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Re: <nettime> Geopolitics and internet
Eduardo Valle on Thu, 14 Feb 2013 09:14:17 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Geopolitics and internet


Almantas Samalavicius, Immanuel Wallerstein
New world-system?

A conversation with Immanuel Wallerstein

At some point, there is a tilt; there always is. Then we shall settle
down into our new historical system. Wallerstein foresees one of two
possibilities: more hierarchy, exploitation and polarization; or a
system that has never yet existed, based on relative democracy and
relative equality.

Almantas Samalavicius: Years ago when the countries of eastern
Europe were struggling to "adjust" their political, social and
economic mechanisms to those of Western capitalist economy and liberal
democracy, you noted in Geopolitics and Geoculture that "False
conclusions are being drawn in the (ex-)Communist world, where the
magic of the market is supplanting the magic of planning, whereas
the market will by and large be no more efficacious an instrument of
economic welfare for these states that had been planning, since the
primary economic difficulties of these states derived (and derive)
not from their internal economic mechanisms but from their structural
location in the capitalist world-economy." More than twenty years
after the collapse of Communism and dependency, the "magic of the
market" seems to be less glorious than local economists and large
sections of society had imagined in the glorious years of 1989-90.
However, would you still explain the limited success of post-Soviet
economy by referring to eastern Europe's place in the structure of the
world economy?

Immanuel Wallerstein: Yes, the fundamental explanation is their
position in the structure of the world economy. Of course, in eastern
Europe as anywhere else in the world, there are variations in how
the government handles the situation. There are often countries that
can maneuver better and improve their relative position. South Korea
is a notable example. In the 1960s, their economic performance was
no better, probably worse, than that of say Poland or even Lithuania
in the 1990s. Yet today, as everyone has noticed, South Korea has a
much, much stronger economic performance. No doubt in part this was
due to many intelligent decisions on the part of the government. But
it was also due to their geopolitical location and the interest of
the United States in fortifying them (and therefore permitting them
to do things against which the United States inveighed in other parts
of the world). The crucial point is that, at any given time, there is
room only for a few countries (out of a large list) to improve their
world-economic position. Eastern Europe (and particularly the 1990s'
trio of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) thought they could be
this "few". They were wrong.

AS: In Anti-Systemic Movements, co-written with Arrighi and Hopkins,
you argued that "there had been only two world revolutions. One took
place in 1848. The second took place in 1968." However, in eastern
Europe and to a certain extent in other parts of Europe as well, most
people are inclined to believe that it was the "velvet revolution"
of 1989 that was the most crucial historical event, at least in
the twentieth century -- since it ended the Cold War and bi-polar
opposition that lasted since WWII and, last but not least -- brought
a large part of eastern Europe to the realm of market economy, liberal
democracy, and eventually to the European Union. Why do you think
these events do not qualify the revolt of 1968?

IW: Arrighi, Hopkins, and I wrote a last joint article that appeared
just after the book Anti-Systemic Movements. It is entitled "1989:
The Continuation of 1968."[1] After a careful analysis of the ways
in which the situation in eastern Europe and the USSR, both before
and immediately following 1989, showed strong parallels to that of
1968, we argued the continuing reality of the world revolution of
1968. Indeed, more recently, I have tried to show the ways in which
the so-called Arab Spring continued the world revolution of 1968.[2]
Nor is it over yet. Its most ferocious opponents, such as -- for
example -- Nicolas Sarkozy, realize this, and struggle to wipe out
its legacy. It is rather people on the world left and left-of-centre
who tend to underestimate its importance.

As for your suggestion that 1989 "ended" the Cold War and the bipolar
opposition since 1945, that is true up to a point. That is however
precisely why it constituted a tragedy for the United States. The Cold
War was intended to go on forever. Remember, it remained cold up until
the end. That is, there never was a serious military confrontation
between the two collusive partners, the United States and the Soviet
Union. The United States has been struggling ever since to create
an alternative "enemy." Without success, it must be said, which has
hastened its now precipitous decline. [3] Finally, yes it has brought
eastern Europe into a more market economy (not the market economy but
a more market economy). And it has brought much of eastern Europe into
the EU and a multi-party parliamentary system. We have yet to see how
permanent all that is. The changes are being threatened on many fronts
today. Take for example what is happening in Hungary, originally one
of the star "liberal" post-1989 performers.

AS: Disillusionment with the prospects that a capitalist economy
offered accompanied the economic crisis of the last few years. Ideas
of the "New Economy" seem to win more and more supporters. What do
you think are the lessons of this continuing international economic
crisis? What "conclusions can be drawn from the crisis going forward?
Do you think the outcome of the crisis will in any way affect present
arrangements in "the contemporary world-system?

IW: The phrase "new economy" is of course very vague. But the
continuing world economic crisis is very real. Indeed I have been
writing of it not for several years but for forty years. I believe
that the historical system in which we live and have been living
for some 500 years â?? the modern world-system that is a capitalist
world-economy â?? is in its structural crisis. It will continue to be
in it for another twenty to forty years. I have explained the details
many times.[4]

The key point is that all systems (from the very largest, the
universe as a whole, to the very smallest nano-systems), have three
moments: their coming into existence, their "normal" life during
which they are constructed and constrained by the institutions
they have created, and the moment in which their secular trends
move too far from equilibrium and bifurcate (their structural
crisis). Structural crises cannot be overcome. The existing system
cannot survive. The period is one of chaotic wild fluctuations
in everything. There is a very fierce political battle over to
which of two alternatives (the forks of the bifurcation) the world
collectively will tilt.

The two alternatives can be broadly described. On the one side, there
are those who wish to replace capitalism with a non-capitalist system
that will retain all of capitalism's worst features â?? hierarchy,
exploitation and polarization. And on the other side there are those
who seek to create a historical system that has never yet existed, one
based on relative democracy and relative equality.

There is no way we can predict which of the alternatives will prevail.
They will be the result of an infinity of nano-actions by an infinity
of nano-actors at an infinity of nano-moments. But at some point,
there is a tilt; there always is. And we shall settle down into our
new historical system or systems.

AS: One of the key figures in the making of EU â?? Jacques Delors â??
recently lamented that today's politicians are too preoccupied with
technical matters and lack a long-term vision of the EU's future. He
claimed that the future of Europe needs people who could be called
"architects". How do you envision the future of Europe? Do you think
the EU has any prospects of becoming a strong economic and political

IW: Delors is certainly right about the preoccupation of Europe's
political leaders with short-term dilemmas. I think he is probably
over-critical of those whose long-term vision is different from his.
Will the EU be a strong economic and political power? It already is.
Will it be stronger in the next decades? Possibly, but not at all
surely. The EU's strength will depend on the geopolitical alliances it
contracts â?? very much an open question today. But of course the EU,
like all the other centres of geopolitical power, finds itself within
the vortex of the structural crisis of the world-system as a whole.
And if, as I suggested, we find ourselves in a new world-system twenty
to forty years from now, we have no idea whether structures that now
exist (the EU, its constituent states) will continue to exist at all
and, if they do, what kinds of institutional roles they will play.

Whether Germany agrees to further de facto transfers to Greece or
any other member country of the EU â?? or whether popular revolts
in Portugal will or will not block the austerity measures of the
government â?? these are indeed important, even vital, issues to
everyone at present. Fifty years from now, they may turn out to be
obscure footnotes in the books of professional historians.

AS: In a number of your books and articles you seem to suggest that
the "American century" is over and that new, emerging superpowers
will, in the long run, assume the role that the United States
performed in the "long twentieth century" (as Arrighi calls it). How
will the emergence of new world powers like China, India, Brazil and
so on, and the continuing rearrangement of the world-system affect
Europe â?? and, in particular, eastern Europe? Do you foresee any role
for EU in an emerging world-system?

IW: The emergence of "new world powers" â?? you are referring to the
so-called BRICS and some others â?? is a perfectly ordinary matter in
terms of the constant slow rotating location of centres of capital
accumulation in the structure of the capitalist world economy. It
affects both the United States and the EU quite directly, in that it
means there is a redirection of both wealth and capital from them
to these "new" centres. On the other hand, it is easy to overstate
what is happening. One basic problem is that these new centres are
not resolving the structural problems of the world-system. They are
in fact making it worse in one simple way. Their very size and their
internal political pressures mean that they are allocating world
surplus-value to a numerically larger percentage of the world's
population than ever before. This means they are thinning the amount
that can be skimmed off by those at the very top. And this makes
the system less rewarding and therefore less interesting for them.
That is why the mega-capitalists are part of the forces today for
the replacement of capitalism by another system â?? of the kind they
prefer, of course.

You ask how this will affect eastern Europe? Very directly, I think,
and in ways that many will not like. I project that, over the next
decade, there will be a Northeast Asian rapprochement bringing
together in a loose confederal structure a reunited China, a reunited
Korea, and Japan. I further project that this northeast Asian entity
and the United States will enter into a de facto alliance. In
response, both Western Europe and Russia will feel the need to move
closer, over the protests (which will be largely ignored) of eastern
Europe (or most of it). Can deeply-felt historical angers, such as
those between Japan and China or those between Poland and Russia, be
overcome? Of course they can, under the right circumstances. It was
not so very long ago that France and Germany (or further back in time
England and Spain) were bitter enemies. Are they today?

AS: In one of your articles on modernization you argue that the
future system of world government will be based on a socialist mode
of production. As we well know the fall of Communism has largely
compromised the idea of socialism â?? no matter how sound this idea
might be, global capitalism has, thus far, predominated. What are the
prospects of this new economic paradigm emerging? Can reflections on
current economic crisis pave way for a new paradigm to emerge â??
whether it is described as "socialist" or by any other name?

IW: You must be referring to an article of long ago. I no longer
use that language. I don't think the idea of socialism has been
compromised. I think the term (as well as the terms communism and
social-democracy) have become unusable, largely because they both
have no clear meaning today and they have so many linkages to unhappy
regimes. But, as I said before, one of the outcomes of the bifurcation
is a regime that is relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian.
I emphasize that, in my view, such a system has never, anywhere,
existed before. We don't know exactly what kinds of institutions will
be constructed in such a framework. If you want to call this a new
paradigm, why not?

AS: My next question is associated with your work on the prospects for
social sciences and higher education. Some years ago you chaired the
Gulbenkian Commission on the Restructuring of the Social Sciences.
The work of this Commission was eventually published and has not
passed unnoticed in different countries. After your report was
published, did you notice any significant changes in the field of
social sciences? How successful have they been in overcoming the
legacies of specialization as well as other inherited ills.

IW: The report was indeed translated into almost 30 languages,
including almost all European languages (Lithuanian among them). It
has certainly been discussed, at least in university circles. Have
changes resulted? I don't think the report itself has been directly
responsible for changes. But the changing world situation has had a
major impact on the social sciences as a concept and the universities
as institutions. This is in fact what we predicted. The crisis in the
structures of knowledge is part and parcel of the structural crisis
of the modern world-system. Its fate is both determined by the fate
of the larger structural crisis and in turn helps to determine the
outcome of the larger structural crisis.

The general economic squeeze that has given rise to "austerity" has of
course been felt severely by the universities, which have reacted by
commodifying more and more aspects of the university system. This may
in fact lead to its destruction as a university system, something I
have called the "high-schoolization" of the university, leading to the
exit of intellectual production and reproduction from the university

Meanwhile, the fundamental epistemological issue, the putative
reunification of the "two cultures" into a single epistemological
framework, is proceeding apace, if in a very confused manner. The key
change is that, whereas in the period 1850-1950, the social sciences
were torn apart by the battle between science and the humanities, both
science and the humanities are turning in the same direction as each
other: towards what I am calling the "social-scientization" of all
knowledge. This is far from decided yet. But it is encouraging as far
as it has gone.

AS: Recent years saw the rise of policy in Europe directed toward
the privatization of higher education. This tendency has been met
with strong opposition in many European countries, as well as student
unrest. What are the forces behind this urge to privatize universities
and higher education in Europe? Moreover, attempts of this kind have
been visible in eastern Europe as well. Are these tendencies related
to the logic and tendencies of economic globalization?

IW: The privatization (for profit) of universities is simply part of
the commodification of everything, which has been from the beginning
the objective of capitalists. What is happening in eastern Europe is
happening absolutely everywhere in the world. I think I have already
indicated how this is related to so-called globalization. It is
however a fragile structure.

Students pay far too much to these for-profit structures. They do so
in the expectation that it will get them well-paid jobs. But it won't.
For most persons, it simply gets them enormous lifelong debts. They
will begin to abandon these structures, many of which are already
going bankrupt.

[1] Review (Fernand Braudel Center) 2, Spring 1992, 221-42.

[2] See "Contradictions of the Arab Spring", Al-Jazeera, 14 November

[3] See Immanuel Wallerstein, Decline of American Power: The U.S. in a
Chaotic World, New Press, 2003.

[4] A good summary of Wallerstein's analysis can be found in
"Structural Crises", New Left Review 62 (March/April 2010): 133-42.

Published 2013-02-08
Original in English
First published in Kulturos Barai 1/2013

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