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 ‘homology’ and ‘inter-systemic’ conflict as opposed analyses of two different ‘schools’ is to confuse the fact that both views can be (although need not be) compatible with each other. In my own view there have certainly been inter-systemic conflicts which at a certain point (and in a concrete historical process) became systematized—perhaps after 1948?—giving rise to a state of cold war as itself a ‘self reproducing’ dynamic condition. As I said in my banned Dimbleby Lecture, ‘Beyond the Cold War’ (1981), the Cold War ‘is about itself’. Borrowing Pasternak’s words, I argued that the Cold War should be seen as ‘the consequences of consequences’; it had ‘broken free from the occasions at its origin, and has acquired an independent inertial thrust of its own.’ But in so far as the Cold War became itself a ‘system’ (Halliday’s term and not mine), it need not utterly dissolve prior inter-systemic rivalries, but may incorporate these as part of the very driving force of ideological incitements. So Halliday’s ‘schools’ are spurious, and we are back with the need for more precise (and also more empirically informed) analysis.

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.’

But I and most of my colleagues in ‘school three’—and in the non-aligned peace movement—never predicted the end of the Cold War in a ‘convergence of two systems’, nor even (except as an interim detente) as a negotiated truce between the antagonists. Indeed the stasis of the Cold War itself relied on a kind of non-dialectical ‘convergence’ of opposites, who played according to the same rules. We worked for the displacement of the Cold War by altogether new systems of international relations, the breakdown of bipolar confrontation. By proposing the problem in the way that he does, and by glossing our interpretative vocabulary to suit his own ends, Halliday predicates precisely the conclusions he wishes to reach. If we talk about ‘homology’ and a cold war ‘system’ (his terms) we may be predisposed to reach his conclusions; if we talk about ‘reciprocity’, ‘inertial thrust’, ‘self-reproducing dynamic’, then we are talking about a real historical process and not categoric ‘systems’, and the events of the autumn of 1989 may then be seen both as a conclusion to one historical era and the initiation of another. In a logic of reciprocal interaction, if one side withdraws it may have profound effects upon the other, just as the wrestler who suddenly loses an antagonist may fall to the ground.

Secondly, is it not time for me to withdraw my theses about ‘exterminism’? Several critics have found these to be overdrawn, and suggest them to have been disproved by events post-1985. In the sense that I allowed in the suggestion that ‘exterminism’ was a determined historical process, some of the criticisms are just.footnote4 But I should add that this essay was written early in 1980, before a mass peace movement had arisen, and indeed that its bleak and intransigent tone was influenced by this fact and by my desire to challenge what I supposed to be a political ‘immobilism’ among sophisticated Western Marxists. Of greater significance is the fact that the exterminism theses were put forward as the negative theses, whose positive alternatives were set forth in my ‘Beyond the Cold War’ lecture of 1981.footnote5 This lecture never received the attention that ‘exterminism’ did—least of all in Marxist circles—and yet, looking back from 1990, it may appear to be more prescient and, indeed, to offer a script which prefigures the events of autumn 1989.