Friday, October 14, 2005

Chomsky on the Presidential Election

Oliver Kamm has a piece here on Noam Chomsky's assertion that, contrary to popular perception, the election that returned Bush for a second term did not actually take place at all. (Mr. Kamm does not take comments but Eric invites you do so over at Drink-Soaked Trots.)

This is of course the Marxist notion of 'false consciousness'. Among the interesting things I've learned from my year on the blogsphere is that because Marx didn't actually use the phrase, it has become fashionable amongst some on the hard-left to deny that it's a Marxist concept at all.

I've neither the time nor the inclination to outline in great detail the reasons why I think this is wrong. Suffice to say that for Marx if one had (has) an understanding of themselves primarily as a Christian, an Englishman, an artisan in the aristocracy of labour - rather than a member of the international proletariat who has no country and only a class - this 'consciousness' is inaccurate and I don't really understand why it is in some way objectionable to describe this as a 'false consciousness' since this is clearly what he meant.

The other point which I think should be accepted is that the concept is routinely used by Chomsky and his ilk to explain why the oppressed masses they profess to care about seem surprisingly (to them) indifferent to their political ideas. You know the sort of stuff: dumb Texan rednecks have been so brainwashed by the media that they choose culture wars over class war and that's how Bush won.

Apart from the fact that this isn't entirely accurate (reports about the death of class-based voting have been greatly exaggerated) this is entirely patronising. Why, for example, is it assumed that poor white Republicans are capable of seeing what those on the American left have been arguing for years - that who's the President and which party is in power makes precious little difference to the dominance of politics by corporate interests? They know, for example - and I've been specifically told this by real Republican-voting Texans - that while they would favour a more British style health care system, it doesn't alter the way they vote because they understand perfectly well that there's not the least chance of this happening.

Which brings us to Chomsky's extraordinary assertion about the last election. In the run-up to November, Chomsky broke from his usual line and conceded that who's President did matter after all and instructed everyone (of course) to vote for Senator Kerry. Perhaps this time, what with the Oscar-winning Moore on hand to help in the election, Chomsky knew the brain-washing line wouldn't, um, wash.

So to announce the election didn't happen is, I'm sure you'll agree, a rather ingenious escape from the intellectual corner he's painted himself into.

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