Peter Gowan: explained dynamics of post-Soviet Europe

Peter Gowan, a former leader of the International Marxist Group, editor of Labour Focus on Eastern Europe and expert on US imperialism at London Metropolitan University, where he was Professor of International Relations, died on Friday 12 June. Notable obituaries have been written by Misha Glenny and Phil Hearse, from the SR editorial board.

Duncan Chapel, one of SR’s editors who studied under Gowan in the 1990s, adds:

Peter Gowan played a huge role in leading the IMG and later in guiding its successor, the International Socialist Group, in understanding the fall of Stalinism, the development of the European Union, the growth of US dominance and the reemergence of Russia under Putin. Many socialist activists, including some on SR’s editorial board, had been taught by Peter over the years. He had continued to contribute the left in recent years, speaking regularly at conferences on Russia, Marxism and events organised by ‘Historical Materialism’, ‘Socialist Register’, ‘Debatte’ and ‘Socialist Resistance’. Earlier his year he gave the first Rowland Sheret Memorial Lecture, to celebrate the contribution of another long-time Fourth Internationalist. When anti-capitalist activists in Brazil were excelled from the workers’ party (PT) in 2003, Peter was one of the first to rush to their defence – and helped us to circulate an international petition in support for what is now the PSOL party.

The funeral will take place on Saturday 20 June from 11am to 12 at Golders Green Crematorium, 62 Hoop Lane, London NW11 7NL (the nearest tube is Golders Green on the Northern Line). Following the funeral there will be a wake in Highgate.

Messages from people who knew him can be sent to his long-time partner Halya Kowalsky

7 Comments on Peter Gowan: explained dynamics of post-Soviet Europe

  1. Tony Whelan // 16th June 2009 at 11:39 am // Reply

    I am very sorry to hear of the death of Peter Gowan. I knew him many years ago (in the IMG in the early 1970s), and have bumped into him occasionally since then. In the IMG we disagreed very much, but I came to respect him, especially for the work that he did around the then USSR and Eastern Europe.

    Tony Whelan

  2. Portia Msimang // 17th June 2009 at 12:52 pm // Reply

    How sad to learn that Peter Gowan has died.
    In 2007, many years after I left UNL and his still-memorable lectures, I was delighted to find a seat next to Peter on a flight to Barcelona and I learnt much about relations between North & South Korea that day. His passion for his themes was contagious both in and out of the classroom and I, like may others, have been enriched by his knowledge.
    I offer my sincere condolences to his family.

  3. Mike Calvert // 17th June 2009 at 9:30 pm // Reply

    I likewise am saddened to have heard of peter’s death. I vaguely knew him when I was in the Socialist League from 1983-1985 and then the International Group of Phil and Dave from 1985-1986.
    His is a sad loss.
    I am pleased to see that his role in the revolutionary left has been remembered though as well as his personal and academic side.


  4. Julian Atkinson // 19th June 2009 at 10:10 am // Reply

    During my time in the IMG I knew Peter well as a comrade and as a friend. He was gentle,amusing and supremely intellectually gifted.He took his ideas seriously but he never took himself too seriously and was never the prima donna – and the IMG possessed perhaps a few of that type.He will obviously be best remembered politically for his work on international relations. Within the IMG he was amongst the first to realise the impact on an English speaking section of the upheaval within the US SWP – there was a hint of spheres of influence at the time.He was the first to grasp that the honourable if stodgy marxism of Joe Hansen was finding it increasingly difficult to interpret new developments -he cited Hansen’s text on Africa.He also grasped how radically revisionist was the Barnes group in grappling with this impasse and how the “turn to industry” was intended to unseat the old leadership and produce a deracinated membership following orders from Barnes.Sadly he was not able to stop the wake of this process destabilising the IMG and losing a large section of its members.Peter went on to play a major role in the NLR which enabled him to gain an audience for marxist analyses at a time of confusion for the post-Soviet left, fend off some of the more rightist fads within the Review, whilst retaining a gentle amusement for the more eccentric internal moments of the project.That balance characterised Peter. He will be much missed and long remembered.

  5. Vassilis K. Fouskas // 23rd June 2009 at 11:31 am // Reply

    I am devastated by Peter’s death. I met him in 1994 through one of his Greek students at the then UNL. At the time, I was writing my PhD dissertation under the supervision of Donald Sassoon at Queen Mary, the topic being the transformation of Italian Communism. Parralel to that, I was running seminars at the LSE on the Balkans. Peter immediately volunteered to assist me. He came and spoke to the seminars and offered immense intellectual support. He also joined the Editorial Board of the journal that resulted from these seminars, the Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans, later re-named into Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies. There he humbly debated with Stevan K. Pavlowitch (one of his Profs at Southampton University)on the collapse of Yugoslavia, and also wrote many book reviews. In 1996-97 I had the luck to teach his courses in European politics at the UNL, where I tried to immitate his lecturing techniques, but in vain: Peter had a charisma beyond belief. It was Peter who introduced me to the pioneering work of Susan Woodward on the Balkan crisis and led my intellectual turn from the study of Left-wing politics to international relations. Ever since, and always influenced by Peter’s analyses, my attempt has been to re-draw the IR boundaries of Marxist theory via a concrete understanding of US grand strategy after WWII. Peter read my work before I sent it off to my publishers, and also wrote the preface to my joint work with Bulent, “The New American Imperialism” (2005). The latest telephone conversation I had with him in January 2009 was as if nothing had happened to his health (he explained to me his condition on the phone in October 2008). He spoke to me as a friend and mentor and, once again, I beneffited from his insights. Peter’s message to the younger generations is very simple: fight for the right of the poor and the deprived, show solidarity to the oppressed in practice and defend the values of freedom and socialist emancipation. This message, Peter would say, is inseparable from the conscientious and critical study of international politics, economics and theory, as it is only this combination that puts the individual on a high moral ground, turning him/her to an organic intellectual. I am devastated from his loss and I am appalled by the cause of his premature death (asbestos), which is certainly something that UK authorities have to get a grip on by launching a general inquiry on the level of asbestos in the UK.

  6. Krenar Loshi // 21st August 2009 at 8:03 pm // Reply

    Very sad to hear of Peter’s passing away.

    I had the honour to have him as professor while studying in UNL in 1996. Peter was the first person I meet in the UNL’s open day, when I went to register for studies in UNL, he looked at my marks from my secondary education in Kosovo and immediately said that I don’t need to translate the certificate into English and enrolled me immediately…he knew how advanced the education system in old Yugoslavia was…and I will never forget his charisma and insights in Balkan conflict and international relations.

    I was googling today for Peter’s contacts in inviting him for a lecture in an important event of UN in New York, place where I now work, only to find out that he has passed away.

    Krenar Loshi

  7. S. Rasananda // 3rd November 2009 at 2:28 am // Reply

    I was at school with Peter – Haileybury 1960 – 1963. We studied in the same form, played rugby in the same team, I supported Fulham while he supported neighbouring Chelsea. I stayed at his house in London a few times and got to know his mother and sister well.
    Peter was a great fellow; I am very fond of him and still remember him well. A nicer friend is hard to find.

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