Richard Saull: The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics.

Author:Callaghan, John
Position:Book review

Richard Saull

The Cold War and After: Capitalism, Revolution and Superpower Politics

Pluto Press, 2007, 257 pp.

ISBN: 0-7453-2094-5 (pbk) 22.50 [pounds sterling]

This book begins by challenging the consensus on Cold War politics in four ways. First, it proposes a period of 1917-91--the short twentieth century--rather than that of 1947-91. Second, it explains superpower conflict primarily as a clash of socioeconomic systems. Third, it suggests that this global social conflict was related to revolutionary and communist movements which themselves derived from uneven capitalist development. And finally, rather than its having had one dramatic ending, the Cold War is taken to have had several, as the challenge of communism was defeated at different times in different arenas. The book tries to connect strategic/military realities with the socioeconomic and the ideological by showing how military power and geopolitical relations were related to the contrasting socioeconomic and ideological structures of the contending states. Saull acknowledges his debt to Isaac Deutscher and Fred Halliday in taking this approach, while distancing himself from aspects of their arguments.

In my view, he is right to see aspects of the Cold War in the years 1917-45. Beginning with the armed intervention in support of the Russian 'Whites' in 1918 and continuing up to the opening of the Second World War, British diplomacy played a leading role in this struggle, conscious as it was of the global threat posed by the spread of the Bolshevik virus (as in imperial India). Fascism, which arose in the same anti-Communist context, was looked upon more kindly (in Italy and Spain, for example) by the British state until the Third Reich's ambitions were belatedly understood in 1939.

Saull makes the connection between this international hostility towards the USSR and the emergence of social and political movements inspired by it. Sometimes these were Communist Parties, but they could also be radical nationalist movements completely autonomous of the USSR or other forces, mixing socialist and nationalist ideologies with other beliefs, as did Sarekat Islam in Indonesia. They played an autonomous role in the Cold War because even the Communist Parties (China, Indo-China, Yugoslavia and Greece, for example) were never wholly subordinate to the Soviet Union (nor were their prospects wholly dependent upon it), but were always subject to the waxing and waning of local struggles, crises...

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