Archive for the ‘2000’ Category

Martin Shaw

Jan Aart Scholte, Globalization: A Critical Introduction

London: Macmillan 2000. ISBN 0-333-66022-6

Draft of a review for Millennium: Journal of International Studies

Do we need another book on globalization? Jan Aart Scholte is modest enough to pose this question, but his text is a plausible riposte. What we get in here is the most accessible textbook yet produced – as theoretically sophisticated as the recent Global Transformations of David Held and his collaborators, but single-authored, lighter on data and designed for undergraduate use. Scholte also writes clearly, so that this book can be recommended to students with confidence that here is a coherent view of globalization that can be tested against other arguments and information.

The kind of globalization theory informs this text acknowledges continuities as well as change, complex causation rather than singular driving forces, negative as well as positive aspects, and the need for radical policy alternatives if the ills associated with neoliberal globalization are to overcome. In terms of Held et al.‘s three-way classification of the debate, this book appears neither global-enthusiast nor global-sceptic, but global-transformationist.

If these are the camps, this reviewer finds himself in the same corner, but there are still serious problems with the account here. The careful way in which Scholte qualifies the simpler views of globalization enables us to perceive deeper weaknesses, once the hyperbole of earlier writers is stripped away. These weaknesses are not, as global-sceptics of many varieties suggest, because of an overestimation of contemporary changes in general. Rather they arise from insufficiently radical definitions of the global and a misidentification of the primary sources of change.

As an introductory text, this book offers a critique of globalization itself rather than of ideas about it. This makes for some difficulties in locating Scholte in the theoretical discourse but it also simplifies the critical task. The author commits himself to one-sentence ‘core theses’ on which more complex arguments are built, but these theses are unsure foundations.

The problems start with definition. Globalization has been widely grasped in spatial (or time-spatial) terms and Scholte presents a strong version of this position. For him globalization is ‘a transformation of social geography marked by the growth of supraterritorial spaces’ – although he simultaneously recognizes that ‘territoriality and supraterritoriality coexist in complex interrelations.’ This mistakes a change in the content of social relations for one of their spatial form, a question of sociology for one of geography. It misses the maximum sense of the global: the recognition of human commonality on a worldwide scale, in the double sense that the world framework is increasingly constitutive of society, and of emergent common values. It is not that supraterritorial spaces are growing more important, but that both territorial and supraterritorial spaces – more fundamentally national-international as well as supranational-transnational relations – are both globalized in this double sense.

If we identify global change in this way, we may also be more hesitant to use ‘globalization’ as a term, with its connotations of mechanical, inevitable process; there was reason for Held et al. to prefer ‘global transformations’. And this leads us to questions of causation and periodization. Scholte argues for ‘multifaceted causal dynamics, with the principal spurs having come from rationalist knowledge, capitalist production, various technological innovations and certain regulatory measures.’ Yet rationalisation, capitalism and technological change are all fundamental phenomena of modernity. These spurs to globality are centuries old, at least, and all that is distinctive about them in the current period is, as Scholte puts it, ‘unprecedented speeds’ and ‘unprecedented extents’.

The joker in this historical pack is political change and state organization. Here Scholte argues both that, as conventional wisdom has it, globalization (arising primarily from rationalisation, capitalism and technology) ‘has prompted important changes to certain aspects of … the state’ and that, at the same time, political change is part of what constitutes globality. To the extent that the latter is proposed, political change is primarily identified, however, with ‘the growth of additional loci of governance besides the state’. (Emphases added.)

This seems, like the majority of both globalization and global-sceptic literatures, to mask the central political dynamics of twentieth-century world change. The big changes in the century were not in the mode of production, markets and technologies, or even in international regulation. In all these senses the situation in 2000 was very much a continuation, albeit with phenomenal growth, of trends established in 1900. The areas of real structural transformation were in politics and state organization. Through wars and revolutions, huge upheavals changed the context in which economy, technology and culture were mobilized. Rival world empires were displaced as pivotal organizations of power by a single Western-global conglomerate. Monarchical, authoritarian and totalitarian rule gave way, increasingly if problematically, to political democracy. In the core at least, virulent nationalisms increasingly gave way to internationalization.

One looks in vain, in Scholte as in most globalization literature, for a real sense that these dynamics were significant, even principal ‘spurs’ to historical change in general and the ‘global’ in particular. War is discussed primarily in terms of how it is affected by, not how it might have caused, global change. Revolution, genocide and the Holocaust are not even in the (very thorough) index. In the end, Scholte’s book is the best available version of the globalization paradigm. But that paradigm is deeply flawed, and not in the way that its traditionalist critics have proposed.



Paying the Price: The Killing of the Children of Iraq, ITV, 6 March 2000

John Pilger wrote and presented this new 90-minute documentary on Iraqi sanctions, shown on the most popular British channel within mass viewing hours. I was asked by BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Message’ to discuss the programme, with Pilger and others, on 10 March. I therefore looked at the programme carefully; here I comment both on the programme and my brief experience of radio debate with its maker, with whom I have already clashed over Kosovo.

‘Paying the Price’ was an important film because it gave some idea of the shocking conditions of many people in Iraq; it also reminded us of the bombing of Iraq in our name, the ‘hidden war’ as Pilger correctly called it. Most importantly it showed us that sanctions aren’t working, in any conclusive way, to end Saddam Hussein’s power and that there is widespread disquiet among UN officials themselves about their contribution to the poverty and suffering of the Iraqi people.

The problem of the film, however, was that it made a very simple connection between sanctions and suffering. It ‘established’ this case most powerfully through interviews with disaffected UN personnel; but more dubiously by repeated, crude juxtapositions of suffering children and Western politicians. Not surprisingly, in view of how others were ‘framed’ in the making of this film, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declined to appear on Pilger’s conditions.

What is wrong with making a simple connection? The film almost completely left out the responsibility of the Iraqi regime in this situation, i.e. left out those factors contributing to the suffering that didn’t fit the case Pilger wanted to argue. It left out the fact that the Iraqi government has chosen to continue with sanctions rather than negotiate its way out of the sanctions regime by giving up its military programmes. It left out the fact that the Iraqi regime uses income that could be spent on food, medicines and people’s welfare for arms, soldiers and the lifestyle of the privileged elite.

Political distortions

The film pretended to speak straightforwardly for the victims against the inhumanity of Western ‘politicians’ and ‘bureaucrats’. In fact it gave a politically distorted view of history of crisis, and insinuated Pilger’s own political line. This led to several direct distortions:

  • Pilger dismissed the idea that the Saddam Hussein regime remains a military threat, despite the fact that it has already initiated two wars with neighbouring states, Iran and Kuwait, as well as waged war on the Kurdish, Shia and Marsh Arab peoples within Iraq. Although the extent to which Saddam retains the capacity for external war is debatable, the regime clearly retains considerable military potential.
  • Pilger gave the impression that the West had created the Saddam regime. Although it is scandalously true that Reagan and Thatcher supported and traded with Saddam before 1990, they didn’t create or control his regime and this doesn’t make it wrong that the West has woken up to its dangers in the last decade.
  • Pilger gave the impression that the impoverishment of Iraq is a result only of sanctions. In fact Iraqis were already badly impoverished before sanctions, by Saddam’s war with Iran – the exhaustion of Iraqi state funds due to this war was reason that Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, but the people’s standards of living had already drastically declined.
  • Pilger gave the impression that the US actually supported Saddam in crushing the Shi’ite rebellion in 1991. However, although it was indeed criminal of the US and the West not to support the rebels, non-intervention was not the same as actually supporting Saddam in crushing those crises. Pilger didn’t mention that the US and UK changed their positions, after Western media campaigned for the Kurdish refugees, and did intervene to create a safe Kurdish area in northern Iraq, nor that this is precisely the origin of the air surveillance of Iraq that he criticizes today.
  • The dishonesty of Pilger’s exposition here is quite clear. If the US had extended the Gulf War to overthrow Saddam, or had intervened militarily to support the Shi’ites against Saddam, Pilger would have almost certainly have been the first to condemn it, just as he condemned NATO intervention in Kosova to protect Albanians from Milosevic.

Pilger simply condemns Western governments. He doesn’t offer alternatives. He doesn’t mention that sanctions were actually advocated by the Left as the alternative to war in 1991. He doesn’t address the fact that we do need to find ways to contain Saddam’s threat to the people as well as the governments of the region, and so if we don’t have sanctions, we have to have some policy to contain or remove this threat.

A disservice

Pilger’s film did strongly reinforce the widely accepted case that sanctions are not achieving much and are contributing to the terrible suffering of the Iraqi people. However because he failed to explain that this is through the way in which they are manipulated by the Iraqi regime’s own policies, as well as because of the way they are implemented by the West, he gave the suffering a simplistic political gloss that actually devalued his case.

We can go so far as to say that Pilger did a disservice to the Iraqi people by associating their plight with a simple one-dimensional case. By leaving out central realities he made it difficult to trust even the most convincing criticisms of sanctions which his contributors made. He talked down to his audience, patronizing the viewer who might have expected that in a long documentary like this some of the complexity of the politics would be explored.

Debating Pilger

I tried to put this case across on ‘The Message’. I agreed with the presenter that Pilger’s film was an important contribution on an issue that deserved to be exposed. But arguing for a more ‘complex’ analysis simply provoked Pilger to explain that ‘people like Martin Shaw’ didn’t want the responsibility of the British and American governments exposed. He immediately told viewers they should ‘decode’ my arguments as an apologia for official policies. Debating with Pilger did nothing to disabuse me of my conviction that he increasingly crosses the line between committed journalism and propaganda.

Martin Shaw

Leo Panitch, The New Imperial State

reply to article in New Left Review 2, 2000

Leo Panitch’s ‘The New Imperial State’ is at once a welcome turn of Marxist theory towards the internationalized state, and disappointing in the limited nature of its advance. Although he rightly criticizes Peter Gowan for ‘concentrating almost exclusively on American strategy’, Panitch still places excessive emphasis on the renewal of American power. Thus he fails to adequately grasp its significance in relation to other trends, let alone to offer an adequate structural account of the contemporary Western or global state.

Panitch rightly concludes that, in analyzing Euro-American relations, ‘Those who focus on minor regional trade and currency rivalries can’t see the bombs for the bananas.’ But if this was a starting point, rather than a conclusion, he might have seen the need for rather more developed concepts than those supplied by Nicos Poulantzas’ account of ‘the penetration of European states by US imperialism.’ This is still (1) far too one-way (the same fault he found in Gowan) and (2) premised on the fundamental structural autonomy of the American state.

If we take seriously the centrality of military power, then we need to start from the basis that the principal form of the state in the West since 1945 has been the state-bloc. As a result of war, the old European and Japanese empires were defeated or bankrupt. Although it took several decades for the full consequences of this to work through, the subordination of Europe and Japan to America was structural. Panitch is right that the subsequent revival of Europe and Japan has not ended American dominance within the West. But what he fails to recognize fully is that after more than half a century, especially the last global decade, this dominance is exercized in a changed context.

Certainly, as Panitch says, ‘the process of globalization, far from dwarfing states, has been constituted through and by them.’ But the state power that constitutes globalization is a new kind of state power: an ever more integrated Western state-conglomerate, internally structured by multiple, overlapping (and often partially incoherent) forms of internationalization. This West is based on a complex web of military, economic and political organizations, both pan-Western and regional (especially but not only in Europe). It is supplemented in turn by the global layer of state institutions that increasingly incorporate all states, even the main non-Western powers. Thus China not only plays a part in the United Nations, but also seeks to join, and is (in principle) welcomed into, the World Trade Organization.

Little of this is captured by Poulantzas’ rather stale formula. Certainly there is American penetration of other Western states, and Americanization. But while linkages are far from symmetrical there is also reverse penetration. Moreover bilateral linkages of national entities do not adequately represent power relations. Internationalization (and the globalization that it partially represents) increasingly constitute even the most powerful nation-states. It was precisely incomplete American domination, and the relatively consensual nature of the Western in contrast to the Soviet bloc, that explained much of the success of the former compared to the latter.

Thus America is fundamentally constrained, as well as enabled, by its centrality to wider Western and global power networks – also by the larger world context of state power, in which not only major states like China or medium powers like Iraq but even warlords in Sierra Leone pose uncomfortable challenges. American bombs were central to the defeats of Iraq in 1991 and Serbia in 1999, but politically, in each case, it was necessary not only to mobilize the entire West but also to construct wider coalitions. Where the US has been more isolated, as in recent conflicts with Iraq, it has also been politically vulnerable.

American power promotes some kinds of internationalization – technological standardization and commercial law – but not others – carbon emission controls or an international criminal court. The latter type, powerfully stimulated by popular movements and non-governmental organizations, sits uncomfortably with US nationalism but is more congenial to European elites. This is why the US appears as a ‘rogue’ superpower: its neo-imperial hegemony and ideology are anachronistic in the face of the more progressive elements of internationalization – not to mention the democratic revolution in the non-Western world that is spurring them on.

Where does this leave ‘the new imperial state’? This formula begs two key questions. First, it is the major non-Western states – from Russia and China to Turkey and Indonesia – which are most obviously quasi-imperial in their internal structures. It is often where these states intensify semi-colonial oppression of minorities, as Serbia-Yugoslavia has done in Bosnia and Kosovo, that wars are triggered that stimulate the global projection of Western state power.

Second, if there is a dominant world empire it is Western, not simply American; and it is characterized, paradoxically, by ‘post-imperial’ institutions, by the increasing promotion of formal democracy, by internationalization. In short, this ’empire’ is almost certainly a more progressive form of state than its non-Western competitors, both major and minor, which are more coercively imperial, fully or semi-authoritarian if not openly genocidal. The ‘imperialism of human rights’ (as NLR has called it) contains all kinds of contradictions, but it is not obviously inferior to the imperialism of genocidal oppression.

For a relevant Marxist concept we might bypass Poulantzas’ ‘American penetration’ and look again at Karl Kautsky’s idea of ‘ultra-imperialism’. Kautsky argued that the First World War would end either with the intensification of inter-imperial rivalries that would produce a second war, or with their suppression and the formation of a single imperial centre. In the latter case, he argued, the moral authority of capitalism would (temporarily) be restored.

Kautsky was wrong on the process and timing of ultra-imperialism: the first war did lead to a second, and it was only through the latter that a pacified West emerged. Nevertheless, he was right in his appreciation of the political significance of the phenomenon he foresaw. The structural shift from imperial rivalry to a unified Western bloc has been a profound transformation. Only now that the rival Soviet bloc has disappeared can we see the full potential of an internationalized Western state, to create something like a global framework of state power in which most state centres are implicated. Popular democratic movements in the non-Western world cannot but appeal to the West, as the real power behind global institutions, for support against local oppressors. The democratic revolution – with the failure of Communism now clearly the main form of popular movement – and the democratic West talk much the same language and cannot avoid engaging with each other.

The United States has proved itself still the undisputed capital of the united West. The paradox is that its complacent nationalism (and resistance to more extensive international as well as social reform) renders it increasingly inadequate as the political centre of Western and global power. Clinton has barely managed the tensions, mobilizing a world coalition over Kosovo but lapsing into adventurism such as the bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan. A George W. Bush presidency would only intensify them, exposing America’s fragile hold on world leadership. Panitch is too impressed by America’s economic dynamism and reassertion of power to see the contradictions of its position. His account is in danger of feeding, rather than confronting, the illusions of American power.


This comment was submitted to New Left Review, but declined on the following grounds:

‘the pressure on our space is very acute, and – in the context of NATO’s overwhelming global predominance – the editorial board was not wholly convinced by your portrayal of the new democratic Western empire, nor by your argument that popular democratic movements in the non-Western world can do not better than appeal to the West for support against their local oppressors.’ (16.5.00)

Readers will note the simplifications of my arguments, and even more the conception of NLR’s editorial space as a counterpoint to ‘NATO’s overwhelming global predominance’. These rather revealing comments underline my earlier assessment of the editorial policy of the new NLR.

originally published at (2000)

Martin Shaw
Waltzing Alexander: constructing the new American ideology

Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Academic disciplines seem to require totemic figures: writers who act as focal points, whose ideas you love, or hate, but can’t ignore, and who will be inflicted on students for decades. It is not as unusual as one might think that authors actually present themselves to us as candidates for this role, although clearly colleagues must conspire to construct the kind of reputation that makes such claims credible, and the ideas in question must chime in important respects with the spirit of the times.
One thinks of Talcott Parsons (1952) in sociology: his ‘grand theory’ aimed to redefine the territory of sociology, synthesizing the classics for the new period of American hegemony after the Second World War. Alexander Wendt is clearly another such. The title of his new book is self-consciously designed to echo Kenneth Waltz’s (1979) Theory of International Politics, the work that most filled this role for International Relations during the last two decades. Wendt makes an apposite but, despite great theoretical elaboration, substantively minimal correction to Waltz’s approach, indicated by that simple interpolation of ‘social’ in the title.
The word was perhaps inevitable because in the two intervening decades, social action has thrust itself tumultuously into the supposedly closed international world, while social has begun to displace political theory as the intellectual framework. When Waltz’s book was published, renewed Cold War rivalry made it superficially plausible to think of state power as objectively structured, by an ‘international’ system that could be insulated analytically from ‘domestic’ politics (notwithstanding the extensive links of ‘civil’ and ‘international’ wars throughout the period after 1945). Ten years later, turbulence ‘below’ and ‘above’ the state level had already rocked this sterile conception of world order. When James Rosenau (1990) argued that we were moving into an ‘postinternational’ era, he expressed what many scholars were coming to recognize. Others were to go further, to argue that international was being displaced by global politics (for example, Richard Falk, 1995).
If international politics was to be rescued as a separate field of study, it needed to be re-founded in a broader social conception. At the level at which he principally intends his book to work, Wendt carries out such a reworking. Essentially his argument is that ideas and culture, not material power structures, constitute relations between states. He takes this self-consciously from social theory: ‘Idealist social theory embodies a very minimal claim: that the deep structure of society is constituted by ideas rather than material forces. Although most mainstream IR scholarship is materialist, most modern social theory is idealist in this sense.’ (p. 25)
This is, of course, a vast simplification of the course of late modern social theory. The most fruitful thinkers are hardly those who, like Parsons and now Wendt, have latched on to the ‘idealist’ horn of the old dilemma, but those who, following Marx and/or Weber a century or more ago, have attempted to transcend its ever staler polarities.The post-Marxist, neo-Weberian school of historical social theory, that has most closely engaged with international relations, is little in evidence here.
Wendt, of course, has the easy marker of Waltz against which to differentiate his new subjectivism. His position is summarized in the statement that ‘states are the immanent form of subjectivity in world politics’ (p. 9). Wendt’s difference is clearly the subjectivity, not the states. In this sentence, he makes the elementary error of conflating ‘world’ with ‘international’ politics, as shown by his proceeding to justify his position thus: ‘States still are at the center of the international system, and as such it makes no more sense to criticize a theory of international politics as ”state-centric” than it does to criticize a theory of forests for being ”tree-centric.”’ (p.9) ‘In sum’, he argues, ‘for critical IR theorists to eschew state-centric theorizing is to concede much of international politics to Neorealism.’ (p. 11)
However much we might agree that ‘critical’ IR has tended to under-theorize the state (I argue this point in my Theory of the Global State), this simple re-closure of the issue of ‘state-centrism’ is an inadequate beginning. But Wendt is quite open about his traditional assumptions: ‘At home states are bound by a thick structure of rules that holds their power accountable to society. Abroad they are bound by a different set of rules, the logic or as I shall argue, logics, of anarchy.’ (p. 13) In short, the key structural differentiation of national and international is taken for granted, as foundational. Subjectivity enters only into how the separated ‘international’ sphere is constituted.
Wendt disarmingly admits sharing ‘many of the same premises as Waltz’, so that ‘some of the same criticisms commonly directed at his work have equal force here.’ (p. 6) Quite clearly he is pitching for mainstream turf. He insists that he must ‘defend the assumption that states are unitary actors to which we legitimately can attribute anthropomorphic qualities like identities, interests, and intentionality. This assumption, much maligned in recent IR scholarship, is a precondition for using the tools of social theory to analyze the behaviour of corporate agents in the international system since social theory was designed to explain the behaviour of individuals, not states.’ (p. 43) Not much sign, here, of Michael Mann’s (1993) authoritative critique of the simple ‘unitary’ assumption.
By prioritizing state subjectivities (‘anarchy is what states make it’, as Wendt, 1992, famously argued) our author tends to write out others. ‘Consider’, he asks us, ‘the debate about the causes of the recent Bosnian Civil War.’ (p. 163) To which debate is he referring? Clearly it is not the debate among the victims. Most of them are highly conscious of the roles of the Serbian and Croatian states in causing their misery. Nor is it the debate in the International War Crimes Tribunal, in which the war has been decisively ruled an international conflict. The Bosnian war has rarely been described as ‘civil’ anywhere in Europe. One can only assume that either Wendt is reflecting the less-well informed sectors of US opinion, and/or that he is articulating an old (structural) prejudice that a war that is not straightforwardly interstate must be a ‘civil’ war. (As Mary Kaldor, 1999, argues, like most contemporary wars the Bosnian war is neither interstate nor civil, but a ‘new war’ which includes elements of both.)
What this case reveals is that because they lack an adequate sense of structure, would-be constitutive theorists often miss the relations that genuinely constitute politics. Without theories of the structures of power, we cannot locate action, any more than without understanding actors we can grasp structures. There has been considerable debate on the formal solution of the agency-structure dilemma in international theory. But what this discussion suggests is that, as John MacLean (1999: 179) argues, reflection on historical dilemmas needs to be fed into meta-theoretical discussion: these relations cannot be resolved at the level of meta-theory.
The paradox of agency arises precisely because state power is a structural formation.’Subjectivities’, both of states as collective actors and of individuals and other collectivities acting within the state as a ‘place’, help to constitute objective structures that face all actors. States are indeed at the centre of world politics, but this is not because they are its immanent form of subjectivity. Rather states are central because they come to be constituted as objective structures within, through and against which all actors must, to greater or lesser extents, define their positions. Moreover, when Wendt sees interstate politics as a field quite distinct from world politics, economy and society in the fuller sense he takes certain kinds of state subjectivities (wherein the antinomies of international politics are subscribed) at face value, instead of understanding them in their larger social context.
As I suggested above, key thinkers in the social sciences reflect more than the debates in their professions. At their best, they expose the contradictions of their time in thought; at very least, their ideas express the climate of the times. The new claimant to IR’s crown is no exception. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Wendt’s ‘social’ theory is a limited articulation of equally limited shifts in American politics. ‘In foreign policy discourse’, he points out, ”’mora1” schemas are often juxtaposed to ”interests”, as in the debate about President Clinton’s speech to the American people justifying intervention that tried to define US interests in terms of the belief that Americans are the kind of people who do the right thing.’ (p. 125) This unexciting argument, already explored more fully by John Ruggie (1998), is the practical nub of Wendt’s theoretical revolution. If state interests are socially ‘constructed’, then American interests cannot be confined by traditional realist conceptions of the national interest. They can indeed be re-defined in the terms of Clintonian liberalism, tentatively embracing the rhetoric, if only selectively the substance, of global order and responsibilities.
Without this modest advance, mainstream American international theory could be left behind still further with Waltz – although as we have seen, others have already made more substantial shifts – just as without the new liberalism of Clinton-Gore, George W. Bush may yet return America to neo-Reaganism. However much we must be grateful for these small mercies, here is a staggering impoverishment of the theoretical and political imagination. Wendt offers us a new theoretical national anthem, an idealist tune along with which to dance in global times. But as the American international mainstream switches horses from power-capability materialism to ‘cultural’ idealism, it bypasses many of the really significant gains of a century of social thought. As America expects the world’s gratitude for the new enlightenment in Washington, it falls ever further behind the real demands for social and political change.
A meaningful new beginning in international studies, in theory as in practice, will articulate the challenges of global politics in the real world, from Bosnia to Rwanda, one almost as distant from Wendt as it was from Waltz. Above all, this is a world in which ‘the thick structure of rules that holds [states’] power accountable to society’ within is breaching the national/international boundary. The very idea, not just the form, of the ‘different set of rules, the logic or … logics, of anarchy’, is under fundamental challenge. The Washington elite, aided and abetted by its friends in Beijing, thinks it can ride out this challenge, for example neutering the International Criminal Court, keeping a redefined ‘national’ sovereignty more or less intact. Its theoreticians like Ruggie and Wendt seem to think that it is enough to give the national interest a benign redefinition.They are all in for a bumpy ride in the upheavals of the global democratic revolution.
The task of radical globalists in international relations, while welcoming Wendt’s theoretical elaboration of the movement beyond power politics, is to point up both its theoretical and practical limitations. We share intellectual and political space to the extent of recognising that the world has changed. We differ sharply on the definition of what is happening and on what is to be done.
Falk, Richard (1995)On Humane Governance: Towards a New Global Politics. Cambridge: Polity
Kaldor, Mary (1999) New and Old Wars. Cambridge: Polity
MacLean, John (1999) ‘Towards a Political Economy of Agency in Contemporary International Relations’, in Martin Shaw, ed., Politics and Globalisation. London: Routledge.
Mann, Michael (1993) Sources of Social Power. Volume II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Parsons, Talcott (1952) The Social System. Glencoe: Free Press.
Rosenau, James (1990) Turbulence in World Politics. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Ruggie, John G. (1998) Building the World Polity. London: Routledge.
Waltz, Kenneth (1979) Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Wendt, Alexander (1992) ‘Anarchy is what states make of it’, International Organization, 46, 391-425
4 April 2000

first published at

Martin Shaw

Imposing Labels on Ages:

Modernity and Globalization

Michael Mann’s Wiles Lectures, Queen’s University, Belfast, 23-26 May 2000

The historical sociologist, Michael Mann, delivering this flagship series of historical lectures for 2000, chose as his theme the way that we delineate and label historical periods. It is a feature of these generously endowed lectures that they are delivered over four days to an audience that includes invited guests from around the British Isles and beyond. Thus I was able to be present at the first three of the lectures (sadly I missed the final session) and to participate in after-dinner discussions with a distinguished group of historians and sociologists.Here I present a summary and critique.


Mann acknowledged at the outset that historical reality is more complex than labels can suggest. As a sociologist of complexity and critic of systematic theories, he readily confessed an ambivalence towards them. Unevenness and contradiction mean, he argued, that the universality of ‘modernity’ and ‘global society’ are fundamentally restricted. He identified three kinds of diffusion of labels – spatial, temporal and social-structural – and expressed a wariness of geographic ambitions for them as well as of the need of sociologists to ‘invent new labels early’ (‘the sociology of the last 5 minutes’).

Mann insisted that any account should acknowledge the specificity of the four principal forms of power that inform his 3-volume study, The Sources of Social Power: ideological, economic, political and military. He criticised the ready adoption of ‘strong’ social-structural labels, suggesting that one form of power was causing others to move. Presenting a detailed overhead, he outlined the variable periodizations that had been proposed of the different dimensions of social power.The problem, he suggested, was to what extent they did actually move together.

Turning specifically to ‘modernity’, Mann argued that this was characterized by a combination of features: secular-rational science, capitalist industrialism and bureaucratic-representative nation-states with monopolies of force (within a geopolitical system of states). But there was also a modern Zeitgeist: the unity of space-time and the march of reason and progress. The universal, indeed globalizing, project of the latter appeared naively optimistic; indeed Weber proposed a more realistic concept of reason with his distinction of value-oriented and instrumental rationalities and his concept of ‘rationalization’. ‘Thus modernity never embodied what the philosophers hoped or postmodernity decried.’

Modernity, Mann concluded, made some overall temporal sense, but it needed to be divided temporally (into ‘elite’ and ‘popular’ periods), spatially (its European, imperialist and nation-state dimensions all ‘undercut’ its universality) and social-structurally (in which it was undercut by class, nation and ethnicity). All these limitations to modernity’s universal character also applied, he argued, to globalization, and in this sense globalization had not replaced modernity; indeed, he would be arguing that there was no ‘global society’.

In the discussion, Perry Anderson’s contention that modernity was ‘an empty designate’ set the tone for what seemed, to this participant, a mistaken denial by some contributors that this concept was a meaningful way to periodize. Granted, as some did, that ‘modernity’ might be more descriptive than explanatory in its significance, it seemed that Mann had made a plausible case that there was a constellation of historic movements, along different dimensions of power, that came together in what we call the ‘modern’.

Anderson’s case was that ‘modern’ applied to no more than the latest, newest development, so that its meaning was always changing. This seemed to miss two points. First, if there are (as even Marxists agree) complex sets of historical transformations that are somehow interlinked, then a concept like ‘modernity’ that expresses that linkage is needed. Second, if this is agreed, then one aspect of the linkage is precisely the incessant change (that Marx attributed to capitalism) that constantly reproduces new ‘moderns’, then the idea of modernity as a general condition of such change is quite a powerful critical concept.


In his second lecture Mann elaborated his argument that modernity’s temporal diffusion in Europe leads to a distinction between an ‘age of modern elites’ (C14/C17, varying between locations, until around 1750) and an ‘age of popular modernity’ (from around 1750 until sometime in the C20). Early modernization was carried out from above, by landlords, merchants, political and military elites, and by intellectuals few of whom believed that the masses, women or non-Europeans possessed the capacity for ‘reason’. Later modernization was more about the downward, mobilizing diffusion, first to the middle classes and then the workers, of nation and citizenship. Working class experience, certainly, was of rationalized coerction, and so workers developed ‘counter-views’ of modernity.

Mann argued that because these were long periods, it was difficult to compare the various claims for ‘post-‘ periods, since in almost no case did these go back before 1945; while some, like the ‘internet age’ were indeed ‘the sociology of the last 5 minutes’.

Spatially, modernity was Eurocentric; only from the C19 did non-Europeans start to use ‘modern’ ideas. Outside Europe, the two phases were collapsed into a single modernization process, carried out by elites, but through mass mobilization, involving state-centred capitalist industrialization, citizen armies and some forms of mass citizenship.

Analyzing the worldwide growth of European power, Mann also identified two phases. From the C15 to the C18, empires were limited to seaboards, and were not global. They transformed the Americas through the ‘ecological imperialism’ of human predators, bringing with them colonizing animals, plants and diseases,’ the greatest transformation of nature since the first agricultural revolution’. Part of this was the ‘ethnocide’, the uninentional wiping out of peoples.

From the C18 to the C20, empires were extended and consolidated inland, and a new world map of domination was created. The global power of Europe had 3 dimensions:

  • Europe as a ‘single civilization’ – Christian, ‘white’ and ‘civilized’ – was projected onto non-Europeans; the world (except North Asia) was incorporated into European networks of transnational capitalism and ideology
  • globalization was ‘segmented’ by different imperial ‘slices’ – power technologies were wielded by individual states, in both formal and informal empires (for the latter, cf. Germany in the Orient, America in the South)
  • state power penetrated society within European states, which became what Giddens has called ‘bordered power containers’.

Moreover, Europe didn’t conquer the whole world – other imperial civilizations, in Japan, China and (under the relatively thin layer of British power) India, borrowed, adapted, strengthened and survived; Islam survived and the Middle East was only lightly colonized.

Socially, no single system was diffused. Social contradictions have been understood as systemic (Marx) – internal to a particular set of power relations, so that conflicts arising from one form of social power transforms others – or rationalized – so that we are imprisoned by particular power relations (Weber’s ‘iron cage’). Mann proposed a new concept of ‘interactive’ contradictions, between the different power structures of modernity. As an example, he gave the capital/labour conflict, resolved not in a revolutionary direction but through pressure for state regulation reinforcing the power of nation-states.

Finally, Mann explored further contradictions of this kind. In extending their civilization, Europeans regarded ‘natives’ of other regions as ‘benighted’, literally living in the dark. Giving mapmaking as an example, Mann pointed out that the Americas were regarded as terra nulla, in which there was no civilization, and territory was rationalized accordingly on the basis of geometric grids. Indigenous peoples – although idealized by the philosophes – were removed by the practitioners of European power. Baptized in the Spanish missions, they were then seen as in need of punishment and imprisonment.

Where colonies were based on settler families, and wanted land (not labour or wives), the move towards representative government produced deportation and death for indigenous peoples. Settler leaders were in the genocidal party – ‘we the people’ did not include Indians. The more representative government, the more extermination, Mann argued.

This last part of the lecture produced the most vigorous discussion, anticipating the third lecture (see below). However I also made the following connections:

  • the point about the ‘segmentation’ of imperial ‘globalization’ is critical: empires were not merely ‘slices’ but separate systems of power, whose rivalries supplied the main dynamic of world war and political change in the C20:
  • in this sense, there was a fundamental shift in the mid-C20 when the separate Western imperial systems collapsed and were replaced by a more or less integrated Western system of power under American leadership
  • what makes contemporary world change ‘global’, while the earlier worldwide extension of European power was not, is first of all precisely this new singularity
  • Mann’s point about the survival of non-Western empires is also important; these empires are in a certain sense ‘unreconstructed’, not having undergone the democratization, internationalization and modernization of state power in the sense of the West since 1945
  • the other side of contemporary globality is exactly the rise of movements for democratic change and ‘global’ human rights in the non-Western world, from the former Soviet bloc to South Africa to South Korea and Indonesia, since 1989, and the key issue is the extent of the spread of this movement especially in remaining major authoritarian states like China.


In his third lecture, Michael Mann first concluded his discussion of ethnic cleansing, arguing that there was a secular trend towards monoethnic states in Europe, in which local elites seek support from below, defining their struggle as national. From the late C19/early C20 Balkan wars onwards, this has tended to involve murderous ethnic cleansing – in the Balkans 2.5 million Muslims died and a similar number fled. After the First World War, the monoethnic trend continued, but not so murderously; however mass murder has continued after the Second World War, in India and Palestine, and in more recent times.

Mann criticized Zygmunt Bauman’s study, Modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman saw a ‘rationalized contradiction’, in which modern technology and bureaucracy determine the forms of mass murder. However Mann argued that this was only a ‘contingent truth’: since Germany was an advanced industrial state, it naturally used modern means; we need to ask why it was that the Nazi regime sought the extermination of the Jews. Like the Young Turk regime in the Ottoman empire, attacking Armenians in the pursuit of their nationalizing and modernizing ideology, the Nazis defined ‘the people’ in a way that excluded a large minority group. Genocide, Mann argued, happens when the aspiration for representative government and citizenship is confronted with a multi-ethnic world – certain groups are excluded from the people and from citizenship.

This section of the lecture was the subject of vigorous debate later. Opening the discussion, I argued that while there was indeed an element of the ‘interactive contradiction’ between representative government and exclusion, leading to mass murder, I thought this was too limited an account. As Ian Kershaw, professor of history at Sheffield and an authority on Nazism, had pointed out, ‘genocide’ was defined narrowly in the convention of 1948, including only the destruction of racial, national and religious groups, not groups of other kinds. Mann appeared to be falling into the trap of separating ethnic from other kinds of mass murder, whereas in many episodes there was an accumulation of different kinds of targets of killing.

As Christopher Browning had pointed out in The Path to Genocide, if Nazism had been overthrown in 1938 it would be remembered for its mass murder of the mentally handicapped; if it had been defeated in 1940 it would be recalled for the massacre of Polish elites. I argued that we were too fixated by mass slaughter of the Jews, and especially the extermination camps. However much these were the most horrendous, maximal cases of genocide, the Nazis killed Jews initially as part of a wide-ranging slaughter. Looking at this case from the point of view of the victims, it was not always clear if they were being killed because they were Jews, Russians or Communists. These different elements were intermingled in Nazism’s mass murder. (I have argued this case and its implications more fully in my text On slaughter.)

The second major problem of Mann’s analysis, I argued following this, was his abstraction of genocide from the context of war. The contradiction of genocide centred not so much how ‘the people’ were defined but on the definition of certain groups as ‘the enemy’ – not merely political enemies but people who were to be destroyed in the manner of war. The Young Turks had borrowed their ideology of war from the Prussian military tradition of ‘total war’, and had turned this on the Armenians. Genocide was usually war on a civilian population, in the context of other kinds of war. This was true in Cambodia and Rwanda.

The discussion ranged strongly over these issues. John Brewer, professor of sociology at Belfast, argued that we should distinguish between real and perceived enemies in grasping the rationality of genocide. Later Kershaw argued that the Nazi perception of the Jews as an enemy was exceptional in its irrationality. These distinctions are difficult to sustain, however, theoretically or comparatively, and raise the issues of the nature of ‘reason’ dealt with Mann earlier. There is a sense in which any targeting of social groups as ‘enemies’ of states is deeply irrational. And yet within the ideologies of certain regimes, particular social groups come to be seen as hostile. And of course, once identified as such, they cannot but return the hostility. It would have been irrational for any European Jew not to become an enemy of Nazism and to resist its power wherever there was scope.

The Nazi targeting of the Jews – as Kershaw pointed out, 0.7 per cent of the German population in the 1930s – was deeply irrational, but it latched on to undeniable ‘facts’, e.g. the disproportionate representation of Jews among privileged groups like capitalists and professionals within German society, and among both capitalist and Communist international elites. In this sense, it was no more (or less) irrational than, say, the Khmer Rouge targeting of ethnic-Vietnamese peasants as surrogates for the Vietnamese state. I maintained that the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews was more of an extreme, maximal case than an ‘oddity’ in the register of genocide.

The discussion of genocide rather overshadowed that of globality, which Mann opened in the second half of this lecture (concluded in his final lecture that I missed). He distinguished between two versions of global analysis. The first, ‘global limits’, he broadly endorsed. In this conception, the world has been recognized as the outer limit of human society, and this has had increasing consequences for the way in which people live, and they have adapted to it. Thus communication (of ideas if not people and goods) has become global, although this is not as revolutionary as it might seem because not all people can participate in it, and it cannot overcome gross dissimilarities of life conditions. The forces of economic production have become global, as have capitalist relations of production. Military power, especially, has reached the outer limit where it can destroy the whole planet and its human population. This reminds us, of course, that global power might destroy itself: human beings ‘might muff the chance of a global age’, by engaging in the kind of war that would lead to ‘devolution to primitive societies’.

The second version, global society, found Mann more sceptical. According to this version, he argued, power relations stretch across the globe, there is substantial uniformity and cohesion, and ‘internal’ social structures of nation-states are constrained. Ironically, he pointed out, globalizers rarely see globalization as a radical break with the past: it is the continuation, not the antithesis, of modernity. The Eiffel Tour, he demonstrated with well chosen quotes from early C20 writers, was already seen as an icon of global simultaneity and the annihilation of space/time differences. ‘No one disputes’, he contended. that in the sphere of economic relations, there is continuity.

The one major exception to the continuity argument concerned the idea of the ‘weakening’ of the nation-state.Mann pointed out that the nation-state had played a minor role in classic conceptions of modernity: virtually absent from Comte and Marx, it had been emphasized by Weber at the end of the C19, but had had to be reintroduced to modern sociology after once again being excluded by the liberal-Marxist dominance of the period after the Second World War. No sooner, however, had the state been ‘brought back in’, than it was contended that it was ‘hollowed out’. Mann questioned this, particularly through figures supplied by Christopher Chase-Dunn in the American Sociological Review (2000), showing that the increase in international trade was a product of the increase in the number of nations, not of trade; and that in no industrial country is the percentage of exports in national production currently at its maximum level. The current world economy is open, but not much more than that of 1913.

At this point Mann had to leave his argument. His point about the essential continuity of economic globalization from the early C20 to today is clearly correct. If there is real content to globality, as I have argued it lies elsewhere, in internationalized Western-global state organization and in global-democratic politics. Measuring nation-state autonomy by international trade misses the point, however. Trade should not be mistaken for the essential criteria of statehood, above all military-political power. The fact of still importantly national economies only emphasizes the continuing (but now secondary) national component, of militarily integrated and internationalized Western state power.

As I left Belfast, it remained to be seen how far Mann would accommodate this transformation (rather than weakening) of state power in his conception of the global. Although he has been one of the principal sociologists emphasizing the centrality of military power, in his presentation here of both globality and genocide, it seemed to me that some of the significance of this insight was being lost.


Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge: Polity, 1990.

Christopher Browning, The Path to Genocide, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volumes I and II, Cambridge University Press, 1986 and 1993. Volume III is still forthcoming.


escape of Pinochet, guilty of mass murder and torture. 3 March 2000

As he rises from his wheelchair and mocks Jack Straw, the medical case for his release cannot be said to have been proven. In a matter as grave as this, the onus was on the British government to publish all material and justify its decision in detail. In broad terms, the comments below remain relevant, even if the leaked material on Pinochet’s health suggests more complex problems than were known at the time of writing.

justice must be seen to be done. 15 February 2000

Speaking this time last year at an open meeting at Sussex about the Pinochet case, I concluded a generally optimistic assessment of the legal process with a remark that ‘I would never underestimate the ability of Jack Straw to do the wrong thing in a matter such as this’. This rather throwaway comment was based on a reading of the Home Secretary’s career, as well as my single encounter with the then NUS President when I, too, was a student union officer (for LSE) in 1969. My comment has proved, alas, to be all too true.

It is difficult, of course, to be certain that Jack is wrong in being ‘minded’ to bar Augusto Pinochet’s extradiction. (I will not dignify the accused with his ill-gotten title of ‘Senator’, nor with the legitimate rank of ‘General’ which he besmirched when he overthrew and murdered Salvador Allende.) That, of course, is the point: the Home Secretary has kept the crucial medical findings on Pinochet to himself. If Pinochet is senile and no longer capable of understanding the charges against him, then indeed we should accept, reluctantly, that the case should drop. There is no interest in genuinely inhumane treatment, however much Pinochet may have inflicted that upon others.

However the circumstantial evidence is suspicious, to say the least:

  • the idea of ‘medical reasons’ for not proceeding with the case reportedly dates from an approach by the Chilean government at the beginning of September 1999;
  • according to Straw, Pinochet’s deterioration dates from ‘September-October’, so that (on the face of things) the dictator lost his mind right on cue;
  • Sir John Grimley Evans, head of the medical team which examined Pinochet, first suggested that the conclusion that he was unfit to stand trial was Straw’s, but then appeared to withdraw this;
  • it is reported that Pinochet is not senile but suffers from ‘depression’ – this is not surprising; anyone found out for the appalling crimes that he committed, and facing an ignominious end to his life, would no doubt be significantly affected.

It is not clear, however, that even the most severe clinical depression is a sufficient reason to escape charges involving mass killing and torture. It would not be surprising if the serial killer, Harold Shipman, now held responsible for up to 175 deaths in one British town, was depressed once he saw that the game was up. But no one would suggest that his prosecution should be abandoned for such a reason. Pinoshipman, who was responsible for about 20 times the number of deaths, and who condemned a whole nation to terror, is hardly a less serious offender. Just as Shipman betrayed his medical profession, Pinochet betrayed the calling of soldier and the high position of commander-in-chief to which he was appointed by Allende. Pinochet’s victims as much as Shipman’s are entitled to justice. It is outrageous to think that a shabby political compromise should eclipse their claims.

As the judges in the High Court have recognised, the seriousness of the crimes outweighs any deal that Straw has done with Pinochet (and if Pinochet is fit to make such deals, does this not suggest that he remains fit to stand?). However justice must be seen to be done, so that the evidential basis for any proposal to let Pinochet go must be made available, not just to states like Spain, Switzerland, France and Belgium, but to organisations representing Pinochet’s victims, and to the world public which has a strong and legitimate interest in the case.

Martin Shaw


a reply to Perry Anderson

New Left Review has taken the turn of the Millennium as the signal for a relaunch. This is more, however, than an attractive redesign of its long successful format and a renumbering from year Zero. According to its recently re-appointed editor Perry Anderson (editorial, NLR 1 – new series, Jan.-Feb. 2000), the relaunch involves uncompromising ‘renewals’ of theory a decade into a new era when the certainties of the the Cold War have been swept away. Noting the ‘widespread migrations of intellectuals of the Left into institutions of higher learning’ (possibly a reference to his predecessor, Robin Blackburn, who has recently taken up a chair at Essex), Anderson promises a journal that is scholarly but not academic; and that (after four decades without them) there will be regular book reviews, as well as more debates.

The promise of glasnost should be welcomed; but the first issue of the new series, in which Anderson, Blackburn, Tom Nairn and Peter Wollen, all members of the ‘second New Left’ which took over the review in the early 1960s (sic), make up roughly half the contributors, is not an auspicious start. This is a small, but undeniably impressive, intellectual group of men now touching sixty renewing its project, rather than that of a wider left, after four decades. I am old enough myself to recall when an NLR writer proposed the slogan ‘Beware the Pedagogic Gerontocracy’ as the watchword of the first LSE student revolt in 1967. At the time I thought the slogan rather suspect (although I recall loyally painting it onto a banner); from the vantage point of my own half century its flaw is obvious. Yet like the crustiest academic department, the Review admits new and younger contributors only to its outer portals and engages with the outside world only on its own terms.

The real problem of the ‘renewed’ NLR is not, however, generational or social but theoretical and political. For Anderson, intellectual rigour goes hand in hand with ‘refusing any accommodation with the ruling system, and rejecting every piety and euphemism that would understate its power’. Here, we might think, is an older cohort that has resisted, commendably, the supposedly binding link of age with conservatism. But this ‘new’ NLR – however much Anderson dissociates himself from the ‘sterile maximalism’ that might follow in other hands – betrays another conservatism, a reassertion of intellectual and political boundaries that have had their day. The real faultlines of the new world, which cut across these old certainties, are barely recognized.

The problem is capitalism. This, in a nutshell, is Anderson’s old/new wisdom. And this is also the problem of his wisdom. His is a Marxism largely mesmerized by the neo-liberal renewal of capitalism in the global age. Thus he fails to catch the real sources of the global in the universalistic, even revolutionary politics of democracy and human rights. This globality is the true spirit of the age, not a mere property of ‘the ruling system’ or mode of projection for capitalist elites. Anderson dismisses this as the ‘well-meaning cant or self-deception of the Left’, but its sources lie in momentous worldwide movements.

Anderson is realistic enough to recognize that these movements offer an alternative perspective on the last decade to that of neo-liberal hegemony. ‘In a longer perspective, a more sanguine reading of the time can be made. This, after all, has also been a period in which the Suharto dictatorship has been overthrown in Indonesia, clerical tyranny weakened in Iran, a venal oligarchy ousted in South Africa, assorted generals and their civilian relays brought low in Korea, liberation finally won in East Timor.’ He might have added, of course, that Stalinist tyranny was overthrown across the Soviet bloc: the alpha and omega of the current wave of democratic revolution.

Having found the new wave of revolution, however, Anderson discards it: ‘The spread of democracy as a substitute for socialism, as hope or claim, is mocked by the hollowing of democracy in its capitalist homelands, not to speak of its post-communist adjuncts.’ Yes, there are elements of hollowing and manipulation, but there are many too of renewal, and contestation, in the West as well as the non-West. And the democratic revolution, although it offers no glamorous seizure of power or expropriation of capital, may be all the better for its more modest modes of advance. It is not necessarily a substitute for socialism: it offers the possibility of space for social organization and struggle. Moreover, democratic movements have not generated totalitarianism and mass death, as did the discredited waves of both proletarian revolution and guerrilla warfare. One would think that the enormity of Communism’s record, from Stalin to Mao and Pol Pot, might hold Anderson back rather more from his quick dismissal of democratic transformation.

New genocides have, of course, been a shocking accompaniment of global change, from Bosnia to Rwanda. They are shamefully absent from Anderson’s agenda. Even if we accept his contention that ‘the system’ hardly ‘needs to be shielded from reactionary forces’, it is quite clear that there are many people in the world who do, and often with great urgency. The challenged remnants of both Communist and anti-Communist authoritarianism, in their new nationalist and post-Communist guises, have produced orgies of mass slaughter from Vukovar to Grozny and Dili with which to close the Cold War. If New Left Review wishes to ‘calmly shock readers by calling a spade a spade’, it might start by properly naming the génocidaires in the highest ranks of major and minor non-Western states.

To acknowledge the renewal of the mode of slaughter as a fundamental problem of the new era would not require the Review to hold back from criticizing Western military actions. It would however put them in a new light, and blunt the unidirectional, anti-Nato moral anger. It would involve acknowledging the complexities of international/Western power, which saves many innocent lives at the same time as it compromises and threatens others. It would involve recognizing that if ‘The journal should always be in sympathy with strivings for a better life, now matter how modest their scope’, even less than Western political leaders can it ignore the plights of Rwandans, Kosovans or East Timorese imploring relief from genocidal repression. It follows, not that the left should ‘maximally’ apologize for Western-global state institutions, but that it should seriously address their potential for global good as well as for international ill.

This would, of course, place NLR in the same field of argument, but not in the same position, as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair – its bêtes noires. Curious, however, that however much he excoriates these figures of Third Way liberal and social democracy, Anderson explicitly invites the attentions of that section of the Right that made ‘devastating criticisms’ of the Balkan war. Names are not provided; but the nationalist-isolationist tendencies in American Republicanism and British Conservatism are hardly congenial company. This proposal raises questions, not so much about editorial judgement – no doubt the odd quixotic Rightist piece can spice up an issue or two – but about political understanding. What has happened to Marxism when one of its most sophisticated practitioners will climb into bed with allcomers, provided that they are opposed to official policies, rather than offer space for serious debate with the dominant trends of the liberal- and social-democratic lefts?

New Left Review shares one obvious characteristic with New Labour. Its title reflects aspirations for a previous ‘third way’, nearly half a century old: an internationalist left beyond the ‘old’ official Cold War lefts of Stalinism and Atlanticist social democracy. When Perry Anderson first took over the Review, almost forty years ago, his editorial regime was sometimes called the ‘new New Left’, to distinguish it from the founding newness of Edward Thompson, Stuart Hall et al. Thereafter the issue of novel lefts became ever more confusing.

The latest calls for ‘renewals’ are problematic, however, at more than the level of nomenclature. There is a deep sense of retrenchment rather than advance, of defending a position defined by fixed enemies rather than new analysis, programmatic development or political principle. The original NLR’s anti-Cold War internationalism has long been compromised, not only by an over-generous view of Communism which Anderson does little to re-examine even now, but by the more general intellectual-political ‘immobilism’ that Thompson identified twenty years ago in the face of the nuclear threat. The danger now is more mass slaughter than global extermination, but the complacency is the same, as is the political distance from those most actively engaged.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, New Left Review can produce new thinking about pensions, but not about global politics. Its ‘renewals’ threaten to leave it with what Louise Arbour, retiring Chief Prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal, memorably called ‘yesterday’s visions’ of a juster world, defending national sovereignty against global order. The ‘renewed’ left is more hostile to the ‘imperialism of human rights’ (the title of last year’s NLR issue on Kosovo) than to the imperialism of colonial repression and genocidal massacre. The review’s position is a political and intellectual anachronism, which it will take more than redesign and book reviews to rescue.