Chomsky and Hero Worship

Peter Kilander peterk at
Sat Oct 10 14:47:51 PDT 1998

Frankly, I'm surprised by the criticisms I've read here about Chomsky and also by Proyect's dissing of Ehrenreich. It reminds me of an old joke: "What do you get when you sit 3 IRA members down at a table? A schism." One of the things that led me down the prim rose path to far-leftism/radicalism was reading an interview with Chomsky in Rolling Stone magazine back in '92. Chomsky's anarchism coupled with a defense of the welfare state seperates him from the right-wing libertarian critique. I guess this also differentiates him from Alexander Cockburn's and Andrew Kopkind's alleged "catastrophism" -the worse things get, the better; I forget the other term for this- although I first heard this charge on this list and still don't know whether to believe it. Ehrenreich has recently said that with the ending of welfare, the state no longer deserves any support.

As for Chomsky's lack of specific solutions or blueprint for a socialist society, something in common with Doug, he has repeatedly said that a mass movement will come up with and try and discard policies as it gains power. A wise recognition of the value of democracy and of how different circumstances require different tactics. Blaming Chomsky and Ehrenreich for the lack of a viable movement is like blaming the messenger. He has said he was disappointed with the way the film "Manufacturing Consent" focused on him. If forced to guess I would say people's real problems with Chomsky are his high visability and the Marxist distaste for anarchists.

An illuminating passage from a book on Chomsky: "In fact, Chomsky dislikes the term 'Marxism'. For him, terms such as 'Marxism' and 'Freudian' belong to the history of organized religion. A human being, 'no matter how gifted, will make some contributions intermingled with error and partial understanding'. The correct attitude is to try to 'understand and improve on their contributions and eliminate the errors'. Identifying yourself as a Marxist or a Freudian is to treat someone as a god to be revered, not as a human being whose contributions is to be assimilated and transcended. This is 'a crazy idea, a kind of idolatry.'"

Personally I have no problem with people saying they're Marxist. It's shorthand. Just as when we discuss "Chomsky," often it's shorthand for his ideas and body of work. Also, I've heard Chomsky describe corporations as fascist, a misnomer in my opinion.


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