Open Letter to Perry Anderson

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Mar 16 11:47:17 MST 2003

CounterPunch, March 15, 2003

The Terror of the Petrolarchs
An Open Letter to Brother Perry Anderson

Dear Perry,

When we recently met for the first time you kindly asked me whether I had
read Edward Thompson's memoir of the death of his brother, Frank. Indeed, I
have read this book, and I commend it to you (I gathered you hadn't yet):
E.P. Thompson, Beyond the Frontier: The Politics of a Failed Mission:
Bulgaria 1944 (Stanford University Press, 1997).

Frank Thompson was executed by a firing squad in Bulgaria in 1944, set up
probably by Churchill who was already organizing the anti-communist
post-war mid-east. Perhaps you, Edward's intellectual antagonist in the
wars of the old New Left, and I, one of Edward's several students, felt his
profound grief for the loss of his brilliant brother. Certainly all who
read Edward felt his deep attachment to the ideals his brother died for,
ruined by the Cold War.

Frank served as an intelligence officer in Iraq. You write now about Europe
and Iraq, "The Special Treatment of Iraq." I want to comment on what you
have published here in CounterPunch, because you leave a couple of things
out which I think Edward and Frank can make us both remember.

Before mentioning these two omissions, however, let us enjoy a letter that
Frank wrote from the Western desert (no uniforms, no hierarchy) in 1942. It
echoes the oft-reprinted chapter 15 of Volney's Ruins, published 150 years
earlier almost to the day. Volney also imagined a classless society, after
experiencing a mosaic of multicultural multitudes in the mid-east, very
much as Malcolm X did in Mecca.

Frank wrote, "there is something epic about this 'Middle East' if only one
could get a frame for it. the Russians grinning fit to bust and giving the
V-sign to every one they pass; the diminutive Iraquis in khaki breeches and
puttees mounting guard among the white hollyhocks on the Persian frontier;
the Arab legion and the French meharistes, slender and almost girlish in
their red-and-white kefiyehs camps like old Tamurlane on the green
steppe-land, swaying round the fire in dancesIndians the neatest, cleanest,
and most dignified soldiers in our army, coons everywhere, squatting round
brush-fires, driving down main roads like a wind out of hell, grinning in
road-gangs; Fighting French, Poles, Canucks, yanks in jeeps, huge south
Africans " and so forth. As white brothers, Perry, you and I wince at a
diction that is not unaffected by orientalism or anglo racism. Do we not
also recognize something else? "This war is demonstrating, beyond any hope
of refutation, the Unity of Man. No one, at least who's been in the Middle
East will want to deny it."

This was written before Israeli independence and before the Arab-American
oil pipeline. Yet, he is gesturing towards an epic. There is something at
birth--" if only one could get a frame for it "--which the Zionist project
and the Seven Sisters put an end to, and which (here your strictures are
fully justified) the UN failed to express.

You review six reasons to oppose war with Iraq. You then provide six clever
answers to these six reasons. The orderly march of the six's is then
interrupted by a quasi-comic interlude of the three, that is, you provide
three explanations of the "vast, passionate revolt" of popular sentiment,
before concluding with another set of six, six telegraphic propositions to
give the movement staying power. The impulse of enumeration, always allied
with analysis has replaced that of understanding. You provide us with a
structure of three by six, with an interruption of three. It seems logical
with its premises and deductions. Livy, the Roman historian, drew no line
between aggression and defensive war. "The war that is necessary is just,
and hallowed are the arms where no hope exists but in them." Conquest,
expansion, defense of vested interests, support of the status quo, manifest
destiny, the American way of life, these are "necessary." The banking,
diplomatic, and journalist professions, as well as the professions of arms,
understand these "necessities."

You omit another six reasons against: cupidity, concupiscence, greed,
exploitation, pollution, and corruption. How could you have missed this?
Have you not seen the slogan dripping in red and black from the posters and
banners, "No blood for oil"? Have you not paused to consider its meaning?
It takes us, afterall, directly to the political economy of war with Iraq.
C. George Caffentzis of the University of
Southern Maine has provided a threefold interpretation: first, the
petrolarchs are thirsting for the one hundred billion barrels of "sweet"
reserves in Iraq, and competing with French, Russian, and Chinese concerns.
Second, OPEC alone is outside the ambit of neo-liberal free market
privatization, a fundamental obstacle to World Bank and WTO structural
adjustments. Oil is the base commodity, it is the commodity of value
transference, and it contains a rent component. Hence, reflection leads us
to a third understanding, that "no blood for oil" entails no blood for
profit, or surplus value. This is why in excluding oil from your analysis
you also exclude capitalism.

Perry you write of, if not from, and you write to, the mainstream. The
mainstream accepts neither discussion of capitalism or alternatives to it.
For you the mainstream is certainly a stream that flows in the West from
the West. Rather like the "ocean" that surrounded the world's landmass as
envisaged in the earliest maps of the Europeans, this mainstream provides
the outer boundary, a moat perhaps, to that ancient Christian mystification
called "the West," the fortress of empire, from which it launched its
crusades to the "East," for Jerusalem. The term has inescapable theocratic
or monotheistic vibrations, which are now given full-throated utterance as
the voice of empire. Only "chaos," only "anarchy" resides beyond this
mainstream, or Satan!


Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list:

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