In his post to the Progressive and Critical Sociologist Network (see “States as actors in the world-system” 7/21/2014), Alan Spector writes, “The limits to the capitalist world system are indeed getting squeezed. Whether the historical pattern of capitalism's limits will be resolved by ‘democratic’ alliances of semi-periphery forces or whether it will be resolved by inter-imperialist war is the question.”
I do not think that there are signs that the world is moving toward an inter-imperialist war, which I understand as a war between imperialist powers. Inter-imperialist conflict was a normal tendency of the world-system during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it culminated in World Wars I and II, which Wallerstein describes as a thirty-year war (1914-45) between two rising imperialist powers, the United States and Germany, fought in the context of the fall from hegemony of the United Kingdom (Wallerstein 1995: 48, 253; 2003:14, 32). The inter-imperialist war of 1914-45 culminated in US hegemonic domination in a world-system in transition to neocolonialism.
But the wars since 1990 have a character different from the inter-imperialist conflagrations of the twentieth century. The wars since 1990 have been directed by the United States, with the support of Western European imperialist powers, against semi-peripheral nations that were violating in some way the rules of the neocolonial world-system and/or challenging the interests of the imperialist powers, although the governments of the attacked nations were not necessarily defending the popular sectors.
The US directed wars since 1990, which also can be understood as a continuous war, point not to inter-imperialist war but to the possible emergence of a new form of global fascism, characterized by: military intervention by the global powers in semi-peripheral and peripheral regions to attain economic and commercial goals; repression of radical popular movements by governments in semi-peripheral and peripheral zones allied with the global powers; efforts to destabilize progressive and radical governments in semi-peripheral and peripheral zones, through various means, including ideological manipulation, attacks on production and commerce, and the formation of violent gangs that attack leaders and the people in popular organizations; and within the core, attacks on gays, immigrants, affirmative action programs that defend women and minorities, and social programs that protect the unemployed and the middle and working classes, which have the effect of diverting the attention of the people by creating scapegoats. With reference to these dynamics, Fidel Castro recently used the phrase, “global military dictatorship.”
But an alternative possibility to global neo-fascism and global military dictatorship is the construction from below of a more just and democratic world-system, a process that has been unfolding since 1995, in the form of a global popular movement in opposition to neoliberalism and neocolonialism. This possible option is represented by the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and China (see “The nations of the Global South speak” 6/19/2014), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC for its initials in Spanish) (see “The Declaration of Havana 2014” 3/14/2014), and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) (see “The rise of ALBA” 3/11/2014). The leading countries in the emerging alternative world-system include Russia, China, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, Uruguay, and South Africa, all of which have strong traditions of socialist movements. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the popular movement for an alternative world-system has acquired such force that governments that are still controlled by the national bourgeoisie and the traditional political parties and allied with the United States are compelled to make concessions, such that one may speak of a new political reality in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A third option is chaos, indicated by growing levels of crime and criminal violence, the increasing use of private security, uncontrolled international migration, the reemergence of religious fundamentalism, and the emergence of ethnic separatist movements. The neocolonial world-system is characterized by increasing disorder, and it could fragment into regions, each ruled by a regional neo-fascist military dictatorship or by local war lords.
These three projections for the future of the world-system are observable. They are emerging in the present, each being pushed by particular political forces and dynamics. In response to the structural crisis of the world-system, the global power elite is moving core governments toward the development of a neo-fascist global dictatorship. Various social movements in the core have criticized this turn of the global elite, but the core social movements are limited in depth, and they do not address the systemic problems that are provoking the turn to neo-fascist global military dictatorship. The core movements, therefore, slow the march toward global dictatorship, but they do not to redirect it. But another kind of opposition to the global project of the elite is emerging in the Third World, where the movements and governments are seeking to develop an alternative world-system with more just and democratic norms among and within nations. However, chaos increasingly emerges in social and territorial space where neither the elite nor the popular forces have control. Chaos can emerge as the prevailing global tendency, if neither the bourgeois-fascist adjustments from above nor the anti-colonial and democratic political forces from below can consolidate control.
We cannot know or predict the future. But we can understand the future possibilities that are emerging in the present, and that the final resolution of the structural crisis of the world-system will depend on the mobilization of global political forces. Inter-imperialist wars have occurred in the past, because colonialism and imperialism have been central to the development of the world-system, and thus competition among imperialist powers is a normal tendency. But we are now in a new situation. The world-system has entered a structural crisis, provoked by the fact that it has reached the geographical and ecological limits of the earth. As a result, new dynamics are emerging; and the world-system is moving toward either a neo-fascist global dictatorship, or a transformation to a more just and democratic world-system, or world-wide chaos.
Our task as intellectuals of the North is to understand these emerging possibilities and to explain them to our peoples, who are confused by the ideological distortions of the media and the false assumptions of “democratic” political cultures, and they are distracted by consumerism. The fulfillment of this duty confronts obstacles that we must overcome. To some extent, we who are intellectuals, like the people, are confused by ideological distortions and false assumptions. Moreover, for those of us who are academics, the development of our understanding is limited by the epistemological assumptions and the fragmented organization of the bureaucratized university. I believe that the key to an emancipation that would enable understanding is personal encounter with the Third World revolution of national liberation (see various posts in the section on Knowledge).
The Third World Revolution is the third revolution of the modern world-system. The first was the bourgeois revolution of Western Europe and North America, which ultimately protected its own interests, sacrificing the rights and needs of the people. The second was the European proletarian revolution, which in Western Europe and North America became reformist, seduced by the concessions made possible by colonial domination; and which in Eastern Europe became bureaucratized, ultimately collapsing as a result of its limitations and contradictions. The third revolution is of the Third World, and it is now reaching its most advanced stage, offering for humanity the only viable alternative to the militarist project of the global power elite. The Third World revolution has accumulated more than 200 years of experience, having begun in 1791, when Toussaint L’Ouverture, a 45-year-old slave with administrative experience, gave political direction to a slave rebellion in the French colony of San Domingo, today known as Haiti (see “Toussaint L’Ouverture” 12/10/2013).
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2003. The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World. New York: The New Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective,