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Journal of Cold War Studies 4.3 (2002) 157-160

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Book Review

The Destruction of the Soviet Union:
A Study in Globalization

David Lockwood, The Destruction of the Soviet Union: A Study in Globalization. London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. 264 pp. $65.00.

It turns out that the death of Marxism was announced prematurely. With only a slightly dramatic flair, David Lockwood, a historian from Australia, declares that he is seeking to contribute to the historical materialist analysis of contemporary capitalism. And why not? Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels spent most of their lives as well-placed but deeply alienated observers of industrial capitalism in Victorian Britain, the global hegemonic power of its times. This is potentially a very productive observation point—being an insider yet for some reason not sharing the reigning orthodoxy and also being endowed with an analytical mindset, for otherwise one gets a critical diatribe instead of critical analysis. As Randall Collins argues in his magisterial study of philosophical schools in world history, The Sociology of Philosophies (Harvard University Press, 1998), intellectual breakthroughs occur when internalized knowledge of the subject interacts with the tension between at least two competing schools of thought. The main topic of Marx's groundbreaking analysis—the political economy of capitalist production—still exists, albeit on a global scale. Meanwhile, the dominant trend of the last two decades in the social sciences has been away from macroexplanations and toward either a mathematically framed neoutilitarianism or a postmodernist skepticism.

Lockwood's brand of Marxist analysis should be welcome in the intellectual world, which is supposed to thrive on diversity. The Destruction of the Soviet Union is indubitably an intelligent book. For that reason it would be interesting to follow on Lockwood's argument to see how far one can get today using an orthodox Marxist approach to explain market globalization. Lockwood himself gets quite far indeed.

A well-known omission in Marx's analysis is the virtually complete disregard of the state, either the modern capitalist or the future socialist. The state and generally [End Page 157] the institutional conditions of capitalism became the point of departure for the most illuminating critics of Marx's legacy: Max Weber, Karl Polanyi, and Joseph Schumpeter. (It is therefore little wonder that their theories mesh rather well, forming a large yet unified theoretical tradition in the analysis of capitalism, despite the obvious political differences among these great men.) Because twentieth-century Marxism was long dominated by the ossifying weight of Soviet official dogmas and the vociferous critical outcries of Marxist militants, the orthodox Marxists were unable to respond effectively to the critics.

Lockwood presents a different variety of Marxism—a rigorous and theoretically informed analytical Marxism or, as its adherents prefer to call it, historical materialism. In the 1970s, which was generally a very productive decade for macrosocial theorizing, Western and some Soviet Marxists actively sought to repair the damage done by the earlier, rigidly dogmatic view of the capitalist state by positing its relative autonomy from particular class interests. Ironically, once the relative autonomy thesis gained sway in the 1980s, globalization began to take away the autonomy of the state, once again showing the main source of social power in the modern world. Lockwood begins with an overview of these Marxist debates and then develops his own line of argument regarding a state that was certainly one of the biggest and most autonomous regarding any social classes—the Soviet Union.

Lockwood's main contentions are straightforward and easy to summarize. The Soviet Union was only an extreme example of autonomous state power that aspired to control all economic processes within its jurisdiction. In this sense Soviet industrialization was a direct continuation of prerevolutionary bureaucratic attempts to bolster state prestige and military capability by fostering industrial production from above. Yet practically all states in the twentieth century sought, to one degree or another, to protect their economies. This effort was driven by the inherent logic of state aggrandizement and the military concerns of the epoch of world...