What follows is an initial and provisional assessment of the strengths and weaknesses, ellipses and omissions, and contemporary relevance of the series of texts that have come to be known as the ‘Nairn-Anderson Theses’.
The key tenets of the ‘Theses’ in my view can be broken up into three essential themes.
1. An articulation of the notion of British ‘particularism’. Even though in the political tradition from which I come expressions of British particularism have been viewed as somewhat heretical, I think it is the case that without a very basic grasp of the fact that in certain fundamental historical respects Britain/England is ‘different’ (concretely, by way of contrast with Europe, and in particular with ‘western’ Europe) then one is faced with great difficulties in any attempt to unpick the root elements of present-day British reality and the essentially British historical process which underlies it. The problem faced by British socialists has never been the idea of British ‘particularism’ as such but rather that of British superiority: in the sense of both the concrete reality of the bourgeois society facing it, and in the way that the British left has in successive waves incorporated the reactionary assumptions behind the reality (Labourism; British Stalinism; Healy, Grant Cliff et al). But a British Marxism which rejects the notion of British particularism in the name of a disavowal of British superiority will actually end up reinforcing the very idea of the latter: in much the same way as the ‘great-power’ internationalist’s disavowal of ‘narrow nationalism’ actually reinforces the chauvinism of the great power itself, or as the revolutionary syndicalist’s abstention from the political struggle actually reinforces the position of the bureaucrat.
More (pdf: 127KB): Notes on the Nairn-Anderson Theses