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Perry Anderson and the French Left After Macron.

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PERRY ANDERSON AND THE FRENCH LEFT AFTER MACRON.

Part Two of a response to The Centre Can Hold.

In Part One of this critique we suggested that Perry Anderson’s analysis of the result of the French elections barely proceeded further than the affirmation that the “centre left” was a lieutenant of capital, that he lacked any notion of the specificity of different French government ‘neoliberal’, pro-capitalist politics, that his account of Macron’s victory was barely more than a tale of how the electorate was hoodwinked by the media and the establishment.

We noted that Anderson’s analysis of the role of France as a ‘hinge’ in the European Union, which he permits himself some meagre speculation on the potential effects of Macron’s Presidency on the EU. If as he claims these changes will be largely ‘cosmetic’, though one would not imagine that measures resulting from France pressure, to ensure debt relief for Southern Europe would not look like face paint to those affected, what is then the role of oppositions? Our conclusion, which dwelt on the radical utopian alternative of Dardot and Laval, suggested the ambitious scope of radical alternatives to the existing EU.

Anderson’s assumptions about the EU underpin much of The Centre Can Hold. One can note that the theme, clearly stated in 2012 against his critics, that Brussels, led by Germany, “corralled” EU members into fiscal “stability. One of his critics, Jan-Werner Müller, offered at that time an account of the “conscious delegation” of powers that constitute the inter-state body. It may be, Müller indicates, that Germany could, if the will were there, shift towards a more open system of EU decision-making. (1) This premise suggests that rather less than a total rejection of the existing institutions – reform – might be possible. That Europe is indeed a changing body is further indicated in the fate of Anderson’s speculation about the Union as “deputy Empire” of the US. Here does this stand now? No doubt the reign of Emperor Trump, who promoted Brexit, requires a further analysis.

The Jargon of Resistance.

But when it comes to looking at French elections perhaps this is not the point. New Left Review, we have to remind ourselves, has turned into the Organ of Resistance. In an Editorial in 2016 we were treated to a lengthy treatise on Left Oppositions (I will not refer to the article on Poetic Resistance in the same issue). Susan Watkins indicated that “in the last few years” “left oppositions started to produced national political projects with an impact at state level”. This covered Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement (…), Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and apparently, Scottish independence campaigners.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 4 million Presidential votes in 2012, as the candidate of the Front de gauche (FdG), a bloc of his own group, the French Communists and leftists involved in groups such as Ensemble, figured on this list. He features equally amongst the “charismatic leaders” with his old style “oratory”. A paragraph, informed by sources which can guess not unfavourable to the leader of what was then the Parti de Gauche (PdG) complained of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). It was “mummified”, a “ball and chain”, and, over egging this already egg splattered account, amongst the faults of the PCF, “In the National Assembly it regularly supports the Socialist government against the positions of the Parti de Gauche.” Writing in this vein the Mélenchonistas were given star rating, along with the thousands attending Nuit Debout rallies – over the, unmentioned, trade union led millions-strong campaign against the El Khomri labour reforms.

With the NLR condescension Mélenchon was judged “in part” social democratic, but with more ‘heterodox elements” “including sweeping constitutional change – not a social-democratic trait”. Those familiar with the Journal’s views on such issues, will realise that the importance they attach to the calls for a 6th Republic, although the Editor fails to mention that the same banner has been raised by a number of the left inside the Parti Socialiste (2014: Appel de socialistes pour une sixième République).

La France insoumise.

Shift forward a year, the formation of La France insoumise (LFI), the effective end of the Front de Gauche, and the 2017 Presidential elections. Against the ‘pale figure” of Benoît Hamon. We have the Grand Orator Mélenchon standing with the backing of hundreds of thousands of on-line supporters and – on the ground – “groupes d’appui”, organised supporters.

“..the change was more than just organisational. Fascinated for some time by the success of heterodox governments in Latin America, he drew particular inspiration from the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, like him a former minister of a social-democratic party, who had pioneered the idea of a ‘citizen’s revolution’, rewriting the constitution, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment. This was the way forward, to abandon the exhausted schemas of the traditional European left for a radically progressive populism, summoning the people to battle against the elites in control of a bankrupt political and economic system. Impressed with the strategic insight of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, encountered in Argentina in 2013, Mélenchon set about applying their lessons at home.”

We pause for a moment to consider this.

A Movement not a Party.

La France insoumise is a “movement”, not a party. Mélenchon declares, “Il peut disposer des moyens d’être représentatif de cet ensemble globalisant quest le peuple en réseau de notre époque That is, it can be a network that represents the people globally in our era. Is it democratic? Le mouvement na pas à être « démocratique » au sens basiste que souvent on donne à ce mot dans les organisations politiques où lon doit alors affronter le climat de confrontation des courants et des textes qui les fondent avec les votes contradictories. The movement is not ‘democratic’ in the the grassroots sense of the word in political parties, where different tendencies and resolutions are presented confrontationally, or with oppositional voting. The movement is as collective as possible (cest d’être aussi collectif que possible) In other words, there is no formal debate over competing views, or, more significantly, any means to do so – LFI operates internally through cyber-space with the direction set by.the leadership. For his supporters Mélenchon is the “embodiment” of the programme; there is no need for opposition to him. Inside La France insoumise there are, as yet, not plans for a place for a democratic opposition or channels for one to exist. It is run, as report after report indicates, by a core of close Mélenchon advisers from the PdG.. (2)

A further pause, La France insoumise its admirers claim, is not a tactic, a political start-up adapted to the new era of personalised politics. But what is it? The organisation is more that symbolically linked to other models – we shall discard the reference to Ecuador (which few will have heard of and which counts for even less than erstwhile evocations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela), but to Podemos. LFI is not, nevertheless, the product of a French Moviemento 15 Mars, no mass street protests preceded its launch, and only the figure of the producer of Merci Patron François Ruffin stands in for the brief flash of the Nuit Debout square occupations.

La France insoumise was first and foremost the vehicle for Mélenchon’s Presidential ambitions. It was a temporary body, It is secondly an ambitious claim to federate the people into something resembling the left populism of Laclau and Mouffe. Although one should be wary of politicians claiming intellectual authority from fashionable figures (Hamon has also claimed to be influenced by Mouffe: Benoît Hamon, Inspirations au programme), there is more than a little of a demand for “equality and popular sovereignty in LFIs version of agonistic (conflictual) democracy to feel an imprint. In place of class conflict in the sense of a contradiction rooted in a mode of production, classic social classes, we have the opposition between the People (demanding equality and sovereignty) and the Elite/Oligarchy. We have an even more rudimentary opposition between Friend and Foe (Carl Schmitt), beneath this. Political reform, sweeping constitutional change, a citizens insurrection through the ballot box, are designed to clean the institutions of the corruption of the oligarchs and to bring alive the general will inside a new Republic, one that can (and this is repeated) ensure French independence (3)

Le Grand Replacement ..of the Left.

It is finally, a movement whose central strategy is to replace the existing left, not to unite it, not to bring together it for common objectives, but to call for traditional left-wing parties to sod off (dégagez!) For those wishing to pursue this analysis from the numerous criticisms levelled at Mélenchon and LFI, they will find many more critical accounts, so abundant that one might have thought a reference or two might have crossed Anderson’s mind.(4)

LFIs patriotism, and rejection of any reference to class in favour of the conflict between the People and the Oligarchy, can hardly escape the casual observer.

La France insoumise banned red flags and the Internationale for the tricolour and Marseillaise at its meetings, appealing to all patriots regardless of class or age to rise up against the decaying order of the Fifth. Borrowing the cry that drove out Ben Ali in Tunisia, Dégagez!—‘Clear out!’—became the leitmotif of the campaign.”

It takes a strong stomach to digest this, one no doubt fortified by memories of 1950s PCF tricolours and references to national liberation heroine Jean darc. Is there more criticism, at least more than implicit, from Anderson? Perhaps this sentence could still be expanded In reality, the two anti-systemic forces, rather than aggregating to a common populist insurgency, largely cancel each other out. However similar their critiques of the social and economic system, insuperable moral and ideological differences on immigration hold them apart at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where each freely demonizes the other.” Immigration, FN as a ‘scarecrow’ used to rally people behind the Macron and the Republic……..and there it ends…

Or not. Anderson is soon bored by French Politics and drifts back to geopolitical, European, issues. He notes that, “the balance of forces in a  neoliberal but not yet neo-federal system of power militates against dramatic changes”. The final paragraph of The Centre Can Hold talks of the single currency, the Euro, and the possibility of a French exit from it. Recasting monetary union, is, Anderson pats Mélenchon on the back, a “geopolitical” issue, not a technical one. Of that, all we hear that can be brought down to immediate relevance is the question: can there be an effective means to compel Germany to help a reform of the EU?

The future of La France insoumise, as it announces a Convention in the autumn, remains to be analysed. Will it become a real party? Where will it go? Many suggest that Melenchon has still not come to terms with the idea that he will not be President. In the National Assembly, having made a splash, there are strong independent figures in the group of 17   who may have their own ideas about the direction it should take. One thing is certain, neither the PCF (10)  the PS (45 seats), nor the rest of the left, including Hamon’s own new movement, the mouvement du 1er Juillet  nor the extra-parliamentary  left, nor the union federations,  look ready to be “replaced” by Mélenchon. The failure of LFI’s stunt this week, holding on its own, without trade union backing, rallies against Macron’s new labour reforms, indicates the limits of how far its “recuperation” of social movements can go.  (5)

********

(1) After the Event Perry Anderson. Beyond Militant Democracy. Werner Müller. New Left Review. No 73. 2012.

(2) Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le peuple et le ‘ mouvement ‘ November 2016 

(3) The Democratic Paradox. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2005. A much more detailed critique of Laclau and Mouffe’s influence on ‘left-populist’ politics is in preparation. The motif of French independence, militarily, economically, and related themes, such as “producing French”, stand out in the pages of La France insoumise’s programme,  L’Avenir en commun. 2017.

(4) See: La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ? jeudi 3 novembre 2016, par JOHSUA Samuel, MELENCHON Jean-Luc Rousset provides the best summary. Mélenchon, France insoumise, populisme : questions sur la séquence électorale 2016-2017 et ses implications ROUSSET Pierre.

(5) La France insoumise se met en chantier – Vers une convention fin octobre ? BESSE DESMOULIERES Raphaëlle

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‘The Centre Can Hold’: Perry Anderson, French Politics in the Era of Macron, A Critique. Part One.

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‘The Centre Can Hold’: Perry Anderson: a Critical Look. 

Part One.

Chaque pensée devrait rappeler la ruine d’un sourire.”

Each thought should evoke the ruin of a smile.

Syllogismes de l’amertume. Emil Cioran.

For Perry Anderson “the revolutionary working class went AWOL somewhere around 1970.”

Roger Scruton. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands. Thinkers of the New Left. (1)

Has the 2017 French Presidential contest, followed by the June Parliamentary elections, redrawn the political map not just in France but also across Europe? Emmanuel Macron’s conquest of the Élysée (66,10% of the vote), in a second round against the far-right Marine Le Pen (33,90%), marginalising the Parti Socialiste (PS), eliminated at the first hurdle with 6,36% and Les Républicains (LR), at, 20.02% is said to have seen off the anti-European Union “populist revolt”. Others talk of his pro- EU “populism of the centre”. Some on the left draw comfort from the respectable score in the initial contest, 19,58% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon of la France insoumise.

The success of Macron’s brand new, ‘start-up’, movement-party, La République en marche (LRM), with 314 seats, and close allies, the MoDems, 47 MPs, out of 577 députés, is overwhelming. Backed by ‘compatible’ deputies from the fragmenting Socialist Party and the Republican centre-right, which now dominates the French lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, illustrates, it is claimed, the obsolescence of the old-party form. To some this has shaken up not just the old French blocs of left and right but introduced a new form of political representation. For Pierre Rosanvallon Macron, and his still-standing opponents, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen, are the “personalised”, “direct catalysts of popular aspirations” (Idées. Le Monde. 17.6.17) Introducing Perry Anderson’s The Centre Can Hold (click for full text)  The French Spring. New Left Review’s (NLR) Programme Notes begins rather with political economy. Macron, liberal in economics, and liberal (in the American sense) socially may mark another shift. “Has neoliberalism finally arrived in force in Paris and if so what are the implications for Europe?”

Macron’s journey from liberalising Minister of the Economy (2014 – 2016) in François Hollande’s Socialist Government, some tussles with Prime Minister Manuel Valls – not to mention mass protests against labour reforms – to the entry of the former high-flying Banker and Civil Servant into the gilded chambers of the Élysée, is a tale worth telling. That it did not happen without help, unwilling as much as willing, is recalled. Attacks on finance soon forgotten Hollande had rapidly begun “tilting to business and tailing Berlin”. Nor is the inability of his governments to tackle mass unemployment, poverty, to stand up to EU financial ‘rigour’, forcing the Mediterranean members to suffer the blast of monetary discipline and ‘restructuring’, unchronicled. The President’s manifest failings, low, described in Valérie Trierweiler’s Merci pour ce Moment (2014), and high, beginning with Hollande’s opinion of himself, and the both at the same time, as revealed by Gérard Davet and François Lhomme, are there for all to read, or at least the media’s extracts and commentaries. The outgoing tide of Hollande’s support, the his “self-destruction”, the mass protests and strikes at labour law reform (Loi El Khomri) under PM Manuel Valls, to “please business” – Anderson at least does not finger the EU for that measure – paved the way for the marginalisation of the Parti Socialiste. The transfer of PS card-holders and, above all, notables, to the new Master, was preceded by the mobilisation of an active core behind Macron’s Presidential bid.

Tenebrous back-door manoeuvres

Macron appeared, in short, Anderson affirms, at length, more than a providential “embodiment of all that was dynamic and forward-looking in France”. Behind this public portait, Anderson suggests that not only was their was transfer of allegiances, the use of PS networks, and the development of an establishment cabal behind him, there was a vast media-political operation, with wider business and ‘civil society’ support. Le Canard Enchaîné, with, he notes, close links with the “tenebrous world of back-door manoeuvres” and the “manipulative operations of the French intelligence services” leaked evidence of the abuse of public funds by Macron’s right-wing rival François Fillion. Dubbing the satirical weekly the Great Elector we are treated to Anderson’s lengthy speculations on the origins and motives of those who may have used these leaks to destroy the candidate of Les Républicains.

If Anderson is to be believed, “Macron’s background guaranteeing he would be a business-friendly icon of deregulation of the kind Hollande wanted” the transfer of the President’s claque to a new icon was well judged. The Centre Can Hold describes him marketed as part of “a movement transcending the outdated opposition between Right and Left in France, for the creation of a new, fresh politics of the Centre, liberal in economics and social in sensibility.” Enough people bought the message for an electoral landslide to take place.

Opponents were trounced, deals were made, François Bayrou was squared, the middle class were quite prepared…Anderson has, we can be sure, not revealed more than a fraction of the contents of a hefty shelf of breathless Secret Histories of the 2017 Election Campaign. That the new Boss has been sometimes ungrateful, the Editorial suggests, at least to his one-time Patron, and, we could add, to those, like Valls, with whom he has accounts to settle will doubtless lend piquancy to the narrative.

This entertaining, depressing but far from unprecedented story, is only part of a larger picture. The ‘operation’ succeeded as a consequence of the withering on the vine of the Parti Socialiste’s social base and the political impasse of the party that has failed in recent years to manage more than Léon Blum’s “exercise of power”, without conquering the solid bastions that give a real lever for social change.

The Republic of the Centre.

The NLR Editorial locates the origins of the PS’s difficulties in relief against a long line of attempts to create a Republic of the Centre, a term taken from the widely read. La République du centre (1988). In that book, subtitled, La fin de l’exception française, Pierre Rosanvallon, with François Furet and Jacques Julliard, announced the end of French ‘exceptionalism’, above all the persistence of an electorally and socially significant radical left. For Anderson President Mitterrand “had laid the foundations of a stable Republic of the Centre: no longer dependent on the individual charisma of a national hero who was distrustful of parties, but now solidly anchored in a cross-party ideological consensus that capitalism was the only sensible way of organizing modern life.”

Crucial to this turn was not the “stable republic”, a cross-party consensus and left-right alternation of power, but the left’s acceptance of the market. Since the Mitterrand ‘turn’ in 1982-3, the Socialists have constantly drifted, but they have always been marked by efforts to create a market-friendly liberalising ‘republic’. Anderson does not cite exactly why this change happened, here, or in his previous writings on France, where we learnt that it was ‘neoliberal’ and a “decisive turn towards the logic of financial markets”. Indicating, rather than defining ‘neoliberalism’, with the label Hayek stuck on it too boot, obscures what lay at the origin of their trajectory. (2)

The 1982-3 ‘moment’, a conjuncture that brought together political and economic strategic change with a cultural shift towards the market, remains marked in PS history. The Mauroy government, abandoned a strategy, reinforced with the entry of Communist Ministers in the cabinet, of nationalisations, proactive industrial policy, and increased consumption, came as the first Mitterrand governments failed to reduce unemployment or stimulate growth. Put simply, with the world in recession, going it alone was not working. Warnings of economic disaster starring the President and Prime Minister in the face during the summer of 1982 and the judgement that the franc risked going through the floor, strained the country’s membership of the European Monetary System (EMS) to breaking point. Retrenching at this point was more than a “pause” in reform. The government suddenly dropped all the idea of top-down ‘statist’ economic intervention. The initial wave of nationalisations (which remained in place for the time being, including important parts of the banking system) were not the ‘instrument’ of economic growth and social change. Industry had to be “restructured”, that is modernised at the cost of closures and layoffs; budgets had to restrained. The PS, soon free of a vestigial alliance with the Communists (PCF), came to grips with what they considered the impossibility of ‘Keynesianism in one country’. The “mutation” of modern capitalism was embraced.

What remained of a left-wing ambition beyond clamouring for creative destruction and extolling model entrepreneurs? For Anderson, it was the European ideal. For Mitterrand Europe was France’s future and economics had to follow. The two term President seized on “the inspiring ideal of Europe”, that is, staying within the EMS (European Monetary System). It was in its service that the French were called upon to “liberalise and modernise themselves.”

That the austerity programme in 1983, and the zealous pursuit of ‘modernisation’ under the subsequent PM Laurent Fabius, has marked the governing French left ever since is not in doubt. But the alternative answer, argued by the Minister of Industry, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, for France to “go it alone” outside the EMS, may well have led, as his opponents claimed, to a collapse in the franc, and to France going cap in hand, for help to another international “neo-liberal’ institution, the IMF, with an equally severe plan for budget cuts. A left-winger might well ask about the reaction of the labour movement. From Mitterrand’s victory in 1981 to the policy change, there was little popular activity, and the brief displays of CGT militancy that followed the exit of the Communists from government never rose beyond fragmented protest. (3)

The Construction of Europe.

The Centre Can Hold spills the beans on some more confidential reasoning, “In private, Mitterrand—more candid than his successors—knew what that meant, as he confided to his familiar Jacques Attali at the outset: ‘I am divided between two ambitions: the construction of Europe and social justice. The European Monetary System is a condition of success in the first, and limits my freedom in the second.’ Once the eu was in place, every market-friendly initiative could be extolled or excused as required by solidarity with Brussels.”

Is this another way of saying that French politicians, like political figures across the Continent, put responsibility for the unpopular consequences of market-friendly policies, which they fully support, onto ‘Europe’? Or is it to say that “pooling” sovereignty through the EU had given rise to an “accumulation of powers” by the “elites of the Council and Commission and their subordinates”, as Anderson put it in The New Old World (2009)? Is he suggesting that Keynesianism in one country was a viable option, and should have been pursued, regardless of the absence of mass popular mobilisation, and whatever the consequences for the ERM, and France’s position as the “hinge of the European Union”?

One way of avoiding these hard questions is to call upon the people to speak. That is, to demonstrate that, despite having filled their ears with Brussels’ wax, French politicians, unlike Ulysses, have had difficulty in resisting – much much later – the Sirens of popular discontent. Anderson fills several paragraphs with evidence that the masses recoil at pro-market reform. The Centre right has many object lessons in this, “as Juppé discovered in 1995 and De Villepin in 2006.” He then turns to the more difficult task of explaining how ‘neo-liberalism’ could be introduced.

The Centre-left, by contrast, was a better Lieutenant of Capital. It “was the better equipped of the two blocs actually to introduce neoliberal reforms. Resistance to these was always most likely to come from the popular classes where the larger part of its own social base lay, in particular—though not exclusively—from the trade-unions, where only the collaborationist cfdt could be relied on to swallow virtually anything…..still claiming to represent the injured and oppressed—and interpret their best interests—the PS was in a more favourable position to neutralise such opposition, as Valls’s success in ramming through a labour law to please business in 2016 showed. So too it was no accident that over the years the Centre-Left privatised many more public enterprises than the Centre-Right.” Except, of course, that these policies played sufficiently badly with the “popular classes” to contribute to the mass defection that caused this instrument to shatter. As their electoral disaster and the transfer of support elsewhere, including, Anderson notes, many went to La France insoumise.

Fighting Neo-liberalism.

From this account one might ask what is ‘neo-liberalism’ other than any pro-business policy? And what is the alternative other than the resistance of the masses to these measures? And where did these pro-market measures originate? Are they domestically determined, or can we, as appears to be suggested with the evocation of the ‘European ideal’ assign it to forces within the structures of the EU. The New Old World lists a lack of a common democratic will at the European level, the construction, from these quarters, of a Hayekian “semi-catallaxy” of free markets beneath, and an apparatus removed from accountability and stuffed with “prebends”. This picture looms only faintly over the present article. Even that charge-sheet against “self-satisfied” Europe seems feeble set against, to cite a representative from a mountain of critical literature, the account of a neo-liberal European Union apparatus in Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas (2016) They talk of a “Empire des normes”, budgets, debts, “le bloc idéologique néolibérale”.

Dardot and Laval’s call for countervailing international democratic coalitions, and an “espace oppositionnel mondial” has so far, been largely unheeded. Yet despite the obstacles, the Union remains an area of “pooled sovereignty” in which national governments, if no longer unanimous about ‘rescuing the nation state’, still enjoy the determining power. That the EU – and Anderson, as we will see, homes in on the future of the Eurozone – can be shaped by political will. That domestic policy formation remains the key to change, that Macron’s decisions matter, and efforts to mould or block them, are at least one of the keys to the success or failure of neo-liberal, or, more simply, pro-business acts and legislation. And what could be the role of an opposition to undo Macron’s plans?

END OF PART ONE.

PART 2 TO FOLLOW: THE LEFT AFTER MACRON.

References.

(1) Page 232. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands. Thinkers of the New Left. Roger Scruton Bloomsbury. 2015.

(2) Prognoses. The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso. 2009

(3) See Pages 326 – 333. Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Alain Bergounioux and Gérard Grunberg. Fayard. 2005. Pages 362 – 376. Mitterrand A Study in Ambiguity. Phillip Short. The Bodley Head. 2013.

‘People’s Brexit’ Faced with Disaster.

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“There is a blind refusal to see that a people’s Brexit provides a genuine opportunity for workers to gain confidence, challenge a weak and divided Tory government and elect a left-wing Labour government empowered to see through its socialist commitments.”

Enrico Tortolano and Ragesh Khakhria: Trade Unionists Against the EU.

Emergency Demonstration:

This Monday, 13 March, the Commons will vote on a Labour amendment to the Article 50 bill to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK.

The Tories will use any excuse to scapegoat migrants to divide communities and deflect from their own damaging policies. This is a choice between a society for the few who will use the current crisis to justify their position and a society for the many which recognises the vital and important contributions migrants make to the country. Whether we want to remain in the EU or not, we demand the right to remain and freedom of movement for everybody.  

We must show our support as this important issue goes back to the Commons. Join the emergency demonstration at Parliament from 5.30pm on Monday evening.

The government must guarantee the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK.

People’s Assembly.

In the latest New Left Review Perry Anderson discusses President Trump.

He includes these comments on ‘populism’ in Europe and the Brexit vote.

In the Old World, the principal reason why populism of the right typically outpaces populism of the left is widespread fear of immigration; and the principal reason why this has not carried it to power is greater fear of economic retribution if the euro—detested as an instrument of austerity and loss of sovereignty though it may be—were not just denounced, as it is by populisms of the right and left alike, but actually discarded. In the UK alone, though nowhere near forming a government, a populism of the right did achieve, in the referendum on British membership of the EU, a score exceeding even Trump’s.

The victory of Brexit, Trump announced from the start, was an inspiration for his own battle in the US. What light does it throw on the unexpected outcome of the election in 2016? Fear of mass immigration was whipped up relentlessly by the Leave campaign, as elsewhere in Europe. But in Britain too, xenophobia on its own is by no means enough to outweigh fear of economic meltdown. If the referendum on the EU had just been a contest between these two fears, as the political establishment sought to make it, Remain would have no doubt won by a handsome margin, as it did in the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

Over-determining the contest, however, were three further factors.

After Maastricht, the British political class declined the straitjacket of the euro, only to pursue a native brand of neo-liberalism more drastic than any on the continent: first, the financialized hubris of New Labour, plunging Britain into banking crisis before any other country of Europe, then a Conservative-Liberal administration of a draconian austerity without any endogenous equal in the EU. Economically, the results of this combination stand alone. No other European country has been so dramatically polarized by region, between a bubble-enclosed, high-income metropolis in London and the south-east, and an impoverished, deindustrialized north and north-east: zones where voters could feel they had little to lose in voting for Leave, a more abstract prospect than ditching the euro, come what may to the City and foreign investment. Fear counted for less than despair.

The result?

Under the largely interchangeable Labour and Conservative regimes of the neo-liberal period, voters at the bottom end of the income pyramid deserted the polls in droves. But suddenly granted, for once, the chance of a real choice in a national referendum, they returned to them in force, voter participation in depressed regions jumping overnight, delivering their verdict on desolations of both. At the same time, no less important in the result, came the historical difference separating Britain from the continent. The country was not only for centuries an empire dwarfing any European rival, but one that unlike France, Germany, Italy or most of the rest of the continent, never suffered defeat, invasion or occupation in either World War. So expropriation of local powers by a bureaucracy in Belgium was bound to grate more severely than elsewhere: why should a state that twice saw off the might of Berlin submit to petty meddling from Luxemburg or Brussels? Issues of identity could more readily trump issues of interest than in any other part of the EU. So the normal formula—fear of economic retribution outweighs fear of alien immigration—failed to function as elsewhere, bent out of shape by a combination of economic despair and national amour-propre.

Perry Anderson. Passing the Baton. New Left Review. 103. 2017.

Put slightly differently, hatred of foreigners, it was the memory, and the real trace, of imperial grandeur, government cuts and people pissing themselves with loathing of  ‘Brussels’ that fueled the Leave Vote.

I will leave it to supporters of the erudite Anderson to explain how exactly “endogenous austerity”, a feeling of having “nothing to lose”, led to the vote to Leave, without the first and last (both ‘foreign’)  factors condensing into the far from ‘floating signifier’ of Brussels. That was, apparently, crystallised in a “real choice” in the ballot box, though to do what it far from clear.

Oddly comrade Anderson makes no mention of his own, far from brief, writings on how loathsome the Belgium based EU administration is, the architect of a ‘Neo-Hayekian’ neo-liberal order, its prebends and hangers-on, “more opaque than the Byzantine, the European Union continues to baffle observers and participants alike.”

Or indeed that,

The EU is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.

Perry Anderson. The Greek Debacle. 27.3.15.

It might appear that the focus of the “populism of the right”, against this structure, is, in Anderson’s judgement, justified.

Which leads us to ask: did Anderson back the  vote to  Leave?

And what would be his recipe for regaining control from the ‘oligarchs’ (not a term which he defines, let alone relates to anything resembling Marxist concepts of class and power blocs).

There is little doubt that the ‘left’ Brexiters, the ‘Lexiters’,  agreed with Anderson’s description of the EU ‘oligarchy’ and many were more than forthright in affirming their own ideas of how to restore “popular sovereignty”, in not sovereignty tout court.

One wing drew their own sense of ‘amour-propre’.

The ‘workers’, apparently, free of the neo-liberal EU, would, as Trade Unions Against the EU asserted, “gain confidence” and …through challenges, “elect a left wing Labour Government”… now no doubt able to exercise a fuller ‘sovereignty’.

But first they have to get there….

For the Socialist Party, “anger felt by millions of working class people at the decimation of their living standards, jobs and services has searched for an outlet, and over many years there hasn’t been a mass socialist alternative to channel it.  The Socialist Party predicted that the EU referendum would be used by many as a weapon against the Tory government.”

Only give the Socialist Party the arms and they’ll finish the job…..

Others on the People’s Brexit side unchained their wild hopes on  upsetting of the EU capitalist apple-cart without a clue about anything more than the immediate effect of Leave.

For some these dreams were, briefly, realised.

As the Editor of Anderson’s New Left Review, Susan Watkins, put it, ” Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed.

Or as Tariq Ali put it finely, he was pleased, “that the majority of British voters gave the EU “a big kick in its backside.”

This has not happened.

Trump came, neo-liberalism is mutating into new, capitalist, potentially protectionist, forms, xenophobia got worse, and Labour is not, let’s be tactful, in a position to offer a new Socialist government.

The ruling Tory party has been strengthened, homegrown austerity has got worse,  and few would say that the cost of Brexit is going to be small, for workers who are part of ‘globalised’ cricuits, the ‘left behind’ and all who rely on public services.

Although Lord Islington Ali’s bubble may be as happy as he is at their spiteful gesture, many people on the left, who cherish the internationalist ideals of a  Social Europe  are decidedly not.

Brexit Now.

For those who give advice to the political class the reality of Brexit is about to hit hard:

No more baggy rhetoric about sovereignty and “taking back control”. From now on, those who got us into this situation have to show they can get us out intact by March 2019.

Brexit is about to get real. Yet we are nowhere near ready for it

 From those who give advice to the left:

There was a strong xenophobic and reactionary current in the Leave vote, but also a more politically ambiguous desire to give two fingers to Britain’s ruling elite. The most sensible course for the British left is to try and build bridges between those who opposed Brexit and those who voted for it without embracing the full platform of UKIP, the Tory right, and the Daily Mail.

Neither Washington Nor Brussels. Daniel Finn.

It is generous of Finn to advocate hands across the divide, and the People’s Assembly (that is, the pro-Brexit groupuscule, Counterfire), to follow this up at a grassroots level by calling for people to join with them to protest against the consequences of their Leave vote.

But for many of us, not least the young people who voted to Remain (75% of 18- to 24-year-olds),  and who find it beyond bizarre that any ‘left’ force could back turning the UK into a free-market rat-hole led by those intent on sucking up to Mr Brexit, President Trump, it is hard to see why we should support the tattred remnants of the People’s Brexit.

No amount of symbolical protests is going to change this.

Just to give a flavour…

Both the Lexit Left and the Corbynista Left are arguing that socialists should ‘respect’ the Brexit vote. This argument is false. It is a betrayal of every migrant worker whose status has been threatened by the vote. And it is a massive concession to the racist discourse for which Brexit is now the primary framework.

..

Brexit is being implemented by a hard-right Tory regime that offers permanent austerity, decaying public services, grotesque greed at the top, and mounting poverty and despair at the base. And the clinch-point – in relation to Brexit – is immigration control. May is peddling hard racism as cover for hard austerity.

The EU offers four freedoms of movement – of investment, goods, services, and people. The first three need not concern us because investment, goods, and services are controlled by capital, not us. The key issue at stake for working people is the right of free movement.

Left Unity.  Brexit, Democracy, and Oppression. Neil Faulkner

As Neil says,

“We do not ‘respect’ the vote: we denounce it and we shout our denunciation from the rooftops.”

Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A Reply to Andrew Murray.

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Communist Party of Australia’s View of Imperialism.

Imperialism, anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A reply to Andrew Murray.

Imperialism, the Marxist historian Victor Kiernan claimed, shows itself, “in coercion exerted abroad, by one means or another, to extort profits above what simple commercial exchange can procure.” Andrew Murray begins Imperialism has Evolved since 1914, but it still Rules to World (Morning Star. 2.8.14. reproduced on 21st century Manifesto), by citing this assertion to observe that the “wars of 1914 and 1939 are the outstanding examples of what happens when that international system of extortion breaks down.” “Break-down and crisis” are as much a feature of “imperialism” as growth and slump are of capitalism. We might explain this, as a critic of Kiernan once noted, as the result of an inherent “atavistic” tendency to revert to type. (1)

Murray paints a picture of contemporary ‘imperialism’ in which there are “instruments of inter-imperialist mediation and control” such as Nato and the IMF, which bear some marks of “ultra” or “super” imperialism. That is, as Lenin put it in 1915, the view that there was underway an “international unification of national (or more correctly state-bound) imperialisms which “would be able to eliminate the most unpleasant, the most disturbing and distasteful conflicts, such as wars, political convulsions which the petty bourgeois is so much afraid of.”(2) At its most developed the idea of ‘ultra-imperialism’ would foresee a “single world trust” that would swallow up all states and enterprises. This, Lenin argued, simply would not happen.

Does the past show us the future? We can clearly set aside any idea of a single Capital dominating capitalism. Politically the existence of inter-state institutions, including international justice systems, does not eliminate rivalry between countries. There is no effective “global governance”. Conflicts have a recurrent source. “The shaper contradiction is between that world order managed and maintained by US power and those big powers which stand to a significant extent outside of it. There are two – Russia and China.”

Dominant, naturally, is the “US-led bloc”; the imperialism “constitutes the dominant system in the world today”. This is bound, hand and foot, to a policy of aggression, “the main driver of war lies in the policy of the US and the imperialist world order it has created to further its leading business interests, and those of its capitalist allies, Britain pre-eminent among them.” That is, despite signs of US “retreat” and “difficulties in the Middle East, it is “commanding” with world-wide military bases, and control of the (above) “inter-imperialist” bodies, like the IMF and Nato.

Anti-Imperialism.

Threaded into this analysis Murray states, “anti-imperialism now is at the heart of any serious progressive politics”. Sometimes it may lead progressive to “deal with contradictory cross currents”. One, is that “Russia’s role as a challenger to global US hegemony and the legitimacy of many national demands arising from the break up of the Soviet Union, may often mandate contingent support for the positions of the Putin government”. That is with the “contradictory” recognition that Russia has “corrupt oligarchic and repressive” practices, in “restored Russian capitalism.”

It is odd that anybody would consider that backing any aspect of Russian foreign policy is ‘anti-imperialist‘. It may be done with reasons, but if the government of Putin is the head of a capitalist state, meshed into the imperialist system, then how exactly it is a consistent part of anti-imperialism? It is hard to see many people rushing to the defence of one group of oligarchs fighting another.

One wonder how many other ‘challengers’ to US hegemony also “mandate” contingent support? To be supported (or in real terms, given kind words and some public show of endorsement) how far can a foreign policy trump a domestic one? A debate has begun on the US-left, with echoes in Europe, on Hamas. The American International Socialist Organization reject any backing for the violent, reactionary ISIS and Islamic State Islamists in Syria and Iraq. But they offer “unconditional but critical” support for the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which has right-wing anti-socialist and anti-liberal policies. (3) The importance of their anti-imperialist battle with Israel over-rides their anti-democratic and corrupt practices.

Others might argue that it would be better simply to oppose Israel’s actions in attacking the Palestinians and depriving them of their rights than in to offer any succour to a group with a proven record of hostility to any form of left-wing and progressive politics. No amount of bluster about solidarity can disguise this side of Hamas. Israel’s actions need to be fought by a coherent movement, one not entangled in this dead-end. Such a push requires co-operation with Israeli citizens opposed to their state’s policies, and not a call to drive them into the sea. This is not to “blame” Hamas, it is simply not to take their political side.

Romantic third-worldism appears to have survived the collapse of any specific “non-capitalist” development after the fall of Official Communism and the rise of neo-liberal economics and politics. Perhaps we are seeing signs of a part others about to plunge into a second-youth, digging out dusty copies of Frantz Fanon to find inspiration for their “anti-imperialism”. (4) It continued to exist in the half-life of university “post-colonial” theory and some marginal groupuscules, like the French Les Indigènes de la République. These self-appointed representatives of the “natives” battle against neo-colonialist secularism and Marxism. They really are unconditional backers of Hamas, and treat the racist anti-Semite, ‘anti-Zionist’, and Holocaust denier, Dieudonné with great tenderness.

It is perhaps unfair to draw such conclusions from what are, at present, straws in the wind. But it is disingenuous to claim that you give “unconditional” support to a movement or party when you reserve the right to be “critical”. Heroes do not generally appreciate unfavourable comments, even if made very discreetly, from their fans. No doubt politics is full of tales of unrequited love. The left groups that popularised this and similar formulae in the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, knew many such disappointments, from African national liberation movements, to the IRA, to cite but a few.

People often comment on a distinct strand of visceral anti-Americanism in what is left of post-war leftism and Communism. It could be said  that sometimes it plays a role not dissimilar to Marx’s eminently forgettable phobia against Tsarist Russia (Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century, mid 1850s)  That led Marx to make some claims which can only be described in terms of conspiracies, the “secret collaboration between the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg” back to Peter the Great(!). Today it is frequent to see people throw responsibility for wars and exploitation on the US in terms of intrigues, spying, most recently, through the etheral spheres of the Net.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is, one hopes, made of sterner stuff. While there is a continuing regret at the demise of ‘actually existing socialism’ only a few have found a new home in the national conservatism of Putin’s Kremlin – though many more indulge its media, such as Russia Today. Andrew Murray notes that the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine have been circumscribed by the need to maintain “economic links with important Ukrainian enterprises”. The Communist Party of Britain, and some left groups, contains people who do not consider Russia imperialist. Murray suggests “otherwise” – on the basis of its international economic interests. This is indeed an illustration of how the left cannot “conditionally” align with any existing capitalist power. But mroe deeply is he seriously suggesting that it might be a good thing if Russia stood by the separatists? Why exactly? What socialist objective does that meet? It is bad enough having a right-wing pro-EU pro-US government with far-right involvement. But does a break-away solve the problems of the Ukraine? What criteria are being used to determine this?

Imperialism Otherwise.

It is the case that the “territorial” and “economic” mechanisms that states are caught up are shaped by the hegemony of one great power, the United States. ‘It’, or rather the fractions and networks that dominate the country’s economic and politics, has played a key (though, as is obvious, by no means exclusive) role in spreading the neo-liberal economic agenda. It has tried to exert, with no great success, territorial rights in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and across the globe. These actions have been a major cause of great, and continuing, bloodshed. (5)

But Murray’s “otherwise” has to be extended. There are plenty of ‘other’ factors to consider behind conflicts in the world today.Nor are things reducible to the US-leadership. However, adding the European Union to this list of powers still leaves us short of determining the overwhelming influence of a new ‘concert of imperialist nations’. To give one example,  the failure of the ‘Arab Spring’ can hardly be reduced to the machinations of the Pentagon, the EU, or the galaxy of US-inspired think tanks and ‘advisers’ on democracy. Domestic politics, state structures, and the rise of the “micro-powers” of Islamic coercion, and the pressures of economic flows, could be put into the very long list of causal factors at work behind the (still unsettled) outcome of these revolts. 

If there are forces for the left to support they can probably be best found in those determined to put democracy and social justice above religious and national concerns. Göran Therborn recently argued that the “new middle classes” in the developing world could divide into those who take sides, “either with the oligarchs against the poor, or with the people against the oligarchs. (6) This expresses a theme popular amongst journalists, that democracy is the central issue of our time and the basis for new cross-class alliances led, in the South, by a “modern” Westernised professionals and the intelligentsia.

The recent record (from the Arab World to Turkey) of such movements is not one of success. Syria has apparently melted down to a confessional war, stained by state mass murder and the rise of the totalitarian genocidal ISIS, which has spread into the Iraqi Islamic State. In Baghdad a confessional Shiite regime clings to power. Egypt has returned to a repressive military oligarchy. States founded on religious authority, repression, and sexual apartheid, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, remain in place.

Many Marxists have always argued that democracy is tied to the struggles of the labour movement, a more permanent, and more radical and better-founded basis for change. Therborn may be right that economic change means that its class bases have weakened. Yet it’s worth noting that Tunisia, a case apart in the Arab Spring, in which some hopes may still be placed, is marked by opposition to the domination by Islamists of a, sometimes stormy, partnership between intellectuals and the powerful trade union federation the UGTT (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail).

Western governments may create, or exacerbate wars. Their prime concern remains the economy. Neo-liberal economics do not rely on heavy-handed domestic repression. In Europe and elsewhere, it is the privatisation of the public sphere, and exploitation by a new class of rentiers, that is the most pressing threat. 

How does this affect  internationalism – something  basic behind genuine open-minded  ‘anti-imperialism’? Globalisation and mass migration have created a sense that the “distance” between lands is far less than it was 100 years ago.This is a fight that could unite people across the world against the ‘empire’ of those enlarging their grossly unequal territories, not divide them.  On this democratic and socialist basis we could be said to be “anti-imperialist”. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that corresponds today to the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, “anti-imperialist united front”, nor, given the diversity of  world politics and states, does one look likely to reappear.  There is no division of the world into clear-cut “camps” to choose. We have to make our own choices. (7)

References.

(1) Page 58. Imperialism. Pioneer of Capitalism. Bill Warren. NLB 1980.

(2) Page 12. V.I. Lenin. Introduction to Imperialism and the World Economy. N.Bukharin. (1915). Merlin Press. 1972.

(3) What do socialists say about Hamas? July 31, 2014

“We differentiate between utterly reactionary Islamist movements such as ISIS, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism in defence of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people.

We consider Hamas, which originated in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s, and won wide popularity among Palestinians because of its rejection of the concessions and surrender which Fatah offered to the Zionist enemy and the United States, and through its military resistance to the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.

From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel, because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the United States, and therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.

Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical, however, because we believe that the movement’s strategies in the struggle to liberate Palestine – like the strategies adopted by Fatah and the Palestinian left before it – have failed and will fail in the future.”

(4) See: Capitalism, Class and universalism: escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory. Vivek Chibber. Socialist Register. 2014.

(5) “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. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 82 (New Series) 2013. See also, Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. Andrew Coates. “The Bush administration’s shift towards unilateralist, towards coercion rather than consent, towards a much more overtly imperial vision, and towards reliance upon its unchallengeable military power, indicates a high-risk approach to sustaining US domination, almost certainly through military command over global oil resources. Since this is occurring in the midst of several signs of loss of dominance in the realms of production and now (though as yet less clearly) finance, the temptation to for exploitative domination is strong.”(P 75) The New Imperialism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 2005.

(6) New Masses? Göran Therborn. New Left Review. 2nd series. No 85. 2014.

(7) The anti-imperialist united front. Alliance for Workers Liberty. 2013.

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)

Contexts.

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) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2013 at 2:53 pm

The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Review Essay.

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Review Essay: The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso 2010.

The European Union lies at the horizon of our politics. Like the sky’s limit it seems a distant prospect. Yet a major part of what we see of government is shaped by decisions in the Halls and Chambers of Brussels. How then can we grasp their workings? The New Old World begins with the observation that the EU has an “institutional framework of famous complexity, overarching the nations that compose it that sets this world off from any other” The Union is marked, moreover, by the “intractable sovereignty and diversity of the nation-states” that make it up. To write about this, Perry Anderson observes, is difficult. The difference between the national and supranational planes makes it hard to hold them together “within a single focus”. A causal reader might immediately shrink from reading further; fearing no doubt that the author is also talking about the tangled nature of his own book.

They would be wrong to do so. Anderson, a leftist intellectual’s intellectual, is not about to get lost. If the pages of The New Old World are “makeshift” and made up of “discontinuous” efforts, it is full of critical political and theoretical insight about the European Union, and its member states. Readers of the London Review of Books and New Left Review will be familiar with many of these essays. But placed together, re-edited, and concluded with up-to-date Prognoses they repay re-reading as a whole. Few British commentators (Timothy Garton Ash being one, though from a standpoint close to power) have managed to link the national and the pan-European in such a stimulating way. Reviewers have praised Anderson’s ‘breath’, his ‘magisterial’ grasp of a vast range of material. He is one of the small number of people capable of describing this “impossible object”, and its successive historical, cultural, ideological, national and Continental levels. He does so from the vantage point of the left – a left however that is never clearly defined. (Page xi)

The New Old World aims to “inspire curiosity about the life and thought of other nations”. That is, largely, through an account of ‘high’ national cultures, intellectual reviews, and the ‘quality’ arts of France, Italy and Germany, although, just outside the European marches, Turkey gets a broader ideological look, centred on Kemalism and Islam. There is little evidence of materialist cultural studies, that is, the attempt to make links between the elite-national and the ‘popular’. In a similar vein Perry Anderson’s famously erudite style – peppered with untranslated phrases from many European languages – staunchly resists Orwell’s recommendation in Politics and the English Language to always use “Everyday English” and short words. But it is none the worse for making readers consult a dictionary or Google. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

June 28, 2010 at 11:32 am