Pros and cons of Chomsky and Hedges

The left is blessed with a plethora of astute writers and powerful voices against capitalism and its predatory policies.

Their articles get wide circulation and they occasionally pop up on television. Last year they spoke regularly at the Occupy protests.

Like many others in left and progressive circles I look forward to their interventions. They offer both insight and inspiration.

But as good social analysts as they are, some of them – Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges come to mind – come up short at the political level. By that I mean that, other than insisting that people on the left resist the predatory actions of capitalism, they offer little in the way of strategic and tactical thinking on how to build an enduring mass movement.

Or to put it differently, while their critique of capitalism and insistence on resistance to its dehumanizing values and practices are on point, what is missing from their articles, speeches, and interviews is a sense of how to proceed, that is, how to fight in concrete conditions.

They don’t inform their audience about which change agents are critical to the success of any social struggle or to the durability of any social movement.

Nor do they suggest which alliances among which social groups are crucial to political advance.

The reader/listener gets no insight as to what the main political obstacle to social progress, including getting rid of capitalism, is at this moment.

And besides the need to resist capitalism’s outrages, you get no inkling as to what the main political task is at this moment – certainly not the coming elections.

If organized labor enters into their analysis, it is never as a prime-time player whose role is of overriding importance to prospects of any social movement’s durability, advance and victory. In fact, too often labor either comes in for criticism or as an afterthought or as just one among many other agents of change.

Few of these analysts emphatically say that the nation’s working people – the multi-racial working class and its organized sector – have to be in the forefront of the democratic and revolutionary movement for it to succeed.

Much the same could be said about their attitude towards people of color and the struggle against racism. Yes, they vigorously oppose racism, appreciate the struggle role of people of color, and appeal for unity, but one doesn’t get the impression that the participation of people of color is considered strategic to advancing the democratic and class struggle or that the fight against racism is at the center of the struggle for all-people’s unity and victory.

Nor does one get the impression that these writers see women as a strategic force.

As far as divisions in the ruling class, little is mentioned. In fact, the tendency among these commentators is to treat the ruling class (including its two parties) as one undifferentiated mass – quite a different approach than that taken by the prophetic leader Martin Luther King, who was very conscious of splits in the top layers of society and between and within the two parties.

Perhaps more fundamentally, an appreciation of the balance of class and social forces at any given moment doesn’t figure much in their political calculus nor do the mass moods of the overall population – all of which can lead to a sense that either everything is possible or nothing is possible but individual resistance.

What they put a lot of stock in – I would say even go overboard about – is expressions of resistance on the part of radicalized young people. A decade or so ago it was the youth in Seattle who were getting rave reviews from this grouping of left intellectuals and more recently the Occupy movement was at the top of their agenda.

Certainly both these manifestations of youthful upsurge justifiably generated excitement on the left and beyond. Both contributed mightily to recasting the conversation in the country. But neither one constituted by itself a fundamental political challenge to the existing power relations and arrangements nor replaced the main social forces of change.

Now don’t get me wrong. Young people play an absolutely important and necessary role in any social movement. And in many cases their actions set off wider struggles in society. But to note their necessary and catalytic role in any broader social advance is not the same as turning them into a people’s – oops I dare say the word – vanguard.

To be fair, no one on the left has come up with a compelling enough strategic and tactical visualization that reaches and excites millions and moves the country forward in a democratic and socialist direction.

I would like to think the Communist Party’s strategic and tactical policy (which corresponds with the outlook of broad social forces in many ways) merits closer attention. But that is not my decision. In the end, life will decide whose strategic and tactical vision will capture the hopes of tens of millions.

Photo: Noam Chomsky. Audringje // CC 2.0


Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Paryt USA. He served as the party's national chairperson from 2000 to 2014. Previously he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.

He is a public spokesperson for the CPUSA, and travels extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including trips to South Africa, China, Vietnam, and Cuba where he met with leaders of those countries.

Webb currently resides in New York City, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and received his MA in economics from the University of Connecticut.



  • Nor do they address what takes the place of free market capitalism, which has produced the strongest freest nation the world has ever seen. They don’t deal at all with the idea of what you may think is best, I may disagree with, and that I am as smart as you. There is no economic idea that shows it the right way to go. I mean when you are number one in the world, what do you replace that with. Nor does it address that the world is full of other nations of just pure psychos that would kill everyone of us if they could, because that’s what their religion tells them to do. Least we forget this, they have all so turned their wolf crying into a gigantic cash cow for themselves. This is not ever talked about. In the end, their idea is an old idea. Utopia. The perfect man..the perfect society. This of course cannot ever be, because we are flawed by nature. We have self interest. The beauty of our society is it takes that self interest and turns it into productive things. America is not perfect…be we are not China…North Korea, Russia, Cuba, the Middle east, all of Africa, India, have I left anybody out of note. I came to this site not knowing what I was going to read, and the funny thing is, it just confirmed what I already knew. Like virtually all progressives, they are only liberal as long as you agree with them. They offer no real solutions, but are darn quick to point out all the faults. And this guy, he’s one of, if not their leader.

  • This critique of certain left intellectuals is long overdue. Here’s hoping that Sam’s perceptive article initiates a wide and thorough discussion of the issues he raises.

  • Chomsky, Hedges, et al., combine civil disobedience, rigorous and prolific argumentation, and legal action — Hedges and Chomsky recently filed a lawsuit against Pres. Obama’s NDAA — to combat government wrongdoing and its exploitation of the people, at home and abroad. They have dedicated their lives to it.

    Their role is not to suggest to people “which alliances among which social groups are crucial to political advance.” They leave that to vacuous pundits and campaign workers.

    Advocating certain groups, organizations, or political parties over others would damaged their credibility, turn them into mouthpieces.

    Instead of arguing independently and persuasively against government corruption and for social and political equality, they’d be defending and propping up movements and institutions and political parties.

    Though you seem familiar with their ideas, you seem to lack a deep understanding of them. I have no idea how one could read Chomsky or Hedges and not “get the impression that these writers see women as a strategic force.”

    And both writers certainly view the working class as critical to any successful sociopolitical movement.

    But you are correct in writing that they often criticize organized labor, and they should. Organized labor is in lockstep with the democratic party; both democrats and labor unions have been reduced to self-serving money chasers.

    Chomsky and Hedges rebel against power. Power always needs to be rebelled against — it’s always corruptible.

    But I suppose you’d rather them write weekly columns advocating communism — an economic system that, like capitalism, has been tried and has failed.

  • Sociology is suppose to the discipline that puts theory into practice. Yet, as a U.S. scholar of Sociology I have found that academics skip around the idea of reform because they want to avoid using the words communism or socialism.

    Thank you for mentioning this “strategic and tactical policy.” I’ll be sure to look at it.

  • Sam:
    In general I like everything you had to say about the lack of purpose among the “left” to formulate a realistic plan to take back what’s ours in our capitalist society.
    For this reason I believe it is more necessary than ever to support the concept that the Cuban Five be released by means of a Presidential pardon as a way to pressure for the eventual end of the blockade of Cuba. Because the Helms-Burton law ties the hand of the President to intervene directly, it is incumbent to find real concrete measures that appeal to people’s sense of justice and fairness. In this way our”strategic and tactical vision” can capture the hopes of tens of millions. Thank you.


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