The Suicide of New Left Review (posted by Doug Henwood to LBO-Talk)

Mark Jones jones118 at
Wed May 3 13:23:51 MDT 2000

Where will Doug get published in future? I have an old roneo machine I could
lease him.

Mark Jones

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-marxism at
> [mailto:owner-marxism at]On Behalf Of Louis Proyect
> Sent: 03 May 2000 19:05
> To: marxism at
> Subject: The Suicide of New Left Review (posted by Doug Henwood to
> LBO-Talk)
> The Suicide of New Left Review
> by Boris Kagarlitsky
> For forty years, New Left Review was a symbol for the radical
> intelligentsia throughout the world. The articles carried in it were more
> successful or less so, and the points of view presented in it were
> astonishing for their superficial radicalism or for their toothless
> moderation. Nevertheless, for all leftists who read English, the journal
> remained a source of information on contemporary Marxism. New names
> appeared on its pages, and discussions of fundamental importance revolved
> around views expressed there. Although NLR was published in Britain, and
> most of its authors were based there or in the US, it was not only open to
> writers from other countries, but in its essence, approach, structure and
> ideology, constitued an international publication. Now, this journal is no
> more. There is another journal which bears the same name, but this latter
> periodical is fundamentally different, based on a diametrically opposite
> concept.
> >From January 2000, New Left Review changed its editor, design and
> numbering. Before us we have number one, a little exercise-book
> formated in
> post-modernist style. The sub-head "Second Series" seems to presume that
> the journal will survive for another forty years, and that there will
> perhaps be a third and fourth series. The change of concept is declared in
> a foreword by Perry Anderson, under the expressive heading "Renewals".
> Perry Anderson, who succeeds Robin Blackburn as editor, is not someone new
> to NLR. He was present at the very birth of the journal. The makeup of the
> editorial board is also practically unchanged. We are not talking about an
> infusion of fresh blood; quite the reverse. Before us we have the same old
> collective, who have decided to change their program and
> ideology. It is no
> accident that the word "new" has come into fashion along with the rise of
> politicians such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schroeder. In the
> 1960s the "new
> left" had a very clear system of principles that distinguished it from the
> "old left", embodied in social democracy and communism. Meanwhile, this
> political definition served to make clear that the new and old left had
> something in common.
> At the turn of the twenty-first century, the situation has changed. The
> idea of the new is used as a substitute for all other ideas, as a symbolic
> replacement for any positive identification and as an incantation freeing
> those who utter it from responsibility before the past and future (and at
> times, from their consciences as well). Anything whatever is justified on
> the basis of its novelty. To be new, however, does not mean to be better.
> Moreover, and much more important, "new" does not signify "final". The new
> becomes the old, and the old, once it has been thoroughly forgotten,
> becomes the new. References to a "new" program and "new" ideas
> are featured
> precisely when people lack the intellectual and political courage to
> declare openly just what this program and these ideas consist of (or when
> both program and ideas are lacking). It is quite clear that Perry Anderson
> is not a supporter of Tony Blair, as he prudently forewarns us in his
> preface. In Anderson's view, Blairism differs little from neo-liberalism.
> Precisely for this reason, the victory of Blair, Schroeder and
> similar "new
> social democrats" is proof of the complete and final triumph of
> neo-liberalism on a global scale.
> According to Anderson, the old project of transforming the world, the
> project which inspired the founders of NLR in earlier times, has been
> exhausted. Not because the world has changed, but because there is nothing
> that can be done about neo-liberalism and capitalism. All attempts at
> bringing about fundamental change have failed. Society has undergone a
> consolidation. All that remains for the left is to observe this
> and to take
> pleasure in thinking critically about it. Consequently, NLR as well has to
> renounce the old traditions and renew itself, adapting to the
> circumstances
> that have arisen. Perry Anderson, a sophisticated British gentleman, sits
> in his cosy office at no. 6 Meard Street and limply discusses the collapse
> of the left project. He has enough intellectual honesty not to repudiate
> his radical past or the ideals of his youth, but he is impassive
> enough not
> to lament their collapse. Despite Anderson's readiness to bury the left
> project of the 1960s, and along with it the first-series NLR, his foreword
> contains not a paragraph or even a sentence devoted to political
> self-criticism.
> Everything was fine. Both when Perry together with other young radicals
> tried to revolutionise social thinking and political life in Britain, and
> now, when he no longer proposes to overturn anything whatever.
> And what, in
> reality, has happened? What particular suffering has beset these people?
> Have Western intellectuals really lost anything, apart from their
> principles? No-one has been thrown in prison or put in front of a firing
> squad. Their homes have not been blown up, nor their cities bombed. They
> are not tear-gassed on the streets, they have no problems making
> ends meet,
> and they need not stoop to begging publishers to give them free copies of
> books they cannot afford to buy. Such things are part of the everyday
> experience of people not just in Eastern Europe and the Third World, but
> also in the flourishing West. None of this, however, affects the academic
> elite in any way. For Anderson, the history of socialism is the history of
> ideas, and furthermore, of ideas that have gone out of fashion.
> Gramsci has
> lost his attraction, and Sartre has been forgotten. The new editor of NLR
> writes of this without regret, while remaining completely unashamed of his
> radical past, just as a prosperous businesswoman is not ashamed of having
> worn ragged jeans during her student years. Times change, and so do
> fashions. As a counterweight to utopian calls for changing society, and to
> hopes of revolution, Perry offers "uncompromising realism".
> What is the essence of this realism? Accepting the truth of any garbage at
> all, provided it is published in the Wall Street Journal. Apart from
> affirming the collapse of the left movement, the article says nothing of
> substance. In essence, there is no analysis here. There are neither
> reflections on the nature of modern capitalism, nor efforts to understand
> the dynamic and contradictions of globalisation. The "analysis" boils down
> to recapitulating mainstream editorials; the picture of the world offered
> by the Wall Street Journal and the Economist is taken for granted, without
> even the slightest effort at critical reading. At best, this recalls the
> classic school exercise: read through and retell in your own words. The
> main source of inspiration in this case is commentators of the neo-liberal
> school; Perry does not hide his admiration for them. The left, he
> considers, is now incapable of proposing anything "new". "By contrast,
> commanding the field of direct political constructions of the time, the
> Right has provided one fluent vision of where the world is going, or has
> stopped, after another - Fukuyama, Brzezinski, Huntington,
> Yergin, Luttwak,
> Friedman. These are writers that unite a single powerful thesis with a
> fluent popular style, designed not for an academic readership but a broad
> international public. This confident genre, of which America has so far a
> virtual monopoly, finds no equivalent on the Left" (p. 19).
> It is revealing how Anderson's words repeat, almost verbatim,
> utterances of
> Communist Party of the Russian Federation leader Gennady Zyuganov, who has
> set out to establish in this way the "modernity" of his racist,
> nationalist
> and anti-Marxist positions. But this is not what the debate is ultimately
> about. One might, of course, consider that Huntington has a better style
> than Anderson, though to be honest I cannot see any difference. The
> essence, however, lies elsewhere. We are not talking about who commands a
> bigger print run, or whose sentence structure is more felicitous. In any
> case, the left has never been short of commentators and popularisers. What
> is really involved is theoretical discussion requiring a certain
> intellectual level, and here Fukuyama and Huntington are completely
> helpless. Twenty years ago, no intellectual considered Brzezinski
> a serious
> theoretician. Now, alongside Huntington and the half-forgotten
> Fukuyama, he
> has become almost a spiritual mentor for the intellectuals. The success
> enjoyed by these authors has nothing to do with their merits as thinkers.
> This is why the phenomenon is so interesting in sociological and
> culturological terms. This needs to be thought and written about, but
> Anderson has no intention of doing so. Moreover, he clearly does
> not intend
> to allow such absurd and "outmoded" discussions into his journal.
> Uncompromising realism consists in the absence of the slightest attempt at
> critical thinking. Marx considered that philosophers explained the wor ld,
> while the need was to change it. Anderson considers that it is not
> necessary even to explain the world, but that it is enough to
> describe it.
> In essence, what we have before us is a very refined, gentlemanly form of
> unconditional capitulation to an ideological foe. Perry breaks his sword
> and surrenders himself to the mercy of the victor, but as a true gentleman
> he does this with dignity and style. He does not reflect, of course, on
> what the victorious enemy will then do with his "territorial forces". The
> ideologue shuts himself away voluntarily in his "ivory tower". The rest of
> us, remaining outside, are of no interest to him. Such thinking is born of
> a total lack of contact with the real movement, and at the same time, is
> used to justify the lack of such contact. The left movement is in crisis,
> but precisely for this reason, radical action and critical thought are
> essential as never before. There is a need for an overarching
> strategy, for
> principled positions - in the final analysis, for ethical foundations. In
> place of this, Perry discusses in detail the rules for footnotes in the
> "renewed" NLR, then goes on to inform us that from now on the journal's
> authors will not necessarily be from the ranks of the left. All that
> remains is to change the name to New Left-Right Review. It is obvious that
> a gentleman cannot be a labour organiser or a street fighter (though
> curiously enough, this was possible twenty years ago). No-one, however, is
> demanding that "left" professors mix it with police on the streets. It
> would be quite satisfactory if they were to busy themselves with their
> accepted task: thinking critically. Admiration for rightists and calls for
> intellectual union with them (to judge from everything, on the basis of
> their positions) is the perfectly logical consequence of a fundamental
> approach at whose heart is a refusal to critically analyse the myths of
> neo-liberal capitalism.
> Perry has not only managed to ignore the crisis of neo-liberalism in the
> late 1990s (despite the Russian default, the Zapatista uprising in Mexico,
> and in the US, the rise of a new mass left movement that demonstrated its
> strength on the streets of Seattle in the autumn of 1999). He even waxes
> ironic over writers who have observed these phenomena! The crisis of
> neo-liberalism would be far more acute were it not for the cowardice and
> treachery of a significant section of the left. The treachery has
> historical roots, such as the capitulation of the Second International in
> 1914, but this does not change the ethical character of what has occurred.
> In one of the stories of Yevgeny Shvarts it is remarked: we have all
> studied in the school of evil, but who forced you to be a star pupil? The
> "renewed" leftists have turned out to be the star pupils in the school of
> neo-liberalism. From this it follows that a renewal of the left is
> indispensable. Not in the mongrel Blair-Schroeder-Zyuganov sense, but on
> the level of a decisive and uncompromising break with such "renewers", and
> of a turn to the mass movement that is assembling literally
> before our eyes.
> The need for an alternative ideology, directed against neo-liberalism, is
> extremely acute. The radicalism and protest have to acquire a theoretical
> basis. It would seem to be just the time for the intellectuals to make an
> impact. But alas, they have nothing to make an impact with.... The most
> amusing part of Perry's editorial is its conclusion, where he declares,
> with impeccable political correctness, that he would welcome more
> non-Western contributions. Here, he continues to rebuke the "old" NLR,
> which, in his view, failed to open its pages sufficiently to
> representatives of the non-Western and non-English-speaking world. It is
> enough, however, to take from one's shelves a selection of the
> "old" NLR to
> find that the reality was quite different. NLR published authors
> from Latin
> America, Eastern Europe, South Korea, India and Africa. For the "new" NLR,
> meanwhile, serious problems in this regard are inevitable. Why should
> people from the non-Western world write for a journal that is
> demonstratively indifferent to the vital questions of their existence? Why
> should authors who do not belong to the inner circle of trans-Atlantic
> intellectuals collaborate with a journal whose positions are alien and
> hostile to them? Perry laments the intellectual narcissism of Anglo-Saxon
> culture, while himself manifesting it to the fullest extent. A true
> gentleman, of course, is ready to give a hearing to foreign ideas, but we
> foreigners are assigned the role of a politically correct decoration, or
> still worse, of "civilised natives", who are required to insert themselves
> into a ready-made cultural context. It is a quite different matter that
> there is absolutely no intellectual point to such an operation;
> why publish
> foreign authors if they are no different from your own? In an old Soviet
> joke, the head of the personnel department says: "If we give a job to
> Rabinovich, don't expect he won't be a Jew." Here it is just the same.
> If you want to publish authors from the "periphery", then don't be
> surprised if they are unimpressed with the vanity and intellectual
> feebleness of Western ex-radicals. The "old" NLR did not meet
> with problems
> as a result of being published in the West, since it was internationalist
> in its concept, in its view of the world. The "new" NLR admits from the
> outset its character as a thoroughly provincial publication, since such a
> journal is of interest to no-one apart from a few hundred former radicals
> scattered around god-forsaken American university campuses. The "old" NLR
> had something to teach us non-Western leftists, since it represented
> everything that was best in radical European and American culture. In this
> sense, the more Anglo-Saxon the journal was, the more interesting we in
> other countries found it. The "renewed" NLR, to judge from Perry's
> editorial, will scarcely be able to offer us anything apart from a
> retelling, "in its own words", of the articles in the Economist and the
> Wall Street Journal. But why do we need a retelling, when we can have the
> original? Politically correct multicultural discourse has nothing
> in common
> with a dialogue between cultures. I have no interest in reading a British
> journal in order to find out the attitude of a fashionable French
> critic to
> the modern Chinese cinema. This does not mean that the cinema is
> unimportant, or that the sociology of culture is uninteresting. The point
> is simply that there are dozens of journals in English that analyse these
> matters better, in more detail, more professionally, and most important,
> without political-intellectual intermediaries. The "old" NLR was an
> international journal of modern Marxist theory and political analysis, a
> meeting-place for socialist intellectuals.
> >From Perry's point of view, this project is dead. Millions of
> people think
> differently. This, however, is not the point; one person can be right,
> while millions are mistaken. The point is different: why do we need New
> Left Review, when the editor himself has cheerfully and
> triumphantly buried
> the original project? If Perry Anderson felt the need for a new journal
> with a thrust different from the earlier NLR, it would have been more
> honest for him simply to have shut down the former publication and to have
> begun a new one. I am reluctant to think that the main reason for keeping
> the title was a wish to hold onto a familiar brand name. But in acting as
> he did, Anderson consciously or unconsciously dealt a profound personal
> affront to large numbers of people whose political and intellectual
> positions took shape under the influence of New Left Review. By
> transferring the old name to a new journal, Perry stole a part of our
> common past, of our shared history. This can no longer be forgiven. It is
> good that the design and numbering have been changed; here, Anderson has
> shown his professional honesty. For substantial numbers of authors and
> readers, this will act as a signal. A familiar, well-loved journal no
> longer exists. It has died, or more precisely, its own parents have killed
> it. The new journal can seek new readers for itself - among the
> subscribers
> to the Wall Street Journal.
> Louis Proyect
> (The Marxism mailing list:

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