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Book Review EU: Of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich

GORDON PARSONS recommends a book that meticulously dissects the construct that consolidates the tyranny of the few over the many

Ever Closer Union? Europe in the West
Perry Anderson
Verso, £16.99

IN THE light of Brexit and the ever-deepening rifts between the remaining 27 countries, there is a distinct ironic ring to Perry Anderson’s questioning title to his critical analysis of the European Union, echoing an explicit quote from the various treaties developing the project’s steps towards a suprastate.

Anderson has been described as Britain’s “most brilliant Marxist intellectual.” Over his 83 years, his commentaries on the shifting pattern of Western Marxist theory and its relationship to practice — its response and effect on events as they evolve — have necessarily led to fierce contention in leftist circles.

From his academic base at UCLA, and in New Left Review (a long-time editor) and rhe London Review of Books, he has charted the development of the EU from its historical roots, through its inception and later expansion, to its patchy present.

Anderson’s latest book draws on his characteristic method of meticulous and staggering range of reference.

His style, with its combative strain, can never be accused of being “dull, technical, infested with jargon” — faults he ascribes to much literature on the European Union.

Ever Closer Union consists of two parts. Atlantic Order deals with the role of the US in Europe, while European Order examines the increasing weakness of US hegemony over Europe.

They provide critiques of two writers, Adam Touze and Luuk van Middelaar, respectively “liberals” of the left and right, whom Anderson claims to have provided the pre-eminent accounts, the former of the global financial crisis, the latter of European integration.

A political and cultural historian, Anderson is equally at home with economic analysis as he demonstrates the nature of “fictitious capital” and its role in the contemporary, ever-expanding gap between the real economy — the world of increasing daily cost of living — and the financial economy of the stock markets: “By 2013 the value of purely financial transactions outclassed those of trade and investment combined a hundred to one.”

The irony here is that bailing out the banks in the 2008 crash, demonstrating to the profit punters on the stock markets that future crises would always be “contained,” led inevitably to ever greater financial gambling, playing off, and with, the real economy and people’s lives.

Although he is critical of Tooze’s lack of structural contextualisation in a number of his arguments, and his acclaiming US influence, Anderson appreciates his recognition of the US’s responsibility for the developing Ukraine crisis, “steadily ratcheted up” by Washington’s manipulation of its “client state” to “a new cold war with Russia.”

Moving to the second of his target writers in the section entitled The Special Advisor, Anderson is much more severe in his treatment.

After surveying Luuk van Middelaar’s rise to literary eminence with his Passage to Europe and subsequent career in European politics, he notes, with a nod towards the influence of Machiavelli, van Middelaar’s celebration of the European Court of Justice’s “masterful move” in establishing, behind the scenes, its dominance over domestic legislatures.

He is throughout surgical in detailing the devious administrative coups, disguised as procedural decisions, all “opening the way to Europe’s permanent renewal” and conferring the community’s “supreme authority.”

Anderson’s main criticism of van Middelaar is in essence his approval of the EU as having from the start been fundamentally undemocratic.

Like the Court of Justice, the Council, “the overmastering instance of the EU,” deliberates in secret. The Parliament, a windy cavern of words … is not a tribune of the people; it acts like a court musician … first the players, then (if necessary) the chorus.”

The section entitiled The Rivets of Unity serves as a short addendum to the earlier demolition of the administrative structure and the main players past and present of the EU.

What must have exercised Jeremy Corbyn as he wrestled with his response to Brexit was his understanding that the European Court’s overarching power deprived member states of “the power to determine the border-line between the private and the public sector, market and state.”

In the final section, The Breakaway, Anderson reviews both Brexit Leave and Remain camps. The choice lay between Westminster, “a pre-modern construction that has survived long past its due date,” and Brussels, “a post-modern fabrication that is determined to outlive every alternative to it.”

The difference? We can change the former!


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