World-systems analysis developed by Immanuel Wallerstein provides a foundation for understanding the modern world. It enables us to understand the role of European colonial domination in creating the world-system and its inequality between developed and underdeveloped regions. And it enables us to understand the role of neocolonialism and imperialism in maintaining the economic relations established during the colonial era. In addition, Wallerstein has described European justification of its domination with ideas that it presented as universal, but in fact represent a “European universalism.”
I have maintained in previous posts that cross-horizon encounter, where we encounter the social movements of the dominated, is the key to overcoming the assumptions and distortions of European ethnocentrism, and that such personal encounter involves meeting people and taking serious their interpretation of reality (see “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014; “What is personal encounter?” 7/25/2013; “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/2013; “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013; “Wallerstein and world-systems analysis” 3/25/2014).
Wallerstein’s experience in developing world-systems analysis illustrates the process of cross-horizon encounter. In Africa, Wallerstein encountered African nationalism during its movement that culminated in the political independence of most African nations. He took seriously the passionate claims of African nationalists that their social condition was that of the “colonial situation.” He recognized that the fundamental truth of this claim could not be denied, and that the responsibility of the scholar was to seek to understand the forces that gave rise to its development. He realized that conventional sociology, with its use of “society” as a unit of analysis, was inadequate for this task. He read the Martinican intellectual Frantz Fanon, the Guinean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, and Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton. Fanon, Cabral, and Newton, and African nationalism in general, expressed in one form or another that conventional Marxism was not applicable to the colonial situation, and this may have led Wallerstein to conclude that conventional Marxism, like conventional sociology and political science, was not able to address the questions he was asking. Wallerstein found key insights in the works of European scholars who were not in the mainstream of European scholarship. From the French historian Fernand Braudel, he took the pivotal concepts of the world-economy, which expanded his space-scope beyond the “society” of conventional sociology; and the “long term,” which provided him with a time-scope that was longer than the contemporary and shorter than eternity. The Polish economic historian Marian Malowist enabled him to deepen his understanding of the concept of periphery and to understand that Eastern Europe had become a peripheral region of an emerging capitalist world-economy in the sixteenth century. Karl Polanyi’s differentiation of three types of economic behavior enabled him to formulate a distinction between two types of world-systems: world-empires and world economies. Thus, he came to understand that the modern world-system was one of many world-systems in human history, and that the African “colonial situation” was established by the incorporation of Africa into the periphery of an expanding European capitalist world-economy after 1750 (Wallerstein 1986a; 1986b; 1986c; 2004a; 2004b).
There is similarity between Wallerstein and Marx. Marx encountered the working class, and he combined this personal encounter with a study of political economy and his previous study of German philosophy to formulate the new theory of historical materialism. Wallerstein arrived at new insights by virtue of encounter with African nationalism, and he combined this with a study of Braudel to formulate world-systems analysis. Both illustrate the importance of cross-horizon encounter, that is, encounter with the social movements formed by a dominated class.
In formulating historical materialism, Marx placed socialist thought on a scientific foundation. He formulated a transition to socialism based on empirical observation of the possibilities contained in existing economic and political conditions. Socialism no longer was a utopian and idealist vision for humanity, but a projection of a real possibility through the practical resolution of contradictions in the existing political-economic system. But historical materialism was not only an advance for socialist theory and practice. It also was an advance for science, for it brought the science of political-economy beyond its bourgeois perspective, and it brought the study of philosophy beyond its idealism. But the university did not take advantage of Marx’s achievement. The disciplines of history and the social sciences were organized separately from one another and on a basis of scientistic (but not scientific) epistemological assumptions, thus ensuring that social scientists, historians, and philosophers would not have understanding of the insights of Marx. Such exclusion of Marx was functional for the world-system, inasmuch as historical materialism was a formulation from below with implications for the political, economic, and cultural transformation of the world-system. However, the achievements of Marx were not left in abeyance. They were appropriated by Lenin and subsequently by revolutionary Third World charismatic leaders and intellectuals, who reformulated and transformed his insights in accordance with particular national conditions in relation to the colonial situation. Thus, there occurred an evolution of Marxism-Leninism outside the universities in the form of the formulation of insights by revolutionary charismatic leaders and intellectuals of the Third World. This in effect meant the evolution of scientific knowledge apart from and independent of the universities.
Wallerstein pertains to the world of the universities, and his initial formation led him to internalize some of its misguided assumptions (Wallerstein 2004:87-88). But his personal encounter with African nationalism in the 1960s (combined with his study of Braudel) enabled him to break through this limitation and to formulate world-systems analysis. His achievement represents, on the one hand, an important advance for the science of the universities, for it creates a foundation for universal philosophical historical social science (see “Reunified historical social science” 4/1/2014; and “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014). At the same time, Wallerstein’s achievement represents an advance for the evolution of Marxism-Leninism connected to revolutionary Third World movements, for it enables movement leaders and intellectuals to understand liberation struggles in a broader historical and global context. In effect, world-systems analysis contributes to the continuing development of Marxism-Leninism in the Third World movements.
But Wallerstein’s achievement has its limitations. Wallerstein encountered the Third World evolution of Marxism-Leninism in one of its important manifestations, namely, African nationalism. But it was not based on a sustained encounter with other significant manifestations of the evolution of Marxism-Leninism in the Third World: the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, and the popular revolutions in Latin America today. The formulation of universal philosophical historical social science that can further advance scientific knowledge and contribute to the making of a more just and democratic world-system will require sustained encounter with the evolution of Marxism-Leninism in the Third World revolution in all of its manifestations.
This limitation in the development of world-systems analysis up to now is, in my view, the reason that Wallerstein sees the emergence of an alternative socialist civilizational project as a theoretical possibility but not as a real emerging possibility. This real possibility is expressing itself in the Third World today, where movements and governments are demanding a more just and democratic world-system. This movement from below has been provoked by the terminal structural crisis of the world-system. Led by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Cuba, it has taken concrete steps toward the creation of an alternative more just and democratic world-system. This will be the subject of my next post.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1986a. “Africa in a capitalist world” in Wallerstein, Africa and the Modern World. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Pp. 47-76. [Originally published in 1973].
__________. 1986b. “The Lessons of the PAIGC” in Wallerstein, Africa and the Modern World. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Pp. 37-45. [Originally published in 1971].
__________. 1986c. “The Three Stages of African Involvement in the World Economy” in Wallerstein, Africa and the Modern World. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, Pp.101-37. [Originally published in 1978].
__________. 2004a. “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.]
__________. 2004b. “Time and Duration” in The Uncertainties of Knowledge, Pp. 83-108. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. [Originally published in Thesis Eleven 54 (Sage Publications, 1998).
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, knowledge, epistemology, philosophy of social science