Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Noam Chomsky, anarchist, on the impossibility of anarchism

After my last typically tedious post about Noam Chomsky, a blogger friend who took issue with my taking issue with the professor -- meaning he's of course now dead to me -- sent along another interview with the Chomster on what anarchism means to him. To clear up any misconceptions: I realize Chomsky is well aware of the corporate-state nexus. My issue is not his analysis of the status quo, but his solution to it, which he reiterates yet again in this excerpt:
Q: As far as we favor a stateless society in the long run, it would be a mistake to work for the elimination -- I've said that it would be a mistake to work for the elimination of the state in the short run, and we should be trying to strengthen the state, 'cause it's needed on the check of power of large corporations. Yet the tendency of a lot of anarchist research -- my own, too -- is to show that the power of large corporations derives from state privilege, and governments tend to get captured by concentrated private interests. That would seem to imply that the likely beneficiaries of a more powerful state is going to be the same corporate elite we're trying to oppose. So if business both derives from the state and is so good at capturing the state, why isn't abolishing the state a better strategy for defeating business power than enhancing the state's power would be?
Chomsky: Well, there's a very simple answer to that: it's not a strategy, and since it's not a strategy at all, there can't be a better strategy. The strategy of "eliminating the state" is back on the level of "let's have peace and justice". How do you proceed to eliminate the state? Okay? Can you think of a way of doing it? I mean, if there were a way of doing it in the existing world, everything would collapse and be destroyed. You just can't do it. I mean, there is nothing to replace it. If there was a rich, powerful network of, you know, cooperatives, community organizations, worker-controlled industry, you know, extending over the whole country, and the whole world, in fact, yeah, then you can talk about eliminating states. But to talk about eliminating the state in the world as it exists is simply to keep yourself in some remote academic seminar or small group, you know, saying, "Gee, this would be nice." It's not a strategy, so there can't be a better strategy. We are faced with realities. What is described here, and in fact it's true (I've written plenty about it, too), is that we have a number of systems of power, closely interlinked. One of them's corporate power, business power. That's by far the most dangerous of all. That means, effectively, unaccountable private tyrannies. A second, pretty closely linked to them, is state power. And the comment is correct (as the commentator says, I've written about it, too, a lot) that state power tends to be overwhelmingly influenced by concentrated private power.
Hey, Noam: You're an anarchist, bro! So why are you so condescendingly dismissive of strategies to eliminate the state? Peace and justice are also long-term, elusive goals, and yet we strive for them anyway -- and, importantly, we do so not by advocating more conflicts and instances of injustice, politicians and professional pundits excepted. Fighting wars to end war hasn't turned out so well and, mock though you may the smash-the-state crowd, Noam, increasing the power of the institution with a legal monopoly on the use of violence, the state, as part of a strategy to eventually abolish it -- which, if Chomsky's anarchism is anything more than intellectual pose, we can only assume is his goal as well -- is fraught with the same error in logic.

That is not to say corporate power is not a great evil. It undoubtedly is. But it is an evil enabled by the institution of the state; when I rail against the latter, I am railing against the former. Indeed, it would be more accurate to say that the target of my blogging wrath is the corporate-state nexus Chomsky identifies, for without the coercion and legal cover government currently provides in the form of everything from the police and military to intellectual property and the tax code, corporations as we know them could not exist.

Argue all you want about which is the greater evil, but it's about as useful as debating which came first, the chicken or the egg. Atomic weapons, for example, may be built by nominally private companies, but it's the U.S. government that provides the tax money that makes them possible -- and the only institution that has actually used them. Private prisons may be evil, but it is the state that fills them with prisoners. Rather than adversarial, the corporate-state relationship is symbiotic.

Chomsky's own work shows this, which is why I find it all the more irksome he chooses to argue against what seems to me an anarchist strawman. There may be a few anarchists who would like to smash the state tomorrow, but most that I've come across believe an anarchist society can only come about after the long-term process of creating a society of anarchists and the building up of institutions, like cooperatives and mutual aid associations, built on consensus, not coercion. We talk about eliminating the state because that is a long-term goal to strive for, like peace and justice, not because it's something we think can or should happen overnight.

Yet all Chomsky seems to have is disdain for the mere talk of a stateless society as he argues against an anarchist caricature, falsely suggesting those anarchists who do not share his opinion on the wisdom of increasing state power would like to keep intact all the corporate privileges it provides; as if their enemy is corporate taxes, not corporate personhood.

And while Chomksy casts himself as wisely pragmatic, the more I read about his solutions the more I find them naive and indistinguishable from those offered by a standard-issue liberal. Indeed, later in the interview excerpted above he even bemoans the loss of the loathsome Martha Coakley in the Massachussets Senate race a few years back, complaining that the electorate yet again voted against its own self-interest -- as if the Democrats, and former prosecutor no less, favor anything more than a marginally more subtle assault on those interests.

If one wants to be pragmatic, there are many ways a philosophical anarchist can act that don't depend on the dubious notion of short-term increases in state power. Economist Dean Baker details this in his new book, from patent reform to removing tax loopholes, and I'd argue they're at least as politically viable as instituting a the type of national health care system Chomsky favors. Indeed, when Democrats took back the White House and both chambers of Congress and had the opportunity to implement that very health care reform, which Chomsky accurately notes enjoys broad public support, they instead turned around and only increased the power of pharmaceutical giants and corporate insurance providers, even mandating the purchase of the latter's products.

And that illustrates a key point: increasing the power of the state, as the individual insurance mandate indisputably does, has historically been accompanied not by a decrease in corporate power, but an expansion of it. Just as wars for peace have only led to more wars, expansions of state power often enable only greater economic exploitation. While the state may be subject to influence as Chomsky contends, it's those with the most money who tend to do most of the influencing -- and who in turn use the state to ensure their power is not subject to the nuisance of labor unions and general strikes.

So who's really naive: the person who wants to limit corporate power by decreasing the power of the state, historically its chief enabler, or the one who believes that this time around the power of the state can be harnessed for good -- and that the road to a less coercive society depends on increasing the power of an institution whose unique feature is its legal monopoly on coercion?

53 comments:

  1. "expansions of state power often enable only greater economic exploitation."

    Was this the case with the The New Deal?

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  2. Yes.

    The New Deal was designed as an attempt to save capitalism from calls at the time for more radical reform. Remember that back in the 30s there was an actual labor movement -- and many angry unemployed people. While some high-profile capitalists opposed the New Deal, many more supported it -- just as they supported regulation during the "Progressive" era -- as a way to keep the rabble in line and stave off systemic change, thus enabling them to continue their economic exploitation.

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    1. It's not just that The New Deal supposedly "saved" capitalism. It's that it centralized corporate and government power even more and this was not a coincidence. Corporations tend to pay higher wages, so banning low wages and prices was to their benefit. It eliminated a LOT of the competition.

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  3. Anonymous5:37 PM

    Noam Chomsky lost the right to call himself an anarchist when he came out in favour of the UN and gun control.

    Fuck him.

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  4. the pair5:56 PM

    i agree with a great deal of this article, but i also agree with chomsky on this (same interview):

    "But today's anarchism in the United States, as far as I can see, is extremely scattered, highly sectarian, so each particular group is spending a great deal of his time attacking some other tendency -- sometimes doing useful, important things, but it's extremely hard to -- . I think what is -- this is not just true of people who think of themselves as anarchists, but of the entire activist left. Count noses. There's plenty of people, I mean, more than there were at any time in the past that I can think of, except for maybe, you know, tiny, ["pyoosh"], very brief moment late '60s, or CIO organizing in the ' 30s, and things like that. But there are people interested in all sorts of things. You know, you walk down the main corridor at this university, you see, you know, desks of students, very active, very engaged, lots of great issues, but highly fragmented. There's very little coordination. There's a tremendous amount of sectarianism and intolerance, mutual intolerance, insistence on, you know, my particular choice as to what priorities ought to be, and so on.

    So I think the main criticism of the anarchist movement is that it just ought to get its act together and accept divisions and controversies. You know, we don't have the answers to -- we have, maybe, guidelines as to what kind of a society we'd like, not specific answers; nobody knows that much. And there's certainly plenty of range -- of room for quite healthy and constructive disagreement on choice of tactics and priorities and options, but I just see too little of that being handled in a comradely, civilized fashion, with a sense of solidarity and common purpose."

    in other words, "sure you're an anarchist but you're not anarchist ENOUGH, dammit!" it's similar to the right where some people actually think mitt romney is a "liberal". yes, chomsky's pragmatism can be frustrating - for example, i'd like to see a one state solution to the palestinian issue whereas he thinks it's a pipe dream - but he's been at this for longer than either of us has been alive so i respect his outlook and rejection of utopian visions.

    you can reject the idea of transferring power to the "state" (which is never defined clearly enough in a lot of these discussions), but it makes sense when you see it as giving back power the "state" used to have...tighter financial regulation, more taxation, etc.

    it's a long term goal and you both seem to agree on that so i'm not sure what the big issue is. unless you think we can go directly from corporate governance with the acquiescence of the "state" to some kind of anarchistic (anarchic?) ideal. even in that case, which one?

    also: gun control costs you your Good and Loyal Anarchist Card? thanks to the idiot above for making my point better than i ever could.

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  5. I don't understand "the pair's" post at all.

    Probably for the same reasons why I can't see how Chomsky calls himself an anarchist while seeking control of the state. "Tighter financial regulation," Dos? I think you're missing something crucial there. Regulation = the State. Anarchism = no state. Eat the cake, or have it, but both can't be.

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  6. Blogging anarchists would be more compelling if they cited examples from other states besides the USA.

    For instance, not all campaigns for National Health Insurance ended the way ours did.

    Not all states are embarking on endless war.

    Not all states keep so many people in prison.

    Chomsky is probably taking those places into account when presenting options for those who think dismantling the state is not practical or immediately desirable.

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  7. jcapan9:40 PM

    “So who's really naive: the person who wants to limit corporate power by decreasing the power of the state, historically its chief enabler, or the one who believes that this time around the power of the state can be harnessed for good -- and that the road to a less coercive society depends on increasing the power of an institution whose unique feature is its legal monopoly on coercion?”

    In terms of the realistic odds of achieving their objectives, I’d have to go with ‘C. Both.’

    And whatever your goals, Pair’s Chomsky quote is spot on:

    “I just see too little of that being handled in a comradely, civilized fashion, with a sense of solidarity and common purpose”

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    1. We do not have a common purpose with someone who wants to increase the power of the State.

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  8. Anarchism...you can't get there from here.

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  9. Oh Tarzie,

    I don't live in America, as you know, nor, with the exception of the recent health care debate, did I hinge my argument on the example provided by the United States. But since you allude to it, let's look at some Western European countries that have national health care systems: I will readily concede their social welfare systems -- while under constant attack thanks to austerity measures -- are superior to the one found in the United States. But I will also note that the gap between rich and poor, while less pronounced, is still huge. Racial minorities are treated like shit, even worse than in the United States. The global economic downturn has disproportionately affected the middle and lower classes, not the bankers who, in each country -- be it governed by socialists or conservatives -- have been bailed out at public expense. Meanwhile, most European countries contribute troops and bombs to the imperial projects in Afghanistan and Libya, in direct contradiction of public opinion, a fact which those who argue for a strong state -- people like Noam Chomsky -- conspicuously avoid addressing as they argue said states are subject to democratic input.

    And forget America: I can't think of a more damning indictment of electoral politics than the example provided by Greece, where a Socialist Party -- headed by none other than George Papandreou, head of Socialist International, the umbrella organization for social democratic parties -- has embraced austerity at the expense of the working class to a degree unmatched by any of his openly capitalist contemporaries.

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  10. jcapan,

    It is Noam Chomsky who argues anarchists who would like to diminish the power of the state as opposed to, perversely, increasing it are tools of corporate America. It is Chomsky, not I, who argues the ideology of market anarchists would lead to a world of "tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history.”

    When it comes to hyperbolically denouncing fellow anarchists, Chomsky is one of the leading offenders. So his decrying the lack of "comradely, civilized" debate within the movement is a bit rich.

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  11. 25th Century Quaker: Anarchism...you can't get there from here.

    I attended a Quaker school as a child, where I was taught that violence is wrong, no matter why it is perpetrated or who commits it. That view is incompatible with support for a state, which regularly employs and indeed claims a legal monopoly over the use of violence.

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  12. jcapan10:12 PM

    "Racial minorities are treated like shit, even worse than in the United States."

    Well, not to worry, the absence of the state will make them all winners. I can see it now--migrants traversing open borders being welcomed with open arms by well-armed nativists without fear of institutional meddling.

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    1. "Well, not to worry, the absence of the state will make them all winners. I can see it now--migrants traversing open borders being welcomed with open arms by well-armed nativists without fear of institutional meddling."
      Once the possibility of their taxes being used to subsidize the immigrants, so can I. When borders don't stop goods and labor competes across them there is no real problem with competing labor getting closer to you.

      Nativists claim the right to restrict movement to a particular place. But without the State, where is their authority to do so? If someone invites someone else onto their property, the only way to stop them coming is to attack the property owner. Said property owner has protectors. Anyone who wants to restrict immigration has to go to war with those who benefit from it, and pay both in blood and treasure. The State on the other hand subsidizes the war. If you want less of something, stop making others pay for it.

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  13. jcapan,

    You do realize nativists exist in Europe right now, no? Geert Wilders is part of the governing coalition in Holland. I would much prefer a world where they don't have the apparatus of the state to enforce their bigoted world view.

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  14. jcapan11:10 PM

    Charles,

    Yes, they exist in every nation and they always will. In fact, if they were magically expunged from the globe tomorrow, within a generation, if not sooner, they’d sprout back up organically. And I’ll hardly deny the role of the state in the oppression of subaltern groups—it’s been a principal academic/artistic subject for much of my life. All I’m saying is that the alternative could be as bad and arguably a good deal worse.

    “I attended a Quaker school as a child, where I was taught that violence is wrong, no matter why it is perpetrated or who commits it.”

    A lovely notion and would that more young Americans had experienced such schooling. But you aren’t just a minority, you’re well-nigh a freak. In the vacuum the state leaves in its wake, the high-minded Quaker spirit is unlikely to carry the day. I think it might be a lot more like this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1860_Wiyot_Massacre

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  15. jcapan,

    If you think I argued for the status quo minus the state, than you missed the part where I quite explicit called not for abolishing the state overnight, but for a long-term project of creating a society that values consensus over coercion. My disagreement with Chomsky is over the notion that progress toward such a society can be furthered by increasing state violence over the "short-term."

    Meanwhile, you argue that the "vacuum" the state might leave in its wake will lead to violence; in a society that accepts state violence as legitimate, that very well may be. But I'd point out that the state -- and only the state, which means the the only institution in society whose violence is committed under the cover of law and called "justice" -- can commit acts of violence on the scale of Vietnam and Iraq, or the imprisonment of 2.3 million souls.

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  16. Chomsky has influenced my thinking a great deal -- as a historian of state and corporate power.

    But even -before- I was an anarchist, in the early 90s, I found this "strengthen the state so that justice may grow and we might later abolish it" position risible in the extreme.

    His reply to you seems to imply that if the state were to vanish overnight, a million years of darkness would fall. To me, that's an extremely pessimistic view of humanity. We -know- that mutual aid arises and flourishes in places absent state control, even if a level of violence attends the removal of that control.

    I haven't seen Chomsky advance this specific line of thought, but I am reminded, painfully, of the thinking which goes: a stateless society is what we want, but humans are not ready for it. Since I'm arguing against a strawman here, I'll call bullshit freely.

    I simply do not understand why one of the "leading lights" of Western anarchism should adopt such a dark and pessimistic view of human beings and human society. Surely we can do better than states in providing for basic human and social needs. Surely that tendency can be found, and can blossom, in every person of minimal conscience. Surely we need not beg our captors to fortify our fetters today, that we might be better people tomorrow.

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  17. Buttered Toast4:39 AM

    PART 1:

    Dear Charlie Davis,

    I like your work. I really do. I keep your blog on my Firefox bookmarks toolbar. I visit your blog regularly. I also enjoy reading your articles on CommonDreams.org and Antiwar.com. Chances are, I'm probably the only viewer of yours coming from Indonesia. (You can check your blog traffic to confirm whether that is true or not. I'm pretty sure it is.)

    But really, this more-anarchist-than-thou crusade you've been waging against Noam Chomsky for these past couple of blog posts is getting really aggravating. You're basically repeating a lot of the arguments that Kevin Carson made in an article on Noam Chomsky from early on in the 2000s. (Source: http://www.antiwar.com/orig/carson1.html). Like Carson, you even brought up the argument in your other post that Chomsky was bordering on Marxism-Leninism in his view of increasing state power to protect against corporate power. (Gee, who knew that Chomsky's views puts him in the same camp as those vanguardist assholes who want to seize control of the state and create top-down Taylorist-managerialist-technocratic rule?)

    That's when I thought enough is enough. This attack on any anarchist who even suggests minimal participation through state structures as Leninist is just black and white thinking -- one that, might I add, is of a irresponsibly fundamentalist nature.

    Let me ask you, Charlie: when Mikhail Bakunin -- yes, THAT Mikhail Bakunin -- decided to work in the electoral process, and, in addition, advise his friend to become a political (read: STATE) candidate for Deputy of Naples, did that make him a Marxist-Leninist? Here's Bakunin, in his words:

    "You will perhaps be surprised that I, a determined and passionate abstentionist from politics, should now advise my friends [members of the Alliance] to become deputies – this is because circumstances have changed. First, all my friends, and most assuredly yourself, are so inspired by our ideas, our principles, that there is no danger that you will forget, deform, or abandon them, or that you will fall back into the old political habits. Second, times have become so grave, the danger menacing the liberty of all countries so formidable, that all men of goodwill must step into the breach, and especially our friends, who must be in a position to exercise the greatest possible influence on events ..."

    Bakunin also advised temporary alliance between anarchists and progressive parties. Yep, what a vanguardist Leninist he is, right? Here he is, in his own words:

    "Letters that I receive from different parts of Spain indicate that the socialist workers are very effectively organized. And not only the workers but the peasants of Andalusia, among whom socialist ideas [have fortunately] been successfully spread – these peasants too are prepared to take a very active part in the coming revolution. While maintaining our identity, we must, at this time, help the political parties and endeavor later to give this revolution a clearly socialist character... . If the Revolution triumphs in Spain, it will naturally tremendously accelerate and spread the Revolution in all of Europe..."

    That was an excerpt from Bakunin on Anarchism, a collection of Bakunin's works edited by Sam Dolgoff. As Dolgoff explains, "Bakunin opposed universal suffrage insofar as it reinforced the bourgeois democratic state." HOW-FUCKING-EVER, "he never raised abstention from the electoral process to an inflexible article of faith. Under certain exceptional circumstances, he advocated temporary alliance with progressive political parties for specific, limited objectives."

    (Source: http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/bakunin/works/1870/on-elections.htm)

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  18. Buttered Toast4:41 AM

    PART 2:

    Let me also ask you: when Emma Goldman -- YES, THAT EMMA GOLDMAN -- endorsed electoral voting as a small means towards social revolution, did that make her a one-party-rule Trotskyist? Here is a summary of her workings through state structure, courtesy of Wikipedia:

    "Originally opposed to anything less than complete revolution, Goldman was challenged during one talk by an elderly worker in the front row. In her autobiography, she wrote: 'He said that he understood my impatience with such small demands as a few hours less a day, or a few dollars more a week.... But what were men of his age to do? They were not likely to live to see the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Were they also to forgo the release of perhaps two hours a day from the hated work? That was all they could hope to see realized in their lifetime.' Goldman realized that smaller efforts for improvement such as higher wages and shorter hours could be part of a social revolution."

    Finally, let me ask you one last question: when Peter Kropotkin -- YOU HEARD THAT RIGHT, THAT KROPOTKIN! -- supported the First World War, did that make him an Irvin-Kristol-esque neo-conservative? A lot of anarchists today, mind you, still cannot forgive him for supporting that war, which sane historians recognize as a propaganda-driven war (as all wars are, really...thanks Edward Bernays and Woodrow Wilson!).

    My point is: Chomsky's support of working through the state does not make him a state socialist, anymore than it did with Emma Goldman or Mikhail Bakunin. And even if you think that his support of state methods is a mistake -- which I don't think it is, a point I'll get to in a second -- that doesn't make Chomsky any less of an anarchist, anymore than it did with Peter Kropotkin.

    If you actually listen to why Chomsky believes in working through state structures, his justification is very reasonable. He has repeatedly said -- I don't have the time to seep through the hundreds of YouTube interviews where he says this -- that the state at the very least has some minor democratic accountability. Corporations, on the other hand, are absolutely unaccountable tyrannies. Yes, the state -- especially the United States -- makes a sham of democracy all the time, with secret wars, secret surveillance, secret backdoor corporate deals, secret passing through of legislation with groups like ALEC, and so on. But that minor bit of democratic accountability that the state allows makes all the difference in our precious struggle to fight against the forces of death trying to destroy us now. Besides, Chomsky argues -- correctly, in my opinion -- that an absolutist refusal to work through state structures for reforms is also a way to avoiding responsibility for helping the very people we claim to want to save. Even the most miniscule of differences between, say, Democrat and Republicans can make a world of a difference for an impoverished individual at the bottom chain of society.

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  19. Buttered Toast4:50 AM

    PART. 3 (FINAL):

    Furthermore, throughout his many interviews, Chomsky has repeatedly endorsed plenty of non-state ideas of change, like those of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, who are the two founders of participatory economics, which is a very detailed outline on how to create anarchism in the workplace. I don't know if you've read any of Albert's books, but if you have, you'd notice that there's always a very supportive Chomsky blurb on the cover of each of the books. He's also publicly supported the UK's Project for a Participatory Society. Here's his endorsement: "I was very pleased to learn about the PPS-UK initiative. It addresses issues of prime significance with thought and care, ranging from long-term vision to actions that can be undertaken right now, all within a framework that offers hope for constructing the elements of a much better future society within the existing one. It seems to me to be a fine and promising project." (Source: http://www.ppsuk.org.uk/)

    PPS-UK is basically an expansion of Michael Albert's parecon ideas. Whereas parecon focuses on workplace and economics, PPS includes other spheres like polity, kinship and culture. It's one of the most detailed visions of anarchism available. And, once again, Chomsky has endorsed it -- not only on the website, but in interviews as well.

    He's also talked about specific proposals that explore how technology can democratize the workplace, when properly used. In this video, he specifically talks about the work of late MIT professor David Noble.
    (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAGtExCOudo)

    In addition, here's an interview session where Chomsky talks about the many historical and possible forms of worker's control. He talks about Mondragon (a capitalist but worker-owned corporation), Porto Alegre, anarchist Spain of 1936, parecon, and others.
    (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kVNq8knHGew)

    Debate is great and all, but I find it really hypocritical for armchair (or desktop/laptop) anarchists to criticize Noam Chomsky for being counter-productive. Chomsky is, after all, probably the hardest working intellectual around right now. I can't think of anyone else who does as many worldwide interviews as he does, all while juggling the act of answering the hundreds of emails that people send to him daily, and all while writing articles, and writing/researching for books. And let's not forget that Chomsky is 82, and that he's been doing all of this tirelessly for the past 50 years!

    Full disclosure: Chomsky was the one who turned me into an anarchist -- although I'm willing to bet that more modern-day individuals have been converted to (or at least introduced to) anarchism through Chomsky than through any other anarchist thinker.

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  20. Buttered Toast4:56 AM

    For some reason, Blogger refuses to post the final part of my post. Here's my third attempt...

    PART. 3 (FINAL):

    Furthermore, throughout his many interviews, Chomsky has repeatedly endorsed plenty of non-state ideas of change, like those of Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, who are the two founders of participatory economics, which is a very detailed outline on how to create anarchism in the workplace. I don't know if you've read any of Albert's books, but if you have, you'd notice that there's always a very supportive Chomsky blurb on the cover of each of the books. He's also publicly supported the UK's Project for a Participatory Society. Here's his endorsement: "I was very pleased to learn about the PPS-UK initiative. It addresses issues of prime significance with thought and care, ranging from long-term vision to actions that can be undertaken right now, all within a framework that offers hope for constructing the elements of a much better future society within the existing one. It seems to me to be a fine and promising project." (Source: http://www.ppsuk.org.uk/)

    PPS-UK is basically an expansion of Michael Albert's parecon ideas. Whereas parecon focuses on workplace and economics, PPS includes other spheres like polity, kinship and culture. It's one of the most detailed visions of anarchism available. And, once again, Chomsky has endorsed it -- not only on the website, but in interviews as well.

    He's also talked about specific proposals that explore how technology can democratize the workplace, when properly used. In this video, he specifically talks about the work of late MIT professor David Noble.
    (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAGtExCOudo)

    In addition, here's an interview session where Chomsky talks about the many historical and possible forms of worker's control. He talks about Mondragon (a capitalist but worker-owned corporation), Porto Alegre, anarchist Spain of 1936, parecon, and others.
    (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=kVNq8knHGew)

    Debate is great and all, but I find it really hypocritical for armchair (or desktop/laptop) anarchists to criticize Noam Chomsky for being counter-productive. Chomsky is, after all, probably the hardest working intellectual around right now. I can't think of anyone else who does as many worldwide interviews as he does, all while juggling the act of answering the hundreds of emails that people send to him daily, and all while writing articles, and writing/researching for books. And let's not forget that Chomsky is 82, and that he's been doing all of this tirelessly for the past 50 years!

    Full disclosure: Chomsky was the one who turned me into an anarchist -- although I'm willing to bet that more modern-day individuals have been converted to (or at least introduced to) anarchism through Chomsky than through any other anarchist thinker.

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  21. Saying it's a (made-up) contest between Charles Davis and Noam Chomsky as to who is "more anarchist" is a clever distraction and deft deflection.

    I'm pretty sure the analysis is questioning whether Chomsky is an anarchist at all... and is not setting up a "more ______ than thou" argument.

    I'm pretty danged sure of that, because I've actually read what Charles is saying and what Noam has written... and I don't see Noam holding any anarchist views, anywhere. He merely SAYS he's an anarchist.

    Charles is correct to point out the inconsistency between walk and talk.

    But then, that's been Chomsky's weakness all along -- the way his walk doesn't match his talk.

    His talk sure is impressive though. Look how it's gulled all his defenders in this post and the prior one. They can't imagine, not for a moment, that Their Dear Sweet Noamie could ever be a hypocrite... let along a knowing hypocrite tending toward outright academic fraudulence.

    No, that can't be. He's Noam Chomsky, eternally heroic!

    Cuddly old Noam, gets a free pass because he wrote obvious truths about corporate influence in America.

    As Charles has said, Noam misses the essential point of symbiosis, and assumes it's merely about control that may be wrested away if only enough Americans go to MIT and study Linguistics at the world's finest weapons-of-death research lab.

    And crying for collegiality? You mean like William Kristol's nifty soft-pedal approach toward imperial slaughter cheerleading?

    Like that?

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  22. BT,

    There's a difference between endorsing certain, limited actions through existing state structures and endorsing the expansion of state power as a principle, as Chomsky does without so much as laying out a strategy for ultimately reducing that power -- and indeed mocking the very idea as naive and hopelessly idealistic.

    Chomsky asserts that abolishing the state is "not a strategy" and that talk of it in the world "as it exists" -- a strawman that ignores the fact its abolition would fundamentally alter the status quo -- is something best left for remote academic lectures. I think Goldman and Bakunin would disagree.

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  23. BT:
    Citing anarchist authority figures? Oh man.

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  24. buttered toast is a Democrat-loving statist who pretends at Marxism because it pulls chicks at freshman parties

    lotta notches in BT's bedpost thanks to Glossy Karl!

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  25. Brian M10:08 AM

    Karl:

    I imagine being an all-purpose dour fundamentalist curmudgeon who hates everyone for not being pure enough attracts a certain kind of "chick" as well, right?

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  26. Attack Arguments, Not People

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  27. I hear you, Charles. I was just having a funny, mainly because I saw nothing in Buttered Toast's arguments worth treating seriously enough to pick apart. The arguments resemble Statism, Liberal Democrat style. They are the same arguments I've been hearing from Democrat partisans since the mid-1970s. They read like something I might find at the New York Times, maybe written by Chris Hedges in his heyday there.

    The arguments offered by BT are what I find tough to fathom (lack of depth), unless the point is to be impressive to the easily-impressed. In which case, they're likely to impress a college freshman... as I said.

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  28. And to Brian M:

    Yes, Brian, I know. You have a real turgid sense of defending those victims of my cruel sarcasm. Those poor Toobz readers who commit suicide after reading sarcasm! Think of them! They are fragile! Humor has no place in their world! It's all anguish, all the time!

    What, exactly, your point was in relation to statism... I'll never know. Have you an observation about statism and Chomsky's apology for it?

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  29. jcapan2:05 PM

    Mike: "I simply do not understand why one of the 'leading lights' of Western anarchism should adopt such a dark and pessimistic view of human beings and human society."

    Maybe b/c he reads blog commentary?

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  30. Chomsky is best when he discusses foreign policy and I think that may be the rub. I think the most difficult question for anarchists is how an anarchist society would avoid destruction by statist regimes, either state capitalist or state socialist.

    Most anarchists respond by arguing that there would be some kind of anarchist militia force, but how can a militia defeat a conventional, modern army that is really bent on conquest and occupation?

    I don’t think we can blame people like Chomsky when they look at the world as it is today and sometimes come to reformist conclusions. Yes, it may be Panglossian, but I think it is understandable.

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  31. Anonymous5:16 PM

    Great comments, Buttered Toast. "Irresponsibly fundamentalist" is dead on.

    Buddha Dada, BT cited the real-world behavior of well-known anarchists and asked if it disqualified them from being described with the term; it was Charles who explicitly appealed to anarchists as authority figures ("I think Goldman and Bakunin would disagree").

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  32. Anonymous,

    BT conflated a few anarchists talking about engaging in electoral politics as them arguing, like Chomsky, for a general expansion of state power. They did no such thing, thus why I wrote that I think they "would disagree" with said conflation.

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  33. Buttered Toast: This attack on any anarchist who even suggests minimal participation through state structures as Leninist is just black and white thinking -- one that, might I add, is of a irresponsibly fundamentalist nature.

    Is this posted to the right thread? Because I argued -- without revoking anyone's Club Anarchy membership card -- against a general expansion of state power as an anarchist strategy, not that any and all participation in state structures is a mortal sin.

    But I understand it's easier to knock down arguments of one's own construction than the ones people have actually made.

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  34. Anon @ 8:16PM was me (I submitted the form before setting the identity info).

    Charles, you said nothing about Bakunin/Goldman/Kropotkin disagreeing with the conflation of electoral politics and expansion of state power; you said they'd disagree with Chomsky's assertion that calls to abolish the state are "not a strategy". Whether or not that mind-reading of the dead is accurate, it's more of an appeal to authority than anything BT wrote. And BT didn't conflate any such thing; s/he asked if the cited statements and activities (not all of which were even about electoral politics, BTW) meant those people weren't true anarchists anymore, which was a fair question given your posting.

    I share BT's impression that you're playing the more-anarchist-than-thou game with Chomsky; in fact I don't see how you can reasonably dispute it after you've said Chomsky's anarchism is just "something [he] claims allegiance to in order to keep up appearances", how his solutions are like those of a "Marxist-Leninist" or "standard-issue liberal", etc. Good lord, man, how can you be so offended by a comparison to defenders of religious orthodoxy when you're explicitly comparing the level of commitment of someone's anarchist views to Christmas-only Catholicism?

    I think BT's detailed and thoughtful points deserved genuine answers, not a snarky (and inaccurate) cheap shot about straw men.

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  35. Also, regarding the way you're representing Chomsky's views:

    My disagreement with Chomsky is over the notion that progress toward such a society can be furthered by increasing state violence over the "short-term."

    Chomsky's never called for "increasing state violence" and never would, and equating what he's actually talking about with a desire for it is a complete misrepresentation. Just as he's never endorsed "the expansion of state power as a principle", but as a short-term tactic based on existing realities--as he explained at length in this interview. Regardless of the term, saying he calls for a "general expansion of state power" is extremely misleading (again, at best); he's clearly talking about expanding specific state functions (i.e. health care), not calling for a general expansion of state power in all its forms.

    And about "So why [is Chomsky] so condescendingly dismissive of strategies to eliminate the state?": he didn't dismiss them, he specifically outlined several: "Those, in my view, are the things we should be looking at, not abstract questions like should we try to destroy the state, for which we have no strategy. My feeling is that's the kind of direction in which thinking ought to move. It doesn't mean giving up your long-term goals. In fact, that's the way to realize them." And: "[T]hese are real organizing strategies which combine short-term efforts, which confront real problems that people face in their everyday lives, with long-term objectives like creating part of the basis for a society based on free association and solidarity and popular control and so on, and it's sitting right there in front of our eyes."

    I get that you're pissed that Chomsky isn't sufficiently respectful of your view, but I think it's coloring your ability not only to understand his point of view but to represent his positions fairly.

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  36. Chomsky has said he would “like to strengthen the federal government.” Repeatedly. The state, by definition, is the only institution in society with a legal monopoly on the use of violence. And in the world that we live in today, not some idealized utopia, one cannot limit the use of that violence to providing health care and lollipops for all; the same state that declared a (failed) war on poverty declared a very real war on Vietnam. Centralized power is a danger that anarchists ought to seek to diminish, not harness, which the vast majority of the left has been trying to do for a long time now and which has proven to be a fool's errand.

    As for BT's post, he asked if I'd revoke Bakunin's status as an anarchist in good standing for supporting WWI. My response would be, well, supporting a world war does undermine one's anarchist credentials and I find it pretty damn humorous – and evident of a logically fallacious appeal to authority – to suggest it wouldn't. That doesn't mean everything they have to say is therefore invalid, but it means they have set themselves up to criticism based on their own stated views. Like Chomsky. These are fallible human beings, not gods.

    BT then cited Bakunin, noting that under “certain exceptional circumstances” he would advocate temporary involvement in electoral politics. He similarly pointed to Emma Goldman as not dismissing the fact that small reforms can sometimes have a real impact on peoples lives, asking – ridiculously – if that meant I would view her as a “one-party-rule Trotskyist.”

    In addition to the last line being a cheap, snarky shot, the citations of Bakunin and Goldman are completely irrelevant to the points I raised in this post. Nowhere did I suggest participation in politics itself taints one's anarchist purity – the purity card being straight out of the Obama partisan playbook – so attempting to shift the debate that topic as if I had is a misrepresentation of my views and, yes, a straw man. Go ahead and bravely slay it.

    To Goldman, like most other anarchists, talk of abolishing the state wasn't smugly dismissed as a topic for a remote academic seminar irrelevant to the world at hand: it was central to her world view. And I don't need to read the mind of any long-dead people; she explicitly argued against the sort of reformism pushed by Chomsky, taking it for granted that “All Anarchists agree … in their opposition to the political machinery as a means of bringing about the great social change.” (see: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2162/2162-h/2162-h.htm#anarchism)

    When it comes to criticizing other anarchists, Chomsky can certainly dish it, writing that market anarchists' ideology would lead to a world of “tyranny and oppression that have few counterparts in human history.” When he pushes the ahistorical notion that “strengthen[ing] the federal government” is an effective means of furthering the goals of anarchism, which is its abolition, and when he bemoans the electoral losses of corporate Democrats like Martha Coakley, he deserves to be called on it.

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  37. jcapan10:31 PM

    “And in the world that we live in today, not some idealized utopia...”

    Come on, man! You’re a freakin' anarchist. Some earnest liberals believe they can pressure the corporatocracy into doing good. What else are we trafficking in but idealized utopias. It’s a parlor game full of incantation.

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  38. jcapan,

    It was an allusion to what Chomsky said in the excerpted interview.

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  39. ...asking – ridiculously – if that meant I would view [Emma Goldman] as a “one-party-rule Trotskyist.”

    The ridiculousness was intended to mirror the ridiculousness of casting Chomsky as a "Marxist-Leninist" or "standard-issue liberal". Look: BT spent the entire first paragraph praising you, and s/he raised serious and substantive criticisms. If you want to dismiss all of that over one perceived slight it's certainly your call, but you're lucky to have someone like that reading and commenting at your site.

    The state, by definition, is the only institution in society with a legal monopoly on the use of violence.

    Sorry if this sounds harsh, but turning this line of reasoning into an insinuation that Chomsky is calling for "increasing state violence" is absurd. You have every right to criticize the guy, but in this case you're doing it by offering a grotesque misrepresentation of his views. I think you should be able to admit that Chomsky has not, ever, and would not, ever, call for "increasing state violence"--and if you can't or won't, you're in no position to criticize people for deploying straw men.

    While that's the worst of the misrepresentations/misunderstandings, the posting and thread are rife with them, starting right from the title ("Noam Chomsky, anarchist, on the impossibility of anarchism")--which is directly contradicted by what Chomsky actually said. To quote again:

    "Those, in my view, are the things we should be looking at, not abstract questions like should we try to destroy the state, for which we have no strategy. My feeling is that's the kind of direction in which thinking ought to move. It doesn't mean giving up your long-term goals. In fact, that's the way to realize them."

    Chomsky isn't claiming "the impossibility of anarchism", he's specifically suggesting multiple real-world ways to make it a reality. You of course have every right to dispute his reasoning--and I think you make some good points, even though I disagree--but when you do it by misrepresenting (even to the point of inverting) his actual views it just undercuts what you're saying.

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  40. Prince Kropotkin, not Bakunin(long since passed), supported WWI and urged everyone to back the Allies against "dreadful Prussian Militarism"--how could he foresee Versailles?

    Anarchists don't know where to begin(old joke). No disrespect to anyone, especially Kropotkin. Ineptire est juris gentium.

    Most of the contemporary arguments contra Anarchism evoke a Malthusian horror of stateless populations. As if humans really are SAVAGES without the CIVILIZING coercion of the STATE. Methinks Mr. Davis errs a tad on the Anarchistic Chastity but correctly highlights this ticklish fear in Chomsky.

    Then again, I could be wrong.

    Humbly,

    Cataline

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  41. Anonymous9:17 AM

    Mr. Davis, I read, enjoy, and learn from your blog regularly.
    In my opinion, your criticism of Noam Chomsky has a 'no true Scotsman' ring about it. However, may I suggest you contact Professor Chomsky and request an interview on the subject of anarchism. It's my understanding that he is generous in the granting of interviews, which could then be shared with the rest of your readers.

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  42. Buttered Toast uttered i.a.:
    "But that minor bit of democratic accountability that the state allows makes all the difference in our precious struggle to fight against the forces of death trying to destroy us now."

    Exactly. But in precisely the opposite fashion you mean it. This one sentence of yours lays the rest of your argument to waste.

    Nevertheless, carting out the holy ghosts of anarchy's past is not only a distraction from the point at hand, but veers into the cult of personality, the latter of which reveals more about your motivation in commenting.

    The irony is: you have turned the purity fallacy accusation on yourself by unwittingly attempting to bait your host into the same trap ("Slander Goldman, I dare ya!")

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  43. The author of this piece is a pure-blooded Sophist. Pretty funny stuff.

    At least attack Chomsky for his shortcomings intellectually; don't avoid his argument.

    When you say, "Hey, Noam: You're an anarchist, bro! So why are you so condescendingly dismissive of strategies to eliminate the state? Peace and justice are also long-term, elusive goals, and yet we strive for them anyway -- and, importantly, we do so not by advocating more conflicts and instances of injustice, politicians and professional pundits excepted", you have to then show how he is calling for more conflicts and instances of injustices.

    Chomsky's opening remarks are directly on point: "If there was a rich, powerful network of, you know, cooperatives, community organizations, worker-controlled industry, you know, extending over the whole country, and the whole world, in fact, yeah, then you can talk about eliminating states."

    Clearly Chomsky is saying what is necessary, what he supports, what he advocates, to get to the point of the larger goal: a stateless society. How is it you can possibly conclude otherwise?

    Then, without dismissing this longterm objective, he says, "to talk about eliminating the state in the world as it exists is simply to keep yourself in some remote academic seminar or small group", which is precisely where you are.

    Nowhere is Chomsky calling for more state or corporate power. I think when he mentions the dangerousness of both corporate and state powers which are closely linked, you'd see that.

    Regards,

    I.M. Loos

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  44. Anonymous6:01 AM

    One thing is to disagree with Chomsky, second is to underestimate and misinterpret what he says. People who have truly read Chomsky know very well what he is always talking about.

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  45. To the guy who asked whether Kropotkin's support for WWI undermined his professed anarchism: well, yes. His contemporaries certainly thought so: http://fair-use.org/mother-earth/1914/11/in-reply-to-kropotkin

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  46. Nowhere is Chomsky calling for more state or corporate power.

    That's just the thing: he is calling for more state power, which he repeatedly presents as a flawed but vital check on corporate power, even as he concedes it's corporate power's greatest friend.

    And presented with the questioner's options of "abolishing the state" and "enhancing the state's power," the MIT professor attacks the former as "academic" and explicitly argues for the latter. Take it up with him, not me.

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  47. State power either expands towards totalitarianism or shrinks towards anarchism. For the time being, judging from historical data, votes have done nothing to shrink State power.

    I am pragmatic, I believe, when I say that we may never be able to achieve sustained anarchism. But we can aspire to it. We can shrink government/corporate control for as long as we have grown it, basically since day one.

    I challenge anyone that claims that humans can't co-exist without the State to provide an example of civilization without the State. We simply have never tried, never worked and fought for it. I think we owe it to ourselves to try.

    Chomsky seems confused to me...grow State power or depreciate it? One or the other. I hate dichotomies but sometimes in life one simply must get off the fence to accomplish anything.

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  48. Personally I like Noam Chomsky Quotes. Thanks for sharing!!

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  49. Anonymous2:35 PM

    look, there are anarchists of all different stripes. expecting them all to agree is absurd. the concept of "unity" is a huge problem: it is why i think mass society (in and of itself) is absolutely doomed to failure. why would you want everyone to agree? just like the concept of "equality"; it is absurd, completely anti-liberatory, and denies the contextual individuality of every living being. it is also patronizing, reductionist, and ultimately, not feasible.

    i don't even think chomsky calls himself an anarchist anymore. he used to identify as anarcho-syndicalist, but his "anarchy" has been challenged so often and by so many, that i think he may have given it up.

    from fourier to stirner to proudhon to goldman to tucker to zerzan to landstreicher to jarach, the anarchist universe is pretty broad and deep. i may ridicule self-styled anarchists who promote voting or any other support/strengthening of the state, and consider them questionable as anarchists. but that's just my perspective. i don't consider folks that call themselves anarcho-capitalists to be anarchists at all, but that's just me. i would say the same of anarcho-statists.

    there are some fundamental principles that i think need to be considered for one to even think about calling themselves anarchist. NO RULERS, direct action, mutual aid, voluntary association. those are the biggies, to me.

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