Chomsky 1997: The New Party Is a "Social Democratic Version of State Capitalism"

Chomsky 1997: The New Party Is a "Social Democratic Version of State Capitalism"

An interview with Noam Chomsky from 1997 has the far-left professordescribing his involvement with the New Party at about the time that Barack Obama Obama joined and sought an endorsement from the group. Contrary toclaims made by founder Joel Rogers (some of which have been shown to befalse), Chomsky says the New Party is not just the left wing of theDemocratic Party, but a socialist alternative.

Media Matters has written a post about Kurtz’s discovery of some 1996 New Party meeting minutes. MMFAuses Ben Smith’s 2008 report to claim the New Party was just the leftwing of the Democratic Party:

Rogers described the party’s platform including national healthinsurance 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, wasto be the “conscience of the Democratic Party,” Rogers said, thoughthey also endorsed the occasional Republican.

As for “socialist”?

“‘Socialist’ means is you try to whatever extent to move the means ofproduction under public ownership,” Rogers said. “The New Party wasnever about that.”

Ben Smith has already admitted that part of his 2008 story was wrong. And I think we’ve convincingly establishedthat Joel Rogers word shouldn’t be trusted on this issue for the restof it. Fortunately, we don’t have to take Rogers’ word on the nature ofthe New Party. In 1997, Noam Chomsky explained what the New Party wasand 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 answerwithout some clarification. If by “liberalism” is meant the DemocraticParty, it is plainly different from liberalism. If what is meant issome kind of social democratic version of state capitalism, presumablynot — at least now, though the project is one that has a possibleevolution in mind, and in prospect, I think.

First of all, you can see that in Chomsky’s view, the New Party isnot part of DNC liberalism. This completely contradicts the thrust ofJoel Rogers statement and Media Matter’s post relying on it to make thesame point.

But after saying what the New Party isn’t, Chomsky goes on to saywhat it is. It is liberalism in the sense of a “social democraticversion of state capitalism.” Let’s unpack this. 

First off, “statecapitalism” has a wide range of possible meanings,the majority of which are tied up in Marxism and socialism. However, weshould note that Chomsky himself defined state capitalism in a recent interviewas 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 versionof state capitalism.” That narrows things down considerably becausenotes, the origin of the term is in a specific critique of Marxism:

The social democrats, who had created the largest socialistorganizations of that era, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimedto uphold it), but a number of key individuals wanted to reformMarx’s arguments in order to promulgate a less hostile criticism ofcapitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved throughevolution of society rather than revolution.

If you continue reading, you’ll learn that after WWII, most socialdemocrats took the view that capitalism should not be abolished (perMarxism), just controlled by the state, up to and including ownership ofthe means of production. This idea was especially popular in Europe andled to the development of the kind of social democratic parties thatstill exist across the continent. Indeed, Chomsky goes on to mention anumber of these parties. But ultimately the goal of social democracy isalways an evolution toward socialism. Here’s Chomsky again:

Should we also try to change institutions? Absolutely. How do we doit?…The natural way to approach thesegoals is to press to the limits the options available within theinstitutions, so that people come to understand, from their own thinkingand experience, what these institutions are, and how they work. Thatmeans what is sometimes ridiculed as “reformism” (including what all ofus participating in this forum are doing right now); but it should beconsidered, in my opinion, the only serious path towards revolutionarychange — at least, for those who want that change to be towardsfreedom, not new forms of authoritarian domination.

So a “social democratic version of state capitalism” amounts to areformist socialism (as opposed to revolutionary Marxism) or we mightmore simply say euro-socialism. That’s where Chomsky places the NewParty on the spectrum circa 1997 when Barack Obama was a dues payingmember. Coincidentally, that’s right where some have suggested BarackObama fits on the political spectrum to this day. Does any of thismatter, especially now? I’ll address that question in my next post.