Wallerstein on the Current Cojuncture

We’re reposting these notes by world-systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein because of their concise presentation and contribution towards an understanding of our present situation.  Here in California we are in the midst of interesting and exciting developments of struggle against budget cuts, the outward expression of the crisis of capital.

Immanuel Wallerstein

Immanuel Wallerstein

In this context radical forces should be engaging in “serious internal struggles over the correct strategy to pursue.”  We’ve seen this develop in the student movement (see the posts below) and will continue to see it as resistance spreads.

The Current Conjuncture: Short-run and Middle-run Projections
by Immanuel Wallerstein

1. Where We Are:

a) The world has entered a depression, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

b) The United States has entered a serious decline in geopolitical power, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

c) The world environment is entering into serious crisis (and nothing much will be done about it) (in the next five years).

d) The rumblings of left-oriented social movements are everywhere, but they are poorly coordinated and lack clear tactical vision (because they lack clear middle-run strategic vision).

e) Far-right forces have clearer short-run tactical vision than the left (a combination of preparing for violence and a refusal of all centrist compromise), but they too lack clear middle-run strategic vision.

f) The future (both short-run and middle-run) is very, very uncertain.

2. Most Possible Developments in the Next Five Years

a) Explosion of last bubble — (most of all, but not only) sovereign debt, especially of the United States.

b) Consequences of this:

b1) Significant drop in value of U.S. dollar, and hence move into genuine multi-currency world-economy;

b2) Significant increase in world unemployment rates, everywhere;

b3) Absence of safe havens leading to wild fluctuations in currency exchange rates, and hence unwillingness to invest.

c) Enormous (much increased) turmoil throughout Middle East, and notably:

c1) Probable military regime in Pakistan, backing more or less openly Taliban in Afghanistan;

c2) De facto control of Afghanistan by Taliban;

c3) U.S. full military withdrawal from Iraq, and possibly even Afghanistan;

c4) 50% chance of Israeli bombing of Iran, followed by fierce worldwide reaction against Israel;

c5) Shaky regime in Saudi Arabia, with possible military coup.

d) Consequences within United States:

d1) Fierce demonization of Obama (and Democrats) for treason;

d2) At best, narrow Obama reelection in 2012;

d3) Ultra-rightwing push for military takeover, with at least widespread creation of armed militias defying government.

e) Creation of non-U.S.-centered geopolitical blocs:

e1) Strengthening of Western Europe-Russia geopolitical ties;

e2) Strengthening of China-Japan-South Korea geopolitical ties;

e3) Strengthening of South American geopolitical ties, led by Brazil, with multiple attempts of rightwing coups (success uncertain).

f) Environment: No significant lessening of environmental degradation and no achievement of major counter-measures.

3. Likely Developments of Next 15-25 Years:

a) Open recognition by major controllers of capital of impossibility of significant future capital accumulation, and therefore active search for alternative systemic models that would enable them to retain three key features of current system (hierarchization, exploitation, and polarization),

b) Slower recognition by world “left” that active issue is not whether or not to end capitalism but how to organize for successor system that will be in process of construction,

4. What Kinds of Policies for the World Left?

a) Neither “left” governments nor “left” social movements can do much more in the short run (next five years) than engage in defensive actions, whose guiding characteristic should be actions that “minimize the pain” of the working strata generally, and the most oppressed and poverty-overwhelmed in particular.  All “left” governments continue to live within the constraints of the capitalist world-economy.

b) The actual policies that would “minimize the pain” vary, depending on the political structure of the state and the economic position of the state in the world-economy.  There is no state in which the working strata will not suffer in the coming five years (including in the North), and there is no program that is applicable everywhere.  Organized left movements need to respect bottom-up popular pressures.

c) The crucial battle is in the middle-run (next 15-25 years).  This is a battle not about capitalism, but about what will replace it as an historical social system.  Both the right forces and the left forces exist throughout the world.  The battle is not between states but between worldwide social forces.

d) Neither the left forces nor the right forces are presently unified worldwide, and in both camps there are serious internal struggles over the correct strategy to pursue.

e) The outcome of the internal struggles in each camp and the outcome of the struggle between the two camps are both completely uncertain at the present time.  History is on no one’s side.  The ultimate outcome may be far better or far worse than the present capitalist world-system.

f) The key mode of proceeding is (1) achieving analytic lucidity, (2) followed by fundamental moral choice, (3) followed by intelligent, effective political action.  Not at all easy.

Thanks to MR Zine.

3 responses to “Wallerstein on the Current Cojuncture

  1. i think he’s still got some work to do on “(1) achieving analytic lucidity.”

    this part doesn’t make much sense: “a) Open recognition by major controllers of capital of impossibility of significant future capital accumulation, and therefore active search for alternative systemic models that would enable them to retain three key features of current system (hierarchization, exploitation, and polarization),”

    well, we know that continued accumulation is incompatible with an ecology that supports most forms of life on the planet. but this isn’t a concern for capital. that’s part of the whole working of the system – individual capitals compete, national economies compete, etc. (maybe adherents of “monopoly capitalism” disagree with this?) but i just don’t see why he thinks that they’ll need to come up with an “alternative systemic model” with three “key features” of current system. what are the “non-key” features? accumulation? how do you have exploitation without accumulation? this sounds like some kind of dystopian sci-fi allegory, not materialism.

    second, politically for those of us in the US these notes don’t strike me as very useful. the points he makes about the US are totally compatible with a class collaborationist strategy and identity. he is one of the progressives for obama – to the extent that has any organizational cohesion. and this piece has the kind of vague analysis i’ve come to expect, basically dressing up very old school subordination to the democratic party in sexy sounding stuff about “shifting hegemony” and “historic blocs” and etc.

    on the defensive and scattered character of left, i’m totally agreed.

    section 4 is agnostic to the point of being ridiculous. such broad strokes that there is no distinction made even between “left governments” and “left social movements” – much less among these already broad categories.

  2. I agree with your latter points but there are reasons why he argues against the possibility of future accumulation. Isaac wrote, “what are the “non-key” features? accumulation? how do you have exploitation without accumulation? this sounds like some kind of dystopian sci-fi allegory, not materialism.” Both Marx in the third volume of capital and Luxemburg in The accumulation of capital argue how capital will at a certain point be unable to continue its own reproduction due to having exhausted the realm of exploitation for accumulation. Most bougeious economist dismiss this as hagwash but it does now seem that global capital is exhausting its reproductive power and the rulers that be are seeking “alternative systemic models” to maintain power and order. But such “alternatives” I think are really going to amount to exploitating new arenas such as alternative energy, internet markets, communication markets, and so on. But will these “new” markets create such “alternatives” that the reproduction of capital needs? The answer is not clear and the possibility of global revolution is now more on the coming agenda then ever.

  3. I think that we have to take into consideration that there is still room for capital to grow and expand exploitation and accumulation, which is at least a minor rationale in the military action of the United States worldwide. The subordination of Afghanistan, for example, has the effect of creating a US base area in the region (to pressure Iran, to build a gas pipeline, etc.) but it also has the effect of opening the country up to the influx of capital and the exploitation of the Afghan proletariat. Part of the draw here is that Afghanistan is a country that, until recently, has been almost entirely untouched by Western capitalism in its economic situation, which presents unparalleled opportunities for eager corporations to have new markets for their products and new bases for superexploited labor.

    As such, I’m not really convinced by Wallerstein’s predictions that there is a likely withdrawal of US troops from both Afghanistan and Iraq. These wars mean more than simply enforcing global hegemony for the American state, they also mean the postponement of the eventual likely end of the normal functioning of the global capitalist economy. So long as the expansion of capital can continue with relative stability, drastic measures won’t need to be taken by the ruling class even if they experience setbacks, crashes, etc.

    There’s a lot more to say about this obviously, but I’m not really prepared to do that now.

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