Chomsky’s realist anarchism

by Arran James

So I one of those who watched the Foucault-Chomsky debates as a young undergrad and relished the Frenchman poking fun at Chomsky. I dislike Chomsky’s notion that we can ‘speak truth to power’ and his insistence to keep doing so, and keep being ignored, for Foucaultian reasons. But is it, at the moment, time to take someone like Chomsky a lot more seriously. I’m sure a lot of people already have been…but still.

So Chomsky’s linguistics are bunk. Some would tell us that it follows from this that his entire thought fails because of it…but does his socialism really rely on his work in cognitive science? If we don’t ground socialism in human nature like Chomsky does, then does it even matter that he does?

Chomsky seems to piss off a lot of anarchists because he seems willing to engage in the real world rather than think that one can jump out of one historical situation to the next without the necessary conditions and (and as another anarchist-cum-anarchist hate figure, Murray Bookchin, put it) pre-conditions. Of course part of what Chomsky (and Bookchin) both declare is that we live in a post-scarcity society, that capitalism succeeds in producing massive wealth (so much so we have to let so much food go to rot) but that it then keeps it in the hands of a few rather than distributing it to all. Perhaps for a lot of contemporary anarchists driven primarily by ethical concerns this is to political a reason (justice isn’t as immediate as “be nice”) and for others his views don’t seem necessarily complicated enough (he doesn’t speak in the correct intellectual dialect). But are these kinds of simple positions deceptively simple?

And here, given everything that is being discussed groups like Platypus and so on, is Murray Bookchin answer about whether the left is (was) dead. I enjoy the fact that Bookchin gives a clear articulation, along with many others, that communism is an idea, and a movement, that can’t be identified with the Soviet Union. I can’t help but wonder whether the current intellectual left has “rediscovered” or “reinvented” something a lot of people never forgot or threw away.