Despite the evident disagreements between us, and a certain measure of misunderstanding, I find Edward Thompson’s comment welcome and stimulating. The overriding issues that confront us all concern the future, on which, as he himself makes clear, there is far more that unites than divides us. There are, however, a number of points he raises where some dissenting reply may be in order. These are: the interpretation of his argument on exterminism; the evaluation of European events over the last few months; the role of the peace movement; the plausibility of a ‘third way’.

Thompson disputes my division of theories of cold war into four broad schools and in particular my inclusion of his ‘exterminism’ thesis in what I term the internalist school, that is one which sees the Cold War as a product of comparable forces operating within the two blocs, forces for whom the Cold War is in varying respects functional. As I argued in nlr 180 and in The Making of the Second Cold War, no one can deny the force of internal factors within the two blocs, but on its own such an argument is misleading in two respects: (1) it under-states the degree of contestation and rivalry between the blocs—that is, the degree to which each remained committed to prevailing over the other; (2) it overstates how similar the structures were within each bloc, and in so doing failed to see how far Cold War was a product of the very difference, the heterogeneity of socio-economic systems, between them. I do not think, as he seems to do, that the ideological element in East–West relations was separate from the material interests involved.

Thompson may not like the word ‘homology’ but it is in meaning very similar to the equally un-Anglo-Saxon term ‘isomorphism’ which appears liberally in his exterminism essay. Both denote a similarity or identity of structure. ‘Homology’ is the best I can do to denote the argument that the sources of the Cold War are similar within the two blocs, and that, in his case, these sources are to be found in a military–social dynamic which he terms ‘exterminism’. The category ‘reciprocity’ as he explains it in his comment seems to bear this interpretation out: that the Cold War was driven by forces within each bloc that, through reciprocal interaction, more and more came to resemble each other. After all, the central argument of that text is that whatever differences in social system may have underlain the Cold War in its inception, the predominance of the arms race and arms manufacture has produced a similarity: his stress on ‘isomorphism’ was in part designed to rebut traditional and apologetic left arguments about the differences between the capitalist and non-capitalist systems.

Thompson repeats his view that the Cold War is ‘about itself’, and it is this that seems to me to lie at the heart of our disagreement. It was precisely on this point that a number of us, myself and Mike Davis included, sought to provide an alternative interpretation of cold war in the early 1980s based on the view of cold war as an inter-systemic conflict—that is, a global, ultimately irreconcilable, conflict between two different kinds of society and political system, within which the arms race played an important but not determinant role. These differences are not the result of some current rashness; they have been clear for at least eight years: the collection of essays, Exterminism and Cold War, published in 1982, to which Thompson, Davis, myself and several others contributed, was precisely an attempt to debate the arguments of Thompson’s original essay. One of the reasons why the peace movement shied away from this inter-systemic approach was that it sounded rather too much like conventional Cold War ideology—either in its Western, ‘freedom’ versus ‘communism’ variant, or in the orthodox, apologetic, Soviet position of ‘socialism’ versus ‘imperialism’. Thompson tries to shove me back into such a dogmatic left box, but in so doing, it is he who is helping to foreclose an intellectual and political space that the cold warriors also want to keep shut, namely that of seeing in a non-dogmatic way how different social and economic interests on both sides are expressed in and through cold war.

My argument about the events of the past few months is that what has happened is what inter-systemic conflict theory would have suggested: namely that rivalry of the blocs will end once systemic heterogeneity is drastically reduced or disappears. What we have seen is not just a reduction in military tension but a prevailing of one socio-economic system over the other. The collapse of the Communist regimes constitutes precisely such a process, which is still in train, in so far as the West, under the rubric of ‘conditionality’, is making financial and commercial assistance dependent upon the introduction of capitalist reforms in these countries. It should not be surprising that this is the way things are going. This is the way the capitalist system works.