Chomsky as Chávez’s Clown
* This article criticizes the weak and untenable posture the celebrated North American linguist and essayist holds in support of the current Venezuelan government. It was originally published in Venezuela’s anarchist newspaper El Libertario www.nodo50.org/ellibertario, issue # 57.
Contrary to what many think, the ability to believe in fairy tales and to blindly accept a fiction, no matter how fantastic or grotesque, is not the sole attribute of the dumb and ignorant. The famous writer Noam Chomsky has just proved that intelligent and cultivated intellectuals are also capable of believing and adopting conduct and political action totally dogmatic, false and authoritarian. They believe so or at least pretend to.
It is nothing new to see a highly ranked intellectual falling into such contradiction. In the Soviet Union and Maoist China we saw the irrational phenomenon of the “fellow travelers” … Those intellectuals who believed –many of them in good faith – the establishment of “socialism” and the construction of “the new man” in those countries until the facts forced them to realize what those regimes really were. Nevertheless, although in many cases such mistakes are not motivated by the search of some sort of reward and may seem sincere, just some anthropological weakness, it behooves to ask the why and how of such conduct. Although the easiest thing would be to think that it is simply due to beliefs that no human being –even the most rational ones- could forever avoid, in Chomsky’s case it is not possible to forget that he himself fought against this tendency in the past.
That is why it is imperative to ask: how can a man, apparently capable of reasoning, of critical analysis of what happens in the world, travel to Venezuela today to sing the praises of “XXI Century socialism” without noticing the military mentality of its inventor, Commander Chávez, nor the crass populism of his so-called Bolivarian Revolution? How can Chomsky commit the same error as some famous intellectuals of the past century, some praising Stalin and some, years later, revering Mao and his “Little Red Book”? They did so because they believed that in Russia and in China they were building the “true communism” and he does so now because he believes that in Venezuela “a new world, a different world” is being created. How can he forget that later all those intellectuals were forced to confess a “mea culpa” for their ideological blindness that prevented them from seeing what was behind the Stalinist and Maoist revolutionary discourse? That totalitarianism, responsible for the death of millions of people, inspired Castro to impose for fifty years a dictatorship in Cuba that Chávez devoutly imitates.
But what is surprising in the Chomsky of the last few years is not only the apparent historical amnesia but that he is sensitive to the praises the histrionic commander bestows: “I give you the warmest welcome (…) it was time for you to visit us and for the Venezuelan people to see you and hear you directly” while he shows his gratitude for his “loving and generous words”. There is also the buffoonery of Chomsky saying how “it moved him to meet the men who have inspired this situation”.
What is most surprising about this conversion to messianic faith, similar to other famous conversions to Catholicism (Baudelaire, Peguy, Claudel, etc) is that the miracle happens after the collapse of “real socialism” of Soviet inspiration and the establishment of capitalism in China by the same communist party Mao left in power. In contrast to the young intellectual “idealists” who worshipped Stalin or Mao before these important historical events happened, Chomsky has been able to observe them in his lifetime and that makes more incomprehensible the fact that he now seems to have forgotten them. Above all, the failures of messianic revolutions confirm without a doubt all his prophecies.
It is true that for a while now we have been witnesses to the instrumentalization of Chomsky in many directions. This happens despite the fact that his ethical position, his ideological references and his political activity are contrary to what many of his followers defend and value. This is easy to see simply by reading his books. Unless today’s Chomsky is not the same who wrote: “We are in a time of corporatizing power, consolidating and centralizing power. It is assumed this is good, if you are a progressive, as a Marxist-Leninist. Three important things come from the same background: fascism, bolshevism and corporate tyranny. They all come from the same more or less Hegelian roots.” (Chomsky, Class Warfare, p.23) And let us not talk about what he wrote a while later regarding the country born out of the Bolshevik coup d’etat in October 1917 that, for Chomsky, was responsible for the dismantling of the emerging socialist structures in Russia: “They are the same brutal communists, the same brutal Stalinists of two years ago, now directed by the whites” and who are “the enthusiastic managers of the market economy”. Hence his pessimism: “Those who try to associate themselves with popular organizations and help the population to organize themselves, those who support popular movements in this way, simply will not be able to survive in such circumstances of concentrated power”. (Chomsky, Comprende le pouvoir, pp.7 – 11).
How is it possible that he can commit the same error as the pro-Chinese “fellow travelers” who had known the same old blindness in the preceding generation –that of the old Stalinists who tardily came to self-criticism- although he was a critical witness to such blindness? What is even more serious in Chomsky’s case is that those experiences have taught him nothing even after seeing and denouncing them.
Regarding Chomsky we must ask ourselves about the mystery of the strange cohabitation of the sharpest intelligence and the most obtuse credulity in the same human spirit. Particularly so because at that time he was one of the harshest critics of the blindness suffered by many of his intellectual colleagues who along with him constituted the cream of western intellectuals: the Sartres and other great philosophers, historians, sociologists, journalists or first rate university people.
It is indeed a mystery since there were few intellectuals who later didn’t have to confess being wrong and admit that Chomsky was right, showing how this blindness had driven them to commit that very grave error in the past. How could Chomsky have forgotten this? It is also true that the old Stalinists’ blindness –a thousand times confessed and analyzed in articles, interviews and books – didn’t serve as lesson for young western Maoists, who 20 years later repeated the same error, with the same arrogance as their predecessors. The first thing for them was blind adhesion to what was presented as an emancipating revolution. In Chomsky we see the opposite: first came the denunciation, the objective, rational analysis, rigorously critical, and then the blindness…
It is true that Chomsky’s anti American imperialism was rather discreet with regards to the growing authoritarianism of the Sandinistas during their turn in power in the 80’s in Nicaragua and the Castro dictatorship during several decades. And this is so in spite of the fact that among the victims of the latter are many who shared a lot with the militant pro-Cuban anti-imperialists of Latin America.
Could it be that this obstinate anti-imperialism, the fact that in his view the most important thing is to denounce the injustices prevalent in the USA as well as the injustices generated by this country on a global scale, drives him to stake his position on what happens in the American continent in such a confusing manner? Although Chomsky still considers himself “anarchist-libertarian” it’s clear that for him ideological considerations must be relegated to the background and a kind of gradation must be made between injustices according to the degree of global danger posed by the targets of his criticism. The problem is that such political relativism allows many Marxist-Leninists, demagogues and politicians, whose only concern is the conquest of power, its execution and conservation, to get shelter in Chomsky’s anti-imperialist arguments instead of caring about helping the people to organize themselves. It’s a serious problem because Chomsky does and says nothing to dissuade them. On the contrary, maintaining such immoral discretion with such perseverance and allowing himself to be photographed besides the Castros and the Chavezes he becomes an accomplice of the clownishness and the authoritarian, dictatorial deviations of these modern day oligarchs, no matter how convenient or discreet his praises might be.
Unfortunately, this obstinacy in keeping such Manichean discretion (considering that these demagogues’ access to power is less of a danger than the destruction caused by Yankee imperialism in the world) is not only inefficient in preventing such destruction (these demagogues continue to do business with the empire’s multinational corporations) but also contributes to demobilize people and make even harder the task of those who do struggle against worldwide domination by Capital and the State.
It is possible that, given his age, Chomsky can’t recognize it: but it is impossible to think that he isn’t aware of the distance that separates him from all those who believe his arguments against the Yankee empire and who, in turn, are very reticent, because of self-interest or comfort, to denounce the dominating ways of these supposedly revolutionary demagogues.
About the author: O.A. combines theory and activism. In 1955 he organized in Mexico in solidarity with the Cuban struggle against the Batista dictatorship, later directly supporting the preparations for Castro’s landing in the Isle. In 1962 in France he coordinated Interior Defense, a secret group formed by agreement between the CNT, the FAI and the Iberian Federation of Libertarian Youth in order to re-activate the struggle against Franco’s dictatorship, being responsible for sabotage, attempts, printing clandestine propaganda and helping people fleeing Spanish fascism. Today he works on the revision of the Delgado and Granado trial, in the Support Group for Independent Libertarians and Syndicalists in Cuba (GALSIC), among other activities. He is the author of “El anarquismo español y la acción revolucionaria (1961-1974)” and “Miedo a la memoria”.
Note from the publishers of El Libertario: In our issue #51, accessible in www.nodo50.org/ellibertario, we have published another article on this subject: “Chavez y Chomsky. El caudillo y el libertario” by N. Triffon, translated to Spanish from the French original published in Le Monde Libertaire, weekly paper by the French Anarchist Federation in its issue of December 21 2006.
Translation: Luis Prat
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I've read and listened to a lot of Chomsky talks and I've never heard him sing the praises of any of the communist leaders depicted in the cartoon that accompanies this article. Also, I've never heard him say that what Chzvez is doing is perfect but if he does think that Chavez is trying to create a better world in Venezuela , presumably he means a better world for the poor of the country not the wealthy?
Can you please provide some links where Chomsky praises communism please and also some links showing that poor people are suffering under Chavez?
This article, unfortunately, is full of lies, half-truths and fallacies. The cartoon at the star sets the tone for the article: when did Noam Chomsky supported Pol Pot or MAo Tse Tung? It would be interesting to know it, since I've read enough of him to know at no point he became a cheerleader of any of the regimes there protrayed. On Pol Pot, for instance, Chomsky rightly denounces the responsibility of the US in the boost that the Khmer Rouge received after the CIA backed coup in Cambodia, and that the horrors of the Khmer Rouge were, by no means, superior to those inflicted by the Indonesian regime in Timor Leste. However, the media coverage of Cambodia was completely our of proportion when compared to that received by Timor Leste in the US.If people are lazy enough to read, you can see this in the documentary of Chomsky, "Manufacturing Consent", where he puts the record straight. Obviously, the US hawks accused him of support to Pol Pot, a rather lazy distorsion of his original argument since they were unable to debate him with facts, figures and reasons. It is regrettable that El Libertario, no matter how upset they may be because of Chomsky's visit to Venezuela and his giggles with Chávez, resort to the same low, cheap and manicheistic argument as the hawks.
[The cartoon, by the way, by insinuating that Chávez and Pol Pot are somehow the same type of leaders, reveals a great amount of stupidity, such as the one you would need to compare Tony Blair with Hitler. But this is quite indicative of the type of "analysis" of the rest of the text]
Also, it is quite clear why Chomsky primarily criticize the foregin policy of the US. In his book "on power and ideology" he mentions that to criticize the USSR from the US is rather easy a task, and therefore he considers it quite unnecesary. The real task for him is to criticize the illusion of a "benevolent and democratic" US influence on the rest of the world, country in which he lives anyway, It is easier to criticize the neighbour and that's not what he does. And he should not be forces to condemn the rest of the world before he takes a stand in relation to Washington's foreign policy.
If this is the level of analysis of yours, please do not complain next time when, after criticising Chávez, you are treated as "escuálidos", borugeois liberals, right wingers, etc. After all, you are using exactly the same equivocal method.
This is one of the worst articles I've read in who knows how long. I don't need to refute anything, because nothing was argued. Sure, things were asserted, but where are references and sources? Chomsky has never been a supporter of Mao, Pol Pot, et al, and has forever been a bitter critic of dictatorships, and a vehement champion of democracy, liberty, and human rights.
Again, for anybody to take this seriously, there would have to be evidence for these wild assertions. If you want to get to know Chomsky, all you need to do is read him.
Honestly, I didn't find the article so bad other than the god-awful cartoon at the beginning. Ironically, in fact, the article makes quite clear that Chomsky never supported Maoism and that he was a critic of the old Stalinist and later Maoist intellectuals who failed to spot the dictatorialism of these "Communist" regimes. I think it also sums up well the flaw of leftist anti-imperialism that is often quick to feel a soft spot for authoritarian regimes, what is then seized and taken advantage of by those regimes which protect themselves from criticism in the name of anti-imperialism. Between this on one hand, and Jose's comment on the other, I think we spot the real dilemma that anarchists have always dealt with -- we remember, after all, how many international anarchists failed to show needed solidarity with Russian anarchists because of their "soft spot" for October.
On the other hand, I think this article falls into the terrible and all-too-standard problem of many anarchists, of lumping all Marxist regimes into a simplified category of "leftist dictatorships." For example, those anarchists who lump Fidel with Stalin, or those lump Chavez with Mao. Indeed it is silly when the articles mentions: "the establishment of capitalism in China by the same communist party Mao left in power." Anyone who has read a page or two about China knows that Mao spent his last years commanding the "Cultural Revolution" (which itself was an authoritarian bloodbath) against the party bureaucrats, and that it was the conservatives who toppled Mao's followers and took the "capitalist road."
I suspect the author is not unaware of the complex facts and differences between any given regime, or between any given revolution, given his own history. But he sloppily skips over that and sees in Chomsky's enthusiasm for Chavismo (an enthusiasm I do not especially share) no difference from the old Stalinists and Maoists, when clearly Chavismo cannot be put in the same boat anymore than Fidelismo can. Even the simple lumping of Chavez' Venezuela with Fidel's Cuba (a lumping which Castro and Chavez are both responsible for) is rather naive, as there are important difference between the two. In fact, I would regard Cuba's revolution as bit more authentic than the "Bolivarian Revolution" despite that Chavez gets more support from "democratic" liberals than Cuba tends to have.
I hope that I am making sense instead of rambling. Anyway, I thought the cartoon was awful, as was the title, and it maybe gives a worse feeling for the text than it deserves, as it does cover some worthwhile ground. It just doesn't do it fully adequately, probably due to the author's hyper-emotional reaction about Chomky's "clowning."
The cartoon originally submitted with this article has been replaced as it suggested that Chomsky has endorsed the regimes of Mao, Castro, Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh. This is false and, failing to deliver any empirical evidence, could be considered calumnious and is therefore inappropriate for this website.
The article is a poisonous piece of toxic waste. Apart from hurling unsubstantiated accusations there is nothing it and I found going through it a complete waste of my time. Will have to sue your website for cruelty if you publish one more such article in future.. giving a bad name to anarchists too...