Archives for posts with tag: Noam Chomsky

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In the West, most people see communism as a failed social enterprise, relegated to the dustbin of history after its atrocious implementation during the 20th century. People look at the oppressive Stalinist regime, the brutality of the Maoist revolution, and the devastation of Pol Pot, and argue that while it works nicely on paper, communism is far too appalling, evidenced by precedent, to be taken seriously in any kind of discussion for the future.

Of course, no one seems to know what communism actually means. People use the term “cultural Marxism” to denounce pretty much anyone on the left that they disagree with, since the term is vague to the point of meaninglessness, making it easy to apply. It boils down to modern day McCarthyism against groups of people who probably don’t even identify as Marxist at all. People associate communism and socialism with welfare spending, and Big Government interfering in the economy, staying the invisible hand. In actuality, socialism is the equivalent of industrial democracy, and means that workers run their businesses as a collective, rather than under the autocratic rule of a monarch. Engels actually wrote that once socialism was in place, there would be a “withering away of the state” as it became obsolete, with people becoming more and more involved in the maintenance of their own communities. Communism, once realized, doesn’t involve Big Government at all, and is actually libertarian in principle. The difference is that power is diffused among the people, rather than maintained in tyrannical, non-governmental structures as in contemporary libertarianism. For the record, government interference to guide the economy is called Keynesian Economics, and is responsible for such things as FDR’s New Deal which incidentally brought the Americans out of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, this misinformation isn’t just propagated by the neo-McCarthyists on the Right, since Bernie Sanders, who essentially promotes New Deal-styled policy ideas, proclaims himself a socialist. Not to say that they’re bad ideas in the current economic and political climate, they’re just not socialist.

What separates communism from anarchism (or libertarian socialism, if you prefer), is the method of implementation, and here is where the problems start. Marx, Engels, and Lenin advocated the “dictatorship of the proletariat” which is the transitional state between capitalism and communism. In order for the transition to be successful, there must be centralized power which enforces the new ideological system, as outside forces will continuously threaten the newly established way of life. They give the example of the Paris Commune, which showed promise as a communist paradise, but was overthrown by hostile capitalists not long after its implementation. Had the Commune bolstered its power to enforce its ideals more effectively, it could have survived. Thus, the necessity of centralized power. Of course, once the threats dissipate, the state will allegedly wither away, but the anarchists believed that oppressive power is oppressive power, regardless of who wields the stick of oppression, be it the proletariat or the bourgeoisie. The anarchists wished to abolish all structures of power at the outset, without resorting to authoritarian methods to do so.

If the USSR never actually achieved full communism (a stateless, democratically organized society), and never even implemented any socialist initiatives (democratically organized businesses), how did it becomes the scapegoat for the so-called even-minded critiques of those doctrines? The blame mostly rests on the shoulders of the “liberal media” that has been propagating the capitalist imperative for decades.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman published possibly the first thoroughly researched look at what has now become Fake News, in their book Manufacturing Consent. In it, they look at how the media portrays the objectives of capitalist elites as morally honourable, while demonizing those who disagree with the accepted model. For example, everyone knows about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, they even made a movie about it, and everyone knows that Pol Pot and communism in general are responsible for all those deaths. What is less known is that from 1969 to 1973, the Americans had been bombing Cambodia, creating a death toll comparable though slightly less than the numbers of dead under Pol Pot, and then after the Vietnamese ousted Pol Pot’s regime, the Americans covertly supported the Khmer Rouge since Vietnam was seen to be the worse evil of the two. When measuring outrage against atrocity, context is important.

For additional context, there is also the Indonesian genocide of the East Timorese which happened concurrently to the Cambodian one. The difference between the two genocides was that the Indonesian government was being supplied by the Americans, and were slaughtering those with left-leaning principles. Media outcry could very easily have ended the genocide, given America’s involvement in its process, but the outcry never happened, and many of those involved in the massacre are still a part of the contemporary Indonesian government. There was actually an independent film documenting the effects of the genocide today, The Act of Killing (2012), but its accusations of US complicity were pretty much ignored.

Chomsky and Herman give many more examples, such as media comparisons between a priest being killed in Poland and four religious American women killed in El Salvador. Or the media’s attempt to pin the assassination attempt on the Pope onto Soviet communists, ignoring all evidence to the contrary. Their criticism of the media’s portrayal of the Vietnam War, commonly associated with media hostility to power, is that the media decried American casualties, and American blunders within the war, but it never criticized America’s right to intervene militarily in foreign nations, nor the devastation wrought to the Vietnamese. Similarly today, the legitimacy of the War on Terror is simply assumed, and weeping over American casualties and condemning certain methods remain the only viable criticism. The deaths of Middle Eastern civilians are basically shrugged off.

Capitalist propaganda is why we associate Russian Gulags with communism, but not the Western assassination of the democratically elected leader of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, in 1953 with capitalism. Mosaddegh was trying to limit the powers of Western oil companies in his country while trying to keep the profit derived from his nation within his nation, and was killed for it. That’s not capitalism. Or the Great Bengal famine, when the British East India Company implemented crop policies that reduced the production of edible crops for those that were more viable on the international market. The food shortage that erupted resulted in the deaths of 10 million people. Again, not the fault of capitalism. Donald Trump today wants to reinvigorate the Afghanistan war, instate an American Viceroy, and claim ownership of Afghan mineral deposits as compensation for the 16 year war that America started. Using war, death, and destruction to enrich resource-driven oligarchs could never be categorized as a staple of capitalist doctrine. Those who denounce Venezuela as a failed socialist state ought to maintain that Haiti, the Philippines, Guatemala, Chile, Iran, and many, many others should be capitalist utopias due to the intervention into their politics that emphasized private power over public ownership. A system where the ultimate goal is profit at any cost could never result in anything terrible. But it does, obviously, since that doesn’t make sense at all. Communism at least works on paper.

Where does propaganda end and reality set in? The USSR, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and Maoist China all resulted in terrible atrocities, and that is something that no one will deny. But are they appropriate examples of communist principles in action, or even socialist ones? If you are going to criticize socialist states, there are examples where the ideal was realized. Israeli Kibbutz, starting before Israel was even a thing, are socialist communities that still flourish today. Catalonia, Spain, prior to Franco’s attempt at fascism, was a successful anarchist society. It was even described with reverence by famed author of Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell, in his book Homage to Catalonia. Orwell, being an ardent socialist, was quite fond of the experiment. The Diggers in 17th century England are another example. Today, Marinaleda, also in Spain, admits to being a successful communist utopia, and economically speaking, far surpasses the surrounding cities which gives credence to its claim. There are certainly criticisms that exist of these places; the Kibbutz are mired in Judaic and Israeli cultural/political intrigue, there are few opportunities for ambition in Marinaleda, and the Diggers and Catalonians were wiped out by their ideological opponents (Is being wiped out a criticism? Marx thought it was, but perhaps these examples exist better as a condemnation of an ideology, ironically driven by competition, that cannot abide competition. Fukuyama’s End of History is essentially the monopoly of a system that claims such a development is a destructive failure).

We shouldn’t dismiss misunderstood ideas without proper analysis, and we shouldn’t read Animal Farm and assume that the solution is to leave Mr Jones in charge. Communism is certainly associated with a sordid history, but how much of that is reality and how much is propaganda? How does it fare against the reality and propaganda of capitalism? There are reasonable precedents that we can learn from without being blinded by the grotesque theatre of the common strawmen. We don’t have to strive for an anarcho-communist utopia, but neither should we dismiss it out of hand.

Anti-intellectualism as a term has become a lot more prominent in critical circles these days, and it has some value in its increased use. Alternative facts are hedging in on actual facts, and it has become as if being proven wrong by “society” is a badge of honour, distinguishing a person as a martyr against the “establishment” or the “elite” because they had to resort to research and statistics, which are becoming less and less relevant to current methods of debate. This is quite rightly viewed as a tragedy.

Because I’m a nerd who writes a blog about anti-intellectualism on a Friday night, I was listening to a recording of Noam Chomsky, and he was asked about the strain of anti-intellectualism coursing through America, and he gave such a good answer that I’m just going to summarize it here because I don’t think there’s much of an overlap between the people who read my blog and people who listen to Noam Chomsky recordings. I dunno, prove me wrong.

Anyway, Chomsky brings up the mechanic as an example of a profession that requires quite a lot of brain power and intellectual prowess in order to do their job well. Having a holistic understanding of the functioning of a complicated piece of machinery like a car or a jet engine, and then being able to deduce based often on little evidence what is malfunctioning and then knowing how to fix it, are all aspects of their job that are incredibly challenging in a mental sense. Similarly with engineers, being able to foresee what might go wrong in these complex contraptions and attempting to mitigate them in the design phase is an incredible intellectual feat. However, neither of these intellectual elites are ever ridiculed for being such.

Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk: brilliant men, but never accused of belonging in an ivory tower. Their intellectual prowess stems from hard work and gumption, not like softy liberals who spent a decade in a university writing their thesis out of laziness and affirmative action! You see, it’s not intellectualism that is the problem. It is the subject of the intellectualism. The “elites” are only those who think beyond the spectrum of capitalism.

Consider the education system. In a typical situation where such a thing is demanded, what gets cut and what gets funding? The courses that get cut are the things that create “intellectual elites”, and the courses that get funding are the STEM classes. The arts and literary studies which force students to see the world in a different way, or philosophy and gender studies which force students to think about it in a different way, these are the courses that produce the “pretentious”, and they are always first on the chopping block. The classes that can produce workers are the ones which are prioritized, because if you can’t make money for the business you ultimately work for, why bother with an education at all?

So it’s not really anti-intellectualism that is the problem in America (and around the world, to be honest). There are too many celebrated smart people for that to be the case. If someone is calling someone else an “elite” in reference to their status, it’s not going to be that person’s intelligence, but what they stand for that is at issue. This is true even if the person using the term is referring specifically to their education as the reason for their dislike. It may be fun to call people anti-intellectual because there is nothing better than calling your opponent stupid, but it’s not addressing the actual problem.

This is especially pertinent when you consider how American anti-intellectualism began in the first place. Down to Earth Republicanism trying to convince the working poor that the interests of the business class superseded theirs. The people telling them otherwise were Other. Untrustworthy, smug, self-righteous, lazy, and prone to affirmative action! It was never about actual intellectualism. I mean the elephant in the room, President Trump, is revered due to his alleged business savvy and acumen. Intellectual pursuits! He himself claims to be incredibly intelligent. Personally I would consider that just another alternative fact, but the point is that because it relates to a pro-capitalist agenda, his accomplishments are not considered “elite.” Imagine a world where a billionaire president is not considered an intellectual elite by his own argument, and that should give you a good impression as to what anti-intellectualism is really about.

Despite Bernie Sanders clinging desperately to his chances of nomination like the country itself depended upon him to be the only rational choice in an otherwise catch-22 election, I feel comfortable saying that the next American presidential election will be a catch-22 between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Clinton representing the downward spiral that is the American status quo, and Trump representing the harbinger of the end of days.

I don’t want to spend that much time covering why Trump is the absolute worst person imaginable. He thinks building a giant concrete wall is somehow financially feasible or that the president has that kind of bullying power over another country. He thinks censoring the press is something reasonable to do within a democracy. He disparages women with superficial insults, and thinks that Hitler had the right idea when it came to handling an ideology that differed from his own. Honestly I feel stupid for even writing this out because if you haven’t figured out that Donald Trump is a terrible human being by now, then literally nothing I write is going to convince you. That being the case, moving right along.

However, Clinton’s status quo isn’t much better. The democratic party to which she is aligned, under Obama has deported more people than any previous president. For a political party to condemn Trump’s wall “solution” to illegal immigration, their own draconian practices really shouldn’t reflect the spirit of that wall. Obama also ordered ten times more drone strikes than President Bush, among them the assassination of an American citizen whose crime essentially amounted to hate speech. Closing down the torture prison for Muslims, despite being a campaign promise of 2008, also seems to have been forgotten eight God damn years later. What kind of hypocrisy is it to lambaste the bombastic xenophobia of one admittedly insane individual while grudgingly accepting it within the so-called progressive party of the United States?

That’s the democratic party though, not Clinton, so despite her being fully indoctrinated into its corporate culture, there’s still a chance she might distance herself from its less-than-illustrious past, right? Well, except she kinda voted in favour of that whole Iraq war thing, which greatly destabilized the region beyond its already pretty-much-fucked state of affairs, giving birth to everyone’s favourite terrorist group: ISIS. Clinton, in true politico fashion, prudently regrets the decision now that the whole world knows what a shitty idea it was. Of course, she would have known it then too, if she had actually read the information that was available at the time. This is what we want from a president: gross neglect when it comes to matters of global affairs. Like how she’s facing criminal charges for her mishandling of classified information by using her private, unsecured email server, despite multiple warnings to desist. People rightfully belittle Trump for his many business failures to contrast his claimed acumen, but Clinton’s facade of competency should face similar criticism.

At least she’s not clamouring to ban all Muslims! However, not being Hitler-esque in one’s policies is a really low bar. This article from Al Jazeera makes a compelling argument about the problem with the way Clinton frames the Islamic controversy. She forces Islam into a binary of radical Muslim terrorists on the one hand, and ‘good’ Muslim moderates on the other. This binary ignores the many facets that make up human beings, and resorts to defining Muslims solely in their relationship to terrorism. Within this framework, Islam is still incontrovertibly linked to terror, and it is only the measure of dedication that one has to their religion that denotes one’s likelihood of committing terrorist acts. Again, it’s not Hitler, but it’s not really ameliorating the situation either.

Clinton would also mark the very first woman president, meaning a victory for women akin to the one Obama’s election had for black communities: Pyrrhic. What are Clinton’s plans for low-income and part-time workers, the majority of whom are women? How does Clinton plan to help with child care? Having a female president does not accomplish much for feminism if most of the problems facing women are social and economic, and that president is corporatist in her politics.

So what are Americans to do? I originally wanted to sarcastically suggest voting for Trump, but now even joking about that makes me gag. I mean he’s to the left of Clinton on some issues, so he’s got that going for him, but he’s just as imbecilic about those policies as he is about his right wing beliefs. He advocates for local industry in lieu of global manufacturing which would greatly improve the domestic economy, yet produces all his own products in China. He wants to get corporate money out of politics, and brags about financing his own campaign, ignoring the fact that he himself is quite literally an anthropomorphic corporation. He’s even maintained some fairly progressive opinions during his political flip-flopping, and has come out both for and against gay marriage, which I guess you can call a draw. An article I read that I don’t care to find again because I don’t remember the source speculated that the danger with Trump wasn’t his radical ideology, but the uncertainty of which position he actually held on any given topic.

Chris Hedges in his book The Death of the Liberal Class says that voting for the “less worse” party (ie. the democrats) can only serve to push the acceptable political ideology further in that worse direction, and concessions to the right become a constant. Anyone left of Fox News only has the one option after all, so Americans end up with candidates like Clinton whose most admirable characteristic is that she is not Donald Trump, yet who is by no means a reasonable person to lead a country.

What do you do when the extent of your political influence as a citizen only allows you the choice between a neglectful criminal and a psychopath? Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau very diplomatically said that he would work with whomever was elected, and that the Canadian/American relationship goes beyond the personalities of two individuals. This eloquently illustrates the common mentality of individuals in a contemporary democracy: accept the state of affairs for the sake of stability and maybe grumble about it privately at the water cooler. If either candidate is elected, Americans will very likely continue on with their lives, hoping that in four years their choices will be better. Yet my repeated analogy to Hitler is pertinent to this mentality: at what point is a society morally obligated to abandon traditional means of political change and opt for the non-traditional? Ought a society to continue to accept an escalating criminality in their leadership, trusting that the only potential for change is an increasingly meaningless democratic system?

Noam Chomsky’s theory is that people have forgotten other political processes in favour of blindly focusing on the carnival we call an election. To steal his line because he is much smarter than me and delightfully sarcastic, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world.” By retaining this focus as the only option for political participation, citizens do not even consider the activist route as a means of altering the course of their Hindenburg of a country. If the political system has failed, and it most certainly has, then it is up to the people to make the necessary changes to improve their country.

It is my understanding that citizen-based political reform outside of the incumbent structures of their system is called…

ANARCHY!