The World Revolution of 20xx*


Opening March at the U.S. Social Forum, Atlanta, July 27, 2007


Christopher Chase-Dunn

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA. 92521


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 Globalization. Chicago: ChangeMaker. This is IROWS Working Paper # 35 available at


This chapter describes the long-term evolution of global governance over the past several centuries and puts contemporary proposals and movements that are seeking to democratize global governance in world historical perspective. Global governance has evolved toward world state formation and some democratization has emerged over the past several centuries. The abolition of large-scale slavery and formal colonialism and the proclamation of a global human rights regime, though the latter is only partially institutionalized and weakly enforced, and the spread of more democratic national governments combine to constitute a democractic trend in overall global governance.  But the political ideal of democracy, despite continuing contestation over different versions of democracy, has become increasingly adopted by the world's peoples at a rate that has outpaced the democratization of global governance. In this context the contemporary institutions of global governance fair badly by comparison to even the most tepid definitions of democracy. The majority of the peoples of the Earth have little say over the existing global-level institutions of governance. Democracy within nation-states, though a laudable goal, does not add up to global democracy. Existing global-level governance institutions mainly reflect the outcome of World War II.  These badly need to be reformed or replaced by legitimately democratic global institutions that can help the peoples of the world deal with the challenges that are emerging in the 21st century.


An anthropological 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 United States), and in the emergence of international political organizations and an expanded and active global civil society that participates in contemporary world politics.

            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 United States), have fought semiperipheral challengers (e.g. Napoleonic France and Germany) to prevent the emergence of core-wide empires. I contend that this is because the hegemons are the most capitalist states in the system, the ones for whom economic success is most closely tied to the ability to make superprofits on the technological rents that return from new lead production technologies and to successfully accumulate wealth by means of trade and investment from the whole world economy. The rise of capitalist core states did not immediately end efforts to accumulate power and wealth by means of tribute collection. Capitalist states themselves have also used this mechanism, and challengers to the hegemons have included territorial and tributary states such as the Hapsburg Empire, the Napoleonic expansion, and the German challenges of the twentieth century. Thus did capitalism outcompete the tributary logic, which itself also evolved and incorporated new aspects such as commercialized institutions, ideologies of legitimation from below and extreme nationalism.

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., Carthage, Venice, etc.). In the modern system this form of colonial empire became the norm, and the European core states rose to global hegemony by conquering and colonizing the Americas, Asia and Africa in a series of expansions (see Figure 2). The international system of sovereign states was extended to the colonized periphery in two large spikes of decolonization (see Figure 2). After a long-term trend in which the number of independent states on Earth had been decreasing, that number rose again with decolonization and the core states decreased in size when they lost their colonial empires.

Extension of the State System to the Periphery

      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 Americas, became reorganized as a global system of sovereign states. Most of the former colonies remained in the non-core and new forms of neo-colonialism emerged to allow the core states to continue to exploit the non-core states. But one of the early decolonized regions, “the first new nation,” rose to core status and then to become the largest hegemon the modern world-system has yet seen – the United States of America.  The doctrine of national self-determination, long a principle of the European state system, was extended in principle to the periphery, but new forms of economic imperialism continued to reproduce the core/periphery hierarchy.

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.

    It 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 Germany were able to develop powerful military capabilities. The U.S. hegemony has been different in that the United States ended up as the single superpower after the decline of the Soviet Union. Some economic challengers (Japan and Germany) cannot easily play the military card because they are stuck with the consequences of having lost the last World War. This, and the immense size of the U.S. economy, will probably slow the process of hegemonic decline down relative to the speed of the British decline (See Figure 3 and Chase-Dunn, Jorgensen, Reifer and Lio, 2005).  It is also important to consider the newly unique aspects of changes in labor relations, urban-rural relations, the nature of emergent city regions, and the shrinking of the global reserve army of labor (Silver 2003).   

Figure 3:  Trajectory of United States hegemony as indicated by shares of world GDP


The Trajectory of Modern Global Governance and Political Globalization

     Global 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 Europe became hegemonic over the rest of the world this system became the predominant form of global governance. The basic logic is the anarchy of nations and geopolitics, but this anarchy had a cultural backdrop that the English school of international relations calls international society (Buzan and Little 2000). In earlier millennia Christendom and the other world religions proclaimed and elaborated an ethic that differentiated the world into civilized, barbarian and savage peoples. Cannibalism, ritual human sacrifice and polygyny were banned. A degree of individualism and humanism emerged in the context of the European enlightenment, and the rules of this civilized culture were applied in geopolitical alliances and conflicts. Wars with other civilized peoples were somewhat different than wars with barbarians or savages. Thus did a moral order come to stand behind the anarchy of nations, a moral order that condoned less ethical forms of coercion when dealing with the peoples of the non-core.

            The interstate system that emerged in Europe soon adopted institutions that had previously been elaborated in relations among the Italian city-states during the Renaissance. Diplomatic immunity and rules of engagement came to regulate warfare within the core. These rules were made explicit in the treaty of Westphalia in 1644. The balance of power among states was reinforced by the notion of “general war,” which prescribed that all states should band together against any “rogue state” that aggressively attacked another.  Theorists of the international system often portray this as a great discovery that distinguished the European interstate system from others, especially those more hierarchical interstate systems known to exist in South Asia and East Asia.  But similar institutions are known to have existed in much earlier interstate systems (e.g. the system of Sumerian city-states in the early Bronze Age).  The European balance of power system coincided with the emergence of Dutch hegemony in the seventeenth century, and indeed it was the Dutch state, arguably the first capitalist nation-state, that played a pivotal power-balancing role in that century. The growing importance of the accumulation of profits shifted the logic of state power increasingly away from tribute and taxation without dispensing with these entirely. Indeed, some states continued to pursue the tributary logic, but they were consistently beaten in competition with newly emerging capitalist states in the core. Thus did the logic of adjacent tributary empires become increasingly supplanted by a new imperial logic that sought the control of trade routes and access to valuable raw materials and labor that could contribute to the profitable production of commodities.

            The 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 Roman Empire, the notion of a global state is now unthinkable because international relations theorists define states in relationship to each other. This is part of the strong institutionalization of the modern interstate system – an historically constructed structure that has come to be seen as natural. Many of the authors who stress the historicity of national societies and “state-centrism” in an effort to comprehend contemporary globalization fail to consider the possibility of a future world state because they contrast the interstate system of national societies with European feudalism or earlier systems of city-states (e.g. Taylor 2004; Sassen 2006). Robinson (2004) is an exception in this regard.

 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 United States. This cycle or sequence has itself evolved, with the hegemons becoming increasingly larger with respect to the size of the whole system, and with the institutional nature of states and finance capital getting reorganized in each “systemic cycle of accumulation” (Arrighi 1994). Tributary empires survived into the nineteenth century, but they were increasingly supplanted by nation-states. And the colonial empires of the European states brought the whole Earth into a single relatively homogenous global polity for the first time. The penetration of Qing China in the 19th century brought this last semi-independent center into the fold of the now-predominant Europe-centered system of states.

World Revolutions

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 League of Nations and the United Nations. The waves of international political integration began after the Napoleonic Wars early in the nineteenth century. Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire organized the “Concert of Europe” that was intended to prevent future French revolutions and Napoleonic adventures. After World War I the League of Nations emerged as a weak proto-state designed to provide collective security by preventing future “Great Wars.” The failure of the United States to take up the mantle of British hegemony during the Age of Extremes, and the weakness of the League (which the U.S. never joined) led to another round of unbelievably destructive world war. After World War II a somewhat stronger proto-world-state, the United Nations Organization, emerged and the United States stepped firmly into the role of hegemon.

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).

Some of 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 U.S. has so completely dominated the other core powers since World War II that it constitutes a world empire (Gowan 2006). These approaches probably overstate the degree of integration of class governance on a global scale.

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 Atlantic (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000). The  global impacts of these movements occurred when many mainly local rebellions (e.g. slave revolts) occurred synchronously. World revolutions have become more coordinated and synchronized with the rise of transnational consciousness and better technologies of communication.

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 upstate New York, where several important new Christian sects and utopian communes emerged. And in China the huge Taiping peasant and landless rebellion was fomented by a charismatic leader who became convince that he was Jesus Christ’s younger brother after reading some pamphlets supplied by a millenarian Baptist preacher from Tennessee. Non-elites were becoming transnational activists.  Elites had long been involved in international and transnational activism as statesmen, churchmen, businessmen and scientists. The decreasing costs of long-distance communications and transportation were now allowing some non-elites to play a more important and direct role in world politics (Hugill 1999).

            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 Moscow in the early years of the 1920s. The history and evolution of global party formation is treated in several recent works on this topic that are considering current developments at the World Social Forum (Chase-Dunn and Reese forthcoming; Sehm-Patomaki and Ulvilla 2006; Patomaki and Teivainen 2006). Global party formation is playing a role in deepening the participation of the peoples of the Earth in world politics, and thus in the process of global state formation.

            The Comintern was abolished in 1943, though the Soviet Union continued to pose as the protagonist of the world working class until its demise in 1989. In 1938 Trotskyists organized the Fourth International to replace the Comintern, which they saw as having been captured by Stalinism. The Fourth International suffered from a series of sectarian splits and the huge communist-led rebellions that emerged during and after World War II were led by either pro-Soviet or Maoist organizations that held the Fourth International to be illegitimate. The Bandung Conference in 1954 was an important forum in which the leaders of the emerging nations explicated Third World interests. But the heady days of transnational social movements were overshadowed by the Cold War and the hegemonic Keynesian national development project. It was only after the attack on the developmental state model by Reaganism-Thatcherism and the demise of the Soviet Union that a new wave of transnational activists began to form into a global justice movement.

            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

          We 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 United States.  The founding of the World Social Forum in 2001, a reaction to the exclusivity of the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland since 1971, signaled the coming together of a movement of movements focused on issues of global justice and sustainability. The social forum process has spread to all the regions of the world despite, and because of, the events of September 11, 2001 and subsequent military adventures carried out by the neoconservative regime that came to power in the United States.

            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 Porto Alegre in 2005 asked whether the WSF should remain an open space or should take political stances. Exactly half favored the open space idea (Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Alvarez, Gutierrez and Kim 2008). So trying to change the WSF Charter to allow for a formal political program would be very divisive.

            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 Porto Alegre a group of nineteen notable intellectuals and activists issued a statement that was purported to be a consensus of the meeting as a whole. At the 2006 “polycentric” meeting in Bamako, Mali a somewhat overlapping group issued a manifesto entitled “the Bamako Appeal” at the beginning of the meeting.  The Bamako Appeal is a Third Worldist call for a global united front against neoliberalism and United States neo-imperialism (see Bamako Appeal 2006). And Samir Amin, the famous economist, has written a short discussion entitled “Toward a fifth international?” in which he briefly outlines the history of the first four internationals (Amin 2006). Peter Waterman (2006) has proposed a “global labor charter” and a coalition of womens’ groups meeting at the World Social Forum are on the second revision of a manifesto for women.

            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.

The 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 Mexico, and a number of substantive and processual critiques of the Bamako Appeal. Several sessions at the WSF in Nairobi discussed the Bamako Appeal, the processes that produce manifestos, resistance to promulgations by intellectuals, and alternative proposals for collectively producing manifestos and charters that would allow grass roots activists to participate (e.g. “wikifestos”).[1]

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.[2] 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: The network of WSF movement linkages

            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. 

North-South Issues

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?

Ann Florini (2004) acknowledges the need for democratic global governance processes to address global issues that simply cannot be dealt with by separate national states. Florini contends that global state formation is impossible, undesirable and would engender huge opposition from all quarters. Instead she sees a huge potential for democratizing global governance through uses of the Internet for mobilizing global civil society. Florini and many others point out that existing institutions of global governance have a huge democratic deficit. The most important and powerful elective office in the world is that of the U.S. presidency, but only citizens of the United States can vote for contenders for this office. Thus the existing institutions of global governance are illegitimate as soon as one raises the issue of global democracy.

George Monbiot’s Manifesto for a New World Order (2003) is a reasoned and insightful call for radically democratizing the existing institutions of global governance and for establishing a global peoples’ parliament that would be directly elected by the whole population of the Earth. Ulrich Beck’s (2005) call for “cosmopolitan realism” also ends up supporting the formation of global democratic institutions. Monbiot also advocates the establishment of a trade clearinghouse (first proposed by John Maynard Keynes at Bretton Woods) that would reward national economies with balanced trade, and that would use some of the surpluses generated by those with trade surpluses to invest in those with trade deficits. He also proposes a radical reversal of the World Trade Organization regime, which imposes free trade on the non-core but allows core economies to engage in protectionism – a “fair trade organization” that would help to reduce global development inequalities. Monbiot also advocates abolition of the U.N. Security Council, and shifting its power over peace-keeping to a General Assembly in which representatives’ votes would be weighted by the population size of their country.

And Monbiot advocates global enforcement of a carbon tax and a carbon swap structure that would reduce environmental degradation and reward those who utilize green technologies.  Monbiot also points out that the current level of indebtedness of non-core countries could be used as formidable leverage over the world’s largest banks if all the debtors acted in concert. This could provide the muscle behind a significant wave of global democratization. But in order for this to happen the global justice movement would have to organize a strong coalition of the non-core countries that can overcome the splits that tend to occur between the periphery and the semiperiphery.  This is far from being a utopian fantasy.  It is a practical program for global democracy.

Global State Formation

       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 United States, and as such it does not change the logic of the interstate system and global governance by hegemony. But the example of the emergence of a multinational state apparatus out of a process of peaceful politics, rather than as a result of conquest, holds important lessons, both positive and negative, for the larger process of global state formation.  It shows it can be done. It also shows the limits of an elitist approach to political integration that does not include the interests of popular forces. The EU project has stalled because it has not addressed the social issues that must be confronted head-on by a project of political integration. A global version faces even greater challenges, as indicated by some of our findings from research on World Social Forum participants(Chase-Dunn, Reese, Herkenrath, Alvarez, Gutierrez, Kim, and Petit. 2008).  Attendees from the periphery are far more skeptical about the idea of democratizing global institutions than are attendees from the non-periphery. This undoubtedly has to do with the bad record of existing global institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. A movement for global democracy will need to convince the people of the non-core that their interests will be strongly represented.

Last of the Hegemons           

It is likely that the U.S. will be “the last of the hegemons” (Taylor 1986). New economic challengers are emerging, but the role of political hegemon played by a single national state is likely to be played within a much stronger context of multilateral global governance. Some see the Peoples’ Republic of China as a potential future hegemon. There is little doubt that the PRC will play an important economic and political role in future global governance despite its daunting environmental problems and extreme dependence on the bubble economy of the U.S. dollar. But it is highly unlikely that the PRC or any other single national society will ascend to the status of hegemon similar to that held by the United States since World War II. Much more likely is some form of core condominium or world state formation.

           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 next several decades. But the continuing decline of U.S. hegemony and the issue of hegemonic transition puts the problem in the middle of the table of world politics. A United States of Earth will be needed to deal with the social, political, economic and environmental problems that our species has produced for itself. The question is whether that upward sweep will occur soon and relatively painlessly or after a long period of Malthusian correction similar to what happened in the first half of the twentieth century.


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[1] At the U.S. Social Forum held in Atlanta June 26-July 1, 2007 there was a valuable session on how to use wiki processes to allow large groups to formulate collaborative documents (see

[2] The survey and other results are available at .