imc indymedia

Los Angeles Indymedia : Activist News

white themeblack themered themetheme help
About Us Contact Us Calendar Publish RSS
latest news
best of news




A-Infos Radio

Indymedia On Air

Dope-X-Resistance-LA List


IMC Network:

Original Cities africa: ambazonia canarias estrecho / madiaq kenya nigeria south africa canada: hamilton london, ontario maritimes montreal ontario ottawa quebec thunder bay vancouver victoria windsor winnipeg east asia: burma jakarta japan korea manila qc europe: abruzzo alacant andorra antwerpen armenia athens austria barcelona belarus belgium belgrade bristol brussels bulgaria calabria croatia cyprus emilia-romagna estrecho / madiaq euskal herria galiza germany grenoble hungary ireland istanbul italy la plana liege liguria lille linksunten lombardia london madrid malta marseille nantes napoli netherlands nice northern england norway oost-vlaanderen paris/Île-de-france patras piemonte poland portugal roma romania russia saint-petersburg scotland sverige switzerland thessaloniki torun toscana toulouse ukraine united kingdom valencia latin america: argentina bolivia chiapas chile chile sur cmi brasil colombia ecuador mexico peru puerto rico qollasuyu rosario santiago tijuana uruguay valparaiso venezuela venezuela oceania: adelaide aotearoa brisbane burma darwin jakarta manila melbourne perth qc sydney south asia: india mumbai united states: arizona arkansas asheville atlanta austin baltimore big muddy binghamton boston buffalo charlottesville chicago cleveland colorado columbus dc hawaii houston hudson mohawk kansas city la madison maine miami michigan milwaukee minneapolis/st. paul new hampshire new jersey new mexico new orleans north carolina north texas nyc oklahoma philadelphia pittsburgh portland richmond rochester rogue valley saint louis san diego san francisco san francisco bay area santa barbara santa cruz, ca sarasota seattle tampa bay tennessee urbana-champaign vermont western mass worcester west asia: armenia beirut israel palestine process: fbi/legal updates mailing lists process & imc docs tech volunteer projects: print radio satellite tv video regions: oceania united states topics: biotech

Surviving Cities africa: canada: quebec east asia: japan europe: athens barcelona belgium bristol brussels cyprus germany grenoble ireland istanbul lille linksunten nantes netherlands norway portugal united kingdom latin america: argentina cmi brasil rosario oceania: aotearoa united states: austin big muddy binghamton boston chicago columbus la michigan nyc portland rochester saint louis san diego san francisco bay area santa cruz, ca tennessee urbana-champaign worcester west asia: palestine process: fbi/legal updates process & imc docs projects: radio satellite tv
printable version - js reader version - view hidden posts - tags and related articles

Perry Anderson: Pre-emptive Surrender

by Wayne Hall Monday, Nov. 18, 2002 at 12:37 PM

A critique of Perry Anderson's "Force and Consent"


A critique of “Force and Consent” (New Left Review 17, Second Series)

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 up.

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 imagine.

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.

Athens, Greece. 15th November, 2002.

Report this post as:

Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 4 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
Response to Wayne Hall's Critique of Perry Anderson's "Force and Consent" Walter Bentley Friday, Nov. 22, 2002 at 8:33 AM
Hall of Vapors mike Friday, Nov. 22, 2002 at 5:38 PM
Reply to Walter Bentley (and to Mike) Wayne Hall Sunday, Dec. 01, 2002 at 8:50 AM
Reply to Mike Wayne Hall Sunday, Dec. 01, 2002 at 9:42 AM

Local News

Change Links 2018 July posted J09 1:27PM

More Pix: "Families Belong Together," Pasadena J02 12:16PM

"Families Belong Together" March, Pasadena J02 12:08PM

Short Report on the Families Belong Together Protest in Los Angeles J30 4:26PM

Summer 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! J10 11:58PM

Watch the Debate: Excluded Candidates for Governor of California M30 10:20PM

Change Links June 2018 posted M28 12:41AM

The Montrose Peace Vigil at 12 Years M22 1:01PM

Unity Archive Project M21 2:42AM

Dianne Feinstein's Promotion of War, Secret Animal Abuse, Military Profiteering, Censorshi M17 3:22PM

CA Senate Bill 1303 would require an independent coroner rather than being part of police M10 2:08PM

Three years after OC snitch scandal, no charges filed against sheriffs deputies M10 1:57PM

California police agencies violate Brown Act (open meetings) M02 1:31PM

Insane Company Wants To Send Nuke Plant Waste To New Mexico A29 4:47PM

Change Links May 2018 A27 1:40AM

Worker-Owned Car Wash on Vermont Closed A26 10:37PM


lausd whistle blower A10 11:58PM

Website Upgrade A10 3:02AM

Help KCET and UCLA identify 60s-70s Chicano images A04 1:02PM

UCLA Luskin: Casting Youth Justice in a Different Light A02 11:58AM

Change Links April 2018 A01 11:27AM

Nuclear Shutdown News March 2018 M31 6:57PM

Join The Protest Rally in Glendale on April 10, 2018! M29 7:00PM

Spring 2018 National Immigrant Solidarity Network News Alert! M19 2:02PM

Anti-Eviction Mapping Project Shows Shocking Eviction Trends in L.A. M16 5:40PM

Steve Mnuchin video at UCLA released M15 12:34AM

Actress and Philanthropist Tanna Frederick Hosts Project Save Our Surf Beach Clean Ups M06 12:10PM

More Local News...

Other/Breaking News

Un monde de pauvreté J22 12:54AM

14 Disturbing Facts About Scott Gottlieb, Trump's FDA Head J20 10:47PM

Behind the scenes at fbi National Academy J20 2:47PM

Treasury Takes Aim at Shell Companies J20 11:18AM

Paraphysique de l'intelligence J20 9:08AM

Oklahoma GOP Senator Jim Inhofe's Bloody Record J20 4:01AM

Globalization: hope on the horizon despite Fake Liberals. J20 3:41AM

Sorry President Trump,Ted Cruz Texas Judicial System,is Worse Than Many Shithole Countries J19 4:49PM

The Shortwave Report 07/20/18 Listen Globally! J19 4:33PM

The System Question as a Survival Question J18 8:54PM

Nation's Largest Voting Machine Co., ESS, Admits Lying Re Having Installed Remote Control J18 11:55AM

Du pain et des jeux J18 9:53AM

Paraphysique de martyrologie J17 8:00AM

Children Incorporated Earns 4-Star Rating on Charity Navigator J16 11:24AM

Democratic Socialists of America J14 4:57PM

Leonard Peltier Non Violent Native American Political Prisoner since 1970's J14 4:18PM

Paraphysique miscellanées de l'aggiornamento J14 12:54AM

FBI Investigated LA County Sheriff Baca,Why Not Hank Skinner's Persecution? J13 3:52PM

Updated Partial List Of Famous Vegetarians, Vegans, & Fruitarians J13 2:59PM

The Shortwave Report 07136/18 Listen Globally! J12 4:36PM

Social Policy as Social Infrastructure J12 3:38AM

Vol I: 84 Varieties Of GOP Election Fraud J12 1:50AM

Texas Can Call it An Execution,But It is A State Sponsored Murder of Hank Skinner.. J11 6:48PM

June 2018 Honduras coup update J11 3:35PM

Maria Estrada doubles down on racist support J11 1:40PM

New York Women in Film & Television Announces 2018 NYWIFT Ha Phuong Scholarship Recipients J11 10:14AM

Trapps de la domination, trapps de l'aliénation J11 1:31AM

Please Work For The Defeat Of Brett Kavanaugh And Why J09 8:54PM

More Breaking News...
© 2000-2018 Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Unless otherwise stated by the author, all content is free for non-commercial reuse, reprint, and rebroadcast, on the net and elsewhere. Opinions are those of the contributors and are not necessarily endorsed by the Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Running sf-active v0.9.4 Disclaimer | Privacy