Professor Noam Chomsky has urged the British electorate to vote for Labour. In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, earlier this month, Chomsky stated: “If I were a voter in Britain, I would vote for him.”
The linguist, cognitive academic and philosophical anarchist endorsed Jeremy Corbyn, and observes that the Labour Party would be doing far better in opinion polls if it were not for the “bitter” hostility of the mainstream media.
As Chomsky is world renowned for being a major critic of neoliberalism, it comes as no surprise that he supports a candidate who would reverse the radical socioeconomic reforms that Britain has gone through since the Thatcher era.
He said there were a lot of factors involved, but insisted that Labour would not be trailing the Conservatives so heavily in the polls if the media was more open to Corbyn’s agenda. He said: “If he had a fair treatment from the media – that would make a big difference.”
Asked what motivation he thought newspapers had to oppose Corbyn, Chomsky said the Labour leader had, like Bernie Sanders in the US, broken out of the “elite, liberal consensus” that he claimed was “pretty conservative”.
It’s potentially a fresh and hopeful view from the Overton window, if only we would open the curtains.
The academic, who was in Britain to deliver a lecture at the University of Reading on what he believes is the deteriorating state of western democracy, says that voters had turned to the Conservatives in recent years because of “an absence of anything else”.
He said: “The shift in the Labour party under [Tony] Blair made it a pale image of the Conservatives which, given the nature of the policies and their very visible results, had very little appeal for good reasons.”
He added that Labour had needed to “reconstruct itself” in the interests of working people, with concerns about human and civil rights at its core, arguing that such a programme could appeal to the majority of people. As a human rights activist, I have to agree.
Chomsky said that the future must lie with the left of the party. “The constituency of the Labour party, the new participants, the Momentum group and so on … if there is to be a serious future for the Labour party that is where it is in my opinion,” he said.
The comments came as Chomsky prepared to deliver a university lecture entitled Racing for the precipice: is the human experiment doomed?
He told the Guardian that he believed people had created a “perfect storm” in which the key defence against the existential threats of climate change and the nuclear age were being radically weakened.
“Each of those is a major threat to survival, a threat that the human species has never faced before, and the third element of this pincer is that the socio-economic programmes, particularly in the last generation, but the political culture generally has undermined the one potential defence against these threats,” he said.
Chomsky described the defence as a “functioning democratic society with engaged, informed citizens deliberating and reaching measures to deal with and overcome the threats”.
He said that neoliberal policies are the reason for the breakdown in democracy, they had transferred power from public institutions to markets and deregulated financial institutions while failing to benefit ordinary people.
It’s certainly true that neoliberalism is incompatible with democracy and human rights frameworks.
He said: “In 2007 right before the great crash, when there was euphoria about what was called the ‘great moderation’, the wonderful economy, at that point the real wages of working people were lower – literally lower – than they had been in 1979 when the neoliberal programmes began. You had a similar phenomenon in England.”
Chomsky said that the disillusionment that followed gave rise to the surge of anti-establishment movements – including Donald Trump and Brexit, but also Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France and the rise of Corbyn and Sanders.
He said: “The Sanders achievement was maybe the most surprising and significant aspect of the November election. Sanders broke from a century of history of pretty much bought elections. That is a reflection of the decline of how political institutions are perceived.”
But he said the positions that the US senator, who challenged Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, had taken would not have surprised Dwight Eisenhower, who was US president in the 1950s.
“[Eisenhower] said no one belongs in a political system who questions the right of workers to organise freely, to form powerful unions. Sanders called it a political revolution but it was to a large extent an effort to return to the new deal policies that were the basis for the great growth period of the 1950s and 1960s.”
Chomsky believes that Corbyn stands in the same tradition.
The media is the massage
Chomsky has written extensively about the role of the free market media in reinforcing dominant ideology and maintaining the unequal distribution and balance of power.
In Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky and Herman explore the pro-establishment media’s role in establishing the apparence of a political and economic orthodoxy (neoliberalism) and extending a seemingly normative compliance with state policies, while also marginalising antithetical or alternative perspectives, dismissing them as heresy. In the US and UK, most left wing commentors have a very diminished media platform from which to present their perspectives and policy proposals.
This “free-market” version of censorship is more subtle and difficult to identify, challenge and undermine than the equivalent propaganda system which was present in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.
As Chomsky argues, the mainstream press is corporate owned and so reflects corporate priorities and interests. While acknowledging that some journalists are dedicated and well-intentioned, he says that the choice of topics and issues featured in the mass media, the unquestioned premises on which that “coverage” rests, and the range of opinions that are expressed are all constrained to reinforce the state’s dominant ideology.
Noam Chomsky: I would vote for Jeremy Corbyn (extended interview) – BBC Newsnight
Noam Chomsky’s 8-Point Rationale for Voting for the “Lesser Evil” Candidate
Noam Chomsky is institute professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His most recent books are Who Rules the World? (Metropolitan Books, 2016) and Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power (Seven Stories Press, 2017). His website is www.chomsky.info.