transnational social movements and

democratic socialist parties in the semiperiphery


Christopher Chase-Dunn

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California, Riverside

Riverside, CA. 92521


Terry Boswell


Emory University


Student Environmental Protest in Korea



Presented at the Annual Conference of the California Sociological Association, Riverside, CA October 19, 2002 draft v. 10-11-02 (6987 words). This paper is available at


            Globalization backlash is promoting transnational social movements that are seeking to reform and restructure both national societies and global governance. Some of these movements are reactionary, while others are progressive. We distinguish between:

·        antisystemic movements that seek to democratize global governance by means of globalization from below and

·         anti-globalization movements that attack the powers that be in order to revitalize traditional non-democratic civilizational values (Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2002).

Ironically, the anti-systemic movements are labeled "anti-globalization."  As they constantly point out, this is a misnomer.  Their goal is to transform globalization to make it more equal and more just.  The real anti-globalization movements are not called by that name. They are called terrorists. 

 The argument presented here is that the progressive antisystemic movements will find their greatest support in the semiperiphery. Democratic socialist parties and regimes that are coming to power in the semiperipheral countries will be the forereachers that show how the progressive transnational movements (feminism, environmentalism, labor, indigenism) can work together to democratize global governance.

The semiperipheral development idea is an important tool for understanding the real possibilities for global social change because semiperipheral countries are the weakest link in the global capitalist system – the zone where the most powerful antisystemic movements have emerged in the past and where vital and transformative developments are likely to occur in the future.

One implication of the comparative world-systems perspective (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997) is that all hierarchical and complex world-systems exhibit a “power cycle” in which political/military power becomes more centralized followed by a phase of decentralization. This is likely to be true of the future of the world-system as well, though the form of the power cycle may change.  Our species needs to invent political and cultural institutions that allow adjustments in the global political and economic structures to take place without resort to warfare.  This is analogous to the problem of succession within single states, and the solution is obvious – a global government that represents the interests of the majority of the peoples of the Earth and allows for political restructuring to occur by democratic processes.

 Capitalist accumulation usually favors a multicentric interstate system because this provides greater opportunities for the maneuverability of capital than would exist in a world state. Big capitals can play national states off against one another and can escape movements that try to regulate investment or redistribute profits by abandoning the national states in which such movements attain political power.

            The modern world-system has experienced long waves of economic and political integration over recent centuries. We use the term “structural globalization” to denote intercontinental economic and political integration. These waves of global integration are the contemporary incarnations of the pulsations of widening and deepening of interaction networks that have been important characteristics of all world-systems for millennia. But since the nineteenth century these have occurred in a single global system. Figure 1 shows the waves of global trade integration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000). The crucial comparison is between the late 19th century (1890-1914) and recent decades (1980- ).  These are the periods when the cycle of globalization makes a qualitative shift upwards.  The shift is so steep that it changes the culture and people become terribly aware of their global interdependence.






















Figure 1: International Trade relative to the Size of the Global Economy, 1830-1994 (from Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000)


Capitalist Globalization

            We understand the historical development of the modern world-system in terms of the evolution of institutions. These key institutions: commodity production, technology and techniques of power, have been shaped by tremendous struggles. These include conflict among contending powers and between the core and the periphery over the past six centuries as Europe rose to hegemony and capitalist globalization expanded in waves of commodification and integration.

            The story of how global orders have been restructured in order to facilitate capitalist accumulation must be told in deep temporal perspective in order for us to understand how the most recent wave of corporate globalization is similar to, or different from, earlier waves of globalization. Of particular interest here is the phenomenon of world revolutions and increasingly transnational antisystemic movements. In order to comprehend the possibilities for the emergence of global democracy we need to understand the history of popular movements that have tried to democratize the world-system in the past.

            The most relevant for comprehending our own era is the story of the nineteenth century and its tsunami (tidal wave)of capitalist globalization under the auspices of British hegemony. Transnational antisystemic movements, especially the trade union movement and the feminist movement, emerged to contend with global capitalism. Workers and women consciously took the role of world citizens, organizing international movements to contend with the increasingly transnational organization of an emergent global capitalist class.  Political and economic elites, especially finance capitalists, had already been consciously operating on an intercontinental scale for centuries, but the degree of international integration of these elites reached a very high level in the late nineteenth century.[1]

The British created the Concert of Europe after defeating Napoleon. This was an alliance of conservative dynasties and politicians who were dedicated to the prevention of any future French revolutions. The British Royal Navy suppressed the slave trade and encouraged decolonization of the Spanish colonies in the Americas. The English Anti-Corn Law League’s advocacy of international free trade (carried abroad by British diplomats and businessmen) was adopted by most European and American states in the middle of the century.  The gold standard was an important support of a huge increase in international trade and investment (Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000; O’Rourke and Williamson 1999).  The expanding Atlantic economy, already firmly attached to the Indian Ocean, was accompanied by an expanding Pacific economy as Japan and China were more completely and directly brought into the trade and investment networks of Europe and North America. American Ginseng was harvested in Pennsylvania as an important commodity export that could be used in lieu of silver in the trade for Chinese silk and “china.”

The nineteenth century wave of capitalist globalization was massively contested in a great globalization backlash. The decolonization of Latin America extended the formal aspects of state sovereignty to a large chunk of the periphery.  Slave revolts, abolitionism and the further incorporation of Africa into the capitalist world-system eventually led to the abolition of slavery almost everywhere. Within Europe socialist and democratic demands for political and economic rights of the non-propertied classes strongly emerged in the world revolution of 1848.

            An important aspect of our model of world-systems evolution is the idea of semiperipheral development (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: Chapter 5). Institutional development in premodern world-systems occurred because innovations and implementations of new techniques and organizational forms have tended to occur in societies that have semiperipheral positions within larger core/periphery hierarchies. Semiperipheral marcher chiefdoms conquered adjacent core polities to create larger paramount chiefdoms.  And semiperipheral marcher states conquered adjacent core states to create larger and larger core-wide empires (e.g. Chin, Akkad, Assyrian, Achaemenid Persians, Alexander, Rome, Abbasid Caliphate, etc.) And semiperipheral capitalist city-states (Dilmun, Phoenician Tyre, Sidon, and Carthage; Venice, Genoa, Malacca, etc.) expanded commercialized trade networks and encouraged commodity production within and between the tributary empires and peripheral regions, linking larger and larger regions together to eventually become the single global economy of today.

 The modern hegemons (the Dutch Republic of the seventeenth century, the United Kingdom of Great Britain in the nineteenth century, and the United States of America in the twentieth century) were all formerly semiperipheral nation-states that rose to the position of hegemony by transforming the institutional bases of economic and political/military power in response to challenges from contenders for hegemony and challenges from popular movements contesting the injustices of capitalism and modern colonial imperialism. The modern world-system has experienced system-wide waves of democracy rather than separate and disconnected sequences of democratization within individual countries (Markoff 1996). These waves have tended to start in semiperipheral countries and the institutional inventions that have diffused from country to country have disproportionately been invented and implemented in semiperipheral countries first (Markoff 1999). Both the Russian and Chinese Communist challenges to capitalism emerged from the semiperiphery.

            The worker’s movement became increasingly organized on an international basis during the nineteenth century.  Mass production made working conditions increasingly similar for industrial workers around the world. Labor organizers were able to make good use of cheap and rapid transportation as well as new modes of communication (the telegraph) in order to link struggles in distant locations. And the huge migration of workers from Europe to the New World spread the ideas and the strategies of the labor movement. Socialists, anarchists and communists challenged the rule of capital while they competed with each other for leadership of an increasingly global antisystemic movement that sought to democratize the world-system.

            The decline of British hegemony, and the failure of efforts after World War I to erect an effective structure of global governance, led to the collapse of capitalist globalization during the depression of the 1930’s, culminating in World War II. In our perspective capitalist globalization is a cycle as well as a trend. The great wave of the nineteenth century was followed by a collapse in the early twentieth century and then a reemergence in the period after World War II. The global institutions of the post World War II order, now under the sponsorship of the hegemonic United States, were intended to resolve the problems that were perceived to have caused the military conflagrations and economic disasters of the early twentieth century. The United Nations was a stronger version of a global proto-state than the League of Nations had been, though still a long way from the “monopoly of legitimate violence” that is the effective center of a real state.

The Bretton Woods institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund— were originally intended to promote Keynesian national development rather than a globalized market of investment flows. Free trade was encouraged, but important efforts were made to track international investments and to encourage the efforts of national states to use fiscal policy as a tool of national development.  The architects of the Bretton Woods institutions were chary (suspicious) about the effects of volatile waves of international capital flows on economic development and political stability because of what they perceived to have been the lessons of the 1920’s.  The restarting of the world economy after World War II under the aegis of the Bretton Woods institutions and U.S. support for relatively autonomous capitalism in Europe and Japan succeeded tremendously. But the growing power of unions within the core, and the perceived constraints on U.S. fiscal and financial interests imposed by the Bretton Woods currency regime, along with the oil crisis of the early 1970s, led the U.S. to abandon Bretton Woods in favor of a free world market of capital mobility. The “Washington Consensus” was basically Reaganism-Thatcherism on a global scale – degregulation, privatization, and reneging on the “social contract” with core labor unions and the welfare state. The IMF was turned into a tool for imposing these policies on countries all over the world.

            This U.S./British-led neo-liberal regime of global capitalism (Reaganism-Thatcherism) was a reaction to the successes of the Third World and the core labor movements, not in achieving true global democracy, but in getting a somewhat larger share of the profits of global capitalism.  The attack on the institutions of Keynesian national development (labor unions and the welfare state), was also a delayed response to the world revolution of 1968 in which students, women, environmentalists, Third Worldists, indigenous peoples, democracy movements, and radical parts of the labor movement had critiqued and resisted the inadequacies of welfare capitalism and business unionism from the Left.  The New Right appropriated some of the ideology and many of the tactics of the 68ers, -- demonstrations, civil disobedience, guerilla armies, drug financing, mobilization of subnations, etc.  These tactics have come back to haunt the powers that be. In the recent wave of “blowback” organizations and ideologies formerly supported by the U.S. CIA as instruments against the Soviet Union (e.g. Al Qaeda) have turned against their former sponsors, employing dirty tricks to besmirch symbols of global power and to murder innocent bystanders in the heart of the core (Johnson 2000).

            We contend that the current historical moment is similar to the end of the nineteenth century. Like British hegemony, U.S. hegemony is declining.  Contenders for global economic power have been emerging in German-led Europe and in Japan-led Asia. Popular movements and institutions have been under attack, especially since the rise to ideological hegemony of the neo-liberal “globalization project.”   Anti-systemic movements are struggling to find new paths for dealing with capitalist globalization. New communications technologies such as the Internet provide possibilities for creating coordinated and integrated movements in favor of global democracy. The liberating potential of decentered and democratized communications is great. But cheap interactive and mass communications also facilitate increasing differentiation and specialization of political mobilization, which can undercut efforts to promote inter-movement coordination. We hold that the Internet will be, on balance, a liberating force, but the big gains in movement integration will probably come as a response to the economic, political and ecological disasters that globalized capitalism is likely to produce in the not too distant future (Chase-Dunn 2002b).

            We expect that the current resistance to global capitalism will, in large part, take the form of local self-reliance, the revitalization of diverse cultural forms and the rejection of the cultural and technological totems of corporate capitalism. Thus the characterization of the recently emergent protest movements (Seattle, Genoa, etc.) as “anti-globalization” movements is partially correct, but it is misleading. Self-reliance may take forms that are progressive or forms that promote divisions among the people based on ethnicity, nation or race.  Self-reliance by itself is not an adequate strategy for transforming capitalism into a more humane and sustainable social system. Rather the building of self-reliant communities needs also to organize with a coordinated movement of “globalization from below” that will seek to reform, or create de novo, world institutions that will promote social justice and environmental sustainability.

The theorists who have delineated a recent stage of “global capitalism” contend that the latest wave of integration has created a single integrated global bourgeoisie that has overthrown the dynamics of the hegemonic sequence (hegemonic rise and fall and interstate rivalry) (e.g. Sassen 1991, Robinson 1996, Robinson and Harris 2000). While most world-systems theorists hold that the U.S. hegemony continues the decline that began in the 1970s, many other observers interpret the demise of the Soviet Union and the relatively greater U.S. economic growth in the 1990s as ushering in a renewal of U.S. hegemony. While some interpret this U.S. upturn in the 1990s as the beginning of another wave of U.S. “leadership” in the global economy based on comparative advantages in information technology and biotechnology, Giovanni’s Arrighi sees the 1990s as another wave of financialization comparable to the “belle epoque” or “Edwardian Indian summer” that occurred in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Much of the economic expansion in the U.S. economy was due to huge inflows of investment capital from Europe and East Asia during the 1990s. The theorists of global capitalism contend that the U.S. state (and other core states) are now instruments of the integrated global capitalist class rather than of separate and competing groups of national capitalists.

We agree with Walter Goldfrank (personal communication) that both models (global capitalism and the hegemonic sequence) continue to operate simultaneously and to interact with one another in complicated ways. Despite the rather high degree of international integration among economic and political elites, there is quite likely to be another round of rivalry among core states. Global elites achieved a rather high degree of international integration during the late nineteenth century wave of globalization, but this did not prevent the World Wars of the twentieth century.

Admitting to some aspects of the “global capitalism” thesis does not require buying the whole cake. Some claim that information technology has changed everything and that we have entered a new age of global history in which comparisons with what happened before 1960 are completely inappropriate. The most important slice of the cake is the part about global class formation, and this needs to be analyzed for workers and farmers as well as for elites (Goldfrank 1977). Research is currently under way to compare the nineteenth and twentieth century global elites as to their degree of international integration, as well as changes in the patterns of alliances and connections among the wealthiest and most powerful people on Earth (Chase-Dunn and Reifer 2002).

The hegemonic sequence (the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers) is not usefully understood as a cycle that takes the same form each time around. Rather, as Giovanni Arrighi (1994) has so convincingly shown, each “systemic cycle of accumulation” involves a reorganization of the relationships among big capitals and states. And the evolutionary aspects of hegemony not only adapt to changes in scale, geography and technology, but they also must solve problems created by resistance from below (Arrighi and Silver 1999; Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000). Workers and farmers in the world-system are not inert objects of exploitation and domination. Rather, they develop new organizational and institutional instruments of protection and resistance.  So the interaction between the powerful and less powerful is a spiral of domination and resistance that is one of the most important driving forces of the developmental history of modern capitalism.

The discourse produced by world-systems scholars about “the family of antisystemic movements” has been an important contribution to our understanding of how different social movements act vis a vis each other on the terrain of the whole system (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1989). It is unfortunate that public discourse about globalization has characterized recent protest movements in terms of  “antiglobalization.” This has occurred because, in the popular mind, globalization has been associated primarily with what Phil McMichael (2000) has termed the “globalization project” – the neoliberal policies of the “Washington Consensus” and the hegemony of corporate capitalism.  This is the political ideology of Reaganism-Thatcherism – market magic, deregulation, privatization, and allegedly no alternative to submitting to the “realities” of global capitalist competition.[2] 

The terminology of “antiglobalization” is a disaster because it conflates two different meanings of “globalization” and it implies that the only sensible form of resistance to globalization involves the construction of local institutions to defend against the forces of global capitalism. Structural globalization means economic, political and cultural international and transnational integration. This should be analytically separated from the political ideology of the “globalization project” (Chase-Dunn 1999).

            The “neoliberal globalization project” is what the demonstrators are protesting, but the term “anti-globalization” also implies that they are against international integration and global institutions. Our usage of the term “antisystemic movements” needs to be carefully clarified so that it does not contribute to this confusion.

            Local protectionism will undoubtedly be an important component of the emerging resistance to corporate globalization and neo-liberal policies. But one lesson we can derive from earlier efforts to confront and transform capitalism is that local resistance cannot, by itself, overcome the strong forces of modern capitalism. What is needed is globalization from below. Global politics has mainly been the politics of the powerful because they have had the resources to establish long-distance connections and to structure global institutions. But waves of elite transnational integration have been accompanied by upsurges of transnational linkages, strategies and institutions formed by workers, farmers and popular challenges to the logic of capitalist accumulation. Globalization from below means the transnationalization of antisystemic movements and the active participation of popular movements in global politics and global citizenship.

            An analysis of earlier waves of the spiral of domination and resistance demonstrates that “socialism in one country” and other strategies of local protection have not been capable of overcoming the negative aspects of capitalist development in the past, and they are even less likely to succeed in the more densely integrated global system of the future. Strategies that mobilize people to organize themselves locally must be complimented and coordinated with transnational strategies to democratize or replace existing global institutions and to create new organizational structures that facilitate collective rationality for all the peoples of the world.

            The major transnational antisystemic movements are the labor movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement and the indigenous movement. Of these, the environmental movement and the women’s movement have had the most recent successes in forming transnational linkages and confronting the difficult issues posed by regional, national and core/periphery differences. But the labor and indigenous movements have made important efforts to catch up. Cross-border organizing efforts and support for demonstrations against corporate globalization show that the AFL-CIO is interested in new directions. One important task for world-systems scholars is to study these movements and to help devise initiatives that can produce tactical and strategic transnational alliances.

            Bruce Podobnik’s (2002) careful and systematic study of globalization protests shows how these have emerged over the last decade in the core and the non-core countries. There was an important wave of anti-IMF struggles in the 1980s researched by John Walton and David Seddon (1994).  Podobnik’s research shows that about between 1900 and June 2002 44% of the globalization protests occurred in core (developed) countries and 56% occurred in non-core (less developed) countries.  The percentage of protestors injured, arrested and killed was far higher in the non-core than in the core countries. Podobnik also shows that these protests were temporarily dampened by the events of September 11, 2001 but that they rebounded to in the months following. Contrary to popular opinion, the globalization protests were not stopped by the events of September 11.


Growing Inequalities

Growing inequalities (both within and among countries) were an important source of globalization backlash in the late nineteenth century (O’Rourke and Williamson 1999) and are already shaping up to be an important driving force in the coming world revolution.  Mike Davis’s (2001) analysis of late Victorian drought-famine disasters in Brazil, India and China shows how these were partly caused by newly expanded market forces impinging upon regions that were subject to international political/military coercion. He also documents how starving peasants created millenarian movements that promised to end the domination of the foreign devils or restore the rule of the good king.  Islamic fundamentalism is a contemporary functional equivalent.

 Huge and visible injustices provoke people to resist, and in the absence of true histories and theories, they utilize whatever ideological apparatus is at hand.  The world-systems perspective offers a useful systematic understanding of history that cannot be found elsewhere.

The phenomenon of semiperipheral develop suggests that social organizational innovations that can transform the predominant logic of accumulation will continue to emerge from the semiperiphery.  The Russian and Chinese revolutions of the twentieth century were efforts to restructure capitalist institutions and developmental logic that succeeded mainly in spurring the U.S. hegemony and the post World War II expansion of capitalism. The Soviet and Chinese efforts were compromised from the start by their inability to rely on participatory democracy. In order to survive in a world still strongly dominated by capitalist states they were forced to construct authoritarian socialism, a contradiction in terms. 

We can expect that democratic socialist regimes will come to state power in the semiperiphery by electoral means, as already happened in Allende’s Chile.  Brazil, Mexico, and Korea are strong candidates, and India, Argentina, Indonesia and China are possibilities.  Democratic socialism in the semiperiphery is a good strategy for fending off many of the worst aspects of corporate globalization.  The transnational antisystemic movements will want to support and be supported by these new socialist democracies.

The ability of capitalist core states to destabilize democratic socialist regimes in the semiperiphery is great, and this is why support movements within the core are so important.  Information technology can certainly be a great aid to transborder organizing.  Issues such as sweatshop exploitation can help to make students aware of core/periphery inequalities and to link them with activists far away.  The emergence of democratically elected challengers to global corporate capitalism will strain the ideologues of “polyarchy” and facilitate the contestation of narrow definitions of democracy.  The emergence of a World Party to educate activists about the world historical dimensions of capitalism and the lessons of earlier world revolutions will add the leaven that may move the coming backlash against corporate globalization in a progressive direction.  A world historical perspective will help political campaigns and organizing efforts make tactical and strategic decisions and will provide a structurally informed basis for the building of a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth. [3]




Imagining Global Democracy

            What might global democracy look like? And how could we get from here to there?  A consideration of global democracy must confront two main issues: huge and growing inequalities within and between countries; and the grave problems of environmental sustainability that capitalist  (and Communist) industrialization has produced.

            Rather than drawing the blueprint of a global utopia and then arguing the fine points it makes more sense to learn from the heritages of earlier efforts.  Utopias may be useful for those who are unable to imagine any possible improvement over existing institutions. But they also function to delegitimize efforts to make social change because they often appear to be unattainable. A more useful approach is to imagine an historically apt next step, one that the relevant constituencies can agree is a significant improvement and that is plausibly attainable.

            Global democracy means real economic, political and cultural rights and influence for the majority of the world’s people over the local and global institutions that affect their lives.  Local and national democracy is part of the problem, but not the whole problem. Global democracy requires that local institutions and national states be democratic and the building of democratic institutions of global governance.

            We support the proposals for radically reforming the United Nations and for establishing an institutional framework for global finance proposed by Camilleri, Malhotra and Tehranian (2000).[4] Their principles and thoughtful step-by-step proposals for democratizing global governance address most of the issues quite well. The principle of subsidiarity, proposes the decentralization of control over all issues that can be effectively resolved at that level (2000: 46). This principle is similarly applied to the national and international regional levels, so that global-level institutions deal with problems that can only find effective solutions at the global level. We agree with this important principle.

Camilleri, Malhotra and Tehranian (2000: 25) abjure the term “global government” and prefer terms such as “interlocking institutions” and “international regimes” for describing global governance. Albert Martinelli’s (2002) insightful discussion of democratizing global governance also categorically rejects the notion of global government. We understand the political sensitivities involved in this choice of terms, and we agree that it is important to use language wisely. There is a lot of resistance to the idea of an emerging world state because people understandably fear that such an institution might become an instrument of repression or exploitation. But we are concerned that careful rhetoric might obscure or paper over issues that need to be confronted explicitly. The main reason that the United Nations has been largely ineffective at stopping interstate warfare is that it is not a state in the Weberian sense – a monopoly of legitimate violence. International law is not truly law according to Weber because it is not backed up by institutionalized sanctions.

Our position is that the human species needs to establish a real global government that is legitimate, effective and democratic. This does not require the centralization of everything. As stated above, we agree with the principle of subsidiarity in which everything that can effectively be left to local, national, and regional bodies should be. But inequality, environmental problems, population pressure and peace are all global problems that can only be effectively solved by a democratic global government with the power to enforce the law.

Thus, reforming the United Nations must move in the direction of the establishment of a democratic global government. This is in the interest of all the people of the Earth, but especially the dispossessed. The Westphalian interstate system has allowed powerful capitalists to repeatedly escape the institutional controls that have emerged from antisystemic movements that have sought to protect workers and communities from exploitation. Only a democratic world state can produce institutions that can guarantee social justice.

            We also support the establishment of new institutions to provide a framework for global financial relations that can support local and national development, and increased oversight of these by the United Nations (Patomaki, Teivainen and Ronkko 2002). And we see a need to go beyond polyarchy at both the national and the global levels.

Bill Robinson (1996) examines the struggle over the concept of democracy. He redefines the meaning of the term “polyarchy” which was coined by Robert Dahl to signify pluralism. In Robinson’s usage polyarchy means a system in which a small group actually rules and mass participation in decision-making is confined to leadership choice in elections carefully managed by competing elites.  Institionalized polyarchy prevents the emergence of more egalitarian popular democracy that would threaten the rule of those who hold power and property.  The notion of popular democracy stresses human equality, participatory forms of decision-making, and a holistic integration of political, social and economic realms that are artificially kept separate in the polyarchic definition of democracy.

            We are not satisfied with polyarchy (parliamentary democracy) at the national level. We contend that real democracy must address the issue of wealth and property, rather than defining these as beyond the bounds of political discourse. This said, we can also learn much from those failed experiments with collective property that were carried out in the socialist and Communist states in the twentieth century.  State ownership works well for major infrastructure, such as utilities, health and education. But for the production of most goods and services, even when the state is itself truly democratic, state ownership creates grave economic problems because of the problem of “soft budget constraints.” This is because state-owned firms are usually bailed out by the state for their economic mistakes, and they mainly respond to political exigencies rather than to consumer demand.  In order to achieve a reasonable level of efficiency large firms need to compete with one another in markets, and they should also compete for financing by showing that they can make a profit.

We support John Roemer’s (1994) advocacy of a kind of market socialism in which ownership shares of large firms are distributed to all adult citizens, who then invest their shares in a stock market that is the main source of capital for large firms. All citizens receive a set number shares at the age of majority and when they die their shares revert to the public weal. So there is no inheritance of corporate property, though personal property can be inherited. Firms, large and small, produce for markets and labor is rewarded in competitive labor markets. Small firms can be privately owned.  This kind of market socialism equalizes income, though some inequalities due to skill differences will still exist. The economy will still be a market economy, but the democratic state will provide security, due process, and oversee the redistribution of corporate shares across generations.

            This model of public market socialism incentivizes technological change and efficiency without producing increasing inequalities. It will probably work well, especially in the core countries for which Roemer has intended it. But when we think about the global economy there are certain problems that are not addressed in Roemer’s model.  One of the main problems in the global economy is the huge difference in productivity between core and peripheral labor.  This is why labor standards in international economic agreements are anathema to workers and unions in peripheral countries. A single worldwide minumum wage standard sounds good, but it would tend to function as a protectionist agreement for core workers, and undercut the ability of peripheral firms and workers to sell their products in core markets. Wage and other standards have to take into account local conditions, but their enforcement is the key to preventing the race to the bottom pursued by many transnational corporations. The real solution to this is to raise the level of productivity of peripheral labor. So global democracy needs to create institutions that can do this. Banning child labor worldwide while supporting the children’s families to speed the demographic transition would be a giant first step in this direction.

            This is why we need effective institutions of global governance. Antisystemic movements cannot simply dismantle such institutions as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. These must either be reformed (democratized and empowered) or they must be replaced. Market socialism in the core will not be enough. A movement for economic democracy in the core needs also to mobilize for economic democracy at the global level.

            Support for both more democratic national regimes and global socialist institutions is likely to come from the semiperiphery.  We expect that some of the most potent efforts to democratize global capitalism will come out of movements and democratic socialist regimes that emerge in semiperipheral countries. As in earlier epochs, semiperipheral countries have the “advantages of backwardness” – they are not already heavily invested in the existing organizational and political institutions and technologies – and so they have both the maneuverability and the resources to invest in new institutions.

Peripheral countries could also do this, but they are more completely dependent on the core and they are not able to mobilize sufficient resources to overcome this dependency. The large semiperipheral countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, India, Indonesia and China, have opportunities that neither core nor peripheral countries have. If a democratic socialist regime is able to come to state power by legal means, and if this regime has the political will to mobilize the popular sectors in favor of democratic socialism, an experiment in Roemerian market socialism could be carried out. We expect that regimes of this type will in fact emerge in the near future as the options of kowtowing to the megacorps or demagoging the popular sectors (Chavez in Venezuela) become more obviously bankrupt.

The smaller semiperipheral countries (South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Israel) may also opt for democratic socialism, but we expect that these will only be able to do so after earlier efforts have been made in the large semiperipheral countries. Much also depends on what happens in the contest for hegemony. Continued U.S. primacy will likely strengthen the resistance to democratizing global governance, while the rise of the European Union, which has stronger social democratic traditions, will likely provide greater core support for democratizing global institutions and for emerging democratic socialist movements in the semiperiphery.

The semiperipheral democratic socialist regimes will be the strongest organizational entities that can forge the links among the global antisystemic movements and produce a network for bringing forth the institutions of global socialism. Globalization from below and the formation of global socialist institutions will need to be facilitated by an organized network of world citizens. We have adopted the name given to such a confederation by Warren Wagar (1996) – the World Party. But this is not a party in the old sense of the Third International – a vanguard party of the world proletariat. Rather the World Party we propose would be a network of individuals and representatives of popular organizations from all over the world who agree to help create a democratic and collectively rational global commonwealth. The World Party[5] will actively recruit people of all nations and religions and will seek to create the institutional bases for a culturally pluralistic, socially just and ecologically sustainable world society.   This is what we mean by global democracy. 





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World Party


[1] The Institute for Research on World-Systems (IROWS) at the University of California, Riverside is carrying out a research project to compare the degree and contours of international integration of nineteenth century and twentieth century global elites (Chase-Dunn and Reifer 2002).

[2] Giovanni Arrighi has recently argued that the globalization project that emerged in the 1970s was importantly a reaction to the world revolution of 1968 that appropriated the anti-state ideology and many of the tactics of the New Left. In the latest installment of ideological history the Wall Street Journal has declared that the Washington Consensus is dead.


[3] Matters of strategy and tactics for the antisystemic movements are discussed in Chase-Dunn (2002b).

[4] Patomaki, Teivainen and Ronkko (2002) provide a valuable review of proposals for democratizing global governance that includes the U.N., the Bretton Woods institutions and the system of international courts.