Thursday, January 13, 2005

The 3 dots (Part 2)

Why though should Chomsky distort Kennan's views in the way he did? After all, Kennan did oppose the Vietnam War quite early and, writing in 2002 (he celebrated his 100th birthday last year), also opposed the looming Iraq War.

Part of the answer is that What Uncle Sam Really Wants seems to have been written for the particularly simple-minded and the other two online works I mentioned make a bit more effort at serious analysis. But it is necessary to look a little deeper.

Chomsky is no Stalinist, unlike John Pilger with his praise for the Soviet-backed regimes in Afghanistan, or George Galloway with Iraq. Some of his ideas are similar to those of the Trotskyist (*)  James Burnham who wrote that German Nazis and Soviet communists were both part of the new managerial class which was even taking over in 'capitalist' America. For what Burnham wrote in the early 1940's, admittedly, I only have Orwell's word, but in general that tends to be good enough for me. Thus, Chomsky writes:

Gorbachev's moves ... were undertaken in an effort to drive the cruel and inefficient centralized state constructed by Lenin and his successors towards economic and social change... (Ch3)

For all the talk about free enterprise, 'business circles have long taken for granted that the state must play a major role in maintaining the system of private profit' (Deterring Democracy, Ch4). 'Current U.S. economic problems derive from the relatively free and open character of the society, which precludes the more efficient fascist-style methods that are now hailed as a triumph of free enterprise and democracy' (Ch3). Chomsky quotes John Lewis Gaddis on 'the primacy that has been accorded economic considerations [namely, state economic management] ', with his own input in brackets (Ch1). Writing about the end of the Soviet Union: 

the immediate destruction of the incipient socialist tendencies that arose during the ferment of popular struggle in 1917 has been depicted by the world's two great propaganda systems as a victory for socialism. For the Bolsheviks, the goal of the farce was to extract what advantage they could from the moral prestige of socialism; for the West, the purpose was to defame socialism and entrench the system of ownership and management control over all aspects of economic, political, and social life. The collapse of the Leninist system cannot properly be called a victory for socialism, any more than the collapse of Hitler and Mussolini could be described in these terms; but as in those earlier cases, it does eliminate a barrier to the realization of the libertarian socialist ideals of the popular movements that were crushed in Russia in 1917, Germany shortly after, Spain in 1936, and elsewhere, often with the Leninist vanguard leading the way in taming the rascal multitude with their libertarian socialist and radical democratic aspirations. (Ch 12)
The good and few may be the gentry or industrialists, or the vanguard Party and the Central Committee, or the intellectuals who qualify as "experts" because they articulate the consensus of the powerful (to paraphrase one of Henry Kissinger's insights). They manage the business empires, ideological institutions, and political structures, or serve them at various levels. (The good and few, 1991)
Chomsky, however, does not share Burnham's 'instinct to bow down before the conqueror of the moment'. If US power is the dominant force in the world, he seeks to criticize its exercise at every turn.

Thus, the peace between Croatia and Serbia at the Dayton accords demonstrated that 'the U.S. understands only force' and is therefore to blame for the Kosovo crisis (Crisis in the Balkans, 1999). Kosovo still has problems, of course, but think how much of the analysis in this piece is irrelevant, less than 6 years after: look at Serbia first, but also Croatia, Turkey, the Kurds,  Iraq - then the US was criticized for preferring 'stability' - and Sierra Leone.

A favourite construct is the 'boundaries of dissent': on Central America in the 1980s, for example, the US 'elite', or mainstream, are described as agreeing that the ends of US policy are good, the only disagreement being about means, with the non-interventionist, isolationist side (confusingly called 'liberal') allowed to argue that there are not sufficient of the national interests involved to be worth the 'blood and treasure'. Without even trying, it can be seen that this is nonsense. The Fromkin and Chace article on Vietnam that I referenced in the previous post cites the views of Robert E. White, a former ambassador to El Salvador, at a conference on Vietnam in 1983:

He was sure that the forces the United States opposed in Central America were authentically and indigenously revolutionary, while the forces we supported no longer represented the region’s realities—if indeed they ever did.

If openly fascist regimes in far-eastern 'capitalist' countries are more efficient, quite why in the US the elite prefers to impose control by hidden persuasion - and how it manages to be the dominant power all the same -  is never explained.

(*) Chomsky would describe himself not as a Trotskyist, but as a libertarian socialist, since Trotsky was equally to blame as Lenin in 1917; but the popular movements in Spain, whose suppression he relates Orwell describing, were often Trotskyist. 

Burnham is also mentioned in  'Trotskyism to Anachronism ' , on neo-conservatism and its rise and  fall (writing in 1995).


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