Chomsky is Wrong, Peters is Right
By Brad Wilson at Sep 12, 2008
(This is part of a series of my blogs related to the conventions and post convention presidential politics. I wrote more extensively on the Peters article off line at the time. I see it as related to current challenges. I am relatively new to ZSpace.)
In 2004 Cynthia Peters wrote an important ZSpace commentary on what the left should be doing called “Talking Back to Chomsky.” (http://www.zcommunications.org/zspace/commentaries/1929) A key argument she made is that Noam Chomsky has repeatedly said that groups on the left know what to do and, if you really wrestling with how to win, all you do is join a local group.
Peters pointed out that this is a huge and ongoing question that Chomsky essentially
“gets asked at the end of every talk. He says he gets letters about it every day. When I worked at South End Press in the 1980s, we used to ask him to include something about it at the end of his lengthy denunciations of U.S. imperial policy....”
Peters quotes Chomsky in an interview in the Progressive: "The fact is, we can do just about anything. There is no difficulty, wherever you are, in finding groups that are working hard on things that concern you."
I don’t question that there are plenty of these groups working hard. I question whether they know what to do to win. In my experience, which comes from training and work as an issue organizer, individuals and groups on the left usually don’t know what to do to be successful. Most of what is done locally is not very effective. That is my opinion, based upon what I’ve seen first hand, and what I’ve read about strategy and activism at various web sites.
What I’ve found, in fact, is that, by my criteria established leaders are often the worst on this question, while newcomers are more inclined to search for the much needed ways to be more effective, as in the questions to Chomsky.
I’ve posted an introduction to my answer to the question “what should we do?” in an earlier blog, “How to Win: My Organizers Checklist.”
I understand that social movements have arisen throughout history and won victories without necessarily following these criteria. We can see that in hindsight. That doesn’t mean, however, that most of the methods used were particularly effective at winning changes within a reasonable time frame.
I conclude that, as the anomaly of the ongoing questions to Chomsky strongly suggests, we have a long way to go on this topic. We have serious work to do.