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Perry Anderson and the End of History

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In light of Perry Anderson's recent re-Iaunch of New Left Review, and the publication of Gregory Elliott's Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History, it is perhaps an opportune moment for Marxists to assess Anderson's contribution to socialist strategic thought. At the heart of Anderson's manifesto is the claim that the principal aspect of the past decade ‘can be defined as the virtually uncontested consolidation, and universal diffusion, of neoliberalism'. There is, obviously, something in this claim. However, Anderson also briefly notes, amongst other counter-currents, the labour upsurge in France in 1995, but dismisses the significance of these events with the claim that ‘capital has comprehensively beaten back all threats to its rule'. Anderson compares the context of the launch of the first New Left Review with that of the present day. He writes that, back then, a third of the planet had broken with capitalism, the discrediting of Stalinism in 1956 had unleashed a vital process of the rediscovery of authentic Marxism, while, culturally, there had been a qualitative break with the conformism of the 1950s. Today, by contrast, American capitalism has reasserted its international primacy, European social-democratic governments are implementing policies designed to follow the American model, Japan is suffering from a slump, while the Russian catastrophe has produced no popular backlash. Moreover, the Western powers have recently asserted themselves successfully in the Balkans, and, despite upsurges against capital in the 1990s, ‘no collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon’. How are socialists to respond to this diagnosis? In this essay, I want to locate the logic of Anderson's interpretation of the present conjuncture within the context of his previous strategic claims. I will argue that, while socialists will always have much to learn from Anderson, strategically his thought has systematically suffered from a form of political impressionism. This suggests that his interpretation of the present conjuncture may fail the test of history.


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