Chomsky 1997: The New Party Is a "Social Democratic Version of State Capitalism"
An interview with Noam Chomsky from 1997 has the far-left professor
describing his involvement with the New Party at about the time that Barack Obama Obama joined and sought an endorsement from the group. Contrary to
claims made by founder Joel Rogers (some of which have been shown to be
false), Chomsky says the New Party is not just the left wing of the
Democratic Party, but a socialist alternative.
Media Matters has written a post about Kurtz's discovery of some 1996 New Party meeting minutes. MMFA
uses Ben Smith's 2008 report to claim the New Party was just the left
wing of the Democratic Party:
Rogers described the party's platform including national health
insurance and wage insurance, quality education, and environmentalism.
Those are positions that basically placed the New Party, ideologically,
well within the left half of the Democratic Party. The aim, in fact, was
to be the "conscience of the Democratic Party," Rogers said, though
they also endorsed the occasional Republican.
As for "socialist"?
"'Socialist' means is you try to whatever extent to move the means of
production under public ownership," Rogers said. "The New Party was
never about that."
Ben Smith has already admitted that part of his 2008 story was wrong. And I think we've convincingly established
that Joel Rogers word shouldn't be trusted on this issue for the rest
of it. Fortunately, we don't have to take Rogers' word on the nature of
the New Party. In 1997, Noam Chomsky explained what the New Party was
and what it's goals were:
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.
First of all, you can see that in Chomsky's view, the New Party is
not part of DNC liberalism. This completely contradicts the thrust of
Joel Rogers statement and Media Matter's post relying on it to make the
But after saying what the New Party isn't, Chomsky goes on to say
what it is. It is liberalism in the sense of a "social democratic
version of state capitalism." Let's unpack this.
First off, "state
capitalism" has a wide range of possible meanings,
the majority of which are tied up in Marxism and socialism. However, we
should note that Chomsky himself defined state capitalism in a recent interview
as something not very different than what we have already in America,
i.e. a capitalist system in which the government plays a major role.
But Chomsky didn't identify the New Party as state capitalism, he identified it as "some kind of social democratic version
of state capitalism." That narrows things down considerably because
"social democracy" is plainly a species of socialism. As Wikipedia
notes, the origin of the term is in a specific critique of Marxism:
The social democrats, who had created the largest socialist
organizations of that era, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed
to uphold it), but a number of key individuals wanted to reform
Marx's arguments in order to promulgate a less hostile criticism of
capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through
evolution of society rather than revolution.
If you continue reading, you'll learn that after WWII, most social
democrats took the view that capitalism should not be abolished (per
Marxism), just controlled by the state, up to and including ownership of
the means of production. This idea was especially popular in Europe and
led to the development of the kind of social democratic parties that
still exist across the continent. Indeed, Chomsky goes on to mention a
number of these parties. But ultimately the goal of social democracy is
always an evolution toward socialism. Here's Chomsky again:
Should we also try to change institutions? Absolutely. How do we do
it?...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.
So a "social democratic version of state capitalism" amounts to a
reformist socialism (as opposed to revolutionary Marxism) or we might
more simply say euro-socialism. That's where Chomsky places the New
Party on the spectrum circa 1997 when Barack Obama was a dues paying
member. Coincidentally, that's right where some have suggested Barack
Obama fits on the political spectrum to this day. Does any of this
matter, especially now? I'll address that question in my next post.