Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Choice Before Us

Williams became the founder of the ‘Madison’ school of revisionist historians, who figured prominently in the Vietnam-era teach-ins. Their hostility to the Democratic Party’s war in its early stages was critical in turning a generation of youth, including me, into radicals. Among them are Gabriel Kolko, Gar Alperovitz and younger scholars grouped around the journal Radical America. By providing a platform for Williams, the American Socialist provided a ‘revolutionary continuity’ that was much more meaningful than that claimed by small, sectarian ‘vanguard’ parties claiming to be the avatar of Marx and Lenin. 

The Choice Before Us

by William Appleman Williams

(Mr. Williams has been assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon, and is moving to the University of Wisconsin this September. His books on American diplomacy attracted wide attention, and his articles have appeared in The Nation and other periodicals. This is his first article for the American Socialist.)
DOMESTIC radicalism has long been associated, in the thought of the Left and the Right alike, with unsettled international conditions. War and revolution have been linked together in the hopes of the rebels and in the fears of the reactionaries. Even more restrained observers tend to assume, or try to establish, a simple one-to-one relationship between war and radicalism. A great deal of pseudo-history has recently been written, for example, supposedly proving that the Bolshevik Revolution caused every war since 1917. And, since the Suez affair at any rate, everyone is familiar with the argument that the Western powers must at all costs avoid disagreements because another war among themselves would produce a Communist world.
Let it be granted that this familiar thesis does account, at least to a degree, and in the latter stages of the process, for some aspects of radical changes. The fact remains that it begs the crucial point about the relationship between radicalism and international affairs. Overlooked in all this free association between war and revolution is the hard truth that revolutions, whatever the suddenness of their eruption, are not spontaneous affairs. Major revolutions, or truly radical changes without violence, are preceded by a period of time during which the society in question is faced by a choice between competing solutions to the fundamental problems of political economy and social relationships. Almost without exception, these various approaches ultimately narrow down to two alternatives: a continuance of the existing order devolving into a and devastating war, or a radical reordering of domestic society. It is possible to specify examples which appear to contradict this proposition (Guatemala and Honduras come to mind), but closer inspection of such cases suggests that they fall into the category of revolutions occurring in the spheres of influence of major powers for the central thesis remains valid.

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