• Slider Image

‘Doubt Everything’: An Interview on the State of Marxist History with Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs, Part I

Ewan Gibbs (left) and Vijay Prashad (right). Source: Authors

This is the first of a two-part interview with Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs on the state of Marxist history today. The second part, on the role of the Marxist historian and the challenge of post-modernism, will be published next week.

When I planned it initially, this interview was designed to highlight the differences of thought between two Marxist historians, each focused on radically different parts of the world, with one more experienced colleague and one exciting prospect for the future. In effect, I sought to highlight how differences in circumstance might lead to diverging interpretations of theory.

What struck me as I compiled and edited this interview, however, was not divergence, but harmony. Of course, there are differing opinions in the interview which follows, but two shared and salient themes emerge. The first is the desire among Marxist historians to constantly expand our horizons, incorporating new techniques and ideas to strengthen our analysis. The second is more cautionary. It is a profound scepticism of the elimination of meta-narratives from history. While specialisation brings welcome depth to our discipline, it must not do so at the expense of the broader picture.

I am extremely grateful to both Vijay Prashad and Ewan Gibbs for devoting their time to this interview. It was conducted by email over a number of months and their stimulating dialogue challenged many of the presumptions I had when commencing the project. I hope that readers will enjoy the interview and reflect on what it might teach us, not just as Marxists, but as historians more generally. I hope more broadly that readers of the Toynbee Prize Foundation website who may not consider themselves Marxists are able to identify with the themes of this interview: the importance of embracing new methods and ideas; the salience of global histories; the need to challenge institutional assumptions within our discipline.

Vijay Prashad is the Executive Director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He is the author of twenty-five books and the editor of twenty others. His most recent book is Red Star Over the Third World, a study of the impact of the 1917 October Revolution on the anti-colonial movements and on the post-colonial states. He writes regularly for Frontline and The Hindu (India), BirGün (Turkey) and Alternet (USA).

Ewan Gibbs lectures in sociology and social policy at the University of the West of Scotland. He was awarded a PhD in 2016 for a study of deindustrialization in the Scottish coalfields. Ewan has published on the moral economy of Scottish colliery closures,  the poll tax non-payment movement, policy-making and the idea of a Scottish ‘industrial nation’, and on the intellectual origins of ‘left-wing’ Scottish nationalism.

Dexter Govan (University of Cambridge)

Conference Report: Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present (University College London, 16-17 February 2018).

On the 16th and 17th of February 2018, the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at University College London (UCL) hosted an international workshop on “Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present”. Organized by Dr. Philippa Hetherington (UCL) with the generous support of the British Academy for Arts and Sciences and Pushkin House, the workshop was dedicated to the history of legal issues in Russia from the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation. The workshop lasted for two days and consisted of 6 panels and a total of 14 speakers. It united historians with legal scholars, which provided a rich basis for discussions of issues of legality at various points in Russian history.

CFP: Protest and Dissent: An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Conference (Vienna, December 1-2, 2018)

Protest and dissent: an inclusive interdisciplinary conference Saturday 1st December 2018 – Sunday 2nd December 2018 Vienna, Austria The 21st century has seen a resurgence in protest movements and political dissent around the world. Some of these have been multi-national – for example Occupy, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo – whereas others have had more…

Echoes of Weimar in American Cold War Politics: An Interview with Daniel Bessner

Credit: Cornell University Press

In Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual (Cornell University Press, 2018), Daniel Bessner tells the story of a previously little-known German sociologist who changed the way we think about the role of intellectuals in American public policy-making. Born into a conservative Lutheran family, Hans Speier turned to Marxism during the early Weimar years. As a student of Karl Mannheim, he spent the 1920s trying to implement a social democratic version of his teacher’s political-pedagogical vision. To this end, Speier worked as a lecturer at the Hochschule für Politik, a college of worker’s education. With the rise of Nazism, Speier’s infatuation with Marxist theory, socialism, and the people waned. Democracy, after all, had put Hitler in charge. When Speier moved to America, he brought the trauma of the crisis of Weimar with him.

For Speier, this crisis was the result of excessive trust placed in an inherently untrustworthy demos. He consequently advocated expert governance as an alternative to broad-based popular rule. Calling on émigré intellectuals to actively involve themselves in American politics, Speier himself went on to occupy important positions during World War II as part of the Foreign Broadcast Intelligence Service and the Office of War Information. He subsequently moved to the head of the newly founded Social Science Division at the Air Force-funded RAND Corporation. From there he advised the U.S. government on questions of propaganda and psychological warfare. To defend democracy against both Nazis and Soviets, Speier argued, the United States had to become more authoritarian. In this way, Speier’s story traces the rise of the American “defense intellectual” as well as the emergence of what has come to be known as the U.S. “military-intellectual complex.”

Katharina Isabel Schmidt

What We’re Reading This Week

The raising of an Indonesian flag alongside a United Nations flag in West Papua (1962).

LOTTE HOUWINK TEN CATE

Sarah Jaffe, “The Factory in the Family,” The Nation.

Peter Slezkine, “What Happened to the ‘Free World’,” The New Republic.

Sarah Stoller, “Forging a Politics of Care,” History Workshop.

ADEN KNAAP

Karuna Mantena, “Getting the NIEO Right,” Law and Political Economy Blog.

Terence Renaud, “The Socialist Minimum,” H-Diplo.

Thomas Maddux and Diane Labrosse, “Roundtable Review of Benjamin Allen Coates, Legalist Empire,” H-Diplo.

TIGER ZHIFU LI

Kevin Rudd, “How Xi Jinping Views the World,” Foreign Affairs.

“Q&A with Melanie Oppenheimer,” Australian Historical Association.

Simon Draper, “Selling NZ to India,” Stuff.

Emma Kluge, “Women and Decolonization Event,” History Matters Blog.

CFP: Colonial Cities in Global Perspective (Saint-Louis, Senegal, December 10-12, 2018)

The Global History Network, the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, the Foundation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris, and the Institute of Advanced Study in Saint-Louis, seek papers for a conference on Colonial Cities in Global Perspective, to be held in Saint-Louis, Senegal, from December 10-12, 2018. For over four centuries, the colonial city served as…