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International Socialism, March 1997


Anthony Arnove

In Perspective: Noam Chomsky


From International Socialism 2:74, March 1997.
Copyright © International Socialism.
Copied with thanks from the International Socialism Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


No writer in the second half of the 20th century has done as much to document and expose the crimes of US imperialism as Noam Chomsky. A linguist who has taught for the last 40 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and who has made tremendous advances in the understanding of human language, Chomsky has accumulated since the early 1960s an unequalled body of detailed investigations of US foreign policy, its impact on domestic politics, and the apologetics of intellectuals who defend the crimes committed in the name of ‘human rights’ and ‘support for democracy’.

From his early essays in the liberal intellectual journal The New York Review of Books to his most recent books, Powers and Prospects (1996) and World Orders Old and New (second edition, 1996), Chomsky has produced a singular body of political criticism. American Power and the New Mandarins (1969), his first published collection of political writing (dedicated ‘To the brave young men who refuse to serve in a criminal war’), contains essays that still stand out for their insight and biting sarcasm three decades later. ‘It is easy to be carried away by the sheer horror of what the daily press reveals [about the American war in Vietnam] and to lose sight of the fact that this is merely the brutal exterior of a deeper crime, of commitment to a social order that guarantees endless suffering and humiliation and denial of elementary human rights’, Chomsky wrote in this first collection, setting himself apart from the vast majority of the war’s critics who saw it as a ‘tragic mistake’, rather than as an example of American imperialism. [1]

Since 1969 Chomsky has produced a series of books on US foreign policy in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Chomsky’s well documented Fateful Triangle remains an indispensable study of the history of Israeli state terrorism and the extensive US government support for ‘an Israeli Sparta as a strategic asset’; the book’s rigorous dismantling of the official Zionist version of the Arab-Israeli conflict and its outspoken support for Palestinian self determination still stand out. [2]

Chomsky has also made an important contribution to the international effort to raise awareness of the struggle to free East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that was invaded in 1975 by Indonesia and then annexed with full support from the United States government, leading to the deaths of over 200,000 Timorese. He has devoted endless hours of writing, lecturing, and patient one-on-one conversation to bring attention to these events and to US support of state terrorism in Latin America, Israeli aggression in the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon, and the role of the establishment media in keeping such unpleasant details well hidden.

More recently Chomsky has taken an active stance against the Gulf War and the 1993–95 Oslo Accords, which he pointed out represented an overwhelming ‘rejectionist victory’ for Israel and the United States, though many leading leftists supported the Gulf intervention and celebrated the PLO-Israeli agreement. [3] Chomsky’s writings on the Oslo document are in the best tradition of his work, outlining the exact scope and gravity of the Palestinian defeat and the PLO’s responsibility for betraying the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

It is no exaggeration, as the New York Times Review of Books argued in 1979, that, ‘judged in terms of the power, range, novelty and influence of his thought, Noam Chomsky is arguably the most important intellectual alive today’. [4]

Chomsky has developed a damning political critique of contemporary capitalism and has done much materially to support numerous organisations involved in efforts for social change, however, his comments on strategies for transforming society are far less compelling and raise important difficulties. To see why, it is necessary to examine Chomsky’s commitment to anarchism (or, as he has also called it, ‘libertarian socialism’), his critique of Bolshevism, the Russian Revolution and the role of Lenin and Trotsky in it, and his anti-Marxism.

Chomsky’s background

To understand Noam Chomsky’s ideas, we have to look in part at his personal and intellectual history and the political roots of his anarchism. Chomsky was born in Philadelphia on 7 December 1928 and raised in a Jewish-Zionist cultural tradition, among Eastern European immigrants. His father, William Chomsky, fled from Russia in 1913 to escape conscription into the Tsarist army. His mother, Elsie Simonofsky, left Lithuania when she was one year old.

Chomsky grew up during the Depression and the rise of the fascist threat internationally. As he later recalled, ‘Some of my earliest memories, which are very vivid, are of people selling rags at our door, of violent police strikebreaking, and other Depression scenes’. [5] ‘In the 1930s it was pretty clear that the Nazis were a very ominous and dangerous force that was like a dark cloud over everything throughout my whole childhood’. [6] After a 1995 meeting in which he helped raise money for locked out paper workers, Chomsky recalled:

The other night in the meeting on Decatur they showed a video on police violence. I remember that very well from 1934–1935, with much worse scenes of police attacking. I remember I was with my mother on a trolley car. I must have been five years old. There was a textile strike. Women workers were picketing. We just passed by and saw a very violent police attack on women strikers. [7]

I can’t claim that I understood what was happening, but I sort of got the general idea. What I didn’t understand was explained to me ... My family had plenty of unemployed workers and union activists and political activists and so on. So you knew what a picket line was and what it meant for the forces of the employers to come in there swinging clubs and breaking it up. [8]

Chomsky grew up around working class people, ideas and organisation, and was imbued at an early age with a sense of class solidarity and struggle.

While his parents were ‘normal Roosevelt Democrats’, he had aunts and uncles who were garment workers in the ILGWU, Communists, Trotskyists and anarchists. As a child, Chomsky was influenced by the radical Jewish intellectual culture in New York City. He regularly visited the Jewish anarchist newspapers and bookstores on Fourth Avenue. According to Chomsky, this was a ‘working class culture with working class values, solidarity, socialist values ... Within that it varied from Communist Party to radical semi-anarchist critique of Bolshevism. That whole range was there’. [9]

Among this range of ideas though, Chomsky was particularly influenced by his aunt’s husband, a fourth grade dropout who ran a news stand on the Upper West Side of New York on 72nd Street and Broadway. ‘First he was a follower of Trotsky, then an anti-Trotskyite’, according to Chomsky. [10] It was clearly the anti-Trotskyist, anarchist critique of Bolshevism that made the most lasting impression on Chomsky’s political thinking.

At a very young age Chomsky understood that the Communist Party under Stalin was intervening decisively against the interests of the Spanish working class and had acted to crush the workers’ revolution that had been initiated in the midst of the Spanish Civil War (1936–39). Chomsky’s first political article – on the fall of Barcelona to the fascists – was written when he was only ten years old. The CP’s counter-revolution against the Spanish workers, who had started to collectivise land and seize control of factories in some areas, and establish militias without traditional ranks in their battle against the fascists and Franco, had a lasting impact on him. [11] Chomsky saw Stalinism as a natural outgrowth of the theory and practice of Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolshevik Party – the view that Chomsky still holds today. [12] Chomsky later wrote that the CP’s suppression of the Spanish Revolution demonstrates ‘the extent to which Bolshevism and Western liberalism have been united in their opposition to popular revolution’. [13]

The impact of this early commitment to anarchism cannot be over-emphasised. It has decisively shaped Chomsky’s political and intellectual career. By the age of 13 Chomsky identified with ‘the anti-Bolshevik left’ and had come to feel that he was isolated in his revolutionary ideals. ‘I was always on the side of the losers – the Spanish anarchists, for example’, he later commented. [14] ‘[E]ver since I had any political awareness, I’ve felt either alone or part of a tiny minority’. [15] Chomsky might be just another Jewish Philadelphia radical or anarchist though, were it not for his turn to the study of language in the 1940s.

Chomsky’s contribution to linguistics

After having almost dropped out of the University of Pennsylvania, where he had enrolled as an undergraduate when he was 16, Chomsky found intellectual and political stimulation from the Russian linguist, Professor Zelig Harris. Influenced by his parents, both of whom taught Hebrew, Chomsky gravitated toward the unusual intellectual milieu around Harris. Harris, active in the Zionist Avukah organisation, taught seminars on linguistics that involved philosophical debates, reading and independent research outside the standard constraints of the university structure.

Chomsky began graduate work with Harris, and in 1951 joined Harvard’s Society of Fellows, where he continued his research into linguistics. By 1953 Chomsky had broken ‘almost entirely from the field as it existed’, [16] and was soon publishing path-breaking work, drawing on the 17th century linguistics of the Port-Royal school and the French philosopher René Descartes, and the later work of the Prussian philosopher William von Humboldt, on the ‘creative aspect of language use’. [17] Though Chomsky would at times downplay or deny the connection, his political and linguistic work have both built on the idealist philosophical tradition that he has traced back from anarchism through ‘classical liberalism’ to the Enlightenment and the early rationalists of the 17th century. [18]

In a critical advance over the then dominant understanding of linguistics, Chomsky challenged the behaviourist orthodoxy of B.F. Skinner, whose views on language he dismantled in an important 1959 critique. As one commentary explains:

In the 1950s the social sciences were dominated by behaviourism, the school of thought popularised by John Watson and B.F. Skinner ... Behaviour was explained by a few laws of stimulus-response learning that could be studied with rats pressing bars and dogs salivating to tones. But Chomsky called attention to two fundamental facts about language. First, virtually every sentence that a person utters or understands is a brand-new combination of words, appearing for the first time in the history of the universe. Therefore a language cannot be a repertoire of responses; the brain must contain a recipe or program that can build an unlimited set of sentences out of a finite list of words ... The second fundamental fact is that children develop these complex grammars rapidly and without formal instruction and grow up to give consistent interpretations to novel sentence constructions that they have never before encountered. Therefore, he argued, children must innately be equipped with a plan common to the grammars of all languages, a Universal Grammar. [19]

That is, as Chomsky has written more recently, ‘there is a component of the human mind/brain dedicated to language – the language faculty’. [20] According to Chomsky, the ‘language faculty’ includes a generative system that can produce an infinite array of sentences from finite means. Children don’t learn language by imitation, but develop the creative capacity to use language from their infancy at a tremendously fast pace, as the stimulus of their environment ‘sets’ the parameters of their language. Chomsky argues therefore that standard divisions between languages (whether common sense distinctions between English and French or reactionary ones, say between ‘proper English’ and ‘dialect English’) reflect nothing more than superficial or political distinctions within a single, universal and highly complex human language. ‘What we call “English”, “French”, “Spanish”,’ Chomsky argues, ‘reflect the Norman Conquest, proximity to Germanic areas, a Basque substratum, and other factors that cannot seriously be regarded as properties of the language faculty’. [21]

From the early circulation of his linguistic reflections among specialists, Chomsky’s views caused considerable controversy and became the subject of intense debates in linguistics, as well as philosophy and the social sciences. Particularly controversial was Chomsky’s claim in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax that ‘linguistic theory is concerned primarily with an ideal speaker-listener, in a completely homogenous speech-community, who knows its language perfectly and is unaffected by such grammatically irrelevant conditions as memory limitations, distractions, shifts of attention and interest, and errors (random or characteristic) in applying his knowledge of the language in actual performance’, not to mention by the material, social conditions of the speaker’s situation. [22]

What puzzled mainstream commentators far more than his often obscure writings on syntax and semantics, though, was the fact that Chomsky, who joined the faculty of MIT in 1955 at the age of 26 and was beginning to receive tremendous recognition for his linguistic work, was speaking out publicly and participating in direct action against the Vietnam War.

Chomsky’s early activism

Though he read political literature and maintained his interest in radical politics in the 1950s, Chomsky spent the bulk of the decade on linguistic work. This changed, however, in the early 1960s, when the United States began its massive onslaught against Southern Vietnam, and Chomsky became active in the anti-war movement. Chomsky participated in one of the first public protests against the war in Boston in October 1965, at which protesters were outnumbered by counter-demonstrators and police. Chomsky helped found the anti-war group Resist in 1966, which organised support for draft resistance, and was arrested for civil disobedience in October 1967 during a Washington, DC, anti-war protest. Resist made connections with some members of the Black Panthers, including Fred Hampton. After Hampton’s murder by the FBI and the Chicago police, Chomsky attended his funeral. [23]

Although active in the movement against the war and in the broad New Left, Chomsky held a relatively narrow conception of acceptable forms of protest. He argued at the time that many of the student rebellions were ‘largely misguided’ for targeting the officials in charge of the universities, criticising student radicals at Berkeley in 1966, at Columbia during the student strike in 1968, and later at MIT. [24] ‘I paid virtually no attention to what was going on in Paris [in Spring 1968] as you can see from what I wrote – rightly,’ Chomsky recently explained. [25]

Though he helped found Resist, Chomsky dropped out of the day to day activity of the organisation to focus on writing and lecturing, beginning ‘a division of labour’ between his research and writing and the efforts of activists that has characterised his work since. [26]

Chomsky began to make a wider political mark when he started writing long, detailed essays denouncing the war and the role of mainstream intellectuals who supported it for the New York Review of Books and then for left journals such as Liberation, Ramparts, New Politics, and Socialist Revolution (later Socialist Review). These essays brilliantly documented and condemned the actions of the US government in Indochina and connected the war effort to the history of US imperialism more generally. Chomsky became one of the most important and respected critics of the US war effort, earning a place on President Nixon’s infamous ‘enemies list’. From this point on, he was the subject of intense vilification by various apologists of the system, much as he would later be subjected to repeated attacks for his critical writings on Israel.

In these early essays we see Chomsky developing the basic themes of his best work: rigorously detailed analyses of US planning documents, declassified records, official statements, and hard-to-find sources; merciless critique of liberals, establishment intellectuals, and media commentators who provided a cover for US imperialism; and an analysis which showed that the war in Vietnam was not the result of ‘mistakes’, ‘honest misunderstanding’, ‘attempts to do good gone awry’ – or of bad or incompetent officials who could be replaced by better ones. Rather, the war against Indochina was a product of systematic, deeply rooted features of the capitalist state.

Chomsky’s method: ‘What is to be done?’

The question of Chomsky’s method has been the subject of much debate. Though immensely thought provoking, Chomsky’s densely textured political writings suffer from two weaknesses: the lack of a clear theoretical framework and a lack of concreteness about strategies for resistance. As Milan Rai remarks in a recent, highly sympathetic study of Chomsky’s political ideas, ‘It can sometimes seem as if Chomsky is doing little more than knitting together a mass of fascinating but unrelated insights and facts about US policy’ and that – partly as a result – ‘readers of Chomsky’s political writings can be forgiven for feeling that the dominant message of his work is not that “there is a great deal that can be done’’.’ [27]

That is, despite his anti-capitalism, Chomsky offers little practical advice on how to struggle most effectively to bring about the kind of socialist society he would like to see. Though he argues that, whatever one chooses to do politically, it is only effective through organised and collective struggle, Chomsky sets himself apart from socialist organisation and the revolutionary Marxist tradition.

To understand why Chomsky is so reluctant to offer this kind of political lead, we have to return to his anarchism, because one of its features is a hesitancy to argue for specific priorities for political activism. A radio exchange with Chomsky illustrates this problem:

Radio listener: I’m afraid there may be a saturation point of despair just from knowing the heaviness of the truth that you impart. I’d like to strongly lobby you to begin devoting maybe 10 percent or 15 percent of your appearances or books or articles towards tangible, detailed things that people can do to try to change the world. I’ve heard a few occasions where someone asks you that question and your response is, Organise. Just do it.

Chomsky: I try to keep it in the back of my mind and think about it, but I’m afraid that the answer is always the same … [I]f you join with other people, you can make changes. Millions of things are possible, depending on where you want to put your efforts. [28]

Or, as Chomsky said in two recent interviews:

The question that comes up over and over again, and I don’t really have an answer still, (really, I don’t know any other people who have answers to them), is, It’s terrible, awful, getting worse. What do we do? Tell me the answer. The trouble is, there has not in history ever been any answer other than, Get to work on it.

There are a thousand different ways of getting to work on it. For one thing, there’s no ‘it’. There’s lots of different things. You can think of long-term goals and visions you have in mind, but even if that’s what you’re focused on, you’re going to have to take steps towards them. The steps can be in all kinds of directions, from caring about starving children in Central America or Africa, to working on the rights of working people here, to worrying about the fact that the environment’s in serious danger. There’s no one thing that’s the right thing to do. [29]

Everything. Everything is a step to take. You organise people; you get them to go on demonstrations; you get them to form political clubs; you get them to beat on the doors of their legislators and the editorial offices; to set up their own newspapers; to make a third party if that’s necessary … you form unions. It’s all the right thing to do. All of it is right. There are questions of tactics, where you put your efforts. That you just decide. That I can’t tell you. But all of these efforts are the right ones. [30]

What is frustrating about Chomsky’s response to the question of, ‘What can we do?’ is that he fails to offer arguments for effective strategies for struggle in a context in which so much of the American left has retreated to highly limited forms of reformist politics – such as support for ‘lesser evilism’ in elections, single-issue lobbying, and consumerist environmentalism – and when he has an enormous audience that is open to political suggestions as to how people could radically transform society. It suggests that anything one may choose to do, such as voter registration, is just as good as anything else. Since there is no ‘it’ (no system) neither history nor theory can provide suggestions as to which strategies are more effective than others for changing the world.

Class analysis

Another important feature of Chomsky’s analysis is that his writings and talks offer few examples of successful working class resistance or fightback. In part this can be attributed to the downturn of the 1980s, but it remains the case that Chomsky rarely foregrounds class struggle in concrete terms – successful or unsuccessful strikes, specific strategies or debates in the labour movement, little reported victories of specific workers, or the lessons of labour defeats. [31] When he speaks of ‘class struggle’, his focus is on the one sided class struggle from above (’the unremitting class war waged by business sectors...on a global scale’, [32] which he refers to as having a ‘vulgar Marxist’ character [33]), not on the specific ways in which workers could more effectively counter the employers’ offensive.

Chomsky has certainly pointed to the successful examples of attempts to form class solidarity across ethnic lines during the Homestead Strike, the lively labour press that existed in the United States until it was destroyed in the first half of this century, the more revolutionary beliefs of the mill workers of Massachusetts who understood that ‘they who work the mills should own them’, and indeed the brutality of the ‘one sided class warfare’ being waged by bosses against workers. There is no question at all of which side Chomsky is on in these questions. However, there is a tension in Chomsky’s work around the issue of effectively organising our forces. On the one hand, Chomsky argues that:

the overwhelming majority of the population wants to change the ‘inherently unfair’ economic system, and belief in the basic moral principles of socialism is surprisingly high. What is more, with Soviet tyranny finally overthrown, one long-standing impediment to the realizsation of these ideals is now removed. [34]

Chomsky, though mistaken about how early the Soviet Union became a block to the socialist movement, is certainly right to stress that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe is a tremendous advance for the struggle for socialism. And Chomsky is one of the few left intellectuals in the United States to reject the simplistic but widespread belief that the 1994 Republican Congressional election victories represented a massive ‘rightward shift’ by ordinary working people. [35]

But Chomsky’s emphasis on the ‘remarkable victory of the doctrinal system’, which has ‘removed far beyond thought’ even ‘the minimal conditions for functioning democracy’, [36] and diminished the culture of solidarity that existed during the high point of the American labour movement in the early part of this century, overshadows his discussion of possibilities for resistance; it is also difficult to square with the bitterness, political dynamism, and volatility of recent labour struggles (such as the Decatur struggles, Caterpillar, the Detroit newspaper strike, and the successful GM Dayton and Boeing strikes). This is in part the result of Chomsky’s repeated emphasis on the success of the ‘propaganda system’ in curbing popular dissent and ‘pacify[ing] the public’. [37]

While he has argued that ‘this system [of media control] is not all-powerful’, [38] the thrust of his analysis suggests that American ‘intellectual culture’ has become so bankrupt, the oppositional forces of ‘civil society’ so fragmented and weak, and the bounds of the doctrinal framework so hard to escape, that there are tremendous grounds for despair. [39] Chomsky observes in a recent account of the attack on American labour:

We cannot really say that the current corporate offensive has driven working class organisation and culture back to the level of a century ago. At that time working people and the poor were nowhere near as isolated nor subject to the ideological monopoly of the business media. [40]

Chomsky would agree that the extent to which the ‘system is not functioning’ is popularly understood and has increased sharply in recent years, as measured in statistics about alienation and hostility toward established institutions in American society – and the material fact of declining real wages, longer work hours, unsafe jobs, and increased workplace discrimination. Yet the thrust of Chomsky’s argument is to suggest that people are so isolated and the propaganda system so overwhelming, that opportunities for raising revolutionary politics are for the most part non-existent. Or, if they do exist, such strategies have no clear priority over other forms of political activism.

It is still the case that Chomsky essentially envisions a ‘two-stage picture’ of social change: we need first to build a larger reform effort before we can meaningfully undertake more radical social struggles. ‘If this two-stage picture is a reasonable one’, Rai comments, ‘then it is clear that the first priority is to create a coalition of interests and groups, some greater coalescence of single-issue campaigns’, rather than to build an organisation that would attempt to organise around revolutionary politics and engage in and try to build a distinctly socialist current in the fight for more immediate reforms. [41] Rai argues that:

Chomsky’s reluctance to devote effort to ‘revolutionary strategy’ stems ... from his judgment that such work is premature. Talking about such matters is almost meaningless to the bulk of the population. The structure of power means that people’s options are radically limited. Furthermore, the propaganda system has to a large extent crushed the capacity for independent thought. [42]

This is a misguided – and ultimately quite elitist – argument which reflects the pessimism that is, despite his frequent gestures toward possibilities for change, a strong undercurrent in Chomsky’s work.

Chomsky on ‘humanitarian intervention’

Although Chomsky has distinguished himself especially for his critique of US imperialism and has done more than any other writer to dismantle the myth of ‘humanitarian intervention’ (most recently opposing the Gulf War and the US invasion of Somalia), he has more recently offered critical support for the intervention of US troops in Haiti and the Balkans.

In neither case did Chomsky support the doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’. In fact, in his writings and lectures on Bosnia and Haiti he has exposed Western economic and military interests, which he sees as the real motivation of the actions. But he has retreated from the logical conclusions of his own arguments because of a lack of confidence in a political alternative. A few months before the US invasion of Haiti, Chomsky argued forcefully:

If there’s a military intervention, that’s the end of any hope for Haitian democracy, absolute end. Maybe the population will get desperate enough so it will even welcome a military intervention. That could happen. But anybody who thinks it’s going to bring about democracy just hasn’t looked at a history book. Find a case. There’s plenty of history of intervention, plenty, including Haiti ... The Marines entered Haiti in 1915 ... They totally destroyed the constitutional system, they reinstituted slavery, they killed a couple of thousand people ... The main thing the US did was create a military force to control the population; it didn’t have one before ... The population was disarmed, the security force was set up to control them. That was 20 years of intervention. That’s why when you go to Haiti … you talk to people who are really under the whip, and they do not want an American intervention – because they know what it means. [43]

But on the eve of the invasion, Chomsky told the Boston Globe that, ‘“given the givens”, he would invade. “It’ll probably cut the terror”, he said’. [44] Chomsky cited popular Haitian support for the invasion, though it is clear that the basis of that support was the mistaken belief that the United States was intervening to ‘save’ Haitians from the Macoutes. ‘As Pentagon leaders described it,’ the New York Times acknowledged, ‘their mission is not to protect Haitians from a repressive regime, but to help stabilise the country’. [45] One Haitian politician put the matter quite clearly: ‘This is an agreement between the US and the Haitian military, not with the Haitian people’. [46]

The investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who uncovered the CIA sponsorship of the right wing paramilitary organisation Fraph, wrote perceptively in the Nation that the aim of the US invasion was ‘to prevent the Haitian population from taking politics into its own hands and to forestall the danger of radical mass mobilisation’. Mouvman Peyizan Papay, the largest peasant organisation in Haiti, opposed the US intervention for this reason: ‘The occupation will be an invasion against the Haitian people,’ explained MPP spokesperson Chavannes Jean-Baptiste, ‘and nothing good will come of this for the popular movement’. [47]

The logic of the US intervention was demonstrated soon after the invasion at a march by Haitians on the third anniversary of the 30 September 1991 coup, which overthrew Aristide. At least six demonstrators were killed by paramilitary attaches during the march ‘as American soldiers, deployed blocks away in tanks surrounded by barbed wire, did nothing to stop the violence’.

When American troops had first arrived, Haitians in the demonstration ‘danced, pulling American flags from their pockets and shouting, “The Americans have truly liberated us!”’ But when the American troops ‘quickly drove off … the mood grew bitter toward the American soldiers as it became clear that the American force in Haiti, now more than 20,000 strong, would not provide protection to the marchers’:

’I can’t believe what I see now,’ [one demonstrator] said. ‘The American soldiers were supposed to be here to help us. They were to restore democracy and protect us from the machine guns of the Fraph people’. [48]

But, as the Wall Street Journal reported, ‘Haiti’s brutal police and armed military forces remained firmly in control ... Haiti’s iron-fisted military is still in charge’. [49]

Chomsky’s position on the dispatch of troops by the United States and NATO to the Balkans following the Dayton accords followed a similar logic to his support for the Haiti intervention: it was the best of the poor alternatives he saw available. Chomsky told radio journalist David Barsamian in January 1996:

I just didn’t see any substantive proposals as to what could be done ... Now, suppose I had been in Congress, let’s say, and had been asked to choose between exactly two alternatives. One, let them keep massacring one another. Two, put in US troops to separate warring armies, to partition the country into two US dependencies with a possibility that something may go badly wrong, as in Somalia, and there might be a huge slaughter. If those are the two choices, I probably would have voted for sending the troops. [50]

Chomsky is not a member of Congress, and it is disturbing that he should use that analogy and so narrowly restrict his options. Positions other than support for sending US and NATO troops were available, namely supporting steps to build an international solidarity movement against the nationalism of the rival parties in the Balkans and against the calls for military intervention. It is a sign of the current weakness of the Anglo-American left that almost no one, including Chomsky, pointed to such a possibility. [51]

Instead of creating a resolution of the conflict, the US-NATO invasion has served primarily to enforce and institutionalise ethnic cleansing and partition, propping up the brutal regimes of Slobadan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman while arms flow freely into the still tremendously unstable region. Before the accords, Western intervention had encouraged the greatest act of ethnic cleansing of the war, Croatia’s Krajina offensive, which led to hundreds of deaths and displaced over 260,000 Serbs, causing the biggest refugee flow in Europe since the Hungarian uprising was crushed in 1956. The Clinton administration ‘gave the green light’ to and helped supply arms for Croatia’s Krajina offensive, [52] and then ‘turned a blind eye to the smuggling of arms from Muslim countries – including Iran – to the Bosnian government’. [53]

Then, under the pretext of the Dayton accords, Clinton announced on 8 July 1996 that ‘the American-led effort to train and equip the army of the Muslim-Croat Federation would begin immediately’, and arranged for a contract between the federation and Military Professional Resources, Inc., which prepared Croatia for the Krajina offensive. The aid included $100 million of military equipment, including light anti-tank weapons and helicopters, in addition to $140 million pledged by Saudi Arabia and other countries. [54] ‘Opposition party members are being terrorised and beaten by agents of the Muslim-dominated government [in Bosnia] in a campaign of intimidation that further erodes any pretense of fairness in the coming … elections,’ the New York Times acknowledged. [55]

Instead of supporting the dispatch of NATO and US troops, Chomsky was uniquely placed to have raised awareness of the little known examples of working class solidarity, across ethnic lines, during the pre-war strike wave in the Balkans in 1987 and 1991–1992, and to have argued convincingly for the possibility of building a multi-ethnic peace movement in the Balkans and internationally to oppose rival nationalisms and imperialism. The seeds of such a movement existed in the pre-war strike wave, war desertion and resistance, and anti-war demonstrations in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Zagreb.

The possibility of such a movement can be seen again in the wave of demonstrations that has shaken the Milosevic regime since November 1996 as students and pensioners, joined by workers in Nis and in Belgrade, have taken to the streets in massive numbers to challenge election annulments, restrictions on free speech, and the economic crisis brought on by the war. While led by ultra-nationalist politicians, these demonstrations have begun to mobilise the kind of anti-nationalist sentiment that could have far more impact than NATO and US troops on the level of inter-ethnic warfare, ethnic cleansing, and suffering in the Balkans – particularly if they addressed the concerns of workers whose standard of living has drastically declined as a result of the war and the collapse of state capitalism in the Balkans.

Part of the reason that Chomsky has not reached this judgement is that he has accepted a narrow definition of the options available to the left and has isolated these cases from the urgency of rebuilding an anti-imperialist movement in the United States. [56] It is increasingly clear that only such a movement can begin to mount the kind of challenge that could, in Chomsky’s own phrase, ‘raise the costs of state intervention’ (as was done during the Vietnam War), create a larger space for the many people trying to organise under the boot of US imperialism, and offer the possibility of ending war altogether.

Chomsky on Marxism

Though the Marxist tradition has developed the most theoretically and practically incisive analysis of the economy, war, social relations under capitalism, and the means for achieving socialism, Chomsky has frequently suggested that it has little beyond ‘trivial’ insights to offer. He has on several occasions identified positively with aspects of the ‘left Marxist’ tradition, in which he includes figures such as Rosa Luxemburg, the Dutch council communists Anton Pannekoek and Herman Gorter, and Paul Mattick, but his work reflects little engagement with the classical Marxist tradition, including Luxemburg, and his pronouncements on Marxism generally have been dismissive:

Marxism in my view belongs in the history of organised religion. In fact, as a rule of thumb, any concept with a person’s name on it belongs to religion, not rational discourse ... That means, if you identify yourself as a Marxist or a Freudian, or anything else, you’re worshipping at someone’s shrine.

If the field of social and historical and economic analysis was so trivial that what somebody wrote a hundred years ago could still be authoritative, you might as well talk about some other topic. But as I understand Marx, he constructed a somewhat interesting theory of a rather abstract model of 19th century capitalism. He did good journalism. And he had interesting ideas about history. He probably had about five sentences in his entire body of work about what a postcapitalist society is supposed to look like. [57]

Chomsky told Robert McChesney:

I haven’t really been a critic of Marxism. I largely ignore it. I’m frankly sceptical of what are called ‘theories’ in the study of social and political issues, or just about anything of real and direct human significance... As for Marxism, the early Marx was interesting, but pretty derivative ... The later Marx offers vivid and enlightening commentary...[but] [h]e appears to have little to say about socialism, and little interest in it. [58]

Setting aside Marx’s important commentaries on the relevance of the Paris Commune for defining a vision of a future socialist society, and his lifelong commitment to building such a society [59], what is striking in Chomsky’s comments is his failure to take up even the most basic premises of Marxism – premises which remain tremendously relevant today as a set of living ideas, tested in practice, about the nature of capitalist society and how workers can organise to achieve their self emancipation.

It is precisely this idea, that the working class must be the agent of its own ‘self emancipation’ and that socialism can only come from below, that is the unique and lasting contribution of Marxism. In contrast to the common idea that Marxism holds a Blanquist theory of the seizure of state power by a small minority, Marx argued clearly in the Communist Manifesto that socialism is for the first time ‘the self conscious, independent movement of the immense majority’ which will take power ‘in the interest of the immense majority’. [60]

The point of theory is not to elaborate more theory or to dress up simple ideas in complex academic language. It is to help inform the practice of those struggling to change the world. If one is not a Marxist, it is not that one has no ‘theory in the study of social and political issues’; one simply has another theory, whether of capitalism, oppression, racism, sexism, homophobia, the market or movements for national liberation. [61]

Chomsky on Bolshevism

While merely dismissive of Marxism, Chomsky has been a virulent critic of Bolshevism, Leninism and of the Russian Revolution, at times echoing far right rhetoric. To take one of many examples, according to Chomsky:

The Bolshevik coup of October 1917 placed state power in the hands of Lenin and Trotsky, who moved quickly to dismantle the incipient socialist institutions that had grown up during the popular revolution of the preceding months – the factory councils, the Soviets, in fact any organ of popular control ... In any meaningful sense of the term ‘socialism’, the Bolsheviks moved at once to destroy its existing elements. [62]

In one of his most recent books, Chomsky refers to the ‘two major forms of 20th century totalitarianism, Fascism and Bolshevism’. [63] Such anti-Leninist and anti-Bolshevik passages occur throughout Chomsky’s writings and interviews, going back to his first essays. [64]

In Chomsky’s view, Lenin’s theory of the party is based on the idea that ‘the public, especially the working class, are too stupid to know what’s good for them’: [65]

Lenin’s idea was that you have a group of revolutionary intellectuals, who are the smart guys, and they’re to drive the society to a better future, which the Slavs are too dumb to understand. That’s basically the idea, which is not all that different from the ideology of capitalist democracy. [66]

Indeed, Chomsky has compared the ideology of Lenin with that of Robert McNamara, [67] one of the leading forces behind the Vietnam War.

What characterises Chomsky’s attacks on Leninism and Bolshevism, beyond their virulence, is a surprising lack of intellectual or scholarly engagement with the actual history or theory of the Bolshevik tradition. Thus, for example, Chomsky claims that ‘the Bolshevik takeover was recognised as an attack on socialism very quickly by a large part of the left … [including] Rosa Luxemburg’ [68], a completely inaccurate statement, as even a swift glance at Luxemburg’s writings shows. Despite the heated and important debates between Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Lenin, she was very clear that:

The party of Lenin was … the only one in Russia which grasped the true interest of the revolution in that first period. It was the element which drove the revolution forward, and, thus, it was the only party which really carried on a socialist policy ... [T]he Bolsheviks, though they were at the beginning of the revolution a persecuted, slandered and hunted minority attacked on all sides, arrived within the shortest time to the head of the revolution and were able to bring under their banner all the genuine masses of the people: the urban proletariat, the army, the peasants, as well as the revolutionary elements of democracy. [69]

All the revolutionary honour and capacity which western social democracy lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution; it was the salvation of the honour of international socialism. [70]

And while she made clear her concerns about decisions made by the Bolshevik leadership after October, she stressed the catastrophically difficult political circumstances in which the Bolsheviks found themselves. [71] Chomsky’s discussion of the Russian Revolution, however, consistently passes over the issues raised by Luxemburg: the impact of the civil war and the imperialist interventions that quickly followed the revolution, the failure of revolutions in Germany and elsewhere to succeed in building international support for the Russian working class, and the economic crisis which had a severe impact on Russian workers and peasants, the base of the October uprising.

In striking contrast to his highly documented work on almost every other subject, Chomsky provides little evidence of sources or documents to support his position, even though most serious historical work on the revolution makes it clear that it was not a coup by the Bolsheviks, but a revolution from below, entirely dependent on the Bolsheviks having become the majority within the soviets.

As the work of those historians who have looked at the revolution ‘from below’ has convincingly argued, the view of the Bolshevik Revolution as a coup by a small, dictatorial party does not stand up to examination. [72] ‘Historians in the Soviet Union have stressed historical inevitability and the role of a tightly knit revolutionary party led by Lenin in accounting for the outcome of the October Revolution, while many Western scholars have viewed this event either as a historical accident or, more frequently, as the result of a well-executed coup d’état without significant mass support,’ Alexander Rabinowitch argues, but:

a full explanation of the Bolshevik seizure of power is much more complex than any of these interpretations suggest.

Studying the aspirations of factory workers, soldiers, and sailors as expressed in contemporary documents... these concerns corresponded closely to the programme of political, economic, and social reform put forth by the Bolsheviks at a time when all other major political parties were discredited because of their failure to press hard enough for meaningful internal changes and an immediate end to Russia’s participation in the [First World] War. As a result, in October, the goals of the Bolsheviks, as the masses understood them, had strong popular support.

In Petrograd in 1917 the Bolshevik Party bore little resemblance to the by-and-large united, authoritarian, conspiratorial organisation effectively controlled by Lenin depicted in most accounts. [73]

The idea that the revolution was a coup was also challenged at the time by non-Bolshevik writers, such as the Menshevik Nikolai Sukhanov. [74]

One central element of Chomsky’s critique is that the Bolsheviks were hostile towards and later destroyed the soviets because of their elitist attitude toward the working class. Beyond the many arguments directly contradicting this view in Lenin’s State and Revolution and, indeed, later work [75] – which Chomsky argues was ‘all a fraud’ [76] – even the strongly anti-Bolshevik historian Oskar Anweiler acknowledges that ‘aside from the Bolsheviks, only the small group of United Social Democrats supported the demand for soviet power’. The Mensheviks’ and SR’s:

rejection of Soviet power hardened during the following months [after June 1917]. Especially after the July Days laid bare the split within ‘revolutionary democracy’, there prevailed, in Kerensky’s words, ‘the conviction among soviet leaders that the soviets were not and could not be governing organs but that they were merely tools for transition to a new democratic order’. Kerensky himself assured the British ambassador, Sir George Buchanan, as early as May: ‘The soviets will die a natural death’ … [and] the Mensheviks saw no future for the soviets ... [A]lmost daily the balance in the local soviets shifted in favour of the Bolsheviks and their call for sole soviet power ... Unlike parties which had majorities in earlier soviets, the Bolsheviks proposed specifically that future soviets should seize power in their own name and build a state on their own pattern. [77]

Thus, as Moshe Lewin suggests, Leninist doctrine did not originally envisage a monolithic state, nor even a strictly monolithic party; the dictatorship of the party over the proletariat was never part of Lenin’s plans, it was the completely unforeseen culmination of a series of unforeseen circumstances. [78]

The isolation, crisis, and then destruction of socialism under the Stalinist counter-revolution have been well documented, [79] but the argument that Lenin and the Bolsheviks instituted a dictatorship through a ‘revolution from above’ does not hold up under examination.

Chomsky, however, sees the revolutionary, or ‘vanguard’, party as inevitably substitutionist and elitist, putting itself in the place of the working class and acting ‘on its behalf’. In contrast, the tradition of socialism from below argues that there is a mutual relationship between the organised and most politically conscious political section of the working class, the party, which seeks to organise other workers and win them to revolutionary politics through argument and through concrete activity in the workplace and outside it in which party and class must educate and learn from one another. The party is not the future ruling class of a state, or a directing dictatorial body, but that section of the working class which is most politically and class conscious and which seeks to argue, agitate, and mobilise for mass working class struggle and self-activity.

Indeed, Luxemburg, Pannekoek and Gorter all agreed at key moments on the need for exactly such a party. Pannekoek noted, ‘The function of a revolutionary party lies in propagating clear understanding in advance, so that throughout the masses there will be elements who know what must be done and who are capable of judging the situation for themselves’, [80] while Gorter argued for the need ‘to unite [the] section of the proletariat that has a large and profound understanding within one organisation ... [to] overcome or relieve all the weaknesses ... to which the factory organisation is subject’. [81]


As Gareth Jenkins has argued, Noam Chomsky’s ‘brilliance in exposing the lies, evasions, and hypocrisies of ruling class double think... is unparalleled and has...earned [him] the hatred of what Marx called the intellectual prizefighters of the world’s oppressors’. [82] As Robert Barsky, Chomsky’s biographer, points out, ‘He was, and is, for generations of dissenters a figure of enlightenment and inspiration’. [83] But Chomsky’s anarchism and his rejection of the Marxist tradition present serious limitations. Thus, Jenkins notes, ‘while it is clear whose side [Chomsky] is on, it is not clear that he has a strategy for victory against the forces both he and we hate’. [84]

In Barsky’s words, ‘There remains, at the end of the event, the problem of “how to take on the bastards”.’ [85] While there is a tremendous amount that socialists can learn and take from Chomsky’s work, we clearly need to critically engage and challenge his ideas in many cases and – most urgently – set about building an organisation that provides ‘a strategy for victory’. The task of building a revolutionary socialist party today is vital. The welcome collapse of Stalinism and the false socialist regimes of Eastern Europe clears away an immense amount of rubbish and makes it easier than it has been in decades for revolutionaries to rebuild the genuine tradition of socialism from below.


I would like to thank Paul D’Amato, Stuart Easterling, Bosse Ekelund, Phil Gasper, Anna Kuperman, Marlene Martin, Joe Nevins, Nagesh Rao, Lance Selfa, Ashley Smith, Elizabeth Terzakis, and especially Noam Chomsky for their comments on earlier versions of this essay.

1. N. Chomsky, The Responsibility of Intellectuals, American Power and the New Mandarins: Historical and Political Essays (New York 1969), p. 313. See also N. Chomsky, At War with Asia (New York 1970).

2. N. Chomsky, The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (Boston 1983), p. 468.

3. N. Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, 2nd edn (New York 1996), p. 252; see also pp. 189–297.

4. The reviewer then adds that, despite his brilliance as a linguist, Chomsky’s ‘substantial body of political writings’ is ‘maddeningly simple-minded’. The New York Times Book Review, 25 February 1979, quoted in P. Wintonick and M. Achbar, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (London 1994), p. 19.

5. N. Chomsky, Chomsky Reader, J. Peck (ed.) (New York 1987), p. 13.

6. N. Chomsky, Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian (Monroe 1996), p. 93.

7. Ibid.

8. Quoted in M. Rai, Chomsky’s Politics (London, 1995), p. 7.

9. Quoted in ibid., p. 8.

10. Quoted in ibid., pp. 8–9.

11. See N. Chomsky, Chomsky Reader, op. cit., pp. 85–119.

12. The Stalinists’ role in Spain runs completely counter to Lenin and Trotsky’s ideas of internationalism and socialism from below. See, for example, Trotsky’s 19 February 1937 statement on the Spanish Civil War: ‘In Spain the Stalinists, who lead the chorus from on high, have advanced the formula to which Caballero, president of the cabinet, also adheres: First military victory, and then social reform. I consider this formula fatal for the Spanish Revolution ... Audacious social reforms represent the strongest weapon in the civil war and the fundamental condition for the victory over fascism. The policies of Stalin … are dictated by a fear of frightening the French bourgeoisie’ (L. Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution (1931–39), N. Allen and G. Breitman (eds.) (New York 1973), pp. 242–243.

13. N. Chomsky, Chomsky Reader, op. cit., p. 90.

14. Ibid., p. 13.

15. Ibid., p. 14.

16. N. Chomsky, quoted in R.F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent (London 1997), p. 80.

17. See, for example, N. Chomsky, Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought (London 1966). More recent statements on this subject can be found in N. Chomsky, Powers and Prospects: Reflections on Human Nature and the Social Order (Boston 1996), pp. 1–54, and Language and Thought (London 1993).

18. See Chomsky’s 8 August 1994 letter to Barsky: ‘I think there is an important and detectable “thread” ... that runs from Cartesian rationalism through the romantic period (the more libertarian Rousseau, for example), parts of the enlightenment (some of Kant, etc.), pre-capitalist classical liberalism (notably Humboldt, but also [Adam] Smith), and on to the partly spontaneous tradition of popular revolt against industrial capitalism and the forms it took in the left-libertarian movements, including the anti-Bolshevik parts of the Marxist tradition.’ Quoted in R.F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, op. cit., p. 107; cf pp. 102–116, especially pp. 112–113; N. Chomsky, Class Warfare, op. cit., p. 29; and N. Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, op. cit., pp. 86–87. On anarchism, generally, see N. Chomsky, Notes on Anarchism, For Reasons of State (New York 1973), pp. 370–386; Radical Priorities, 2nd ed., C.P. Otero (ed.) (Montréal 1981), pp. 245–261; Language and Politics, C.P. Otero (ed.) (Montréal 1988), pp. 166–197; and Goals and Visions, Powers and Prospects, op. cit., pp. 70–93.

19. S. Pinker, The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York 1995), pp. 21–22.

20. N. Chomsky, The Minimalist Program (London 1995), p. 2.

21. Ibid., p. 11, fn 16.

22. N. Chomsky, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (Cambridge 1965), p. 3. While Chomsky is undertaking a methodological abstraction here, there is a vital tradition of linguistics which has attempted to approach the question of language and expression from a historical materialist standpoint. See, in particular, V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. L. Matejka and I.R. Titunik (London 1986); and M.N. Bakhtin and P.N. Medvedev, The Formal Method in Literary Scholarship: A Critical Introduction to Sociological Poetics (London 1991).

23. R.F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, op. cit., p. 137.

24. Ibid., pp. 122 and 131.

25. 31 March 1995 letter to Barsky in ibid., p. 131. See also N. Chomsky, Knowledge and Power: Intellectuals and the Welfare/Warfare State, in P. Long (ed.), The New Left: A Collection of Essays (Boston 1969), pp. 172–199, and Radical Priorities, op. cit., pp. 218–243, which include critiques of aspects of the student movement.

26. See Chomsky’s comments on his participation in Resist in N. Chomsky, Class Warfare, op. cit., pp. 56–57.

27. M. Rai, Chomsky’s Politics, op. cit., pp. 21 and 49.

28. N. Chomsky, Secrets, Lies and Democracy (Tuscan 1994), pp. 105–106.

29. N. Chomsky, Class Warfare pp. 114–115.

30. N. Chomsky, Noam Chomsky: An Interview, by B. Lesseraux (Coalition Press 1995), p. 10. Chomsky here echoes Eduard Bernstein’s revisionist argument that ‘the movement is everything’, which forms the starting point of Rosa Luxemburg’s brilliant, and still remarkably relevant, critique of revisionism in Reform or Revolution (London, 1989), p. 21. Chomsky does not argue that ‘The final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing’ (p. 21), but he certainly would agree with the Bernsteinian idea that socialists ‘should build socialism by means of the progressive extension of social control and the gradual application of the principle of cooperation’ (p. 26). See Chomsky’s argument that ‘the left if it is serious is going to have to create the facts of the future within the institutional structures of the present’ (R. McChesney, An Interview with Noam Chomsky: On Media, Politics and the Left, Part I, Against the Current 10:1 (March–April 1995), p. 31).

31. For a recent example of Chomsky’s views on labour politics, see The Third World at Home, Year 501: The Conquest Continues (London 1993), pp. 275–288.

32. N. Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, op. cit., p. 158.

33. N. Chomsky, Class Warfare, op. cit., p. 17.

34. N. Chomsky, Year 501, op. cit. (London 1993), p. 286.

35. See, for example, J. Hardisty, The Resurgent Right: Why Now? The Public Eye 9:3/4 (Fall/Winter 1995). Hardisty argues that the 1994 ‘election results indicate that the American public has repudiated the liberalism that has been the dominant method of social reform since the New Deal. The resurgent right has consolidated its power and is now implementing its agenda’ (p. 1). ‘The average voter ... [has] been won over to the right’s agenda’ (p. 3). For a much clearer view of the election results, see T. Ferguson, The Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems (Chicago 1995), pp. 359–375; H. Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present, revised edition (New York 1995), pp. 633–634; and N. Chomsky, Rollback, in The New American Crisis: Radical Analyses of the Problems Facing America Today, G. Ruggiero and S. Sahulka (eds.) (New York 1995), pp. 11–30.

36. N. Chomsky, Year 501, op. cit., p. 276.

37. N. Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, op. cit., p. 120.

38. E.S. Herman and N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York 1988), p. 306. See C. Nineham, Is the Media All Powerful? International Socialism 67.

39. ‘The answer is to rebuild civil society’, Chomsky said in a recent interview when asked how it was possible to fight for the social reforms won by labour struggles of the 1930s, now being destroyed by Clinton and the Gingrich Republicans (J. Walljasper, Left Behind? The Providence Phoenix (27 September 1996), p. 20).

40. N. Chomsky, Year 501, op. cit., p. 285.

41. M. Rai, Chomsky’s Politics, op. cit., p. 110.

42. Ibid., p. 123.

43. Orwell’s World and Ours, 16 June 1994 lecture to Z Media Institute (audiotape).

44. Boston Globe, 18 September 1994.

45. New York Times, 21 September 1994.

46. Ibid.

47. Quoted in A. Nairn, The Eagle is Landing, The Nation 259:10 (3 October 1994), p. 344. See also C. Jean-Baptiste, Tying Aristide’s Hands, The Progressive 58:9 (September 1994), p. 26.

48. New York Times, 21 September 1994.

49. Wall Street Journal, 21 September 1994.

50. N. Chomsky, Class Warfare, op. cit., pp. 160–161.

51. See L. German, The Balkan War: Can There Be Peace? and D. Blackie, The Left and the Balkan War, International Socialism 69, for a fuller account of this argument. See also C. Kimber Defying the Dictators, Socialist Review 204 (January 1997), pp. 14–15; and D. Blackie, The Road to Hell, International Socialism 53.

52. New York Times, 28 October 1995.

53. New York Times, 25 May 1996.

54. New York Times, 9 July 1996.

55. New York Times, 17 August 1996.

56. See, for example, N. Chomsky, On Intervention, Boston Review 19:6 (December 1993–January 1994), p. 7: ‘We can, in short, ask whether the pursuit of self-interest [by a state] might happen to benefit others in particular cases.’

57. C.M. Young, Anarchy in the USA, Rolling Stone 631 (28 May 1992), p. 47.

58. R. McChesney, The Media, Politics and Ourselves: Interview with Noam Chomsky, Part 2, Against the Current 56 (May–June 1995), p. 25.

59. See K. Marx and F. Engels, Writings on the Paris Commune, H. Draper (ed.) (London 1971).

60. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto (London 1995), p. 92.See Hal Draper’s brilliant The Principle of Self-Emancipation in Marx and Engels, in E. Haberkern (ed.), Socialism from Below (London 1992), pp. 243–271. Also H. Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, 4 vols. (New York, 1977–1990), especially vols. 1 and 4, and The Two Souls of Socialism (London 1996).

61. For example, in response to David Barsamian’s question, ‘Some Marxists connect racism as a product of the economic system, of capitalism. Would you accept that?’ Chomsky replies, ‘No. It has to do with conquest’ (N. Chomsky, Keeping the Rabble in Line: Interviews with David Barsamian (Monroe 1994), pp. 93–94. This is a ‘theory’ of race, one which has to present its merits and offer itself up for comparison with a Marxist theory. See, for example, A. Callinicos, Race and Class (London 1992).

62. N. Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants (Berkeley 1993), p. 91.

63. N. Chomsky, Powers and Prospects, op. cit., p. 73.

64. See, for example, N. Chomsky, The Soviet Union vs. Socialism, Our Generation 17:2 (Spring–Summer 1986), pp. 47–52; note, in particular, his reference to ‘the intense hostility to socialism on the part of the Leninist intelligentsia (with roots in Marx, no doubt)’ (p. 52; emphasis added). For a critique of the Bakuninist myth that Marx destroyed the First International because of his hostility to working people, see H. Draper, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution, vol. 4 (New York 1990), pp. 270–304.

65. N. Chomsky: An Interview, Radical Philosophy 53 (Autumn 1989), p. 38.

66. C.M. Young, Anarchy in the USA, op. cit., p. 47.

67. N. Chomsky, Towards a New Cold War (New York 1982), pp. 63–64.

68. N. Chomsky, World Orders Old and New, op. cit., p. 38.

69. R. Luxemburg, Rosa Luxemburg Speaks (London 1994), p. 372.

70. Ibid., p. 375.

71. See ibid., pp. 394–395.

72. For a useful review of some of the literature on the revolution, including the work of the revisionists, see D. Howl, Bookwatch: The Russian Revolution, International Socialism 62.

73. A. Rabinowitch, The Bolsheviks Come to Power: The Revolution of 1917 in Petrograd (London 1976), p. xvii. See also D.H. Kaiser (ed.), The Workers’ Revolution in 1917: The View from Below (Cambridge 1987).

74. N.N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917: A Personal Record (Princeton 1984), pp. 648–649. ee also H. Mendel, Memoirs of a Jewish Revolutionary (London 1989), p. 164.

75. See, for example, V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution (London 1992), pp. 78–79, 91–92, and 96; and P. LeBlanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party (London 1990), p. 299.

76. Noam Chomsky: An Interview, Radical Philosophy, op. cit., p. 39.

77. O. Anweiler, The Soviets: The Russian Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers Councils, 1905–1921, trans. R. Hein (New York 1974), pp. 141–143. See also E. Acton, The Libertarians Vindicated? The Libertarian View of the Revolution in the Light of Recent Western Research, in E.R. Frankel et al. (eds.), Revolution in Russia: Reassessments of 1917 (Cambridge 1992), p. 401. See also W.G. Rosenberg, Russian Labour and Bolshevik Power: Social Dimensions of Protest in Petrograd after October, in R.G. Suny (ed.), The Workers’ Revolution in Russia, 1917, pp. 98–131.

78. M. Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle (Monthly Review Press 1968), p. 17.

79. See J. Rees, In Defence of October, International Socialism 52, and the discussion that follows in International Socialism 55.

80. A. Pannekoek, World Revolution and Communist Tactics (1920), in D.A. Smart (ed.), Pannekoek and Gorter’s Marxism (London 1978), pp. 100–101. I owe this reference to Paul LeBlanc. See P. LeBlanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, pp. 291–292, for a gloss on the Gorter and Pannekoek quotes. See K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, pp. 95–96, op. cit., on the relationship between ‘proletarians and Communists.’ See also J. Molyneux, Marxism and the Party (London 1978), and T. Cliff et al., Party and Class, 2nd ed. (London 1996).

81. H. Gorter The Organisation of the Proletariat’s Class Struggle (1921), in Pannekoek and Gorter’s Marxism, op. cit., p. 161. Gorter stresses: ‘[T]he question poses itself as to whether [trade union] organisation is sufficient, whether a political Communist Party is also necessary ... [T]he whole revolution depends just as much upon the answer we give to it as upon what organisation can make the great majority of the proletariat into conscious militants’ (p. 158). His clear answer is that such a party is indeed necessary.

82. G. Jenkins, Honour and Anger Are Not Enough, International Socialism 53, p. 120.

83. R.F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, op. cit., p. 191.

84. G. Jenkins, Honour and Anger Are Not Enough, op. cit., p. 120.

85. R.F. Barsky, Noam Chomsky: A Life of Dissent, op. cit., p. 217.

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