Wallerstein maintains that the revolution of the 1960s critiqued not only the world-system but also the Old Left movements that had emerged against the system. The movements were of three types: communism, consisting principally of the Soviet Union and the communist parties of the West; social democracy, including social democratic parties and labor unions of the West; and Third World national liberation movements. According to Wallerstein, the revolution of the 1960s was critical of states controlled by social movements, maintaining that these states failed to deliver on their promises. This had the long-term consequence of undermining faith in the capacity of the state to gradually make improvements in the social and economic conditions of the people. Reflecting this loss of faith in the state, the social movements of the Left beginning in the 1970s became focused on particular issues (women, ecology, ethnic rights and gay rights), and for the most part they were oriented to pressuring states and international organizations rather than seeking to take control of states. More recent movements that are more comprehensive (e.g., the Zapatistas and the World Social Forum) likewise do not seek to take control of national states (Wallerstein 1995: 53-54, 89, 117-18, 187, 214-15; 261-65; 1999: 42-43, 71-72; 112-13; 2003:263-69; 2005; 2008).
We can understand today why the three types of social movements in opposition to the world-system were limited in their achievements and were viewed as failures by the revolution of the 1960s. (1) The communist movements were distorted by the fact that the Russian Revolution had fallen to a petit bourgeois bureaucratic counterrevolution. To be sure, the Soviet Union represented an alternative to the capitalist world-economy, because it was characterized by state control of the economy under the direction of a bureaucratic petit bourgeoisie. But it was not a state directed by delegates of workers and peasants, as envisioned by Marx and Lenin.(2) Social democracy in Western Europe, although rooted in the revolutionary proletarian and popular movements of the nineteenth century, was reformist. It had been coopted by the capitalist class, which took advantage of the super-exploitation of semi-peripheral and peripheral regions to make concessions to working class organizations. (3) For the movements of anti-colonial national liberation, the power of neocolonialism directed by the United States and supported by the European ex-colonial powers was a fundamental structural obstacle. The United States had acquired considerable experience in the development of neocolonial structures in Cuba during the period 1902-59, and it drew upon this experience and utilized its overwhelming economic, financial and military dominance in the post-World War II era to establish neocolonial structures world-wide. These were significant obstacles to newly independent governments in Africa and Asia.
The revolution of the 1960s to some extent grasped the world-system dynamics that were undermining the attainment by the movements of their announced goals of full equal rights for all persons and equality among all nations. To be sure, its understanding was preliminary and not fully developed, and the revolution was full of confusions and contradictions. But one can reasonably assert that the revolution rejected the strategies of cooperation with the global powers that had been adopted in different ways by the three types of movements; it stood against the movements, as well as the world-system, as Wallerstein has argued. It also can be reasonably asserted, in my view, the revolution of the 1960s made a distinction between Third World national liberation movements that were moderate and those that were radical. It criticized the moderate Third World governments for their adaptation to neocolonial structures. But it supported without reserve revolutionary Third World governments that sought to transform neocolonial structures. The revolution of the 1960s identified with Che, Fidel, Cuba, Ho, the NLF, and Vietnam. As I have maintained (see “Liberals or revolutionaries?” 4/7/2014), Wallerstein does not consistently maintain a necessary distinction between moderate and revolutionary movements and governments.
The revolution ended during the 1970s. But Vietnam and Cuba persisted. And since 1995, there has been a renewal of Third World revolutionary nationalism. The renewed movements identify with Cuba and Fidel, who have supported the new revolutionary manifestations, establishing continuity between the revolutionary national liberation movements of the 1960s and the process of change in Latin America today. The renewed revolution today recalls all of the revolutions of the past. It remembers Bolivar, Martí, Marx, Lenin, Ho, Che, and Fidel. It sees itself as carrying forward the revolutions of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. As Chávez has said, “We are making real the dreams of Bolívar and Martí.”
The renewed revolutions have faith in the state. Not the state as an instrument of exploitation or domination, nor the state that failed to challenge neocolonial structures, but a state formed by the people and taking decisive steps in defense of the people. For the renewed movements, democracy is above all the development of political processes that establish that the popular sectors control the state and direct it to act in its interests. It is a concept of government formed by the delegates of the people and in the interests of the people. And the renewed movement sees the state as playing a central role in the economy, formulating plans for development and developing economic policies in accordance with the plan. These plans typically include state ownership of a sector of the economy.
The renewed movements have learned lessons from the defeat of the 1970s: avoid sectarianism; each nation must develop policies in accordance with its particular situation; and mixed economies are often the way. The critical issue is not what particular policies are adopted, but who makes the policies, and in whose name.
Wallerstein portrays the people of the world as having lost faith, faith in the liberal promise of gradual improvement, faith in the capacity of states to improve the conditions of the people, and faith in hope of national liberation for the Third World. But I see a different spirit among the peoples of the world. There was, to be sure, considerable confusion and disillusionment in the period of 1980 to 1995. But symbols of hope endured, in the form of the charismatic leaders of revolutionary movements: Mao, Ho, Nhrumah, Bella, Nyerere, Lumumba, Allende, and Fidel. When the movements renewed after 1995, new charismatic leaders invoked the memories of the heroes of the earlier stages of struggle. They sought to take control of the state in order to bit by bit transform the world-system and to improve the social and economic conditions of the people. They have received the support of the people, and they are beginning to construct an alternative world-system. The global movement for a just and democratic world is today more advanced than it was in the 1960s, taking into account the number of nations that belong to the revolutionary camp, the degree of cooperation and/or support from progressive nations of the Third World, and the greater maturity of Third World charismatic leaders today, having reflected on the factors that led to the reverses of the revolution in the 1970s.
Faith in future of humanity has not died. The struggles of the peoples of the world continue. They establish a definite possibility for humanity in this historic moment in which the world-system is in terminal crisis: the road that seeks a just and democratic world-system, characterized by mutually beneficial relations of trade and commerce; respect for the social and economic rights of all persons and for the sovereignty of all nations; and the quest for ecologically sustainable ways to produce goods necessary for human life.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. 1995. After Liberalism. New York: The New Press.
__________. 1999. The End of the World as We Know It: Social Science for the Twenty-First Century. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press.
__________. 2003. The Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a Chaotic World. New York: The New Press.
__________. 2005. “The Zapatistas: The Second Stage.” Commentary No. 165, July 15, 2005. [Available on Fernand Braudel Center Website].
__________. 2008. "What Have the Zapatistas Accomplished?" Commentary No. 224, Jan. 1, 2008. [Available on Fernand Braudel Center Website].
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, 1960s, New Left