A Question of Intent: The Chomsky Interviews
CovertAction Quarterly, January, 2005
Post-Holiday Season Greetings from an American voter living in Japan! I hope this note finds you well and in good health.
I am writing to address a puzzling silence taken on by, it seems, just about everybody in the U.S. who writes on behalf of the downtrodden and the meek: i.e. the left. The silence is of a peculiar kind; of the naked emperor kind.
The puzzling silence is with regard to Chomsky’s support for John Kerry during the elections that we suffered this past year. The silence is so huge and disconcerting that one may be forgiven for forgetting that the good professor did in fact advocate such a position. So, why the silence?
To take one extremely painful example, one cannot but bring to attention an interview of Junaid Alam’s with Chomsky (Civilization versus Barbarism: An Interview with Noam Chomsky, lefthook.org, December 23, 2004), in which not a single word is exchanged regarding this. Not even a softly couched question. Instead, our good friend, much like a polite career journalist interviewing a state functionary on the mainstream media, stayed way clear of any embarrassing topics, handing the professor one soft question after another, all to do with things that we (i.e. leftists who constitute the entirety of the audience for Mr. Alam or Chomsky) have already heard and read a good million times.
Anybody who has ever heard Chomsky, read any of his writings or heard countless other interviews with him, knows most or all he says in this interview. So, why not be a little more imaginative and relevant? Here is a perfect opportunity for some honest reflection on, and/or recapitulation of an advocated position. After all, this past election was characterized by the good professor and numerous others who advised us to vote for Kerry as “the most important election of our lives.”
It is therefore not only reasonable but politically necessary to ask this prominent mind-shaper of the U.S. left to comment about a very historical position taken during such a pivotal election in recent history. Especially in view of the fact that the Democratic Party USA, on top of all the war-mongering rhetoric loudly espoused by Kerry, was engaging in what Ralph Nader has characterized as: “Political bigotry, constitutional crimes, [and] violation of our [campaign’s] civil liberties.”
Instead of spending their time and energy truly organizing their own rank and file and energizing and inspiring them, Democrats not only acted and behaved as right wingers that they are in relation to the Iraq war, but also actively changed the facts on the U.S. political map to the detriment of true left by silencing further their already-tiny electoral voice.
Was it not time for some hard questions by the interviewer, Mr. Alam, whose Left Hook website was one of the louder billboards for exposing (rightly) the pitfalls of the Anybody-But-Bush (ABB) position throughout the election year, and who did not say a word regarding Chomsky’s stance back then? Maybe the good professor, in retrospect and with the help of the vast wisdom that he does have, can shed some light on the reasons for the political advocacy he committed during this last election. If it had been a matter of quiet personal choice, one could look the other way. But, as it is, Chomsky by virtue of his public defense of ABB church was making a public recommendation, therefore acting politically and maybe Mr. Alam could have learned something new by questioning this political act (as well as relaying the learning).
The entire episode is now treated in silence, which ironically enough, is extremely patronizing both toward us and Chomsky. As a result, no lessons are learned, and we are implicitly encouraged to “move on” and pretend like it was a momentary personal failing.
During this past election year, I for one (as a socialist from the Middle East) watched in horror as one after another of the so-called “leftist icons” lined up and said: Vote for Kerry (who, incidentally, wants more war-mongering in the Middle East)! Am I the only person totally outraged here? Are we even paying attention to what we say and write any more? Why no outrage or any calling on Chomsky to explain himself, much like, for example, Professor James Petras called to our attention the Portuguese writer and Nobel laureate Jose Saramago’s wayward address in Colombia, in which Mr. Saramago failed to criticize the overtly terrorist acts of official armed gangs headed by President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, but went out of his way to characterize the tactics used by revolutionary organizations like National Liberation Army (ELN) as terrorist-like (Counterpunch, December 22, 2004).
I agree with the spirit of holding people accountable as expressed in Professor Petras’ letter, in which he points out correctly that certain public utterances have devastating political implications; especially when uttered by famous people who shape people’s thinking and political orientation, and most definitely when such statements can then become ammunition for the ruling classes and their ideologues. In the same general spirit, there should be a call for certain soul-searching regarding Chomsky’s support for Kerry, no matter how conditionally it was expressed. Instead, we hear a loud, embarrassing silence.
The fact remains that Chomsky’s mouth is watched (at times too sycophantically, I must add) for signs of how to orient oneself, by many tens of thousands of people who in turn shape others’ political orientation. So, when Chomsky says “hold your nose and vote for Kerry,” this is a categorical mistake for any leftist, some would say a (momentary at least) betrayal; since we heard in horror Kerry say repeatedly, and most significantly in the debates, “Mr. President, you are not doing enough in Iraq nor enough about Iran, or Syria ... You are not doing enough for the security of Israel … You haven’t done enough in Fallujah!” Mr. Kerry must be feeling reassured now that the city has been decimated and the Wall of apartheid continues getting erected on Palestinian lands. One could not have supported a more odious candidate. For Democratic Party functionaries to do so, we can understand perfectly clearly. But for leftists? (Never mind the ‘guru’ designation!)
Another reason the silence regarding Chomsky’s political positioning is disturbing: Chomsky, as well as a good section of the U.S. left, are as readily an enemy of the Bolsheviks as they claim to be the enemies of the U.S. imperialism. In fact, they are more consistent when it comes to opposing Bolsheviks. And one of the reasons provided for this enmity invariably is that “party discipline/party line” is inherently evil, and especially so in the case of the Bolsheviks since such party lines were supposedly adhered to so “blindly” by them, all of them got collapsed into “Stalinists.”
Well, taking our friends in the U.S. left seriously in their dislike for blind conformity to a collective political positioning, we are forced to ask: Where does the “party” of the U.S. luminaries of the left stand on Chomsky’s political positioning this past election? And what lessons were learned, if any?
The point here is not a personal attack on the integrity of individuals, nor is it to ask for some “apology.”
None of this is to be taken personally. Everything questioned here is done in the spirit of political clarity, which the U.S. in general and the U.S. left in particular lacks immensely. The classical anarchist position has been a non-support for any existing state powers, and most especially when state institutions are tools of obfuscation needed for a more efficacious functioning of the naked brutality exercised by the ruling classes. Is it not clear whose interests Mr. Kerry actively and persistently pursues?
So, it truly is an astounding political fact which is being treated with silence. One of the lessons that could have been, and should be learned from that momentary (we hope) lapse of political wisdom, is this: As long as the true left does not engage in an active party-building effort, and as long as we merely give speeches and chronicle atrocities, we are as likely to fall for the trap called Democratic Party USA as the next TV-conditioned voter. No matter how many books we have written on the tricks pulled by politicians and presidents of that very party, by nature, by design, by intent, and by willful and conscious practice, the Democratic Party will do nothing but support the perpetuation of the barbarity the USA has unleashed historically.
All this is meant to be taken in comradely fashion, out of love, and out of a spirit of friendly critique, something that in fact is essential to building any healthy relationship. Be it a relationship of friendship, familial bonding, or comradery in the field of politics. In all these, honesty of purpose requires that we ask difficult questions.
Yours, as always, respectfully,
Reza Fiyouzat (January 2005)