Saturday, February 12, 2011


  1. Chomsky really disgraces himself here. Dismissing terms like working class or ruling class as rhetoric is nothing more than a cheap way to get applause from his mostly liberal audience. The historical stuff is even worse. It's simply a travesty of history to try and say lenin was a right wing deviation from mainstream socialism and was recognized as such by all at the time. Essentially, Chomsky wants to ignore all of lenin's substantive political positions (for national self-determination, against imperialist war, etc) in favor of a narrow minded focus on organizational questions. The view that the April Theses were just popular pandering is similarly ridiculous. Everyone on the Russian Left thought Lenin was insane when he called for immediate socialist revolution, precisely because this was not something which had arisen at all from the mass movements. Finally, his presentation of Marx and Lenin's insistence upon internationalism is useful as a guide to rhetorical antiMarxism. It's filled with forced uncomprehension - for some unknown reason, these Marxists dogmatically assert that revolution has to start in the most advanced countries. There's no acknowledgment of the actual arguments made for why some measure of capitalist development is a precondition of successful socialist revolution, nor any recognition that Lenin and Trotsky's insistence upon Soviet Power actually ran counter to the mainstream of the socialist movement and placed them far outside the scope of the vulgar stagism Chomsky seeks to impute to them.

  2. "Chomsky really disgraces himself here."

    Okay. My view is he's wrong.

    but I think the audience were anarchists mainly, considerably to the left of the kind of liberal or cuddly fasho bourgeois dissidents considered radical left today. My sympathies are with the ISO questioner, who I think has a quarter of the audience behind her as well. I agree he is unreasonably and destructively dismissive of Lenin with the effect of distortion of history, support (effective though not explcit) for anticommie mythology and discouraging the study of lenin's writings. What I think is valuable about this clip is the vision of what mainstream political debate was in the US not that long ago. More importantly what I think is important is your reaction (and the like) - because it would now be considered deplorably "sectarian" to be as critical even of an outright fascist with no involvement in political struggle as you are freely of this lifelong leftist who has made such an immense contribution to the global struggle against the imperial ruling class.

    It's upsetting to watch this clip, for me, I suspect for you as well, so I think it could be a kind of heuristic tool regarding the voluntary enforcement of an etiquette of collegiality that has at least in part been responsible for degrading the debate (standards of knowledge, seriousness) from the time of the clip (to which we react only naturally with unself-censored criticism and even anger) and today when it is considered both impolite and even beside the point to criticise any self-labelled leftist's speech or views, no matter how absurd, false or reactionary, as if it were serious, consequential and had content.

  3. " It's filled with forced uncomprehension - for some unknown reason, these Marxists dogmatically assert that revolution has to start in the most advanced countries."

    On this one point I don't agree; I think - I assume - Chomsky was assuming familiarity with these matters in the audience.

  4. I'm with you on the level of debate, collegiality, etc. No doubt this is also related to the retreat of the left to the academy, where any real disagreement is avoided like the plague. Though I would persist in calling Chomsky's performance here disgraceful, embarrassing, etc. I mean, this stuff about lenin as a right wing deviation from mainstream socialism is really bonkers - I haven't even seen this claim made in liberal anticommunist historiography. It's not like arguing about kronstadt, or Mahkno, or the kinds of things where there are real debates and arguments to be made, but rather a deep misreading of the basic topography of the left at that time.

  5. I won't argue with you - I was just interested really in the way this clip illustrates a kind of leftist intellectual culture that we still recognise and relate to (we can still engage with what chomsky says) but which has been to a large extent replaced or distracted from by another kind of thing, entertainment in this guise, masquerading as the continuation of this kind of debate and culture:

    Obviously i am skipping some steps - Critchley becomes possible after years of Hitchens and Derrida and Paglia, all very different in content but sharing a pose; if lectures are a form in performing arts, they are in the same genre.

    especially interesting the way Critchley handles the emperor's clothes questioner at the end. It's just fraud - his ability to use language to communicate completely collapses; the questioner asks "who are 'you' who need Obama?" or something like this, and Critchley says "I didn't say You I said ' we'." -Well yes this is the question, who are you? "I said WE!" With this sort of obstinate toddler act, he is trying to force the questioner to join his fascio - to ask "who are we"? He won't permit him to refuse, he just stonewalls, he says your critical position is absolutely unintelligible.

    And this may not even be deliberate. It seems almost like Critchley is the victim of a style that has disabled his mental function. Is it that he's so startled by being criticised at all he's just in a tizzy? Or the fasho code has taken control? It's like he's not really conscious, he's saying "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful..." He says it, he thinks it, but he can't be engaged about it, its entirely superficial and depthless though "really believed".

    Finally: persisting, trying to explain to Simon Critchley that "you" is the second person plural and "we" the first person plural, that the question is intelligible, and that it is cogent, that it has referents, would seem pointless because the whole event and encounter is trivial.

    Or trivial in relation to what it purports to be, what it is really disguised as. Because it's really involved in cultivation not reasoned discussion - the saturation of audience with imagery to cultivate irrational impulses and responses. (Sara Ahmed puts some of the effects of this kind of pseudo-political entertainment starkly in discussions of "proximity".)

    anyway I'm now ahead of the posts.