Comrades, we need a cogent theoretical and class analysis of the present war crisis.footnote Yes. But to structure an analysis in a consecutive rational manner may be, at the same time, to impose a consequential rationalityfootnote1 upon the object of analysis. What if the object is irrational? What if events are being willed by no single causative historical logic (‘the increasingly aggressive military posture of world imperialism’, etc.)—a logic which then may be analysed in terms of origins, intentions or goals, contradictions or conjunctures—but are simply the product of a messy inertia? This inertia may have drifted down to us as a collocation of fragmented forces (political and military formations, ideological imperatives, weapons technologies): or, rather, as two antagonistic collocations of such fragments, interlocked by their oppositions? What we endure in the present is historically-formed, and to that degree subject to rational analysis: but it exists now as a critical mass on the point of irrational detonation. Detonation might be triggered by accident, miscalculation, by the implacable upwards creep of weapons technology, or by a sudden hot flush of ideological passion.footnote2 If we drill all this in too tidy a logical formation we will be unprepared for the irrationality of the event. Twenty-one years ago, in the forerunner to this journal, Peter Sedgwick (addressing the arguments of a different moment) alerted us to this irrationality: ‘A conspiracy theory was implicit in all analysis produced from within the Stalinist orbit. “The ruling circles of the United States” were “bending all their efforts to prepare a new war”, “fresh plans of aggression” being constantly prepared by these very circles. A criminal foresight was thus ascribed to the enemy, in a manner both implausible and alien to Marxist categories. What Wright Mills calls “the drift and thrust towards World War Three” is indeed to be ascribed to the existence of oligarchic and military ruling classes (whose distribution over the continents of the globe is, incidentally, somewhat more widespread than the Partisans of Peace ever hinted). But the danger of war arises, not from conscious planning on the part of the élites . . . If this were so, we could all sleep safely, for the “ruling circles” would hardly be likely to plot their own annihilation . . . War is possible as the outcome of policies initiated by these irresponsible minorities, as the final unforeseen link in a causal chain forged at each stage by the previous choice of some ruling class. World War Three could burst out as “something that no one willed”; the resultant of competing configurations of social forces . . . If Man is ever obliterated from the earth by means of his own armaments, there will be no simple answer to the question: Did he fall, or was he pushed?’footnote3

Twenty-one years on, and the immediacy of this question, as well as the political demands of the moment, break up the mind. I can offer no more than notes, fragments of an argument. Some fragments must take the form of questions, addressed to the immobilism of the Marxist Left.

A swift caricature of whatever theory underlies this immobilism would run like this. It is in stance a priori: the increasingly-expert literature on weaponry, militarism, and in peace research remains unread.footnote4 It is informed by a subliminal teleology: history must move through its pre-programmed stages, do what men will, and we may refuse, with religiose optimism, Marx’s grimmer option: ‘the mutual ruin of the contending classes.’ It confuses origins with consequences. And it confides in an anthropomorphic interpretation of political, economic and military formations, to which are attributed intentions and goals. Since the ‘cause’ of the Cold War is commonly ascribed solely to the evil will of ‘imperialism’, it then becomes possible to analyse events in terms of imperialism’s supposed rationality (however malevolent these reasons) rather than in terms of the irrational outcome of colliding formations and wills.

In its story-line it goes something like this. The original, and also the replicating, cause of Cold War lies in the drives of world imperialism. These drives are then analysed, with attention to Africa, South-East Asia, Latin America, and with a peroration about the Middle East and oil. China is invoked as part of the revolutionary heritage: its inconvenient diplomatic and military postures are then forgotten.footnote5 Europe is passed over without analysis, except in its accessory role in world imperialism. State socialism, however ‘deformed’ (and here Marxists of different persuasions offer different grade-marks for deformity), has a military posture which is ‘overwhelmingly defensive’. This can be confirmed by an a priori exercise, through a brief attention to differing modes of production and social systems: the capitalist mode is motivated by the drive for profit and for new fields of exploitation, whereas the arms race imposes an unwelcome burden upon socialist states (however deformed) by diverting resources from socialist construction.

As for the Bomb, that is a Thing, and a Thing cannot be a historical agent. Preoccupation with the horrors of an imaginary nuclear war is diversionary (did not the Vietcong call that bluff?), and it leads to hideous heresies, such as ‘neutralism’, ‘pacifism’, and to utter confusion in the class struggle. cnd exemplified such capitulations to moralism and ‘pacifism’, which is why it ‘failed’. Meanwhile, the antiimperialist struggle prospers in the Third World (Vietnam, Angola, Iran, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe), and eventually it will be carried thence to the ‘barbarians’ in the capitalist heartlands.footnote6 The best that these barbarians can do, while they wait, is to engage in frontal class confrontation until the capitalist economies begin to buckle.

But there might be other ways to situate our analysis. We would examine, less origins, than the consequences of consequences. We would attend with care to military technology, strategy and formations. We would confront the possibility of war with a controlled pessimism of the intellect. We would read the immediate past as the irrational outcome of a collision of wills, and we would expect the immediate future to enlarge that irrationality.

I can only glimpse the story-line that this might give us. But it would, I think, replace Europe, and, at a short remove, China, at the centre of the story. It would start from the us–ussr polarization, and, by extension, the ussr–China–us triangle. What is known as the ‘Cold War’ is the central human fracture, the absolute pole of power, the fulcrum upon which power turns, in the world. This is the field-of-force which engenders armies, diplomacies and ideologies, which imposes client relationships upon lesser powers and exports arms and militarisms to the periphery.