Swans Commentary » swans.com December 15, 2008  



Noam Chomsky And The Power Of Letters


by Michael Barker





(Swans - December 15, 2008)   In a time before e-mail and mobile phones, the art of letter writing was key to the exchange of ideas, and the promotion of political causes, by progressive intellectuals. While letter writing may not be enjoying the same level of usage today, it is still a medium of significance for public campaigning. One prominent figure who has kept up his letter writing habits is Noam Chomsky, who admits to having a "letter-answering neurosis" and admirably spends "some 20 hours a week on correspondence." Unlike lesser known researchers, Chomsky's signature is an influential mark, whether it is on his own letter or those of others. This article will not fault Chomsky's own letters, but it will investigate the effects of his signing other people's letters. Secondly, given the dubious nature of the letters that Chomsky has signed, this article will try to understand why he has failed to extend his regular criticisms of liberal intellectuals to their institutional counterparts, liberal foundations.

The signing of open letters -- which are subsequently usually posted online or reproduced within the mainstream media -- is one significant form of activism in which many intellectuals partake. In this regard, Chomsky, like other leading progressive writers, is regularly called upon to grace the lists of names of well-known social commentators and/or academics collected together on such letters. Consequently this article will examine the power invested in these letters by Noam Chomsky's name. This subject matter will be investigated by reviewing some of the causes that Chomsky has lent his name to during the last six months of 2008. It will be argued that while such forms of activism can certainly play a part in generating awareness of progressive campaigns, it is essential that individuals signing up to such letters, like Chomsky, are aware of how their name may be misused to serve alternative political agendas that are not always readily apparent simply considering the content of each letter in isolation.

Four Letters

For want of a better word the four "letters" that Chomsky has attached his name to since June 2008 were 1) a statement written in solidarity with Dora Maria Tellez, the former president of Nicaragua's Movimiento Renovador Sandinista (MRS), 2) an open letter in support of Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution, 3) a letter voicing concerns over foreign inferences in the electoral process now underway in El Salvador, and 4) a petition addressed to the board of directors of Human Rights Watch, critiquing their recent report A Decade Under Chávez. Although each of these causes may appear reasonable at first glance, a good case can be made that the collective effect of signing all four of these letters may actually have a detrimental impact on effective challenges to imperialism, negatively influencing the ability of other progressive activists to comprehend the full gamut of strategies that are employed by neoliberal democracy manipulators. Arguably this in turn serves to minimize the likelihood of progressive activists from identifying perhaps the most significant root drivers, funders, and legitimizers of the status quo (that is, liberal foundations).

As Toni Solo reports, the first letter that Chomsky signed was published on June 16, 2008, in the Nicaraguan "centre-right newspaper" El Nuevo Diario. Solo, in his critique of the contents of the letter, writes that it called

for the Nicaraguan coalition government, led by the Sandinista FSLN, not to shut down political freedom and to hold a national dialogue to address the food crisis and the high cost of living in Nicaragua. This appeal was made in solidarity with Dora Maria Tellez, the former president of the neo-liberal social democrat Movimiento Renovador Sandinista. (1)

Solo argues that regardless of the signatories' intentions, the letter contributed toward playing an important role in the "developing destabilisation campaign in Nicaragua of which the MRS is, from the US State Department's point of view, a vital part." Indeed, he writes:

Confirmation that the MRS cynically engineered the whole affair came with the letter's sequel. First appeared a paid advertisement in the local press from the group of foreign cooperation development donor countries -- who like the Bush regime have consistently promoted the MRS -- criticising the Supreme Electoral Council's interpretation of Nicaragua's electoral law. Then the same day, the MRS held a national rally in support of Dora Maria's protest. According to the MRS newspaper, El Nuevo Diario, the rally attracted a few thousand supporters from all over the country. The whole series of events was very clearly orchestrated by the MRS leadership, including Dora Maria Tellez herself.

On top of this, it appears that MRS, the political party that Chomsky implicitly supported (in this letter anyway), are linked to the US government's democracy-manipulating efforts in the region; as Solo reminds us how "the MRS leadership -- including former FSLN comandantes Luis Carrion and Victor Lopez Tirado -- negotiated funding from the US electoral destabilisation quango (quasi-NGO), the International Republican Institute to train up MRS electoral officials prior to the 2006 presidential election." This link brings us neatly (or confusingly, depending on how one looks at it) to the open letter in support of Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution that Chomsky signed in June 2008. This connection is noteworthy because, in the past, the Albert Einstein Institution, like MRS, has obtained financial support from the International Republican Institute (a core grantee of the ironically entitled National Endowment for Democracy).

The open letter calling for support of the Albert Einstein Institution was penned by Professor Stephen Zunes -- an individual I have written about at some length regarding his uncritical support for NED-linked groups like the Albert Einstein Institution and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (another important group that is mentioned within the open letter). Thus despite the fact that the former group has obtained support from the NED-funded International Republican Institute, the open letter reads:

We are aware of, and are adamantly opposed to, efforts by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and other U.S. government-funded efforts to advance U.S. strategic and economic objectives under the guise of "democracy promotion." We recognize, however, that Dr. Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution are not part of such an agenda.

To confuse matters even more, in the same letter Zunes acknowledges that the Albert Einstein Institution has received "a couple of small one-time grants from the NED and IRI... to translate some of Dr. Sharp's theoretical writings." Contrary to the views expressed in Zunes's open letter, over the past year I have fully explored the links between the Albert Einstein Institution and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict with the democracy-manipulating establishment, and have clearly demonstrated that their work is serving imperial interests (intentionally or not). Given this documentary record it is worrying that one of the leading critics of imperialism (Chomsky) could have overlooked these imperial connections so easily. Moreover, it is surprising to observe that Howard Zinn also ranks among the many progressive activists that signed the letter, as he is an honorary chair and board member of the International Endowment for Democracy, a US-based group that critiques the work of the NED-led democracy-manipulating community. (2)

In line with Chomsky's evident concern with the insidious effects of the democracy-manipulating community, the third letter Chomsky signed, the El Salvador letter, highlights four primary issues: these are 1) the problem of "foreign interference in the electoral processes and the internal affairs of other countries," 2) "the increase in political violence in El Salvador over the past two years and the atmosphere of impunity with which this violence has taken place," 3) "a series of legal changes and reforms to the electoral code that open up the possibility of fraud," and 4) their alarm over statements issued in Washington D.C. by the Salvadoran foreign minister, Marisol Argueta de Barillas, upon the personal invitation of Roger Noriega, that "virtually call[ed] for U.S. intervention in El Salvador to avoid a possible electoral triumph by the FMLN."

Unfortunately, the El Salvador letter does not draw attention to the problems associated with democracy-manipulating groups like the NED whose specialty is electoral interventions. Thus the letter only provides a partial explanation of how the softer "philanthropic" arm of US foreign policy operates; this omission, however, makes sense when one reads the letters concluding sentence:

We are hopeful that [the incoming Obama administration], with its renewed commitment to better diplomatic relations with Latin America and its message of political change... will not support any intervention in the Salvadoran elections and nor will it tolerate human rights violations and electoral fraud.

Sadly there is little reason for the critical scholars who signed this letter to realistically think that there is any hope that the Obama administration's foreign policy will differ significantly from his predecessor. In fact, although Obama may be less likely to promote a direct military intervention in Latin America, we should certainly expect a greater commitment to democracy-manipulating activities. In fact, as the Council on Foreign Relations reported earlier this year, "Obama has [already] said he will 'significantly increase' funding for the National Endowment for Democracy 'and other nongovernmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies.'"

The final letter that Chomsky signed this year appears to hold great promise and suggests that Chomsky is finally moving towards supporting a more encompassing understanding of US foreign policy -- as opposed to his overwhelming focus on its coercive militaristic aspects. The letter in question -- which was circulated in November via e-mail by Professor Miguel Tinker-Salas (who also signed the aforementioned El Salvador letter) -- was addressed to Human Rights Watch's board of directors, and aimed to call their attention to the problems associated with their recent report A Decade Under Chávez: Political Intolerance and Lost Opportunities for Advancing Human Rights in Venezuela. The letter informs the board that the report "does not meet even the most minimal standards of scholarship, impartiality, accuracy, or credibility" and "appears to be a politically motivated essay." Here, on this point, I am in agreement with the letter's signatories. However, as I have noted in previous essays, it should not be wholly unexpected that Human Rights Watch should have produced this report, as Human Rights Watch has a long history of acting in the service of imperialism, with their work being closely linked to the NED's. Consequently, I do not agree with the letter's contention that the statements made by the report's lead author, Jose Miguel Vivanco, "run counter to the mission of Human Rights Watch." (3)

Although it is clear that no one letter can address all critics' concerns on every issue, the final letter (in particular) illustrates the problem of dealing with single issues in isolation from one another. Whether the letter's signatories believe it or not, the problems associated with Human Rights Watch's connections to the US foreign policy establishment run deep through their organization, and so the contents of their latest report should not be considered to be an unexpected anomaly. Yet this is exactly how the letter frames the issue, and the perhaps unintended consequence of this (mis)framing is that other progressive activists reading the letter may begin to believe that the ties between groups like Human Rights Watch, the Albert Einstein Institution, and the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista to US foreign policy elites are insignificant and should be excluded from critical analyses of imperialism. I suggest that this represents a troubling trend that works to prevent progressive activists from resisting the tremendous power exerted from the liberal "philanthropic" arm of imperialism. This is because, as I wrote earlier this year:

Liberal philanthropy is in fact a crucial means by which elites exert their cultural hegemony, a process of domination that is all the more powerful because capitalism's Left hand is truly invisible, even to nearly all progressive scholars and activists (unlike the Right hand of capitalism, which is often referred to as the invisible hand of the market but should be more appropriately referred to as the visible hand owing to the obvious way in which capitalists must lend a hand to one another to undermine competition in the marketplace).

Questioning Chomsky

So the question remains, how might we understand the fact that one of the world's most influential critical intellectuals so regularly puts his name to letters whose analyses appear so problematic?

I would argue that the answer to this question lies in Chomsky's limited definition of the key actors that serve to promote US-led imperialism: by this I mean Chomsky's effective silence over the manipulation of global civil society by liberal philanthropists (and to a lesser degree by more overt democracy-manipulators like the National Endowment for Democracy). This omission is all the more surprising given Chomsky's self identification with anarcho-syndicalism or anarchist politics more generally, as anarchists would be expected to be the first to recognize how liberal elites co-opt their progressive counterparts through the provision of selective political support and/or funding. (4)

Moreover, in one of Chomsky's early books, The Backroom Boys (Fontana, 1973), he notes that while elites are often divided over the exact formulation of US foreign policy, they are, as one might expect, all "well represented in its formation" (p.78). This statement is particularly relevant to this essay, as the footnote for this point draws the reader's attention to a variety of sources, one of which is David Horowitz's seminal Ramparts article "The Foundations: Charity Begins at Home" (April 1969). (5) Evidently then, Chomsky is well aware of the criticisms levelled against liberal philanthropy (or at least was at one stage). Yet by choosing to ignore such critiques in all his later work he has clearly decided that their influence is insignificant, and not worth talking about.

Here it is useful to turn to Horowitz's article: referring to the response of liberal elites to the rising tide of progressive activism in the United States, Horowitz wrote:

The first-line response to the militant uprisings and organizations was of course the big stick of Law and Order, as the repression of SNCC and the Black Panther Party showed. But along with the frame-ups and police terror, a highly sophisticated program was being launched by forces of the status quo in the glass-enclosed New York headquarters of the $3 billion Ford Foundation.

In 1966, McGeorge Bundy left his White House position as the top security manager for the American empire ("I have learned," he once told an interviewer, "that the United States is the engine and mankind is the train") to become president of the Ford Foundation. Bundy was an exponent of the sophisticated approach to the preservation of the international status quo. Rejecting what he called "either or" politics, he advocated "counterinsurgency and the Peace Corps ... an Alliance for Progress and unremitting opposition to Castro; in sum, the olive branch and the arrows." The arrows of course would be taken care of by the authorities, from the CIA and the American military to Mayor Daley, while the foundations were free to pursue the olive branch side. Since they were "private" and non-governmental; they could leave the task of repression to their friends in other agencies while they pursued a benevolent, enlightened course without apparent hypocrisy. (p.44)

Given that Chomsky's own work (especially from 1965 onwards) (6) has "been particularly critical of the American intellectual establishment and the American media who hide their real interests behind a mask of 'liberal objectivity'," (7) it is ironic, as I demonstrate elsewhere, that both liberal intellectuals and liberal media outlets have both received ample subsidies from liberal philanthropists like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations -- foundations whose elitist work is thoroughly demystified in Horowitz's article. (8) Indeed, while Chomsky himself has repeatedly taken liberal intellectuals like McGeorge Bundy, Morton Halperin, and Arthur Schlesinger to task, he fails to critique the key institutional home of such liberal elites, liberal foundations. (9)

To conclude, it is fitting to quote a sentence from the first page of Chomsky's first political book, American Power and the New Mandarins (Pantheon Books, 1967). He writes, "The course of history may be determined, to a very significant degree, by what people of the United States will have learned from this catastrophe." Chomsky was of course referring to the Vietnam War, but one might just as easily apply this quote to the insidious influence of liberal philanthropy on progressive social change; because if leading intellectuals, like Chomsky, fail to learn from the well-documented history of elite manipulation, then such democracy-manipulators' influence on historical developments will certainly be amplified. (10) Moreover, as Chomsky's early work on linguistics was intimately related to the broader research agendas of the Rockefeller Foundation (see footnote #6), it is troublesome that he has not spoken out either in favour or against the manipulation of democracy by liberal foundations.

Critiquing Progressive Intellectuals

Stephen Shalom reminds us that while Chomsky himself "has often criticized movements for social change... his criticisms have invariably been motivated by the passionate belief that only a movement that can subject itself to ruthless self-criticism has a chance of victory, or is worthy of that victory." Indeed, this is one of the main reasons why Shalom ultimately regards Robert Barsky's flattering biography of Chomsky's life (published in 1998) to be "largely unsuccessful." (11) Only a rigorous biographical study that combines "independence of mind and tenacious research," is in Shalom's mind likely to do justice to Chomsky's life and to progressive readers.

Chomsky occupies a rare place within the pantheon of progressive intellectuals, and whether he likes it or not, his work has an immense impact on the evolution of the activist lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Consequently it is vital that progressive citizens begin to systematically analyse and document the shortcomings of Chomsky's research, so that we might recognize faults in his invaluable body of work, and make a concerted effort to redress them.

As it happens, the year 2008 marked the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's seminal critique of the media, Manufacturing Consent -- a book that demonstrated how elites use the power of letters (made into words) to "amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behavior that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society." (12) Yet as this article has demonstrated, the year 2008 also illustrated the problematic nature of open letters bearing Chomsky's name. Indeed, these letters, when collectively considered, articulate a political viewpoint that arguably serves to cast a veil over more critical competing analyses of elite power.

As this year draws to a close, it is the hope of this author that all progressive citizens will take time out from their busy (perhaps gruelling) schedules to reflect upon the strengths and shortcomings of, and future directions of, global progressive communities. If we are serious about collectively working to building workable alternatives to capitalism then we must learn to subject our most influential theorists to ruthless criticism more regularly. If this happens, 2009 will go down in history as the year that progressive activists worldwide began to seriously challenge elite rule (at all levels simultaneously), which of course will entail critiquing the very organizations that have sustained (and constrained) much progressive activism, liberal foundations.




1.  Toni Solo, "Noam Chomsky, Tom Hayden, Brian Wilson: At Work for John Negroponte?," Dissident Voice, June 21, 2008. Also see his article "Grotesque Election Fraud in Nicaragua," Scoop, November 24, 2008.  (back)

2.  One of the leading critics of US-led democracy-manipulators is Professor William I. Robinson, and his book Promoting Polyarchy (Oxford University Press, 1996), provides the seminal critique of the NED's activities. Consequently, it would seem that Chomsky should refamiliarize himself with these books contents, especially considering that a central thrust of Robinson's work on the history of the US government's democracy-manipulating strategies concerns in Nicaragua (a country whose history Chomsky is very familiar with). Incidentally, William I. Robinson like Chomsky signed both the El Salvador letter and the Human Rights Watch letter.  (back)

3.  For background information on some of the report's other authors, see here.  (back)

4.  Here it is significant that Peter Marshall in his important book Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (Fontana Press, 1993) does not actually categorize Chomsky as an anarchist per se. Instead, he places Chomsky in his chapter on "Modern Libertarians" alongside Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley, Martin Buber, Lewis Mumford, Albert Camus, and Michel Foucault. He writes these individuals "have taken socialism or liberalism to the borders of anarchism, and occasionally stepped over." (p.566) Chomsky may have taken anarchist philosophy seriously, but according to Marshall he has "not unreservedly endorsed its conclusions" (p.xv). Thus while Marshall notes "it is easy to see why rulers should fear anarchy and wish to label anarchists as destructive fanatics for they question the very foundations of their rule" (p.x), Chomsky has singularly failed to question a key foundation of elite rule, that is, liberal foundations.  (back)

5.  This first article was co-authored with David Kolodney, while the following two instalments of Horowitz's critique of liberal foundations were published as "Billion Dollar Brains: How Wealth Puts Knowledge in its Pocket" (Ramparts, May 1969), and "Sinews of Empire" (October 1969).  (back)

6.  Chomsky writes of his entry to antiwar activism: "No one who involved himself in anti-war activities as late as 1965, as I did, has any reason for pride or satisfaction. This opposition was ten or fifteen years too late."

Although rarely mentioned in polite company, one of the reasons why Chomsky was otherwise engaged prior to 1965 owed to his love of linguistics -- amazingly, given his prolific output, his political activism has always been his night job. That said, Chomsky has however had an extraordinary long relationship with political activism and anarchism more specially, as he wrote his first major political essay (about the Spanish Revolution) in 1938 when he was just ten years old. Either way by 1945 Chomsky had joined the University of Pennsylvania, where after two years of disappointment he notes that he "was planning to drop out to pursue my own interests, which were then largely political." However, it was around this time that he met Zellig Harris and he subsequently decided to put his political activism on hold to pursue his longstanding interest in linguistics under the supervision of Harris, his new-found friend and mentor.

Another figure who went on to play an important role in Chomsky's life was Yehoshua Bar-Hillel, who in May 1951, took up his appointment at Chomsky's future academic base, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Research Laboratory for Electronics. Bar-Hillel "first met" Noam Chomsky in the autumn of 1951 (shortly after Chomsky had moved to Harvard University as a Junior Fellow), and he "was to remain a life-long friend" and Chomsky's "linguistic formalism was to have considerable influence on him." (Around this time Bar-Hillel renewed his relations with Zellig Harris.)

Here it is worth backtracking slightly, as on February 28, 1951, Harris "wrote to the graduate school dean to solicit further support for his promising young student," noting amongst other things that Chomsky had "come to the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation as a possible key man in interdisciplinary research between linguistics and mathematical logic." This is significant because Bar-Hillel's 1951 appointment to the MIT Laboratory "was made with the assistance of a grant from the National Science Foundation," which as John Hutchins points out, was obtained "quite possibly with the influence of [Warren] Weaver who was a director of the Foundation at this time." Weaver's involvement here is critical, because from 1931 until 1958 Weaver acted as the Director of the Natural Sciences Division of the Rockefeller Foundation. As these ties suggest, Weaver was an influential member of the liberal elite, and a "report (pdf) he wrote at the end of the war ("Comments on the general theory of air warfare") was a significant factor in the foundation of the [imperial think tank] RAND Corporation."

The vital role played by Weaver in promoting Machine Translation as a research priority is acknowledged by Donald Loritz, who in his book How the Brain Evolved Language (Oxford University Press, 2002) recounts how:

"In 1949, on behalf of the U.S. military and espionage establishments, Warren Weaver [who was serving as a consultant] of the Rand Corporation circulated a memorandum (pdf) entitled 'Translation' proposing that the same military-academic complex which had broken the Enigma code redirect its efforts to breaking the code of the Evil Empire, the Russian language itself. Machine translation [MT] became a heavily funded research project of both the National Science Foundation and the military, with major dollar outlays going to the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology." (p.166)

Writing in 2000, Steve Silberman observed how "Weaver's memo acted like a seed crystal dropped into a solution supersaturated with nascent ideas about computing, communication theory, and linguistics." And he adds that, "Within two years, MT programs had been launched at MIT, UCLA, the National Bureau of Standards, the University of Washington, and the Rand Corporation." "By the end of 1962," Silberman notes, increasing international attention was diverted to MT research and...

"The Department of Defense, the Air Force, the National Science Foundation, and the CIA showered the contents of their coffers onto the heads of researchers who showed interest in MT -- many of whom had been toiling away on arcane projects as chronically undersubsidized academics. When Georgetown University declined to award big bucks to its own faculty members for producing the 1954 MT demo at IBM, the CIA stepped in with more than $1 million."

Returning to Bar-Hillel and stepping back in time again, having received Rockefeller Foundation support to obtain his appointment at MIT, his work continued to receive strong support from the Foundation, and in "April 1952, the Rockefeller Foundation approved a grant to Bar-Hillel for the continuation of his appointment at MIT until June 1953, and for the organisation of the first conference on MT." Bar-Hillel subsequently left MIT in 1953, shortly before Noam Chomsky took up his appointment in MIT's Research Laboratory for Electronics. Shortly thereafter, according to radical anthropologist Chris Knight, Chomsky's work at MIT began "attracting the attention of the US military." Indeed, Knight goes on to explain that Chomsky's initial military funded work, published as Syntactic Structures (Mouton, 1957), opened "up the prospect of discovering in effect 'the philosopher's stone': the design specifications of a 'device' capable of generating grammatical sentences (and only grammatical ones) not only in English but in any language spoken (or capable of being spoken) on earth." Later Knight concludes:

"It is easy to understand why computer engineers might find it useful to treat language as a mechanical 'device'. If, say, the aim were to construct an electronic command-and-control system for military use, then traditional linguistics would clearly be inadequate."

Chomsky, American Power and the New Mandarins, pp. 10-11; Chomsky quoted in James Peck, The Chomsky Reader (Serpent's Tail, 1988), pp. 6-7; Robert Barsky, The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower (MIT Press, 2007), pp.148-9; John Hutchins, From First Conception to First Demonstration: the Nascent Years of Machine Translation, 1947-1954. A Chronology, Machine Translation, 12, 1997, p.220, 221, 224; Chris Knight, Decoding Chomsky (pdf), European Review, 12 (4), 2004, p.584, 587.  (back)

7.  Marshall, Demanding the Impossible, p.579.  (back)

8.  For further details of the detrimental influence that liberal foundations have exerted on academia and the media, see Michael Barker, The Liberal Foundations of Media Reform, Global Media Journal, 1 (2), June 2, 2008; and Michael Barker, Progressive Social Change in the 'Ivory Tower'? , Refereed paper presented to Australasian Political Science Association conference, University of Queensland, July 6-9, 2008.  (back)

9.  For example, writing in the 1960s, Chomsky explains how: "For a glimpse of what may lie ahead, consider the Godkin lectures of McGeorge Bundy, recently delivered at Harvard. Bundy urges that more power be concentrated in the executive branch of the government, now 'dangerously weak in relation to its present tasks'. That the powerful executive will act with justice and wisdom - this presumably needs no argument. As an example of the superior executive who should be attracted to government and given still greater power, Bundy cites Robert McNamara. Nothing could reveal more clearly the dangers inherent in the 'new society' than the role that McNamara's Pentagon has played for the past half-dozen years. No doubt McNamara succeed in doing with utmost efficiency that which should not be done at all. No doubt he has shown an unparalleled mastery of the logistics of coercion and repression, combined with the most astonishing inability to comprehend political and human factors." American Power and the New Mandarins, pp. 104-05.  (back)

10.  Chomsky is not alone in this critical oversight and he is joined by nearly all the American leading progressive intellectuals on this matter. For instance, Michael Parenti does not mention the influence of liberal foundations in his book-length treatment of power in the U.S., Democracy for the Few (Wadsworth/Thomas Learning, 2002); however, like many other progressive writers, Parenti does acknowledge the that the powerful financial empire "of the Rockefellers, extends into just about every industry in every state of the Union and every nation of the World." And he adds that, "The Rockefellers control five of the world's twelve largest oil companies and four of the biggest banks" (p.12). Later in his book Parenti outlines the importance of a few of the key policy advisory groups of the ruling class, that is, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission (pp. 165-7). Parenti then mentions the key role played by individual Rockefellers in the work of these elite planning groups, but he fails to draw attention to the influence of liberal foundations in supporting their work. On the other hand, at the end of this section on elite planning groups Parenti does pause to briefly mention the influence of right-wing foundations (p.168). Withstanding these criticisms, Parenti's otherwise excellent political writings do provide an important example of a progressive intellectual critiquing Noam Chomsky, as he provides a robust challenge to Chomsky's take on the JFK assassination -- see Michael Parenti, Dirty Truths (City Lights Books, 1996), pp.175-91.  (back)

11.  For example, Shalom writes: "MIT was a major military contractor, and much of what happened there was funded by the Pentagon. Even Chomsky's work was supported by the military. In the late 1960s, as the student movement reached its peak, war research on campus came under increasing attack, particularly projects being done at two MIT labs. Barsky quotes Chomsky as recalling the political line-up: right-wing faculty wanted to keep the labs, liberal faculty wanted to break relations with the labs formally (so that the same work would be done but invisibly), while 'the radical students and I wanted to keep the labs on campus, on the principle that what is going to be going on anyway ought to be open and above board. ...' But this obscures the fact that most radical students, as well as many liberal students, wanted first and foremost to stop the war research and thus to convert the labs to non-military pursuits. We didn't want the war research to go on in divested labs, nor did we want it to go on in affiliated labs. We wanted the war research stopped, period. Barsky's account, characteristically, is too sketchy to enable the reader to grapple with the issue." Stephen Shalom, "A Flawed Political Biography," New Politics, 6 (3), Summer 1997.  (back)

12.  Manufacturing Consent was dedicated to a "close personal friend and valued co-worker" of Herman and Chomsky's, the Australian activist researcher Alex Carey (who had sadly died just prior to the publication of their book in 1988). Like Chomsky, for Carey, letter writing was a major part of his life and he regularly bombarded the mainstream media with his biting critiques, nearly all of which were ignored, much like the rejected Op-Eds Chomsky had penned over the last several years -- recently published in Interventions (City Light Books, 2008) -- or those criticisms made of the British so-called liberal media by groups like Media Lens.  (back)


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Michael Barker has recently handed in his PhD thesis at Griffith University in Australia. His other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com.



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Published December 15, 2008