A focus on internal relations without reference to dialectics. Hubris on the role of norm entrepreneurs without recourse to organic intellectuals. Theorising on the state without encountering capitalist state debate. This is how mainstream theorising in political science and International Relations (IR) and International Political Economy (IPE), especially, operates in silencing its more radical Marxist counterparts. This practice of silencing has a long history. My argument in a new article in International Affairs is that such silencing goes to the very origin story of the disciplines of IR and IPE, which I reveal in relation to the themes of class and race.
In 1936, Nikolai Bukharin published an article in the journal Foreign Affairs (formerly the Journal of Race Development) that criticised the ‘childish prattle’ of geopoliticians of the day, principally Rudolf Kjellén. Focusing on themes of territory and space, Bukharin advances a specific focus on the perpetuum mobile of militarism as a special form of capitalist competition. Across his wider writings on imperialism and world economy, it is surely significant that Bukharin also explicitly articulated a structural theory of anarchy formed by the anarchy of the world market and its parts constituted by state forms thereby fusing a focus on military struggle and capital accumulation. Although Kenneth Waltz accords credit to Bukharin for advancing the original notion of interdependence it is puzzling that the anarchical structure of world capitalism is silenced within the structural theory of anarchy evident in Theory of International Politics.
In 1937, C.L.R. James published one of his many classics, World Revolution, 1917-1936. On the turbulence of the inter-war years, this book was swiftly succeeded by The Black Jacobins (1938) and a volume that would become A History of Pan-African Revolt (1938). In World Revolution, C.L.R. James refers to the inter-war period as ‘the most turbulent twenty years in all history’. E.H. Carr’s celebrated classic The Twenty Years’ Crisis was originally published in 1939 but James’ earlier work on world revolution and the twenty years’ crisis is also silenced through omission. This is despite Carr reviewing James’ earlier book on world revolution in International Affairs, in 1937, summarising it as, ‘a dogmatic and controversial, but decidedly useful book, albeit one that exhibits a rather pathetic faith in the salvation of the world by the “Fourth International”’.
How is it that the insights of Nikolai Bukharin and C.L.R. James can be marginalised and silenced within the mid-century self-image of international theory?
My argument is that the anarchic conditions of world order and considerations of world revolution have been mainstreamed at the expense of contributions to Marxist political economy. By extending the methodological approach of juxtaposition—drawing from Juliet Hooker and Ian Bruff—I explore the competing understandings of anarchic orders in Kenneth Waltz and Nikolai Bukharin to disclose, in the latter, a theory of the anarchic structure of world capitalism. Second, the method of juxtaposition enables me to cast attention to the parallel profiles of E.H. Carr and C.L.R. James and their weighty understandings of world revolution to reveal, in the latter, neglected conditions of racial capitalism. In a fresh manner, then, my approach juxtaposes key figures that have been present (Waltz, Carr) and absent (Bukharin, James) in understanding world order through the anarchic structure of the world economy and racial capitalism.
In Silencing the Past, Michel-Rolph Trouillot argues that there are a particular bundle of silences that define narratives of theory and history. Moreover, ‘silences appear in the interstices of the conflicts between previous interpreters’ and there are traces that also reveal the creation of such silences. Silences are inherent in knowledge production, in the making of historical archives and documents, in the retrieval of facts, and in the power of producing retrospective significance. My argument seeks to underscore two coexisting but silenced trajectories within the history of world order on class and racial capitalism through the contributions of Nikolai Bukharin and C.L.R. James. The aim is to deflect attention away from the dominant perspectives of Kenneth Waltz and E.H. Carr towards Marxist theorists that have been previously mainstreamed by these cycles of silences.
A quip once from Carr was that ‘theories die hard and frequently outlive the conditions out of which they arose’. My view is that this point can be cast against theorisations of world order that have become dominant at the expense of excluded and silenced contributions. These two counts of die hard theories are 1) the anarchic theory of world order offered by Waltz and 2) the pathway to political economy and world revolution offered by Carr himself. These two approaches to world order have become mainstreamed at the expense of contributions to Marxist political economy. Hence, these balance-of-power takes can be regarded as imitators of more complex critical theorists, in Bukharin and James.
Finally, my article concludes with a wider set of reflections for debate. Rather than always turning to the mainstream, what if there was a necessarily historical materialist moment in our engagements in international theorising? What about a genuinely Marxist curiosity when addressing some of the existing blind spots in IR and IPE? Can we move beyond criticism in the form of parody when it comes to Marxism? And can all this generate a gate-opening move to Marxism, rather than a gate-keeping move from Marxism, especially on the subject of racial capitalism?