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Suzanne Moore: from Provincial Obscurity in Ipswich to the World Political stage.

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Image result for Ipswich Blue Boy

Ipswich, Coach that took Suzanne from Provincial Obscurity to the World Stage.

Voters will stick two fingers up to those lecturing about Brexit’s dangers .

I don’t know how many more people are going to lecture me to vote for the status quo. Stephen Hawking, actors I don’t care about, family and friends I do, George Osborne in a hi-vis jacket, some pale Lib Dem – all these people are pro-Europe. Remain is humane. Morally superior. All else is Farageland, old-fashioned, implicitly racist, desperately uncosmopolitan. Europe is a dream of weekends in Warsaw, festivals in Barcelona and stags in Amsterdam. It’s about being free and modern and connected. Mostly by cheap flights. What sort of person would want to not co-operate with this?



For all the talk of being the party of the workers, the only ones the Tories seem to care about are white English people

The dots are not joined here at all. The language of belonging matters. The redrawing of these new boundaries is being done in the language of the left, but it is the most extreme move to the right I have seen in my lifetime.

“Stop the world I want to get off” turns into: “If you believe you are citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.” A slight affront to the easyJet generation, a death sentence if you are on a dinghy in the cold sea. This is no move to the centre but a plunge into dark, dangerous waters.

Unkind souls may comment that this is the not the writing of somebody who has been speaking prose all their life.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 6, 2016 at 2:13 pm

Suzanne Moore, Ipswich’s Favourite Daughter, writes New SCUM Manifesto.

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Image result for Ipswich Blue Boy

Ipswich, Coach that took Suzanne from Provincial Obscurity to London’s Bright Lights.

Ipswich is known internationally as the birthplace of celebrated scamp,  songstress, poetess, pioneering post-cultural studies theorist, and radical feminist, Suzanne Moore.

In her multi-volume autobiography Moore refers to her younger days, punting along the Orwell, drinking snakebite in the Blue Coat Boy (pictured above), and attending Young Farmers’ Balls.

An affection for her home town roots shines through her award winning writing.

Most recently,

Rio has showcased a post-Brexit nationalism the left should embrace. “Nationalism need not be racist and inward-looking. The Great Britain of the recent Olympics was inclusive, warm, sentimental and hardworking” (Guardian. 22nd of August. 

Call us sentimental but a tear came to our eye when we read this latest finely crafted prose,

We publish extracts, but the real deal has to be read in the original, and finely savoured.

We dedicate today to the best loved daughter of the ancient Anglo-Saxon homeland

Suzanne Moore: Why I was wrong about men

You can’t hate them all, can you? Actually, I can.

Having tried to live with various mishaps, I realise that this is not for me and it never will be. But then, nor will the kind of reasonable feminism in which we make allowances for men. Because they are men. I have had it all my life: pro-choice marches in which men insist that they walk at the front. A left-wing party that cannot deal with a female leader. The continuing pushing back of women’s rights.

The more I hate men (#YesAllMen), the more I don’t mind individual ones, actually, as it is clear that some can be entertaining for a while. Before you even bother whingeing that my hatred of the taskmasters of patriarchy is somehow equivalent to systematic misogyny, to the ongoing killing, rape and torture and erasure of women, know this: I once made exceptions. I was wrong.

Well-established rumour has it that Suzanne plans to speak on Ipswich Corn Hill this coming Saturday on her latest work, which some are already calling the 21st Century’s answer to Valerie Solanas’s  SCUM Manifesto.

We look forward to seeing her, amongst the Suffolk Bor selling piles of mangelwurzel, the  essential ingredient in the soup that has made Ipswich a byword for high-class cuisine.

Image result for Ipswich old pictures corn hill

 Recent Corn Hill picture. 

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Moore: in Case Nobody Recognises her. 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 6, 2016 at 11:28 am

La Fin de l’intellectual français? De Zola à Houellebecq. Shlomo Sand. A Critical Review.

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La Fin de l’intellectual français? De Zola à Houellebecq. Shlomo Sand. La Découverte. 2016.

Internationally celebrated for The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) Shlomo Sand is a redoubtable controversialist. That study, which argued that those following the Jewish religion only began to consider themselves a “people” during the Middle Ages, continues to be debated. Sand’s assertion that most Jews owes their origins to religious conversion, and not to ancient Hebrew origins, was intended to strike at the heart of the “National Myth” of the state of Israel. How I stopped Being a Jew (2013) announced a wish to break with “tribal Judocentrism”. Warmth for the secular ideals of Israel, and for the Hebrew language, has not protected him from vigorous criticism from a wide variety of Zionist critics.

La Fin de l’intellectuel français has equally iconoclastic ambitions. Apart from frequent autobiographical notes, during which we learn he was once a Marxist who wished to change the world, it is no less than a charge, an accusation, against Europe, and against France in particular: that the Continent is lifting the drawbridges against the “Muslim foreigners”. A “contagious plague” of Islamophobia, uniting left secularists and traditional nationalists, has infected the Hexagone. For Sand, “media intellectuals” (intellectuels médiatiques) both circulate this “code” and pile up its symbolic property. “A une vitesse suprenante, une puissante intelligentsia médiatique s’est constituée pour qui la stigmatisation de l’autre’”… “La détestation de la religion musulmane” has become “le nouvel opium de l’intellectuel’ ‘antitotalitaire.” (Page 238) At an amazing speed, a powerful media intelligentsia  has been built around the stigmatisation of the Other. ” “The loathing of the Muslim religion” has become the “new opium of the anti-totalitarian intellectuals.”

Put simply, to the author the stars of the modern Parisian media salons, those setting the tone, the style and the substance are small in number. They include (putting them in British terms) Éric Zemmour (a ‘declinist’ second cousin to our historians nostalgic for the Empire with specific French gripes against the ‘héritières de mai 68’, ), Alain Finkielkraut (a ‘philosopher’ of the erosion of educational and grammatical standards, and what one might call “Parisianistan’, an even closer co-thinker to Melanie Phillips), Renaud Camus (a professional  indignant xenophobe railing at the ‘replacement’ of Europeans by foreigners, and potential Editorialist for the Daily Express), and Michael Houellebecq, who needs no introduction, even, one hopes, to dimwits.

The Intellectual.

The bulk of La Fin de l’intellectuel français consists of chapters on the historical role of French intellectuals, and considerations of their social functions, from Gramsci, Pierre Bourdieu to Régis Debray. There is mention of lesser-known writings, such as Harman and Rotman’s Les Intellocrats (1981) which highlighted the small Parisian world of publishing, and heralded the birth of the new “media intellectuals” that came to the fore in the late seventies with the nouveaux philosophes, André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and others, long forgotten, defying the totalitarianism they had freshly rejected.

As a pared down version of Michael Scott Christofferson’s Les Intellectuals contre la Gauche (2014 – French, expanded, edition), this history, a grand narrative, charges the French intellectual class with having abandoned Marxism and the left. Amongst many other faults it ignores that the left continued to exist during that decade. Mitterrand’s 1981 victory – initially ruling in coalition with the Parti Communiste français (PCF) – was supported by the mass of the intelligentsia, within which an unbroken critical, if minority, left – never once mentioned in La Fin – has continued its own way, up till the present. This indicates one of the many ways in which the dominance of ‘media intellectuals’, in, unsurprisingly, the media is not the same as the kind of more entrenched intellectual hegemony that Gramsci outlined.

Readers unfamiliar with the history of the term intellectual and the politics of French intellectuals, from the “critical collective intellectual”, Zola and his cohorts, that arose during the Dreyfus Affair, Julien Benda’s defence of disinterested universalism (La Trahison des clercs. 1927), Paul Nizan’s Leninist commitment to the “soldats de la plume” (Les Chiens de Garde. 1932), will find, at least some passages to reflect on.

The Collaboration, the Resistance, post-war ‘engaged’ thinkers, in the mould of Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, receive particular attention. The less reputable aspects of the Existentialist couple’s war record and minimal participation in real resistance were, for Sand a stumbling block for his own hero worship. Those who have not stumbled across writings such as Carole Seymour-Jones, A Dangerous Liaison (2008) that portrays in more depth than La Fin de l’intellectuel français the worst side of the pair’s war-time treatment of their Jewish lover, Bianca Bienenfeld, may even now be shocked.

Sand is, while not widely known outside of specialised circles, is the author of a fine study of Georges Sorel, L’illusion du politique (1984) Based on his PhD thesis this intellectual biography demolished a number of misconceptions, including the idea that Sorel was a proto-fascist, while making the various writings and stages in Sorel’s thought as clear as is possible. He followed this (echoed in the present volume) with a dispute on fascism, with the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell. Apart from demonstrating again that 1920s and 1930s French ‘non-conformist’ admiration for Mussolini, and then (to a lesser extent) Hitler, indicated just how far real fascism did not take root in France, Sand demonstrates analytical fineness. He even admits that the far-right (and most notorious intellectual Collaborator) writer Drieu la Rochelle had talent (Page 158). Indeed the text displays – against Sartre’s belief that no anti-Semitic novel had any merit – a serious acquaintance with the romancier’s (in our opinion) interminable and tedious Gilles. (1939) (Page 215)


None of this delicacy is offered in the concluding chapters of La Fin de l’intellectuel français. It is tale of French Islamophobia, of nationalism and bigotry masquerading as Universalist secularism that would have been lifted from the pages of Socialist Worker or the web site of Counterfire. It is with no surprise that we learn that his first salvo against Charlie Hebdo, appeared in the far from philo-semitic ‘wise-guy’ publication, Counterpunch (,A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe. January 2015) a site which has published articles contesting the pardon of…Dreyfus. (1)

Sand loathes Houellebecq, who is perhaps an acquired taste. This may be why he fails to pick up on one of the few funny jokes in Soumission, the creation of the “Indigenous European a direct response to Indigénes de la République” – one group of racists giving ideas to another. Je Suis Charlie, is not, as it is for many of, the emblem of love and freedom. For the nuanced connoisseur of French pre-War ideologies, it was a publication that produced, week in and week out, a “representation méprisante et irrespectueuse de la croyance d’une minorité religieuse”  a picture that shows disrespect for a religious minority. (Page 225). No doubt that explains why Muslims, frustrated, unhinged with only a fragile belief to cling to, decided to react with murderous folly (Page 227). Doubtless it also accounts for why they killed at the Hyper-Cacher….

That the middle class demonstrated on the 11th of January 2015 in solidarity with Charlie we do not doubt. But oddly, Sand does not deeply cite his authority on this point, Emmanuel Todd, for whom they also showed the spirit of Vichy, Catholic Zombies (walking unconsciously in the steps of their religious past), soaked in the ‘culture of narcissism’, objectively xenophobe, like the Parti Socialiste, and …pro-Europeans – the (Sociologie d’une crise religieuse. Qui est Charlie? 2015). So, with every one of his bugbears wrapped together, what next? Todd, we are not astonished to learn, despises this bloc, the MAZ, prefers those who rejected the Maastricht treaty, and….is himself a nationalist, or, as they call it today, a “sovereigntist” who wishes to reassert French Sovereignty over the economy, against the European Union….


In his pursuit of allies in the fight against French laïcité Sand might consider a much deeper problem than hostile reactions to Islam or those who make summary judgements about ‘Islamo-gauchisme’. It lies in this sovereigntism: a nationalists turn with far deeper roots than religious or ethnic hostility: a true xenophobia, embraced not just by the Front National, but by the centre-right, and that section of the left which shares Todd’s loathing of the European Union, if not other European states (not to mention the US). There is a name for this, which we have already used, xenophobia, and the point where nationalism slides into racism.

One can accept that that anti-Muslim feeling is prejudice, that there is a strong dose of racist defence of “la terre et les morts” against all classes of immigrants but particularly Muslims, and Catholic Mayors suddenly discovering that are secular republicans. That one can pretend that specifically French forms of secularism are universal at one’s peril.

One can accept all of this, even some gestures towards the sub-existentialist phrases about fear of the Other …but, are there not some problems about violent forms of Islamism, some difficulties, as indicated in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to halt just there. That amongst contemporary forms of Islamism, the status of the Kufur, the rules governing women, most visibly their ‘modesty’ and punishing the ‘immodest’, bedrock human rights issues, remain…issues.

Sand passes in silence over the ideas of the strongly left-wing and pro-Communist Charlie editor, Charb. Perhaps he should read his posthumous Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racists (2015). If that proves too much for him he has no excuse whatsoever for ignoring the mass of serious literature in French on Islam, and Islamism, from Gilles Kepel, Olivier Roy, François Burgat, Gilbert Achcar  in French.  The vast majority of these writings, are as nuanced, as profoundly researched as one could wish, with all due consideration for the immense difficulties of marginalised Maghrebian and African populations. I would recommend he begin with a genuine intellectual with knowledge of both the evolution of former Maoists towards ‘anti-totalitarianism’ and Islamism, Jean Birnbaum, and his Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. 2016. He is certainly not a sign of the ‘end’ of the species.

The secularist Ligue des droits de l’homme has been at the forefront of the fight against the ‘Burkini ban’ (l’Humanité) So much for Sand’s recent claim that “La laïcité, comme autrefois le patriotisme, s’avère, de nos jours, l’ultime refuge de l’infâme ” (Nouvel Obs. 24.8.16.)

(1) THE DREYFUS CASE, REVISITED: Israel Shamir sifts through the Dreyfus case: was he really a victim of anti-semitism?

Tony Greenstein Makes New Friends in Wake of Trolling Natasha Allmark.

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Greenstein: at the end of the Pier.

Tony Greenstein is a fixture on the British left.

Widely admired, like Richard Seymour, for his wit, and limpid prose, his writings have been cited as an authority by no less (and certainly no more) a specialist in ‘anti-Zionism’, and ‘controversial’  New Left Review writer, Gabriel Piterberg.  Euro-Zionism and its Discontents. New Left Review .84. 2013. (1)

 Himself a redoubtable ‘conversationalist” over the last few days Greenstein has been ‘at it’ again.

Block and Unfriend Natasha Allmark – Suspected Informant (Tony Greenstein’s Blog).

You can satiate yourself on that link…

 Comrade Alan Thomas has commented,

Friend and Unblock Natasha Allmark — A word to the left

Well, this has been a sickening episode.

Let’s be clear first. I am a Labour Party member. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn last year and I have done so again this year.

I awoke this morning to an alert about this article, by one Tony Greenstein. It requests that people block and defriend one Natasha Allmark. It compares her to World War 2 era Nazi informants. Her crime? Threatening to call the Labour Party Compliance Unit on a group of professed Corbyn supporters with whom she had been arguing on Facebook.

“Nazi Informant”. Let that sink in for a bit. Consider the implications.

Natasha is an expectant mother and a student, and a supporter of the Liberal Democrats. She has children already. In the course of that discussion people publicly discussed calling social workers to her house. The behavior of those attacking her was akin to a shoal of piranhas. She was in distress, and not infrequently in tears.

In the course of one such row she told her interlocutors that if they did not desist then she would contact Compliance. She never did so. It was a defensive reaction from a distressed woman under attack. This is why Tony Greenstein compares her to informants who betrayed Jewish people to the Nazis. That’s it. He also uses her picture in the article, without her permission. Just so reader can be sure of exactly who he is accusing.

She is now afraid for her family. And I think as a left we have questions to ask of ourselves here? Do we want a political sphere where self appointed Torquemadas go around using public platforms to shriek accusations of betrayal at ordinary citizens? Do we want squads of online police telling people what is or is not an acceptable political view, and publicly flogging them if they dissent? I know what sort of “left” that sounds like, and it’s one that died in Europe in 1990.

It is beyond shameful that a veteran left wing activist would think it is OK to do this to anyone, let alone a heavily pregnant woman who he does not know. If I thought that were the real nature of the left in this country, I would want no part of it. It is sickening behavior.

So yes, unblock and friend Natasha Allmark.

It is an act of basic solidarity, and we owe it to her to show her that this is not how the left does business.

We stand with you Natasha.

I will not dignify Greenstein with further comment on this particular case: all the essential is expressed by Alan, with some additional information on Shiraz after Rosie posted the above.

But it interesting to note that Greenstein has now widened his field of battle.

If Iain McNicol was running a local authority election he’d have been arrested for Corrupt Electoral Practices.

Followed by,

Winning the Battle and Losing the War, “Momentum’s Inertia is Turning Victory into Defeat.”

More Greenstein friends will include “the present leadership of Momentum (which) operates by way of patronage and school chumminess.” Apart from their “cowardice” , ” fallible” Jeremy Corbyn, whose ” proposals for rail privatisation are completely bonkers.”

And so it goes….

Readers of this blog may possibly recall glancing at previous rants by Greenstein – more commonly known as ‘loony bins’ to his close friends around here – in response to, amongst other things, his views in the comments boxes of Tendance Coatesy on the “Kasztner” case and ‘Zionist’ relations with Nazism (Here: Tony Greenstein Resigns from Left Unity: World’s Progressives Shaken.)

The interventions are as lengthy as a small book and most people will have lost the will to live during the exchange between Michael Ezra, Greenstein calls him helpfully, “Mad Mikey”, and “cheap propagandist”  Paul Bogdanor.

This abuse is fairly mild by Greenstein standards.

It is unfortunate that the latest (there is an extremely long list) victim of his venom, Natasha Allmark, was unprepared for this.

It is also regrettable that people who should have known better have supported Greenstein in his efforts to become a member of the Labour Party.


(1) See also  The UCLA sexual harassment case that every professor should be aware of.  “This sexual harassment case at UCLA is jaw-dropping. From one plaintiff’s complaint, against history Professor Gabriel Piterberg:

51. He then started talking about the famous philosophers Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, who met when Arendt was Heidegger’s student and subsequently carried on a clandestine love affair for more than forty years. He told her that relationships like theirs were normal and that “If it is done right, professor and student relationships are supposed to be intimate.”

52. Professor Piterberg then told her that he masturbated while imagining the two of them together.

53. Throughout this meeting, Plaintiff Takla continued to voice her discomfort with him as her advisor and his comments, but Professor Piterberg was upset with Plaintiff Takla for wanting a new advisor. He told her, “If anything happened between us, it might be while you are writing the conclusion to your dissertation.”

More (2016): UCLA community protests professor’s punishment for sex harassment: $3,000 fine and 11-week suspension

Written by Andrew Coates

August 30, 2016 at 11:18 am

American Green Party Vice-Presidential Candidate Ajamu Baraka, Called Charlie Hebdo Solidarity, “White Power” March.

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This Blog does not normally comment on American politics.

But this has been in the news and friends have brought it  to our attention.

“Earlier this week, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein announced that Ajamu Baraka would be her new running mate:

I am honored and excited to announce that my running mate in the 2016 presidential election will be Ajamu Baraka, activist, writer, intellectual and organizer with a powerful voice, vision, and lifelong commitment to building true political revolution.

The announcement promoted a number of responses.

This is one.

However, what Stein does not want you to know is that in January 2015, Baraka’s “powerful voice” described a vigil for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shooting as a “white power march” and labeled the slogan “Je suis Charlie” as an “arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy.”  (More on Progressive Secular Humanist.)

This is what this true political “revolutionary” wrote:

 15th of January 2015.

The Charlie Hebdo white power rally in ParisA celebration of Western hypocrisy

“Je Suis Charlie” has become a sound bite to justify the erasure of non-Europeans, and for ignoring the sentiments, values and views of the racialized “other.” In short, Je Suis Charlie has become an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy that was echoed at the white power march on Sunday in Paris and in the popularity of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo.

The millions who turned out on Sunday claimed to be marching in solidarity with the victims at Charlie Hebdo and against terrorism. They were joined by political leaders from across Europe, Israel and other parts of the world – on the same weekend reports were emerging that 2,000 Nigerians may have lost their lives at the hands of Boko Haram, another Muslim extremist group.

We note that arrogant Ajama Barka failed to even register the deaths at the Porte de Vincennes  Hypercacher of 4 Jewish hostages at the same time as the  Dammartin-en-Goële hostage crisis in which the two Charlie Hebdo gunmen were cornered.

We would be interested to hear of what exactly Barka has done to support the victims of Boko Haram.

We do however note that he has been freely expressing the opinion  that this group of Islamist genociders are as part of a US plan to destabilise Africa in general and Nigeria in particular.

And I am outraged knowing that U.S. policy-makers don’t give a damn about the school girls in Nigeria because their real objective is to use the threat of Boko Haram in the Northern part of the country to justify the real goal of occupying the oil fields in the South and to block the Chinese in Nigeria.

Exposing the whole sordid story of the destruction of Libya and the role of Al-Qaeda as the “boots on the ground” for U.S. geo-strategic objectives in North Africa and the Middle East represents the only strategy that an independent and principled left could pursue in wake of the fact that the hearings are going to occur. Anything other than that is capitulation, something that the left has routinely done over the last six years, and some of us still struggle against in the hope that one day the “responsible” left will eschew the privileges that stem from its objective collaboration with the interests and world-view of neo-liberal white power and re-ground itself in authentic radical principles and the world-wide struggle against Western domination.

From Benghazi to Boko Haram: Why I support the Benghazi Inquiry

But to return to Charlie Hebdo….

The people of France mobilized themselves to defend what they saw as an attack against Western civilization. However, the events in Paris did not have to be framed as an existential attack on the imagined values of the liberal white West. Providing some context and making some political links may have been beneficial for attempting to understand what happened in the country and a political way forward beyond the appeal to racial jingoism….

It is the arrogant lack of respect for the ideas and culture of non-European peoples that drove the French ban on the wearing of the niqab and other traditional veiling clothing for Muslim women, just one example of the generalized discriminatory treatment of Arabs and Muslims in France. In this lager context, Charlie Hebdo’s blatant disregard and disrespect for another religion, shielded by an absolute commitment to freedom of speech that gives them blanket immunity, is now compounded by the “Je Suis Charlie campaign,” orchestrated in the name of upholding the values of liberal, Western civilization.

What it means for many of us in the Black community is that Je Suis Charlie has become a sound bite to justify the erasure of non-Europeans, and for ignoring the sentiments, values and views of the racialized “other.”

In short, Je Suis Charlie has become an arrogant rallying cry for white supremacy that was echoed at the white power march on Sunday in Paris and in the popularity of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo.

As the picture above indicates the Charlie March was attended by people of all religions, and none, of all ethnic backgrounds, and those who wish there were no ethnic divisions, by the entire French left, and above all those united for freedom.

The millions across France, who attended the Unity Marches after the attack on Charlie and the Hypercacher, and the millions across the world who stood with them, were above all motivated by sheer love and solidarity with the victims of the Islamist murderers.

Barka’s language, a torrent of half-baked clichés about the ‘Other’, and reference to ‘White Power’ reads like the written trace of verbal incontinence. He also appears something of a confusionist, attributing to the US a role in promoting Boko Haram for their own ends.

His message is hatred of freedom, hatred of the values of liberty, equality and fraternity. If you do not stick up these principles in France, what hope have you of backing them in Africa and elsewhere?

In short Ajamu Baraka is an enemy of all progressive humanity and unfit to stand as a candidate for any left-wing party.

People in Place de Republique gather round tributes to those that were killed

The Love Shown Will Never be Forgotten.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 9, 2016 at 10:19 am

Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. A Review.

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Review: Decoding Chomsky. Science and Revolutionary Politics. Chris Knight. Yale University Press. 2016.

“..we are nowhere near being able to understand what is ‘said’ in the brain. We have no idea how any specific concept, label, grammatical rule, colour impression, orientations strategy, or gender association is actually coded.”

Guy Deutscher. 2010. (1)

Chris Knight (Wikipedia) prefaces Decoding Chomsky with a literary alienation effect. “When I first came across Chomsky’s scientific work, my initial reactions resembled those of an anthropologist attempting to fathom the beliefs of a previously unknown tribe.” This will immediately echo with many who have endured seminars on Transformational Grammar, complete with charts. More persistent than the average person Knight is resolved to grapple with the mysteries at work. “The doctrines encountered may seem absurd, but there are always compelling reasons why those particular doctrines are the ones people adhere to.” (Page ix)

Knight’s intentions in this study, he announces, are to “serve justice on Chomsky without doing an injustice to Chomsky the conscience of America.” (Page xii) Before plunging into this forensic critique of the career and concepts of one of the world’s most celebrated critics of US foreign policy, it should be made clear that author is a long-standing activist on the radical left. Chris is a founder of the leftwing socialist monthly Labour Briefing, the Radical Anthropology Group, and a contributor to the Weekly Worker, recently on humanity’s ‘communist’ pre-history (palaeoanthropology). His academic career has included studies of this aspect of ant, and has won him recognition far beyond these circles.

Decoding Chomsky challenges some of the fundamental assumptions of Chomsky’s ‘Linguistic Revolution’, the belief that linguistics is a “natural science” concerned with the underlying basis of all the world’s tongues. From a background in the sixties’ inspired radical movements that challenged academic authority, Knight remains sensitive to the inflated “scientism” of social ‘science’. Chomsky and his supporters’ claim that their linguistic “cognitive paradigm” has reached the status of a “natural science”, would appear, in this respect, to have gone beyond a claim to university power, to a degree of scientific Majesty that places it above studies of society.

This, not unexpectedly, has failed to impress Knight. As one of the very few people still promoting sixties radicalism against the Academy, his Decoding Chomsky challenges these claims. The voice of Authority, of the kind that the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu called “authorised language”, “ the kind you need when performing speech acts, such as declaring war, consecrating a church, naming a ship and so forth. “ (Page 164). Chomsky’s authority is a central target of the book’s critique. Knight traces it to a kind of evocation of ancestral power. In this respect one Bourdieu is an excellent frame of reference, from his analysis of symbolic power in the “discours d’importance”, “le discours magistral” founded on the “l’autorité universitaire et l’autorité politique” (2)

Questioning the ‘neutrality’ of  ‘science’ remains an important radical objective. Recognising that he has no training in theoretical linguistics Knight considers that he is perfectly capable of studying “the Pentagon-funded war science community clustered around Chomsky in the formative period of his career” (Page ix) We might equally say that as language users, we are all qualified to offer some comment about one of the most fundamental aspects of our nature and existence.

A Political Critique from the Left.

The book brings together a numbers of these threads, in which Chomsky’s linguistic theories, and their critics play a significant part. But it would not be unfair to say that it is principally a political critique. Knight offers a sustained argument against the view that Chomsky’s work as a linguistic scientist can be separated (compartmentalised) from the military and state ties of the institution in which he worked the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was not only competition for academic authority but also the political objectives of the latter that moulded, Knight argues, the way that Chomsky’s ‘linguistic revolution’ took on its most egregious ‘scientific’ aura.

Chomsky claims to separate rigorously his ‘scientific’ work from any political engagement. Knight puts this in the starkest terms. The campaigner against Imperial abuse built “a firewall between his science and his politics, keeping each compartment of his life autonomous with respect to the other. Being free to say what he liked meant ridding his linguistics of any evident social content or meaning, and by the same token purging his politics of any obvious connection with his science.” (Page 73)

Decoding Chomsky is not a critique of ‘scientific’ ‘Western’ rationality’ or science’s ‘grand narrative’ of the type we have become accustomed to since the days when postmodernism was popular. Knight, still echoing the earlier ‘radical’ critique of scientific neutrality popular in the English speaking world in the sixties and early seventies, is not concerned with the undermining the universalist pretensions of the episteme at work here, or uncovering how ‘power’ shaped the formal  ‘rationality’ of Transformational Grammar.

Decoding Chomsky is about the institutional environment that Chomsky worked within.  ”. It is impossible for one to say, “Science in one compartment, politics and life in another” when, we are informed bluntly, that, “Chomsky was working in a weapons research laboratory.” (Page 11)

Knight suggests that Chomsky the scientist, who cracked the basis of how languages work, were deeply implicated in the life of that experimental workroom, and conformed to the objectives the arms developers, the American war machine, set themselves. Generative Grammar (rules that predict, ‘generate’, an infinite number of sentences in a language and specify their structure) owed a debt to American information theorist and “scientific bureaucrat” Warren Weaver and his 1950s project, the construction of a Universal Language Machine.

This is a hard proposition to prove. Despite the fact that the linguist had no direct interest in the idea of ‘machine translation’ in which Weaver was involved in, Knight announces,

Chomsky’s Universal Grammar was a sophisticated refinement of the central idea behind Warren Weaver’s ‘New Tower of Babel’ project, which was designed to secure US state supremacy over ‘communism’ in the post-war world. (Page 104)

Tatlin’s Tower.

Decoding Chomsky offers a memorable parallel to this dream in the early Soviet visions of universal humanity, symbolised in the projected monument to the Third International, the Tatlin Tower. This, never built, construction, was to symbolise the unity of humankind. In an ambitious claim Knight links this to another, utopian, dream of linguistic unity, “restoring that pre-Babel language was a project not only permitted, but explicitly blessed by God. This idea exercised a profound influence on Russian shamanistic and mystical poetry – one that remained very much alive when, beginning with Russian and other Slavic tongues, the mystic Khlebnikov made it his mission to restore to all humanity its pre-Babel lost alphabet of sounds, unleashing enough mutual understanding to launch a revolution and establish heaven on Earth.”(Page 106)

There was a direct connection,

The suggestion that Khlebnikov was behind the startlingly beautiful Tatlin’s Tower seems likely on various grounds. Khlebnikov imagined himself ‘besieging’ immense ‘towers’, central among them the ‘tower of time’ Apart from the fact that Khlebnikov’s Moon–Earth–Sun motif was explicitly built into the ambitious project, we know that he himself was an intimate friend of the monument’s designer, the former sailor, Vladimir Tatlin. (Ibid)

For Knight, we takes an optimistic, not to say, romanticised view of the early years of the Russian Revolution, “Tatlin’s Tower, then, pointed to a future in which all had at last come together, science now inseparable from art, poetry from mathematics, music from engineering..” (Page 109)

Christ Knight remains enthusiastic about the Russian Revolution, a “seismic events”. But one might say that the awe such a vision inspires, a feeling of wonder at unlimited vistas, the “immensity” of the concept was never separate from the terror that went with this version of the revolutionary sublime.

Decoding Chomsky discovers ‘echoes’ from the Bolshevik Revolution, ‘sparks’ that lit the research programme that became Transformational Grammar.   One linguist, who had direct connection to this period, and the ‘Formalists’ who studied the structures of “literariness”, and – thus (?), Futurist projects like the Tatlin Tower, was Roman Jakobson. Jakobson soon left the USSR, and eventually made his way to the United States just before the Second World War during which he was engaged in the fight against the Nazis. Jakobson, Knight observes, inspired Chomsky with his view that language was indeed a universal human property, but also logical and mathematical. But the artistic side of this heritage was submerged in more rigorously  ‘scientific’ assumptions. Language was part of the human ‘digital machine’ – that is an object – or rather a rule generating apparatus – that could be studied with the methods of pure science. The Revolution was betrayed. The Chomyskan  “Cartesian Paradigm” reflected a quite different agenda. Sponsored by the US military, it was one more top-down project to combat egalitarianism and communism, wrenching the mind from the body, divorcing heaven from Earth, and preventing that tower of Tatlin’s from ever reaching the sky. “(Page 209)

Knight even speculates that Chomsky was consciously promoted in the Cold War. Chomsky’s writings, from Syntactic Structures (1957) onwards, were part of a wider ideological campaign as the Cold War replaced the struggle against fascism. The military “supported” Chomsky’s campaign (Page 18). Chomsky was moblised against Marxism, against its unity of theory and practice,

“To destroy Marxism, therefore, it was necessary to strike at this point, shattering the all-important junction between theory and practice. Chomsky’s intellectual status, perceived moral integrity and impeccable left-wing credentials made him the perfect candidate for this job. “(Page 193) Science and life are distinct. ‘The search for theoretical understanding pursues its own paths, leading to a completely different picture of the world, which neither vindicates nor eliminates our ordinary ways of talking and thinking.” (Page 194)

Science and Language.

The picture in Decoding Chomsky of the Cold War genesis of Chomskyan linguistics, not to mention its role in efforts to destroy Marxism, is bound to be a controversial. Does Chomsky behave as he does, stridently defending the autonomy of ‘science’, because of his own past, and reluctance to confront the ties his professional work brought him? The claim will certainly be challenged. Less disputable is that Chomsky has separated ‘science’ from his directly political pronouncements.

Yet as vociferous as his claim to scientific rigour has been there is little sign of widespread acceptance of the principles he has developed. Chomsky’s ‘innate hypothesis’ of a mutation in human pre-history which gave us the “language organ”, equipped to generate meaningful speech is often seen as a leap of faith. We might doubt that even within its restricted field (ignoring that the implications of the theory strays into philosophy not to say, the ground of social theory), that a stable paradigm has ever been established. Knight early announces that Chomsky’s continuous revisions of Transformational Grammar, up to the Revised Extended standard theory, indicate deep-seated difficulties.

These ‘auxiliary hypothesis”, as the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos called them, do not, critics allege, contain more empirical content, or predict novel facts. They make up an ever-expanding protective belt around an original set of assumptions. Above all Knight observes, “Chomsky’s interventions have immersed linguistics in tunnels of theoretical complexity, impenetrability and corresponding exasperation and interpersonal rancour without parallel in any other scientific field.” (Page 11) The new versions of the theory “have produced no sign of consensus or agreement, but instead unending controversy, uproar and incredulity at the implausibility of it all.”(Page 180) This, he argues, is hardly the sign of real “science”.

Those with an interest in recent literature for the wider public might think at this point might recall Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass. (2010) As cited in the epigraph to this review, the language machine, which Chomsky and his followers describe, remains a “Black Box”. As far as grasping how the brain works with language we can scan the mind, but the evidence is like seeing a big corporation from the windows of its headquarters.

“The sole evidence you had to go on would be in which rooms the lights went on at different times of the day.” We can see increased blood flow, and infer that neural activity is taking place. “But we are nowhere near being able to understand” what is happening. (3)

 Language as a social relation.

At the heart of Decoding Chomsky are some alternative ideas. Knight uses his resources as an anthropologist to attack Chomsky’s view that language stems from a “limited repertoire of mental atoms (lexical concepts) in an infinite variety of possible ways.” In this respect it is a defence of the view that experience, social conditions, co-operation between people, is generative of meaning.) Language is bound up with social relations; it is a social product, with its own causal weight as a link between people.

An important aspect is that “Grammatical structures arise out of metaphor, grammatical markers being in fact metaphorical expressions which have been conventionalized and abbreviated through historical processes which are now well understood.” (Page 225) In other words grammar has a history. Those familiar with, say the story of Indo-European languages, know that change in declensions and conjugations, and other grammatical items (not to mention the emergence and extinction of whole grammatical forms) is aware that alterations cannot be explained as the result of universal principles: but, at present, can only be described. Nobody has offered a transformational grammar that explains and predicts the development over time of such basic phonetic and semantic units.

Knight offers his own special belief, that palaeoanthropology can inform the debate about how (pre-human) signals evolve from nature into language. In a talk reproduced in the Weekly Worker, he suggested that the basics might lie in the way these evolved into singing,

Turning now to human evolution, the articulatory apparatus for speech hardly needs to be explained. For millions of years, the basics were already in place among our ancestors, for the simple reason that possession of a flexible tongue, lips and so forth had long been essential for eating. Much more difficult was to establish something new – full volitional breath control and control over the larynx. The challenge was to develop the uniquely human ability to take a deep breath and make continuous vocal sounds, while breathing out and articulating at the same time. An intriguing theory now being widely debated is that our ancestors refined and developed these capacities by regularly resorting to choral singing. (4)

More broadly in the present work he notes, “the transition from a highly competitive, often despotic ape social system to a cooperative and egalitarian human one might have occurred. The establishment of hunter-gatherer egalitarianism was more than an evolutionary step – it was a revolutionary one that established a genuine kind of communism.”(Page 212) In other words the underlying idea is that symbolic culture emerged during a ‘major transition’ or ‘revolution’ (often termed the human revolution). We may leave it to the reader to judge the plausibility of these claims.

Three points may be added. Firstly, that it may be, on the evidence of skeletal remains and those of symbolic activity, that the non-human Neanderthals were capable of speech. So the issue of the ‘language mutation’s single origin remains open. (5) Next, the structures of language as a social product are also formal. The trace of speech in writing has a life of its own. This is sometimes very visible, as grammatical forms in a number of languages only really exist on the page, as in the French passé subjonctif, not to mention the special ‘literary’ forms in written traditions. Finally, one of the possible side-effects of a too Universalist conception of language leads one adrift faced with demands for language rights. This is a key political issue in many countries today, and underlies concerns about the death of speech communities, particularly in ‘tribal’ societies. (6) If we take an extreme Chomskyan view, this hardly matters: all languages are basically the ‘same’.

Human Creativity.

Chomsky’s protests against the Vietnam War, to opposition to powerful states and secret bureaucracies, and his laborious efforts to unravel the “manufacture of consent” to imperial and domestic pro-business policies, have one ‘scientific’ mooring. (7) Chris Knight suggests that a belief in a feature of human nature, a “creative urge” underpins his politics. But it remains bound within the “modular” programming of the innate linguistic facility that shunts to one side the role of social interaction.

If he believes that “force and fraud” constrain the free development of the inherent liberty of the human spirit, he puts his faith in this bedrock trait this as a natural limit on “authoritarian control” (Pages 114 – 115) His libertarian ‘anarchism’ notoriously extended to his ill-considered defence of the Vieille Taupe a publisher/bookshop originally on the French ultra-left that became a promoter of Holocaust deniers, such as Paul Rassinier. (8) Chomsky also defended the internationally better-known Robert Faurisson. But if Chris Knight is to be believed, in this thought-provoking and lucidly written critique, alongside an “instinct for freedom” there is a gaping hole where the social and individual conditions for meaningful co-operation should lie.


(1) Page 238. Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. William Heinemann. 2010.

(2)  Ce que parler veut dire. L’économie des échanges linguistics. Pierre Bourdieu 1982

(3) Guy Deutscher. Ibid.

(4) Origin of language lies in Song. Chris Knight. Weekly Worker 28.01.2016.

(5) Neanderthals could speak like modern humans, study suggests. BBC 2013.

(6)  Endangered Languages Project.

(7) See Knowledge, Morality and Hope: The Social Thought of Noam Chomsky. Joshua Cohen Joel Rogers. New Left Review. First Series. No 187. 1991.

(8) Noam Chomsky and the Holocaust Deniers. Werner Cohen. The response: The Faurisson Affair. Noam Chomsky writes to Lawrence K. Kolodney.


Written by Andrew Coates

August 8, 2016 at 12:44 pm

George Galloway Goes Wilderness (Festival).

with 4 comments

Galloway: Dapper flâneur  at an alter-Heimat nonpareil.

Busyness is everywhere, in your morning, at your desk, in your home and even in your thoughts. We’re always doing and always planning: ‘more forwards’ as the saying goes. Come summer time, we feel a little time in the wilderness helps correct the balance of the busyness. Four days in a nature reserve to meet new people, meet new ideas and new experiences. If Wilderness had a saying, it would probably be ‘meet the world’: a world of creativity and culture, of festival and flora, of ideas and identity. Wilderness aims to slip off your shoes, settle you down and then showcase the best of who we are, where we belong and what we create. As our unofficial saying goes, come to the wilderness to meet the world.

Before Wilderness, festivals’ didn’t offer forests or feasts. No one knew of a festival where you woke early to swim, or stayed late to learn. The story of Wilderness is one of gently rolling back the steel fences and quietly asking people of all ages to live together for one weekend; a story of exploring the widest lens of cultural ambition and inviting the outdoors back into the heart of the artistic experience. It’s a story of nudging the festival experience both into the past and towards the future…

In 2011 Wilderness was born, with five thousand people celebrating the arts and outdoors in an ancient landscape. Brought to you by the creators of some of the UK’s finest and most celebrated events, its inception was one of bringing together reciprocal talents: passion to build transformative experiences with a deep love of artistry and artisans.

The following years have been a journey in the cultural wonders that can be transported to and translated in the rolling Oxfordshire countryside. Wilderness is founded on creative exploration. A celebration of the arts and delights, we create world for flâneurs, for the curious, we invite you to open your eyes, minds, hearts and enjoy the thrilling bricolage of artistry and culture collected in our beautiful Wilderness.

We strike a balance between relaxation and revelry, artistic refinement and simple pleasures. The sixth season awaits. We’ve opened up more acres to camp on, invited more artists to the stages than ever before and intend, dear reader, to quietly blow you away. Many festivals may now have spas, some may have feasts and one or two may even have a place for a dip: but none will have a private nature reserve in which to roam free, none will have spring-fed lakes that are balm for the soul, and none will have an ancient landscape in which to reinvent, reimagine and reignite the arts.

Your Wilderness Awaits….

It looks an intellectual and sensual  feast

Amidst the refined, yet pleasurable, the bejewelled and the bespoke, the kaleidoscope of bespeckled flora, and perhaps, fauna, this is the place to be for  flâneurs and indeed  flâneuses, bricoleurs and bricoleuses in a time hallowed ambiance – an alter-Heimat nonpareil.

Writes celebrated poet Enoch Soames author of ‘Negations’:

Life is web and therein nor warp nor woof is,

but web only.

It is for this I am Catholick in church and in thought,

yet do let swift Mood weave there what the shuttle of Mood wills.

Be there or be Square....

Explore peace and love with Nobel Peace Prize nominee Scilla Ellworthy and dating expert Susan Quilliam. Debate taboos, surveillance, and outsider politics with George Galloway, AC Grayling, and Larry Sanders – elder brother to the presidential hopeful.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 7, 2016 at 12:34 pm