This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From Hobsbawm at the margins to recalling the lessons of Bretton Woods, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Hobsbawm at the Margins

Emile Chabal

It’s no accident that the history of Marxist thought is dominated by a small cluster of European thinkers. Occasionally, some space is made for a Frantz Fanon or a C. L. R. James, whose origins lie outside Europe. On very rare occasions, there is serious discussion of Marxist theorists who operated entirely outside Europe, like the Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui or the Indian “subaltern studies” school. But the reality is that European thinkers predominate. Still today, the story of Marxism is normally told in terms of the diffusion of ideas from a Western center to a non-Western periphery.

Such imbalances are almost unavoidable, given the disproportionate prestige and influence of European thought in the twentieth century. However, they also raise specific issues for the history of Marxism. After all, Marxist thought and practice has drawn much of its vitality from developments outside Europe. Marxist-inspired governments in countries like Cuba, Vietnam, and China arguably represent Marxism’s signature contribution to twentieth-century politics, at least as important as the various post-1917 attempts to make communism work in Europe. [continue reading]

History Has Taught Us That Concentration Camps Should Be Liberated. We Can’t Wait Until 2020.

Shaun King

“Yes, we do have concentration camps,” began the stinging critique of the Trump administration’s immigration detention facilities. It was written earlier this week by the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune, in the reliably conservative state of Utah. Andrea Pitzer, author of the definitive book on the global history of concentration camps, agrees. So do people who were once forced to live in another era’s concentration camps.

But amid the debate about what to call immigration detention facilities, few people have disputed the truly terrible conditions that exist within them. Migrants have long reported awful experiences in immigration custody, but in recent months, an increase in the number of people, especially families and children, crossing the border and being detained has led to severe overcrowding. [continue reading]

‘Bill Clinton talks loudly, fails to act’: envoys’ barbed missives to John Major

Caroline Davies

Confidential and sometimes unflattering appraisals of foreign leaders have been a staple of the diplomatic cable long before the leaking of the former US ambassador Kim Darroch’s emails. Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton, François Mitterrand and the Saudi royal family were all subjects of candid pen portraits and gossipy anecdotes during John Major’s premiership. Major’s private secretary regaled how the Russian president was “v pissed off” after an aborted phone call to Clinton, the then US president.

“Apparently the Russians misunderstood all the preliminary soundings the US operations room do, and put Yeltsin on the line,” wrote Roderic Lyne in recently revealed documents at the National Archives. “Panic at the US end, no sign of Clinton. Yeltsin kept waiting for one-and-a-half hours before he gave up v pissed off. Hence refusal to take call from Clinton for next couple of days. (Pass on to PM if he not aware).” [continue reading]

David Zucchino
New York Times

For the first time since the United Nations began documenting civilian casualties in Afghanistan a decade ago, more civilians are being killed by Afghan government and American forces than by the Taliban and other insurgents, according to a report on Wednesday. Civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces rose in the first quarter of this year even as overall civilian casualties dropped to their lowest level in that period since 2013.

The United Nations said in its quarterly report that pro-government forces were responsible for 53 percent of civilian deaths. But insurgents were responsible for the majority — 54 percent — of all civilian casualties, which include deaths and injuries, even though the number of suicide bombings decreased compared with the same period in 2018, the report said. During the first three months of this year, military operations escalated as both sides sought leverage in peace talks between the United States and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. At the same time, there has been a relative lull in insurgent suicide attacks that indiscriminately kill civilians, especially in Kabul, the capital. The city has been a repeated target during the conflict, which is in its 18th year. “It is unclear whether the decrease in civilian casualties was influenced by any measures taken by parties to the conflict to better protect civilians, or by the ongoing talks between parties to the conflict,” the United Nations report said. The agency reported 581 civilians killed and 1,192 wounded during the first quarter, a 23 percent decrease in overall casualties compared with the same period in 2018. [continue reading]

Before India insists on ‘rules-based’ international system, it should recall Bretton Woods

Srinath Raghavan
The Print

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Monetary Conference held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The conference, which led to the creation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Development and Reconstruction (World Bank), has passed over into popular history and mythology as a founding moment of the “Liberal International Order”. This order, in turn, is widely held to be in crisis, owing to the rise of authoritarian populism that disavows the older ideals of a liberal world economy and global cooperation.

The anniversary of Bretton Woods is a useful opportunity to remind ourselves that this tale of inclusive and benevolent cooperation masks the stark realities of power that have underpinned the “Liberal International Order” from its inception. India’s participation in the conference offers an interesting window into the construction of this order. New scholarship on Bretton Woods has identified the presence of countries such as India as significant and argued that the conference provided an important venue for them to inscribe their developmental concerns on the emerging, post-war international order. [continue reading]