By Stephen Gowans
July 26, 2019
Noam Chomsky recently co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times, portraying the embattled Venezuelan government as an arbitrary undemocratic state, and calling upon it “to liberate all political prisoners, both military and civilian.” The occasion for the op-ed was the release from parole of Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni. Chomsky had weighed in on her case in 2011, in an interview with the British newspaper, The Observer. The newspaper ran the interview under the headline “Noam Chomsky criticises old friend Hugo Chavez for ‘assault’ on democracy”. The linguist denied he had done this, calling the headline “a complete deception.” It turned out the only deception was Chomsky’s denial.
Chomsky took issue with Chavez jailing people who threatened the Bolivarian Revolution, arguing that such harsh measures were only warranted “for specific circumstances, let’s say fighting world war two.” The implication was that US efforts to block the reform program set in train by Hugo Chavez—the 2002 coup, the attempted 2019 coup, economic warfare, destabilization, military intimidation, the attempted assassination of Maduro, US-organized diplomatic pressure on the government to step down—were not of the same magnitude as WWII and therefore emergency measures were unwarranted.
During both the first and second world wars, the United States suspended civil liberties, jailed dissidents and potential fifth columnists, and concentrated authority in the presidency, including the authority to direct the economy. Yet the threat posed to the United States by its enemies was vanishingly small. The United States, or at least the North American part of it, was protected on either side by two vast oceans and two friendly countries. There was no chance the WWI Central Powers would cross the Atlantic to invade the United States, and no chance either of fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, or militarist Japan crossing thousands of miles of ocean to launch a general assault on continental US soil. Nor were any of these enemies in a position to engage in anti-US economic warfare of any consequence, or to engineer a coup d’état in Washington.
The same, however, cannot be said about the power of the United States, its allies, and myrmidons, to topple the Venezuelan government. Venezuela has unquestionably faced a severe emergency from the moment Hugo Chavez came to power, with a vision of overcoming a semi-colonial past and resisting an imperialist present. At that point, Washington began organizing the overthrow of his revolution. To suggest, as Chomsky does, that the Venezuelan government has the latitude to assert a program of national independence in the face of US hostility while according full freedom to the US-backed opposition to organize its downfall, is either naïve, or artful. Whatever the case, it’s an invitation to the Maduro government to commit suicide.
Chomsky frequently complained that The New York Times wouldn’t run his op-eds because his points of view were outside the acceptable limits of ruling class opinion. Well, it seems that not all of them are.
No sooner had Chomsky performed his valuable service to Washington of traducing the Venezuelan government as undemocratic and arbitrary, than Gilbert Achcar, a Chomsky co-author, was revealed to be doing his own service to the United States’ global dictatorship by working with the British Ministry of Defense. Anyone who has followed Achcar’s work won’t be surprised. The University of London professor hasn’t met a US intervention he didn’t like. His speciality is to formulate arguments to prove that interventions against forces of national assertiveness and local sovereignty are, despite appearances, actually anti-imperialist and pro-socialist.
Achcar has been training the” British military “on ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ and other topics,” for the past two years, according to The Morning Star. Why the British military would pay the slightest attention to him is mind-boggling. Achcar is a charlatan, much given to double-talk and sophistry, whose analyses of the topics on which he holds forth with studied authority are stunningly wrong.
I wrote an essay on Achcar in December of 2015 and January 2016, titled “The ‘Anti-Imperialist’ Who Got Libya Wrong Serves Up The Same Failed Analysis on Syria.” The essay examined Achcar’s arguments for Western intervention in Libya and Syria, showing that his grasp of the facts was not even shaky but dead wrong. As for his predictions, they turned out to be stunningly off the mark.
This raised the question of why an analyst with such a horrible track record would be sought after for articles, co-authorship, interviews, and training, by the likes of Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military? That, I guess, says something about Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and the British military.
There has long been a cankered part of the political Left that has used sophistry to justify support for imperialism. Jacobin, Chomsky, Democracy Now, and Achcar, stand in a long tradition, stretching back to the socialists who supported their own governments in WWI, and presented what they said were perfectly sound socialist and anti-imperialist reasons for doing so. Then as now, their arguments and actions were a betrayal of the socialism and anti-imperialism to which they affected fidelity.