Yet again Louis Proyect has penned an article for CounterPunch I can recommend. This despite the man being widely known for a ‘debating’ style as bizarre as it is hateful. (I give examples in the introduction to the first of my September reads.)
Nevertheless, in a response to Chomsky’s ‘lesser evil’ argument, reminiscent of 2016, that a vote for anyone but Biden is a vote for Trump, Louis skilfully dissects Chomsky’s false analogy with the disastrous sectarianism on the German left which helped Adolf Hitler to power.
While I admire Chomsky’s contribution to linguistics,1 and frequently cite his splendid work with Ed Herman on the political economy of mainstream media, I do not call myself – as he does – an anarchist.
Which is relevant here. What makes Chomsky’s work on the media so useful is a materialist approach not unlike that of marxism. By contrast, his impressionistic likening of the current situation in the USA to that in the Weimar Republic is woefully misleading precisely because it lacks the materialist perspective which allows clear assessment of class forces.
No, I didn’t “drag class into this”. Chomsky did that by invoking the spectre of fascism.
Louis Proyect points out that Trump poses no fascist threat for the simple reason that such a threat can only arise where there is a communist threat. This truth can be ascertained logically. Fascism is an expensive option for capitalism, an extreme solution to be deployed only when not only profits, but the ‘right’ of a ruling class to appropriate surplus value in this way, are under grave challenge. And it can be ascertained empirically – as, taken together, the cases of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet and Suharto show.
Ever since the 1964 election, liberals and many radicals have referred to the Republican presidential candidate as a fascist threat. When Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination, Democratic California Gov. Pat Brown said, “The stench of fascism is in the air.” Those worries continued through the Nixon years, abated somewhat under Bush ’41, then waxed again under Bush ’43. Today, they loom larger than ever, with Donald Trump’s outside chance of being re-elected in November.
Invoking the 1932 election in Germany, some leftists urge a vote for Joe Biden to keep Trump from consolidating the fascist regime he began constructing in 2016. While not mentioning the word fascism, a letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West and 52 other notable leftists insists that we vote for Biden, especially in swing states. Chomsky probably spoke for the entire group when he told The Intercept:
“Failure to vote for Biden in this election in a swing state amounts to voting for Trump. Takes one vote away from the opposition, same as adding one vote to Trump. So, if you decide you want to vote for the destruction of organized human life on Earth. . . then do it openly. . . . But that’s the meaning of ‘Never Biden’”.
Even before Trump’s 2016 victory, Chomsky fixated on the threat fascism posed. When Chris Hedges interviewed him in 2010, he compared the U.S.A. to Weimar Germany: “It is very similar to late Weimar Germany. The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”
When I read this exchange, I felt compelled to draw the necessary contrast between Germany in 1932 and the U.S.A in 2010:
The other thing missing entirely from Chomsky’s assessment is the differences between the German working class in the Weimar Republic and our situation. There is no fascist threat in the U.S. today because there is no Communist threat. The two movements are dialectically related. Despite all the hysteria about “socialism” on Fox News and at Tea Party rallies, there is not the slightest sign that American workers are thinking in class terms …
Of course, we can drop the f-word and speak instead of a post 9/11 drift across the Western world to greater authoritarianism. In which case a vote for Biden may well be the lesser evil – provided, that is, he makes an unequivocal promise to repeal the Patriot Act, close down the hell-hole at Guantanamo Bay, rescind the extradition request for Julian Assange and call a halt to every single one of America’s wars on the global south. Oh, and stop the baiting of China – which began in earnest on Obama’s watch.
And withdraw from eight hundred military bases across the planet.
I could add to the list but these will do for now. Till then, please don’t insult my intelligence by telling of some far off universe in which Joe Biden could possibly be described as ‘lesser evil’ to anything short of the reintroduction of mass slavery.
Back in 2016, when it looked as though HRC had it in the bag, I wrote this:
Don’t assume I back Trump. He’s unleashed humanity’s basest instincts, as rightwing populists do. But what would I do if I were an American? I’d throw heart and soul into exposing a phoney democracy that promises more of the same: imperialist wars and a trail of chaos across the globe, the continuing export of American jobs to Asia, and the continual subordination of tackling climate change to the needs of profit. It’s to the undying shame of Bernie that, as many foresaw, he urged his supporters to swing behind Hillary when he could have begun the task of building a real alternative, within and without the established machinery. American democracy, even by Britain’s low standards, is broken and crying out for a real alternative. Hillary as president couldn’t advance that project even if she wanted to – and why would she want to? In the face of this bleak binary choice, American progressives should back Jill Stein and build strong grass roots movements for change.
Some of the names have changed, and my critique of imperialism has I think grown sharper, more informed and more nuanced. But for all that, nothing in that passage causes me remorse or embarrassment. I stand by what I said then and if I were an American would be making the same arguments today.
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- Whatever the truth of Chomsky’s “language acquisition device” – criticised as the epistemological equivalent of invoking God – his lasting contribution to linguistics, at a time when the field was dominated by the simplistic models of behaviourism, was the demand that practitioners engage with the sheer complexity of language, and our consequent need for a ‘transformational grammar’.