on 2 July 2002
This is a fascinating account of the intellectual career of Perry Anderson, long-time editor of the New Left Review and cofounder of New Left Books. But in giving such a full survey, Elliott, probably unintentionally, exposes Anderson as arrogant, dogmatic and, practically, useless.
For a Marxist, an understanding of class is basic. What is Anderson's idea of the working class? He assumes it is just the manual workers, not seeing that as capitalism has developed, it has needed growing numbers of white-collar workers to keep it going. Elliott explains, "Given that the proletariat was a social minority in most capitalist countries ... ."
This wrong premise, never argued, made room for the notion that this small weak working class needed a separate 'socialist intelligentsia'. Its members were, according to Anderson, the 'sources of consciousness in society' - workers are not even conscious! He concluded that the "party ... must include intellectuals and petit bourgeois who alone can provide the essential theory of socialism." Workers need the 'petit bourgeois' to teach them socialism!
How do we turn a minority revolutionary movement into a mass revolutionary movement? Anderson claims that only the development of revolutionary theory can move the class towards revolution, but that the absence of a mass movement prevents the emergence of this theory - an impasse. He adheres to Trotskyism, writing smugly in 1976, "the tradition descended from Trotsky ... filled no chairs in universities" - ironic now that he is Professor of History at the University of California.
Anderson believes that progress for Britain can only come from abroad - earlier, from Euro-Marxism, more recently, from the European Union. As he wrote in 1992, "a major task of the Left will be to press towards the completion of a genuine federal state in the Community, with a sovereign authority over its constituent parts."
Anderson's ideas are the polar opposite of what Marxism should be: he is unrooted in, and hostile to, our trade union movement and to the British nation. We need workers' nationalism, not abstract internationalism.