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When the whip comes down: Marxism, the Soviet experience, and the nuclear revolution

  • Campbell Craig (a1)

Abstract

This article examines the conflict between traditional Marxist attitudes toward war and the problem of the nuclear revolution. It shows how the advent of the nuclear revolution in the 1950s undermined traditional Marxist-Leninist concepts of war, and then goes on to argue that this development must be placed at the centre of contemporary Marxian IR if it is to have explanatory power in the twenty-first century. To make this case directly, it engages with Justin Rosenberg’s revival of Trotsky’s idea of uneven and combined development and its subsidiary law of ‘the whip of external necessity’, and argues that the whip can remain salient today only if one accepts the political utility of nuclear war. The impasse created by the nuclear revolution, it concludes, points Marxist IR in the direction of classic Marxist visions of supranationalism and human unity.

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1 Justin Rosenberg engages closely with Waltz’s defensive realism in ‘ Waltz, Kenneth and Trotsky, Leon: Anarchy in the mirror of uneven and combined development’, International Politics, 50:2 (2013), pp. 183230 . More thorough reference to Rosenberg’s writings and other work on UCD can be found in Section II. For a version of structural realism that does seek to explain relentless competition in terms of security, see Mearsheimer, John, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: Norton, 2001).

2 On this point, see especially Davenport, Andrew, ‘Marxism in IR: Condemned to a realist fate?’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:1 (2013), pp. 2748 .

3 Marxists in the West have of course criticised the nuclear problem in political idealist terms, but rarely in the analytical and theoretical sense that Rosenberg, and Tolstoy, demand. For larger discussions of Marxist engagements with geopolitics, see Anievas, Alexander, Capital, the State, and War (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2014); Anievas, Alexander, ‘Introduction’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 22:1 (2009), pp. 78 ; Callinicos, Alex, ‘Does capitalism need the state system?’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20:4 (2007), pp. 533549 ; Gallie, W. B., Philosophers of Peace and War: Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels and Tolstoy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979), p. 67 ; Davenport, ‘Marxism in IR’; Kara, Karel, ‘On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, Journal of Peace Research, 5:1 (1968), pp. 127 ; Teschke, Bruno, ‘Geopolitics’, Historical Materialism, 14:1 (2006), pp. 327335 ; and Lacher, Hannes, ‘Making sense of the international system: the promises and pitfalls of contemporary Marxist theories of international relations’, in Mark Rupert and Hazel Smith (eds), Historical Materialism and Globalization (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 147164 .

4 Of course, as Scott Sagan and many others have shown, nuclear war could occur unintentionally, as a result of inadvertence or accident. Indeed, I regard this possibility, at least at present, as the most likely cause of a nuclear war in the contemporary era and a central reason to support radical policies of nuclear war-avoidance. However, the argument here is about the intentional waging of nuclear war – the decision to fight one for perceived ends of national policy. It is this latter kind of decision that serves as the explanandum for Trotsky’s whip of external necessity and indeed attempts to account for war from many IR perspectives.

5 As Stalin said to his interlocutor Milovan Djilas in 1945, the nations devastated by the war will recover in fifteen or twenty years, and ‘then we’ll have another go at it’. Djilas, Milovan, Conversations with Stalin (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962), p. 115 . Also see Wohlforth, William, The Elusive Balance: Power and Perception During the Cold War (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 6265, 82–5.

6 I do not mean to suggest here that Soviet views on war are the last, or only Marxist word on this topic, but that Moscow’s reckoning with the bomb gives us a unique insight into the collision between Marxist conceptions of geopolitics and the nuclear revolution as it played out in the actual practice of international politics. For a defence of this approach, see particularly Humphreys, Adam, ‘The heuristic application of explanatory theories in international relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 17:2 (2011), pp. 257277 .

7 Affinity between the two theories was far more common during the interwar period: see, inter alia, Reinhold, Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Scribners, 1932) and Carr, E. H., The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919–1939 (London: Palgrave, 2016 [orig. pub. 1939]). Also see Joseph, Jonathan, Hegemony: a Realist Analysis (London: Routledge, 2002) and Rosenberg, ‘Kenneth Waltz and Leon Trotsky’.

8 See Craig, Campbell, Glimmer of a New Leviathan: Total War in the Realism of Niebuhr, Morgenthau, and Waltz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003); and Craig, , ‘International Relations theory and the nuclear revolution’ (work in progress).

9 Berki, R. N., ‘On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, World Politics, 24:1 (1971), p. 82 . Also see Davenport, ‘Marxism in IR’, pp. 28–9; Semmel, Bernard, Marxism and the Science of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 1 ; Gallie, , Philosophers of Peace and War, p. 69 ; Light, Margot, The Soviet Theory of International Relations (Brighton: Wheatsheaf, 1988), pp. 210212 ; Teschke, Benno, ‘Marxism’, in Christian Reus-Smit and Duncan Snidal (eds), Oxford Handbook of International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 163187 .

10 Berki, , ‘On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, pp. 8485 ; Callinicos, , ‘Does capitalism need the state system?; Gilbert, Alan, ‘Marx on internationalism and war’, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 7:4 (1978), pp. 346369 ; Gallie, , Philosophers of Peace and War, pp. 68, 7374 .

11 Gilbert, ‘Marx on internationalism and war’; Berki, ‘On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, p. 89.

12 Gallie, , Philosophers of Peace and War, pp. 9092 ; Semmel, , Marxism and the Science of War, p. 6 ; Neumann, Sigmund and Hagen, Mark von, ‘Engels and Marx on revolution, war and the army in society’, in Peter Paret (ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), p. 264 .

13 Neumann and von Hagen, ‘Engels and Marx on revolution’, pp. 268, 272–8.

14 Gallie, Philosophers of Peace and War, p. 90; Anievas, Capital, the State, and War, pp. 41–2.

15 Gallie, , Philosophers of Peace and War, p. 69 ; Neumann, and von Hagen, , ‘Engels and Marx on revolution’, p. 269; Semmel, , Marxism and the Science of War, pp. 13, 153156 .

16 Trotsky, Leon, The History of the Russian Revolution, Volume I: The Overthrow of Tsarism (New York: Pathfinder, 1980), p. 28 .

17 Knei-Paz, Baruch, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 89 .

18 On this point, see especially Thatcher, Ian, ‘Uneven and combined development’, Revolutionary Russia, 4:2 (1991), pp. 246249 .

19 Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, pp. 212–14; Semmel, Marxism and the Science of War, p. 7. Also see Kara, 'On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, p. 5

20 Quoted in Semmel, Marxism and the Science of War, p. 16. Also see Gallie, Philosophers of Peace and War, p. 96, and Kara, 'On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, p. 15.

21 Claims that Lenin foresaw, and advocated, a ‘peaceful coexistence’ with the West are thus overdrawn. Lenin spoke about coexistence, but only as a temporary expedient, in opposition to demands for immediate revolution: he did not believe that the ultimate victory over capitalism could come about peacefully. See Kara, ‘On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, p. 20; Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, p. 31; also Roberts, Geoffrey, Molotov: Stalin’s Cold Warrior (Sterling, VA: Potomac Books, 2011). I am grateful to Alex Anievas for his comments on this matter.

22 Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, pp. 32–3, 215.

23 Ibid., p. 37.

24 Quoted in Kara, 'On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, fn. 38; also see Semmel, Marxism and the Science of War, p. 273; Kara, 'On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, pp. 19–20; and Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, pp. 15, 215–16.

25 Stalin originally made this statement in part one of Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR (Moscow: International, 1952). Karel Kara, writing from an official (Brezhnev-era) Soviet Bloc perspective, pointed out in ‘On the Marxist theory of war and peace’ (p. 21) that Stalin ‘failed to appreciate the new situation as it had evolved in the post-war period, especially due to the invention of thermonuclear weapons and the changing situation in the world’.

26 On the nuclear revolution, see Jervis, Robert, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989); Deudney, Daniel, ‘Nuclear weapons and the waning of the Real-state’, Daedalus, 124:2 (1995), pp. 209231 ; and Schell, Jonathan, The Fate of the Earth (New York: Knopf, 1982).

27 Quoted in Taubman, William, Khrushchev: the Man and his Era (New York: Norton, 2004), p. 266 .

28 Margot Light summarises Molotov’s view: peace allows the building of socialism, but ‘it must also delay international revolution. If war exposes and aggravates the endemic conflict within bourgeois society … it is only logical to suppose that peace must delay this process which promotes the speedier establishment of socialism’. Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, pp. 39–40. For a contrasting view of Molotov, see Roberts, Molotov: Stalin’s Cold Warrior.

29 Quoted in David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 336.

30 Quoted in Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, pp. 46–7.

31 See Kara, ‘On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, fn. 34.

32 Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, p. 49.

33 See Semmel, Marxism and the Science of War, pp 30–3; Radchenko, Sergey, Two Suns in the Heavens (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2009), pp. 6467 . The American response to the nuclear revolution was eerily similar to the Soviet one. The US president Dwight Eisenhower reached identical conclusions to those of Khrushchev about the absurdity of major war at precisely the same time, and adopted a (secret) policy of war avoidance just as Khrushchev did. This policy, eventually adopted by his successor Kennedy, John F., was later denounced by US military and political hard-liners for their own political and economic advancement – just as was the case in the USSR. See Semmel, Marxism and the Science of War ; Craig, Campbell and Logevall, Fredrik, America’s Cold War: the Politics of Insecurity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009), ch. 5.

34 Kara, ‘On the Marxist theory of war and peace’, p. 22.

35 Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations, p. 68.

36 On this point, see especially Waltz, Kenneth, ‘Nuclear myths and political realities’, American Political Science Review, 84:3 (1990), pp. 731745 .

37 See Naftali, Timothy and Fursenko, Aleksandr, Khrushchev’s Cold War (New York: Norton, 2006), pp. 243248 ; also see Westad, Odd Arne, The Global Cold War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), ch. 2.

38 Attaining a bomb initially, of course, can be very expensive, especially for poor states. But once a nation goes nuclear, its weapons can provide it with a relatively effective and inexpensive form of defence, should it choose to rely upon a basic retaliatory arsenal, because it need not race to keep up with its rivals as pre-nuclear great powers did. This fact is precisely what led Khrushchev to favour a basic arsenal in the late 1950s, and Chinese leaders to do the same since the 1960s. For a thorough analysis, see Monteiro, Nuno and Debs, Alexandre, Nuclear Politics: the Strategic Causes of Proliferation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

39 See particularly Rosenberg, Justin, ‘Why is there no international historical sociology?’, European Journal of International Relations, 12:3 (2006), pp. 307340 and Rosenberg, ‘ Waltz, Kenneth and Trotsky, Leon’. Also see his ‘The philosophical premises of uneven and combined development’, Review of International Studies, 39:3 (2013), pp. 569597 ; Davidson, Neil, ‘Putting the nation back into “the international”’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 22:1 (2009), pp. 928 ; Davidson, Neil, ‘Uneven and combined development: Modernity, modernism, revolution’, revolutionary reflections, 21 (3 February 2017), available at: {https://rs21.org.uk/2017/02/03/revolutionary-reflections-uneven-and-combined-development-modernity-modernism-revolution-1-the-classic-forms-of-uneven-and-combined-development/ }; Allinson, Jamie and Anievas, Alexander, ‘The uses and misuses of uneven and combined development: an anatomy of a concept’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 22:1 (2009), pp. 4767 ; and Thatcher, , ‘Uneven and combined development.

40 On historical backwardness, see Thatcher, , ‘Uneven and combined development’ ; Davidson, , ‘Putting the nation back into “the international”; Rosenberg, , ‘Why is there no international historical sociology?’, p. 325 ; Rosenberg, , ‘Kenneth Waltz and Leon Trotsky’, pp. 200203 ; Selwyn, Benjamin, ‘Trotsky, Gerschenkron, and the political economy of late capitalist development’, Economy and Society, 40:3 (2011), pp. 421450 ; and Gerschenkron, Alexander, Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962).

41 Rosenberg, ‘The philosophical premises of uneven and combined development’, p. 585.

42 Rosenberg, 'Kenneth Waltz and Leon Trotsky’, pp. 195–6, 199; Knei-Paz, The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, pp. 90–4; Davidson, 'Uneven and combined development’.

43 Allinson, James , ‘The Social Origins of Alliances: Uneven and Combined Development and the Case of Jordan 1955–57’ (PhD thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2012), p. 61.

44 Anievas, Capital, the State, and War.

45 See Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb and Campbell Craig and Sergey Radchenko, The Atomic Bomb and the Origins of the Cold War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), ch. 6.

46 Thatcher, , ‘Uneven and combined development’, pp. 238242 ; Rosenberg, , ‘The philosophical premises of uneven and combined development’, pp. 587592 ; Allinson, , ‘The Social Origins of Alliances’, pp. 6263 .

47 Rosenberg, ‘Kenneth Waltz and Leon Trotsky’, pp. 205–24.

48 Rosenberg, ‘The philosophical premises of uneven and combined development’, pp. 593–4.

49 For broader arguments about these effects throughout the Cold War, see Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution and Craig, Campbell, ‘The nuclear revolution: a product of the Cold War, or something more?’, in Richard Immerman and Petra Goedde (eds), Oxford Handbook on the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 360375 . Whether the spectre of nuclear destruction will always deter states from war remains a crucial question, even for scholars who otherwise basically agree with the logic of the nuclear revolution. On this point, see especially Ritchie, Nick, ‘Valuing and devaluing nuclear weapons’, Contemporary Security Policy, 34:1 (2013), pp. 146173. On the unusual state of contemporary scholarship about this problem, see Pelopidas, Benoit, ‘Nuclear weapons scholarship as a case of self-censorship in security studies’, Journal of Global Security Studies, 1:4 (2016), pp. 326336 .

50 On this point, see Craig, Campbell, ‘American power preponderance and the nuclear revolution’, Review of International Studies, 35:1 (2009), pp. 2744 ; Monteiro, Nuno, Theory of Unipolar Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014); and Monteiro and Simone Paci, ‘Sharing the Burden: Unipolarity, Nuclear Weapons, and World Government’, unpublished manuscript. Whether ‘extended deterrence’ reliably provides security to non-nuclear states allied to nuclear powers is a long-standing question; see, for example, Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, chs 2–5. The point here is that states such as Germany, Japan, South Korea, and many others have chosen to rely on it rather than racing to build modern weaponry as the whip of external necessity would predict.

51 See Goldstein, Avery, Deterrence and Security in the 21 st Century: China, Britain, France and the Enduring Legacy of the Nuclear Revolution (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000); Glaser, Charles and Fetter, Steve, ‘Should the United States reject MAD? Damage limitation and U.S. nuclear strategy toward China’, International Security, 41:1 (2016), pp. 4998 .

52 Again, this argument applies primarily to large states which have a long-standing nuclear infrastructure; maintaining a basic deterrent for them is relatively inexpensive, compared to the constant conventional arms racing and deployment of large standing armies which many European states fearful of the whip spent enormous proportions of their budgets on before 1945. For less developed states like Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran, the initial acquisition of the bomb is very expensive indeed.

53 Craig, ‘American power preponderance and the nuclear revolution’; Monteiro, Theory of Unipolar Politics; Cunningham, Fiona and Taylor Fravel, M., ‘Assuring assured retaliation: China’s nuclear posture and U.S.-China strategic stability’, International Security, 40:2 (2015), pp. 750 .

54 For a thorough repudiation of them, see Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, The Myth of the Nuclear Revolution, forthcoming.

55 Other recent work on nuclear strategy includes Lieber, Keir and Press, Daryl, ‘The end of MAD? The nuclear dimension of US primacy’, International Security, 30:4 (2006), pp. 744 ; Lieber, Keir and Press, Daryl, ‘The new era of nuclear weapons, deterrence and conflict’, Strategic Studies Quarterly, 7:1 (2013), pp. 312 ; Kroenig, Matthew, ‘Nuclear superiority and the balance of resolve: Explaining nuclear crisis outcomes’, International Organization, 67:1 (2013), pp. 141171 ; Kroenig, Matthew, ‘Facing reality: Getting NATO ready for a new Cold War’, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 57:1 (2015), pp. 4970 ; Long, Austin and Rittenhouse-Green, Brendan, ‘Stalking the secure second strike: Intelligence, counterforce, and nuclear strategy’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 38:1–2 (2015), pp. 3873 .

56 Nuno Monteiro, in his 2014 book Theory of Unipolar Politics, argues precisely that the United States ought to maintain this static geopolitical order for the sake of international peace and stability (that is, nuclear war-avoidance) even at the price of its economic preponderance.

57 On this point, see especially Light, The Soviet Theory of International Relations.

58 For a cogent critique, see Harrington, Anne, ‘Power, violence, and nuclear weapons’, Critical Studies on Security, 4:1 (2016), pp. 91112 .

59 A third alternative would be a continuation of the interstate order in which nuclear weapons become devalued and obsolete – see, inter alia, Ritchie, , ‘Valuing and devaluing nuclear weapons’ and Jacques Hymans, ‘The threat of nuclear proliferation: Perception and reality’, Ethics and International Affairs, 27:3 (2013), pp. 281298 . While I personally doubt that this can happen, the more germane point is that the materialist logic of UCD and the whip of external necessity cannot be readily answered by constructivist arguments for obsolescence. For a more materialist argument on nuclear weapons from a constructivist scholar, see Wendt, Alexander, ‘Why a world state is inevitable’, European Journal of International Relations, 9:4 (2003), pp. 491542 .

60 UCD of course could still be used effectively to explain prenuclear international politics. On this point, see Davenport, ‘Marxism in IR’, p. 33.

61 Berki, ‘On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, p. 73.

62 See Davenport, ‘Marxism in IR’, pp. 31–3 and Morton, Adam, ‘Disputing the geopolitics of the states system and global capitalism’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20:4 (2007), pp. 599617 .

63 Berki, , ‘On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, pp. 8283 .

64 See Waltz, Kenneth, Man, the State and War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959), ch. 5. As I understand it, Rosenberg in his path-breaking book, The Empire of Civil Society (London: Verson, 1994) made exactly this point.

65 Berki, 'On Marxian thought and the problem of international relations’, p. 101, emphasis in original. See also Anievas, Capital, the State, and War, p. 38.

66 Davenport, ‘Marxism in IR’, pp. 33, 40. See also Lawson, George, ‘Rosenberg’s ode to Bauer, Kinkel and Willich’, International Politics, 42:3 (2005), pp. 381389 .

67 The ultimate implication here, of course, is that Realists are ‘comfortable with’ the anarchical interstate order they see as immutable culminating sooner or later in a global nuclear war. Because they are actually not comfortable with that, many Realists search for normative solutions to that problem that quietly point at a ‘global subject’, even if they do not admit this. See Pelopidas, ‘Nuclear weapons scholarship’; Craig, Campbell, Glimmer of a New Leviathan: Total War in the Realism of Niebuhr, Morgenthau and Waltz (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), ch. 7 and Scheuerman, William, The Realist Case for Global Reform (Cambridge: Polity, 2011).

68 For a spirited recent debate on this very question, see Schulman, Jason (ed.), Rosa Luxemburg: her Life and Legacy (New York: Palgrave, 2013).

69 Alexander Wendt argues that other global social goods, including cultural pluralism and democracy, depend equally on the demise of interstate anarchy. See Wendt, ‘Why a World State is Democratically Necessary’ and ‘Sovereignty and the World State’ (video), both available at: {http://wgresearch.org/}. For a Marxian case that such goods depend upon the preservation of the interstate order, and indeed on the expansion of pluralism, see Mouffe, Chantal, On the Political (London: Routledge, 2005).

70 For comparable analysis from non-Marxist perspectives, see Beardsworth, Richard, Cosmopolitanism and International Relations Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 2011); Wendt, , ‘Why a world state is inevitable; and Deudney, Daniel, Bounding Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

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