A for Anarchism B for Bakunin and C for Chomsky: A Book Review of ‘On Anarchism: Noam Chomsky’, pp.168, Rs. 250, Penguin Edition, 2014.
A month or two ago, Terry Eagelton, in a review of Slavoj Zizek’s book had insightfully reminded the irony of our age. One of the most popular and respected public intellectual he reminded us is a communist. The same remark would ditto apply to Chomsky, except that Chomsky isn’t a communist but a professed anarchist. He is the real life version of ‘the man who knew too much’ of our age. His commitment to his vision; and his passion for simplicity makes him the most feared scholar in the world.
Professor Chomsky is a believer neither of capitalism nor of liberal democracy. For thinkers like him, both are at the best an estranged couple who have to hide their troubled relationship behind layers of paraphernalia to ‘prove’ that all is well. Reading Chomsky is an exercise in dismantling the prejudices of our age. It is learning how to see things, people and the world from a non-statist point of view. Living as we do in an era where writing is increasingly becoming sort of linguistic terrorism; authors like Chomsky remind us our profound need for clarity in our intellectual activities.
To write means to communicate, and not to parade before the reader’s eye coded phrases that makes little sense to them. Writers like Chomsky along with Isaiah Berlin are some of the best practitioners of the art of writing precisely for this reason. They write about complex issues in a language which is accessible even to 12 year old kids.
The thought–content of Chomsky is openly anti–capitalist, and anti–hierarchical. And he is not alone in this. Anarchism as a political philosophy has had a long existence. Bertrand Russell had traced the origins of anarchism in Lao Tzu, the Chinese philosopher. And Chomsky locates the same thought–content in Humboldt.
While anarchists hold divergent views, what Chomsky does in this book is to lay bare some of the principles of his version of anarchism that is known as anarcho–syndicalism. “Anarchy as a social philosophy has never meant “chaos” – in fact, anarchists have typically believed in a highly organized society, just that’s organized from below.” [pp.28]
And again Chomsky in his characteristic manner tells us that, “I think that whenever you find situations of power at the top, these questions should be asked–and the person who claims the legitimacy of the authority always bears the burden of justifying it. And if they can’t justify it, it’s illegitimate and should be dismantled. To tell you the truth, I don’t really understand anarchism as being much more than that.”[pp.33]
All anarchists like Chomsky are deeply suspicious of all forms of power and authority. Humans when held in chain resemble animal. Freedom is the air without which a being suffocates and experiences as Pamuk puts it ‘death-in-life’. Needless authority and domination is not merely antihuman, but is an effective barrier in development of a new human being.
Modern men crushed by ignorance, poverty, mass culture and ideology have become what is every dictator’s dream project of what humans should be like. Modern man either thinks too much and is assailed by doubts from all sides, or simply prefers to think nothing at all. His fertile intellect has been ravished by indoctrination; his thoughts are not thoroughly thought. His is lazy; he smokes much and substitutes all disturbing thoughts with liquor and woman.
It is not that he is not angry; he gets angry with everything, and then vents it either on his wife or on his pets. Anarchism is a political belief that asserts that most of these evils that troubles a modern man, since it originates in material world could be done away with; if only we could alter the economic, social and political structures of society that is withholding in its own womb the ciyotens of future republic.
One of the most violent debate that has troubled socialists around the world is the need for preserving an organized institution whose task would be to control and direct the task of reconstruction of a new society, once people have seized power. [See: Marx’s own pronouncement on Proudhon in a letter to P.V. Annenkov, dated December 28, 1846.]
The communists have insisted on maintaining the sovereignty of poor, whereas anarchists have argued about radically devolving power to the lowest strata, so that the need for bureaucracy becomes superfluous. The issue of state power is what separates writers like Marx, Engels and Lenin from anarchists like Bakunin, Chomsky or even that ferocious thinker named Herzen. For these communists, a vanguard party was sine qua none for maintenance of the hard won liberties of the toiling masses.
The anarchist refuses to believe in anything known as red bureaucracy. “The suppression of the state cannot be a languid affair; it must be the task of the Revolution to finish with the state,” writes Chomsky quoting the anarchosyndicalist economist Deigo Abad de Santillan. [pp.5]
For thinkers, like Chomsky people’s stick is the same as master’s stick. Both do the same to mass, in whose name it usurps power and authority. ‘Every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it’s justified–it has no prior justification.’[pp.33] Be that as it may, these are some of the issues that have been raised in this deeply engaging book.
Anyone who has iota of awareness about labour movement would agree that debates among leftists on serious social questions often take a violent form. One rarely sees this phenomenon of ‘killing for sake of abstract principles’ among the right. This is a typical left problem.
Chomsky with his usual scholarly tenacity devotes few pages into analysis of the Spanish Civil War of 1936-37. In the essay entitled, ‘Part II of Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship,’ he examines the reactionary role of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War where almost 50% of Spain was successfully brought under the direct control of workers and peasants. It was the communists who thought that the “revolution had gone too far” and hence used brute force to turn the tide. In this fight between members of left, ultimately it was right that emerged victorious.
The revolution was crushed. Communist killed anarchists and then the landlords killed the communists. History became a graveyard of anarchists and communists. This book raises some of the most vital issues that have plagued progressive movement since its inception in modern world. If the left could, “overcome its suicidal tendencies and built upon what has been accomplished in the past decade, then the problem of how to organize industrial society on a truly democratic lines, should become the dominant issue for those who are alive…. [pp.18]
It was Nietzsche who had once said that the first generation of every party, nation, church and sect are honest and devoted to the cause. The generation that comes later is corrupt. It is a generation of comrade Napoleon from Orwell’s Animal Farm; of Victor Dunaev from Ayn Rand’s We the living. These selfish and self-serving men would be the white elephants of the new workers’ republic. This Nietzschean remark, apart from being source of several novels, would years later also be the source of reality.
The failure of Soviet Union, the world’s first workers’ state, was a fulfilment of prophecy of much of what thinkers branded as anarchists and ultra-leftist had to say about it. Most communists now agree on the emergence of a new-class in post-revolutionary society.
This new managerial class is the prime beneficiary of surplus-value. Filthy to their very bones, this class shares an antagonist relationship with the working class. And this is such a serious obstacle, that without battling it, no just and equitable society can ever be dreamt off. The dream of Marx is still the prisoner of the modern day bureaucrats. This book is a timely warning, that unless some way is found out to deal with bureaucratic Castle, no revolution would truly become revolutionary enough.
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