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 '16 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 '16 at 13:12
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    Chomsky is an anarchist flavor. The basis of this question in flawed. – Citizen Jan 18 '16 at 10:50

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 '16 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 '16 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. – Tyler Durden Jan 18 '16 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.) – Fizz May 5 '19 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 – Fizz May 5 '19 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '16 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 '17 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 '16 at 17:32

The difference is bias. Chomsky is a syndicalist socialist and believes something isn't 'real socialism' if it is not directly owned by the workers and that state capitalism is when the state owns everything.

Rather than accepting the common view among U.S. economists that a spectrum exists between total state ownership of the economy and total private ownership, he instead suggests that a spectrum should be understood between total democratic control of the economy and total autocratic control (whether state or private). -Basic summary for description of Chomsky's belief towards private ownership from Chomsky: Language, Mind, Politics (second ed.) by James McGilvray

However, many different sources disagree with this definition. Cambridge English Dictionary defines state capitalism as a form of capitalism in which the government controls some property, resources, money, etc. and sources like Encyclopedia Britannica define capitalism as a system where "most means of production are privately owned and production is guided and income distributed largely through the operation of markets". Oxford's Lexicon defines capitalism as an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state, so to them, Chomsky's definition would automatically describe a system other than capitalism. As I have explained previously, the Soviet Union under Stalin to 1991 followed a system of Marxist socialism known as dictatorship of the proletariat lower-stage communism. Basically, in his work Critique of the Gotha Program, Karl Marx mentions the dictatorship of the proletariat, a form of the state where members of the working class take control of the state and nationalize the means of production in order to make everything publicly owned and improve the standing of the current community.

Between capitalist and communist society there lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat. -Karl Marx

This is the system the Soviet Union was following, where the state owns the means of production on behalf of the common worker, all property is public property under the state and can only be utilized by public servants (the same way that the White House in the United States is public property and can only be used by members of the Executive branch/ government officials who work with that branch), and personal property is given to members of the proletariat based on the principle of "each according to his contribution" (which in many socialist countries, meant the members of the state get the most personal property). Under Chomsky's definition, this version of socialism would be state capitalism and Karl Marx would have to be considered a state capitalist, which is ridiculous. Also, certain forms of market socialism would have to be seen as capitalism and not 'real socialism':

"It is an economic system that combines social ownership of capital with market allocation of capital...The state owns the means of production, and returns accrue to society at large." -Paul R Gregory describing market socialism, Comparing Economic Systems in the Twenty-First Century

Chomsky even once stated that countries in Western Europe were 'more socialist' than the USSR, which would make no sense especially considering that the Index of Economic Freedom, an index created by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation think tank to rank how capitalist a nation is based on criteria like legal protection of private property rights & private business freedom, ranks many Western European nations as some of the most capitalist and economically free. Nations in the top thirty of this index include 'socialist' nations like Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Austria, Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. This clearly shows Chomsky's bias against Marxist socialism, especially since Marxist socialists like David McNally see Marxist socialism as incompatible with market economics based on the writings of Karl Marx, so to them, every Western European nation could never truly be seen as socialist.

Now to Chomsky's credit, the USSR was briefly capitalist from 1921 to 1928 under the New Economic Policy which implemented a market based economy with private ownership. However, the policy was undone in 1928 and the USSR returned to a command economy and the dictatorship of the proletariat model. After that, private property was pretty much non-existent in the USSR with the state controlling the means of production on behalf of the common worker (which is pretty much how Oxford defines state socialism: A political system in which the state has control of industries and services.)

Basically, Chomsky's socialism is a form of syndicalism where there is no state and labor unions own the means of production, with anything else being capitalism. Soviet socialism, meanwhile, is Marxist state socialism that believes the state owns the means of production on behalf of the common worker under a command economy and advance into the final stage of communism.

  • This would benefit from having some sources from Chomsky. – Martin Schröder Aug 16 '20 at 15:23
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    @MartinSchröder I will add more sources, but I added a video from a lecture of Chomsky, a link about Chomsky's syndicalist beliefs, and a statement from a book written about Chomsky's beliefs. – Tyler Mc Aug 16 '20 at 15:33
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    This answer seems to be mostly about complaining that Chomsky is using words in the wrong way. But it doesn't really seem to address my question about what the ideological differences between Chomsky and the Soviet Union are. We don't necessarily need to put labels on these differences in order to explore that. – Philipp Aug 16 '20 at 16:44
  • @Philipp Sorry. I was trying to say that Chomsky using words wrong kind of shows the difference: the soviets were Marxist state socialist and Chomsky believes only anarcho syndicalism is the 'real version of socialism' – Tyler Mc Aug 16 '20 at 16:47

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