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Shelley Walia, "The Triumph of Anarchism"

"The Triumph of Anarchism"

Shelley Walia, The Hindu

Noam Chomsky deserves the recent vote that ranks him as the
most important intellectual today; a thinker who is an
effective counterweight and an independent critic of the
state. A comment.

"Each individual, according to Chomsky, has the
responsibility and the creative acumen to take control of
his/her society."

An essay supporting the anarchist philosophy at the age of
10; hours spent at the bookshops on Manhattan's 4th Avenue
engaged in anti-authoritarian polemics; and then a life time
spent in analysing what ails international relations in the
context of the widespread infringement of human rights and
the numerous wrongs which fester our society. Indeed,
Chomsky deserves the recent vote that ranks him above
Umberto Eco or Howard Zinn as the most important
intellectual today, an intellectual who is an effective
counterweight and an independent critic of the State. As he
writes in a famous essay "Objectivity and Liberal
Scholarship": ". . . access to power, shared ideology,
professionalisation may or may not be deplorable in
themselves, but there can be no doubt that they interact so
as to pose a serious threat to the integrity of scholarship
in fields that are struggling for intellectual content and
are thus particularly susceptible to the workings of a kind
of Gresham's law. What is more, the subversion of
scholarship poses a threat to society at large."One of the repercussions of Chomsky's lifelong work is that
human language and most behaviour are dependent on a huge,
impulsive capacity for creativity, an "instinct for freedom"
to use a term by Bakunin. This concept places Chomsky at the
"frontier of psychology, philosophy and linguistics and
square in the 18th-Century tradition of the Enlightenment —
Rousseau, the Cartesians and other ferocious libertarians."
Believing that the best way to maximise our genetically
endowed freedom is through anarchism, Chomsky defines his
worldview as "libertarian socialism." Such a brand of
anarchism has both a historical force and stands for a
deeply positive ideology that aims towards the absolute
welfare of the public, though in the hands of the media and
its controllers, this school of thought takes a rather
destructive and a negative complexion.

War and patriotic fervour?

As an activist with an anti-fascist ideology, Chomsky has
always been sceptical of the patriotic fervour behind wars.
For this reason he stands against the treatment of the
German prisoners of war and is deeply disturbed by the
atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The libertarian anarchist
stance combined with a left-wing communism that he adopts
under the influence of his linguistics teacher, Zellig S.
Harris, lead to his attention to causes of social justice
and the perceptible duplicity of the intellectuals. He sees
his theory of Universal Grammar as a uniformity of human
genetic inheritance, a uniting force that sees more
similarities in the human race than conflicts arising out of
ethnic affiliations or narrow provincialism. The essence of
creativity is innate in all humans, which enables them to
think and introspect. Language being inherently a creative
entity, its original usage gives one a sense of freedom.
Inequality and suffering in the world, therefore, have to be
taken into consideration to finally eliminate division. A
Marxist standpoint with class as the central tenet thus
forms the essence of anarchist theory and practice. Chomsky
adds to it the idea of the human linguistic abilities that
have the power to resist any social oppression or
straitjacketing. External authority cannot control the
evolution of moral and intellectually rebellious culture.
Wilhelm von Humboldt, the founder of the University of
Berlin, and John Dewey, the philosopher, convinced Chomsky
that political control is used by the State at the behest of
the moneyed class. As argued by Adam Smith, it is all a
self-promotion programme premeditated for the sole intention
of profit at the cost of apathetic abuse of the masses.
Chomsky remains equally impressed by other anarchist
thinkers such as Emma Goldman, Pannekoek, Rudolph Rocker and
Diego Abad de Santillan.

Tradition of anarchism

Chomsky's essays and interviews throw light on the 150 years
tradition of anarchism that "has sought social and economic
justice without the mediation of bosses, politicians or
bureaucrats." Rather than lay out a plan for any single
revolutionary moment that would bring about the intended
social transformation, Chomsky, along with George Woodcock,
emphasises the imperceptible changes that would occur under
a protracted process that would counter capitalism. No
sudden demise of capitalism is envisaged. As he emphatically

"The record of anarchist ideas, and even more, of the
inspiring struggles of the people who have sought to
liberate themselves from oppression and domination, must be
treasured and preserved, not as a means of freezing thought
and conception in some new mold but as a basis for
understanding of the social reality and committed work to
change it. There is no reason to suppose that history is at
an end, that the current structures of authority and
domination are graven in stone. It would also be a great
error to underestimate the power of social forces that will
fight to maintain power and privilege."

This tradition of liberal thinking has its roots in the
18th-Century Enlightenment project, often employed
negatively in Eurocentric imperial strategies, but in the
hands of Descartes and Rousseau, turns into a philosophy of
social justice that is passed on to contemporary thinkers
like Chomsky. This school of thought is blatantly
anti-capitalist with the underpinnings of a non-hierarchical
social structure in which the workers are to be given the
control of the means of production. Liberalism of the
American New-Dealish brand of cut throat competition and
corporate authoritarianism in the industrial sector is what
the elite intellectuals take upon themselves to support,
whereas the socialist anarchist stands polemically opposed
to such hierarchical fascism so integral to corporate
thinking which has full control of the policies of the
government and is always opposed to trade unionism. The
labour force is the foe and has to be constantly persuaded
to switch sides on the fake trust that there is complete
harmony in the workplace. This deception is cast by the
media, by the flood of literature at all levels of special
institutions such as schools, churches, television and
cinema to make the workers believe in the "sincerity" and
moral action of the State. The endeavour is to destroy all
left-wing thinking and take society towards a conservative
way of life. The façade of classlessness is cast over the
public and many begin to believe that the State favours
equal opportunities. They are not aware of the fact that
income inequality is the highest in America. Interestingly,
the corporations remain unscathed behind the scene, and it
is the government that bears the brunt of criticism.

John McGilvray, Canadian philosopher, posits a pertinent
question in his book on Chomsky: "Isn't anarchism the
complete absence of any obligations towards others?" He then
goes on to take the view of James Buchanan who says, "the
ideal society is anarchy, in which no one man or group of
men coerce another." But in the next breath he contradicts
himself by saying that "any person's ideal situation is one
that allows him full freedom of action and inhibits the
behaviour of others so as to force adherence to his own
desires. That is to say, each person seeks mastery over a
world of slaves."

In the context of economic accumulation and domination this
view is correct. But Chomsky disagrees:

"In today's world, the goals of a committed anarchist should
be to defend some state institutions from the attack against
them, while trying at the same time to pry them open to more
meaningful public participation -- and ultimately, to
dismantle them in a much more free society, if the
appropriate circumstances can be achieved."

A type of "voluntary socialism"

Thus, according to Chomsky, anarchism is a type of
"voluntary socialism" and is synonymous with "libertarian
socialism." This is not found in capitalist societies where
labour is subjected to coercion when it is not allowed to
own the means of production or have any effective control
over the productive activity. Freedom and creativity are two
privileges of human beings so essential to their need; any
unjust exercise of power leads to victimisation as well as
psychological depression. To fulfill human nature and to see
to it that human life thrives, it becomes essential to
counter any form of oppression or control. This is the
reason that Chomsky supports anarchosyndicalism, which
according to Mcgilvray "is defensible as an empirical claim
about the nature of a society in which human beings cannot
just survive but thrive, by fulfilling their natures."

Chomsky, argues McGilvray, "sees anarchosyndicalism as a
modification of the basic Enlightenment conception of the
person as a free and responsible agent, a modification
required to meet the challenge of private power. Empowering
individuals by putting control back into their hands is the
best way to meet this challenge and provide a meaningful
form of freedom." Chomsky suggests that the anarchist way of
putting an end to the imposition of control from the top is
one step towards implementing a worker's control over the
means of production. Thus anarchosyndicalism used as a
critical practice refuses to put all initiatives and
solutions in the hands of the technocrats or bureaucrats.
Each individual, according to Chomsky, has the
responsibility and the creative acumen to take control of
his/her society. Therefore, the idea is not to overthrow
governments but to take over the corporates so that they
begin to work more in favour of the people. Anarchism, in
favour of the people, involves the recognition of plurality
and diversity, and difference of interests, ideas and
opinions. This is the Cartesian underpinning to Chomsky's
thought, an impulse towards the non-systematic and highly
relative and flexible character of everything in society
from organisations to individuals. He takes governance
inherently as a communal activity not to be left simply in
the hands of the specialists who focus too narrowly on their
respective areas of interest, ignoring the larger well being
of society. For instance, undesirable jobs like cleaning the
sewerage system, or repairing the electrical wires during a
snowstorm should necessarily be mechanised, and if there
still exist more undesirable jobs, the community should
share them. Another solution that Chomsky suggests is that
people who do unpleasant jobs should be paid the highest,
not the lowest.

The examination of the history of social and political
dissent demonstrates that there have been "a number of
otherwise loyal, upright, law-abiding citizens who believed
that they had been driven by their conscience to break the
law over certain specific issues." In fact, we are all
dissidents at one time or another. Protest has to be allowed
in society, as we live in a world that is constantly
changing, and it is by protest that the laws are changed for
a better future. As Vaclav Havel writes, "You do not become
a 'dissident' just because you decide one day to take up
this most unusual career. You are thrown into it by your
personal sense of responsibility, combined with a complex
set of external circumstances. You are cast out of the
existing structures and placed in a position of conflict
with them. It begins as an attempt to do your work well, and
ends with being branded an enemy of society." Under the
overwhelming force of capitalism, bureaucracy and religious
difference there are always the smouldering undercurrents of
anarchism that, in the words of Rudolf Rocker, underscores
"a definite trend in the historic development of mankind,
which . . . strives for the free, unhindered unfolding of
all the individual and social forces in life."