What did Chomsky meant, when referring to the "Third World" in this passage (video, transcription):

It's all very inflated, you know a lot of prestige and so on – it has a terrible effect in the Third World. In the First World, rich countries, it doesn't really matter that much. So if a lot of nonsense goes on in the Paris cafés or Yale comparative literature department – well, okay. On the other hand in the Third World, popular movements really need serious intellectuals to participate. And if they're all ranting postmodernist absurdities... well, they're gone. I've seen real examples – could give them to you.

And what was he talking about, when referring to "postmodernist absurdities"? Why does he consider postmodernists as being not "serious intellectuals"? Isn't Postmodernism a Left-wing movement?

1 Answer 1


Some quick thoughts. It seems that Chomsky is worried about losing the critical universality that grounds political analysis; a condition, presumably, of any socialist revolution. But without examples it does seem to be somewhat bitter, decrying faddish-but-incoherent theorization as some kind of major "cause" of stalled third-world revolutions.

There were certainly leftist insurgencies over the last half-century powered by "postmodern" thinkers -- the Italian movement Autonomia seems like a quite plausible candidate here, associated with Antonio Negri's "workerism" and being strongly influenced by various strands of post-Marxism and situationism, etc.

There are certainly political dangers to "generalized relativism" and speculative detachment. But postmodernism is probably not best summed up this way; and may be better understood as a variegated family of experimental movements than as some holistic "unified field theory".

It may help to keep in mind that movements like situationism conditioned not only new aesthetic and logical relations "in theory" but also new forms of life, new capabilities and opportunities for social transformation; and have been instrumental in raising mass consciousness about the bad economic determination of existence under capitalism.

If you're worried about the decline of the left generally, or that postmodernism has left the universalism of "serious Marxism" in ruins: Lenin still walks around the world; and the strangest tongues still do understand him. (Consider maybe also here that postmodernism is also often a likely scapegoat for the right, existing today largely as an excuse to interrogate the "leftist" academy about its curriculum corrupting the youth...)

  • Italy is not "third world". Have you ever been to a country in the "third world", that wasn't in a vacation travel to take beautiful pictures on the beach?
    – Rodrigo
    Aug 17, 2017 at 0:32
  • seems a bit simplistic and fallacious, the enemy of my enemy etc.. and the situs would be misread as pomo, i think
    – user28117
    Aug 17, 2017 at 0:35
  • Definitely agreed that Italy is well inside Europe :) I would love to see better examples -- if you've got a clearer one that maybe you think Chomsky is referring to, feel free to mention it
    – Joseph Weissman
    Aug 17, 2017 at 0:35
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    Yeah I really would like to know as well, it's difficult to respond much more specifically without that
    – Joseph Weissman
    Aug 17, 2017 at 0:38
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    Guattari went to Brazil for awhile, I believe there's even a book (something like Molecular Revolution in Brazil) -- this may be closer to the tenor of Chomsky's worry
    – Joseph Weissman
    Aug 17, 2017 at 0:42

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