Sunday, September 27, 2009

Unpopular Truths Are Still True: Commentary on Lenin v. Chomsky

Noam Chomsky, in the above video, attempts to make the case that his opposition to the Soviet Union, Lenin himself, and all of the socialist nations of the world is because he is a “Left-Wing Communist.” Chomsky claims that he is to the left of Lenin, and for the foundation of his claim, argues that he is in fact, the kind of socialist polemicized against by Lenin in his book Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder.

In reality, he is nothing of the sort. The book by Lenin addresses a number of disagreements with the “Lefts” of Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. Not a single one of the positions Lenin criticizes have ever been championed by Noam Chomsky, to my knowledge. In fact, in many cases Chomsky takes the opposite position.


One of the main points of debate in the book is as to whether Marxists should participate in elections. Lenin says “yes” overwhelmingly, because it can empower the workers, though in order for socialism to be constructed, the capitalist state must be abolished. He also says that politics to most workers involves elections, and ignoring them separates Marxists from the workers.

Chomsky takes a very similar position to Lenin’s. Noam Chomsky called on his supporters to vote for John Kerry in the 2004 election. Chomsky has never publicly discouraged voting, or called for electoral boycotts, as the “Lefts” Lenin criticizes did. Chomsky is closely associated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who staffed the campaigns of Barack Obama and include elected representative Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont within their ranks of loyal supporters holding public office.

Trade Unions

Another main point of Lenin’s book is that “reactionary trade unions” should not be boycotted by Communists. He argues that the unions, though reactionary, are still in fact, organizations of the working class. Lenin points out that even in the USSR, trade unions are not all controlled by Communist Party members, as that the goal of the revolution is not the control of the means of production by Communists, but by the Proletariat, not all of which are Communists.

Noam Chomsky agrees with Lenin on this point as well. In various works Chomsky makes it very clear that he views trade unions as a “democraticizing force.” He does not specify that he means only trade unions controlled by Communists. Chomsky argues that Taft-Hartley and other laws that hurt trade unions were loses for the working class.

Chomsky is not in line with the “Left-Wing” Communists he champions here, either.


The Social-Revolutionaries, a “Left-Wing Communist” grouping Lenin critiques engaged in terrorism and assassination. Where does Noam Chomsky ever do this himself, or advocate that this be done?

Contrarily, Chomsky makes a point of saying that terrorism is a bad strategy and strengthens the powers that be. Where his disagreement with Lenin on this subject?


Lenin begins his work Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder by pointing out the main problem in the working class movement is not the “Lefts” such as Rosa Luxemburg, the Socialist Labor Party of Britain, and others. Rather, Lenin points out the main internal problem of Socialism is the group he devoted the majority of his work to criticizing, “Opportunists.”

The Opportunists are leaders of the working class movement who make compromises and concessions to the capitalists unnecessarily. People such as Bernstein and Kautsky of the German Socialist Democratic Party, the Fabians, and Labourites of Britain, compromised and negotiated with the capitalists when it was totally unnecessary. They argued that the state was “democratic” and classless, and that workers could seize power with their votes.

The opportunists also ceased agitating and propagating against capitalism as a whole, and focused on the day to day economic struggles and single-issues. The opportunists did not organize well disciplined parties prepared for a revolution against the state, but rather formed lose coalitions modeled on the parties of the capitalists.

The opportunists, correctly identified by Lenin as “right-wing” in comparison to him, not “Infantile Leftists,” eventually came to support World War One, and in the process, discredited themselves.

Noam Chomsky is in alliance with the Democratic Socialists of America, a grouping that openly compromises with the Democrats unnecessarily. Chomsky rarely addresses the need to overthrow capitalism in his writings, and rarely discusses what he has in mind as a replacement for capitalism. He rather focuses on the day to day outrages of capitalism, mostly in terms of it international crimes.

Chomsky is truly, in terms of disagreement with Lenin, not a “Infantile Left-Wing Communist” at all, but a “Right Opportunist.” Chomsky’s politics of alliance with the Democrats, criticism of issues and not capitalism itself, and unnecessary compromise with the powers that be are in line with one of the groups Lenin criticized, and not the other.

Chomsky may hope that by deceiving others or himself into thinking he is a Luxemburgist or Bakuninist, he can maintain his image as a radical, yet hold on to his career by not being labeled a “dupe” for Marxist-Leninists, but this is still dishonesty, whatever the motivation.

Why Bolivarianism, then?

If Chomsky is so convinced that Leninism is the root of the problems of Bolshevism, why then does he associate with and align with progressive and revolutionary movement of Bolivarianism in Latin America?

Hugo Chavez is an open supporter of Lenin and Trotsky. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has told the press that the next book he will be giving to Barack Obama is the key Leninist text What Is To Be Done? Chavez also told his viewers on Venezeulan Television that he based the transformation of Venezeula on Trotsky’s book The Transitional Program. The Communist Party of Venezuela is a key faction in the alliance of political parties supporting Chavez in Venezuela. Evo Morales has even announced that he is a “Marxist-Leninist” in public.

Chomsky seems to approve of Hugo Chavez, as well as Evo Morales and other leaders of the Bolivarian Socialist movement of Latin America. But does he not realize that they have Lenin as a basis for their politics?

Does Chomsky not notice that Chavez, just like Mao, Castro, Kim Jong Il is being lied about and distorted? Chomsky seems to realize that Hugo Chavez is not a power-mad red dictator, and that he is the legitimate leader of Venezuela by popular mandate. Yet, contrary to what Chomsky and others know as fact, the deceptive U.S. media has declared him to be a “brutal dictator.”

Chomsky can see through this deception, so why does he trust the great amount of unconformable and deceptive information put out about Kim Jong Il, Fidel Castro, Mao Zedong, and other socialist leaders. The claims regarding these regimes come from the very same source, the capitalist media, and they have for the most part, the same level of truth and accuracy.

Will Chomsky denounce Venezuela and Bolivia if they become less acceptable and fashionable among his circle of cosmopolitan leftists? If Hugo Chavez is suddenly given the reputation of Joseph Stalin in the capitalist press, and parts of the left join in the belief, will he seek credibility by jumping in the bandwagon?

One cannot forget that many of the countless “Anti-Stalinists” who wrote Max Shachtman’s Partisan Review, were in fact former supporters of the USSR, however, when it became less fashionable to defend it, they suddenly embraced “bureaucratic collectivism,” “state capitalism,” and other “third camp” delusions in order to keep their respectability.

Chomsky should realize that we in an age which can be very decisive for the outcome of human history. With capitalism dying all around us, and workers movements springing up, this could be the chance to smite imperialism and create a truely democratic order. Deception and opportunist attempts for credibility with the capitalists will not advance the forces that will brings this change about.

The truth is not always popular, but regardless, it is still true, and struggles for freedom are never built on falsehoods.


J. Travis Rolko said...

You really went off on a quite irrelevant tangent here. Chomsky was mainly describing Lenin's philosophical progression, then detailing Lenin's authoritarian practices as leader of the USSR. No where in the video does he say "Left-Wing Communists", nor does he say he supported all of their positions. He said Lenin was a right-wing deviation of mainstream Marxism. He never even claimed to support an ideology.

What you could have responded to was Chomsky's claim that the Soviet Union was pretty much the opposite of socialism, which was the main theme.

To say that Chomsky is seeking credibility among capitalists is quite a leap. I see no basis for that. He has, on the other hand, frequently denounced capitalist enterprises as stridently as anyone, describing them as unaccountable totalitarian institutions; private tyrannies.

Comrade Martin said...

Caleb! Good to see you also have a blog up and running. I just started mine not long ago!

I'm going to have to weigh in with J. Travis Rolko here in that Chomsky is you are criticizing the wrong thing if you're going to criticize Chomsky here at all.

Going further than Mr. Rolko, I would suggest that Chomsky is essentially correct - Lenin is a right deviation from Marxism, and is so fundamentally in that he argued for (and put in to practice) a system of wage-labor no different than Capitalism except that bureacrats, rather than private owners, dominated the working class.

I don't see this in some "bureacratic collectivist" bullshit lens, as some Trotskyists do, but instead comprehend it as a necessary stage of development for large and stagnating Semi-Feudal minor league Capitalist powers. One cannot deny that state planning produced miracles in short time - albeit with huge human sacrifice.

If you want to see Communism, look at the popular uprising in Hungary of 1956, or just read Marx's work on the Paris Commune. You will be surprised at how much Lennies have kept hidden right under your nose!

Sam D. said...

Noam Chomsky, in further contradiction, has in fact expressed admiration for the Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions. He visited North Vietnam in 1970 and gave a speech to Radio Hanoi extolling the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people and lauding the attempts of the besieged country to build socialism. He has also had a cordial meeting with Fidel Castro. He has in some of his previous articles praised the Cuban intervention in Angola against apartheid South Africa and the Vietnamese intervention against the Khmer Rogue. These facts have brought no shortage of bile against Chomsky from his critics on the right.

I think that Noam Chomsky is not an opportunist, but is somewhat ideologically confused. He condemns Leninism because his anarchist orthodoxy forces himself to do so, but when he is confronted with what Leninism has accomplished in the real world for masses of the poor in the Third World, he cannot help but bring himself to express admiration and appreciation for these achievements .

Anyway, I still love and admire Noam Chomsky greatly. His analysis of how the capitalist media propaganda operates and his exposure of the horrors of US imperialism is invaluable to all revolutionaries. Even when I disagree with him, such as in his analysis on Leninism, I don't doubt his overall honesty and integrity. I fail to see how being an anarchist advances your personal career anymore then being a Marxist.

But I think Noam Chomsky would be the last person to want anyone to take everything he says at face value-his whole mission in life is to get people to think for themselves and not accept any authority, himself included.