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New Left Review I/162, March-April 1987

Gregory Meiksins

War of the Worlds?

A ‘Tolkien view of the world’, an image of two empires alone on the map ‘engaged in a global military, economic and ideological struggle for control over all the rest of the world’, [1] Frances Fitzgerald, ‘Reflections: The American Millennium’, New Yorker, 11 November 1985, p. 105. seems to reign supreme in the West. On the political Right this view is deliberately cultivated and adroitly utilized for the very practical purpose of legitimizing otherwise questionable military alliances and a dangerous arms race. The lunatic fringe and even some overexcited spokesmen for the establishment sometimes sharpen the image to the extent of proclaiming, as does Alexander Haig, that World War Three is already in progress and has been raging since 1948, ‘in a ceaseless testing of wills and exchange of blood to decide whether the future of mankind will be Marxist-Leninist or otherwise’. ‘The Greek civil war, Korea, the Berlin blockade, the Hungarian uprising, East Berlin, the Cuban revolution, Vietnam, Prague, Afghanistan, and, more recently, the rise of international terrorism and the bloody insurgency in El Salvador, are among the hundreds of skirmishes and battles in this unnamed and unrecognized war.’ [2] Alexander Haig, Caveat: Realism, Reagan and Foreign Policy, New York 1984, p. 27. This view of the world is not, however, confined to the Right. Without the simplistic and apocalyptic vision of Alexander Haig, the Left in the West has produced its own version of a world necessarily polarized into antagonistic camps. ‘The central axis of international conflict lies in the conflictual relations between the usa and the ussr,’ concludes Fred Halliday, [3] Fred Halliday, The Making of the Second Cold War, Verso, London 1983, p. 247. for example, on the strength of an analysis of the world situation and the cold war seen as ‘the response of the major world capitalist power to a constellation of contradictions, within which the two most important were the change in the military balance vis-`-vis the ussr and the success of fourteen Third World revolutions.’ [4] Fred Halliday, ‘The Conjuncture of the Seventies and After: A Reply to Ougaard’, New Left Review 147. Proponents of so-called ‘North–South’ theories, although situating the dynamics of world politics in the conflict ‘between rich and poor nations, between imperial and colonial, dominant and dominated states’, [5] Halliday, p. 26. also fail to break out of the framework of usussr bipolarity as far as the threat of global war is concerned. The conflicts central to their perception of world politics can transcend peripheral bounds and develop into a world war only if and when they are submerged by the major conflict of the superpowers. As to the theory of exterminism, its ‘plague on both your houses’ is, consciously or not, simply a variation on the ‘Tolkien’ theme.

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Gregory Meiksins, ‘War of the Worlds?’, NLR I/162: £3

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