Modes of Foreign Relations and Political Economy,
Nomads, Empires, States
Kees van der Pijl
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Chapter 1. Foreign Relations and the Marxist Legacy
‗An Absolute Humanism of History‘
Exploitation of Nature, Adaptive Choices, Ethnicity—Productive Forces and Power
Epistemology and Practical Method
The Analysis of Modes of Foreign Relations
Space and the Interethnic Milieu—Protection and the Dialectic of Change—Exchange
Chapter 2. Tribal Encounters
Difference, Communication, Foreign Relations
Tools and Consciousness—Differential Socialisation and Ethnogenesis
The Marxist Legacy in Ethnography
Endogamy/ Exogamy as the Bedrock of Foreign Relations—Feud in the Gentile
Space, Protection and Exchange in the Tribal Mode
Ancestry, Tribal Spaces and Neutral Zones—Shouting Matches in the Jungle—
Exchange in the Tribal Mode
Chapter 3. Imperial Universalism and the Nomad Counterpoint
Sedentary Civilisations and Semi-Barbarian Nomads
The State Form of Empire—Imperial Ethno-Transformations—Cosmologies of Empire
and Nomadic Origins
The Frontier as the Mainspring of Empire
Trade Diasporas, Incorporation, and Tribute—Foreign Auxiliaries for Frontier
The Inner Asian and Sea Frontiers of China
Early Civilisation and the Beginnings of Nomadism—Expansionist Departures under
the Tang and the Mongols—The Closing of the Sea Frontier
Chapter 4. The Conquest of the Oceans—Ethnogenesis of the West
Frontier Wars of Western Christianity
The Viking Impulse—Christian Universalism—Frontier Campaigns of the Aristocratic
Imperial and Nomad Aspects of the Atlantic Turn
Frontier Connections of the Iberian Conquests—Skies over Holland—The English-
Speaking Synthesis and Maritime Supremacy—Protecting the Heartland by Mobile
Transoceanic Population Movement and the American Frontier
The Frontier in American Ethnogenesis—The Tribal Legacy of Slavery in the South
Chapter 5. Worlds of Difference
The Other World of International Relations
Contender State Nationalisms and Ethno-Transformation—Multinational Contender
Tribal Trails into Urban Jungles
Migration and the Spatial Matrix of Globalisation—Urban Tribalisms
Nomad Routes to Global Governance
Overcoming the Heartland/Contender State Divide—In the Tracks of Transnational
Capital—Global Governance in the Plural
My aim in the present study is to broaden the domain covered by the discipline of International Relations (IR) to relations between communities occupying separate spaces and dealing with each other as outsiders. This is an ambitious project vastly enlarging the field and raising a host of intellectual challenges. But there are simply too many contemporary world-political phenomena beyond the self-imposed horizon of the discipline to escape the conclusion that the very notion of the ‗inter-national‘
must be re-examined if we want to come to grips, theoretically and practically, with the world politics of today. This after all is the central terrain on which the survival of the human species and the preservation of the biosphere, under threat from an impending catastrophe, will be decided. All others are ‗dependent variables‘.
The current conjuncture of an unravelling world order in fact facilitates such a rethink. As in the ‗Twenty Years Crisis‘ between the two world wars, ‗global governance‘ by the West (this time to impose neoliberal market discipline and competitively elected government) has turned out to be an illusion. In the 1930s and 40s, the realism of Anglo-American theorists and practitioners of international relations such as E.H. Carr, George Kennan, and others, articulated the insight that power politics cannot force the world into compliance with something materially out of reach. Unfortunately it also gave IR a state-centric and, by placing the ‗nation-state‘ at the centre of analysis, Euro-centric and a-historic imprint.
Theories of imperialism (dominated by Marxism) and geopolitics (perverted by Nazi thinkers) were discarded; the study of historic civilisations and their relation to world order, exemplified by the work of Toynbee and others, was dismissed as woolly-headed idealism, antithetical to science. True, aspects of all these traditions were allowed back in later to some extent. Global or international political economy (IPE) in this respect deserves a place of honour, especially once we accept, to quote Robert Cox (2002: 79), that ‗the real achievement of IPE was not to bring in economics, but to open up a critical
investigation into change in historical structures.‘
In this study I seek to push this investigation to its logical conclusion in the area of relations among communities occupying separate spaces and considering each other as outsiders. The ‗international‘ is a historically specific, but not the final form of such relations. People today are exposed to ‗foreigners‘ to a
degree and on a scale never before seen in history. With more than half of the world‘s population now living in cities, each containing large non-native or otherwise different communities due to unprecedented migratory pressures, global politics is present on every street corner—but not as a balance
of power among states, although that too is part of the complex of historical forces which brought about the frontiers and boundaries cutting across the present world.
Indeed the contemporary crisis of globalisation and the proliferation of conflict it entails, points into the past as much as it reveals a possible future. It lays bare an underworld of foreign relations of earlier provenance which cannot be dealt with by a global governance for which the West writes the rules, nor by diplomacy backed up by military means. A crisis, Kaviraj writes (1992: 81),
opens up the future dramatically by forcing us to abandon the lines of extrapolations from the present which we specially favour and to understand the range of possibilities, but in a significant sense it also
opens up the past. It forces us to look into complexities of the past and reconsider lines of possible development which existed but might not have materialised, or towards which we may have been indifferent.
Samuel Huntington deserves credit for having restored at least one line of extrapolation in the study of world politics, the analysis of ‗civilisations‘. Clearly his thesis of a ‗Clash of Civilisations‘ operating on a level different from the relations among sovereign states, remains hostage to a naturalised view of eternal strife modelled on Cold War realism. Also his identification of Islam as an antagonist of the liberal Christian West (with a Chinese threat thrown in for good measure) comes suspiciously close to the agenda for a resource-hungry civilisation intent on mobilising all possible forces to confront the currently most ambitious contender to Western primacy. Yet the argument is a reminder that the conquest of the globe by capital, interacting with the expansion of the West, has all along involved ‗clashes of civilisation‘; just as the resonance of Huntington‘s thesis may be an indication that the global reach of the
West is faltering and the substantive reality of different traditions and types of society is becoming evident once again. But clearly this cannot rely on the imagery of an ethno-religious plate tectonics. The method of investigating cultural difference in its relation to world politics must radically break with the naturalisation of conflict, certainly now that the logic of a war without end, the ‗War on Terror‘, threatens to engulf all political argument.
The approach to foreign relations proposed in this study is inspired by Marx‘s critique of liberal economics. Marx aimed to historicise and de-naturalise the capitalist market economy coming of age in his lifetime by showing that there had been other forms of economy, which continued to play a role in the contemporary context; just as there was a possible new economy gestating inside the capitalist one, negating the capitalist form of economic life and mobilising the social forces to transcend it. Understanding the present as history goes to the heart of historical materialism, and I will take this method as my point of departure. This choice should not be mistaken for a sectarian commitment, on the contrary. The Marxist legacy as it exists, has largely failed to develop its own method in the area of foreign relations, and politically it has run aground—for the time being. Still its basic premise, that all
existence is historical, the result of the exploitation of humanity‘s relationship with nature; and that social
life is therefore destined to change towards novel forms just as it emerged from different relations in the past, in my view constitutes the beginning of all wisdom. In this sense historical materialism is a method, not of lifeless academic observation, but a pedagogy of hope. There is no preordained goal to which history is moving; but humanity would better develop such goals in light of present and future challenges and thus provide direction to what would otherwise be an aimless, vegetative existence. Of course these goals will always be contested themselves, but that is the stuff of history too. The reason why there did not emerge a Marxist analysis of foreign relations that is not derived from economics, is due largely to the fact that the critique of liberal economics was Marx‘s preoccupying aim.
Even so, the methodology of his writings is not ‗economistic‘ in the sense that the economy would be the deus ex machina that explains everything else. After his death, however, the Marxist legacy became most influential in a series of countries (Germany, Austria, Russia) where a labour movement took shape in the context of catch-up industrialisation, and this tended to favour precisely such an economistic
interpretation of history. It coincided with a return to the naturalistic materialism Marx had expressly discarded. As Gramsci put it in a letter from his prison cell (1989: 189), ‗the so-called theoreticians of
historical materialism have fallen into a philosophical position similar to mediaeval theology and have turned ―economic structure‖ into a hidden god‘. Indeed the leading lights of the Second International, and later, Soviet Marxism (both in its Stalinist and Trotskyist lines of development) all tended to interpret politics and ideology as superstructures of economic relations. But understanding foreign relations in their own right is ruled out if we can only see them as epiphenomena of economics. Taking the method by which Marx distinguished between several modes of production, into the area of the relations between communities occupying separate spaces, I will develop the concept of modes of foreign relations to make a comparable historical distinction between different patterns of social relations in this specific domain. Like modes of production, modes of foreign relations combine, in a dynamic structure of determination, an evolving level of development of the productive forces with social relations—in this case, the relations involved in occupying a particular social and/or territorial space; protecting it; and organising exchange with others.
In this form one will not find the argument in the corpus of classical Marxist writing, not even in the debates on imperialism or national self-determination. Yet we may glean the elements for an analysis of modes of foreign relations from Marx‘s sketches for Capital (the Grundrisse), his and Engels‘ scattered
writings on international politics, and his notes on ethnology that served as the basis for Engels‘ The
Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State; as well as from disparate passages in the work of
Lenin, Bukharin, Gramsci, and others. Marxist anthropologists such as Eric Wolf, too, have sought ‗to
show that human societies and cultures would not be properly understood until we learned to visualize them in their mutual relationships and interdependencies in space and time‘ (1997: x). His Europe and
the People Without History is testimony to how this works out in the hands of a great scholar. Yet with only ‗modes of production‘ as a conceptual tool, the dimension of communities occupying separate
spaces and considering each other as outsiders cannot be brought out fully.
Soviet ethnology likewise remained mortgaged by the limitations of the Marxist legacy, perhaps precisely because in its own domain, the work of people like Bromley and Gumilev is highly original and not part of the self-congratulatory corruption that characterised so much of Soviet social science. The progenitor of this school of thought, S.M. Shirokogorov (who worked in China in the interwar years and on that account was branded an émigré in the USSR), on the other hand is not concerned with economic determination but with cultural adaptation in an ‗interethnic milieu‘. This opens the way into an investigation of the different ways of life that emerge from the exploitation of nature, on which both modes of production and modes of foreign relations are grafted.
‗Foreign‘ is obviously a problematic concept. It must be opened up, specified, and broken down in its relationship to exploitation and class relations, and ultimately overcome. I use the term merely to avoid taking the ‗national‘ and the nation-state for granted and reach for more fundamental determinants of
how communities relate to others whom they consider as outsiders, as different in the sense of not being part of the social whole. Today, (ethnic) difference is under attack from a homogenising cosmopolitan culture propagated by the West and backed up by capitalist market discipline; foreignness, paradoxically, is being reinforced as a result. The foreign has even come to articulate social dividing lines now that the
Left is temporarily exhausted and it has become unfashionable to recognise the class dimension. Yet foreign relations are not just a cover for class relations, although in the relations between a globalising cosmopolitanism and those marginalised by it, it often comes close. They are an aspect of social relations in their own right, to be studied as such.
In the end, just as the contours of a mode of production beyond capitalism are in evidence in our globalised economy (an eco-managerialism reaching beyond class society is perhaps the best guess today), foreignness as a set of exploitative relations, imbricated with relations of production, is in a process of transition as well. Socialism, as a higher form of social relations developing under democratically set priorities and collective control of the means of production, cannot develop under a state of siege in less developed states; but neither can it be achieved by the coercive homogenisation of its human substratum. It must include the overcoming of foreignness as a political and socio-economic condition and its replacement by reciprocity and dialogue. Difference is a process, not a matter of
essences; being different is not a fixed condition to be merely ‗respected‘, although this is often a necessary first step. Overcoming exploitation will always have to be mediated by self-determination of communities of identity if it is to be a truly universal project, and not just that of a vanguard.
The plan for the present study is as follows. In chapter 1, I argue how the concept of modes of foreign relations fits into the methodology of historical materialism, which itself must be rephrased to avoid the determinism of naturalistic materialism. Chapter 2 begins the journey through the historical development of foreign relations by an investigation of tribal relations and their specific forms of occupying space, protection and exchange. Chapter 3 takes the argument to the empire/nomad mode of foreign relations. The expanded reproduction of sedentary civilisations through conquest by ‗marcher lords‘ on their perimeter, prefigures the form of protection of developed empires, viz., the recruitment of nomad auxiliaries to keep others out. Exchange develops as tribute but also spawns ethnogenesis of specialist trading peoples who develop as quasi-nomadic diasporas. I will discuss at some length how and why the Chinese empire after a pioneering experience of overseas exploration, turned inward again to deal with the challenge of the nomads on the Inner Asian frontier; leaving the terrain of future maritime supremacy to the English-speaking West.
In chapter 4, I argue that the empire of Western Christianity, in the specific configuration that produced the Crusades, can be analysed profitably in terms of the empire/nomad mode too. Seeing how the popes in Rome recruited Viking sea-nomads and their Norman descendants as auxiliaries to fight off the Arabs, avoids an economistic interpretation of European expansion. Since the imperial centre was embodied in a religious sovereignty, frontier lords eager for independence, merchants seeking to explore inroads into Asian trade, and urban dwellers, tended to cast their emerging collective identities in terms of religion too, as Protestantism. This contributed to the ascent and eventual global pre-eminence of an intercontinental, Anglophone West in which imperialism and nomad mobility have been synthesised. The liberal culture of the West offered a hospitable environment to the capitalist mode of production, which developed in the interstices in between separate state sovereignties. Such a fortuitous combination was not available for the land-based remnants of the empire of Western Christianity. As I argue in chapter 5, here too, Protestantism worked as a dissolvent of empire, but it led to religious wars within
and between language areas controlled by rival absolute monarchies. Formal sovereignty became a key prop for state classes emerging in revolutions pushing beyond royal absolutism, as contenders to Anglophone hegemony; only thus could they hold their own against the ascendant West, which operates on a distinct plane, that of global liberalism, and in tandem with capital. These twin forces have worked to undermine these states, forcing them on the defensive all along. The weakest states in the global order have actually collapsed into quasi-tribal fragments again, triggering migratory flows that feed into the West‘s inner cities. Along these tracks a global underclass has formed that is literally foreign to the abundance enjoyed by privileged minorities, but yet present among them. Mocking the idea that a homogenous West can still ward off the influx of those fleeing the effects of global capitalist exploitation, the current world has entered a phase of imperial retrenchment, with quasi-nomadic forces like NGOs and the alternative, ‗anti‘-globalisation movement operating on its frontier as intermediaries with
The book offered here to the reader is the first volume of a larger project. A second volume will deal with the treatment of foreign relations in myth, religion, and ethical philosophy; volume three, with an analysis of modern IR theories as an instance of English-speaking hegemony. In December 2005 I was awarded a Major Research Fellowship by the Leverhulme Trust allowing me to devote three years to this project from May 2006 to 2009. I thank Thomas Ferguson, Andrew Linklater, and Jan Nederveen Pieterse, as well as the anonymous referees for the Leverhulme Trust, for their support in obtaining this grant.
Others to whom I owe a debt include Benno Teschke, who invited me to a conference on Systemic Transformations and International Relations at Gregynog in Wales in April 2001, from which I took home the idea of modes of foreign relations; and Klaus-Gerd Giesen, who arranged that I could give a guest lecture on the topic at the University of Leipzig and who published a first sketch (cf. my 2004). Both Benno and Klaus wrote detailed comments on initial drafts. Chris Brown, Robert Cox, Earl Gammon, Jean-Christophe Graz, Clemens Hoffmann, Samuel Knafo, Kamran Matin, Ronen Palan, Magnus Ryner and Jan Selby at various stages encouraged me to take the argument further and commented on its problems and implications. At least one lucky break occurred when materials I gathered early on were miraculously recovered from a crashed hard disk by Or Raviv, after other experts had given up hope. In May 2006, I had the opportunity to present a draft of chapter 1 in Kassel, Germany, at a seminar organised by Ulrich Brand on my book Global Rivalries from the Cold War to Iraq. I thank
Christoph Scherrer and Joscha Wullweber, the discussants in that session, for their critical comments. I also owe a specific debt to Ajit Roy, Marxist scholar and activist, who many years ago pointed out the importance of the Soviet ethnology school to me. Johnna Montgomerie and Renk Özdemir compiled bibliographies on this and other areas. Anatoly Kuznetsov, of Far Eastern University in Vladivostok, the leading specialist on Shirokogorov, kindly made available some of his work (in Russian, and translated for me by Ekaterina Korotayeva) when I was writing the final draft of the book.
Finally let me acknowledge my debt to the successive generations of students I have taught in Amsterdam, Sussex, and more recently during my visiting professorships at the University of Auvergne at Clermont-Ferrand. They, like my own children who are now students too, have always been and
remain a source of inspiration, a source of optimism against all the odds. If none of those mentioned
earlier bears any responsibility for what follows, they in a way do.
Foreign Relations and the Marxist Legacy
Foreign relations take shape in the encounter between communities occupying separate spaces and dealing with each other as outsiders. In these relations, the definition of social space and the nature of the sovereign claim to it; the conditions of its protection; and the ways in which communities organise exchanges with others, evolve through historical structures that I call modes of foreign relations. They comprise, like modes of production, a dynamic combination of a level and pattern of development of the productive forces (that is, the forces of nature mobilised as means of power, including the community itself) with a specific pattern of social relations; in this case, relations with foreign communities. Before addressing these issues in greater detail, let me first introduce the ontology on which this study is based.
‘An Absolute Humanism of History’
Historical materialism assumes that history is the result of the conscious exploitation of the human relationship with nature, including its own inner nature. As people train their physical and mental capacities in order to respond adequately to the world around them, communities change their environment and their own human substance, physically and mentally. Thus emerge the characteristics of their habitat, their way of life and their identity, as well as their attitudes to order—in the community and
with other communities, in nature and in their imagination of eternity.
The initial means at the disposal of human groups are obviously minimal, and they are guided mainly by their instinctual apparatus and biological bonds. Surrounded by a vast, hostile environment in which their actions count for little, the best they can hope for is to blunt or neutralise some of the forces facing them, in order to sustain their life. Once they begin shaping their own lives actively, they also enter, involuntarily, into a different class of relations from the natural heritage, social relations. These
relations—among people within the group, and with other groups—raise their chances of survival, and
yet they appear as equally alien and in need of appeasement and negotiation as the natural environment at large. This is why for humans, the awareness of their capacity to act tends to be mortgaged by deference to other, metaphysical agencies—from spirits, the totem, and God, to ‗matter‘, ‗History‘ with a capital H, national destiny, and today, ‗the market‘. In every community and society, there are mediators with the realm of the super-natural, from shamans to neoclassical economists. This is the pivot of social power. Without the intellectual, ‗explanatory‘ function, no social structure will hold. With the growth of social complexity, the aspect of ideological cohesion may escape the hands-on management by those whose power is legitimated by it, and be entrusted to specialists; but the connection remains. The concepts of order through which social structures seek to perpetuate themselves in time and space, are subject to continuous change. No worldview survives the growing hold communities acquire, over time, on themselves and on their surroundings. Every ideology at some point unravels in the face of changing circumstances. Exposed as a concept of control by which a ruling class exercises power, it loses