Benjamin Geer on Sun, 17 Nov 2002 22:14:01 +0100 (CET)

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[Nettime-bold] Perry Anderson: Pre-emptive Surrender

by Wayne Hall

A critique of "Force and Consent" (New Left Review 17, Second 

Perry Anderson is the editor of the New Left Review, probably the 
most prestigious Marxist English-language theoretical journal in 
the world. He and his journal count for something in shaping 
opinion in academia and beyond, not only in Europe and the U.S. 
but everywhere. That is why I am writing this activist article 
to single him out for attention. We should be subjecting Perry 
Anderson to the same kind of co-ordinated treatment that 
neo-conservative activists give any prominent person who gets 
out of line by their criteria. I don't advocate terrorising and 
blackmailing Anderson the way the Right do to people. But we can 
try to shame him. And it would be good to start trying to do it 
now, in this period of waiting for the attack on Iraq that the 
U.S. government has announced it intends to carry out and which 
Perry Anderson believes it will carry out.

Perry Anderson has carried out pre-emptive intellectual surrender 
to that threatened pre-emptive war. He does not on the face of 
it support the attack as more obviously hopeless cases like 
Christopher Hitchens do. But in his own lofty way, 
distastefully, he gives it the nod. His stance is more 
sophisticated, more insidious and so less noticed. He is not out 
to attract attention to himself beyond his intellectual peer 
group. With that audience his priorities are on saving face: 
adopting a position that will enable him to carry on his orderly 
life as before even in the kind of America (and world) that is 
taking shape now and will be worse after an attack on Iraq.

Anderson has to be reminded there is another audience monitoring 
him beyond those with whom he habitually associates and with 
whom he is personally familiar. There are others reading what he 
writes, and for them (for us) what he writes is simply not good 
enough. In fact it is lamentable. His pessimistic reading of the 
present international situation might be forgivable if it was 
not based on ignoring facts, but it is based on IGNORING FACTS. 
His position on 9/11 is the familiar one that the attacks were 
UNEXPECTED. To be precise, he says they represented "an 
unexpected chance to recast the terms of American global 
strategy more decisively than would otherwise have been 
possible." "The attentats of September 11 gave a Presidency that 
was anyway seeking to change the modus operandi of America 
abroad the opportunity for a much swifter and more ambitious 
turn that it could easily have executed otherwise. The circle 
around Bush realised this immediately."

Anderson should be aggressively held to account for this central 
error in his reading, which is either accidental, in which case 
he is an incompetent political analyst, or deliberate, in which 
case he should be asked to explain why he is a conscious 
participant in this collective cover-up that emasculates not 
only the national campaign to hold Bush and his circle 
accountable for their crimes against American citizens but also 
the international anti-war movement.

Though Anderson now lives mainly in the United States, and has 
modified his life orientation to reflect this (once a leading 
theorist of "Western [i.e. Western European] Marxism, he is now 
in effect a critical supporter of the U.S. Democratic Party), he 
is as blind to the emergence and the potential of the new 
post-9/11 American opposition as any rank-and-file European 
Leftist ignorant of America. Again one asks: is this because he 
does not know or because he does not want to know?

I suspect that when confronted with the real facts of 9/11, 
Anderson's stance would be that they are irrelevant, because 
only a marginal minority is going to get up in arms about such 
facts anyway. What is more important is the long-term historical 
perspective: "The arrogance of the 'international community' and 
its rights of intervention across the globe are not a series of 
arbitrary events or disconnected episodes. They compose a 
system, which needs to be fought with a coherence not less than 
its own." Fighting the system with a coherence not less than its 
own for Anderson means not wasting time and effort on phenomena 
like 9/11, which was "In no sense a serious threat to American 
power: the targets were "symbolic" and the victims, though 
admittedly innocent and killed in one day, were "no more than 
the number of Americans who kill each other in a season." 
Anderson (like his lieutenant Tariq Ali but unlike the Blairite 
mainstream of the British Labour Party) does not believe that 
9/11 changed the world, nor that its effects are going to be 
permanent. "The current shift of emphasis," he says, "from what 
is 'co-operatively allied' to what is 'distinctively American' 
within the imperial ideology is, of its nature, likely to be 
short-lived. The war on terrorism is a temporary by-pass on the 
royal road leading to 'human rights and liberty' around the 
world". (So GET OVER IT!) Being "product of an emergency" 
(because it was not deliberately engineered, W.H.) it has 
introduced a style of government "far more strident than the 
cloying pieties [concerning human rights] of the 
Clinton-Albright years" but also "more brittle": "The new and 
sharper line from Washington has gone down badly in Europe, 
where human rights discourse was and is especially prized." But 
"its negative goals are no substitute for the permanent positive 
ideals that a hegemony requires." And because the objective of 
defeating and occupying Iraq is within American capacities ("its 
immediate costs do not at this stage look prohibitive"), and 
because "Washington can hope for a Nicaraguan effect after a 
decade of mortality and despair under UN siege" it is likely 
that the war against Iraq is going to be successful.

"Reporters from the New Yorker and Le Monde, Vanity Fair and the 
New York Review of Books, the Guardian and La Repubblica," says 
Anderson, "will descend on a liberated Baghdad and - naturally 
with a level-headed realism, and all necessary qualifications - 
greet the timid dawn of Arab democracy, as earlier Balkan and 
Afghan. With the rediscovery that, after all, the only true 
revolution is American, power and literature can fall into each 
other's arms again. The storm in the Atlantic tea-cup will not 
last very long."

His prediction is that America's economic problems are soon going 
to necessitate a change of regime in Washington. There will be a 
peaceful return to office of the Democrats. "In the not too 
distant future, the widows of Clinton will find consolation." 
(sic) Dubya will presumably retire to his ranch. Unanswered 
questions will remain unanswered, and 9/11 will sink ineluctably 
into the past, for Americans and non-Americans alike.

Anyone who has followed the course of New Left Review over the 
years will be aware of a drift in the magazine's political 
orientations that do not go well with pretensions to be 
"fighting the system with a coherence not less than its own." 
Admittedly Anderson has not always been the editor. He was 
replaced in 1983, at the height of the anti-nuclear-weapons 
mobilisations in Europe, by Robin Blackburn, and did not make a 
real comeback until seventeen years later. He kept a low profile 
in the magazine throughout the last phase of the Cold War and 
the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the succeeding 
period of wars in former Yugoslavia. But he has always been one 
of the handful of people at the heart of the magazine and has 
probably been more influential than any other one person in 
establishing its intellectual style. 

There are three points of discontinuity in the NLR's politics 
that are worth examining to refute Anderson's implied claim that 
by ignoring the realities of 9/11 he assists in forging a 
superior long-term perspective of anti-capitalist critique. They 
are a) nuclear weapons, b) the Soviet Union, and c) "human 
rights" and their alleged priority over considerations of 
national sovereignty.

Nuclear Weapons

With the renewed topicality of nuclear weapons in the light of 
America's determination that Iraq is not to be allowed to 
possess any, one might expect to find in Anderson's writings 
today some sign of having been influenced by the great nuclear 
weapons debates that graced the pages of his magazine in the 
eighties. But there is none. Utterly forgotten are the truths we 
learned then about how nuclear weapons for all but the strongest 
nuclear power merely serve to undermine national security, 
turning a country into an object for "first strike" 
counter-force scenarios and so into a more immediate nuclear 
target than it would otherwise be. Utterly ignored is the role 
that nuclear weapons possession played in the downfall of the 
Soviet Union (which has been survived for more than a decade now 
by much smaller, weaker, non-nuclear-weapons-possessing 
Communist states such as Cuba).

Anderson endorses the idea that Iraq's supposed continuing desire 
to possess nuclear weapons is a plausible ground for 
Washington's current preparations to invade it. He takes it as 
axiomatic that the "traditional nuclear oligopoly" [not a word 
about Gorbachev's and then Yeltsin's years of effort to find 
feasible ways of escaping from that oligopoly] is bound to be 
more and more challenged "as the technology for making atomic 
weapons becomes cheaper and simpler". Why does he assume that 
other states are likely to be led by deluded clowns in thrall to 
the myths of Hollywood and the mass media? Why does he assume 
that other states want to follow the Soviet road to perdition by 
acquiring nuclear weapons?

"The club", he says, "has already been defied by India and 
Pakistan". In what way do India's and Pakistan's acquisition of 
nuclear weapons signify defiance? Why does Anderson not mention 
Benazir Bhutto's desperate attempts to get rid of her country's 
nuclear weapons? Why does he not show some awareness of how 
these attempts were thwarted by India's intransigence aided and 
abetted by the international anti-nuclear movement's idiotic 
promotion of India's nuclear anti-Americanism. Why does he write 
as if he never read the articles published by New Left Review in 
the eighties analysing the interactions in anti-nuclear-weapons 
politics between citizens' movements and governments. Why does 
he write as if he doesn't know that only AMERICAN citizens, and 
not a nuclear-armed Indian government, can make the American 
government abide by the provisions of the Nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty (and at the time of writing, some are 
even attempting to do so: weapons inspection teams of United 
States citizens are demanding "immediate, unimpeded 
unconditional, and unrestricted access to any and all, including 
underground, areas, facilities, buildings, equipment, records, 
and means of transport," at Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons 
Lab." They are maintaining the struggle that Anderson has given 

Even simply in terms of internal coherence, what Anderson says 
about nuclear weapons does not make sense. On the one hand he 
says that Iraq's not actually possessing nuclear weapons "would 
make an attack on it all the more effective as a lesson 
deterring others from any bid to acquire them." On the other, as 
indicated, he says that, more and more states are now going to 
be wanting nuclear weapons in order to protect themselves from a 
fate similar to Iraq's. Does he in fact know what he believes 
about all this, let alone what is true? Is he consciously 
spreading disinformation and confusion on a subject that the New 
Left Review was much more honest and informative about twenty 
years ago than today. If so, why?

The mechanism at work in Anderson's writing is exactly the same 
as with his concealment of the realities of 9/11: a manufactured 
threat: a threat which has been brought into existence through 
years of persevering diplomatic and political work on the part 
of the United States, is taken at face value. Anderson pretends 
that the dominant tendency in the United States power elite does 
not want other states to have nuclear weapons. And he pretends 
that they do not wish to encourage foreign terrorist acts 
against American citizens. The record shows precisely the 
opposite to be true in both cases.

What, after all, are the criteria for who is to have nuclear 
weapons? When the Soviet Union broke up, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and 
Belarus were allowed, indeed encouraged, to become non-nuclear 
weapons states, but Yeltsin's attempts to get Russia as close as 
possible to the same non-nuclear status were sabotaged. South 
Africa was allowed unilaterally to get rid of its nuclear 
arsenal, but Britain and France, which in 1991 could have done a 
trilateral denuclearising deal on Brazilian-Argentinian lines 
with Russia, their only conceivable nuclear antagonist, did not 
try to. Pierre Joxe, the Socialist who as French Defence 
Minister was present at negotiations in Moscow on the future of 
Soviet and "Western" nuclear weapons in 1991, sent a smoke 
signal to the anti-nuclear movements at that time when he said 
that "France will not be the first to put on the brakes if there 
is a large world-wide movement for nuclear disarmament". There 
was no response to it. Having myself at that point personally 
contacted Robin Blackburn (among others) and begged for action, 
I know that New Left Review bears some of the responsibility for 
that failure.

And what is the reality now? During a visit to China last year 
President Bush tried to encourage the Chinese to increase the 
size of their arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles 
capable of hitting the United States, so as to provide added 
justifications for United States development of its anti-missile 
shield. That is the point we have reached.

The Soviet Union 

During the eighties the New Left Review's stance on the Soviet 
Union was that it was one side of a bipolar system weighing down 
on the lives of both Western and Eastern Europeans. There was a 
tendency, headed by Fred Halliday, which spoke of the 
indispensable economic and above all military assistance 
provided by the Soviets to independence struggles in "The Third 
World". But the main focus was always on aiding the emancipation 
of civil society in Eastern Europe, from the time of the Prague 
Spring of 1968 on through the subsequent struggles of 
Solidarnosc in Poland and into the period of Gorbachev's 
perestroika and glasnost.

What is clearest in retrospect is the close correspondence 
between the magazine's political positions and the objectives of 
German foreign policy as articulated in the Ostpolitik of Willy 
Brandt and his Social Democratic and Green successors. The New 
Left Review in the eighties was an element of the cultural 
milieu supporting that Ostpolitik. It therefore welcomed the 
collapse of the Berlin Wall and subsequent unification of 
Germany as a triumph for European "civil society" against the 
bloc system of the "two superpowers." There was no hint in the 
New Left Review of the early nineties of Anderson's current view 
that the collapse of the Eastern bloc "marked complete US 
victory in the Cold War." 1989 was seen as a victory for 
"Europe" and 1991 as a victory for "democracy".

The formula to which Anderson now adheres is that throughout the 
Cold War the Soviet Union acted as a countervailing force 
impeding absolute United States hegemony and so affording a 
measure of protection to weaker states. In line with this 
one-eyed interpretation of Cold War victory purely and simply as 
victory for the United States, Anderson gives a seriously 
distorted reading of key political events in the nineties. He 
presents the expansion of NATO "up to the traditional borders of 
Russia" as an American initiative, whereas in fact political 
opinion in the United States until around 1995 was seriously 
divided over the wisdom of proceeding with such an expansion. 
(There was no corresponding division in "respectable" political 
opinion in Germany). He says that Washington "took charge of 
liquidating the Yugoslav estate", whereas in fact the first 
shots against Yugoslavia were fired by the Germans when they 
pressured the rest of Europe into backing their recognition of 
Croatian independence. In general Anderson pays no attention at 
all to how in the dismantling of Yugoslavia the Germans were 
getting the Americans to follow their agenda, not vice versa. 
Nor is he interested in the historical background to German and 
Austrian grudges against the Serbs, either from the time of the 
First World War or from that of the Second, when Belgrade threw 
back in Hitler's face a political deal far more favourable to 
itself than it could have expected to get at that time, and far 
more favourable than anything it is getting today.

Anderson pays tribute to the Nazi theoretician Carl Schmitt, whom 
he names as one of two serious geopolitical thinkers of 
twentieth century Europe - he deplores that there are no such 
European thinkers today and that "all serious geopolitical 
writing is done in the United States" - but he never descends 
from the plane of high theory to draw the obvious political 
point from such tributes. Rather than acknowledge that one has 
been a willing accomplice in belated Hitlerian politics in the 
Balkans, one says that it was not the Germans but the Americans 
that were behind it.

Human Rights

This impacts on the third area where Anderson implicitly tries to 
dissociate himself from positions he previously supported. The 
globalist rhetoric of human rights, (targeting in particular the 
evil of nationalism) which in the nineties replaced the slogans 
of European civil society's struggle for liberation from the two 
superpowers, is now viewed rather distastefully by Anderson. It 
was the rhetoric that functioned as apologetics for NATO's 
"humanitarian bombing" of the Balkans. Fixing his sights on 
present-day opponents of an invasion of Iraq who supported 
Western military action in Bosnia, Kossovo and Afghanistan, he 
informs them that "it is no better to support [aggressive 
warfare] in the name of human rights than it is to support it in 
the name of nuclear non-proliferation". "What is sauce for the 
Balkan goose is sauce for the Mesopotamian gander. The 
remonstrants who pretend otherwise deserve less respect than 
those they implore not to act on their common presumptions." In 
other words people like Daniel Cohn-Bendit and German Foreign 
Minister Joschka Fischer, who supported Western military action 
in both Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, are no better than 
supporters of Bush and Cheney who want to invade Iraq. In fact 
they are worse. They deserve less respect.

"The principle is exactly the same." says Anderson. "The right - 
indeed the duty - of civilized states to stamp out the worst 
forms of barbarism, within whatever national boundaries they 
occur, to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.... The 
logic is unanswerable." At this point there is nothing to 
distinguish Anderson from Hitchens, only style. The conclusions 
that Hitchens reaches with relish Anderson reaches with weary 
regret. But they are the same conclusions. 

Really Anderson's disdain for the "human rights" activists brings 
him to politics worse (i.e. closer to Bush) than Hitchens: 
"There is no cause to regret," he says, "that the Bush 
administration has scotched the wretched charade of the 
International Criminal court, or swept aside the withered fig 
leaves of the Kyoto tribunal." Hitchens would not agree here. He 
wants that International Criminal Court, and Kyoto too, I 

So what if it is a charade? The International Criminal Court, 
like the United Nations War Crimes Court for Former Yugoslavia 
on which it is modelled, is a charade that is being played out 
for a purpose. Wasn't Milosevic chosen as a scapegoat precisely 
because of his suitability for luring the "unilateralist" 
Americans into setting a trap for themselves? Isn't this War 
Crimes Court for Yugoslavia supposed to be setting precedents 
that will enable Christopher Hitchens to put Henry Kissinger in 
the dock, and then perhaps some more recent American war 
criminals, such as President Bush? Didn't Under Secretary of 
State John Bolton publicly express anxiety on that score today? 
(Friday November 15th). Couldn't the Court even now earn 
international plaudits for itself by acquitting Milosevic and 
then in reincarnated form be used to put on trial some real 
baddies, like Ariel Sharon? These are objectives that are still 
taken seriously by British Labour Party think tanks. Why does 
Perry Anderson start disowning them precisely now that they are 
beginning to look marginally less crazy?

It would be so good for Anderson to be given the chance to 
extricate himself from the knots he has tied himself into. He is 
a professor at the UCLA. Let us try to get together a delegation 
to go and see him and tell him that he must abandon his 
assertion that the 9/11 attacks were "unexpected" and face the 
evidence that they were not. That will be a start.

Wayne Hall, Athens, 15th November, 2002.

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