Sunday, December 11, 2005

The triumph of anarchism

The Hindu Magazine Sunday, Dec 11, 2005
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.
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.
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."

1 comment:

  1. I find alot of this interesting. I have read much of Chomsky's political commentary and have been intrigued by the philosophy and practice of anarchism for some time.
    I think it is true that many people who never thought of themselves as anarchist acted in ways more consistent with anarchist ideals than the actions of many who have called themselves anarchist.
    To my limited understanding, popular movements of the past, such as the abolitionists or the civil rights movement were driven by that innate creative force to remove the most obvious forms of unjust authority in their times. They were free-association movements, they acted independantly to bypass the state and 'plant the seeds of the future society in the present one', they broke down social fetters and created new social bonds.
    The perjorative use of the term anarchy or anarchism makes it near impossible to start a debate on the subject here in Canada.
    I wonder if anarchism describes not a set philosophy but the very ephemeral force that Chomsky speaks about and that seems to inspire courageous dissent across space and generations.