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Reviews of "Profit over People"

posted Thursday, 1 July 2004

"Profit over People".

Sounds interesting doesn't it?! I thought so too and that's why I got myself that book by Noam Chomsky.

I just finished reading it yesterday and it definately serves some food for thought on various ïssues.

A couple of times I disagreed with his views but overall it is a great book worth reading.

I will quote a few lines from it next time. If you have any questions about the book, just shoot it.

In the meantime here are parts taken from an in my opinion controversial, but definately interesting review of the book done by the MIM*:

Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order

by Noam Chomsky

(NY: Seven Stories Press, 1999), 175 pp. pb.

"MIM finds this book to be mildly useful to the cause of the international proletariat. Noam Chomsky is a noted "socialist libertarian" or "anarchist" who manages to pack the halls at many speaking engagements in the United $tates. (...)

(...) We do not wish to take away from Chomsky in the least in his work as "a critic of U.S. foreign policy" as respectable bourgeois circles would say. At his public speeches, he always comes prepared with an encyclopedia-like command of details that skewer the hypocrisy of U.$. imperialism. Maybe more than anyone else, he has been able to lay bare for the people the truth about U.$. foreign policy. He cuts through illusions and presents the raw interests involved. Another small book recently published called "What Uncle Sam Really Wants" is a typical example of Chomsky at his sharpest -- exposing U.S. interventions, military aid and CIA ("intelligence") subversion work in the Third World; although William Blum's book titled "The CIA: A Forgotten History" would be a better start.

We only wish that a variety of intellectuals and journalists would start from Chomsky's true knowledge of U.$. history as their starting point and stop writing various fairy tales in politics and economics about a non-coercive and democratic U.$. influence in the world. A most recent example would be Chomsky's role since the late 1970s in exposing the truth about East Timor. To this date, the New York Times does not ever connect U.$. military aid to Indonesia with the genocide committed in East Timor historically. Only now does it write stories about the United $tates' having to cut off aid to Indonesia if Indonesia does not restore order in East Timor and allow it to move toward nationhood -- without noting the historical blame the United $tates has to bear. For that matter, this approach of talking only of the United $tates cutting aid to stop the genocide gives U.$. actions the air of rectitude -- of being the motive force behind the end of genocide.

Still it is worth pointing out how Amerikans prefer to hear individual leaders than to be their own leaders and work in coordinated ways. Chomsky is proof of the need for leaders in political work, not proof of the underlying assumption of anarchism. Many intellectual radicals tremendously enjoy listening to and reading Chomsky and discussing his work. By his very example they engage in no political work themselves, preferring the activity of discussing the world to the difficult work of changing it. We must produce change from the humane materials at hand as Lenin explained in a corollary of materialism, and at hand are people like Chomsky with considerable advantages in being able to contribute to the struggle.

Weak points in Chomsky

We can point to three main weak points for Chomsky. 1) Political economy. He utilizes no thoroughgoing system of thought in his economic analysis, despite the fact that he has at least tangential awareness of Marxism. 2) Marxism and socialist society or the dictatorship of the proletariat. 3) Nihilism.

While not naive, Chomsky is a moralist. He skewers and skewers U.$. imperialism for hypocrisy, especially with regard to its claims to "democracy" and "liberty." It is obviously a great strain for him to write without sarcasm -- such is his correct disdain for U.$. imperialism. Criticizing and criticizing, Chomsky does have a strain of nihilism, the attitude that "everything sucks" and the lack of a scientific determination of how to progress. Such an approach of criticizing all the time not balanced with upholding a victorious strategy connected to real world forces is what we call "idealism."

Thus, Chomsky tends to leave his analysis at the political and ideological level and make mistakes at the economic level. Such is the case in this book where he points to various inter-imperialist trade agreements such as the GATT, NAFTA and MAI as if they were new threats to "democracy" and not more of the same old unaccountable capitalism.

The introduction to the book by Robert McChesney points out that "one-quarter of one percent of Americans make 80 percent of all individual political contributions and corporations outspend labor by a margin of 10-1."(p. 10-1) Aware of such facts, McChesney and Chomsky still do not conclude in a Marxist way about what is happening. Chomsky dances away from Marxism as a theory of leadership of the proletarian class and never demonstrates a thorough understanding of it. Marxism addresses capitalism as a system of labor extraction from the proletariat by the bourgeoisie. Failing to address this basic mechanism of the economic substructure, Chomsky has no guide for activism. (...)

(...) The historical knowledge that classes do not surrender their power voluntarily is lacking or in the case of Chomsky -- downplayed.

It is impossible to maintain "libertarian" and "anarchist" ideas once one recognizes that groups of people do not surrender their oppressive status voluntarily. Once one recognizes that groups of the oppressed must defend their "rights" to survive by force, anarchism and libertarianism become impossible, except as moralistic pipe-dreams. Something as elementary as abolishing slavery required organized force by groups of people.

As a result of his moralistic stance, Chomsky constantly criticizes his targets for "Stalinism," by which he simply means use of repressive violence or repression of thought in any context. He does not distinguish between the violence of the oppressed seeking to defeat Hitler and the violence of the U.$. state imprisoning Blacks in peace-time. Such moralism like any other moralism can never instruct us on how to overthrow oppression. No idea that fails to address causation can bring a solution. The Quakers, Buddhists, Kantians, admirers of John Rawls and people like Chomsky fail to face this truth courageously and thereby hold back social progress.

It is the unwillingness to face causation and the nature of classes and nations that makes Chomsky and others speak of NAFTA, GATT and the MAI as if they were new things without histories and without being part of the puzzle of imperialism. They would rather defend illusions of existing freedom and democracy than admit that imperialism was already unaccountable before NAFTA, GATT and MAI.

According to Chomsky, fascists and communists alike are at fault for thinking of groups -- "collectivist legal entities" -- where "organic entities have rights over and above those of persons."(p. 52) In this complaint we see most clearly how anarchists seek principally to avoid responsibility for combatting oppression. Yes, professor Chomsky, we knew from the history of nations and classes that the East Timor vote was a danger. Yes, and without knowing the people slaughtered and piled up in the jail cells in East Timor, we speak in a general way against the repression by the oppressors and exploiters. How we wish a "collectivist legal entity" were in place backed by force in East Timor, and if need be, repressing perpetual complainers.

Amnesty International also feels that it has to document each case one-at-a-time. It is not Bill Clinton or even Ronald Reagan who oppressed the East Timor people, but a whole system and group of people. The circumstances leading to the creation of this group of people exploiting and repressing the East Timorese and over a hundred other peoples in the world are what has to be aimed at. Yes, Prof. Chomsky, we know that without meeting anyone we want a "collectivist entity" to uphold the "rights" to food, clothing and shelter by force against those who resist. We are only sorry that you lack the intellectual courage or anti-idealist training to walk yourself out of the absurd set of individualist thoughts that constitute your moralism.

In response to questions about nihilism, Chomsky has started taking up "realism" and detailed responses to the U.$. foreign policy establishment. Chomsky noted the possibility of humanitarian missions by the U.S. military forces, as in Kosovo. He is also willing to side with authoritarian states against U.$. neo-liberalism by arguing (correctly, factually speaking) that the fastest economic growth has not been achieved by free marketeering.

Economic history is not Chomsky's strong point. He simply tailors his points to skewer neo-liberalism without regard to a thorough answer to cause and effect in development.

Chomsky teaches that the imperialists evade their own "free trade" principles when it suits them, and he knows that "The 1996 'Global Report' of the UN Industrial Development Organization estimates that the disparity between the richest and poorest 20 percent of the world population increased by over 50 percent from 1960 to 1989, and predicts 'growing world inequality resulting from the globalization process.'"(p. 112) Yet, Chomsky does not answer what caused the inequality up to this point, as if globalization were some entirely new thing and not the latest ideological buzzword of imperialism, a system that has been stripping the Third World of its labor and resources for over 100 years."

Buy This Book

~taken from

*MIM stands for Maoist Internationalist Movement - only wanted to note that at the end so you'll read the review with an open mind.

I recommend to read more reviews on books and publications @ The Etext Archive.

I decided to add a 2nd review of the book, because some might find the 1st one to troublesome to read. So here is a shorter and more neutral version:

In Profit Over People Noam Chomsky takes on Neoliberalism, the pro-corporate system of economic and political policies presently waging a form of class war worldwide. By examining the contradictions between the democratic and market principles proclaimed by those in power and those actually practiced, Chomsky critiques the tyranny of the few that restricts the public arena and enacts policies that vastly increase private wealth, often with complete disregard for social and ecological consequences.

In clear, understandable language, Chomsky charts the dramatic shift away from a public-interest interpretation of democracy and toward a top-down model that serves the profit incentive of massive corporations. Profit Over People also presents Chomsky's thoughts on free market philosophy, corporate control of public opinion, and the unreported impact of non-democratic forces and policies like the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Multilateral Agreement on Investment--and the widespread resistance movements that often emerge to oppose them.

Combining detailed historical examples and uncompromising criticism, Chomsky offers a profound sense of hope that social activism can reclaim people's rights as citizens rather than as consumers, redefining democracy as a global movement, not a global market.



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