Vol. 22 No. 10 · 18 May 2000

The Albatross of Racism

Immanuel Wallerstein writes about Europe’s oldest disgrace

5474 words

More than a year ago I was invited to speak on ‘Social Science in an Age of Transition’ in Vienna. I was happy to accept. Vienna had a glorious role in the building of world social science, in the era of Traum und Wirklichkeit (1870-1930), especially. It was Freud’s home, until he was forced to flee to London, and also, for an important part of their lives, Schumpeter’s and Polanyi’s, in my view the two most important political economists of the 20th century. It was to this Vienna that I was going.

Then came the Austrian election, with its far from inevitable consequence – the inclusion of the Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs in the Government. The other EU states suspended bilateral relations with Austria. I had to consider whether I still wanted to go to Vienna and I hesitated. Eventually I decided to do so, for two reasons. First, I wished to affirm my solidarity with dem anderen Österreich, which has manifested itself so visibly since the new Government was installed. Even more important, I went in order to assume my responsibilities as a social scientist. The dead albatross that hangs around our neck is our legacy of arrogance, our racism. And we must struggle to atone, to reconstruct, to create a different historical system.

On the surface what happened in Austria seems quite simple. For a number of successive legislatures, the country had been governed by a national coalition of the two major and mainline parties, the Sozial-democratische Partei Österreichs and the Österreichische Volkspartei. One is centre-left and the other centre-right and Christian Democratic. Their combined vote, at one time overwhelming, declined throughout the 1990s. And in the 1999 elections, the FPÖ for the first time came second in the ballot, surpassing the ÖVP by a few hundred votes. Subsequent discussions between the two mainstream parties on forming another national coalition failed, and the ÖVP turned to the FPÖ. In doing so, it upset many people in Austria, including President Klestil, but it persisted, and the new Government was formed.

The ÖVP’s decision also upset, and surprised, the political leaders of the other EU states. Although some have questioned the wisdom of the collective decision to suspend bilateral relations with Austria, the EU has maintained its position – and, in turn, upset not only those Austrians who supported the formation of the Government but many of its opponents, who took the view that the EU was overreacting. ‘Haider,’ they said, ‘is no Hitler.’ Others argued that equivalents of Haider could be found in all the EU states, and even in their governments, and that the EU was therefore guilty of hypocrisy. And finally, some Austrians argued (as did some other Europeans) that it would have been more appropriate for the EU to wait and see, and if eventually the new Austrian Government did something reprehensible, action could more suitably be taken at that point. Meanwhile, within Austria itself, a Widerstand – a resistance – was launched, which is still going on.

Neither the reaction of the EU nor the Austrian counter-reaction can be understood without looking at the world-system and how social scientists have interpreted it, In this context I propose to consider the world-system in four time frames: since 1989; since 1945; since 1492; and after 2000.

Since 1989, a great deal of attention has been concentrated on the former Communist countries. Endless conferences of social scientists have been devoted to the ‘transition’, and we now speak of ‘transitology’. In the component parts of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Caucasian areas of the Soviet Union, there have been a number of civil wars, in which outside powers have been actively involved. Social scientists have analysed this violence under headings such as ‘ethnic purification’, a phenomenon seen as the result of longstanding ethnic hostilities. Even in places that have escaped high levels of internal violence, such as the Czech Republic, Hungary and the Baltic states, there have been signs of resurgent ethnic tension. At the same time, similar kinds of full-scale and low-level civil wars have been occurring in parts of Africa as well as in Indonesia.

In the pan-European world (by which I mean Western Europe plus North America and Australasia, but not east-central Europe), analysis of these wars has centred on the presumed weakness of civil society in those states and the low level of their historic concern for human rights. No one who has read the press in Western Europe can have missed the degree to which coverage of the post-Communist world has focused on the absence of the higher level of modernity found in the pan-European world.

Equally striking is how little attention has been paid – by the press, by politicians, and especially by social scientists – to what has changed since 1989 in the pan-European world itself. Political regimes which had built their national logic on the Cold War discovered that the arrangements they had sustained for forty years now seemed pointless, to their voters and to the politicians themselves. Why in Italy have a system of coalitions built around a permanent Christian Democratic majority if there is no Cold War? What is there now to hold a Gaullist party together in France, or even the CDU in Germany? Why should the US Republican Party continue to be bound by the constraints of a ‘bilateral foreign policy’? The consequence of these self-doubts is that the major conservative parties in the pan-European world are crumbling, torn apart by divisions between economic liberalism and social conservatism, whether of the kind that wishes the state to rectify the degraded morality of the citizenry or the kind that retains a paternalist concern for social safety-nets.

The centre-left parties, most of which call themselves social-democratic, are in trouble, too. The collapse of Communism was only the culmination of a spreading disillusionment with the Old Left in all its three main versions, Communism, social-democracy and national liberation: a disillusionment that followed, not so paradoxically, from the movements’ success – their accession to power around the world. For once in power, they showed themselves incapable of fulfilling their historic promise.

In Western Europe, by and large, the Old Left meant social-democrats. People may still vote for these parties as a pis aller, but since 1968, let alone 1989, no one dances in the streets when they win an election. No one expects them to bring about a revolution, not even a peaceful one. And most disillusioned of all are their own leaders, who are reduced to the centrist language of der Mitte. With this disillusionment has come a disengagement from the processes of the state. Before, states had been tolerated by their populations, even regarded as potential agents of social transformation. Now they were coming to be seen primarily as agents of corruption and of the use of unnecessary force – no longer the citizen’s rampart but the citizen’s burden.

Austria is merely one instance in a general pan-European trend. Why have a national coalition in the post-Communist era? Why vote for parties whose primary interest is in maintaining the political status quo? The end of the Cold War explains why the FPÖ received 26.9 per cent of the vote on 3 October 1999 – the highest percentage achieved by any far-right party in any European country since 1945. In 1995, Le Pen got 15.1 per cent, and this was a shock. But the two main conservative parties in France insisted that they would reject any support offered by the Front National at any level. In the regional elections of 1998, the conservative parties were able to form majorities in a large number of regions only with the support of FN politicians. When five leaders ignored the directive and obtained FN support for their regional governments, they were promptly expelled from their parties. In Italy, Berlusconi did form a government with the support of Fini and his Alianza Nazionale, a party similar to Haider’s, but Fini had renounced his neo-fascist past before the elections.

Why then, as many Austrians keep asking, did the EU still take such a strong position on Haider? The answer is simple. Precisely because the other member states were not that different from Austria, they were afraid that they might soon be faced with a similar choice, and afraid, too, that they might be tempted to follow the path of the ÖVP. It was fear of themselves, in other words, that led to their strong reaction. At the same time, it is the Austrians’ inability to understand that they had crossed a line which all of Western Europe had set for itself, not in 1999 but in 1945, that accounts for the counter-reaction in Austria.

Since 1989, social science has thrown very little light on these matters. Indeed, its failure has been lamentable. All anyone – whatever their politics – talks about is globalisation, as though that were anything more than current rhetoric for the continuing struggle within the capitalist world-economy over the degree to which transborder flows should be unimpeded. It is dust in our eyes. So, too, is the endless litany about ethnic violence, and here human rights activists, as well as social scientists, are to blame. Ethnic violence, however horrifying, is not the preserve of some less fortunate, less wise, less civilised other. It follows from the deep and growing inequalities within our world-system, and cannot be addressed by moral exhortation, or by any meddling on the part of the pure and advanced in zones controlled by the impure and backward. World social science has offered us no useful tools to analyse what has been happening in the world-system since 1989, and therefore no useful tools to understand contemporary Austrian reality.

The reason everyone was so appalled by Nazism after 1945 is obvious. While almost everyone in the pan-European world had been openly and happily racist and anti-semitic before 1945, hardly anyone had intended it to lead where it did. Hitler’s Final Solution missed the entire point of racism within the capitalist world-economy. The object of racism is not to exclude people, much less exterminate them, but to keep them within the system as Untermenschen, to be exploited economically and used as political scapegoats. What happened with Nazism was what the French would call a dérapage – a blunder, a skid, a loss of control. Or perhaps it was the genie getting out of the bottle.

It was acceptable to be racist up to the point of a final solution, but no further. It had always been a delicate game, and no doubt there had been dérapages before – but never on such a large scale, never in so central an arena of the world-system, and never that visible. Collectively, the pan-European world came to terms with what had happened by banning public racism, primarily public anti-semitism. It became a taboo language.

Social scientists joined the game. After 1945, they began to write book after book denouncing the concept of race. The Germans, a bit reluctantly at first but eventually with some moral courage, have tried to analyse their own guilt and thereby reduce their shame. And, since 1989, they have been joined, somewhat reluctantly too, no doubt, by other countries of the pan-European world. Allied powers such as France and the Netherlands began to admit their own part in allowing the dérapage to occur. One of the reasons the EU reacted so strongly to Haider is that Austria has refused to assume its share of guilt, insisting that it was primarily a victim. Perhaps a majority of Austrians had not wanted the Anschluss, although it is hard to believe it when you see newsreel clips of the cheering Viennese crowds. But, more to the point, no non-Jewish, non-Roma Austrian was considered anything other than German after the Anschluss, and the majority gloried in that fact.

The realisation that racism had been undone by going much too far had two major consequences in the post-1945 pan-European world. First, these countries sought to emphasise their internal virtues as integrative nations untroubled by racist oppression, ‘free countries’ facing an ‘evil empire’ whose racism, in its turn, became a regular theme of Western propaganda. All sorts of socio-political actions followed from this: the 1954 decision by the US Supreme Court to outlaw racial segregation; the philo-Israel policies of the whole pan-European world; even the new emphasis on ecumenicism within Western Christianity (as well as the invention of the idea of a joint Judaeo-Christian heritage).

Second, and just as important, there was a need to restore a sanitised racism to its original function: that of keeping people within the system, but as Untermenschen. If Jews could no longer be treated thus, or Catholics in Protestant countries, it was necessary to look further afield. In the pan-European world the post-1945 period was, at least at first, a time of incredible economic expansion accompanied by a radically reduced rate of reproduction. More workers were needed and fewer were being produced than ever before. So began the era of what the Germans gingerly called the Gastarbeiter.

Who were these Gastarbeiter? Mediterranean peoples in non-Mediterranean Europe, Latin Americans and Asians in North America, West Indians in North America and Western Europe, Black Africans and South Asians in Europe. And, since 1989, citizens of the former socialist bloc. They have come in large numbers because they wanted to come and because they could find jobs: indeed, were desperately needed to make the pan-European countries flourish. But they came, almost universally, as persons at the bottom of the heap – economically, socially and politically.

When the world-economy entered its long Kondratieff B phase in the 1970s, and unemployment grew for the first time since 1945, the immigrants became a convenient scapegoat. The far-right forces, which had been illegitimate and marginal since 1945, suddenly began to re-emerge, sometimes within mainline conservative parties, sometimes as separate entities (and if so, liable to eat into the support not only of the conservative parties but of centre-left workers’ parties as well). By the 1990s, these parties began to seem more serious.

The mainline parties were not at all sure how to handle this resurgence of more or less openly racist parties. Some argued that the thing to do would be to undermine them by taking over their anti-immigrant policies and reproducing them in an edulcorated form. Others that they were a virus that had to be isolated as fast as possible.

Once again, social scientists did little to help. They sought to analyse the Nazi phenomenon in terms of some peculiarity of the German historical situation, instead of seeing that the whole world-system had been playing with fire for a long time; they proclaimed their own moral virtue and tried to absolve the pan-European world on the grounds of its current supposedly non-racist rhetoric – when pan-European racism after 1945 was just as virulent as it had been before 1933 or 1945. They had simply substituted other objects of hatred and fear. Do we not debate the so-called ‘clash of civilisations’ – a concept invented by a social scientist?

Even the denunciation of Austria by the EU, much as I approve of it, smacks of racism. For what is it that the European Union is saying? In effect, that Haiders are possible – normal? – outside the pan-European world, perhaps even in countries as close as Hungary and Slovenia. But Haiders are impermissible, unthinkable within ‘civilised’ Europe. We Europeans must defend our moral superiority, and Austria threatens to make this impossible. And it’s true: Austria does threaten to make this impossible and must retreat from its present untenable position. But the grounds of the EU complaint are not above suspicion: Western Europe’s universalist values are themselves encrusted with the chronic, constitutive racism of the pan-European world.

When Europeans landed in the Americas, they encountered indigenous peoples who were extremely strange to them. Some were organised in fairly simple hunting and gathering systems, others in sophisticated and elaborate world-empires. But in all cases less powerful weapons together with a weaker immune system made it impossible for them successfully to resist the invaders. The Europeans had to decide how to treat them. Some, especially those who were acquiring vast lands for the first time, wanted to exploit them as rapidly as possible. The justification they gave was that the peoples were barbarous, undeserving of anything other than enslavement.

At the same time Christian evangelists, horrified by the inhuman way the indigenous populations were being treated, insisted on both the possibility and the importance of winning their souls for Christian redemption. One such was Bartolomé de Las Casas, whose militancy culminated in a classic debate about the nature of the Other. As early as 1547, he wrote a short summary for the Emperor Charles V recounting the horrors of what was going on in the Americas:

If Christians have killed and destroyed so very many souls of such great quality, it has been simply in order to have gold, to become exceedingly rich in a very short time and to raise themselves to high positions disproportionate to their station ... [T]hey have for [these people so humble, so patient, and so easy to subdue] neither respect nor consideration nor esteem ... They have not treated them as beasts (would to God they had treated them as well and been as considerate to them as beasts); they have treated them worse than beasts, as less than manure.

As well as being an impassioned defender of indigenous rights, Las Casas was the first Bishop of Chiapas, where the struggle to defend the rights of Mexican Indian peoples is still going on.

The Emperor was at first seduced by the arguments of Las Casas and made him his Protector of the Indians. But he had second thoughts and at Valladolid in 1550 convened a special Junta of judges to hear a debate between one of his other advisers, Juan Ginás de Sepúlveda, and Las Casas. Sepúlveda had four arguments to justify the treatment of the Indians: they were barbarous and their natural condition was that of submission to more civilised peoples; they were idolatrous and practised human sacrifice, which justified intervention to prevent crimes against natural law; intervention was also justified to save innocent lives; finally, intervention would facilitate Christian evangelisation. All we have to do is substitute the term ‘democracy’ for the term ‘Christianity’ and these arguments will seem quite contemporary.

Las Casas replied that no people should ever be forced to submit to another people on the grounds of a presumed cultural inferiority. Nor should they be punished for crimes which they didn’t know were crimes. Saving innocent people is morally justified only if the process of saving them does not cause greater harm to others. And, finally, Christianity could not properly be propagated by the sword. Here, too, the arguments seem contemporary.

Las Casas was questioning the very basis of the Spanish Empire, which is probably why Charles V withdrew his support for him – the fascinating thing about the debate before the Junta is that no one is quite sure what the Junta decided. In a sense, this is emblematic of the modern world-system. Was Las Casas, the anti-racist, the defender of the downtrodden, seeking merely to institutionalise a ‘good’ colonisation? Is it ever possible to evangelise by the sword?

Since Las Casas, a capitalist world-economy has been established which has always justified its hierarchies on the basis of racism, while also including a quota of people opposed to the worst features of this racism; and despite the fact that the latter have had some limited success, there have always been brutal massacres, final solutions before the Final Solution, though less bureaucratically, systematically and effectively planned, and certainly less publicly visible.

The French Revolution did, it’s true, incarnate a protest against hierarchy, privilege and oppression, on the basis of egalitarian universalism, as symbolised by the rejection of monsieur in favour of citoyen. All citizens were to have a say in government. But if everyone is to be included in a group, someone has first to decide who constitutes this group. And this necessarily implies that some are not members.

The concept of the ‘citizen’, in other words, excludes every bit as much as it includes, and in the two centuries since the French Revolution the exclusionary thrust of citizenship has been as important as its inclusionary thrust. When the Austrian politician Karl Lueger said in 1883, ‘Wir sind Menschen, christliche Österreicher,’ he was offering a definition of the limits of citizenship that Viennese voters seemed to appreciate, even if the Emperor did not. Lueger was not ready to include the Judaeo-Magyaren, who were for him as foreign as the foreign capitalists he also denounced. Was this proto-fascism, as many contend it was, or merely ‘calculated extremism’? Today, the same question is asked about Haider.

At the time the French Revolution was evolving the problematic concept of the citizen, the world of knowledge was going through a major upheaval, following on from the secularisation achieved by the detachment of philosophy from theology, a process that had taken several centuries. In the latter half of the 18th century, science and philosophy, two terms that had been if not synonymous then heavily overlapping, came to be seen as ontological opposites, as defining a cleavage in knowledge. And with this came the intellectual and institutional separation of the search for truth, on the one hand (the domain of science), and the search for the good and the beautiful, on the other (the domain of philosophy or the humanities/Geisteswissenschaften). This fundamental rupture explains the subsequent development of the social sciences and their inability to speak to the constitutive racism of the capitalist world-economy.

The two great cultural legacies of the French Revolution were, first, the idea that political change was normal and, second, that sovereignty resided neither in the ruler nor in a group of notables but in the people. The latter simply expressed the logic of the concept of the citizen. Both were extremely radical ideas in their implications, and neither the downfall of the Jacobins nor the end of the Napoleonic regime could keep them from suffusing the world-system. But if political change was to be regarded as normal, then it was important to know how the system operated, the better to control it. This provided the basic impulse for the institutional emergence of social science, that branch of knowledge which purports to explain social action, social change and social structures.

The two cultures divided up the domains of knowledge along lines that today we think are self-evident, although no one would have thought so in the 17th century. Science appropriated the natural world and the humanities appropriated the world of ideas, cultural production and intellectual speculation. When, however, it came to social reality, each of the two cultures made a claim, and a methodological quarrel ensued. The social sciences emerged in divided camps. Some of the disciplines, as they became known in the new university system of the 19th century, leaned heavily, at least at first, towards the idiographic, humanistic camp (history, anthropology, Oriental studies) and others equally heavily towards the nomothetic, scientistic camp (economics, sociology, political science). The deeper implication is that they were divided over the issue of whether they were to be concerned only with the search for the true or whether the search for the good was also in their domain. They have never resolved this issue.

The most striking thing about social knowledge throughout the 19th century and right up to 1945 was that the social sciences never confronted the issue of racism directly. Take history, the one modern social science that properly existed before the 19th century. For obvious reasons, it took as its subject matter only so-called historical nations. This was not merely a scholarly practice: it was a political weapon. The historical nations are located in powerful, modern states which can fund and constrain their historians to write about them. As late as the 1960s, Hugh Trevor-Roper made the incredible assertion that Africa had no history. And how many courses were offered in the 19th century in the University of Vienna on Slovenian history? How many are offered today? The very term ‘historical nation’ introduces a racist category into the heart of historical practice. Ninety-five per cent of all written history before 1945 was that of five historical nations: Great Britain, France, the United States, the Germanies (I choose this formulation deliberately) and the Italies. The other 5 per cent is largely the history of a few less powerful European states, such as the Netherlands or Sweden or Spain. A small percentage was concerned with the European Middle Ages as well as with the presumed founts of modern Europe: ancient Greece and Rome. But not ancient Persia, or even ancient Egypt.

Did the other social sciences do better? Economists were busy constructing universal theories of homo economicus. Adam Smith, in his famous formulation, told us that all humans seek to ‘truck, barter and trade’. The whole object of The Wealth of Nations was to persuade us (and British governments) that everyone should cease interfering with this natural and universal tendency. When Ricardo created a theory of international trade based on the concept of comparative advantage, he used a hypothetical example to illustrate it in which he inserted the names of England and Portugal. He did not mention that the example was drawn from real history nor did he explain the degree to which this so-called comparative advantage had been imposed by British power on the weaker Portuguese state.

Mainstream economists assume that economic behaviour that does not follow the norms of the market is not worth analysing. The feigned political innocence that follows from such presumptions makes it impossible to analyse the economic sources or consequences of racist movements. It erases this subject from scientific analysis. Worse, it suggests that a good deal of political behaviour that can be analysed as racist or as resistance to racism is economically irrational.

Political scientists have not been any better. Their early concentration on constitutional issues, derived from their historic links to law faculties, turned the analysis of racism into an issue of formal legislation. Apartheid South Africa was racist because it enshrined formal discriminations in the legal system. France was not racist because it did not have legal discriminations of that kind, at least not in metropolitan France. Political scientists before 1945 also developed what they called the study of ‘comparative government’. But which governments did they compare? Those of the five major pan-European countries. No one else was worth studying, because no one else was truly civilised.

Before 1945, there were two brands of sociologist: those, especially in the United States, who explicitly justified the concept of white superiority, and those who sought to describe the underprivileged of the large urban centres and explain the ‘deviance’ of their denizens. The descriptions were well-intentioned if patronising, but the assumption that this behaviour was deviant and had to be rectified to meet middle-class norms was unquestioned. And since in most cases, and not only in the United States, the lower classes were also ethnically distinguishable from the middle classes, the racist underpinnings of this study are clear.

Worst of all, analysis of the extra-European world was consigned to separate disciplines: anthropology for the barbaric ‘peoples without history’ and Oriental studies for the non-Western ‘high civilisations’ that were, however, incapable of proceeding to modernity without European intrusion and reorganisation of their social dynamics. Ethnography specifically rejected the historicity of its ‘tribes’; they were unchanging, at least before ‘culture contact’. And Oriental studies saw the histories of these high civilisations as ‘frozen’.

The extra-European world represented ‘tradition’: the pan-European world represented modernity, evolution, progress. In thinking about the modern world, social science invented not one but three disciplines to describe the regularities of the present: economics, political science and sociology. But in analysing the extra-European world, there was not only no need for history but no need for the trinity of approaches required for the pan-European world. This was because the ‘differentiation’ into separate arenas of social action – the market, the state and civil society – was thought to be an achievement of modernity, indeed its very essence. Because of the disjunction between science and philosophy, there was no one to point out that this was merely an assumption of liberal ideology rather than a plausible account of social reality. No wonder that social science could not help us understand Nazism. And, despite improvements since 1945, it has not been very helpful in helping us understand Haider. There is no way to account for Widerstand, except as one more deviant activity, to which one can be sympathetic in a slightly patronising way.

The strong vote for the FPÖ and the strong EU reaction are important signs of our present crisis. The shift from an underlying optimism about the future, from the certainty that things would in fact get better, to an underlying fear that this may not be so, has reached the wealthy part of the world. In Austria, in Western Europe as a whole, in the United States, faith in centrist rational reformism, slow-moving but always in the right direction, has been replaced by scepticism about the promises of mainstream politics, whether centre-left or centre-right. The centrist consensus informed by 19th-century liberalism is no more. It was fundamentally challenged in 1968 and buried in 1989.

In a world-system that is collapsing because its possibilities of structural adjustment have been exhausted, those with power and privilege will not stand idly by. They will organise to replace the present world-system with one that is equally hierarchical and inegalitarian, however different the principles on which it is based. For such people, Haider is a demagogue and a threat. He understands contemporary reality so little that he is not even aware that for Austrians to maintain their present standard of living, they will have to double, triple or quadruple the number of immigrants they take in every year for the next 25 to 50 years; that without a large immigrant workforce, they won’t be able to sustain the pensions of the ageing Austrian population. The danger is that the new demagoguery will lead the pan-European world even more quickly down the path of civil war.

There are other forces of transformation different both from those of the FPÖ and from the leadership of the EU. But do they have a clear vision of what it is they want? Social science has a role to play here, but it has to be a social science that refuses to separate the search for the true and the search for the good, that can overcome the split between the two cultures, and that can fully incorporate the permanence of uncertainty.

We are living amid rapid change. Is that so bad? In 1968, during the great student uprising in France, the leader of the students, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, made the tactical error of briefly visiting Germany. Since he was a German not a French citizen, de Gaulle’s Government blocked his return to France. The students marched in Paris under the slogan ‘We are all German Jews; we are all Palestinian Arabs.’ It is a good slogan, one we might all adopt, though we might also add: ‘We are all Jörg Haider.’ If we wish to combat the Haiders of the world, and we must, we first have to look within. When the new Austrian Government was formed, the Israeli Government correctly withdrew its Ambassador in protest. Yet only a month or so later, the Knesset placed Prime Minister Barak in great difficulty by passing a motion insisting that any referendum on a withdrawal from the Golan required a ‘special majority’ – code for a provision that would effectively disfranchise Israel’s Arab citizens on this issue. One of the main proponents of the motion was Natan Sharanksy, who famously protested against the de facto anti-semitism of the Soviet regime. The struggle against racism is indivisible. There can’t be different rules for Austria, for Israel, for the USSR or for the United States.

The albatross is around our necks. Widerstand is a moral obligation. It cannot be intelligently and usefully pursued without analysis, which it is the moral and intellectual function of the social sciences to help to provide. But just as it will require an enormous wrench on all our parts to extirpate the racism within each of us, so it will require an enormous wrench for social scientists to unthink the kind of social science that has crippled us and to create something more useful in its place. In an age of transition, we can all have an enormous impact on what happens. In moments of structural bifurcation, the fluctuations are wild and small pushes can have great consequences. This offers us an opportunity but also creates a moral pressure. If at the end of the transition the world is not manifestly better than it is now, and it could well not be, then we shall have only ourselves to blame.

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Vol. 22 No. 12 · 22 June 2000

In discussing Bartolomé de Las Casas’s stand against the enslavement of Indian peoples in Latin America, Immanuel Wallerstein (LRB, 18 May) might have mentioned that it was Las Casas who suggested recourse to African ‘labour’ instead.

Wilhelm Schmid

Immanuel Wallerstein’s piece (LRB, 18 May) contained a number of errors in the German. In the first column on page 11, ‘der andere Österreich’ should have read ‘dem anderen Österreich’. In the third column ‘Der Mitte’ should have been ‘der Mitte’. And on page 12, ‘Gastarbeitern’ should have read ‘Gastarbeiter’. On the first column of page 13, ‘Wir sind Menschen, Christlichen Österreicher’ should have read ‘Wir sind Menschen, christliche Österreicher.’ We are grateful to the readers who pointed out these mistakes and apologise for our failure to spot them.

Editor, ‘London Review’

Vol. 22 No. 14 · 20 July 2000

Wilhelm Schmid (Letters, 22 June) correctly observes that Bartolomé de Las Casas recommended African slavery as an alternative to enslaving Indian peoples. As he matured, however, Las Casas came to oppose both African and Indian slavery. During the 16th century, of course, the number of people who spoke out against enslaving Africans or Indians was minuscule.

Philip Russell
Austin, Texas

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