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What makes Perry run?


Perry Anderson has written a polemical critique of the arguments of the liberal sectors of the anti-war movement. His critique of their support of the United Nations and particularly the Security Council and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty are well-taken if one-sided.

Apart from his perceptive criticism of the liberal anti-war camp, the rest of his polemic has deep and pervasive flaws of theory, conceptualization and fact. In the first instance Anderson ignores the plural, complex coalition that brings together radical anti-imperialists, pacifists, religious and secular liberals.

Anderson’s discussion of US war preparations is devoid of any mention of a theoretical framework worthy of its name. His vague and scarce mention of US ‘hegemony’ won’t do. His reticence in discussing ( or even mentioning ) US imperialism, and the specificities of its governing elite precludes any understanding of the context, radicalization and growth of the anti-war movement and particularly its powerful anti-imperialist wing. Anderson confines himself to the debate between conservatives and liberals who are both pro and anti-war, and then proceeds to insert the mass anti-war movement within these narrow confines.

Anderson has a warped understanding of the anti-war movement gathered from the London or Los Angeles Times, or from gossip in Beverly Hills. The anti-war movement is an outgrowth of the radical sectors of the anti-globalization movement, more precisely of the anti-capitalist wing. Secondly the anti-war movement contains a majoritarian sector ( especially outside of the Anglo-US orbit ) opposed to the war irregardless of any UN decision, thus expressing its critical views of the past and present behavior of the UN. Thirdly in many countries, including England, Turkey,Italy and France, workers have taken direct action - strikes - or threatened action in opposition to the imperialist nature of the war. In Northern Italy trade unionists and anti-war activists have blocked railway lines being used to transport convoys loaded with weapons. On March 14, millions of Spanish workers staged a general strike against the war preparations.

Anderson’s flaccid discussion of the reasons behind the growing anti-war movement is a caricature of the movement, closer to Wolfowitz than to the explanations given by the participants themselves. According to Anderson the opposition is based on cultural repugnance of Republicans, the flaws of Bush’s mass media propaganda campaign (”Spectacle”) and ‘fear’. The major slogans that are chanted in demonstrations throughout the world is “No Blood for Oil”, “Oil=War” and many other variations on the same theme reflecting opposition to Washington’s war to take over Iraq’s oil. These slogans reflect a coherent, logical and precise reasoning linking an imperial war to the quest for domination of a strategic raw material. Anderson underestimates the popular repugnance to mass murder - and the anti-war movements’ understanding that millions of Iraqis will be killed, wounded or displaced. Mass popular opinion has been able to see through the unprecedented, massive, homogeneous propaganda campaign of Bush,Blair, Aznar, and Berlusconi etc. Instead of recognizing a new critical public awareness, Anderson criticizes Bush for not waging a sufficiently belligerent and effective propaganda campaign. Anderson apparently forgets they can only project their propaganda images 24 hours a day.

The issue of fear of retaliation is a factor influencing the growth of the anti-war movement, but this psychological concern is attached to both anti-war and pro-war sentiments. What turns the psychological condition in a particular direction - toward opposing the US as aggressor - are political, social and economic factors, the recognition that Washington has faked the data justifying the war, that there are no proofs of any credible threats from Iraq and a sense that the US is the real terrorist threat. This is the case in most countries particularly outside of the Anglo-Saxon world. In South Korea, according to recent polls, most people, 4 to 1, see the US as a greater threat than North Korea.

In what surely must go down as the most logical deductive and brilliantly flawed argumentation yet seen on the anti-war movement, Anderson argues that “on questions of principle” the Bush Administration’s case against its critics (who he tags as emotional) is “iron-clad”. As one peruses Anderson’s summing up of the assumptions underlying these “principles” he fails to spell out Bush’s principle of permanent war based on a world-wide international conspiracy currently operative in 60 countries, the doctrine of preemptive wars, multiple sequencing of war in the Middle East and the illogical position of upholding the UN principles and voiding them in practice. If so much were not at stake it would be amusing to read Anderson’s forceful presentation of the Bush Administration’s principled war and his half-baked summary of the illogical and incoherent discussion of the liberal anti-war position. In his effort to discredit the liberal anti-war arguments, he inadvertently or deliberately attempts to drive a wedge between the plural coalition opposing the war. To do so his primary weapon is his blanket attack of the UN, the Security Council, the “international community” as merely instruments of US “hegemony”. Anderson’s generalities contain half-truths, lack any sense of political tactics and strategy and are devoid of any proposals on how to advance the anti-war movement beyond some irrelevant declarations.

The starting point is Anderson’s lack of understanding of the political behavior of the UN over the past half century. While the US dominated the UN during the 1950- 1960’s, during the 1970’s the tide turned and the US was a minority faced with the demands for a New International Order. The US had to resort to its veto to block resolutions affecting Washington’s special partner, Israel. During the 1990’s the US influence in the UN peaked, but with the approach of the Second Gulf War it has declined. There is no doubt that the US is a powerful imperialist country with a vocation for conquest ( not hegemony ) but Anderson ignores the fact that today Washington encounters opposition, and threatens to act independently of the UN. What is the source of this conflict - inter-imperialist rivalries, different governing elites? We never find out, because Anderson in his sublime logical fashion totally ignores these questions and worse fails to see how inter-elite conflicts are an important condition for anti-imperialist advance under certain circumstances. The 30 million anti-war activists include people who still believe in the UN, trust Chirac and rely on a UN resolution. Should the Left break with them and weaken the movement, or should it work along side, presenting its own anti-imperialist arguments and deepening popular consciousness of the systemic causes of war? Clearly the revolutionary and reformist anti-imperialists have correctly chosen the latter route - and with great success both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The anti-war movement is radicalizing, it is growing by the millions as the war grows near and it has pressured bourgeois and imperial allies into temporary opposition. Even if the UN was totally dominated, as Anderson asserts, it has been a forum to raise fundamental issues and to force the US to exhibit its darker side - political blackmail, violent threats, economic corruption and crude spying on UN representatives, thus not only adversely affecting the image of the US but also demonstrating the limits of the UN and the Security Council. The appeals to the UN are transitional demands, linking present moderate anti-war consciousness to a more radical anti-imperialist perspective, providing the Left does not bury its principled position. Anderson’s alternative to the anti-imperialist anti-war movement is to “abolish the Security Council” and study the UN’s past relations with Iraq. This is hardly relevant to a mass anti-war movement rightly focused on the role of the imperial regime in Washington and its current military projections in the Middle East, a movement intent on deepening and exploiting the “illogical”, “contradictory” positions adopted by rival ruling classes and sowing anti-imperialist consciousness among the billions opposed to the war.

Casuistries of Peace and War, Perry Anderson

March 13, 2003 :: Printing version