What the Soviet Union used to be is usually considered a socialist state.

Noam Chomsky is a political activist who is also considered a socialist.

Still, Noam Chomsky appears to have a very negative opinion of the Soviet Union, referring to it as a system of "state capitalism".

Which are the key differences between the form of socialism proposed by Noam Chomsky and the Soviet implementation of socialism?

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    As far as I know Chomsky is an anarchist (i.e. a liberal socialist), the Soviet Union was based on state capitalism (a form of authoritarian socialism).
    – liftarn
    Jan 8, 2016 at 11:52
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    @SVilcans I would prefer if this question would not be answered with further abstract ideological labels like "anarchist" or "authoritarian" which are again subject to interpretation but rather tangible examples of practical differences. A good answer could list differences in the style "The Soviet Union enacted [policy] while Noam Chomsky said in [source] one should rather do [other policy]".
    – Philipp
    Jan 8, 2016 at 13:12
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    Chomsky is an anarchist flavor. The basis of this question in flawed.
    – Citizen
    Jan 18, 2016 at 10:50
  • Socialism is not exsactly the same as communism.
    – convert
    Jan 30, 2022 at 22:03

4 Answers 4


Noam Chomsky advocates what has been called "anarcho-syndicalism", basically the idea that "workers" would control all businesses, sort of like ESOPs, and there would be little or no centralized government; essentially a union paradise.

Soviet-style communism is nearly the complete opposite: a rigid, centralized, authoritarian state in which unions were illegal and workers had zero control over their own destiny.

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    "unions were illegal"? WP says membership was compulsory.
    – Genli Ai
    Jan 18, 2016 at 22:32
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    sorry, no. factually wrong. you may correctly claim they were a sham, but Trade Unions were everywhere. of course they were controlled by the Party, everything was. so if you change that to "independent trade unions were illegal", that would make it right.
    – Genli Ai
    Jan 18, 2016 at 22:47
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    @WillNess A trade union is, by definition, is an independent group of workers. A so-called profsoyuz in which the leaders are appointed by the government and by law cannot strike is not a union. Jan 18, 2016 at 23:24
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    Soviet Union from Stalin onwards was definitely "state socialism"; you may want to link to that in the 2nd part of your anwer. (Lenin's NEP is more debatable. As is Deng Xiaoping's version thereof.) May 5, 2019 at 20:10
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    Also the Soviets did not self-identify as communists except in the future tense: "Two related patterns of Cold War debates warrant attention. First, anti-Soviet literature referred mostly to ‘communism’ as what existed in the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, Cuba and so forth. In contrast, pro-Soviet literature mostly saw ‘socialism’ as what existed and communism as a future goal. Cold War debates thus often resembled dialogues of the deaf talking past one another." doi.org/10.1177%2F0896920508090851 May 5, 2019 at 20:27

Well, I'm not really good at Chomsky's works, yet he seems to be always mentioned in Bakunin's line. And according to Bakunin, "socialist state" is not a "true socialism" by the definition.

For Bakunin and others, there's no much difference between "capitalism" and "state socialism", because workers' rights are to be violated anyway either by capitalist owner, or by state "socialist" manager (and this is why "state capitalism" term is born - it rather means "any state system is about exploitation of workers anyway"). So any deficiency in Soviet Union's implementation of socialism is only to prove once more anarchist idea, not to influence it.

The only possible (anarchist) solution to protect freedom and workers' rights is to make self-governing worker collectives. Which is actually the end of (any) modern state and written law. This is what the anarchism is about.

This is an excerpt from Chomsky's speech taken from wiki page on Chomsky's political positions:

... a kind of voluntary socialism, that is, as libertarian socialist or anarcho-syndicalist or communist anarchist, in the tradition of, say, Bakunin and Kropotkin and others. They had in mind a highly organized form of society, but a society that was organized on the basis of organic units, organic communities. And generally, they meant by that the workplace and the neighborhood, and from those two basic units there could derive through federal arrangements a highly integrated kind of social organization which might be national or even international in scope. And these decisions could be made over a substantial range, but by delegates who are always part of the organic community from which they come, to which they return, and in which, in fact, they live.

This is what is called "Social anarchism", which clearly opposes any state ideology be it capitalist or socialist one.

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    "self-governing ... collectives" like, say, cults? or archaic primitive tribes? the (totalitarian and all-pervasive, arbitrary) dictate of collective is better than dictate of (restrained and formalized) written law?? that stuff is laughable. that's not a comment on your answer of course, just on so called "anarchism" of so called "Chomsky". that guy is stoopid. sorry, had to vent. :) -- thanks for the quotations.
    – Genli Ai
    Jan 18, 2016 at 22:43
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    @WillNess That's a common problem of anarchism. These guys are full of good intentions (I'm really serious), but no one, except them, can understand how it's possible to make a better society by degrading it into primitive system. But I'm inclined to think of them as "striving for good", rather than just stupid.
    – Matt
    Jan 19, 2016 at 8:06
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    I get you. I consider myself also an anarchist, as a far ideal. Except that it must come from the individual, not any group. Group is always tyranny, unless association - and disassociation is free. In their model when means of production belong to groups of "workers", making a significant contribution and then leaving the group leaves me without fair compensation. So compensation too must be individual. If we take it to its logical conclusion, the only solution is total transparency (one might call it surveillance) so everyone's contributions may be known & calculated. Or total honesty. :)
    – Genli Ai
    Jan 19, 2016 at 9:19
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    @TellyneckBendosack so what happens when I associate, make a crucial and lasting contribution, then disassociate? Who's reaping the fruits of my "labor" then, and why should they?
    – Genli Ai
    Apr 19, 2016 at 18:27
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    The main issue with anarchistically themed utopias is that they seem to be workable for small communities only where everybody knows each other. There appears no anarchistic solution which would allow for a large city to operate well -- where most of people don't know each other and have no social bonds to the majority of others. However, modern urban life is concentrating human efforts and gives many more possibilities, which are nonexistant in smaller communities.
    – Gnudiff
    Oct 11, 2017 at 9:01

The ideology of a state and its practices aren't always (actually are rarely) the same. The Soviet Union's leadership used the rhetoric of workers' struggle but was so authoritarian and brutal towards it's own population that it was a farce. The population had almost no control and that is contrary to the core of socialist values. There were many other differences.

Chomsky has written extensively about it. He called the Soviet Union a "dungeon" with a certain level of social services.

I don't think he's necessarily proposed a form of socialism but he's said he believes the workers should own the means to production - that there should a guarantee to food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

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    I would have wished for an answer which explains Chomsky's theories in greater detail and compared them directly with the USSR policy.
    – Philipp
    Jan 8, 2016 at 17:32

Chomsky is an anarcho-syndicalist who sticks to the earlier ideas of how to achieve communism by having the state directly abolished and replaced with various different labor unions that give people a direct say in the means of production.

As I have stated before, the Soviet Union is based on another method of achieving socialism that came in later writings by Karl Marx and Engels: taking control of the capitalist state in order to create a state in a transitionary period that competes with capitalism before eventually withering away/being destroyed in a final revolution in order to achieve the final stage of communism:

The proletariat needs the state, not in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries, and as soon as it becomes possible to speak of freedom the state as such ceases to exist. - Friedrich Engels in a letter to the socialist thinker August Bebel

What people seem to forget is that n works like Critique of the Gotha Program and Das Kapital, Karl Marx considered reaching the final stage of communism to be a process. From capitalism, some form of lower stage communism/socialism would form (the dictatorship of the proletariat, Permanent Revolution, syndicalist worker's cooperative, etc.) to guide the common workers towards the final stage of communism & a stateless, moneyless society. As socialist thinker Philip Gasper puts it: "Marx and Engels never speculated on the detailed organization of a future socialist or communist society. The key task for them was building a movement to overthrow capitalism. If and when that movement was successful, it would be up to the members of the new society to decide democratically how it was to be organized, in the concrete historical circumstances in which they found themselves".

Chomsky's method involves getting rid of the state wholesale for a government based more around syndicalism, and the other is about doing what a lot of socialist states claimed they were doing: take control of the state to compete with capitalism (and provide various things mentioned in Karl Marx's ten planks like the abolition of rights to inheritance, free education, centralization of credit in the hands of the state, etc.), defeat capitalism, then have the state erode away through a final revolution or natural human advancement in order to reach a clean, stateless communist society at the end of everything.

Forgot to also mention that some syndicalists and anarcho-communists believe we have the materials necessary to potentially achieve communism now. The USSR and people who subscribe to later Marx theory and Marxist-Leninism is that the only reason the state still needs to exist is to protect against capitalist counterrevolution and because we do not have the technology to achieve the higher stage of communism Marx described:

"In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!" - Marx describing a final stage of communism where society is advanced enough to avoid scarcity and eliminate unless labor, which many libertarian socialists believe can be accomplished now and Soviet socialists believe could only be achieved as technology advanced while competing with capitalism

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