In his essays on liberalism, published as a collection in After Liberalism (1995), Wallerstein presents a panoramic view of the ideologies of the modern era, using ideology here not in the sense of legitimations of domination (see “Domination and ideology” 3/31/2014), but in the sense of the formulation of a long-term political agenda (see “Wallerstein on Liberalism” 4/6/2014).
I am not in agreement with Wallerstein’s overview of ideological developments in the modern world-system. Our differences in interpretation lead us to divergent interpretations concerning the significance of ideological and political developments in the Third World today.
In critiquing Wallerstein’s panoramic overview of ideological developments, I begin by maintaining that a distinction must be made between Third World national liberation movements that are revolutionary and those that are moderate. In his second book on Africa, published in 1967, Wallerstein discusses the differences between revolutionary and moderate nationalist movements and nations with respect to the concept of African socialism, presenting presidents Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Ben Bella of Algeria, and Modibo Keita of Mali as outspoken representatives of the revolutionary camp (2005:II 230-36). But in an article on the social roots of different tendencies in African nationalism originally published in 1970, he does not mention revolutionary African nationalism (1986:13-35). In his later essays on liberalism, Wallerstein does not consistently maintain a distinction between Third World nationalist movements that are moderate and those that are revolutionary.
But in analyzing the significance of Third World national liberation movements, the distinction between moderate and revolutionary movements is necessary. The former are oriented toward cooperation with the neocolonial powers, which includes above all the maintenance of the core-peripheral relation established during colonialism, and as a result, governments with a moderate nationalist orientation have limited possibilities for the improvement of the standard of living of the people. In contrast, revolutionary leaders have sought to break the neocolonial relation and to place the nation on a path of autonomous development. Their political agenda has not been the promotion of the interests of the elite within the neocolony. They violated the rules of the system and were declared anathema by the global powers. They therefore had to maintain the support of the people in order to survive. Thus, the protection of the social and economic rights of the people was in their interests, reinforcing their personal commitment to revolutionary values, a commitment that brought them to the head of the revolutionary movement as it was unfolding.
Some revolutionary projects did not last long or could not succeed in breaking the neocolonial relation: Nkrumah in Ghana, Ben Bella in Algeria, Nyerere in Tanzania, and Allende in Chile. Others have endured: Mao in China, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, and Fidel in Cuba. In our analysis of the world-system, both short-lived and long-lasting revolutionary governments should be placed in a separate analytical category, distinct from moderate Third World governments. Whereas the latter at most challenged the global powers in order to defend national projects of ascent within the structures of the world-system, the former challenged the structures of the system itself. With respect to Third World revolutionary governments, we must ask questions such as: What theories, methods, and strategies did they have? What constellation of forces made it possible for them take power and/or to maintain themselves in power? What obstacles did they confront? What achievements did they have? To what extent have they been able to maintain popular support? What lessons can we learn from their experiences? What are the implications of their achievements for the development of a more just and democratic world-system?
Viewing the revolutionary Third World governments as a distinct category, some general observations can be made. China, Vietnam and Cuba have persisted in their socialist revolutions, each making changes as they adjusted to dynamic national and international forces and conditions. They are joined today by other nations that have proclaimed socialism for the twenty-first century: Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. Domestically, all have attained high levels of political participation and political stability. All have significant gains in the protection of the social and economic rights of the people. Internationally, all have developed foreign policies that reflect independence from the demands of the neocolonial powers. All are developing relations with nations that have progressive governments, such as Argentina and Brazil. They are forming mutually beneficial economic, commercial, social, and cultural relations, based on respect for the sovereignty of all nations. They are self-consciously developing in practice an alternative model for relations among nations, fundamentally different from the exploitative relations that characterize the neocolonial world-system. In a historic moment in which the world-system experiences structural crisis and bifurcation, the domestic and international policies of the revolutionary governments suggest a possible option for a resolution of the crisis and a restoration of global equilibrium: the development of an alternative more just and democratic world-system. Whereas Wallerstein sees the emergence of an alternative socialist civilizational project as a possibility, I take this further. I maintain that an alternative project is in fact emerging in the Third World, that this can be seen through cross-horizon encounter (see “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/3014), and that intellectuals of the North have the duty to engage in cross-horizon encounter and to do intellectual work that contributes to the theoretical development and political advance of the alternative project.
Wallerstein maintains that the four fiercely autonomous nations are against the system but of the system. Indeed so. One of the characteristics of Third World national liberation movements has been their appropriation of Western values that are consistent with their interests, transforming and adapting them to the colonial situation. Like Thomas Jefferson, they believe that there are self-evident truths. They declare that no nation has the right to conquer peoples and nations and to impose forced labor; and no nation has the right to intervene in the affairs of others, manipulating its political processes in order to protect particular interests. Thus, they share epistemological premises and basic values with Jefferson, but they have transformed his ideas, expanding and deepening the meaning of democracy, in accordance with the requirements of the colonial situation. So Third World revolutionary nationalist leaders are of the system, in that they have appropriated its most humanistic values. But they are against the system, in that the changes that they seek, if implemented, would imply a change in fundamental structures, converting the world-system into a different world-system. And they envision this transformation as being carried out by the peoples of the world in movement, who have taken control or will take control of various governments in peripheral and semi-peripheral regions. They therefore possess the defining characteristics of revolutionaries: they seek a fundamental structural change carried out by popular sectors that yesterday were excluded from power but that now have taken control of the state. Like liberals, they envision this transformation as occurring step-by-step, reflecting a realistic understanding that neither the nation nor the world can be transformed in a day. But unlike liberals, their aspirations are not constrained by a desire to preserve the privileges of a minority. They are constrained only by a sensibility toward what is politically possible in a given situation and by respect for universal human values. These characteristics of revolutionary Third World nationalists differentiate them from liberals.
The unfolding Third World movement does not seek concessions to the popular classes in order to promote the stability of the world system; it seeks to replace governments controlled by representatives of international corporations with governments formed by delegates of the people. It seeks not the ascent of a peripheral or semi-peripheral nation in the world-system; it seeks the abolition of the core-peripheral relation and the establishment of an alternative logic of cooperation among nations and solidarity among peoples. It is lifting up charismatic leaders who are not liberals but revolutionaries.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1986. Africa and the Modern World. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
__________. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2005. Africa: The Politics of Independence and Unity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. [Combines into one edition Africa: The Politics of Independence (1961) and Africa: The Politics of Unity (1967)].
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, Wallerstein, world-systems analysis, liberalism