Understanding Power

Mark Malone Reviews Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky. Ed. Mitchell and Schoeffel, Published by Vintage 2003, E1

Understanding Power is a collection of edited interviews, presentations and discussions that Noam Chomsky has had with activists and community groups over the ten year period from 1989-99. Put together in question and answer format and covering topics ranging from globalisation, activist strategies, and the media, Understanding Power is an accessible, even essential, read for all those concerned with how the very few use structures of power to maintain their grip on the majority of people across the globe.

Chomsky has been the recipient of much gushing praise for his analysis of power structures and their corroding impact on the development of a truly democratic society. The New York Times describes him as "arguably the most important intellectual alive." Quite funny then that the NY Times has no less than 38 separate entries in the book's index, which cite examples of deliberate misreporting and convenient omissions, in its role of 'informing' the public. It is Chomsky's demystifying of deliberately intellectualised arguments, backed up with a serious amount of supporting facts and plain common sense that makes this collection important and readily digestible.

Much of the discussions are based on the continuing oppression of many of the world's peoples. The historical context of old style imperialism, neoliberalism and the war industry are explored as is the media's increasingly important role in maintaining the status quo. American and European foreign policies are stripped to their hypocritical core in great detail. The left does not escape Chomsky's attention. He rejects the idea of an elitist Vanguard Party with the "capacity to lead the stupid masses towards some future they're too dumb to understand themselves...The same guys that were Stalinist thugs of the former Soviet Union are now running banks and are enthusiastic free marketeers, praising the US."

Marxism as an applicable theory is dismissed. "We don't discuss Einsteinism or Plackism." They "had somethings to say, some right and absorbed into science, some wrong and later improved on...if you set up the idea of Marxism, youíve already abandoned rationality." He describes the form of libertarian socialism practised in Barcelona in the late 1930's as "about as high a level as human beings have reached in trying to reach libertarian principles, which In my view are the right ones"

Repeatedly Chomsky returns to the need for organised resistance to all forms of undemocratic power, and provokes the reader to empower themselves to help "build a movement that is truly democratic, to provoke reform and ferment the opportunity for revolution." By highlighting the achievements made by the sacrifice and collective work of many, against seemingly overwhelming odds this book may just get you to stop shouting at the tv, shift your ass and get organised.

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This edition is No82 published in September 2004