Saturday, December 26, 2020

Debating Chomsky on Lesser Evilism, BLM, Stolen Elections, and Responsibility For WWII

Noam Chomsky has long stated that the judgment as to which of two candidates represents the lesser evil is a virtual no-brainer, requiring no more than a few minutes time to make. So how come he himself can't make it? To wit:


In a July, 2020 interview he declared that there “was a big difference” between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential elections, a difference “you could count in several million corpses in Indochina.” But, Chomsky added, “a lot of the young people on the left said, “I’m not going to vote for Humphrey. He’s a corporate Democrat. I can’t sully my hands on that. So I won’t vote.” In effect, said Chomsky, this meant that they “help[ed] Nixon win,” and more specifically, they “help[ed] kill a couple million people in Indochina, plus a lot of other (bad) things.”

In other words, Humphrey was the lesser evil in 1968.


Twenty years ago, speaking with David Barsamian of Alternative Radio about the very same elections, Chomsky said the opposite:
“I could not bring myself to vote for Humphrey. I did not vote for Nixon. But my feeling at the time, and in retrospect I think it’s probably correct, was that a Nixon victory was probably marginally beneficial in winding down the Indochina wars, probably faster than the Democrats would have. It was horrendous, but maybe less horrible than it would have been.

In short, Nixon was the lesser evil in 1968.


So Chomsky disagrees with himself on this topic. The question is why.


Unless he's lying, which is extremely unlikely, the answer has to be that determining the lesser evil between two appalling choices is not so easy, and certainly not the no-brainer Chomsky claims it is.  


A further contradiction involves what Chomsky calls an "organizing space," which he claims it is very important to have. Under Biden, he alleges, organizers will at least have some room to present their case and agitate for it to be adopted, whereas under Trump he claims this space does not exist, or won't be effective, which amounts to the same thing.


But for years he has said that organizing is a function of popular will, not of what already exists to be taken advantage of. He's pointed out that "people have gotten themselves organized" in far more difficult circumstances than those that prevail in the United States, mentioning El Salvador in the 1980s as an example. There, a largely peasant society was subjected to near-genocide, but got itself organized and became part of the power structure, though the basic class conflict is far from resolved even today. Still, Chomsky is right to point to it as a success of popular organizing.


But today, he says, effective organizing is an impossibility in the U.S. because Donald Trump. 


Tell it to the ghost of Archbishop Romero.


Furthermore, the phenomenon of Democratic Party "tolerance" for mass movements raises other issues. For example, this past summer Democratic leaders sanctioned mass protests of the George Floyd murder, but this contradicted their previous warnings that mass congregations were deadly super-spreader events. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio absurdly announced that all mass gatherings were banned for public health reasons, except for BLM protests. Chomsky implicitly praised the BLM protesters by observing that they were risking their lives (in a presumed noble cause), but made no mention of their infecting and killing other people, which public health warnings indicate they inevitably did.  Subsequent announcements to the effect that American race relations are a public health emergency, too, and therefore BLM protests deserve to be excused from coronavirus guidelines, were unconvincing in their partisanship, inasmuch as small business owners protesting the destruction of their livelihoods failed to qualify for a similar exemption. 

This can only encourage the conclusion that liberals and leftists are interested in virtue-signaling for their pet causes, not in justice for all. 


Yet more double standards emerge from the whole issue of Trump's brazen attempt to steal the 2020 elections, which are not over even now.  After all, Chomsky concedes that JFK stuffed the ballot in order to win the 1960 election, but praises Nixon's forbearance in accepting the illegitimate result for the good of the country. This is a curious stance. The implication would seem to be that we should just accept it if Trump fails to vacate the Oval Office come January 20. 


 Yes, for the sake of consistency, folks, a second term for the Donald -  an unearned one, just like JFK got! 


And unlike JFK, Trump actually won legitimately - in 2016 - but the DNC, the entire corporate media (except for Fox), and the intelligence agencies refused to concede the fact, spending four years carrying out a rolling coup d'etat against him. Attempts were made to make electors in the electoral college vote for someone other than Trump, show trials were carried out in the media (Russiagate, etc.), tech giant censorship was eagerly promoted, and on and on and on.  


But now the only thing that allegedly matters is Trump's counter-coup. Long live hypocrisy. 

Finally, Chomsky likes to remind the American left of the 1932 German elections, when social democrats and Communists failed to come together to stop Adolf Hitler from taking power. He places the blame primarily on the Communists for this, as they called everyone but themselves "social fascists," thus suggesting that there was no essential difference between social democrats and Nazis. 

Here Chomsky omits any mention of how the Social Democrats might have come to be so labeled.  For example, in 1924, political scientist Michael Parenti reports, Social Democratic officials in the Ministry of Interior used Reichswehr and Free Corps fascist paramilitary troops to attack left-wing demonstrators. Seven thousand workers were jailed and Communist newspapers were suppressed. Maybe this is why Chomsky concedes that the Social Democrats "weren't much better" than the Communists he condemns.


In fact, they may have been worse.  In the December 1932 elections there were three candidates in the running:  the conservative Hindenburg, the Nazi Hitler, and the Communist Thaelmann. Thaelmann argued that a vote for Hindenburg was essentially a vote for Hitler, and would result in war. The Social Democrats joined with the bourgeois press in denouncing this view as "Moscow inspired." Hindenburg was re-elected while Nazi support in the Reichstag dropped by about two million votes from its previous peak. The Social Democrats refused to form a last-minute coalition against Nazism, preferring to side with reactionaries rather than "Reds." 


Meanwhile, the right coalesced behind the Nazis, and Hindenburg shortly invited Hitler to become chancellor.


After that, it was a long, complicated path to world war, with blame falling on many sides; and without world war, it's extremely unlikely that truly massive killing of Jews and other minorities would have occurred. In other words, the German left's failure to stop Hitler's ascension to power, while lamentable, can't reasonably be held responsible for crimes committed during wartime a decade later. War always has deep roots and multiple causes, and can't be said to be the product of a single election, however important.


So there was plenty of blame to go around for the coming of war. For one thing, the fanatical anti-Communism of what later became the Allied powers made it impossible for them to join in a united front with Stalin until far too late, though the overture was repeatedly made. They preferred to turn Hitler loose in the East, where it was happily anticipated he would be massacring Communist hordes, not human beings, who were assumed to exist only in the West.


Failure to perceive our common humanity unleashed the demons of our common inhumanity. By the end of the "good war" the "morals of extermination" (Lewis Mumford) emerged as the property of the proud victors as much as they were of the vanquished, witness the mass cremation of Dresden, Hamburg, and Tokyo, and the atomic incinerations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 


Maybe we should blame American voters for unleashing a genocidal FDR on an unsuspecting world?




On the 1932 German elections, see Michael Parenti, Blackshirts & Reds - Rational Fascism & the Overthrow of Communism (City Lights, 1997) p. 5 


On Humphrey being the lesser evil in 1968, see WowFEST: Lockdown Presents Noam Chomsky “A Letter From America,” You Tube, July 14, 2020


On Nixon being the lesser evil in 1968, see Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, “Propaganda and the Public Mind,” (South End, 2001) p. 136


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