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Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts.

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Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. New Left Review. No82 (New Series) 2013.

“American capitalism has resoundingly re-asserted its primacy in all fields – economic, political, military and cultural – with an unprecedented eight-year boom.”

Perry Anderson. Renewals. 2000.

“(New Left Review’s Relaunch)…scandalised many by demanding from the left a lucid registration of defeat ‘No collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon’ Anderson noted……These judgements stand.”

Susan Watkins. Shifting Sands. 2010.

“In contrast to the economic structure, the political structure cannot be expanded indefinitely, because it is not based upon the productivity of man, which is indeed, unlimited. Of all forms of government and organisations of people, the nation-state is least suited for unlimited growth because the genuine consent at its base cannot be stretched indefinitely.”

Hannah Arendt. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (1)

The “unprecedented” American boom ended in Autumn 2008. But despite the absence of what Anderson has called an “answer to the prolonged slow-down of the advanced capitalist economies that set in forty years ago” America remains, post Soviet Collapse, the uncontested, hegemonic, global authority. (2) American power reaches outwards across the globe. This is not just grounded on the attraction of its economic strength, cultural appeal, or technological advances. An active exercise of domination is at work.

Within this received wisdom on the left, the Special Issue of New Left Review, Imperium, sets out to present the “outlook and continuity of objectives” of the “administration of empire, the thinking behind this rule. It also aims to “asses” this vast field, centring on what is decidedly not a “poverty of strategic theory.”

To former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, writing in 1997, U.S policy goals must be “to perpetuate America’s own dominate position for at least generation and preferably longer still; and to create a geopolitical framework” that can evolve into “shared responsibility for peaceful global management.” (3) By contrast, for Anderson, in 2002 the US’s objectives unfurling before the rather less peaceable invasion of Iraq, were described as part of a “structural shift in the balance between force and consent within the operation of American hegemony…” (4)

The present study is only the latest, then, of Anderson’s efforts to understand the leading role of America in what David Harvey has labelled the “new imperialism” and the global dominance of neo-liberalism. Following indications signalled by Robert Brenner he looks further into history to explain the particular form that the American state has taken. Imperium begins by stating, “Since the Second World War, the external order of American power has been largely insulated from the internal political system.” The focus is therefore on the “narrow foreign-policy elite, and a “distinctive ideological vocabulary” of “grand strategy.” (5)


Imperium concludes with, and starts from, the following historical narrative, “In the course of four decades of unremitting struggle, a military and political order was constructed that transformed what had once been a merely hemispheric hegemony into a global empire, remoulding the form of the US state itself” (Page 110 Imperium) Included in the Special Issue is a study of the above American “literature of grand strategy”, Consilium. We discover (to no particular surprise) that it is soldered around the idea that the “hegemony of the United States continues to serve both the particular interests of the nation and the universal interest of mankind” (Consilium Page 163)

These were the long years of the global fight against the Soviet Union. For Anderson the USA, he concedes, graciously or not, “was indeed an electoral democracy, did confront a socio-political system that was not” (Page 33 Imperium). During those decades the country has witnessed domestic opposition to “imperial force”. This, volatile, “constraint”, the limited “public tolerance” of foreign expeditions (we immediately think of the aftermath of Vietnam) has played a role. It continues to shape the decisions of the Obama administration. (Page 108. Imperium)

But behind this is there is, as he has commented on the second Obama Presidential victory an “all-capitalist ideological universe – a mental firmament in which the sanctity of private property and superiority of private enterprise are truths taken for granted by all forces in the political arena.” The Democrat President cannot ignore the culture that feeds Obama’s Republican opponents. One feature stands out, a domestic “nationalism peculiar to the United States as the capitalist superpower in the struggle with communism, intensely more hyperbolic than that of any Western society.” (6)

Outside this native soil there is little alive that is capable of offering a serious political challenge to policies dictated by the “new regime of accumulation” and the “liberal-capitalist order”. Gloomily in 2002 he talked of ‘resistance’ as “chaff in the wind.” In 2007 Anderson had a brief flicker of hope in “spectacular demonstrations of popular will” the World Social Forums in the first half of the last decade, and a “patchwork of resistance”. But they could not halt, “a further drift to the right” as a “new Concert of powers has increasingly solidified.” (7)

In The New Old World. (2010) Anderson detected barely a trace of a mildly social democratic alternative inside, and outside, the institutions of the European Union. Italy remains probably his greatest disappointment. Little remains of what was once “the largest and most impressive movement for social change in Western Europe”. (An Invertebrate Left. London Review of Books. 5th March 2009) The EU itself is not responsive to the peoples. The Eurozone crises has set countries off on course of draconian austerity policies, and internationally it ready for the role of “deputy empire in the regional theatre.” (8)

The Arab Spring seemed to pose a direct challenge to the foreign policy elite, not least because of its potential to upset the balance of forces in the Middle East. It might undermine the position of the umbilical US ally Israel. But looking beyond the unfolding events Anderson suggested that a “domesticated Islamism” would emerge. A revived anti-imperialism in the Arab lands is “the dog that has not – or not yet – barked…” (9) In the light of more recent events, with Egypt in turmoil, Syria in civil war, and Iraq lurching in that direction, the present work concludes, “Strategically speaking, for all practical purposes the United States continues to have the Middle East largely to itself.”(Page 104. Imperium)

The historical (still revolutionary?) pessimism in Issue 1 of the NLR New Series clearly set a benchmark. Against this view there are those who would follow Gilbert Achcar and keep looking for “unavoidable new forms of anti-capitalist radicalisation” (10) In this vein Paul Street expresses annoyance from the American left at Anderson’s claim that his country is marked by “mass apathy” with no “indignation” around. Many of Street’s battles appear in line with what Anderson ignores, an economic populism titled towards the left that continues to ferment in the United States. (11)

The robust defence of such an approach offered by Thomas Frank (Pity the Billionaire. 2012) is an infinitely more attractive to most of the left than to the prospect of hailing ‘anti-imperialist’ struggles of whatever stripe – as long as they are anti-American.

We doubt, nevertheless that you can prove a great deal from refuting Anderson’s claim that, at bottom, the vast majority of Americans are boneheads. They are not, and that’s it.


The major faults of Imperium lie elsewhere. As we will indicate that it far from certain that there is a proper balance between narratives of the lives of the American ‘elite’ foreign policy class and the lines traced out by the chronology of strategic choices. Are these decisions really “insulated” from the electorate? Is this true of American citizens as voters, or as those who participate in the political system through lobbies?

Anderson himself places importance in the role of the ‘Israel lobby’ promoting its interests. Their success stems from the ““strength of the Jewish community within the American political system.” “installing a supervening interest at odds with the calculus of the national interest at large.” (Page 91. Imperium) (12) If this can be seen as one instance of Administrations acting in this way, are there others? The case of entry into the First World War, a “gratuitous decision” driven by “no determinable national interest” lingers as we read further. (Page 11. Imperium)

One idea can be suggested from these two instances. That while US foreign policy must never be against the interests of Capital (not a very revealing claim: it is a self-consciously ‘capitalist’ state), particular policies may take a very wide range of forms.

E.H.Carr famously described the leader who took the US into the Great War, President Wilson, as an “intellectual in politics” intent on promoting such “utopian” ideas as “national self-determination”. (13) Many have described the Neoconservatives’ belief that they could spread democracy and the free market through armed interventions in the years following 9/11 as equally “utopian”. Yet it was clearly part of the Grand Strategy of the Bush policy elite.

At the root we would question what appears to be the central motif of Imperium. That is, the way that the US “policy elite” acts to form a rational (in at least the short-term) “Collective Will” for the American Modern Prince. By contrast, American foreign policy has indeed been often tinted by utopianism.

Georges Sorel described the “democratic utopia” of liberty, equality and fraternity, as an ideal contrasted with a world in which everything is at fault. To believers a new beginning would be installed through a “catastrophe”, and thenceforth the country would be ruled with perfect institutions. That all will go according to the world democratic plan once people are free. Iraq is surely the clearest case to hand: nothing could ‘reform’ the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein; after the invasion had triumphed everything had to be begun again. That the American political and economic structure could be expanded, or rather, copied, indefinitely. What could possibly go wrong? (14)

The Utopians in (temporary) command has always been hauled to account by policy-makers drenched in hardheaded realism, not to say the results of these strategies. The balance-sheet of the extension of the War on Terror to physical invasions is being scrutinised. It is hard to see how Afghanistan has been bombed out of the stone-age. How can we place the Iraqi kleptocracy, sectarian political institutions and incipient civil war, within the march of democratic progress? These tensions, as we will see, came to a head in the Libyan uprising against Colonel Gaddafi. The aftermath of that, largely indirect, intervention, continues to cause concern.

Perhaps a useful approach to Imperium would be to begin with something of change of bearings. The Russian-American linguist Roman Jakobson observed, “Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and what they may convey”. English tenses, for example, have to be used when describing events (I eat, I ate…). In Chinese the same verbal form is used for actions. This does not mean that Chinese speakers cannot express the time of the action if the consider it relevant. But with a language whose morphology does not include tenses, they are not obliged to embed this in their speech. (15)

By analogy we could say that in leftist terms American strategic thinking must conform to the general interests of capital. US state’s world power, or potential power, greater than actual extent of American interests. Anderson describes this on the global scale as “ not primarily as a projection of the concerns of US capital, but as the guardian of the general interest of all capitals, sacrificing – where necessary, and for as long as needed – national gain for international advantage, in the confidence of ultimate pay-off.”(Page 43. Imperium)

But US foreign policy may convey different interests, utopian, sometimes malicious, other times, generous and benevolent intentions. It is hard to see the immediate US aid to the victims of the Philippine hurricane as anything other than a gesture of good will – or any other countries’ immediate help to the devastated people. The delivery of longer-term American development assistance may be criticised but is not also inflected with such aims as well? We do not see the left in any major capitalist power demanding a reduction in foreign aid.

A Divinely Favoured Nation.

America was created free from “feudal residues” a “continental territory” the “largest nation-state”. Unique amongst nations it was moulded by the politics and culture of the Puritan settlement “a nation enjoying divine favour, imbued with a sacred calling”, and a belief that it has a “republic endowed with a constitution of liberty for all times.” (Page 6. Imperium)

The long “pre-history” of the country’s self-image of the ‘States’ as a Shining City on a Hill, from its late 19th century and 20th century colonial interventions in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Latin America is forms the backdrop. These convictions of the Founders were, to Anderson – and no doubt many, too many to make this starting point startling – melded into the idea of the United States’ Manifest Destiny.

The 2nd World War marked a turning point, “The world must be made safe for capitalism at large, and within the world of capitalism, the United States should reign supreme.”(Page 16. Imperium)

How does this work? Anderson attempts some unravelling of the mechanisms of state power. These rest on the interests of capital, but the activities of states “could not be subject to the same set of incentives and constraints as those of firms” (Page 40. Imperium) There is no measure of profitability, or a “price mechanism for adjudicating claims of rationality of efficiency.”(Ibid) For this reason there is always the risk of miscalculation. The aim of capital is profit. What is that of the state goal? It is “the parlance of security”(Ibid). According to Anderson, this importance of the need for security was symbolised by the post 45 change of name from Ministries of War into Ministries of Defence.

A “preponderance of power”, security, and the management of a system of hegemonic rule (based not just on the first item, but on concessions and the incorporation of other states within its field of force), these are fit objectives for the Modern Prince. The Gramscian references, added later in Imperium to the “tool box” of the US operations in the recourse to corruption “a mode of power….between consent and coercion” use “spanned the entire arc of imperial actions. (Page 55. Imperium) despite the use of this method to suborn labour movements, intellectuals and bureaucrats, the main basis of US support was in“ capitalist democracies freely accepting their place in which they prospered.” (Page 48.Imperium)

It is customary to pay a compliment to Anderson for introducing us to some rare English word, or terms from other languages that few will be familiar with. His first sub-heading, Prodromes, (introductory treatise, sign of coming disease) is a happy precedent.

But we must confess to being momentarily flummoxed by two key concepts from this strategic repertoire. These are (strategies of American ‘containment’ or ‘encirclement’ in the Cold War “primary conceived as a confrontational Neiderwefungskrieg. From the start, it was long-term Ermattungskreig”. (Page 82 Imperium).

No translation provided we chanced on their meaning in one of Anderson’s most celebrated texts, The Antimonies of Antonio Gramsci (1977). There we learn that Karl Kautsky, debating Rosa Luxemburg. He had, in 1910, “argued that the German working class in its fight against capital should adopt an Ermattungstrategie– a strategy of attrition ‘. He explicitly counterposed this conception what he called a Neiderwerfungstrategie – a ‘strategy of overthrow.” Anderson noted that this closely resembled Gramsci’s own distinction between a “war of position” and “war of manoeuvre.” In each instance they were used by socialist strategies to advocate different Roads to Power a slower accretion of support in civil society, versus the ‘revolutionary’ seizure of power by direct assault.

As a doughty reader we found the pair more recently rending sterling service in a very different context: in the way the US has acted to increase or conserve its own power. They thus crop up in 2007, to describe the shift to invasions, a Niederwerfungstategie, helped by the “revolution in military affairs, electronic warfare and targeting in the US blitz on Yugoslavia and Afghanistan”. (16) The form of war involved may have changed but strategically the US throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s (Korea, East Asia, Vietnam above all) had been engaged, overtly or covertly (in Latin America) in this line of march, “aerial bombardment, military coup, economic sanctions, missile attack, naval blockade, honeycomb espionage, torture delegated or direct, assassination” these are part of a “war of movement shifting rapidly from one geographical theatre to another.”(Page 56 Imperium)

Imperium presents the boundary stones of American foreign policy, an ideology, “in God we Trust”, a hard-headed objective, capitalist interests, both general (planetary) and particular (US capital) given voice through the agency of the State, and a overseas projection of its power that shifts between the gathering of willing allies, the wearing down of enemies, and the direct exercise of force.

Most people on the left will share the outrage against US foreign policy methods listed in its decades of “wars of manoeuvre”. But the framework provided by the ‘Gramscian’ picture of the way this Modern Prince (the US) conducts itself leaves us simply with this conclusion: in this respect Anderson is not telling us very much at all. That is, however sophisticated the conceptual framework, it does not begin to answer the question what is the alternative to US’s foreign strategies? Indignation is not a policy. Were it so, then Noam Chomsky would be infinitely more significant than he is.

The Great Contest.

The Cold War, described by Isaac Deutscher as the “Great Contest” (The Great Contest. 1960), saw America become the guarantor of the “economic order of capital”, and develop “planetary structures for warfare” against the USSR. The biographer of Trotsky considered that “the growth of the productive forces of the Soviet Union” was underway. Yet for many people this conflict was far more than about economics and the military. During the early 1980s some, like E.P.Thompson (from the same First New Left that had participated in the original 1950s CND), thought that the two rival blocs had manufactured so much weaponry that the system was drifting to “exterminism” that threatened the existence of the planet and humanity itself. A second wave of the Peace movement figured large in the left politics of that decade. (17)

Anderson demonstrates little memory of that particular left response to the Second Cold War. But we hear of much older theme in his writings. Anderson has long taken the view that the Cold War was more than just a fight between two superpowers or blocs. He now restates, “Stalin never abandoned the Bolshevik convection that communism and capitalism were mortal antagonists. But the ultimate horizon of a world-wide free association of the producers – the classless society Marx had envisaged – lay far off. For the time being, the balance of forces remained lop-sided in favour of capital.”(Page 25. Imperium) Outside the Soviet bloc revolutionary forces should not provoke imperialism or question CPSU authority. But the clash was systemic: “..there was an ontological difference between them” (Page 26 Imperium) (18)

Anderson once argued against Trotsky that “externally” the Soviet bureaucracy was not counter-revolutionary but “contradictory” in its actions. The Red Army overthrew capitalism in Eastern Europe and fostered a movement that was able to win power in China and Vietnam, “expropriating the bourgeoisie and starting the slow work of socialist construction.” While he was never an apologist for Stalinism – least of all its repressive basis in “violence” and “fear” – he remains within the problematic of this “ontological difference”. (19)

There will be ample time and space to discuss in more detail Anderson’s explanation of why the Soviet Union collapsed. But in evoking productivity levels he conforms to his Deutscher references.

The Cold War was indeed marked by choices between America and the USSR. In Les Manderins (1954) Simone de Beauvoir describes the intense debates on the French left about Stalin’s labour camps, these who chose the US side to protect their country, those looking for a Third Way, and those committed to the Soviet Union. Yet in the end Sartre and Beauvoir took the French Communist side out of solidarity with their country’s working class.

Anti-Communism rapidly became an instrument wielded against the left as whole. E.P.Thompson and Ralph Miliband opposed this (‘anti-anti-communism’) in order to defend the British left and labour movement. Apart from the open Communists the only people who seemed to have acted on the basis of the stark East West alternative were those, like the double agent spy in the film Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2012). (20)

Was it the fear of the Soviets that let a space develop for the social democratic welfare States of the fifties and sixties? He writes, “The defeat of communism became an over-riding property, relegating the construction of a liberal ecumene to a second-order concern, whose principles would have to be temped or set aside to secure victory over an enemy that threatened capitalism of any kind, free trade or protectionist, laissez-faire or dirigiste, democratic or dictatorial.”(Page 109.Imperium) The short answer then is, yes.

Is there no longer any need to tolerate social democracy and expansive welfare states? The short answer is also, yes.

In both respects American foreign policy is an arm, only one arm, of a three-limbed organism, the Wall Street-Pentagon-Washington triad (the Global Gamble by the late Peer Gowan. Verso. 1999). few people will believe that the weakening of Euripean social democracy was primarily the result of US external rpessure, or that even the Triad were first and foremost responsible for its turn away from the left, and its own reforming impulses. But like the Fall of Communism this deserves another article, at the very least…..

What remains of these times? Anderson states “The institutions and organisation, ideologies and reflexes bequeathed by the battle against communism….. a massive historical complex with its own dynamics.” (Page 110 Imperium) This rather puts paid to the boast by the international relations theorist Stephenson, “Whereas the Soviet Union representing (it claimed) the penultimate stage of history, was locked in a dialectical struggle for the final liberation of mankind, the United States is that liberation.” (Page 26. Imperium)

Anderson pertinently concludes with observations that dampen the hopes of this “final liberation. The US has “ special forces in over a hundred countries round the world; a military budget larger than that of all other major powers combined; tentacular apparatuses of infiltration, espionage and surveillance; ramifying national security personnel; and last but not least, an intellectual establishment devoted to revising, refining, amplifying and updating the tasks of grand strategy, of a higher quality and productivity than any counterpart concerned with domestic affairs…”(Page 110) Imperium) We will not consider this in detail – it is far from our competence. But apart from the physical inheritance of outposts, alliances, and the US army itself, it had hardly gone unnoticed that the ‘war on terrorism’ saw a revival of the language of the fight against ‘totalitarianism’ inside and outside this massive complex.

But the complexity of US strategies, illustrated in the changing position of the Foreign Policy advisers and the actual strategy carried out over Libya that ended with Gaddafi being overthrown cannot be reduced to this ‘war’. One assumes that Anderson would not neglect the important of the Arab Spring in the process – yet surely this is the key force behind the end of  the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The US ‘elite’ decision-makers were reacting to, not initiating, the process.

If American foreign policy remains imprinted by the struggle against Communism, then so does the left. Some still consider that there is a parallel ‘ontological difference” between anybody fighting “imperialism” and, well, Imperialism. This is a huge problem, coming to the fore over differences about Islamism. Anderson airily dismisses Al Qaeda as marginal and the prospect of a “united front of Islamic resistance” is a “dream.” (Page 104. Imperium) Yet there those on the left who continued to dream of a common front with the Islamists, right up to the outbreak of the Syrian civil war. Some still do, others defend Assad to the hilt,  and the confusion of each group is patent. Until they accept that Islamism, in all its varieties is more than a minor problem but a major obstacle to the democratic left, they will drag the left down, and keep it there, reduced to “chaff” on the floor.


One of New Left Review’s former Stalwarts, the late Norman Geras, was involved in writing this passage from the 2006 Euston Manifesto,

“The United States is a great country and nation. It is the home of a strong democracy with a noble tradition behind it and lasting constitutional and social achievements to its name. Its peoples have produced a vibrant culture that is the pleasure, the source-book and the envy of millions.” (21)

As Paul Flewers observes, admitting (as the Manifesto does) that US foreign policy can sometimes be wrong does not undermine the these “globally positive” judgements. Indeed the Eustonites managed to elide, largely, the foundational “social injustices in the USA.” Yet one might still see that within what must be done to conform to the rules of American politics, some space for what may be achieved in different directions. Some shift to the progressive side might help. One doubts if either strident anti-Americanism or the cultural cringe of those who express unqualified admiration for the country will help.

Anderson stands on the opposite pole to the Euston Manifesto argument: bad US foreign Policy is not an aberration but at the heart of the American polis. What are his views on that political system? There is clash between Republicans and Democrats – themselves “active minorities” operating in the face of “mass apathy. ” These differences are focused on different ideological and constituency appeals but rest on the same economic pillars. Both are capitalist – in this respect the US political world is monochrome. Above all we hear that the country heads an Empire, that it commands aboard, largely, though not entirely, without detailed consultation from its citizens. And that those external powers that fail to obey risk sanction, and a lot, a lot worse.

We discover that not only, as Hannah Arendt predicted, The US (or any other) political system cannot easily be expanded, or exported. That, “A liberal international order with the United States at its head risks becoming something else, less congenial to the Land of the Free. Reconciliation, never perfect, of the universal with the particular was a constitutive condition of American hegemony. Today they are drifting apart. Can they be conjugated? Is so, how? Around these two questions, the discourse of empire now revolves, its strategists divide.”(Page 111. Imperium)

China looms on the horizon. But there is no radical left alternative. None.

  1. Page 10. Perry Anderson. Editorial. New Left Review No1 Second Series) 2000. Page 23 Editorial. Susan Watkins. New Left Review 61 Second Series 2010. Page 107. In the Portable Hannah Arendt. Penguin. 2000.

  2. Page 31.Homeland. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. Second Series. 81. 2013)

  3. Page 215. The Grand Chessboard. Zbigniew Brzezinski. Basic Books. 1997.

  4. Page 7. Force and Consent. New Left Review 17.

  5. The New Imperialism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 1982. What is and What is Not, Imperialism. Robert Brenner. Historical Materialism. Vol. 14. No 4. 2006. Anderson signals this article in Imperium Page 40. It is part of an important Symposium on Harvey’s work.

  6. Page 25. Homeland. Op cit.

  7. Page 24. Perry Anderson. Internationalism: A Breviary. NLR New Series. 14. 2002. “Spectacular demonstration of popular will – the WSF in 2001 – 02, Venezuela in 2002 – 03, Bolivia in 2004, France in 2005” Page 27. Jottings on the Conjuncture. New Left Review. Second Series. 48. 2007. On Anderson’s evolving take on the European Union see; Perry Anderson on Europe. Alex Callinicos. Historian Materialism, Vol 21. 1. 2013.

  8. Page 61. After the Event. Perry Anderson. New Left Review Second Series. 73. 2012.

  9. Page 12. On the Concatenation in the Arab World. New Left Review. Second Series. 68. 2011.

  10. The ‘historical pessimism’ of Perry Anderson. Gilbert Achcar. International Socialism Journal. Issue 88. 2000. For most left activists thinking whether we are pessimists or optimists is a rather pointless exercise. But it would still be interesting to explore the similarities and differences between Anderson’s stand and that of Walter Benjamin and Pierre Naville’s “organisation du pessimisme.” These thinkers were faced with the menaces represented by the dramatic threats of the 1920s, the barbarism following the victory of Stalinism and the rise of Fascism, something rather worse, than the anything we can see today. Their stand was “pessimisme actif, “organisé,” pratique, entièrement tendu vers l’objectif d’empêcher, par tous les moyens possibles, l’avènement du pire.” Progrès et catastrophe. La conception de l’histoire de Walter Benjamin Michael Löwy. Historein. Vol 4. 2003/4.

  11. Disdain: on Perry Anderson’s America. Paul Street. Z-Net 2013

  12. A more extended discussion of this by Perry Anderson. Scurrying Towards Bethlehem. New Left Review. New Series. 10. 2001.”American Zionism as since the sixties acquired a firm grip on the lever of public opinion and official policy towards Israel.” Page 15.

  13. Page 14. The Twenty Years Crisis. 1919 – 1939. E.H.Carr. Papermac. 1981 (1945)

  14. Y a-t-il de l’Utopie dans le Marxisme? Georges Sorel. 1899. In this respect alone John Gray was surely onto something, “American-style democratic capitalism – the final form of human government.” “Like the far Left in the past the Right that developed fro the 1980s onwards saw humanity advancing from darkness to light by way of the fires of war and revolution” pages 29 and 31. Black Mass, Apocalypse, Religion and the Death of Utopia. John Gray. Allen Lane. 1997. Naomi Klein reminds us however that in boarder terms promoting US interests and these beliefs is not intrinsically incompatible, “The right to limitless profit-seeking has always been at the centre of neocon ideology” Page 322. The Shock Doctrine. Naomi Klein. Allen Lane 2007.

  15. Pages 151-2. Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. William Heinemann. 2010.

  16. Pages 61 –2. The Antimonies of Antonio Gramsci. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. First Series. 100. 1977. Page 14. Jottings on the Conjuncture. Ibid.

  17. Exterminism and the Cold War. Edited by New Left Review. Verso. 1982.

  18. A lucid account of these differences is provided by Fred Halliday (at the time still associated with New left review). Pages 32 – 3. The Making of the second Cold war. Fred Halliday. Verso. Second Edition. 1986.

  19. Page 56 –7. Trotsky’s Interpretation of Stalinism. Perry Anderson. New Left review First series. 139. 1983. For Anderson’s views (up to the mid-90s) on the Great Contest I am indebted to Gregory Elliot’s Olympus Mislaid? A profile of Perry Anderson. Radical Philosophy. 71. 1995.

  20. The Peculiarities of the English. In: the Poverty of Theory. E.P.Thompson. Merlin Press. 1978. The Uses of Anti-Communism. Issue of Socialist register 1984. Edited Ralph Miliband, John Saville, Marcel Liebman. Merlin Press. 1984.

  21. Cited in Accommodating to the Status Quo. A Critique of the Euston Manifesto. Paul Flewers. New Interventions. Vol 12. No 3. 2008.

Annexe: On Special Issues of New Left Review.

Some clues as to the Editors’ expectations can be found in the introductory Editorial. It notes three previous “special numbers”, by Tom Nairn on Europe (The Left Against Europe. 1972), by Anthony Barnett on the Falklands War (Iron Britannia. 1982), and Robert Brenner on the decline of the rate of profit in (above all) manufacturing in the global economy (Economics of Global Turbulence. 1998). State, Parliament and the world capitalist system are the topics. These were, no doubt in the eyes of the Editorial Board of the Review, significant interventions in the left’s political arena that had real effects.

This is worth some extended consideration.

Nairn is today a supporter of the Scottish National Party. His pro-European squib looks now like camouflage for the drive to independence, or (as he calls it) the freeing of the nations from national-ism. “a return to Mazzini’s ‘world of nations’, to democratic nationality politics..” (London Review of Books. 24th June. 2004) Nairn, one time critic of all forms of Labourism and reformism, no doubt relishes the widely held belief that the SNP is social-democratic.

Barnett is just as institutionalised as Alex Salmond’s seneschal. His attack on the “manifest decadence” of the House of Commons, led him amongst the founders of Charter 88 in 1987 which offered a programme of constitutional reform. Anderson backed the Charter, CF. A Zone of Engagement. Verso 1992. In 1980 Anderson had previously poured icy water on campaigns for civil liberties and the Law defended by E.P.Thompson. Now perhaps he regarded Constructional Reform as part of transitional demands for another kind of state. See: Pages 198 – 207. Arguments within English Marxism. Verso. 1980

The Charter aimed to replace the “absolute sovereignty” of parliament with a written constitution, and a new political settlement. Foreseeing victory Barnett wrote in 1997 of New Labour that, for all its faults, was going in this direction. He predicted, “Public energy will mount as the culture of effective citizenship develops.” (This Time. Our Constitutional Revolution, 1997) Nairn poured scorn on this ‘last-ditch attempt to save Ukania, that is the United Kingdom, through constitutional reform and devolution. (Tom Nairn. Ukania Under Blair. New Left Review. New Series. 1. 200)

The last time people heard from Barnett he had something to do with the pro Alternative Vote side during the referendum last year. Though we can’t remember what it was.

Brenner, for all the merits or faults of his economic analysis, has, since that, and other studies, only a recommendation that trade unions and working class struggles be strengthened.

“So once again, the top priority for progressives — for any left activists — to be active is in trying to revive the organizations of working people. Without the recreation of working- class power, little progressive change will be possible, and the only way to recreate that power is through mobilization for direct action. Only through working people taking collective mass action will they be able to create the organization and the power necessary to provide the social basis for a transformation of their own consciousness, for political radicalization.” The Economy in a World of Trouble. International Viewpoint,.. 30th April. 2009.

We could have thought of that one


Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Here is the link for a review of Anderson’s Imperium and Concilium I wrote for Ideas de Izquierda, journal published in Argentina. http://ideasdeizquierda.org/el-imperio-contraataca/


    March 16, 2014 at 5:23 pm

  2. Thanks mate.

    Andrew Coates

    March 17, 2014 at 11:15 am

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