Deciphering ‘The International’ in History and Theory

The final post in our symposium in our symposium on Alex Anievas’ Capital, the State, and War: Class Conflict and Geopolitics in Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945, in which Alex himself replies to his critics and interlocutors.

It brings me great pleasure to be invited to respond to such thoughtful and challenging critiques of my book Capital, the State, and War (CSW). On the (meta-)theoretical front, Mark Rupert and Kamran Matin question my use of uneven and combined development (UCD) as a transhistorical ‘general abstraction’ to be incorporated into a historical materialist framework. On the more historical/historiographical front, Campbell Craig challenges my interpretation of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policies during and after the First World War, arguing that I rely too heavily on the extant historiographical literature, specifically N. Gordon Levin’s 1968 New Left ‘revisionist’ critique Woodrow Wilson and World Politics. Craig further criticizes my theoretical approach for being overly structuralist and consequently ‘devoid of agency or praexeology’, while pushing me to consider the relevance of UCD to contemporary world politics.

While disagreeing with some of my interlocutors interpretations of what I was trying to do in CSW, it is a breath of fresh air that they have all offered substantive engagements with my work in ways dealing with genuine theoretical disagreements; though, as I hope to demonstrate, in the case of Matin and possibly Rupert, these theoretical disagreements may be less serious than they first appear. So I would be remiss not to express my deep gratitude to Rupert, Matin and Craig for their highly stimulating critiques. In what follows, I engage with the precise standing of UCD and ‘general abstractions’ in filling out of a distinctly historical materialist theory of ‘the international’ before turning to the more specific historical-theoretical issues raised by Craig.

I. Method, Abstraction and Historicity in Marxist Theory

While being ‘largely convinced’ by the ‘relational, historical, and dialectical conceptual apparatus’ I deploy in explaining the interstate conflicts of the Thirty Years’ Crisis of 1914-1945, Rupert remains sceptical of my conceptualization of UCD as a ‘general abstraction’. He raises the question: “In a world where a great deal of epistemological and actual violence is done by universalizing abstractions, why create another as the basis for a theory whose basic impulse is de-reification, re-contextualization, and re-historicization in the interest of opening potentially emancipatory horizons?”. As such, Rupert is ‘unpersuaded’ by my argument that UCD is best understood as a transhistorical phenomenon which can be employed as a ‘general abstraction’.

Kamran Matin, by contrast, argues that I have not realized the full potentials of deploying UCD as a transhistorical abstraction, arguing instead that my specific conceptualization of UCD as a ‘progressive problem-shift’ within a historical materialist research programme is too restrictive: a ‘critical conservative’ approach to the question of the relationship between UCD and historical materialism. My approach is ‘critical’, Matin argues, because it explicitly recognizes the challenge of ‘the international’ (i.e. political multiplicity) for Marxism given the theory’s ‘recurrent inability to accommodate certain historical phenomena within its explanatory remit’, but simultaneously ‘conservative’ since I conceptualize UCD as ‘merely an auxiliary theory [that] protects the basic premises of historical materialism, its “hard-core”… from the destabilizing effects of…theoretical externalities’.
So clearly I have some explaining (and persuading!) to do. While sympathetic to both Rupert and Matin’s perspectives, I think their criticisms can be addressed by further teasing out my understanding of UCD as both a ‘general abstraction’ and ‘progressive problem-shift’ within the broader ‘research programme’ of historical materialism. Given that the historical subject of CSW rests squarely within the capitalist epoch, I didn’t spend much time fleshing out my specific interpretation of UCD as a ‘transhistorical’ phenomenon – or, more precisely, a transmodal one – that is somewhat different from Justin Rosenberg’s approach (see pp. 52-54). Before doing so, I think it’s worth restating the basic premises of the theory’s two main concepts – unevenness and combination.[1]

So, unevenness denotes developmental variations both within and between societies, along with the attendant spatial differentiations between them. The starting point then is a strong empirical observation about the basic ontology of human development: that a multiplicity of societies varying in size, culture, political organisation, and socioeconomic systems is a transhistorical feature of development. From this general empirical observation, one is able to capture both the quantitative (multiple societies) and qualitative (different societies) character of all development: what can be termed uneven development. But rather than simply describing two static conditions (multiplicity – difference), uneven development captures their dynamic interaction: societal multiplicity producing intersocietal interactions in turn generating societal differences. This forms the fundamental social-relational texture of the historical process as a whole, from which the shifting identity of any particular society accumulates and crystalizes.

Emphasizing the specificities of any given society’s development within this wider interactive intersocietal milieu, Trotsky demonstrated how a society’s development is irreducible to any unilinear path of development. For example, ‘Russia stood not only geographically, but also socially and historically, between Europe and Asia’.[2] As both cause and effect of this international differentiation, unevenness also captures the peculiar sociological forms of internal differentiation in political, cultural and class relations. Differential tempos and forms of change over time are matched by variations in space. This conception of unevenness thereby transverses the multiple, interconnected spatial fields of social constitution and organization, breaking with any discretely-conceived notions of the ‘national’ and ‘international’.

Combination, conceived at the most abstract level, refers to the ways in which the internal relations of any given society are determined by their interactions with other developmentally differentiated societies. In turn, the very interactivity of these relations produce amalgamated political institutions, socioeconomic systems, ideologies and material practices melding the ‘native’ and ‘foreign’, the most ‘advanced’ and ‘backward’, within any given social formation. As with unevenness, combination has a strong empirical referent: multiple societies do not simply exist hermetically side-by-side. Rather, they interactively coexist, which by necessity – and with varying degrees – determines their collective social and geopolitical development and reproduction. Accordingly, a combined development also refers to the processes in which societies draw together the ‘different stages’ of development. This then creates the conditions for multilinear trajectories of development. From this perspective, historical processes are always the outcome of a multiplicity of spatially diverse nonlinear causal chains that combine in any given conjuncture. What does it then mean to speak of UCD as a transmodal phenomenon functioning as a ‘general abstraction’ to be incorporated into a materialist theory of history and, by extension, ‘the international’?

Frederic Jameson once famously exclaimed: ‘Always historicize!’ is ‘the one absolute and we can even say “transhistorical” imperative of all dialectical thought’.[3] Does Jameson’s injunction necessarily translate into a denial of the use of ‘transhistoricals’ in Marx’s methodology? I believe not, as a number of studies have well demonstrated that transhistorical abstractions did in fact play quite an important role in Marx’s work.[4] As Robert Wess notes in a discussion of Marx’s method, Marx “insists, at the very outset, that to avoid the bourgeois misconception of capitalism as ‘natural’, one must paradoxically begin on the transhistorical level, with production in general…[as] the transhistorical renders visible the concrete historicity of capitalism”.[5] Or, as Marx put it in explaining his method of abstraction in the Grundrisse: one must start with the “general, abstract determinants which obtain in more or less all forms of societies”.[6]

Indeed, contrary to common wisdom, Marx worked with a number of general, transhistorical categories: ‘use-value’, ‘concrete labour’, and ‘production in general’, to name but a few. However, Marx’s use of these transhistorical categories was strikingly different from their employment within traditional IR theory. For neorealists, for example, the ‘general’ abstraction of ‘anarchy’ takes the form of the primary explanans from which all other concepts (e.g. the ‘balance of power’, ‘national interest’ and ‘security dilemma’) are then deduced. From this perspective, the abstraction forms the theory itself. By contrast, in Marx’s writings, a general abstraction functions as a kind of in-built assumption which accounts for the existence of a concrete general condition whose historically specific form has to be accounted for by still further explanans. In other words, the abstraction is question-begging. It serves the purpose of highlighting and isolating particular objects of study, which in turn raise analytical questions that can only be answered through their connection to other abstracted moments concretised through historical analysis.

Such a method consequently requires that conceptual abstractions involve not only an understanding of how any given empirical phenomenon appears and functions, but also “how it develops”, wherein “its real history is also part of what it is”.[7] This imbues Marx’s abstractions with a radical depth historicity[8], where their content is not rigidly fixed, but “developed in their historical or logical process of formation”.[9] In Capital Volume I, for example, the commodity is both a bearer of the universal need to produce use-values and the historically-specific conditions under which such production occurs. Similarly, ‘labour’ is at once conceptualised as ‘concrete labour’ (the general feature of all human labour) and ‘abstract labour’ (the historically-distinct condition under which concrete labour takes place within capitalism).

Hence, unlike neorealism’s deductive method, where general categories are ‘applied in an unmediated way’[10] to real world politics, Marx’s abstractions do not on their own provide the in-built explanatory mechanisms required for the generation of concrete historical knowledge. Nor do they act as axioms from which secondary concepts are derived, where concretisation takes place in a linear fashion from the abstract to concrete. Instead, the object of study is continually reconstituted by viewing it through different contextual prisms, analytical vantage points or ‘windows’. The view from any singular vantage point will tend to be flat, static and lacking perspective. But once we move across different vantage points, those elements formerly hidden come into view, reconstituting our understanding of the object of investigation with ‘greater depth and perspective’.[11]

Understood in this way, general abstractions are ‘a guiding thread, an orientation for empirical and historical research, not a theoretical substitute for it’.[12] As such, Marx ‘explained’ phenomena by carving open analytical and theoretical spaces that would necessitate the introduction of – and relation to – additional explanatory determinations, derived from alternative vantage points. Across the three volumes of Capital, Marx repeatedly changed register and (re-)analysed social relations through different conceptual prisms, moving from the singular capitalist enterprise in Volume I, to circulation in Volume II, to many capitals in Volume III.

Thus understood, each analytical shift serves to ‘destroy the simplicity’ of anterior vantage points and ‘complicate their phenomenology’ by bringing them into interrelation with other abstracted moments.[13] Through this disclosure of the internal relations between these expanding sets of abstracted moments, the multiplicity of concrete conditions and determinations pertaining to the capitalist production mode was unearthed and reconstituted in thought. Marx’s explanation took place not by the reduction of social reality into a simplified and elegant abstraction, but by the expansion and complexification of the object under study. Hence, an abstraction should not be judged heuristically useful by what elements of reality it successfully excludes, but by what elements of history are opened up to further exploration. In short, rather than positing abstractions (such as anarchy) as theories unto themselves, a general abstraction should orient theoretical investigation to particular object of study that still requires further explanation.

In like fashion, I would argue that any proper understanding of the complex interrelations between history and theory in the study of world politics that seeks to capture the unique causal properties of ‘the international’, rather than simply reducing such properties to a social order conceived in the ontologically singular, requires at the outset of theoretical enquiry the introduction of a ‘general abstraction’ that identifies and focuses on the object of examination: here, ‘the international’. Moreover, to avoid the problem of reification, the abstraction would necessarily refer to both a general condition that accounts for the existence of ‘the international’ and a concrete condition that would require the incorporation of further abstracted moments that would then furnish a historically-specific explanation of the particular dynamics, forms, scales, and articulations of such phenomena. For the committed Marxist, this would then mean re-attaching the general abstraction accounting for the ‘the international’ with a mode of production-based analysis of its historical specificities.
However, it is absolutely crucial to note, that in keeping with the method I’ve just outlined, this would not mean applying the ‘mode of production’ concept in a kind of unmediated or unidirectional fashion in explaining such historical specificities. This is because the function of the ‘general abstraction’ is to re-focus and reconstruct the other abstracted moments (here, the ‘mode of production’) through the inclusion of additional determinations. Hence, in keeping with Matin’s approach, this would necessitate the ‘modification of the “hard-core” ontological premises’ of historical materialism (more on this below).

Rather than protecting these hard-core premises by limiting their explanatory scope (‘monster barring’) or by identifying anomalies as exceptions or pathologies, my deployment of UCD aims to magnify the explanatory power of the original research programme. So, instead of replacing Marxism’s traditional focus on class conflict and modes of production, UCD directs our attention to the ways in which these historical processes are inextricably bound to developments at the ‘international’ as well as domestic levels, thereby offering a synthesised theory of development and reproduction that moves beyond the persistent divide between ‘sociological’ and ‘geopolitical’ modes of explanation.

I argue that the incorporation of UCD’s plural ontology (i.e. sociopolitical multiplicity) is consistent with the hard-core premises of historical materialism, because there’s nothing in Marx and Engel’s conception of development that would necessarily deter the pluralization of their basic ontological premises. I therefore partially agree with Neil Davidson’s claim that the “inseparability of the international from the social is… inscribed in historical materialism from the moment of its formation, notably The German Ideology”.[14] I say partially because neither Marx nor Engels ever theoretically formalized a substantive conception of ‘the international’, which remained an ad-hoc externality to their later theoretical works (most notably, Marx’s Capital). I would therefore argue that Trotsky’s theory helps make explicit certain elements of Marx and Engels’ analyses that was never fully thematised or theorized– elements that remained present ‘in a practical’ but not theoretical state.

To reiterate what I wrote in CSW, the ‘hard-core’ premise of historical materialism is that humans are embedded within a productive metabolism with their natural and social environment. The ‘development’ of this metabolism is the subject of historical materialism. It forms the basis of the ‘double relationship’ examined by Marx and Engels in The German Ideology. Since development is unevenly distributed humans are consequently always dealing in some way with other ‘stages’ or forms of development. Unevenness therefore extends in time and space beyond modes of production, even if it takes on a particularly intensified form under capitalism. UCD may be then considered a ‘progressive problem-shift’ in the sense that it grows out of and completes – rather than replaces – Marx’s materialist conception of history. In this respect, I’m happy to endorse Matin’s call for reconceptualising Marx and Engels’ ‘double relationship’ as a ‘triple relationship’ spanning: (1) nature to; (2) the social; to (3) the intersocietal.[15] I do so, however, with the caveat that Marx and Engels’ ‘double relationship’ never logically excluded a conception of ‘the social’ as ontologically plural, though I do find Matin’s approach useful in explicitly bringing out this plural, interactive dimension of the social.

I think it’s then helpful to pick through three distinct but interrelated ways UCD may be used in the study of ‘the international’. Firstly, as an ontology of human development – that is, as a general, abstract set of determinants highlighting a general condition confronted by all societies irrespective of historical context. Secondly, as a methodology derived from the preceding basic ontological claim, that informs what historical material may be deemed ‘causally’ significant, and how that material relates to each other. As noted, however, these general ontological and epistemological assumptions taken on their own do not constitute a theory as such – at least not in the specifically Marxist sense, which would require their reconnection to more historically-specific concepts and determinations.

In this theoretical respect, thirdly, UCD also refers to and theorises concrete historical processes, be they epochal or conjunctural. We may then speak of a theory (or theories) of UCD in this more historically-delimited sense: in terms corresponding to specific epochs or conjunctures characterized by different modes of production that animate the broader dynamics of such historical temporalities. It is only at the level of any given mode of production that one can properly speak of theory. Nonetheless, UCD goes beyond a mode of production-centred analysis by capturing the surplus of determinations generated by the interaction and accompanying combinations of different modes of production.

For example, in my forthcoming co-authored book How the West Came to Rule, Kerem and I examine the historically-distinct dynamics, scales, and forms of UCD in no less than five modes of production: the nomadic, tributary, feudal, slave-based and capitalist. Each of these modes generated very different forms of unevenness and combination countering any supra-historical application of the ‘theory’ of UCD that Rupert and others have challenged.[16] Moreover, the various interactions between these modally-differentiated societies produced a multiplicity of variegated sociological amalgamations, representing entirely new modalities of development whose ‘laws of motion’ were more than the sum of their parts defying any neat modal classificatory schemas. Such sociological combinations were not either/or but both and more. From this perspective, it may turn out that the differences between Matin, Rupert and myself are less than they first appear.

II. Matters of Interpretation: History, Historiography, and Theory of the Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945

In Craig’s penetrating critique, questions of historiography and historical interpretation loom large. Acknowledging that I provide some original archival research, he claims that my historical narrative is overwhelmingly drawn from extant historiographical literatures, and that in the case of US foreign policymaking (Chapter 4), I fail to differentiate my interpretation from that of Levin’s Woodrow Wilson and World Politics. Craig also questions my interpretation of the classical realist critiques of Wilson, claiming that there was ‘far more of an affinity between Classical Realism and Left critiques of US foreign policy than Anievas acknowledges’, and argues that I fail to adequately explain why the US Congress rejected American membership in the League of Nations and turned the country’s ‘back on world power politics after 1920’: a ‘clear anomaly’ in my account given the role that Wilson’s ideology played in all this.

This point relates to Craig’s particular interpretation of the theory of UCD, and specifically Justin Rosenberg’s approach, which suffers from a lack of politics – a “structural alternative to neo-Realism that seems to be devoid of agency or praexeology”. He takes me to task for not politically challenging Rosenberg’s approach, and suggests that I should have sharpened my own theorisation of UCD further distinguishing it from Rosenberg, which would have allowed me to be in a better position to utilise my ‘historical case studies in a more rigorous and deductive fashion’. Finally, he draws attention to the state of world politics since the post-World War II period, noting that the challenge now lies for a theoretical explanation of the post-war epoch that has witnessed the total absence of wars among major capitalist powers, the self-implosion of the Soviet Union, the transformation of the nominally communist Chinese regime into an ‘uber-capitalist hegemon’, and Europe’s opting out of great power politics altogether – developments that would have, Craig argues, ‘absolutely befuddled’ Trotsky.

I am grateful to Craig for pressing me to further clarify my views on these significant historiographical and theoretical issues. However, at some points, I believe Craig has partly assimilated my conception of UCD to that of Rosenberg, and he’s surely not alone in doing so.[17] To be fair, Craig acknowledges that my ‘method is quite different from the one used by Waltz (and Rosenberg)’ since my concern lays with deploying UCD “as a means of shaping a detailed historical explanation of the two world wars”, while Rosenberg’s approach has primarily revolved around “developing a logical or epistemological case for UCD”. However, this significantly understates the differences between my conceptualization of UCD and Rosenberg’s that I’ve drawn out in earlier articles[18], within the book (pp. 49-54), and to which the above discussion hopefully further attests.

One point that should be clear from the latter discussion is that I do not conceive of UCD as a deductive theory, as Craig seems to suggest.[19] The aim of CSW is not, and should not have been, as Craig claims, to ‘show how UCD deductively answers historical puzzles’ or to use the book’s ‘historical case studies in a more rigorous and deductive fashion’. While Rosenberg has made the case that UCD can meet the strict criteria of Waltz’s nomological-deductive conception of theory[20], this is not an endeavour I aspired to in CSW. Instead, my own approach is informed by a critical realist philosophy of science wherein causal explanation takes the form of uncovering different (and often interacting) ‘generative mechanisms’ operating at the ‘level of real’, rather than at the ‘level of the event’ or empirical where (neo)positivists and empiricists focus their deductive explanations. The relationship between different generative mechanisms cannot then be conceived as one of equivalence or deduction, but instead in terms of rootedness or emergence. This entails that each layer of mechanisms cannot be deduced from another, even those from which it emerges, as it retains own distinctive causal properties.[21]

But, to clarify further, one of the key differences between Rosenberg and my approach is not simply an attention to theoretically-informed historical explanations (indeed, Rosenberg has provided some himself, albeit at a rather high level of abstraction imbued with a heavy dose of structuralism)[22], but with the very problems that Craig identifies with my approach: that is, of failing to challenge the overly structuralist framework offered by Rosenberg that is ‘devoid of agency or praexeology’.[23] Yet I explicitly address these criticisms of structuralism and lack of politics and agency in Chapter 2 (esp. pp. 37-38, 48-49), and take them much further in a forthcoming book.[24] As I write in CSW:

The emphasis placed in this work on the structural constraints and enabling properties of uneven and combined development…in no way seeks to erase the crucial function of agents in processes of policymaking and large-scale social change. The significance of these ‘first image’ sources of interstate relations is further drawn out in the cases of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and particularly President Woodrow Wilson in Chapters III and IV, respectively… In short, agents and agency matter (p. 49).

I hope readers will forgive the vulgarity of quoting myself at length, but I do so in order to demonstrate that the putative inattention to agency and agents Craig critiques me for is somewhat misplaced. While one may criticize my particular conception of agency, to claim that my account is devoid of agency is inaccurate.

For the sociopolitical and economic effects of UCD are always partially indeterminate: one cannot say in advance exactly how the developmental pressures of intersocietal relations will impact upon any given society without an analysis into the changing balance and struggle of class forces (i.e. human agency), among many other factors, which is itself shaped and partly determined by their wider intersocietal milieu. Indeed, one of the great advantages of UCD is how it offers an explanation of the sociologically differentiated forms that agency takes that counters any ‘pre-determined’ unilinear readings of sociohistorical development (p. 48). As I wrote in the summary piece to this forum, one of the main aims of the book was to ‘infuse the theory of UCD with a much stronger ontology of class conflict than had been hitherto on offer in the more recent IR debates concerning the utility of the concept in providing a theory of “the international”.[25] And, as the sub-title of the book Class Conflict and Geopolitics in the Thirty Years’ Crisis, 1914-1945 might attest, throughout the work I continually examine the class relations, class conflicts, inter-capitalist rivalries, and their relation to policymakers’ often counterrevolutionary policies (see esp. 51, 71-72, 74-75, 76-83, 92, 94, 96-97, 121-122, 126-138, 142-144, 156-162, 168-174, 176-177, 188-203, 204-206, 209-213). These are all issues that, in one form or another, relate to questions of agents and agency.

With all this in mind, the ‘clear anomaly’ of the Senate’s rejection of US membership in the League of Nations that Craig identifies is much less the anomaly that he makes it out to be. For while it is true that I don’t spend much time on the subject, this was not because I had no explanation for it, but rather because I didn’t think it required any further exploration as it had very little bearing on my overall analysis: just because the motivations for Wilson’s League of Nations diverged from the subsequent outcome in no way invalidates the significance of the original intentions nor the primary causal forces driving them. Moreover, while Wilson’s own personal idiosyncrasies (i.e. contingencies) played a part in the failed campaign for Treaty ratification, as did his particular ideology (the formation of which I spend some time examining in the book from the perspective of UCD: see pp. 115-126), a crucial – perhaps the – factor was the tactical (not strategic) disagreements within US policymaking and capitalist circles regarding the role and form US power should take after the war.[26]

This divergence in tactics stemmed from the view taken by a substantial faction of American’s political elites and capitalists who saw the League as thinly-disguised means for Britain to promote a ‘Closed Door’ world economic order which would have adversely affected American ‘national interests’. In addition, they thought the commitment to the security agreements that the ratification entailed were too limiting on US diplomacy and sovereignty, particularly by circumscribing America’s long-cherished Monroe Doctrine that kept European powers out of America’s informal sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere.[27] The main causal factors behind the Senate’s rejection of US League membership thus squarely rests within the theoretical bounds of UCD: ideologically-inflected economic and geopolitical rivalries all emerging from the uneven and combined character of US development and international capitalism as a whole.[28]

In these ways, the fight for Treaty ratification was not a struggle between ‘internationalist’ and ‘isolationist’ wings of the political and economic establishment.[29] While a vocal minority ‘isolationist’ wing of both the Democratic and Republican Parties certainly existed, they were by no means a deceive factor in the Treaty’s rejection. Rather, as Adam Tooze notes, Wilson’s “truly dangerous opponents [to Treaty ratification] were the mainstream leadership of the Republicans, who could not reasonably be described as isolationist” as they had actually “favored a far more aggressive stance in the war than Wilson”.[30]

The US Senate’s ultimate rejection of the Treaty on March 19, 1920 is often viewed as epitomizing America’s policy of ‘isolationism’ – an interpretation that Craig seems to share when he writes that it represented the turning of “America’s back on world power politics after 1920”. This is an interpretation fundamentally at odds with the available evidence and the current state of historiography on interwar US diplomacy.[31] US foreign policymaking throughout this period was actively interventionist in European affairs (among many other regions of the world), though this would often take the intentionally deceptive form of ‘private diplomacy’ through businessmen-diplomats such as Thomas W. Lamont and Owen D. Young (see esp. 147-152). Further, the leading foreign policymakers of the successive Republican administrations of the 1920s, were overwhelmingly liberal internationalists (some even former Wilsonians) as exemplified by Herbert Hoover, Charles G. Dawes, Andrew Mellon, Charles Evans Hughes, and Frank B. Kellogg, to name but a few.

So what about my supposed over-reliance on a particular school of historiographical thought in examining Wilson’s diplomacy and my putative failure to acknowledge the affinities between classical realism and Left critiques of US foreign policy? Regarding the latter, I’d direct the reader to a passage from Lloyd C. Gardner that I quote on page 112: “while radicals ‘may criticize his [Wilson’s] naïve moralism and idealism along with the realists…a full account of the development of that outlook is a much more difficult problem’. This was an ‘outlook’ which had ‘developed from a much keener insight into the nature of his society (and its needs) than would appear from the realist critique'”.[32] Whilst recognizing these affinities between realist and Left-revisionist critiques of Wilson(ianism), I also point out one critical difference: the near total absence of any strong conception of social-historical structures within the classical realist cannon that could explain Wilson’s liberal-internationalist ideology and policies (see pp. 112-115).

I further acknowledge the similarities between the contemporary realist literature on US foreign policy, which Craig claims I appear unfamiliar with, and Left critiques mentioning, for example, the works of Fareed Zakaria, Andrew Bacevich and Christopher Layne – all of whom have drawn on the ‘Wisconsin School’ of US diplomacy (pp. 112 and 241-242fn7). This point is further drawn out in a footnote discussing the three dominant schoools of historiographical thought (realist, liberal, and revisionist), where I write that ‘[l]ike any broad school, none of these approaches are monolithic’, noting that some Left-revisionists have ‘more in common with realist approaches’ than liberals. Of direct relevance to Craig’s charge that I essentially reproduce these revisionist works’ (specifically, Levin’s) interpretations of Wilson’s foreign policy during and after the war, I write that “my interpretation is closer to the latter [‘realist’ revisionists] but also draws on Lloyd Ambrosius’s “realist” critique, which offers a useful supplement to those revisionist scholars neglecting the international sources of Wilsonian diplomacy” (241fn3, emphasis added).[33]

This last issue regarding the lack of any substantive conception of ‘the international’ (or strategic interactions) is a blind spot for nearly all revisionist-New Left critiques of Wilson (Levin’s included), which, broadly speaking, interpret their sources as emerging from the inherent limits and contradictions of the American socioeconomic system: the need to export capital and trade ‘surpluses’ necessary to maintain economic growth and prosperity thereby circumventing radical reforms to the domestic status-quo order – hence, the ‘Open Door’ (see pp. 121-124). While recognizing this was indeed an important factor in Wilson’s policy calculations, my own theoretical approach, by contrast, emphasizes the interconnections between these ‘domestic’ sources and distinctly international and geopolitical determinations: firstly, by examining how America’s own unique pattern of UCD preceding – and causally feeding into – the Civil War[34] and after generated the historical-sociological conditions for the development of Wilson’s politics and ideology and Wilsonianism as such (pp. 116-126); and, secondly, by demonstrating how the ‘chief social substance of Wilsonian policy’ was the attempted ‘geopolitical management of combined development’ (p. 132).[35]

That is to say, the Wilsonians’ attempt to transform the internal social structures of societies through the imposition of an abstract liberal universality (capitalism) that sought to erase those extant conditions of (geo)political and socioeconomic unevenness, resulted in the geopolitical management of the explosive effects emerging from such US interventions. For a significant consequence of US interventions into later-developing societies was the grafting of capitalist social relations onto pre-existing non-capitalist structures generating various contradictory-ridden forms of combined development (see pp. 124-125, 130-133). Hence, far from moderating the effects of UCD in the Global South, an unintended consequence of the Open Door was to exacerbate those very tendencies: implanting market forces and capitalist relations onto such societies in ‘inorganic’ ways, their development took convulsive and destabilizing forms unhinging traditional social structures. In these ways, US foreign policymakers were often the unknowing ‘agents’ of combined development (125-126). While William Appleman William’s famous work The Tragedy of American Diplomacy interpreted and described some of these processes, neither he nor his students ever theoretically incorporated these geopolitical dimensions of Wilson’s policymaking into their interpretative frameworks, instead focusing almost exclusively on the domestic origins of the ‘Open Door’. This is then a rather substantive difference between the theoretical framework I offer through UCD and the ‘inside-out’ interpretation of the ‘Open Door’ policy provided by the revisionists.

Craig’s final claim regarding the ‘challenge’ to explain the post-1945 epoch of international relations from the perspective of UCD is a very welcome suggestion. While I don’t think the post-1945 transformations in world politics Craig mentions pose as much as a problem to the explanatory power of UCD as he suggests, unfortunately I can’t adequately address this important subject in this short reply.36 I would therefore echo Craig’s call for an analysis of the post-WWII period to be an avenue for future research and, modestly suggest, that the theoretical framework I outline in CSW may offer some insights into how this might be carried out.

[1] The following draws on Anievas and Nisancioglu (2015: Chapter 2).

[2] Trotsky (2008: 3-4).

[3] Jameson (1981: 9).

[4] See esp. Sayer (1979: 78–79, 87–88, 91–103, 109–113, 144, 146–147); Sayer (1987: 21); Fracchia (2004); Callinicos (2014: 152-155).

[5] Wess (1996: 16. This passage is also quoted by Matin (2013: 152).

[6] Marx (1976: 108). See further, Marx (1994, Vol. 34: 236).

[7] Ollman (2003: 65).

[8] Sayer (1987: 21).

[9] Marx and Engels (1977: 13–14) as cited in Sayer (1987: 21).

[10] Rosenberg (2000: 81).

[11] Harvey (2007: 2).

[12] Sayer (1987: 13).

[13] Bensaïd (2009: 106).

[14] Davidson (2009: 17).

[15] Matin (2013: 154).

[16] See e.g. Teschke (2014) and Van der Pijl (2014).

[17] See e.g. Van der Pijl (2014) and the misguided broad-brushed critique of Rioux (2014). The latter is particularly unfortunate as Rioux’s critique is littered with flagrant misinterpretations of my work (as well as some of Rosenberg’s), criticisms via omitting the relevant arguments of those authors he critiques that deal with the very issues he’s criticizing them for, which in turn leads him to a befuddling call for the reattachment of uneven and combined development with a mode of production-centred theory. Given this is exactly what I have argued for in my book and elsewhere (Allinson and Anievas 2009; Allinson and Anievas 2010; Anievas and Nisancioglu 2013; see also, Rosenberg and Callinicos 2008; Matin 2013: Chapter 7), it’s rather bewildering that someone could take up this position as their own critique of my work. Unfortunately for Rioux, the failure of theory he detects in IR scholarship on uneven and combined development is actually a consequence of his own failure of scholarship.

[18] Allinson and Anievas (2009; 2010a).

[19] For similar criticisms of UCD, see Teschke (2014) and van der Pijl (2014).

[20] Rosenberg (2013). See Cooper (2013) on the relationship between UCD and critical realism.

[21] Callinicos (2006).

[22] Cf. Rosenberg (2010; 2013).

[23] See similarly, Lawson (2005); Teschke (2011; 2014); van der Pijl (2014).

[24] The question of agency and the political implications of UCD for contemporary socialist strategy and tactics are further drawn out in Chapters 2 and the Conclusion of Anievas and Nisancioglu (2015), respectively.

[25] See further, Allinson and Anievas 2010b.

[26] On these tactical divisions within US policymaking and business circles, see Mayer (1967: Chapter 2); Parrini (1969: esp. 55-72); Hoff-Wilson (1971: esp. 15-17); Van Meter (1971: esp. 10-16); Kauffman (1974: esp. 48-50, 165-178, 213); Van der Pijl (1984: Chapter 4); Ferguson (1984); Freiden (1988); Hogan (1991: Chapter 1).

[27] Cooper (2001: 61-62).

[28] See further Anievas (2014).

[29] Cf. Parrini (1969: 13-14; Chapter 6); Hoff-Wilson (1971: 20-29); Costigliola (1984: 30-33); Offner (1986: 41-43); Ambrosius (1990); Kuehl (1997); Cohrs (2006: 65-66); Tooze (2014: 334-338).

[30] Tooze (2014: 335).

[31] See, inter alia, Parrini (1969; 1979); Leffler (1979); E. Rosenberg (1982); Gardner (1984); Costigliola (1984); Offner (1986); Cohen (1987); Hogan (1987: Chapter 1; 1991); Iriye (1993); McCormick (1995: Chapter 2); McDougal (1997); Schuker (1998; 2003); Ninkovich (1999); Ryan (2000); Rhodes (2001); Hannigan (2002); Cohrs (2006); Hoff (2008); Braumoeller (2010); Tooze (2014).

[32] See further, Anievas (2014).

[33] While the interpretative (but not theoretical) framework deployed in analysing Wilson’s policies was indeed closest to the revisionists, I was keenly aware of the problems emerging from drawing too heavily on any single school of historiographical thought, which essentially presents theory as evidence (cf. Lustik 1996). Hence, throughout my discussions of US foreign policymaking (in both Chapters 4 and 5), I draw on an array of scholars from different historiographical traditions.

[34] See Anievas (2014: 625-627).

[35] Quoting in part Rosenberg (1996, 12) who is referring to post-1945 US foreign policies.

[36] For an outline of such an analysis, see the extended version of this reply and Anievas 2015.


2 thoughts on “Deciphering ‘The International’ in History and Theory

  1. I’d be interested to know whether the extended version of this reply, with full references (rather than the abbreviated ones here), is available online. (Thanks.)


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