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Perry Anderson, New Left Review and Europe.

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Perry  Anderson, New Left Review and Europe.


“But what would Brexit actually mean for the European Union, or for Ukania in parting with it? So far, all that was clear was that ‘Blairized Britain has taken a hit, as has the Hayekianized eu’ and ‘critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it’, against which the entire global establishment had inveighed. “

Perry Anderson. Ukania Perpetua. New Left Review. 2/125. Sept/Oct 2000.


In Rule Britannia (1972) Daphne du Maurier imagined a Britain in which, because of economic and political failures, the UK had joined with USA together in a single nation, USUK. It halted talk about joining the Common Market. In a state of emergency, enforced by US marines, resistance comes from liberation forces led by Paddington Bear and, armed with bows and arrows, the Lost Boys.

In the detail this may be a faulty recollection. But Perry Anderson seals his account of the “distinctive” New Left Review arguments about “British state and society” and the endurance of the “liberal market economy” over the decades, the “deep structures of Labourism” reconciled to that order, the Corbyn moment, elected on a platform that rejected the “whole neoliberal order” with a picture of a defining moment in British politics, Brexit, that has less plausibility than the novelist’s scenario.

In the days of the ‘ultra-Europeanism” of The Left Against Europe, Tom Nairn wrote of the anti-EU left’s “retreat back to the lost ground of nationalism and ‘national sovereignty’.” (New Left Review 1/72 1975)

This is a lengthy Apolgia Pro Vita Sua. But in its account of British capitalist and political development, its state form dubbed, with Nairn’s cack-handed humour, “Ukania”, there is a glaring absence. Anderson devotes not a single line to the part played in the Referendum by the sovereigntist left, the Lexiters, including at least one member of NLR’s Editorial Board, the stentorian voiced Tariq Ali. Unmentioned is the curious alliances between these forces in the Full Brexit, Communist Party of Britain, Labour Parliamentary supremacists, Blue Labour spokespeople for the Somewhere People against the Nowheres the “rootless cosmopolitans”, the Brexit Party supporting Spiked Network,  and prominent New Left Review contributor Wolfgang Otto Streeck, to name but one new leftist who joined this merry band of Constitutionalists.

Anderson permits himself one glowing recollection of the past of this illusion, the 1970s and 1980s Alternative Economic Strategy (AES), which promised a British Road to Socialism, Exit from the European Union, marked by import controls, “the outlines of an English nationalism not inherently reactionary could be glimpsed in the Alternative Economic Strategy (aes) advocated by Benn, since the opportunities for progress in the eec had proved less than once believed. Still, the aes contained the obvious danger of a Jacobin centralization blind to the realities of peripheral nationalism. Only if that were overcome, could an English socialism put behind it the ‘shame and defeat of British socialism’.”The possibility that scepticism about this long-abandoned banner was fuelled as much by the implausibility of a siege economy grew at the cusp of globalisation, as by the deliberate cut to any prospect of European left working together in a common institutional framework, the EU.

Many, indeed many, of the pages of Ukania Perptua are devoted to Scottish Nationalism, English nationalism, British nationhood, and how it might deal with “peripheral nationalism”. None are taken up with the “anglosphere” promoted by Brexiters, not just as a transatlantic and antipodean cultural home for the English-speaking volk, but an economic trading sphere, a tamed free-market liberalism for an age of national populist governance. This was hard right project indicates why a section of the left opposed Brexit, and became involved with the wider anti-Brexit cause, though kept a distinct voice in Another Europe is Possible and within the Labour Party, where it played a pivotal role in promoting pro-Referedum policy with a wider social left edge.


Nor is there any space for the views of the internationalist left which opposed Brexit and offered the slogan, and the outline of a programme, for “another Europe”. “The Brexit referendum was a domestic quarrel, in which both sides were at mass level essentially oblivious of the ostensible object of the occasion, the European Union itself, other than as an object of polar cathexis; Remain and Leave opinion at large equally ignorant of, and indifferent to, its structures and mutations.”

The pro-Brexit vote was a “social revolt” from below, regional and social, a “hinterland of decayed industries and discarded proletarian households” was pitted the against the “liberal academy” (whatever that US expression means in UK terms), “educated opinion”, and the “wider establishment.” The poor had voted – if not as  poor, or as working class – and had dealt a  “stinging popular rebuff to the political class as a whole, united (the minority of Conservative Brexiteers aside) in an empty defence of the status quo.”

The  “liberal intelligentsia”, (Anderson ignores the Trade Union Congress and trade union opposition to Leave), weighed little in the (narrow) outcome. Labour was paralysed by divisions on the issue and “unable to reach a coherent position”, “immobilized like Buridan’s ass” during the referendum and when the campaign for a Second Referendum swept into the streets (also passed over by Anderson).

Scruffy rootless cosmopolitans may ask, what was the weight of the faction in the Conservative Party, the European Research Group (ERG) each group and the poundage of the ventriloquists of popular anti-EU feeling in the right-wing media, UKIP, and, leading up to the 2019 General Election, of the Brexit Party? Did they really put so much money and effort in the media and campaigning endeavours exposed in Peter Geoghegan’s Democracy for Sale (2020) for their personal glory?   Anderson guards his options, the Brexiteers’ Second off the starting blocks, Project Fear, trumped the Remain Camp’s. Their Take Back Control won out – offering as a lifeline to the pro-Brexit Left who could point to its popularity above that of anti-immigrant sentiment. And whatever latest ruminations on Englishness have to offer.

Labour straddled both sides of the divide, Anderson opines, and is now n “confronted with the task, not just of reconciling ‘identity politics’ (sc. Leaver proletariat) and ‘social liberalism’ (sc. middle-class and youth Remainderdom), but of developing an agenda to compete with Johnson’s One-Nation Toryism, and not preempted by it.” Now, he reflects, Labour, “having lost the working class in 2019 by a huge margin, is in a still less secure position, penned in to the corral of an increasingly middle-class—professional, managerial, clerical—Europeanist constituency” It is led by Keir Starmer, a figure Anderson announces is “soft right”,  one is glad he’s got this publicly off his chest, after having to write rude things about the Labour leader under the cover-name of a NLR intern.  Labour has now a man ill-fitted perhaps, or not, to deal with the dislocation between these forces and the traditional working class constituencies, a British working class. Rivaling only Orwell in their hopes for the proles,  whose socialist potential New Left Review – in the present re-edition of the Nairn-Anderson thesis – may well indicate, if one looks hard enough, has a long record of admiring, we can keep a glimmer of faith.

Corbyn is done and dusted. Anderson adds no new insights into the traditional unprecedented-anti-left-campaign lack-of-steel-hardened cadres, terribly principled on US-led wars and US-imperialism, and Palestine, narrative. The learned editor cannot resist patronising the members, the “vast majority, neither young nor old possessing any political culture beyond the enthusiasms of the moment or the illusions of the past”, bear in mind that amongst his other qualities Corbyn is the activist tip of the same milieu – what of Brexit?

This lengthy passage indicates something,

Without any mass upheaval, or even such turbulence as marked the seventies, the order of Ukania has been disrupted as never before since 1911–14, with no new equilibrium in sight. All its components—economy, polity, ideology, territory, diplomacy—have simultaneously and interconnectedly been destabilized. The model of growth around which the country has been built since the late nineteenth century has generated such internal tensions that it has finally backfired. Contracting manufactures, swelling financial and commercial services, deepening regional inequalities, stagnant wages, soaring house prices, escalating inequalities, and when this pattern exploded in a banking crisis, the imposition of austerity to contain it, produced the convulsion of Brexit, and with it the risk of a drop in British gdp potentially greater than any on record. Decline, banished for a season from reputable discourse, has returned in more drastic guise. What lies ahead, many declare, is more like the term in Spengler’s mistranslated title—Untergang: not decline, but downfall; or perhaps, in its abruptness, the French dégringolade.


I am not sure that La Bourse is undergoing a dégringolade as yet. But me, looking at the latest on Brexit and US Trade Deals, I am phoning up Paddington Bear and the Lost Boys for help. Downfall is upon us! Watch out for Traitors! Get ready to storm the Führerbunker! This is one culture war that’s not going away!


I am also reading this very contrasting, and serious account about the  world economy’s present development :

Les capitalismes à l’épreuve de la pandémie

Robert BOYER




On the Trade union reactions to further ‘blows’ to the ‘establishment’ see: Shiraz.

No deal and WTO rules would be “devastating” for manufacturing

On Anderson this recent thought-provokng critical survey indicates some bearings.

The Antinomies of Perry Anderson

George Souvlis

If back in 1992 he had considered the EU a possible vehicle for overcoming nationalist divisions, by the time of his 2000 editorial its subordination to the American hegemon had doomed such a perspective. This new conjuncture was, instead, defined by the expansion of the capitalist order throughout the world, a historical process that many theorists of the time described with the euphemism “globalization.”

Τhe US hegemon was expanding its geopolitical influence in new territories throughout the globe, establishing its economic interests ever farther-afield while creating new dependencies between the capitalist center and its peripheries.




Written by Andrew Coates

October 20, 2020 at 1:38 pm

2 Responses

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  1. So Anderson’s argument is basically “people doing what the Sun or Mail told them to is progressive because they might live in areas which had a socialist tradition up to the 1980s”.

    I’ll never understand his wing of the Left. Never.

    And Labour did not lose the *entire* working class – it lost the *white* working class *outside the big cities*. His use of “working class” excluding and disqualifying those who live – often in deep poverty – in majority-BAME areas, who largely stuck with Labour, is typical of the way so many people who used to moan about Will Young or James Blunt now moan about Headie One or D-Block Europe and don’t see the irony.

    And I’ll go to my grave convinced that, had Labour been led by someone not steeped in the old Bennite delusions, the referendum could have been saved.


    October 20, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    • He simply know fuck all about what he’s talking out.

      There’s plenty of serious studies, the majority of the working class, that is, those in work, voted against Brexit.

      “A majority of those working full-time or part-time voted to remain in the EU; most of those not working voted to leave. More than half of those retired on a private pension voted to leave, as did two thirds of those retired on a state pension.”

      “The older the voters, the more likely they were to have voted to leave the EU. Nearly three quarters (73%) of 18 to 24 year-olds voted to remain, falling to under two thirds (62%) among 25-34s. A majority of those aged over 45 voted to leave, rising to 60% of those aged 65 or over. Most people with children aged ten or under voted to remain; most of those with children aged 11 or older voted to leave.”

      I expect the older wealthy category of Leavers would have included Anderson – if he voted, he has spent several decades in the US, in some kind of ‘ academy’ which one suspects is not like the Academies in Ipswich – getting further and further away from British politics


      Andrew Coates

      October 20, 2020 at 6:47 pm

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