Andrey Fursov: The World We Are Entering, the World We Are Leaving, and the World In-Between

The World We Are Entering, the World We Are Leaving, and the World In-Between

(Some Critical Remarks on Wallerstein's Theses)

Andrey Fursov

The world is not a quantitative concept, but a qualitative one.

Albert Einstein

It is disagreement which makes life worth living.

F. Fehér


In the period of fermentation and disintegration

the sense of the recent past suddenly becomes

clear, because indifference to the future has

not come yet. Meanwhile the argumentation

of the past has broken down, and a lie differs

from the truth in a sharp and stark way. One

should sum up the results at the moment that

the epoch which became mature in the depth

of the past is exhausted but a new epoch


has not yet begun. This moment always

escapes people, and they keep going into

the future not having understood the past.

N. Mandelshtam.


32 propositions - in fact theses - of Immanuel Wallerstein, some­where on the way from Marx (11 theses) to Luther (95 theses). They cover a wide range of problems concerning the historical sit­uation in which we are living - that is, the world we are leaving, the world we are entering, and the world in-between. Among the pro­posi­tions there are some that I share and ones that I do not. It is logical that I concentrate on the latter in this text.

In fact there are two ways to approach and analyze Waller­stein's theses. One could stay close to the text. It is economical and saves space, but it has some limitations. The first problem is that the theses are based on world-systems analysis; they are in fact elements of world-systems analysis, and as we know the whole defines its elements and not vice versa. The conclusions Waller­stein presents are defined by the logic of world-systems analysis and cannot be adequately understood and criticized out of world-systemic analytical context.

The second problem is that, in addition to the analytical generalizations there exist pre-analytical ones, what Schumpeter used to call "pre-analytical acts," i.e., political ideas, ideo­logical positions which precede theoretical analysis and define it. Wallerstein himself wrote that world-systems analysis was born not only as a theoreti­cal, but also as a moral and political, protest. To my mind the 32 theses are politically and ideologically bounded (or biased) and that explains much in their content and logic.

From that point of view, we might use an alternative approach, taking into consideration, first, the political ideas and projects of a certain social group, whose representatives were politically and intellec­tually active in the 1960s-1970s, and secondly, the whole analytical framework of world-systems analysis. The pluses of such an approach are evident, yet it has its minuses, at least from the point of view of a short article. Such an approach demands a long paper, perhaps even an entire book.

I prefer to pursue a middle path, staying closer to the first approach and referring to the general analytic and pre-analytic levels minimally, only in those few cases that one cannot do with­out it. I shall confine myself to four major issues: globalization, ideology, the state, and the balance sheet of the twentieth centu­ry.


The first point concerns globalization. "What is currently labeled 'globalization' is nothing new. It is merely the normal mode of functioning of capitalist system," - writes Wallerstein in Prop. 9. I doubt this very much. He argues that during its entire history, the capitalist system expanded, that expansion really was its normal mode of functioning. If in our analysis the functioning of capitalism is limited to merely the accumulation of capital, the flows of capital, the commodity chains, then not only is globali­za­tion not qualitatively new, but within the capitalist system there has not been (there could not be) any qualitative development, only a quantitative one.

We find the reflection of such a position in Prop. 9: "There is no evidence that the world-economy is more globalized today than it has been at earlier parallel moments in the history of the mod­ern world-system, most notably in the period from 1873-1914." In fact world-systems analysis deprives us of any serious possibility of qualitative ana­lysis of capitalist development. It confuses a pre-industrial form of capitalist extra-local organization of space in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and globality which is a postindustrial form of the end of the twentieth century. It pro­jects the past forward and the present backward. All qualitative differences are thereby drowned, their place taken by quantitative conjunctural differences.

But if we do not confine the capitalist system to commodity chains, to trade, to the accumulation of capital, etc., we shall observe in its history qualitatively different structures of pro­duction - pre-industrial, industrial, and scientific-technological - which organize the world around capitalism in ways that are qual­itatively different. In the first case, it is a European world-sys­tem - one of several world-systems; in the second case, since the 1850s, it is a (worldwide) world-system; and in the third case it is a glo­bal system. It is precisely these qualitative shifts in the structures of production, which create great differences in the main waves of capitalist expansion.

From this point of view, globalization is in every way new; it has no parallels in previous capitalist development. It is evident that for Wallerstein - and for world-systems analysis as a whole - parallels and non-parallels in the history of capitalist system are defined from the point of the cycles of accumulation of capital, and capital itself is not viewed upon through the prism of produc­tion and analyzed not as a historical form of social production. That is why he sees no difference in "globalization" nor could it be seen by world-systems analysis in prin­ciple between the Kondra­tieff B-phases of 1968/73-?, 1873-1914, and all other B-phases. One can see what one can see or what one's the­ory (or more modestly, one's "perspective") allows one to see. As Albert Einstein once told Werner Heisenberg, whether you will or will not see this or that phenomenon depends on the theory you use. world-systems ana­lysis does not allow one to see qualitative differences between the B-phase of the last quarter of the twentieth century and previous one's, between qualitatively different bases of different phases of expansion, between world expansion and globalization.

Finance, flows of capital, and things of that kind represent only one dimension of the capitalist system. They neither cover the overall process of social (re)production nor define its qualitative historical specificity. The "perspective" from this point of view misses a thing of crucial importance - production. I do not mean production in the narrow material sense, but an overall process of social (re)production. And of course it therefore misses the revo­lutions within production leading to qualitative shifts in power and property. All these dimensions - power and property, social relations à propos power and property, capital as a social relation à propos reified labor and stored value - are in fact absent in world-systems analysis.

I believe that globalization is a completely new phenomenon, which emerged in the 1970s-1980s along with the scientific-techno­log­ical revolution and as its direct consequence. Two diffe­rent social and economic processes led to this revolution. First of all, ever since the late 1940s, the nuclear arms race was a cru­cial ele­ment in American-Soviet rivalry. It was its economic-technologi­cal expression and the quintessence both of this rivalry and of the US-USSR co-hegemony, and this went unnoticed by world-systems analy­sis. Secondly, there was since the 1960s the economic rivalry be­tween the USA, Japan, and Europe.

The scientific-technological revolution is comparable to the industrial revolution and to the agricultural or "Neolithic" revo­lutions. Furthermore, the scientific-technological revolution is closer in significance to the agri­cultural than to the industrial revolution. The scientific-technological revolution is not "a sec­ond industrial revolution." It marks a truly fundamental change, most comparable to the Neolithic revolution, during which, and as a con­sequence of which, the process of production and its struc­tures were born. The industrial revolution merely meant a shift within material production: artificial ("historically created") factors of production began to dominate natural ones, and reified labor began to dominate living labor, the necessary prerequisite for "systemic" (or as Marx would say, formational) capitalism.

The scientific-technological revolution meant that for the first time in the history of production nonmaterial factors (infor­mation) began to dominate material ones, becoming the most impor­tant system-forming factors. In contrast to the industrial system of production whose expansion was limited by certain material con­straints, both natural and arti­ficial-infrastructural, - one cannot build a plant or factory on savannah, in a desert, or in the moun­tains - a scientific-techno­logi­cal, science-intensive, knowledge-intensive ("post-industrial") system of production, because of the role of nonmaterial factors, is not, or almost is not, subject to such constraints. That is why it can be really global. This global­i­ty is occurring for the first time as production (be­cause even agriculture was not and is not global) and the second time as a form of economic activity. Hunting and gathering was also truly global, producing the first global crisis during the upper Paleo­lithic (25,000 BC). But of course the scientific-technological rev­olution is a qualitatively new form of globalism in comparison with pre-agricultural economic ac­tivity and a qualitatively new form of production - globalism in contrast to pre-scientific-technological- revolution capitalism. Only the scientific-technological production base allows capitalism to cover the world and to make it global, to transform world-systemicity into global holicity (totality, global­ity).

To sum up: Only on the basis of the scientific-technological system of production which, in comparison with all other production systems is maximally free from material constraints and hence from local/regional ones, was it possible for "globalization" to emerge. The production system of industrial capitalism had been re­gional, although industrial capitalism as a complex of relations of produc­tion was a world-scale phenomenon. This contradiction was elimina­ted by the scientific-technological revolution in the form of a glo­balized information ("post-mater­ial") economy.

The novelty ("newness") of globalization lies in the sphere of production. But it is precisely this sphere which does not interest world-systems analysis very much and for the analysis of which world-systems analysis in fact has no ana­lytical tools, as it does not for the relations of property (inclu­ding capital as property and all system of capitalist property of which capital is an ele­ment). Although materialist - world-systems analysis puts eco­nomy in the center of analysis; the modern world-system is presen­ted as a capitalist world-economy - it never went to the level of produc­tion as a social process. It rather stayed on the surface, analyz­ing such forms as flows of commodities, commodity chains, division of labor, transactions. None of these forms defines quali­tatively the historical system within which it takes place; all these forms are superficial in their generality. From that point of view world-systems analysis is a kind of "superficial materialism" or "one-dimensional materialism" which operates on the surface level. Hence, the reduc­tion of qualitative revolutionary changes in capi­talist development to the quantitative accumulation of capital and finance; hence, the failure to analyze and conceptualize adequately the genesis of cap­i­talism and, consequently to distinguish capi­ta­list from non-capi­ta­list forms; hence overlooking the central event of the second half of the twentieth century - the scientific-tech­nological revolution.

This is not to downgrade world-systems analysis - it has many achievements. The problem is these achievements concern either sur­face-level things, not going deeper, and thus presenting an answer to "how" instead of to "why", or they concern epiphenomena, func­tions of substance but not substance itself. All this limits the explanatory possibil­ities of world-systems analysis, espe­cially in the extra-economic sphere, for example, in the analysis of ideology which, in world-systems analysis, is so closely tied to eco­nomic development that it moves dangerously close to the border of vulgar materialism.


To my mind, the interpretation of ideology is the weakest part in the chain of theses. Partly it is due to the inherent difficul­ties and complexities that ideology as an object of the study poses for any researcher. Partly it is the fact that in world-systems ana­lysis, centered as it is on "economies, historical systems, and civilizations," ideol­ogy is largely derivative and epiphenomenal, defined by the economy and economic development - sometimes to the extent which has parallels only in orthodox Soviet Marxism of the 1930-1950s. The best example is the very definition of liberalism. Once liberalism is seen as the ideology of national self-determi­nation (sovereign­ty) and national development, then indeed there are no serious dif­fer­ences, as Wallerstein put it, between Wilson­ism and Leninism. He sees differences only in tactics (not in sub­stance, aims, and strategy) between peaceful and revolutionary/mil­itary ways, which have to do with foreign policy.

To be logical and consistent in such a definition of libe­ral­ism one must put Hitlerism together with Wilsonism and Leninism. There is no doubt that the Nazi regime was oriented to national de­velopment, was not it? Wallerstein counterpoises Nazism to liberal­ism and Communism as particularism to universalism. But this is a slightly different line of argumentation which changes the princi­ples of definition. What have universalism and particularism to do with national development? Is particularism directed against natio­nal development and self-determination? Certainly not. If so, what about liberalism makes it a political-ideological "strategy" of na­tional development? Nothing. It is a definition, which is too loose and too rigid at the same time. If we take libe­ralism to be an ideo­logy of national development, then we can take Leninism as a form of Wilsonism. I am not sure we are going to learn much about Leninism viewed upon as a form of Wilsonism.

Similarly, we have the idea that the split between Social-Democrats and Communists was primarily a debate about the means by which socialists would come to state power (Prop. 6). I think this is either an obvious mistake or an oversimplification; the split was not only over the means, but also over the nature of revolution and revolutionary movement, over the content and the form of the future socialist society. And here, by the way, I have doubts that socialist parties in Europe itself were antisystemic, as Waller­stein claims; at the very least they were quite ambivalent about their antisystemicity. Antisystemic Labor Party of Great Britain, Socialist Party in France or Social-Democratic Party in West Ger­many? If so then antisystemicity and systemicity change places. Why do we call social-democrats, laborites and socialists in the Wes­tern Europe of the twentieth century "antisystemic"? Because they criti­cized capitalism? But Christian Democrats also did so; were they also antisystemic?

To finish with the ideological part, I would like to add to the question Wallerstein poses in Prop. 28 ("It is open to question whether any of the three traditional ideologies can speak signifi­cantly to the issues that will now emerge in the period of transi­tion") another question: whether ideology in principle can ever speak to these issues? The world did not live throughout its his­to­ry with ideology. There is no evidence it will need ideology (as a special historical phenomenon) in the next century.


The "world without ideology" correlates well with "the world without the nation-state," with the world where the nation-state is in decline, where it "is fading away." Theses 29-32 are devoted to the problem of the state, under the heading, "Crisis of legitimacy of the states?" There is a circular argumentation in this section, especially in Prop. 30. The basic explanation of the declining in­ternal strength of the state machineries is the withdrawal of le­git­imacy by the populations of the states. The basic cause for the withdraw­al of legitimacy is the disillusionment with the certainty of long-run amelioration of national and global polarization. The major factor in the disillusionment is only in part the objective reality of increased polarization; it is primarily the strategic failures of the antisystemic movements in which so much political energy and faith had been invested with such relatively limited results.

When Wallerstein says that "it is primarily the strategic fail­ures of the antisystemic movements" and the "relatively limited results" of these movements, it sounds either strange or naive. Two counterquestions come simultaneously to mind. First, why are we wit­nessing the weakening of the state even in those countries where antisystemic forces never were in power? Secondly, what is respon­sible for the strategic failure of antisystemic movements in power to achieve the goals they proclaimed? Even if we drop the first question and accept in principle the mode of explanation, we cannot accept the explanation itself because it in turn need to be ex­plained. It fixes the consequences, not the cause, and we are not in Wonderland, confusing them or making them change places. When did antisystemic forces in state power really fail? Evidently, not in the 1950s and in the 1960s. They failed in the 1970s-1980s.

What happened? A Kondratieff-A changed into a Kondratieff-B. And noth­ing more? No, there was something substantial behind this change. Kon­dratieff-A's had changed previously into B's but, in 1968/1973, the change coincided with the scientific-technological revolution which qualitatively changed the structure of production and subordination of elements in it. It is precisely the scientif­ic-technological rev­olution, and not the "A to B" switch which pro­duced an enormous and insurmountable gap between South and North and made false il­lusions out of what had been real achievements in the 1950s-1960s within the in­dus­trial stage. The changes of produc­tion in the core regions led also to enormous strains - financial, political, mili­tary - which were also undermining the state.

This also led to the strengthening of transnational corpora­tions (not to mention the shift in power and property). The trans-national corpo­rations had emerged well before the scientific-tech­nological revo­lu­tion, but the scientific-technological revolution provided them with a real and adequate basis. This is why I have some doubts about Prop. 31. "The decline of state strength is not due to the increasing strength of transna­tional corporati­ons. The trans-national corporations, despite their rhetoric, are not and have never been anti-state, since they depend on the states both to guarantee real (if transient) quasi-monopolies which make possible large-scale profits, and to contain politically the upsurge of the dangerous classes (either by repression or by accommodation)."

I agree that the decline of state is not directly tied with the rise of the trans-national corporations, because two these ten­dencies are two sides of one and the same process - the formation of largely new science-intensive structures of production. But in­directly the rise of the trans-national corporations contributed to the decline of state as a distinct historical institution.

I find incorrect the formulation that the trans-national cor­porations are de­pendent on the state, that the state works in the interests of the trans-national corporations. Some state officials and even some segments of the state do work in the interests of the trans-natio­nal corporations, but in that case they cease to be the state and lose their state qualities and characteristics. When some of the structures or elements of the state begin to work partly for the trans-national corporation, in that part they cease to function as a special institution of the state and functionally become a semi-legal (or illegal) branch of the trans-national corporation it­self. In the part that is working for trans-national corporation we see only the form of the state; the substance is different. The trans-national corporations need a state to the degree this state functions as a non-state in substance while maintaining its state form. But in principle for the trans-national corporations it is much more easy and profitable to deal with such groups and struc­tures when state power has been priva­tized. That is natural and there are many pieces of evidence for this.

The decline of the state is but one of the forms of redis­tri­bu­tion of power and property in late capitalist society stemming from the scientific-technological revolution, of the computeriza­tion of production, finance, and information. These changes not only undermine the state as an in­sti­tution but the whole institu­tio­nal framework of late capitalist society. Historically, the state - just like capital - was one of the products of the decom­position of feudalism (the term "lo stato" was coined precisely at the end of the fifteenth century). During the sixteenth and seven­teenth centuries, especially in the period of the religious wars, the state proved to be the best mode of organi­zing violence, hege­mony, and consensus with the lowest price of so­cial evil and eco­nomic cost. Interacting with capital during this period, the state could keep a certain level of autonomy which expressed itself in the emergence of its own world-scale system - a sort of internatio­nal state, that of Westphalia (1648). It took another hundred years for the further interpenetration of state and capital. Probably by the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, and quite obviously by the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, it was evident that the state had become more or less a function of capital, and the more it be­came this function, the stronger and more suc­cessful was the state in the international arena. Although, due to the logic of the capi­talist system as well as the peculiarities of the Western civiliza­tion and the European historical subject, the state never lost its relative autonomy, since the second half of the eighteenth century, its main role has been as a function of capital, both nationally ("surveiller et punir", containing the "dangerous classes") and internationally. It was the consequence of the logic of the social system wherein the whole dominates the part and not vice versa.

In the industrial epoch the state was the main integrator of national economies (industries), national bourgeoisies ("middle classes") and national working classes into the world-system. And more or less for each group it was their "protector." Since the 1930s-1940s, under the external pressure of the changes in the USSR and the internal pressure of the working-class and Communist move­ments and also due to the further functionalization of capitalism (first of all - the growth of the bureaucracy), the state became a welfare state - be it in the form of a fascist or a liberal dicta­torship. State redistribution enabled many groups to acquire a bourgeois income without having bourgeois property (a "socialist bourgeoisie") which led to the growth of middle classes and to the rise of income of the working classes. Industrial society needs large working and middle classes; hence the state provided them with quite a large part of a "social pie." 1945-1975 was the time of triumph of the "socialist bourgeoisie." It was a Kondratieff-A period, and representatives of this "socialist bourgeoisie" were very active politically and intellectually during this period.

A scientific-technological-system of production needs neither large working nor large middle classes. For example, in the mid-1990s, Microsoft had 49 subsidiaries with 16,400 employed in total. That was all; the firm did not need more. Alors, adieu, les classes laborieuses et les classes moyennes? From the 1970s, in the most developed part of the world, in the core, there began a process of cutting off vast segments of the working and middle classes from the "social pie," or at least squeezing their share ("Thatcherism," "Reaganomics"). But de-welfarization of the state under the pres­sure of chan­ges, which culminated in the scientific-technological revolution, not only contributes to the dimin­ishing legitimacy of the state; it also weakens it, because during the last 50 years wel­fare became inseparable from state institu­tions.

Of course de-welfarization is neither the only nor the main source of the weakening or fading away of the state due to the sci­entific-technological revolution. There are some other more direct ones. The weakening of the state manifests itself in many different forms: the rise of criminality, withdrawal (or pushing out) of the state from certain segments of activities - de Soto calls that the «informal economy» and Balladur "la zone du non-droit" (Balladur claimed that up to 20-30% of the French population lives in that zone today). The direct decline of the state and statehood in many zones of the world is signaled by the emergence of the stateless zones or "les zones grises" (Minc). In such zones, the state in fact has disappeared as an institution and state power is being privatized by tribes (Congo, some other parts of Africa), clans (Somalia, Tajikistan), rebels (some regions of Latin America and Southeast Asia), criminal groups (parts of Columbia, and Russia), etc.

The privatization of power (which seems to me more appropriate term than "the decline of the state" (just as "de-ruralization" is more correct and adequate than "proletarianization") takes place not only in the periphery and semiperiphery of the world-system. "Are Marseille and Naples governed the same way as Hamburg or Stock­­holm?" - asks a French journalist. There are two ways (or two sides) of the process of the weakening ("decline," "fading away") of the state, of the process of privatization of power. The first one develops in the core as a direct result of the formation of new structures of production. The second one develops in less developed part of the world, in many parts of which the state was an artifact created by the West in the industrial phase of capitalism.

Now, when it became evident that the gap between North and South would not only not narrow but would become ever wider, it is understandable that only small parts ("pockets") of the South - eith­er those which are more developed than other parts of their respective countries or those which control territories rich in resources or having strategic significance - can be integrated in the science-intensive global system of production. They have a chance to become enclaves (or "points") of the North or at least the "quasi-North." But precisely this possibility deprives other parts of such a chance. The logic of global development strengthens the potential of these localities but, at the same time wrenches them, both economically and socially, from their respective coun­tries and states, counterpoising the enclaves and the rest of their countries.

In his book The End of the Nation-State: The Rise of Regional Economics (1995), Omahe introduces a new term for such "points" - "region-economies." According to Omahe, the region-economy is be­coming the really significant basic unit in (and of) the world-without-bor­ders, in (and of) the globalized information economy. The region-economy, whose population must not be less than 5 nor more than 20-30 million persons, is represented either by the most developed part of a country (Pusan in Korea, Kansai in Japan, São Paulo in Brazil) or by a combination of advanced parts ("pockets") of two bordering countries that are closely integrated with each other: San Diego-Tijuana; Singapore-Johore-Riau; Penang-Medan-Phu­ket, etc. The main problem is that these centers of knowledge-in­ten­sive economy are not very compatible with the nation-state, turn­ing the state into a sort of cartographic illusion. As Bauman wrote, "Whatever moves with the speed approaching the velocity of the electronic signal is particularly free from constraints related to the territory inside which it originated," that is, the nation-state.

So the decline of the nation-state as an institution has to do less with the loss of legitimacy than with the great transforma­tion of production structures, the formation of a global informa­tion eco­nomy due to the scientific-technological revolution. But it is precisely this transforma­tion which escapes the theses and goes un­noticed in world-systems analysis, thus un­dermining both its expli­cative and forecasting strength. Even in those parts of the South which are not "outposts of progress" but represent rather a kind of "heart of darkness," the state is also fading away. One of the fac­tors cementing some states in the past, say in Africa or Southeast Asia, was the capitalist-Communist (US-Soviet) rivalry. It was an external pressure, which held loose structures together as a state. Now the pressure is gone, and the state (for example in the Congo) explodes - just like deep-water fish lifted to the surface. By the irony of history it is the states of the periphery and semiperiph­ery which suffer first from the direct and indirect state-political consequences of the scientific-technological revolution. "Pagans suffering from the evils of Christianity" - this is the way Marx used to characterize situations of this kind.

Another indirect way of weakening the state is the weakening of the international system, of the UN. The Kosovo crisis - "the war over the Soviet succession" in the Balkans - demonstrates that very well that the "Malta world" is being constructed on the ruins and on the bones not only of the "Yalta world" but also of the in­ter­state system in principle. This is the result of the end of the bipolar world, of the decline and fall of the USSR, this process being in turn one of social and political results of the forming of the new global scientific-technological system of production. The scientific-technological revolution speeded up disinte­gration and decomposition processes of the Communist order.

To sum up, it seems to me that the explanation of the crisis in the state we find in these theses develops at the level of con­sequen­ces and not of causes, of epiphenomena and not of phenomena. I see in this the weakness of the world-systems perspective in prin­ciple.


One more point - last but not least - the balance sheet of the twentieth century. I believe Wallerstein begins with a false dilem­ma, "The American Century or reassertion of the non-Western world?" This is a logical error: in the same line we have two phenomena, one of which is at the level of a cause and the other one of a con­sequence. The reassertion of the non-Western world and the growth of its significance throughout the twentieth century were impossible without the emergence of the USSR, of "the socialist camp," and were conditioned by this fact. Had not the So­viet Union existed, the anti-colonial struggle in the twentieth century would have had the same results as in the nineteenth centu­ry. Could Nasser's Egypt have won the Suez crisis and "reassert itself" without the Soviet Union? The answer is clear. And what about Cuba?

The non-Western world reasserted itself in the form of the Third World. It means there must have been as a conditio sine qua non the Second World. One does not need to be a prophet to forecast that, in the absence of the USSR, of the Second World, all possi­bil­ities of Asian, African, and Latin American countries to reas­sert themselves as a totality, as a "world," would have come to an end. The South is not a totality; it is a sum. One can - and cor­rectly - speak about the Second World War and its role in the de­colonization and reassertion of the non-Western world. But the war itself, with its historical content and results as they were, can­not be separated from the fact of the existence of the USSR, paving the way for non-European reassertion in the form of the Third World.

I insist that the mere presence of the "Soviet camp" in the world changed in principle the situation in the non-Western world, especially in Asia and Africa, in their relations with the West. I am not going to say that this existence was a sufficient condition, only partly so, but it was definitely a necessary condition of the non-Western reassertion of which Wallerstein is speaking. Even the rise of Japan in the second half of the twentieth century is hardly imaginable had not the US needed a counterbalance to Communist Chi­na and the USSR in East Asia. Here again, though more or less in­di­rectly, we have "reassertion" connected with and conditioned by the emergence and existence of the Soviet Union, of the Communist world-system.

Of course in some cases, the USSR did not want this or that form of Asian of African "reassertion" or even blocked one form in favor of the other with more or less success due to the inte­rests of the USSR, its foreign policy, or to the situation of the world Communist movement. For example Stalin did not want Commu­nists com­ing to power in China or in Vietnam; he preferred natio­nalists. But the very fact that Communists could emerge, survive, and function in China was determined by Soviet support. This sup­port itself was determined by the logic of the Soviet-Western ri­val­ry (after the Second World War, primarily Soviet-American rival­ry). And the non-Western world profited enormously from this rival­ry. The kind of fate and the kind of "reassertion" that awaited them in the absence of the USSR and of a bipolar world is clear now from the current Yugoslav experience.

Prop. 16 says that the reason of the fact that global polar­i­zation between North and South has not led to the worldwide war be­tween them is due not only to the military strength of the North but to the preaching of the revolutionary "southern" movements that "history was on their side." I would like to clarify and concre­tize: history was on their side in the form of the USSR with its nuclear and navy potential. In such a situation some countries were on the side of the West, some countries on the side of the USSR. And in such circumstances the war against the North (West) could occur only in the form of conflict between pro-Soviet and pro-Amer­ican regimes. The very idea of worldwide North-South "civil war" seems incorrect and reminds me of the Maoist-Guevarist doctrine that "the worldwide village encircles the worldwide city." I can understand that, in (and for) the left consciousness, this doctrine can still have a certain emotional charm but I believe that it is intellec­tually honest not to transform a possibility that never really ex­isted in practice into a theoretical dilemma and to dis­cuss it as such. Again in Wallerstein's picture we see no USSR with nuclear weapons, just the US and the non-Western world. We never hear about the Caribbean crisis and many other things, which con­stituted Amer­ican-Soviet rivalry. Well, one does not see what one does want to see or what one's perspective (theory) does not allow one to see.

Wallerstein admits that a rollback of political intrusion of the West by non-Western world accelerated after 1945 (Prop. 4). But why did it go that way? Wallerstein takes it for granted and does not explain. I think the answer is evident. The cold war situation - the peak of the Soviet-American rivalry - created enormous possi­bilities for "reassertion." There is a Zen-Buddhist story. Two monks are speaking. One defines a clap as a sharp meeting of two palms. Another one asks: and what is a clap with one palm? - defy­ing the logical rule of the excluded middle. The reassertion of the non-Western world taken together with American hegemony seems to me a kind of clap with one palm. Again we see no USSR with nuclear wea­­pons (which in fact was a decisive factor, for example, in the Suez crisis) - just America and the non-Western world. In this ri­valry, the USSR constantly widened its zone of con­trol up to the late 1970s. In fact we must speak about the period of 1945-1985 as one of co-hegemony. The world was bipolar to an extent it never had been before.

The US did not remain "essentially uncontested as a hegemonic power until about 1970." The wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Berlin Wall, Cuba, the fate of the Portuguese colonies which, together with Af­ghan­istan, brought détente to an end - behind all these events there was the USSR which was acting successfully. The Hel­sinki accords in 1975 were a Soviet diplomatic victory. In the same way the 1989 meeting between Bush and Gorbachev was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, which ended by deconstruction of "the Yalta world" and coming of "the Malta world," via the with­dra­wal of the Russian troops from Germany in 1994 and the Kosovo cri­sis in 1999.

I have no doubt that real dilemma of the twentieth century must be formulated as "American century or Soviet century?" In fact it was the American-Soviet century, and one does not need to be a Russian, just an objective analyst, to come to such a conclu­sion. Why is Wallerstein so reluctant to bring the Soviet Union into his picture - to the point of this formulation: "The definitive victory of the United States (and its allies) in 1945 allowed it to estab­lish a hegemonic world." What kind of allies did the US have? Nica­ragua, Mongolia, Egypt? The losses during the Second World War and the theater where the outcome of the war was determined indi­cate clearly who was the main (and from that point of view the only) ally of the USA. It was the USSR which defeated Hitler's ar­mies, crushed them with the Soviet people-mass and Russian space. The USSR did this with the help of some allies, first of all the US, which in fact really stepped into the war when its outcome was clear and when the danger of the Soviet occupation of Western Eur­ope became real.

Why is that not evident for Wallerstein? I can only guess and my guess is that there are two reasons - one theoretical, hav­ing to do with the world-systems perspective and its approach to Russia/USSR; and another - ideological, preanalytical, having to do with the relation of the Western (including American) Left of the 1960s to the USSR. I shall begin with «ideology» or, to be more precise, pre-analysis.

Just like the Western revolutionaries of the mid-nineteenth cen­tury and the Western social-democrats of the early twentieth cen­tury, Western intellectuals of the Left in the 1960s looked upon the USSR as the stronghold of counterrevolution. Revolu­tion, revo­lu­tionaries, and anti-imperialism were somewhere else - in Maoist China, in Kim Il-Sung's Korea, in Castro's Cuba. It was a common­place. Sartre, for example, praised Mao and his Cul­tural Revolu­tion, and I can only repeat, with Solzhenitsyn, that it is a pity Sartre never was in a Chinese "reeducation camp" (two-three years would have been enough).

To many people in the Left the Soviet Union was just the sec­ond imperialist state (after the US); hence, the attitude to­wards it. From that interpretation there was only one political-propagan­dist step to denoting the USSR as a sub-imperialist power, almost a junior partner of the US. Apart from many other things, such an approach relieved the researcher from the necessity of substantial analysis of the inner nature and structure of "real existing so­cial­ism" (or of "historical communism"). It was enough to label it, for example, as a "quantitative" form - a semiperi­ph­eral zone of the capitalist system, as in the world-systems per­spective.

Concentration on the center (or on "the core") of the system automatically shifts focus first of all onto the US, leading to a certain Americocentrism. Thus, in a strange and paradoxical way, leftist theoretical analysis and official American anti-Communist ideology, nolens volens, blended together and coincided both in Americocentrism and anti-Sovietism. Using the cherished rhetorics of the Lefts themselves, be it that of the Old Left or that of the product of its disintegration, the New Left, "imperialism" and this version of "anti-imperialism" here shake hands against another ver­sion of anti-imperial­ism. Well done! As Stalin would put it: "Dia­lectics - if you go to the left, you'll come to the right."

Now we come to the second aspect of the problem - that of the interpretation of Russia/USSR in the world-systems perspective, where it is treated as a semiperiphery, just like China or Brazil. Here we have a certain economocentrism, economic one-dimensionali­ty, which is in stark contradiction with the proclaimed holism of the world-systems perspective. Semiperiphery as a quality is meas­ured on a purely quantitative economic basis, and from this point of view Russia really was and is semiperipheral. But the question is: to what extent did semiperipherality characterize the social nature and real place of the USSR in the world? I think its rele­vance is marginal. Otherwise it is impossible to understand why the only superpower in the world (apart from the US) was a semiperiphe­ral state.

Why was it the USSR, and not China or Brazil? A special po­si­tion of one "semiperipheral state" calls first of all for a spe­cial, non-semiperipheral explanation. Secondly, a purely econo­mic definition of the "zones" in the modern world-system does not work when it comes to the antisystemic part. If the USSR was anti­syste­mic, negating capitalism, it should not be defined in purely econo­mic terms. It is the legacy of the nineteenth century that the world-systems perspective promised to unthink. "Unthinking" the nineteenth-century legacy should be performed within the world-systems perspective itself, and the first good object should be Russia/USSR in particular and the phenomenon of Communism in gene­ral.


I cannot say I am convinced by the theses. I see major flaws in them on such questions as globalization, state, ideology, the balance sheet of the twentieth century. The use of such Prigoginist terms as "fluctuation" and "point of bifurcation" does not improve the situation. These terms can be added to any theory. They do not relieve the world-systems perspective from its inner problems and analytically remain outside the world-systems perspective.

The picture presented in and by theses is as if we lived some­where in the 1960s, on the eve of scientific-technological revolu­tion, not after it and its consequences; as if we still live in the world-system, while there is a globalized information economy all around us. So much is absent or misrepresented by theses that if there existed something like "historiographical Freudism," I would be tempted to take the risk of suggesting that this picture and the world-systems perspective present a theoretical vision of a group which does not want to see some phenomena and tendencies of devel­opment. Why? One can only guess (or analyze and write a book about it). Historical truth is not always a pleasant thing not only for individuals, but even more for social and political groups, for whole generations. Martin Luther once said that the truth was pain­ful and, I'll add, demanded compensation. For example, Hemingway pro­­duced in his novels and stories this kind of psychological com­pen­sation fir the «lost generation» of the 1920s. As Clifton Fadi­man wrote, "he enabled his forlorn fellows to be sentimental while feeling virile and noble and tragic."

The history of modern thought shows that psychological com­pensation is not only located in literature, art, music, but in scholarship as well, especially in social thought. Time is much more often the key to different theories than the theories produced during a given era are keys to it. I think the world-systems per­spective is not an exception to this pattern. But to prove it in detail (and not just to state it as a working hypothesis, as a pro­position, or even as an impression as I have), one would need to write a book or at least a very large article on the world-systems perspec­tive in the context of the qualitative changes of the second half of the twentieth century, of the rise and fall of the so­cia­list bourgeoisie, of the transformation of the world-system into a glocal (global + local = glocal) one.

1The article in published in: The World We Are Entering, 2000-2050 / Ed. by I. Wallerstein and A. Clesse. - Amsterdam: Dutch University Press, 2002. - Pp. 224-238.

*Director of the Institute of Russian history at the Russian State University of Humanities and Head of department of Asia and Africa at the Institute of scientific information for social sciences (Russian Academy of Social Sciences, Moscow).