Chomsky responds to me on the BBC

It’s not everyday you see something you’ve written on the BBC website. Last month I wrote a post about the chance to ask Noam Chomsky a question on the BBC’s HardTALK program. Well, like hundreds of others, I sent in a question in and the BBC decided to use it – the very first question in fact!

It’s a testimony to the man’s popularity that such was the interest in his appearance, the BBC saw fit to allow him to respond to further questions online and credit to them for that. So thanks Noam and thanks a lot BBC. The question I asked is below and you can read all the viewer questions answered by him here.

Q: What is the “liberal elite” that you have referred to and what defines their morals and ideas? Nicholas Mead, UK

A: The terms of political discourse are vague and obscure, including these, but also virtually all others: ‘capitalism,’ ‘market’, ‘socialism’, ‘conservative’, etc. I was using the term in the conventional manner, with ‘liberal’ understood in the American sense, something like ‘mildly social democratic’, roughly ‘New Labour’ in the British context.

The term elite refers to those with more privilege and opportunity, hence who dominate decision-making in the economic, political, and ideological spheres. There are no sharp boundaries, no club to belong to. To discover their morals and ideas we investigate what they say but more significantly what they do.

Also polls, which reveal that corporate executives tend to share the views of ‘liberal elites’ on social and cultural issues, though they tend more towards what’s called ‘conservative’ (a much abused term) on economic issues. Impossible to spell it out here, but I’ve written reams about the matter, as of course have many others.

Socialism isn’t dead because it was never alive

Berlin WallThe 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a poignant reminder of how seemingly indestructible tyrannical power can be overthrown by popular movements peacefully. It’s also given liberal commentators the chance to “remind” us all of how “unworkable” socialism is. A prime example was a recent BBC phone-in held by Nicky Campbell on the question of “Is socialism dead?“.

It’s typical of the mainstream media to frame the issue in this way. It is unimaginable for example that the BBC would ask the question “Has corporate capitalism failed?” or even “Has liberal democracy failed?”. The debate was at least a fairly open one with many people pointing to the absurdity of the original premise. The question Campbell should have been asking wasn’t whether socialism was dead or not. It should have been, “Why hasn’t socialism been realised yet?”.

The collapse of communism is frequently cited by liberal commentators and the right as “proof” that socialism doesn’t work. But you don’t have to be a political scientist to see that communism had absolutely nothing to do with socialism. Whichever particular brand of socialism you believe in, two of the most fundamental characteristics of a truly socialist system are worker control of the means of production and redistribution of wealth. The communist system had absolutely none of this. The East German system was – like corporate-capitalism in fact – run by a greedy elite who espoused socialist principles of solidarity and equality but practiced none of them. In reality, East German state-communism had more in common with corporate-capitalism than socialism.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was a victory for a brutally oppressed people against a totalitarian regime. By helping remove the fraud of communist “socialism” from the world map, it was one of the biggest victories of the 20th Century for those who believe in genuine socialism.

Ask Chomsky a question on HARDtalk

The BBC are currently asking viewers of HARDtalk to submit questions to Noam Chomsky for a show to be broadcast on Thursday 29th October. Two questions will be chosen for broadcast. They must be grabbing their chance while he’s in London on the same day to talk on Human Rights in the 21st Century at the LSE.

I quite like HARDtalk because they do generally probe political figures harder than most mainstream current affairs programs. You can of course always e-mail Chomsky directly too as apparently he responds in person and usually pretty quickly but if you’d like to see Tim Sebastian do the probing for you, then you can do so here.

One thing I’d definitely like to ask him is where the hell he finds the time to lecture in linguistics, write countless books on the subject as well as engage in political analysis, writing, speaking events and interviews like the one on HARDtalk. And all at the ripe old age of 80. The man is a phenomenon.

The last time he was on HARDtalk can be seen here by the way although the image quality isn’t great: