Saturday 4 April , by Immanuel Wallerstein. The antisystemic movements now find themselves in the midst of a fierce struggle about the future. Let me start by reviewing very briefly my premises, about which I have written much. I do this in order to analyze the role and dilemmas of the antisystemic movements in this struggle, what I now call the Global Left.
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Saturday 4 April , by Immanuel Wallerstein. The antisystemic movements now find themselves in the midst of a fierce struggle about the future. Let me start by reviewing very briefly my premises, about which I have written much.
I do this in order to analyze the role and dilemmas of the antisystemic movements in this struggle, what I now call the Global Left. The modern world-system is a capitalist world-economy functioning within the framework of an interstate system. This system has been in existence for some years. It has been a remarkably successful system in terms of its objective which is the endless accumulation of capital.
However, like all systems from the very largest the universe to the smallest nano-systems, this system is a historical system, and as such has three phases - its initial coming into being, its long period of what I call ifs "normal" functioning according to the rules that govern the system, and its inevitable structural crisis. I contend that the world-system is now in this third phase, that of structural crisis. It had discernible cyclical rhythms, of which the two most important were the so-called Kondratieff long waves and the hegemonic cycles.
Each of these rhythms was imperfectly cyclical in the sense that they followed a consistent pattern of two steps forward followed by one step back. That is, after its upturn phase of the cycle, none of the cyclical rhythms returned all the way to where they had been at the beginning of the upturn, but only to a point somewhat higher. The downturn took the form more of a stagnation than of a true downturn. To achieve its objectives, each of the two principal rhythms depended on constructing a quasi-monopoly, which brought great benefits to certain groups.
However, the quasi-monopolies were necessarily limited in time because they were always self-liquidating. The modern world-system came into its structural crisis for two reasons. The first is that the three basic costs of capitalist production - personnel, inputs, and infrastructure - rose slowly but steadily over time because of the ways in which producers sought to minimize each of these costs. Their efforts were therefore only partially realizable.
Similarly, the mode of enforcing hegemonic supremacies also reached structural limits given the absences of new zones to incorporate into the now global world-system. The costs of capitalist production had been rising steadily as a percentage of the possible price that could be obtained effective demand. The consequence of the mode of operations of these two imperfect cyclical rhythms was an upward secular trend over years, moving towards an asymptote.
They eventually reached a point where the costs were so high and effective demand so constrained that it was no longer possible to accumulate capital, creating a problem for capitalists themselves.
The system had moved so far from a possible equilibrium that they brought about, in conjunction with the limits of hegemonic power, the structural crisis of the system. A structural crisis is not a cyclical downturn, with which it is regularly confused because of our looseness in using the word "crisis.
It is the point at which the system can no longer be brought back to equilibrium and begins to fluctuate wildly. This can only occur once in the life of a historical system. At the point when the structural crisis begins, the system bifurcates. For natural scientists, a bifurcation means that there are two different solutions to the same equation, something supposedly not normally possible.
In ordinary language, we can say that there has come into being two possible and quite different outcomes, two paths along which the system can evolve. In a bifurcation, one is absolutely certain that the system cannot survive. However, one is equally certain that it is intrinsically impossible to know which fork of the bifurcation will ultimately prevail and thereby result in the creation of a new historical system or systems.
The origins and evolution of the Global Left can best be appreciated if one understands some major turning-points of the modern world-system. I start with the French Revolution. Most historians consider that the French Revolution brought about a fundamental transformation of France in either its political or economic structures, or both. I think it did neither of these things. Politically, France had long been following an uneven trajectory of strengthening the central state.
As Tocqueville showed a long time ago, the result of the French Revolution was to put this trajectory back on track. Economically, it did not transform France into a capitalist state, since France had been part of the capitalist world-economy for two to three centuries already.
As for its supposed abolition of the remnants of feudal law, Marc Bloch showed that the presumed feudal remnants were still there as late as the early twentieth century. Rather, in my view the significance of the French Revolution lay in the cultural transformation of the modern world-system as a whole.
The French Revolution bequeathed to the world-system the tacit worldwide acceptance of two cultural concepts: the normality of change and the sovereignty of the people. The combination of the two had very radical implications. The sovereign people could change the system more or less as they wished. For the dominant classes, this belief severely threatened their interests.
The immediate problem was how to handle this new reality. There were three different ways, resulting in the three fundamental ideologies of the post world - rightwing conservatism, centrist liberalism, and leftwing radicalism. Each of these ideologies was a different way of responding politically to these new beliefs. I call this array of responses the newly-constructed geoculture of the modern world-system. I interpret the world-revolution of as a critical confrontation of the three post ideologies, in which both rightwing Conservatism and leftist Radicalism were outmaneuvered by centrist Liberalism, which was able to assert supremacy over the two rival ideologies.
The Global Left took a crucial turn in the wake of the severe repressions it suffered following the world-revolution of The key political shift was from relying either on spontaneous rebellions or on utopian withdrawal the two principal tactics prior to to the creation of organizational and therefore bureaucratic structures to prepare the base for the long struggle. Such structures began to take shape only in the s. This dominance of centrist liberalism essentially lasted until the world-revolution of , whose major consequence was precisely to liberate both the conservatives and the radicals from their subordinate status to centrist liberalism.
After , they were able to become once again autonomous ideologies, recreating the original triad. Centrist liberalism did not disappear but was reduced to being once again simply one of three competing ideologies. Organizationally what I call the original version of the antisystemic movements, sometimes called the Old Left, began to be constructed in the last third of the nineteenth century.
These movements took two main forms: that of social movements, which considered that the basic struggle was a capitalist struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; and that of the national movements, which considered that the basic struggle was between oppressed peoples and their oppressors.
There were parallel debates about strategy that occurred both in the social and in the nationalist movements. One was whether the movements should seek state power. There were those who said that the state was their principal enemy and that therefore they should combat it permanently and unremittingly. The state could not be reformed. And there were others who insisted that precisely because the state was their enemy, they needed to disarm it by taking it over.
In social movements, this was the difference between the Anarchists and the Marxists. In national movements this was the difference between the cultural and political nationalists. The second great debate was over the relation between what each considered to be the primary historical actor the proletariat for the social movements, the oppressed people for the national movements and all other movements. There were those who insisted that the victory of the primary actor had to take precedence over the realization of any other demand.
Feminist movements, movements of social minorities, peace movements, environmentalist movements all were told to subordinate their actions and demands to those of the primary actor. Otherwise, it was argued they were acting objectively counter-revolutionary.
We call this view verticalism. And there were those who insisted that the demands of other groups for their rights could not wait on the victorious "revolution" of the self-styled primary movements. We call this horizontalism. In the case of both the social and the national movements, the statist, verticalist strategy won out in a formula we came to call the two-step strategy - first obtain state power, then transform the world.
This strategy failed in precisely because it had succeeded in the preceding twenty-five years. The revolutionaries of what the French called the soixante-huitards were responding to what they saw as several realities.
The first was the pervasive imperialist role of the hegemonic power, and what the revolutionaries defined as the collusion thereto of the Soviet Union the Yalta tacit deal.
The second was the failure of the movements, having realized step one of the two-step strategy, to implement the second step and change the world in any significant way.
The third was the limitations and misdeeds of a verticalist strategy from the perspective of other movements. The world-revolution of came within a particular historical context, that of the acme of the operation of the modern world-system.
This was the period running more or less from to This period saw the highest historical level of accumulation as well as the most extensive and powerful degree of hegemonic control of the system that had ever been known. It was precisely the fact that the modern world-system worked so well in this period in terms of its objectives that pushed the system too close to the asymptotes and brought on the structural crisis of the world-system.
Initially after , it was the Global Right that was able to take most advantage of the post situation. These took the form of the so-called Washington Consensus that imposed on virtually all governments a series of measures that undid the so-called developmentalist thrusts of an earlier period. It would not be until that the Global Left could resume its initiatives. There three successive moments of this reawakening of the Global Left: the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in ; the ability of the demonstrators at the meeting of the World Trade Organization WTO in Seattle in to scuttle the proposed new world treaty guaranteeing so-called intellectual property rights; and the founding of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in What then are the useful and possible strategies of the Global Left during the remaining years of the structural crisis of our present system?
To do that, I need to remind you of the reasons why the classic two-step strategy failed. The very belief in the inevitability of progress was substantively depoliticizing, and particularly depoliticizing once an antisystemic movement came to state power. After , the Global Left espoused a sort of anti-statism.
This popular shift to anti-statism, hailed though it was by the celebrants of the capitalist system, did not really serve the interests of the latter. For in actuality anti-statism served to delegitimize all state structures, even if it was thought to apply merely to certain particular regimes. It thus undermined rather than reinforced the political stability of the world-system, and thereby has been making more acute its systemic crisis.
The politics of the transition are different from the politics of the period of normal operation of the world-system. It is the politics of grabbing advantage and position at a moment in time when politically anything is possible and when most actors find it extremely difficult to formulate middle-range strategies. Ideological and analytic confusion becomes a structural reality rather than an accidental variable.
The economics of everyday life is subject to wilder swings than those to which the world had been accustomed and for which there had been easy explanations. Above all, the social fabric seems less reliable and the institutions on which we rely to guarantee our immediate security seem to be faltering seriously. Thus, antisocial crime as well as so-called terrorism seems to be widespread and this perception creates high level of fear.
One widespread reflex to increased fear is the expansion of privatized security measures staffed by non-state hired forces.
New Revolts Against the System
Social movements were conceived primarily as socialist parties and trade unions; they sought to further the class struggle within each state against the bourgeoisie or the employers. National movements were those which fought for the creation of a national state, either by combining separate political units that were considered to be part of one nation—as, for example, in Italy—or by seceding from states considered imperial and oppressive by the nationality in question—colonies in Asia or Africa, for instance. Both types of movement emerged as significant, bureaucratic structures in the second half of the nineteenth century and grew stronger over time. Both tended to accord their objectives priority over any other kind of political goal—and, specifically, over the goals of their national or social rival. This frequently resulted in severe mutual denunciations. The two types seldom cooperated politically and, if they did so, tended to see such cooperation as a temporary tactic, not a basic alliance. Nonetheless, the history of these movements between and reveals a series of shared features.
Basing itself on an analysis of resistance movements since the emergence of capitalism, it shows that while some early forms were successful in their own terms, ultimately they did not impede the consolidation of the modern capitalist world-system. The authors argue that although capitalism generated resistance right from the beginning as it displaced populations, despoiled resources and established global exploitation, until about the capitalist world-system could crush or outflank an opposition which was dispersed, localized and lacking in organization and continuity. From the mid-nineteenth century down to recent times, more adequately organized social and national movements set some limits on capital accumulation, but generally remained confined in their effectiveness to the terrain of the nation-state. These new movements have a different ethnic and gender composition and different ways of organizing, while their key inspirations show an increasing ability to cross national boundaries. The authors suggest that the new assertiveness of the south, the development of class struggle in the east and the emergence of rainbow coalitions in different world zones might hold out the promise of a future socialist world-system.
Antisystemic Movements and the Future of Capitalism
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