We have seen that Wallerstein arrived at an understanding of the fundamental characteristics of colonialism and neocolonialism as a result of his encounter with the African nationalist movement in the 1950s and 1960s (“Wallerstein and Africa” 3/26/2014). Wallerstein sought to understand the implications of the colonial situation and the insights of African nationalism for his understanding of the world as a whole. In this endeavor, he could discern that conventional social scientific concepts and assumptions were not useful. The term “society,” so fundamental to sociological analysis, generally assumed that the frontiers of societies coincided with national political boundaries, but the colonial situation involved a relation between a colonizing nation and a colonized people consisting of multiple traditional nations that we being formed into a modern nation (Wallerstein 1974:5). Nor was the tradition of the comparative study of national societies, in which the characteristics of two separate nations are compared, useful for the colonial situation (Wallerstein 2004:86-87).
But Wallerstein did not turn to Marx or to Marxism-Leninism, possibly as a result of the African nationalist influence. In an article written in 2002, Wallerstein writes that he had been reading Frantz Fanon during his encounter with African nationalism, and that Fanon had a “substantial influence” on his work (2004:85). In a 1979 article, Wallerstein defended Fanon’s reformulation of the Marxist concept of the revolutionary proletariat, in which Fanon maintains that, in the colonial situation, the peasants and the lumpenproletariat play a central role in the revolutionary process (1979:250-68). In his books on Africa, Wallerstein writes that African socialism rejected Marxism, because of the inapplicability of the concept of the class struggle to Africa, and because of the atheism of Marxism (2005:148-49, II 230-35). Perhaps Wallerstein’s reading of Fanon, in conjunction with his awareness of the tendency in African socialism to reject Marxism, influenced him to search for ways to understand the global implications of the African nationalist movement that were alternatives to Marxism-Leninism. It also may have been that Wallerstein did not find Marx to be useful for responding to the questions that he was asking, given Marx’s primary focus on the industrial proletariat and on conditions of capitalism in Western Europe. It should be noted that Wallerstein in no sense dismisses Marx as Eurocentric; he maintains that Marx was prudent in addressing the global and universal implications of his analysis, unlike subsequent Marxists (Wallerstein 2001b:151-69).
The direction in which Wallerstein went was inspired by the French historian Fernand Braudel, who had spent ten years in Algeria and several years in Brazil (Wallerstein 2001a:188-89), and the Polish economic historian Marian Malowisth, who concentrated on eastern Europe but also wrote about colonial expansion. Wallerstein was reading both simultaneously in the late 1960s. From their work he came to understand that there had emerged a capitalist world-economy in the sixteenth century, which included an Eastern European periphery that was producing for distant markets rather than for local consumption, a phenomenon that had previously been designated misleadingly as a “second feudalism.” Wallerstein began to realize that, understood as a world-economy, capitalism had various forms of labor, including wage labor and various forms of coerced labor, with the former more common in central zones and the latter more common in peripheral zones. This view of the emergence of a capitalist world-economy in the sixteenth century with various forms of labor was an alternative to the conventional view, shared by Marxists and liberals, that defined capitalism with the imagery of the factories and wage workers of Western Europe in the nineteenth century (2004:87-93).
Wallerstein also drew from Karl Polanyi’s classic work, The Great Transformation, to formulate a distinction between two types of world-systems, namely, world-empires and world-economies. He used the hyphen to capture Braudel’s meaning, not of a world economy that is an “economy of the world,” but of a world-economy that is an “economy that is a world.” Furthermore, he believed with Braudel that world-economies were “organic structures that had lives—beginnings and ends” (2004:90), and he thus considered Braudel’s concept of the “long term” to be important, implying the study of the development of world-systems in the long term. Wallerstein also believes that there have been many world-systems in human history, and that therefore we should speak of “world-systems analysis” and not world-system analysis (2004:87-91).
Thus we can see that, emerging from his encounter with African nationalism, Wallerstein turned to European thinkers to formulate an analysis of the modern world-system as an historical system with a beginning and an end, one of many world-systems in human history. He turned not to conventional European thought, which was limited by Eurocentrism and by the bureaucratization of the universities. Nor did he turn to European Marxism, which was ignoring the qualifications and prudence of Marx and was developing in a Eurocentric form. He turned to unconventional European historians, who were breaking new ground, freeing European thought from its limitations, and who were beginning to see components of a modern world-system that had expanded through the conquest, colonial domination, and peripheralization of Africa, a phenomenon experienced and understood by African nationalists.
We therefore can characterize Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis as an advanced form of European thought that takes into account the basic insights of African nationalism into colonial and neocolonial domination. This appropriation of African nationalist insights gives world-systems analysis a nearly universal character, able to explain many aspects of the neocolonial situation that are enlightening even for the neocolonized of the world, and for this reason Wallerstein is respected as a scholar with important insights by the movements formed by the neocolonized.
But I say nearly universal. Wallerstein’s world-systems analysis has limitations. It does not fully explore the development of Marxism by Lenin, and the subsequent development of Marxism-Leninism in the Third World, especially by Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro, a development that occurred outside the West and beyond the universities, in a form integrally tied with popular movements. Third World Marxism-Leninism developed in a way that was rooted in the colonial situation and that involved a fundamental break with the prevailing liberal ideology of the neocolonial world-system, which European Marxism ultimately failed to do, as Wallerstein argues in various essays published as a collection in After Liberalism (1995). And Wallerstein’s work does not fully explore the development of movements of national liberation beyond the case of African nationalism of the 1960s, which confronted numerous internal and external obstacles, which Wallerstein discusses in his two books on Africa. Particularly important here is the case of Latin America, which experienced colonialism and neocolonialism much earlier than Africa and Asia, and which therefore has a much more extensive experience in the development of anti-neocolonial movements. These movements are today in renewal, and they are leading the Third World in the construction of an alternative more just and democratic world-system, a phenomenon that Wallerstein has perceived as a possibility and but not as an emerging reality.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1974. The Modern World System, Vol. I. New York: Academic Press.
__________. 1979. “Fanon and the Revolutionary Class” in The Capitalist World Economy, Pp. 250-28. New York: Cambridge University Press.
__________. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2001a. “Fernand Braudel, Historian, ‘homme de la conjoncture’” in Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth-Century Paradigms, 2nd Edition. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, Pp. 187-201. [Originally published in Radical History Review 26 (1982).
__________. 2001b. “Marx and Underdevelopment” in Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth-Century Paradigms, 2nd Edition, Pp. 151-69. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. [Originally published in S. Resnick and R. Wolff, Eds., Rethinking Marxism (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 1985).
__________. 2004. “The Itinerary of World-Systems Analysis, or How to Resist Becoming a Theory” in The Uncertainties of Knowledge, Pp. 83-108. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. [Originally published in J. Berger and M. Zelditch, Jr., Eds. New Directions in Contemporary Sociological Theory (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), Pp. 358-76.]
__________. 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, Braudel