FROM CONJUNCTURE TO EVENEMENT: PERRY ANDERSON ON THE CONTEMPORARY INTERNATIONAL SCENE
"Together, China, Japan, the eu, Russia, India, Brazil aand the us account for well over half of the world’s population, and 80 per cent of global gdp. If the twin objectives of American foreign policy since World War Two have been to extend capitalism to the ends of the earth, and uphold the primacy of the us within the international state system—the second viewed as a condition for realizing the first—how does the reckoning of the first years of the 21st century look? Overwhelmingly positive, so far as the widening and deepening of the grip of capital goes. Financial markets have advanced at the expense of older forms of social or economic relationship across the board. Regardless of the parties in power—Communist, Liberal-Democratic, Gaullist, New Labour, United Russia, Congress, Workers or Republican—the same basic bundle of property rights and policies has rolled forward, at varying speeds and in differing stages, but with no significant counter-marches in the opposite direction. Rather, with world trade still racing ahead of world growth, there has been a steady increase in the interlocking of all the major capitalist economies in a common dependence on each other".
Perry Anderson, "Jottings on the Conjuncture",
It is dear readers, once again, what one may call, 'Perry Anderson time'. That time of year, when the eminent, British ex-Marxist critic and analyst, comments on the goings on, in International Politics and Economics. As Anderson would be the first to admit, he is not by any means a seer, much less one whose prognosises, can be characterized as foolproof. As he notes in the attached essay, the full version of which, first appeared in the current issue of the British periodical, New Left Review, he was surprised as anyone by the virulent resistance of the Sunni, Baathist element in Iraq since the Spring of 2003. Similarly, it would appear that he has been also taken aback by the relative failure (or should we say, 'lack of success') of the American project in Afghanistan, since the same time period. Additionally, it now appears that for the first time, since he commenced to pen these occasional pieces for either the New Left Review or the London Review of Books, that Anderson detects au fond, of American foreign policy, something which others (such as myself) have noticed for ages, to wit: the essential irrationality, of its policies in the Near East. Vis-`a-vis Israel. As Anderson puts it quite cogently:
"Historically, however, a circumstantial irrationality—typically, some gratuitous yet fatal decision, like Hitler’s declaration of war on the us in 1941—is nearly always the product of some larger structural irrationality. So it was with Operation Iraqi Freedom. Putting it simply, the reality was—and remains—this. The Middle East is the one part of the world where the us political system, as presently constituted, cannot act according to a rational calculus of national interest, because it is inhabited by another, supervening interest. For its entire position in the Arab—and by extension Muslim—world is compromised by its massive, ostentatious support for Israel. Universally regarded in the region as a predator state that could never have enjoyed forty years of impunity without vast supplies of American arms and money, and unconditional American protection in the un, Israel is the target of popular hatred for its expropriation and persecution of the Palestinians. By logical extension, America is detested for the same reason. Al-Qaeda’s attack on it was rooted in this context. From the standpoint of American power, rationally considered, a Palestinian state that was somewhat more than a Bantustan would pose no threat whatever, and could have been created at any time in the past half century by merely holding back the flow of dollars, guns and vetoes for Israel. The reason why this has never happened is perfectly clear. It lies in the grip of the Israeli lobby, drawing strength from the powerful Jewish community in the us, on the American political and media system. Not only does this lobby distort ‘normal’ decision-making processes at all levels where the Middle East is concerned. Until recently—and even then, only incipiently—it could not even be mentioned in any mainstream arena of discussion: a taboo that, as with all such repressions, injected a further massive dose of irrationality into the formation of us policy in the region".
Aside from the above novelty (for him), how in essence does Anderson see the current international scene? First, unlike many an Anglo-American bien pensant commentator on foreign affairs recently(aka Roger Cohen of the International Herald Tribune or Philip Stephens of the Financial Times), Anderson looks squarely at the current correlations of forces in the International system, and, sees that even in the likelihood of a complete American debacle in Iraq (which at this time, as opposed to say fifteen months ago, appears less and less likely), the USA, will still hold all of the levers of power, real and potential, both in the Near East, and, in the world at large in its hands. As he accurately notes, all of the regimes in the area, with the exceptions of Persia and Syria, are in the American camp. And, show no signs of either wishing to vacate that position, or being able to do so in the near future.
Similarly, again in contradiction to the prognosises of certain Anglo-American 'gloom and doom' commentators (which I will admit include myself from time to time), Anderson does not think that the near future will see either Peking or Moskva, either in concert or individually attempt to break with the American hegemon. Both regimes have way too much to lose, by deliberately crossing any red lines that Washington chooses to draw in the sand. As for Europe, as formerly, Anderson is completely without any illusions about the EU and Europe as a whole, noting that it is nothing so much as a gigantic:
"free trade area, dotted with governments representing a somewhat wider spectrum than in the US or Japan, but without much external common will or coherant inner direction".
Another field where Anderson breaks with the common herd of bien pensant Anglo-American commentators, is in his emphasis once again (as other essays over the last six years), on the predominance of continuity, rather than discontinuity of American foreign policy, during the Bush-Cheney years. Rather than concentrating on the manner, in which policy has been conducted, Anderson focuses on the ends of the policy, and, he sees (quite rightly) that far from the last seven years seeing a break, what has been very much evident, from American policy in the Near East, Europe, vis-`a-vis Russia, China and India, as well as International trade and finance, is a high degree of similarity with American policy during the Clinton years and before. Even in reference to the Iraq War, Anderson notes correctly, how much the Bush strategy of 'overthrow', had been prepared beforehand during the prior period. In short, according to Anderson, the last year of the Bush regime presents us with the following mise en scene:
"On matters of substance, the Administration has registered major gains, not only propelling EU enlargement behind NATO expansion, but obtaining the admission of Turkey into Europe as a top objective of Brussels to come. In Europe, as in Japan, China, India, Russia and Brazil, American strategy has been, not rhetorically, but structurally continuous since the end of the Cold War ".
Beyond all of the evenement of International Politics, the key underlying conjuncture and structure, are for Anderson the fact that with the end of the Cold War, and the opening up of the formerly closed markets of Central and Eastern Europe as well as the PRC and India, has been the addition of two billion people to the world labour force, tripling the absolute number. Massively reinforcing the power and the wealth of the elites in all countries of the globe, especially in the advanced countries as they are the ones, who have in the last twenty-five years, have been able to take the most advantage of this systemic change. And, of course massively reinforcing income inequalities of almost all countries on the face of the planet. With much of the new lower orders, being reduced to Dickensian conditions if not worse. As world elites under the gisement of 'globalization', appear more and more approximate and united.
In short, as usual Perry Anderson presents to the reader an erste-klasse mind, which delights in logic chopping and unsentimentality. Habits of mind of someone who has been mentally educated in the (now dead) school of neo-Marxism. With that said, I encourage you all to go to the New Left Review to read his most delightful and instructive essay.