The Columbus Free Press

Noam Chomsky on the New Party

Following is a piece by Noam Chomsky in response to questions asked him about the New Party. We think you'll enjoy it. And if you do, please see our note at the bottom on how you can help let more people read this and other such posts in the future.

Brief comments [on the New Party], because I'm in a rush, and don't want to delay.

1. Am I a member? Yes.

2. Do I think it's a constructive idea? Yes.

3. Is it just a "reform movement within capitalism"? Yes.

4. Am I against capitalism? Yes.

5. Is there a contradiction between 3 and 4? No.

6. How is the New Party different from liberalism? Hard to answer without some clarification. If by "liberalism" is meant the Democratic Party, it is plainly different from liberalism. If what is meant is some kind of social democratic version of state capitalism, presumably not -- at least now, though the project is one that has a possible evolution in mind, and in prospect, I think.

The one non-factual question is 5, so a remark on that. We live in this world, not some other world. In this world, people have rather serious problems, and for many people, the problems are getting worse. Personally, I'd like to do what is within my reach to help alleviate these problems. If that means working within institutions to try to mitigate their worst abuses, fine; I'm happy to do that, recognizing that it doesn't change the institutions. That's why I've taken considerable initiative in such matters as resistance against the Vietnam war, working with solidarity and support groups focusing on problems here and abroad, giving money to huge numbers of relief and human rights organizations (etc.), and on, and on, and on. All of this is reformist, "within capitalism"; and the short-term goals are achievable without modifying institutions.

So why do it? Because if a child is dying or being tortured, and I can help, I'll try to help. As simple as that, in essence. That aside, if there are ways to help people understand why such things are happening, and what might be done about them, I'll use those ways, wherever I can find them. If there is another way to approach the day when institutions can be changed, I'd be more than pleased to learn about it.

The same extends to the New Deal, British Labor Party, NDP in Canada, and everything mentioned in the communications, and much else like them. Were their limitations obvious from the start? Sure. Did critical participation within them improve people's lives? I don't see how that can even be questioned. A lot of people in this country had their lives enormously improved by the New Deal and "war on poverty," radically limited and often cynical as they were. A lot of people in this country would be much better off if we had the kind of health care system that most industrial countries have, or if Boston City hospital didn't have to have a malnutrition clinic for children suffering from third-world conditions, etc. Could the New Party help do what other reformist parties have done? I think so; it's one of the many parallel ways of approaching such tasks. That's one reason why I support it. Could it not only achieve reforms but pave the way to something better? Not only could it, but that's the only kind of way I know of. We are hardly shaking the institutions to their foundations right now, and would be doing so even less if we were watching TV instead.

Is it the case that "state capitalism is still capitalism--and capitalism just doesn't work" and "you can't cure cancer with band-aids"? Mostly, I agree. State capitalism is still capitalism, and its fundamental problems remain even if the edges are softened -- something that means a great deal to people who are in bad trouble. You can't cure cancer with bandaids, but you can relieve the suffering of cancer victims in many ways; I'm all in favor of that, since I don't like to see people suffer when relief is possible. And you can even take steps that might lead to its cure. Which leads to the next question.

Should we also try to change institutions? Absolutely. How do we do it? By helping people come to an understanding of their nature, how they can be changed, and how people can work together to change them -- understanding that may be better than ours, as we will learn from them, if we are willing to listen. The natural way to approach these goals is to press to the limits the options available within the institutions, so that people come to understand, from their own thinking and experience, what these institutions are, and how they work. That means what is sometimes ridiculed as "reformism" (including what all of us participating in this forum are doing right now); but it should be considered, in my opinion, the only serious path towards revolutionary change -- at least, for those who want that change to be towards freedom, not new forms of authoritarian domination.

Are there other ways? Could be. Surely 100 flowers should bloom, if anyone can figure out how to grow them. But I know of one path that won't go anywhere: do nothing, because whatever you can think of doing doesn't overthrow institutions tomorrow.

Over the years, I've often met people who are quite acute and radical analysts, and who sit on the sidelines out of contempt for the kinds of activism, organizing, education, funding, etc., that is possible, because it all leaves oppressive institutions in place. Some of them have been quite wealthy, but wouldn't give a cent to an organization that feeds and cares for starving children, because that does not get to the heart of the problems. So they prefer to watch and scoff; does that get to the heart of the problems? Personally, I'm not impressed.

Is this a bit brusque? Yes, but I'm off to another talk -- within the structure of institutions, because those are the options that exist, to my knowledge. And I don't want to delay until I have some free time, which may be quite a bit down the road, for the same reasons.

Noam


We're pleased to report that the "on-line news" service has been well received. Of the thousand or so initial recipients of the first two issues, only 2 (!) have asked to be removed from the list. And we've gotten dozens of comments about its usefulness. So maybe we've found a decent balance between frequency, length, and content.

A favor, then. Instead of a thousand people reading it, we'd like ten thousand. And then a hundred thousand. The easiest way to make that happen would be for you to send us e-mail addresses of people you think might be interested.

Here's the pledge we can make: the initial message to any newcomers will be quite similar to what you've received in the past. It will simply say that we thought they might be interested to learn of the New Party, give them some background on it, offer an assurance that we won't send too many messages, that it's a "moderated", read-only list (there are open ones too), and that we hope they'll stay on even as we give them instructions on how to leave. We would also probably send them some version of the piece you are receiving today.

Send us 10 names, 100 names, 1000, whatever. This is a most inexpensive way to get the word out, and it's foolish not to exploit it fully. Perhaps your e-mail program has a way to send a copy of your electronic address book. Or you can forward us messages that include long lists of fine Americans. Whoever sends the most names gets...our thanks.

Please direct responses to Dan Cantor of the New Party at newparty@newparty.org.

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