Reviews 61

The New Old World by Perry Anderson
Verso, £24.99 – reviewed by Daniel Wylie

The world has never seen anything quite like the European Union before. More than an international organisation or an alliance of states, yet less than an outright federation (let alone a classical nation state); repository of the most enthusiastic hopes of salvation and passionate fears of tyranny; simultaneously operating in broad daylight and the shadows of the European imagination: the EU, both in terms of what it is and where it is going, has confused the politicians who shape it and the observers and academics who interpret it. Huge volumes have been written on whether the EU is merely ‘the continuation of (national) politics by other means’, a new forum for national self interests to clash and cooperate; or whether the process of integration has taken on a Frankenstein life of its own, representing an internal logic of advance deadly to traditional ideals of national sovereignty, and producing a ‘supranational element’, such as the infamous Commission, with an independent interest of its own for national governments to deal with. In the political world, different elements of the left have seen Europe either as the gravediggers of social democracy (represented by the No2EU Yes to Democracy tendency) or as the potential arena for the creation of a modern welfare state (in more establishment circles).

Books on the EU tend to fall into two categories: the academic tome written for other academics, or the anti-European screed (see David Craig’s “The Great European Rip Off” etc.) Perry Anderson’s collection of essays, mainly taken from the *London Review of Books*, undoubtedly falls into the former category, although it is largely (though not completely) free of the worst jargon of the discipline. There are several perceptive “state of the nation” pieces on the major countries of the Union, including the ‘Eastern Question’, such as a diagnosis of the malaise of France, or an analysis of the conflict in Cyprus, but the core of the work is undoubtedly Anderson’s attempt to pin down the nature of the Union. In this he is not entirely successful: we get rather more of his thoughts on the work of colleagues then his own. Furthermore, in his valiant attempts to unveil the inner mechanics and dynamics of the EU, an opportunity to lay out in full an alternative practical and moral vision is not really taken: he describes what is possible for the EU but not what is desirable.

However, this is hardly a fault for which Anderson alone is culpable. Indeed, he superbly analyses the general drift, confusion, and lack of clarity surrounding the European institutions at present, which is at root due to the clash between national and supranational imperatives, conflict between competing visions of a ‘liberal Europe’ (free market) and a ‘social Europe’ (welfare protection on a continental scale), and the underlying lack of popular legitimacy of the whole enterprise.On the latter Anderson is masterful. This goes beyond mere instances of certain countries being ‘encouraged’ to vote again on European treaties when the result goes ‘the wrong way’, or the miserably poor turnouts in European elections and referenda.It goes right to the heart of the European style of governance.As Anderson shows, for large sectors of legislation, “What the core structures of the EU effectively do is to convert the open agenda of parliaments into the closed world of chancelleries”, through impenetrable negotiations behind closed doors. In addition, the European method effectively substitutes compromise and deal-brokering for politics and ideological debate: “In the disinfected universe of the EU, this all but disappears, as unanimity becomes virtually de rigueur on all significant occasions – any public disagreement, let alone refusal to accept a prefabricated consensus, increasingly being treated as if it were an unthinkable breach of etiquette.” For many of Anderson’s fellow academics, this does not present a problem: it is only natural that important areas of policy should be insulated from popular pressures and placed in the hands of experts.So-called ‘collusive democracy’, “in which elites make sure electorates cannot divide over questions to which they have no access.” However, the financial crisis suggests that rule by experts does not always lead to expert results.

All this is not to say that the super-state is upon us. Anderson relates the absurd weakness of the Commission in relation to national governments, with a budget of only one per cent of EU GDP, no tax raising powers, and a bureaucracy smaller than most city councils. The development of the EU has produced some curious results (in terms of their logical order) that are only explicable in terms of the EU as another level of national government negotiating: the Common Agricultural Policy (before there was even an internal customs Union) due to French demands, the Structural Funds as a sop to the poorer Member States. If we are building up the EU as a global superpower this is due to the desires of our democratically elected governments. Nevertheless, the democratic deficit, which has occurred more due to neglect than to actual design, is something which should be of concern to all citizens. And the internal logic of integration has a dynamic of its own, as shown by the creation of a bailout fund for Greece, against the specific desire of previous treaties, and after much agonised procrastination by Germany until they realised there was no other option. A single market and single currency may well eventually require common taxation and common social policies to balance, whether certain Member States like it or not. If we are to have a ‘supersized’ EU, these issues of democratic accountability must be urgently addressed. One possible avenue lies in the European Parliament, which Anderson, like other European scholars, casually dismisses as an irrelevance. (A declaration of interest: the author works in the Parliament). This view is too depressive: the Parliament, unlike other European institutions, at least debates issues in public and with principled disagreements: precisely the faults Anderson identifies with the EU. Furthermore, the idea that the Parliament is powerless legislatively is untrue: witness the financial regulation package in which the ‘European elements’ were significantly strengthened due to Parliament intervention.

Europe is a subject, shrouded in mist, on which clear thinking is needed desperately. In Anderson’s essays one can see the link between drift and confusion on Europe and the internal difficulties of the key Member States. Having expunged the ideological conflicts of the old world we are left befuddled on how to interpret the new. Laissez faire economics has produced a laissez faire politics. Europe has always been an elite project: we cannot afford this anymore. Anderson expresses the desire for a “republic of letters” to develop in Europe. This is important, but no substitute for a genuine popular debate on the future of The Project. Anderson asks the right questions: our political leaders have shamefully failed to provide the answers.

Keir Hardie by Bob Holman
Lion Hudson 2010, £10.99reviewed by Henry McCubbin

A few nights ago I was watching Newsnicht Scotland when who should appear but Bob Holman. It was at the time that Ian Duncan-Smith’s announcements were due surrounding his ‘biggest shakeup of the welfare system since the Beverage reforms’. Bob was somehow persuaded to do some work for Ian Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice. Now there’s an Orwelian title for a Tory think tank. I think I would be close to the mark if I interpreted his response as horrified at the thought of his participation in any way being accepted as any sort of support for that old Tory slander that the victims of unemployment should be punished for their condition.

Bob has recently published a very readable biography of Keir Hardie – “Labour’s Greatest Hero?”. Hardy was indeed well aware of the capacity of the capitalist political system to incorporate leading working class spokespersons to add credibility and breadth to their appeal to the electorate. In fact in his book, Bob Holman provides an acute analysis of two aspects of Hardie’s intellectual makeup which were affected by this dichotomy. These were his Christian beliefs and his socialist commitments. Sadly it is a truism that many churchgoers profess Christian beliefs but do not behave as Christians and many members of the Labour Party proclaim their support for socialism but don’t ask them to support it in office.

Hardie’s pursuit of both sources of hypocrisy was never diverted by naivety; when it came to firing arrows of derision at the pious factory owner he rarely missed his target. He also was a marksman of pinpoint accuracy when it came to those who took the Lib-Lab shilling which strangely made them lose their tongues when it came to condemning mine owners who placed profits before miners’ safety. Bob Holman provides much well-researched material from newspaper articles some which of course appeared in Hardie’s own “Labour Leader”. Hardie never got round to producing an autobiography although there have been several biographies. Bob’s is different in many ways in that he explores the difficulties and deprivations confronting Keir Hardie and his long suffering wife Lillie as he pursued his peaceful social revolution without regular resources to do so. He also provides an antidote to the lies of the Tory and Liberal press barons of Hardie’s supposed wealth and his dourness. Unsurprisingly he did enjoy a good ceilidh but in the company of his ain folk. Hardie left his home in Cumnock to his family and the £96 still due from his parliamentary salary. Doesn’t this put the recent corruption of parliament robbing the public through their expenses claims all in some perspective? What would Hardie have said today? He probably wouldn’t have been allowed into the party and, even if he was, the careerists would not have allowed him anywhere near the leadership.

In 1898 at the ILP conference Keir Hardie expounded the party’s attitude to armed conflict; “war in the past was inevitable when the sword constituted the only court of appeal. But the old reasons for war have passed away, and, the reasons gone, war should go also. Today they fight to extend markets, and no empire can stand based solely on the sordid considerations of trade and commerce. This is running the empire on the lines of an huckster’s shop, and making our statesmen glorified bagmen.” What would Hardy say of Blair’s visit to India to sell arms on behalf of BAE or four coalition ministers visiting China on a sales mission to the country that already has everything including our debt?

Hardie had a great interest in international affairs and, for a man of his class, was well travelled having attended the great socialist international conferences and made acquaintance with the great socialist leaders of his time. I have a picture in my mind of the delegates at the Second International in Paris in 1889 turning in their seats to see who it was that had just introduce himself as the delegate on behalf of the Ayrshire Miners. It is sad that we now have Labour MEPs fully funded and who, unlike Hardie, can be in Brussels in an hour compared to the deprivations suffered by Hardie. Yet will they have, in a century’s time, a Bob Holman reaching for the pen and finding the rich and inspiring story like that of the illegitimate Scottish miner who founded a political movement against all the odds? What indeed would Hardie say?