While I sympathize with Fred Halliday’s intentions in his article on ‘The Ends of Cold War’,footnote1 I must disagree sharply both with its method and execution. No doubt he has been trapped by the pressure to make instant commentary (his lecture on the events of October to December 1989 in Central and Eastern Europe was delivered on 5 March 1990, and presumably written in February), and others (including myself) who were persuaded to commit ourselves too hastily to print may be criticized with equal force. But let us look at the difficulties and also at the silences and theoretical refusals of Halliday’s text.
First, in the interest of clarification, I must contest Halliday’s simplistic description of four ‘schools’ of analysis of the Cold War: one, conventional and ‘realist’; two, liberal and preoccupied with contingencies; and a third school, with which I am associated, along with Mary Kaldor, Michael Cox, Noam Chomsky and Andre Gunder Frank (a somewhat disparate group), which is supposed to argue that ‘the appearance of inter-bloc or inter-systemic conflict masked a homology, with both sides using, and benefiting from, the contest within their own domains of domination. . .For them cold war is itself a “system”, rather than a competition between two systems.’ And there is a fourth school, which is Fred Halliday’s, which analysed (and analyses) the Cold War in terms of its ‘inter-systemic character’, the fact that it expressed the rivalry of two different social, economic and political systems.’
This clumpish grouping of ‘schools’, which are then glossed not in their own language but in Halliday’s, is an imprecise method of intellectual argument. We have had too much of this overconfident sorting into supposed ‘positions’ in the past two decades. I have never used the term ‘homology’ in my life and I am not sure what it means. The term which I used several times, both in an article on ‘Exterminism’ in these pages,footnote2 and in response to critics subsequently,footnote3 was ‘reciprocal’ and ‘reciprocity’. This disclosed not a categorical definition but a historical process of mutual formation: reciprocity (and mutual incitement) in weaponry, ideological hostilities, internal security, control of satellites and client states, and so forth.
There are good reasons why this clarification matters. To arrange a
Halliday supposes that the events of recent months have settled the argument on his side. He does not tell us exactly what his two ‘systems’ are, except that one is capitalism and the other is not-capitalism. He cannot now use socialism or communism without embarrassment, but his major categorical revision of the other system is to place ‘communism’ in quotation marks. His article is a ‘claim that 1989 has been the test of theories of cold war.’ And he asserts triumphantly that ‘the jury is no longer out’, since the autumn 1989 events prove that the ‘end’ (that is, aim) of cold war was ‘systematic homogeneity and the target the socio-economic and political character of the core states of each bloc.’ He returns to this argument on page 12 and his position should be inspected with care: ‘For the end of the Cold War. . .and the prevailing climate of detente in Europe and most of the Third World, are being achieved not on the basis of a convergence of the two systems or of a negotiated truce between them, but on the basis of the collapse of one in the face of the other. This means nothing less than the defeat of the communist project as it has been known in the twentieth century and the triumph of the capitalist. This is so evidently the case that it provides retrospective validation of the inter-systemic interpretation of the Cold War.’ Or, as he writes later (notice again the coy quotation marks), ‘to speak in the language of “old thinking”, what we are now witnessing is class struggle on an international scale, as the superior strength of Western capitalism forces open the societies partially closed to it for four or more decades.’