March at the
Institute for Research on World-Systems
Thanks to Ellen Reese and the other members of the UCR Research Working Group on Transnational Social Movements for the reported findings on the World Social Forum process. An earlier version was presented as a keynote address at the annual meeting of the Global Studies Association, University of Calfornia-Irvine, May 18, 2007. 9002 words. V. 6-17-07.
Forthcoming in Jerry Harris (ed.) GSA Papers 2007: Contested Terrains of
perspective on human socio-cultural evolution reveals that all systems of interacting
polities oscillate between greater and lesser centralization as large polities
rise and fall. This is true of systems of chiefdoms, states, empires and the
modern system of the rise and fall of hegemonic core states. But there has also
been a long-term trend in which polities have increased in population and
territorial size since the Stone Age and the total number of polities has
decreased (Chase-Dunn et al 2007).
These trends have been somewhat masked in recent centuries because the
processes of decolonization and the emergence of nation-states out of older
tributary and colonial empires have increased the number of smaller polities.
But the general trend toward larger polities can be seen in the transitions
from smaller to larger hegemonic core states (from the Dutch, to the British to
The question of the timing of upward sweeps to new scales of political
integration is entirely germane to the problem of understanding global state
formation and the future of global governance. So also is the issue of how
unusually large states have been formed in the past. Upward sweeps have mainly
been instances of a semiperipheral marcher state conquering and unifying
adjacent older core states and nearby peripheral areas. Conquest of adjacent
territories has been the main mechanism of large-scale political integration in
the past. But the pattern of hegemonic rise and fall in the modern world-system
has been different (See Figure 1). The most powerful states, the hegemons (the
Dutch, the British and the
Figure 1: Core-Wide Territorial Empire vs. Modern Hegemony
Only during hegemonic decline have the modern capitalist hegemons shown a tendency toward “imperial overreach” in which their military power is employed in a last ditch effort to prop up a declining economic hegemony. These efforts have not been successful, and a new hegemon only emerges after a period of hegemonic rivalry and world war. This is a primitive method of choosing “global leadership” that we can no longer afford to employ because of the existence of weapons of mass destruction. This is analogous to the succession problem within states. The further construction and strengthening of institutions that can peacefully resolve the struggle for hegemony is of the first importance for our very survival as a species because we can no longer afford the trial by combat method of choosing global leadership.
The main political structure of global governance in the
modern world-system has been, and remains, the international system of states
as theorized and constituted in the Peace of Westphalia. This international
system of competing and allying national states was extended to the periphery
of the modern world-system in two large waves of decolonization of the colonial
empires of core powers. The modern system already differed from earlier
imperial systems in that its core remained multicentric rather than being
occasionally conquered and turned into a core-wide empire. Instead, most new empires
became organized as distant peripheral colonies rather than as conquered
adjacent territories. Earlier instances of this type of colonial empire were
produced by thallasocratic states, mainly semiperipheral capitalist city-states
that specialized in trade (e.g.,
The decolonization waves were part of the formation of a truly global polity of
states. The system of European core states, each with its own colonial empire
in Asia, Africa and the
Figure 2: Waves of colonization and decolonization based on Henige’s Colonial Governors (1970)
Our historical model adds marketization, decolonization, new lead technologies, the rise and fall of hegemons, and the rise of international political organizations to the population pressure model in order to forecast future trajectories of global state formation. Because the world-systems perspective sensitizes one to the cyclical nature of many sociocultural processes, it is easy to imagine that downward plunges and possible collapses might affect the probable trajectories of global state formation. The main idea is that global governance has evolved out of the imperial and national systems of political/military competion and alliance, and that for the past 250 years a more uniform and more centralized global polity has been emerging that is on the way to global state formation. This process has occurred because successive hegemonies have had to deal with world revolutions from below. This is the world historical context in which we need to understand contemporary efforts to make another world revolution.
is important to also take into account the structural differences between
recent and earlier periods. For example, the period of British hegemonic
decline moved rather quickly toward conflictive hegemonic rivalry because
economic competitors such as
governance refers to the nature of power institutions in a world-system. So
there has been global governance all along. It has not emerged. But it has
changed its nature. The modern world-system was originally the European
interstate system in which states allied and fought with one another for
territory, control of trade routes, and other resources and sociopolitical
institutions increasingly became organized nationally (Sassen 2006). As
The interstate system that emerged in
emergence of colonial empires corresponded with the reproduction of a
multicentric core in which several European states allied with and fought each
other. This system came to be taken for granted by international relations
theorists as the natural mode of global governance. Despite that earlier
systems had repeatedly seen the emergence of “universal states” such as the
oscillation of earlier systems morphed into the rise and fall of hegemonic core
powers in the modern system. A series of hegemons emerged from the
semiperiphery -- the Dutch, the British and the
The evolution that occurred with the rise and fall of the hegemonic core powers needs to be seen as a sequence of forms of world order that evolved to solve the political, economic and technical problems of successively more global waves of capitalist accumulation. The expansion of global production involved accessing raw materials to feed the new industries, and food to feed the expanding populations (Bunker and Ciccantell 2004). As in any hierarchy, coercion is a very inefficient means of domination, and so the hegemons sought legitimacy by proclaiming leadership in advancing civilization and democracy. But the terms of these claims were also employed by those below who sought to protect themselves from exploitation and domination. And so the evolution of hegemony was produced by elite groups competing with one another in a context of successive powerful challenges from below. World orders were contested and reconstructed in a series of world revolutions that began with the Protestant Reformation (Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000: 53-64).
The idea of world revolution is a broad notion that encompasses all kinds of resistance to hierarchy regardless of whether or not it is coordinated. Usually the idea of revolution is conceptualized on a national scale in which new social forces come to state power and restructure social relations. When we use the revolution concept at the world-system level a number of changes are required. There is no global state (yet) to take over. But there is a global polity, a world order, that has evolved as outlined above. It is that world polity or world order that is the arena of contestation within which world revolutions have occurred and that world revolutions have restructured.
Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) focus on those constellations of local, regional, national and transnational rebellions and revolutions that have had long-term consequences for changing world orders. World orders are those normative and institutional features that are taken for granted in large-scale cooperation, competition and conflict. Years that symbolize the major world revolutions after the Protestant Reformation are 1789, 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989. Arguably another one is brewing now. Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein (1989) analyzed the world revolutions of 1848, 1917, 1968 and 1989. They contend that the demands put forth in a world revolution do not usually become institutionalized until a consolidating revolt has occurred, or until the next world revolution. So the revolutionaries appear to have lost in the failure of their most radical demands, but enlightened conservatives who are trying to manage hegemony end up incorporating the reforms that were earlier radical demands into the current world order.
Political Globalization and Global Party Formation
The nineteenth century saw the beginning of what I shall call political
globalization – the emergence and growth of an overlayer of regional and
increasingly global formal organizational structures on top of the interstate
system. I conceptualize political globalization analogously to the
understanding of economic globalization developed in earlier research -- the
relative strength and density of larger versus smaller interaction networks and
organizational structures (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000). The most
obvious indication of political globalization is the evolution of the uneven
and halting upward trend in the transitions from the Concert of Europe to the
The trend toward political globalization can also be seen in the emergence of the Bretton Woods institutions (the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank) the more recent restructuring of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade as the World Trade Organization, and the heightened visibility of other international fora (the Trilateral Commission, the Group of Seven [Eight], the World Economic Forum and the World Social Forum).
the proponents of a recent stage of global capitalism contend that strong
transnational capitalist firms and there political operatives working within
national states have combined with existing international organizations to
constitute an emerging transnational capitalist state (e.g. Robinson 2004).
This version of the global state formation hypothesis claims that a rather
integrated transnational capitalist class has emerged since the 1970s, and that
this global class uses both international organizations and existing national
state apparatuses as coordinated instruments of its rule. A related perspective
holds that the
The current reality is that both the old system of nationally competing capitalist classes and a very high degree of global integration now exist and these contend with one another to an extent that is much greater than in the past. An internationally integrated global capitalist class was also in formation in the second half of the nineteenth century, but this did not prevent the world polity from descending into the violent interimperial rivalry of the two twentieth century World Wars (Barr et al 2006). The degree of integration of both elites and masses is undoubtedly greater in the current round of globalization, but will it be strongly integrated enough to allow for readjustments without descent into a repetition of the Age of Extremes? That is the question.
In addition to the formation of regional and global international
organizations, the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also saw the emergence of
transnational social movements and the enlargement of what has come to be known
as global civil society. These movements have also altered the form of global
governance by providing expanded arenas in which individuals and organizations
participate directly in world politics rather than through the mediating shell
of national states. Specialized international and transnational
non-governmental organizations (e.g. the International Postal Union) exploded
in the middle of the 19th century (Murphy 1994; Mattelart 2000).
Abolitionism, feminism and the labor movement became increasingly transnational
in nature. Earlier local movements had also had a transnational aspect
because sailors, pirates, slaves and indentured servants carried ideas and
sentiments back and forth across the
Black Jacobins of the Haitian revolution, by depriving Napoleonic France of
important sources of sugar and wealth, played a role in the rise of British
hegemony (Santiago-Valles 2005). These kinds of effects of resistance from
below became stronger in the middle decades of the 19th century –
the years around the world revolution of 1848. This is usually thought of
in terms of developments in Europe, but millenarian and revolutionary ideas
traveled to the New World to play a role in the “burned over district” in
These developments ramped up during the “Age of Extremes” (Hobsbawm 1994), the
first half of the twentieth century. Internationalism in the labor
movement had emerged in the second half of the nineteenth century. Global
political parties were becoming active in world politics, especially during and
after the world revolution of 1917. The Communist International (Comintern)
convened large conferences of representatives from all over the world in
The Comintern was abolished in 1943, though
Ulrich Beck’s (2005) effort to rethink the nature of power in a globalized world makes the claim that the power of global capitalist corporations is based mainly on the threat of the withdrawal of capital investment, and thus it does not need to be legitimated. Beck further argues that the transnational capitalist class does not need to form political parties, because its power is translegal and does not need legitimation. While this may be true to some extent, it is still the case that one may discern an evolution of political ideology that is promulgated by the lords of capital and the states that represent them. The Keynesian national development project that was the hegemonic ideology of the West from World War II to the 1970s was replaced by neoliberalism, a rather different set of claims and policies.
William Carroll (2006a, 2006b) traces the history liberalism and neoliberalism as it emerges from the eighteenth century, takes refuge in monastery-like think tanks during the heyday of Keynesianism, and then reemerges as Reaganism-Thatcherism in the 1970s and 1980s. The further evolution can be seen in the rise of the neoconservatives in the 1990s, and concerns for dealing with those pockets of poverty that seem impervious to market magic in the writings of such neoliberals as Jeffrey Sachs (2005). Stephen Gill’s (2000) suggestive discussion of “the post-modern prince” – a left global political party emerging out of the global justice movement, also proposes an analysis of corporate media, think-tanks, and institutions such as the World Economic Forum as participants in a process of global political contestation. Necessary or not, the transnational capitalist class and its organic intellectuals engage in massive efforts to legitimate their own power, and this can be seen to interact with popular forces. Thus did the advertised concerns of the World Economic Forum become much more directed toward poverty after the rise of the World Social Forum (WSF).
The World Revolution of 20xx
are in the middle of another world revolution now. Because it is yet in
formation I do not yet know which particular year to choose to symbolize it, so
the title of this essay refers to the year of twenty dos equis. World revolutions have become more frequent and so they
now overlap with one another. Arguably the anti-IMF riots of the 1980s (Walton
and Seddon 1994; Podobnik 2003) were the first skirmishes of the revolts and
rebellions against neoliberal corporate capitalism. The Zapatista rebellion of
1994 was the first to name neoliberalism as the enemy. The “Battle of Seattle” in 1999 brought the
“antiglobalization movement” to the attention of large numbers of people in the
Many of the participants in the contemporary movement of movements are unaware or only vaguely aware of the historical sequence of world revolutions. But others are determined not to repeat what are perceived to have been the mistakes of the past. The charter of the World Social Forum does not permit participation by those who attend as representatives of organizations that are engaged in, or that advocate, armed struggle. Nor are governments or political parties supposed to send representatives to the WSF. There is a great emphasis on diversity and on horizontal, as opposed to hierarchical, forms of organization. And the wide-use of the Internet for communication and mobilization makes it possible for broad coalitions and loosely knit networks to engage in collective action projects. The movement of movements at the World Social Forum is in the midst of a manifesto/charter-writing frenzy as those who seek a more organized approach to confronting global capitalism and neoliberalism attempt to formulate consensual goals and to put workable coalitions together (Wallerstein 2007).
One issue is whether or not the World Social Forum itself should formulate a
political program and take formal stances on issues. The Charter of the WSF
explicitly forbids this and a significant group of participants strongly
supports maintaining the WSF as an “open space” for debate and organizing. A
survey of 625 attendees at the World Social Forum meeting in
But this is not necessary. The WSF Charter also encourages the formation of new political organizations. So those participants who want to form new coalitions and organizations are free to act, as long as they do not do so in the name of the WSF as a whole.
In recent Social Forum meetings the Assembly of Social Movements and other
groups have issued calls for global action and other political statements. At
the end of the 2005 meeting in
At present there is an impasse between those who are willing to risk charges of Napoleonism and those who want proposals and totemic texts to bubble up from the movements. And there are also important disagreements about both goals and tactics. Such political statements, particularly those issued by the 19 notables in 2005 and the Bamako Appeal, have generated considerable controversy about process and legitimacy, since they were issued by socially privileged and unelected leaders, mainly intellectuals, who claim to speak on behalf of the “masses.” Creating democratic mechanisms of accountability through which WSF participants can engage in global collective action and move towards greater political unity remains an important political task.
issue of process has been strongly raised in several of the critiques of the
Bamako Appeal in a collection of documents published just before the World
Social Forum meeting in Nairobi in January of 2007 (Sen et al 2007).
This collection includes the Communist Manifesto, documents that came out of
the Bandung Conference, recent communiqués from the Zapatistas in
The Multicentric Network of Movements
Just as world revolutions in the past have restructured world orders, the current one may also do this. But do the activists themselves agree on the nature of the most important problems, visions of a desirable future or notions of appropriate tactics and forms of movement organization? My colleagues in the Transnational Social Movements Research Working Group at the University of California-Riverside performed a network analysis of movement ties based on the responses to the 2005 WSF Survey. Our study of the structure of overlapping links among movements as represented by attendees of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005 who identify with and/or are actively involved in a long list of movements shows that the structure of movement overlaps is a multicentric network (Chase-Dunn, Petit, Niemeyer, Hanneman, Alvarez, Gutierrez and Reese 2006).
Figure 4 shows the network structure produced by examining the patterns of those who say they are actively involved in movements. All the movements have some people who are actively involved in other movements. In order to study the most important linkages among movements we dropped connections that are less than the average number of linkages across all movement pairs.
The overall structure of the network of movement linkages shows a multicentric network organized around the five main movements that serve as bridges that link other movements to one another: peace, anti-globalization, global justice, human rights and environmentalism. While no single movement is so central that it could call the shots, neither is the network structure characterized by separate cliques of movements that might be easily separated from one another. Remember that Figure 4 does not show all the connections in the network, but rather shows those connections that are strong relative to all the connections in the network.
This structure means that the transnational activists who participate in the World Social Forum process share goals and support the general global justice framework asserted in the World Social Forum Charter. It also means that this group is relatively integrated and is not prone to splits. A Third Worldist and cosmopolitan united front approach that pays attention to the nature of this network structure can have reasonable hope for mobilizing a strong force for collective action in world politics, though solutions need to be found to address the issues of process that have become apparent in the first wave of manifesto-writing.
The focus on global justice and north/south inequalities and the critique of neoliberalism provide strong orienting frames for the transnational activists of the World Social Forum. But there are difficult issues for collective action that are heavily structured by the huge international inequalities that exist in the contemporary world-system and these issues must be directly confronted. A survey of the attendees of the 2005 World Social Forum found several important differences between activists from the core, the periphery and the semiperiphery (Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Alvarez, Gutierrez, Kim, and Petit. 2008).
Those from the periphery were fewer, older, and more likely to be men. In addition, participants from the periphery were more likely to be associated with externally sponsored NGOs, rather than with self-funded SMOs and unions, as NGOs have greater access to travel funds. Southern respondents were significantly more likely than those from the global north to be skeptical about creating or reforming global-level political institutions and to favor the abolition of global institutions.
Those who favor reforming or replacing global institutions in order to resolve global problems (e.g. see discussion of Monbiot below) need to squarely face these facts. This skepticism probably stems from the historical experience of peoples from the non-core with colonialism and global-level institutions that claim to be operating on universal principles of fairness, but whose actions have either not solved problems or have made them worse. These “new abolitionists” are posing a strong challenge to both existing global institutions and to those who want to reform or replace these institutions. These realities must be addressed, not ignored.
Democratizing Global Governance
Charles Tilly’s (2007) remarkable analysis of the processes that make democratization and dedemocratization more likely in national states completely ignores the problem of global state formation and the question of democratization of the global polity. But Tilly’s approach has important implications at the global level. He contends that state capacity is fundamentally relevant for understanding democratization. Low capacity states in poverty-stricken (peripheral) societies are very hard to democratize because the state itself is the only resource worth controlling and so local power groups use any means necessary to gain and hold state power. This explains volumes about why states in the periphery have had a hard time democratizing. This dimension of state capacity is also entirely relevant for the consideration of global state formation. Democratizing a weak global state may be easier, but is unlikely to be very efficacious for dealing with the difficult environmental, security and global justice issues that humanity will confront in the 21st century. Progressive movements must seek to both democratize and make more capacious the emerging world state.
Tilly’s analysis of competing institutional bases of power within a national society is also relevant at the global level, where existing powerful national states constitute alternative and potentially challenging bases of power. And his focus on trust networks as important in the processes of democratization – the linking of old or new trust networks into the structures of political democracy – implies that the discourses about global civil society and transnational social movements are focusing on matters that will have great significance for the emergence of a world state and its democratization.
The idea of democracy has become deeply institutionalized in contemporary national societies and in emerging global culture. This idea is increasingly being applied at the global level, raising issues about the democratic nature of existing institutions of global governance. Why are some countries allowed to have weapons of mass destruction while others are not? How have these decisions been made? Are the institutions and actors that made them legitimate in the eyes of the peoples of the world?
Upward sweeps of city and polity growth have led to new levels of political integration in the past (Chase-Dunn, Inoue, Alvarez, Niemeyer and Sheikh-Mohamed 2007). What are the prospects for another upward sweep that would result in the formation of a real global state? It is generally the case that increases in organizational complexity and hierarchy require the appropriation and control of greater amounts of energy (Christian 2003). The last big upward sweep of city sizes and colonial empires was greatly facilitated by the harvesting of fossil fuels that stored the sunlight and heat of billions of years of photosynthesis below the surface of the Earth.
New energy technologies will eventually emerge that can facilitate new levels of human complexity, but in the mean time we will have to deal with the negative anthropogenic environmental consequences of this colossal harvest of energy, the coming of “peak oil” and the eventual exhaustion of the fossil fuel stores. Technological fixes in the form of conversion to the greater use of natural gas, methane and renewable forms of energy including renewably produced hydrogen are possible, but in order to make them happen a strong environmental justice movement will need to confront the powers that want to use more polluting coal, nuclear power and oil shale (Podobnik 2006). Democratizing institutions of global governance will be an important aspect of the coming struggle for a sustainable world economy. Thus the processes of political globalization, the growth of transnational activism, and the potentials for democratizing global governance that I have discussed above are needed to manage the huge issues that are on the immediate horizon: the interimperial rivalry between a declining U.S. economic hegemony and the rise of East Asia, the timely achievement of demographic stability as the non-core moves on from an industrial death rate and an agricultural birth rate to the demographic transition, the transition to a sustainable relationship with the biosphere and the geosphere, and the reduction of global inequalities.
The global democracy movement is global state formation from below, whether or not it is politic to say so. Certainly the language of “multilateral global governance” is more acceptable. But the issue of who controls the guns is going to be on the minds of many, especially those who have been the victims of the existing structure of power. Bringing up the issue of global state formation loudly points to the “monopoly of legitimate violence” and to the illegitimacy of the current structure in which a single superpower can only be challenged by weapons of the weak.
The European Union process itself only
creates a larger core state that can contend with the
Last of the Hegemons
It is likely that the
The multiple local, regional and largely disconnected human interaction networks of the past have become strongly linked into a single global system. The treadmill of population growth has been stopped in the core countries, and it appears to be slowing in the non-core. The global human population is predicted to peak and to stabilize in the decades surrounding 2075 at somewhere between eight and twelve billion. Thus population pressure will continue to be a major challenge for at least another century, increasing logistical loads on governance institutions. The exit option is blocked off except for a small number of pioneers who may move out to space stations or try to colonize Mars. Thus a condition of global circumscription exists. Malthusian corrections are not only a thing of the past, as illustrated by continuing warfare and genocide. Famine has been brought under control, but future shortages of clean water, good soil, non-renewable energy sources, and food might bring that old horseman back.
Huge global inequalities complicate the collective action problem. First world people have come to feel entitled, and non-core people want to have their own cars, large houses and electronic geegaws. The ideas of human rights and democracy are still contested, but they have become so widely accepted that existing institutions of global governance are illegitimate even by their own standards. The demand for global democracy and human rights can only be met by reforming or replacing the existing institutions of global governance with institutions that have some plausible claim to represent the will and interests of the majority of the world’s people. That means global state formation, although most of the contemporary protagonists of global democracy do not like to say it that way.
There is nothing inevitable about global state formation, especially within the
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