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Tribute to Giovanni Arrighi

November 10, 2009

by Tom Reifer
from the New Left Review

arrighi-giovanniOf the minds produced by the international left in the second half of the twentieth century, few have been the equal, in historical imagination, architectonic scope and conceptual clarity, to Giovanni Arrighi, whose work will be read and reflected on for the rest of this century. We publish below a tribute to him from a pupil, Tom Reifer, which gives a measure of his achievement. A thinker of exceptional warmth, integrity and largeness of spirit, Arrighi drew on personal experience of struggles in both the Third and First Worlds—the movements for national liberation in Africa, and the great labour insurgencies of Italy—in the sixties, and subsequent deep engagement with the trajectory of the two leading powers of the present global order, America and China. His texts in NLR are so many landmarks in the history of the journal. Scanning one decade after another came ‘The Political Economy of Rhodesia’ in the mid sixties (NLR i/39); ‘Towards a Theory of Capitalist Crisis’ in the seventies (NLR i/111); the arresting paradoxes of ‘Marxist Century, American Century’ at the close of the eighties (NLR i/179); his famous analysis of ‘World Income Inequalities and the Future of Socialism’ in the nineties (NLR i/189); and his return to the fate of Africa in this decade (‘The African Crisis’, NLR 15), when ‘Political Economy of Global Turbulence’ (NLR 20) and ‘Hegemony Unravelling’ (NLR 32 and 33) became central parts of his last book, Adam Smith in Beijing. Personal friendship and political loyalty were unshakeable values for him. The journal knew both. In the autumn of last year, he learnt that, in all probability, he was mortally ill. He faced that prospect with an unsurpassed calm, energy and courage. In the final months of his life, he composed a striking Afterword to the new edition of The Long Twentieth Century, out in early 2010, and offered a panoramic view of his ideas, and his life, in the magisterial interview we published in the January–February issue of this year. Conducted by David Harvey, it was made possible with the help of his companion Beverly Silver, co-author of Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System, the second volume of his trilogy on the origin of our times, and can be read as his testament. Moving and challenging, it makes clear why he is mourned by friends, colleagues, pupils and admirers from all over the world—East Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America. Future generations will look back on him as one of the finest lights of the period through which he lived. more

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