Exterminism and class struggle in E. P. Thompson: Preliminary reflections
Dept. of Sociology and Political Science Universidade federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC) Florianopolis, Brasil
Thompson's most significant contribution to the Cold War debate and against the arms race, the nuclear threat and for the organization of peace groups and movements was his 1980 pamphlet Protest and Survive. In his essay Thompson foresees Europe not as a war theatre, but as a peace theatre achieved through popular democratic pressure. However, an international détente would be necessary so that this scenario might come true. Such détente should guarantee an independent future on the war system: once strategies were defined, the contradictions of Europe's role in the Cold War might be used against both Washington and Moscow Administrations. Thompson was committed to devise this strategy over the 1980s and bound several movements of popular resistance. A necessary resistance, since the structure of Cold War implied the notion of extermination of society. As he realizes the existence of "an internal dynamic and reciprocal logic requiring a new category of analysis", Thompson states the concept of exterminism to examine this new reality. The most controversial issues of Thompson's interpretation of the Cold War system, regarding his particular proposal concerning exterminism, are his approach to the concept of class struggle and his rejection of the notions of imperialism and militarism. Thus, these notions convey a strong ideological content and tend to express the image of a system, rational at first, which nonetheless might at some point provoke its own irrational explosion. Hence Thompson insists on the formation of a new consciousness. Class struggle remains a key issue, but the imperative is now to save humanity itself: in view of exterminism the political cause must be redefined, as much as class and class struggle concepts. This paper focuses the meaning of Thompson's ideas, the theoretical connections between class categories and assesses their political and contemporary relevance.