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RE: Theos-World The Sick Mind of Noam Chomsky: Part II

Oct 13, 2001 03:54 AM
by nos

He's a sick, sick man is our Noam....

The Soviet Union Versus Socialism
Noam Chomsky 
Our Generation, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 1986) pp. 47-52 

When the world's two great propaganda systems agree on some doctrine, it
requires some intellectual effort to escape its shackles. One such
doctrine is that the society created by Lenin and Trotsky and molded
further by Stalin and his successors has some relation to socialism in
some meaningful or historically accurate sense of this concept. In fact,
if there is a relation, it is the relation of contradiction. 

It is clear enough why both major propaganda systems insist upon this
fantasy. Since its origins, the Soviet State has attempted to harness
the energies of its own population and oppressed people elsewhere in the
service of the men who took advantage of the popular ferment in Russia
in 1917 to seize State power. One major ideological weapon employed to
this end has been the claim that the State managers are leading their
own society and the world towards the socialist ideal; an impossibility,
as any socialist -- surely any serious Marxist -- should have understood
at once (many did), and a lie of mammoth proportions as history has
revealed since the earliest days of the Bolshevik regime. The
taskmasters have attempted to gain legitimacy and support by exploiting
the aura of socialist ideals and the respect that is rightly accorded
them, to conceal their own ritual practice as they destroyed every
vestige of socialism. 

As for the world's second major propaganda system, association of
socialism with the Soviet Union and its clients serves as a powerful
ideological weapon to enforce conformity and obedience to the State
capitalist institutions, to ensure that the necessity to rent oneself to
the owners and managers of these institutions will be regarded as
virtually a natural law, the only alternative to the 'socialist'

The Soviet leadership thus portrays itself as socialist to protect its
right to wield the club, and Western ideologists adopt the same pretense
in order to forestall the threat of a more free and just society. This
joint attack on socialism has been highly effective in undermining it in
the modern period. 

One may take note of another device used effectively by State capitalist
ideologists in their service to existing power and privilege. The ritual
denunciation of the so-called 'socialist' States is replete with
distortions and often outright lies. Nothing is easier than to denounce
the official enemy and to attribute to it any crime: there is no need to
be burdened by the demands of evidence or logic as one marches in the
parade. Critics of Western violence and atrocities often try to set the
record straight, recognizing the criminal atrocities and repression that
exist while exposing the tales that are concocted in the service of
Western violence. With predictable regularity, these steps are at once
interpreted as apologetics for the empire of evil and its minions. Thus
the crucial Right to Lie in the Service of the State is preserved, and
the critique of State violence and atrocities is undermined. 

It is also worth noting the great appeal of Leninist doctrine to the
modern intelligentsia in periods of conflict and upheaval. This doctrine
affords the 'radical intellectuals' the right to hold State power and to
impose the harsh rule of the 'Red Bureaucracy,' the 'new class,' in the
terms of Bakunin's prescient analysis a century ago. As in the
Bonapartist State denounced by Marx, they become the 'State priests,'
and "parasitical excrescence upon civil society" that rules it with an
iron hand. 

In periods when there is little challenge to State capitalist
institutions, the same fundamental commitments lead the 'new class' to
serve as State managers and ideologists, "beating the people with the
people's stick," in Bakunin's words. It is small wonder that
intellectuals find the transition from 'revolutionary Communism' to
'celebration of the West' such an easy one, replaying a script that has
evolved from tragedy to farce over the past half century. In essence,
all that has changed is the assessment of where power lies. Leninšs
dictum that "socialism is nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to
benefit the whole people," who must of course trust the benevolence of
their leaders, expresses the perversion of 'socialism' to the needs of
the State priests, and allows us to comprehend the rapid transition
between positions that superficially seem diametric opposites, but in
fact are quite close. 

The terminology of political and social discourse is vague and
imprecise, and constantly debased by the contributions of ideologists of
one or another stripe. Still, these terms have at least some residue of
meaning. Since its origins, socialism has meant the liberation of
working people from exploitation. As the Marxist theoretician Anton
Pannekoek observed, "this goal is not reached and cannot be reached by a
new directing and governing class substituting itself for the
bourgeoisie," but can only be "realized by the workers themselves being
master over production." Mastery over production by the producers is the
essence of socialism, and means to achieve this end have regularly been
devised in periods of revolutionary struggle, against the bitter
opposition of the traditional ruling classes and the 'revolutionary
intellectuals' guided by the common principles of Leninism and Western
managerialism, as adapted to changing circumstances. But the essential
element of the socialist ideal remains: to convert the means of
production into the property of freely associated producers and thus the
social property of people who have liberated themselves from
exploitation by their master, as a fundamental step towards a broader
realm of human freedom. 

The Leninist intelligentsia have a different agenda. They fit Marx's
description of the 'conspirators' who "pre-empt the developing
revolutionary process" and distort it to their ends of domination;
"Hence their deepest disdain for the more theoretical enlightenment of
the workers about their class interests," which include the overthrow of
the Red Bureaucracy and the creation of mechanisms of democratic control
over production and social life. For the Leninist, the masses must be
strictly disciplined, while the socialist will struggle to achieve a
social order in which discipline "will become superfluous" as the freely
associated producers "work for their own accord" (Marx). Libertarian
socialism, furthermore, does not limit its aims to democratic control by
producers over production, but seeks to abolish all forms of domination
and hierarchy in every aspect of social and personal life, an unending
struggle, since progress in achieving a more just society will lead to
new insight and understanding of forms of oppression that may be
concealed in traditional practice and consciousness. 

The Leninist antagonism to the most essential features of socialism was
evident from the very start. In revolutionary Russia, Soviets and
factory committees developed as instruments of struggle and liberation,
with many flaws, but with a rich potential. Lenin and Trotsky, upon
assuming power, immediately devoted themselves to destroying the
liberatory potential of these instruments, establishing the rule of the
Party, in practice its Central Committee and its Maximal Leaders --
exactly as Trotsky had predicted years earlier, as Rosa Luxembourg and
other left Marxists warned at the time, and as the anarchists had always
understood. Not only the masses, but even the Party must be subject to
"vigilant control from above," so Trotsky held as he made the transition
from revolutionary intellectual to State priest. Before seizing State
power, the Bolshevik leadership adopted much of the rhetoric of people
who were engaged in the revolutionary struggle from below, but their
true commitments were quite different. This was evident before and
became crystal clear as they assumed State power in October 1917. 

A historian sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, E.H. Carr, writes that "the
spontaneous inclination of the workers to organize factory committees
and to intervene in the management of the factories was inevitably
encourage by a revolution with led the workers to believe that the
productive machinery of the country belonged to them and could be
operated by them at their own discretion and to their own advantage" (my
emphasis). For the workers, as one anarchist delegate said, "The Factory
committees were cells of the future... They, not the State, should now

But the State priests knew better, and moved at once to destroy the
factory committees and to reduce the Soviets to organs of their rule. On
November 3, Lenin announced in a "Draft Decree on Workers' Control" that
delegates elected to exercise such control were to be "answerable to the
State for the maintenance of the strictest order and discipline and for
the protection of property." As the year ended, Lenin noted that "we
passed from workers' control to the creation of the Supreme Council of
National Economy," which was to "replace, absorb and supersede the
machinery of workers' control" (Carr). "The very idea of socialism is
embodied in the concept of workers' control," one Menshevik trade
unionist lamented; the Bolshevik leadership expressed the same lament in
action, by demolishing the very idea of socialism. 

Soon Lenin was to decree that the leadership must assume "dictatorial
powers" over the workers, who must accept "unquestioning submission to a
single will" and "in the interests of socialism," must "unquestioningly
obey the single will of the leaders of the labour process." As Lenin and
Trotsky proceeded with the militarization of labour, the transformation
of the society into a labour army submitted to their single will, Lenin
explained that subordination of the worker to "individual authority" is
"the system which more than any other assures the best utilization of
human resources" -- or as Robert McNamara expressed the same idea,
"vital decision-making...must remain at the top...the real threat to
democracy comes not from overmanagement, but from undermanagement"; "if
it is not reason that rules man, then man falls short of his potential,"
and management is nothing other than the rule of reason, which keeps us
free. At the same time, 'factionalism' -- i.e., any modicum of free
expression and organization -- was destroyed "in the interests of
socialism," as the term was redefined for their purposes by Lenin and
Trotsky, who proceeded to create the basic proto-fascist structures
converted by Stalin into one of the horrors of the modern age.1 

Failure to understand the intense hostility to socialism on the part of
the Leninist intelligentsia (with roots in Marx, no doubt), and
corresponding misunderstanding of the Leninist model, has had a
devastating impact on the struggle for a more decent society and a
livable world in the West, and not only there. It is necessary to find a
way to save the socialist ideal from its enemies in both of the world's
major centres of power, from those who will always seek to be the State
priests and social managers, destroying freedom in the name of

1 On the early destruction of socialism by Lenin and Trotsky, see
Maurice Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control. Montreal: Black
Rose Books, 1978, and Peter Rachleff, Radical America, Nov. 1974, among
much other work. 

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