Historical Materialism and International Relations series podcasts

This series of podcasts is taken from the Historical Materialism and International Relations seminar series convened by Alexander Anievas. The seminars are given at 5 pm on Thursdays in Seminar Room C, Department of Politics and International Relations.

The Historical Materialism and International Relations seminar series seeks to explore and develop the multiple points of contact between Marxist theory and international relations, most broadly defined. It does so with the double aim of investigating the critical and explanatory potentials of Marxism in the domain of international relations, as well as to probe what an engagement with ‘the international’ might contribute to Marxist theory. The seminar series is associated with the journal of Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory and its forthcoming ‘Historical Materialism and International Relations’ book series.

For more information, please see the Centre for International Studies website.


Download: (32.4MB)

Fatal Attraction: a critique of Carl Schmitts international political and legal theory


Speaker: Benno Teschke

The ongoing Schmitt revival has extended Carl Schmitts reach over the fields of international legal and political theory. Neo-Schmittians suggest that his international thought provides a new reading of the history of international law and order, which validates the explanatory power of his theoretical premises the concept of the political, political decisionism, and concrete-order-thinking. Against this background, this article mounts a systematic reappraisal of Schmitts international thought in a historical perspective. The argument is that his work requires re-contextualization as the intellectual product of an ultra-intense moment in Schmitts friend/enemy distinction. It inscribed Hitlers spatial revolution into a full-scale reinterpretation of Europes geopolitical history, grounded in land appropriations, which legitimized Nazi Germanys wars of conquest. Consequently, Schmitts elevation of the early modern nomos as the model for civilized warfare the golden age of international law against which American legal universalism can be portrayed as degenerated, is conceptually and empirically flawed. Schmitt devised a politically motivated set of theoretical premises to provide a historical counter-narrative against liberal normativism, which generated defective history. The reconstruction of this history reveals the explanatory limits of his theoretical vocabulary friend/enemy binary, sovereignty-as-exception, nomos/universalism for past and present analytical purposes. Schmitts defective analytics and problematic history compromise the standing of his work for purposes of international theory.

Benno Teschke completed his doctorate in the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex and a Visiting Research Fellow at the European Research Council funded Research Project Europe 18151914 at the University of Helsinki. He is the author of The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics and the Making of Modern International Relations (2003), which was awarded the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize. More recently, he has published in the New Left Review and in International Theory on the international thought of Carl Schmitt and is preparing a monograph on the subject.

Download: (41.2MB)

Uneven Developments, Combined: Gramsci and Trotsky on Permanent Revolution


Speaker: Peter Thomas

The paper that this podcast is based on explores the different formulations of the notion of Permanent Revolution in the work of Antonio Gramsci and Leon Trotsky. Although Gramsci himself explicitly rejected Trotskys notion of permanent revolution as a reversion to a strategy of war of movement, he also claimed that his development of the theory of hegemony could be regarded as a contemporary form of Marx and Engelss notion of the Revolution in Permanence. The paper will analyse the similarities and differences of the two seemingly divergent claims to inherit a central perspective of the classical Marxist tradition, and will argue that thinking the concepts of permanent and passive revolution together enables us to clarify and to make explicit dimensions that remain underdeveloped in each theorists respective work.

Peter Thomas is Lecturer in the History of Political Thought at Brunel University, London.He is the author of The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism (Brill, 2009), and (with Juha Koivisto) Mapping Communication and Media Research: Conjunctures, Institutions, Challenges (Tampere University Press, 2010) and co-editor (with Riccardo Bellofiore and Guido Starosta) of In Marxs Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse (Brill, 2010). He has published widely on Marxist political theory and philosophy, the history of political thought and the history of philosophy.

Civilising Interventions? Race, War and International Law


Speaker: Rob Knox

Over the past decade there has been a veritable explosion in literature on the relationship between imperialism and international law. This has been triggered in no small part by the wave of controversial military interventions that began with Kosovo and culminated in the continuing War on Terror. It is thus unsurprising that these interventions have been the target of much of the above scholarship, particular that of Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL).Drawing heavily on postcolonial theory, these accounts have foregrounded the issue of race and racial discourse, particularly in relation to humanitarian intervention and the war on terror. Essentially, they have argued that the law and legal rhetoric in these areas reproduces the colonial structures and civilising mission of international laws past. On this reading, what is key to both the war on terror and humanitarian intervention is that they portray peripheral countries as savages (and/or victims) in need of civilising (and/or saving). With this comes an embedded assumption that only civilised states have the capacity to go to war, with uncivilised states being open to almost perpetual intervention. This particular deployment is generally part of a larger argument, whereby international law is seen as driven by the processes of creating racial or cultural others.Whilst there is much to be commended in these positions, I will argue that they miss some key elements in the legal arguments around the use of force. Vitally, the various interventions have to be counterposed to the 1990-91 Gulf War, where intervention in the peripheries was enabled through the fairly uncontroversial (legally) authorisation of the Security Council. The legal argument on humanitarian intervention and the war on terror only emerged as a reaction to the fear that China, Russia and (at various points) Old Europe would block Security Council resolutions authorising the use of force. Consequently, the racial discourse around armed intervention cannot simply be read as othering the peripheries, but was also a key response to a re-emerging inter-imperialist rivalry. I argue that the racialised discourse of humanitarian intervention and the war on terror needs to be seen as an attempt to legally entrench a hegemonic coalition against these emerging imperialist rivalries, whilst also articulating the ability of this coalition to intervene freely across the globe. I argue that this particular understanding has implications for the way in which we understand the role of race and racialised discourse in international law. What the above account suggests is that rather than granting racial otherness a foundational role in our understanding, we have to examine the concrete material circumstances which produce and construct particular racial configurations. Drawing on a range of Marxist and materialist thinkers on race, I will tentatively advance a non-reductionist, materialist account of the place of racial argument in international law, locating it with capitalist social relations and the specific conjunctural moments thrown up by them.

Rob Knox is a PhD candidate in Law at the London School of Economics. His thesis explores the concept(s) of imperialism in Marxist and Third World approaches to international law. He is member of the Editorial Board of the journal Historical Materialism: Research in Critical Marxist Theory.

Download: (46.8MB)

Marxism in IR and the challenge of Realism


Speaker: Andrew Davenport

Behind the recent discussions within Marxist IR theory concerning political multiplicity and uneven and combined development lies the larger, still unresolved, question of Marxisms relation to Realism. Marxism in IR has never sufficiently recognized the seriousness of the challenge that the Realist conceptions of the intrinsic nature of the political and, therefore, of the international present to any Marxist ambition of human freedom. A review of the major approaches within IR Marxism shows that the question of the political remains a theoretical blind-spot. Hence, they cannot convincingly grasp geopolitics and the international without falling prey to Realist essentializing. This theoretical deficit within IR Marxism is traceable back to the ambivalence of Marxs own thinking concerning revolutionary social change. If it is to escape the Realist fate, Marxism in IR must engage with the central categories of political thought to produce a critical theory of the political.

Andrew Davenport is a DPhil candidate in the Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex. His research focuses on rethinking the materialist critique of Realism in IR.

Download: (45.3MB)

The Political Economy of Reconstituted Neoliberalism: Reflections on Bolivia and Latin American Neostructuralism


Speaker: Jeff Webber

Bolivia witnessed a left-indigenous insurrectionary cycle between 2000 and 2005 that overthrew two neoliberal presidents and laid the foundation for Evo Morales successful bid to become the countrys first indigenous head of state in 2006. Building on the theoretical traditions of revolutionary Marxism and indigenous liberation, Jeffery R. Webber provides an analytical framework for understanding the fine-grained sociological and political nuances of twenty-first century Bolivian class-struggle, state-repression, and indigenous resistance, as well as the deeply historical roots of todays oppositional traditions. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, including more than 80 in-depth interviews with social-movement and trade-union activists, Webber situates Bolivian developments within the wider Latin American turn to the left over the last decade. He pays particular attention to what he sees as the disjuncture between the revolutionary politics of left-indigenous movements in the 2000-2005 period, and the modest reformism of the Morales government over the course of its first term in office (2006-2010). Having described the ideological currents that are most alive in Bolivian politics and formal intellectual life under Evo Morales, the focus then shifts to political economy. The purpose here is to demonstrate why the development model implemented by the Morales administration over the entire four years of its first administration is best characterized as reconstituted neoliberalism. In order to understand the constituent parts of reconstituted neoliberalism, the paper first navigates through an extended, historical treatment of the declining legitimacy of neoliberalism globally, and the principal schools of thought and development practice in Latin America over the twentieth century, paying particular attention to structuralism, neoliberalism, and neostructuralism. Out of this we arrive at reconstituted neoliberalism in the present, and the way in which it has taken on a particular form in the Bolivian case.

Jeffery R. Webber is a Lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He splits his time between Europe, Canada and various countries in Latin America, where he conducts field research annually. He is the author of Red October: Left-Indigenous Struggles in Modern Bolivia (2011), and a member of the editorial collectives of Historical Materialism and Latin American Perspectives.

Download: (39.4MB)

Civilization and the Poetics of Slavery


Speaker: Robbie Shilliam

Civilizational analysis is increasingly being used to capture the plurality of routes to and through the modern world order. However, the concept of civilization betrays a colonial legacy, namely, a denial that colonized peoples possessed the creative ability to cultivate their own subjecthoods. This denial was especially acute when it came to enslaved Africans in the New World whose bodies were imagined to be deracinated and deculturated. This article proposes that civilizational analysis has yet to fully address this legacy and, to clarify the stakes at play, compares and contrasts the historical sociology of CLR James with the mytho-poetics of Derek Walcott. Both authors, in different ways, have attempted to endow that quintessentially non-civilizable body - the New World slave with subjecthood. From this discussion, the article makes the case for developing a poetics of slavery that could help to address the colonial strictures still residual in the concept of civilization.

Robbie Shilliam is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London. He is author of German Thought and International Relations (Palgrave, 2009) and editor of International Relations and Non-Western Thought (Routledge, 2010).