Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Chomsky on Anarchism and the State

Hat tip to Alan J of Mailstrom blogging fame for finding the excerpt from a recent Chomsky interview.
We have issues with Chomsky's characterisation of Lenin and Trotsky actions as being part of the "orthodox Marxist" tradition but, for all that, it is an interesting excerpt. The whole interview with Daniel Mermet can be accessed
here.

Daniel Mermet: Critics tend to lump you together with the anarchists and libertarian socialists. What would be the role of the state in a real democracy?
Noam Chomsky: We are living here and now, not in some imaginary universe. And here and now there are tyrannical organisations - big corporations. They are the closest thing to a totalitarian institution. They are, to all intents and purposes, quite unaccountable to the general public or society as a whole. They behave like predators, preying on other smaller companies. People have only one means of defending themselves and that is the state. Nor is it a very effective shield because it is often closely linked to the predators. But there is a far from negligible difference. General Electric is accountable to no one, whereas the state must occasionally explain its actions to the public.
Once democracy has been enlarged far enough for citizens to control the means of production and trade, and they take part in the overall running and management of the environment in which they live, then the state will gradually be able to disappear. It will be replaced by voluntary associations at our place of work and where we live.

DM: You mean soviets?
NC: The first things that Lenin and Trotsky destroyed, immediately after the October revolution, were the soviets, the workers' councils and all the democratic bodies. In this respect Lenin and Trotsky were the worst enemies of socialism in the 20th century. But as orthodox Marxists they thought that a backward country such as Russia was incapable of achieving socialism immediately, and must first be forcibly industrialised.
In 1989, when the communist system collapsed, I thought this event was, paradoxically, a victory for socialism. My conception of socialism requires, at least, democratic control of production, trade and other aspects of human existence.
However the two main propaganda systems agreed to maintain that the tyrannical system set up by Lenin and Trotsky, subsequently turned into a political monstrosity by Stalin, was socialism. Western leaders could not fail to be enchanted by this outrageous use of the term, which enabled them to cast aspersions on the real thing for decades. With comparable enthusiasm, but working in the opposite direction, the Soviet propaganda system tried to exploit the sympathy and commitment that the true socialist ideal inspired among the working masses.

DM: Isn't it the case that all forms of autonomous organisation based on anarchist principles have ultimately collapsed?
NC: There are no set anarchist principles, no libertarian creed to which we must all swear allegiance. Anarchism - at least as I understand it - is a movement that tries to identify organisations exerting authority and domination, to ask them to justify their actions and, if they are unable to do so, as often happens, to try to supersede them.
Far from collapsing, anarchism and libertarian thought are flourishing. They have given rise to real progress in many fields. Forms of oppression and injustice that were once barely recognised, less still disputed, are no longer allowed. That in itself is a success, a step forward for all humankind, certainly not a failure.


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