Government in the Future: Noam Chomsky

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Noam Chomsky (1970) Government in the Future, Open Media Series, Published by Seven Stories Press, 1999.

This is a very short book, based on a legendary talk Noam Chomsky gave in February 1970 in NYC (Youtube link below). Quite contrary to many anarchist thinkers, I think Chomsky attempts to explain that there is little to no difference between Marxism and Anarchism. Chomsky argues, perhaps only the early Marx, that Marx, Engels, Proudhon and Bakunin all maintained the fundamental position on authority, i.e. the state is essentially an anti-human institution whose existence and activities are “ultimately incompatible with the full harmonious development of human potential in its richest diversity.” (p. 10) With possible influences from Humboldt, they also held, “that man’s central attribute is his freedom -to inquire and to create, and freedom is an indispensable condition for true human action as it springs from man’s free choice and inner being, as opposed to “mechanical exactness” of a well-trained parrot in the industrial capitalist system.” (p. 11-2)

Chomsky (though not very clear) seems to posit that the early Marx and the anarchism of Proudhon and Bakunin had little philosophical difference (despite the fact that Marx attacked Proudhon’s Philosophy of Poverty in the book, ‘The Poverty of Philosophy’, and also Bakunin subsequently criticized Marxism on various grounds), but later the antagonism between the two traditions grew, largely, due to the question of the state. Interestingly, Chomsky thinks this difference is mainly “tactical,” not philosophical (p. 31). I think for Marxists this may be a matter of procedural strategy to establish a “transitional state” under the leadership of the proletariat, but for anarchists, who detest any form of hierarchy and authority, “the dictatorship of the proletariat” is unacceptable. As Bakunin rightly warned of the “red bureaucracy,” Marx’s workers’ states ended up in totalitarianism. Chomsky calls what became of Marx’s socialism in these dictatorial regimes as “state socialism,” “Bolshevism” or Maoism for that matter, as some kind of incompatible manifestations of the classical Marxism into the 20th century. Chomsky doesn’t address, for instance, much on the “later Marx” and his theory of history -the dialectical materialism, and the notion of human nature as opposed to that of anarchism or  libertarian socialism of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin. It seems these are the areas where the two traditions of libertarian socialism differ, substantially, on philosophical grounds.

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