The writings of Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein, the highly influential American historical social scientist, consistently forecast “our future world-government” will ensure a “socialist mode of production” worldwide.1 We currently live in an exciting transition period to this world system. This article is endorsing some of the exciting guidelines and commands in Wallerstein’s writing, all of which aim to give extra illumination to help us cultivate a better world system.
In the conclusion of a polemic delivered in 1975,2 Immanuel Wallerstein stated that the “socialist mode of production” awaiting us after the collapse of our current world economy would constitute a maximally “free” economic order and make descriptions of the existing “free market” system pale by comparison.3 In Wallerstein’s insightful criticisms, the current system gives only partial freedom of the factors of production.3 This is because the current global system of production depends on a massive “axial division of labor”4 consistent with the North-South divide between the high-tech areas and the low-tech exploited areas predominantly located in the so-called Third World. Wallerstein views this geographically-scaled class struggle as the central tension5 that is destined to shape the transformation away from our global system of exploitation to a system of freedom. Through these theories, we may even determine that he tacitly endorses a war of maneuver to shock and incapacitate the high-tech regions’ advantages in production. If this interpretation of the theory holds true, then those of us who equip ourselves with his theory are in an exciting position and it will only get better. Our world is (was in 1975) a “capitalist world-economy in the early stages of its transition to a socialist world-government.”6 And what more exciting time could there be for a progressive person than now, nearly four decades after his words were written and his forecasts came ever closer to reality?
This article’s main point is to express how, as activists and arguers, some of us should feel no less than delighted at the offering of potential political roads to an alternate world system. That is, we can take inspiration from the scholars, as I am seeking to do in this article, and use their ideas to create guidelines for good social and political causes. By keeping the most illuminating elements of theory involved, it is clear that our arguments would surely be better-informed and less blind than other forms of political and social militancy. Having started with this premise, let me present some of the most exciting details provided in Wallerstein’s work to help our participation in the great transition of our time.
Wallerstein says in his essay, “Development of the World System?”, that “we are before an historical and collective choice, the kind that comes rarely and is not the lot of every generation of mankind.”7 He is clear in advancing that the favorable conclusion, socialist world government, is not the definite outcome but it is the obligation of us to strive for it without omitting any choices of tactic along the way. In essence, those involved need to strive to pave the political and economic way for a socialist civilization to take hold over the world as the next system.8
Let us consider, next, the guidelines for our political tactics. Unfortunately, dominant “anti-systemic movements,” or progressive groups, helped sustain the system by “taking state power and operating within an interstate system,”9 the interstate system being the political superstructure of the system. Perhaps the most favorable progressive group would therefore be a movement with designs no less grand than taking on the entire world system itself and dismantling the vestiges of its exploitative superstructure. It would not view itself as acting within the international system, but acting from outside it to transform it and impose a different, namely socialist, civilization.
The goal of this socialist civilization has been written into the course of history already. The slogan of liberty, equality and fraternity presents “the images of a social order different from ours, one that might one day be constructed.”10 In effect, what we can read is a statement of approval for the existing cultural and intellectual war of position by the New Left to imagine our coming socialist civilization. Equality, Wallerstein writes, has only failed to materialize because the dominant liberal ideology of the current world system refuses the final liberation of the poorest elements of the world from exploitation.11 Just as the ideological exposure of this great hypocrisy is the task of the intellectual’s war of position, so the task of our war of maneuver might be to shock the foundations of that structure and take out the cornerstone. Our socialist world system needs total freedom, with no controls on the movement of ideas, capital and people. These three are constantly on the march due to technology, but ugly reactionary realities obstructing them still need to be knocked out.
In his “Quest for a Just Society” essay, Wallerstein encourages our awareness that global change entails a tremendous challenge before it can take place, and the transition will take place over years that “will be terrible ones in terms of human social relations – the period of disintegration” and “transition to an uncertain alternative.”12 This however “dark” period must be regarded with excitement by those who love change. Indeed, the throes of extreme reaction in the world today are evidence of the transition itself. We are witnessing the birth pangs of the next order, so we should delight in spite of all the terror, knowing it is the necessary terror of modernity’s next turn. The French Revolution required terror too, but we would never have again heard of “politics” and “legitimacy” if this terror had not been allowed to work in reconstructing the world system.
The political realization of the new order is unavoidable. All things will settle again when the transition is complete. In “The Agonies of Liberalism”, Wallerstein announces “out of chaos will come a new order.”13 The states structure, a vestigial feature of the corrupt system of global exploitation of weaker regions and people, will collapse through growing insecurity and porosity of borders. All barriers will break down and nothing, whether people, capital or technology, will be contained as we see the pool of equality grow. The nation-state must disappear because it is a vestige of the system, after which authority will be decentralized along an equal plane across the world as wealth begins to flow with maximal freedom. Any concept of the citizen will be forgotten altogether as humanity takes its place at the center of social legitimation. Dilution of privilege, equalization of wealth, and decentralization of technology are the political sides of the transition. No longer will the world economy be the zero sum game it was. Instead, the pool of equality will absorb everything and be the new system. No ownership would then exist, so all things would belong to everyone and no-one.
To add to the detail as to why and how the system will collapse due to its own structural faults and our proactive militancy against its rotting foundation, Wallerstein’s essay “Long Waves as Capitalist Process”, considers the demise of our current world economy. In the most summarized explanation of a lengthy and thoroughly documented body of theory, the world economy of the present cannot obtain equilibrium because its historical lifespan is limited and the system is paradoxical.14 With this in mind we can imagine an additional feature of our socialist mode of production. Equilibrium, and with it the political equivalent in the form of lasting peace, can only exist in a socialist civilization with complete economic equality, redistribution and freedom. Devoid of monopoly and oligopoly, devoid of masters of wealth, the riches of mankind will collapse into one pool where we find our lot as equals.
To conclude on the brightest and most optimistic note, we can wonder if “emerging technology” perhaps accelerates our claim to a socialist world system. Is it already reshaping power relations? Let us hope even more! Let us imagine that the Internet is not just a foretaste of the massive emancipating effects of technology on the masses of the world, but a virtual experiment in the next mode of production – a socialist mode of production. Still, let us heed Wallerstein’s warning not to blind ourselves with zeal on a path that is still so fuzzy and uncertain,15 but let us not ignore the possibilities of emerging technology for redressing the severest economic and political inequalities in the world.
- Wallerstein, I. M., “Modernization: Requiescat in Pace”, p. 106-111 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 110. [↩]
- Ibid, 106. [↩]
- Ibid, 108. [↩] [↩]
- Wallerstein, World-Systems Analysis: An introduction (Duke University Press, Durham, 2004) p. 28. [↩]
- “Class Formation in the Capitalist World-Economy”, p. 315-323 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 316. [↩]
- “Modernization: Requiescat in Pace”, p. 111. [↩]
- “Societal Development, or Development of the World-System?” p. 112-128 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 124. [↩]
- Wallerstein, “The Agonies of Liberalism: What Hope Progress?” p. 416-434 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 422. [↩]
- “Societal Development …,” 125. [↩]
- Ibid, 127. [↩]
- “The Agonies of Liberalism,” 422. [↩]
- Wallerstein, “Social Science and the Quest for a Just Society”, p. 185-203 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 203. [↩]
- “The Agonies of Liberalism,” 431. [↩]
- “Long Waves as Capitalist Process”, pp. 207-220 in The Essential Wallerstein (The New York Press, New York, 2000), p. 217. [↩]
- “The Agonies of Liberalism,” 432. [↩]