialist world was totally predictable.
Another great problem with Chomskyism is that it has no credible proposals for solutions to the problems it analyzes so sharply and exhaustively, mostly in the positivist and analytical mode. Dialectical mode seems to be alien to it. It has no vision of what and how the current politico-economic system of imperialism, and its countless institutions, will be replaced with. In contrast, Marx and Lenin had identified and explained such transformations and replacements, in great detail, precisely and concretely. Some of Chomsky’s associate anarchist gurus at the Znet and Zmagazine have come up with various subjectivist illusions of the so-called Parecon (Participatory Economics), which they consider to be a substitute for Marxist-Leninist theory of politico-economic revolutionary transformations. Parecon is nothing but an updated version of the thoroughly discredited hot air balloons of the anarchists of the 19th Century, like Bakunin, Kropotkin etc. There is no substitute for the essential stages of the socialist revolutions that were discovered and worked out by Marx and Lenin, and later further elaborated upon by numerous Marxists-Leninists. No matter how the current anarchists cloth their subjectivist politico-economic concepts-with floods of written and spoken verbal diarrheas-which may even look and sound convincing, these remain hot air balloons, impossible and unrealizable.
End of Postscript
1. Chomsky, N. Noam Chomsky: On Libya and unfolding crisis. Interviewed by Stephen Shalom and Michael Albert. ZNet, March 31, 2011.
2. Chomsky, N. Libya and the world of oil. ZNet, April 5, 2011.
3. Zaretsky, R. Libya: What would Orwell do? ZNet, March 19, 2011.
4. Cole, J. An open letter to the Left on Libya. ZNet, March 29, 2011.
5. Chomsky, N. Interview-U.S. intervention from Afghanistan to Iraq, International Socialist Review, Issue 25, September–October 2002.
6. Rahman, F. Gadhafi, Libya, counter-revolution, and the pack of imperialist hyenas. Dandelionsalad.wordpress.com, March 27, 2011.
7. Perreira, G. Libya, getting it right: A revolutionary Pan-African perspective. Blackagendareport.com, March 2, 2011.
8. Martin, P. Mounting evidence of CIA ties to Libyan rebels. World Socialist Web Site, April 4, 2011.
9. Hyland, J. The agents of Washington and Britain within Libya’s opposition. World Socialist Web Site, April 2, 2011.
10. Parenti, M. Blackshirts and Reds. City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1997.
Dr. Fazal Rahman is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer. He has worked as a scientist and administrator of R & D programs in several countries, like Brazil, Lebanon, Pakistan, Zambia, US etc. He can be reached at Unpollutedfaz(at}aol.com. Article completed on April 4, 2011.