Contemporary Semiperipheral Development:
the Regimes and the Movements
World Social Forum, Porto Alegre 2005
Institute for Research on World-Systems
University of California-Riverside
Riverside, CA 92521
v. 2/21/13 9144 words
Paper to be presented at the Santa Barbara Global Studies Conference session on "Rising Powers: Reproduction or Transformation?" February 22 – 23, 2013. Thanks to Alessandro Morosin, E.N. Anderson, Hiroko Inoue and Alexis Alvarez for help with some of the results reported in this paper. This is IROWS Working Paper #78 available at https://irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows78/irows78.htm
Abstract: This paper discusses the potential for rising national regimes, coalitions of national states and transnational social movements to transform the global capitalist system into a more humane and democratic human society within the next fifty years. The discussion uses an evolutionary and world historical approach to the problem of contemporary transformation and reproduction. The issue of subimperialism and the transformational potential of semiperipheral polities is discussed. Several possible future scenarios are considered with regard to the role that rising semiperipheral regimes and transnational social movements might play.
The evolutionary world-systems perspective uses comparisons across different kinds of world-systems and an evolutionary perspective on the modern world-system since the 13th century to comprehend the nature of the current world-historical period and the probabilities of different sorts of reorganization that could occur within the next several decades. As with most world-system studies, we focus on the forest rather than the trees. We also compare different kinds of forests to one another and study how they have evolved over long periods of time. One of the big ideas that has emerged from this comparative and evolutionary perspective in the notion of “semiperipheral development” -- the idea that semiperipheral polities often contribute to social change by implementing organizational and ideological forms that facilitate their own upward mobility and that transform the logics of social reproduction and development. This paper considers the question as to how contemporary semiperipheral national regimes and alliances of these with one another, and transnational social movements that are mainly based in them -- might either reproduce the existing institutions and structures of the capitalist world-economy or transform the global system into a qualitatively different, more egalitarian world society. In order to intelligently comprehend the possibilities for the next several decades we need to compare the current world historical situation with earlier conjunctures that were somewhat similar, but also importantly different. Sorting out the differences as well as the similarities is a crucial task for these purposes.
Of relevance to the task undertaken here is recent research on empire and city upsweeps and semiperipheral development<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>, studies of global inequality, competing conceptualizations of the semiperiphery, studies of the emergence of progressive regimes and anti-systemic movements since the 1980s, studies of emerging networks of transnational social movements, processes of contemporary global party formation and comparisons with earlier periods of world revolution.
The Evolutionary World-Systems Perspective
Hall and Chase-Dunn (2006) have modified the concepts developed by the scholars of the modern world-system to construct a theoretical perspective for comparing the modern system with earlier regional world-systems. The main idea is that sociocultural evolution can only be explained if polities are seen to have been in important interaction with each other since the Paleolithic Age. Hall and Chase-Dunn propose a general model of the causes of the evolution of technology and hierarchy within polities and in linked systems of polities (world-systems). <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The most important idea that comes out of this theoretical perspective is that transformational changes tend to be brought about by the actions of individuals and organizations within polities that are semiperipheral relative to the other polities in the same system. This is known as the hypothesis of semiperipheral development.
As regional world-systems became spatially larger, and the polities<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> within them grew and became more internally hierarchical, interpolity relations also became more hierarchical because new means of extracting resources from distant peoples were invented. Thus core/periphery hierarchies emerged as some societies developed effective methods for transforming pillage into exploitation. Semiperipherality is the position of some of the polities in a core/periphery hierarchy. Some of the polities that were located in semiperipheral positions formed larger chiefdoms, states and empires by means of conquest (semiperipheral marcher polities). And specialized trading states in semiperipheral locations between the tributary empires promoted production for exchange in the regions in which they operated. So both the spatial and demographic scale of political organization and the spatial scale of trade networks were expanded by semiperipheral polities, eventually leading to the global system in which we now live.
The modern world-system came into being when a formerly peripheral and then semiperipheral region (Europe) developed a regional core of capitalist states that were eventually able to dominate the polities of all the other regions of the Earth. This Europe-centered system was the first one in which capitalism became the predominant mode of accumulation, though semiperipheral capitalist city-states had existed since the Bronze Age in the spaces between the tributary empires. The Europe-centered system expanded in a series of waves of colonization and incorporation (See Figure 1). Commodification in Europe expanded, evolved and deepened in waves since the 13th century, which is why historians disagree about when capitalism became the predominant mode. Since the 15th century the modern system has seen four periods of hegemony in which leadership in the development of capitalism was taken to new levels. The first such period was led by a coalition between Genoese finance capitalists and the Portuguese crown (Arrighi 1994). After that the hegemons have been single nation-states: the Dutch in 17th century, the British in the 19th century and the United States in the 20th century (Wallerstein 1984a). Europe itself, and all four of the modern hegemons, were former semiperipheries that first rose to core status and then to hegemony.
Figure 1: Waves of Colonization and Decolonization Since 1400- Number of colonies established and number of decolonizations (Source of data: Henige, 1970)
In between these periods of hegemony were periods of hegemonic rivalry in which several contenders strove for global power. The core of the modern world-system has usually been multicentric, meaning that a number of sovereign core states ally and compete with one another. Earlier regional world-systems sometimes experienced a period of core-wide empire in which a single empire became so large that there were no serious contenders for predominance. This did not happen in the modern world-system until the United States became the single super-power following the demise of the Soviet Union in 1989.
The sequence of hegemonies can be understood as the evolution of global governance in the modern system. The interstate system as institutionalized at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 is still a fundamental institutional structure of the polity of the modern system. The system of theoretically sovereign states was expanded to include the peripheral regions in two large waves of decolonization (see Figure 1), eventually resulting in a situation in which the whole modern system became composed of formally sovereign national states. East Asia was incorporated into this system in the 19th century, though aspects of the earlier East Asian tribute-trade state system were not completely obliterated by that incorporation (Hamashita 2003).
Each of the successive hegemonies was larger as a proportion of the whole system than the earlier one had been. And each developed the institutions of economic and political-military control by which it led the larger system such that capitalism increasingly deepened its penetration of all the areas of the Earth. And after the Napoleonic Wars in which Britain finally defeated its main competitor, France, global political institutions began to emerge over the tops of the international system of national states. The first proto-world-government was the Concert of Europe, a fragile flower that wilted when its main proponents, Britain and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, disagreed about how to handle the world revolution of 1848. The Concert was followed by the League of Nations and then by the United Nations and the Bretton Woods international financial institutions (The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and eventually the World Trade Organization).
The political globalization evident in the trajectory of global governance evolved because the powers that be were in heavy contention with one another for geopolitical power and for economic resources, but also because resistance emerged within the polities of the core and in the regions of the non-core. The series of hegemonies, waves of colonial expansion and decolonization and the emergence of a proto-world-state occurred as the global elites contended with one another in a context in which they had to contain strong resistance from below. We have already mentioned the waves of decolonization. Other important forces of resistance were slave revolts, the labor movement, the extension of citizenship to men of no property, the women’s movement, and other associated rebellions and social movements.
These movements affected the evolution of global governance in part because the rebellions often clustered together in time, forming what have been called “world revolutions” (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1989).<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Protestant Reformation in Europe was an early instance that played a huge role in the rise of the Dutch hegemony. The French Revolution of 1789 was linked in time with the American and Haitian revolts. The 1848 rebellion in Europe was both synchronous with the Taiping Rebellion in China and was linked with it by the diffusion of ideas, as it was also linked with the emergent Christian Sects in the United States. 1917 was the year of the Bolsheviks in Russia, but also the Chinese Nationalist revolt, the Mexican revolution, the Arab Revolt and the General Strike in Seattle led by the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States. 1968 was a revolt of students in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and Red Guards in China. 1989 was mainly in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but important lessons about the value of civil rights beyond justification for capitalist democracy were learned by an emergent global civil society. The current world revolution of 20xx (Chase-Dunn and Niemeyer 2009) is an important context for the questions about semiperipheral development that are the main topic of this paper.
The big idea here is that the evolution of capitalism and of global governance is importantly a response to resistance and rebellions from below. This has been true in the past and is likely to continue to be true in the future. Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) contend that capitalism and socialism have dialectically interacted with one another in a positive feedback loop similar to a spiral. Labor and socialist movements were obviously a reaction to capitalist industrialization, but also the U.S. hegemony and the post-World War II global institutions were importantly spurred on by the World Revolution of 1917 and the waves of decolonization.
Core/Periphery Hierarchy and Semiperipheral Development
As implied above, core/periphery hierarchies are not, by definition, a characteristic of all world-systems in the evolutionary world-systems perspective.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Rather institutionalized domination and exploitation of some polities by others emerged with the invention of institutions and organizations that allowed some polities to exploit and dominate distant other polities. Core/periphery hierarchies have emerged. And the nature of core/periphery interactions has changed with the invention and development of military technologies, military organization, communications and transportation technologies and economic and religious institutions that conceptualize and regulate competitive and cooperative relations among polities.
The notion of the “semiperiphery” is a relational concept. Semiperipheral polities are in the middle of a core/periphery hierarchy, but what that means depends on the nature of existing organizations and institutions and the forms of interaction that exist within a particular world-system. Semiperipheral marcher chiefdoms are necessarily somewhat different from semiperipheral marcher states and semiperipheral modern nation-states. The evolutionary world-systems perspective points to the similarities as the basis for the claim that studying whole world-systems is necessary in order to explain socio-cultural evolution. But this does not tell us what semiperipherality is in any particular world-system. For that we have to know the nature of those institutions that regulate interactions in the particular system. And successfully playing the game of upward mobility that involves challenging the core powers, moving up in the system and sometimes transforming the very nature of the whole system, is an even more complicated matter involving innovation and the implementation of new technologies, ideologies and forms of organization. It is important to mention that not all semiperipheral polities are agents of transformation. Some act to reproduce the institutions that are predominant. But a semiperipheral location is fertile ground for those who want to implement organizational, ideological or technological changes that are transformative.
Our study of large expansions of the territorial sizes of empires (Ahmed et al 2013) shows that over half these empire upsweeps in five world regions since the Bronze Age were the result of conquest but semiperipheral marcher states. These upsweeps are the historical events that account for the long-run trend toward larger polity sizes. Semiperipheral development does not explain them all, but it explains enough of them to substantiate the claim that world-systems must be compared in order to explain major long-term trends in sociocultural evolution.
Figure 2: A core/periphery hierarchy
Some observers have claimed that the world is now flat because of globalization. But studies of global inequalities do not find a strong trend toward a flatter world. Even with the rapid economic growth of China and India in the past few decades, the global stratification system has not become significantly more equal (Bornschier 2010). The large international differences in levels of development and income that emerged during the industrial revolution in the 19th century continue to be an important feature of the global stratification system. Others have claimed that globalization and “the peripheralization of the core” evident in the migration of industrial production to semiperipheral countries has eliminated the core/periphery hierarchy. Deindustrialization of the core and the process of financialization have had important impacts on the structure of core/periphery relations, but it is surely an exaggeration to contend that the core/periphery hierarchy has disappeared. Certainly U.S. economic hegemony is in decline and there are newly arising challengers from the semiperiphery. But recent upward and downward mobility has not appreciably reduced the overall magnitude of inequalities in the world-system.
The proponents of a global stage of capitalism have often focused on an allegedly recent emergence of a transnational capitalist class. William Carroll’s (2010) research shows how transnational interlocking directorates and political networks have changed over the past several decades to link wealthy and powerful families in Europe with those in North America and Japan. Though a few individuals from semiperipheral countries have managed to join the club, it remains mainly the province of big property owners from core countries. William Robinson (2008) has also focused attention on how the conditions of workers and peasants have been transformed by capitalist globalization, and he contends that a global class structure is emerging that will have consequences for the future of class relations and world politics.
The concepts of a transnational capitalist class and the further transnationalization of workers and peasants are important ideas, and they may also be usefully employed to examine relations among elites and masses in earlier centuries as well. There has always been a world-system-wide class structure. Immanuel Wallerstein (1974:86-87) analyzed the class structure of the Europe-centered world-system of the long sixteenth century. Samir Amin (1980) explicitly studied the global class structure before globalization became an important focus of study. In the centuries before the most recent wave of globalization there have been several important efforts by both capitalists and workers to coordinate their actions internationally. The global class system remains importantly impacted by the global North/South stratification system despite greater awareness of global interactions and the strengthening of transnational social movements.
Semiperipheral development has sometimes, but not always, led to the attaining of core status and hegemony in a core/periphery hierarchy and at other times it has only contributed to the development and spreading of new forms of interaction that eventually led to systemic transformation. These successful semiperipheral marcher states that produced large empires by means of conquest were often also implementers of new “techniques of power” that made larger systems more sustainable. The semiperipheral capitalist city-states that accumulated wealth by means of production and trade diffused commodity production to wide regions, providing incentives for subsistence producers to also produce a surplus, and inventing writing and accounting systems and forms of property and organization that sometimes diffused to the commercializing tributary empires to which they were semiperipheral. Some semiperipheral polities innovate new technologies, ideologies or forms of organization, but new ideas also come from core areas where there are bigger information network nodes. But semiperipheral polities are more likely to take the risk of investing resources in new techniques, ideas or organizational forms. They implement new stuff, while older core polities get stuck in the old ways. What will be the systemic consequences of the actions and developments of contemporary semiperipheral peoples?
Classes and Core/Periphery Hierarchies
Chase-Dunn and Hall (1995) have noted that the relationship between the class structures of core and peripheral polities have changed with the emergence of a predominantly capitalist world-system. In tributary world-systems, in which accumulation was primarily based on the use of state power to extract taxes and tribute, core polities tended to be more internally stratified than non-core polities were. The centers of agrarian empires were large capital cities in which a small military and religious elite dominated and exploited a large mass of clients and peasant farmers. Non-core societies tended to have less inequality because their settlements were smaller and their class structures were less stratified. Those in the periphery had tribes or chiefdoms organized around kinship. Semiperipheral polities had a recently emerged ruling class that was still not that different from the non-elite families. This relatively lessor degree of inequality in non-core polities facilitated group solidarity (asabiyyah) and was an important reason why semiperipheral marcher states were able to conquer older core states that had greater inequality and less solidarity (Chase-Dunn and Anderson 2005).
With the emergent predominance of capitalism the relationship between core/periphery relations and class structure changed. Now core polities tended to have less inequality because a large middle class developed, producing a diamond-shaped class structure ♦. Non-core polities tended to have more inequality because a small elite dominates and exploits a large mass of poor peasants and poor urban residents, producing a pyramid-shaped class structure ▲. This stabilizes the system to some extent because now core powers have greater internal stability than non-core powers. But semiperipheral development continues because economic development is uneven. The relationship between class structure and the core/periphery hierarchy continues to be important. Now the core/periphery hierarchy crosscuts the class structures within polities. In the core a relative harmony of classes is based on having a larger middle class and on the ability of core elites to reward subalterns with the returns to imperialism. In the periphery class conflict is also undercut by the core/periphery hierarchy to some extent, because some elites side with the masses against colonialism and neo-colonialism. But in the modern semiperiphery class conflict is not suppressed by the core/periphery hierarchy. On the contrary, class conflict is exacerbated because some elites have both the opportunity and the motive to adopt policies such as economic nationalism that are intended to move the national economy up the food chain of the global economy, while other elite factions prefer the status quo. Movements supported by workers and peasants can more often find allies among the elites. This explains why antisystemic movements were able to attain state power in semiperipheral Russia and China in the 20th century (Chase-Dunn 1998, Chapter 11).
The Contemporary Core/Periphery Hierarchy
The social science literature on measuring the relative positions of national societies in the larger core/periphery hierarchy continues to be contentious. Is there really a single dimension that captures most of important distinctions between national societies with regard to economic, political, military and cultural power, or is the core/periphery hierarchy multidimensional, and if so what are the most important dimensions?<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Arrighi and Drangel (1986) argued that the semiperiphery is a discrete economic stratum that is separated by empirical gaps from core and peripheral zones. They contend that GNP per capita is by itself an adequate measure of position in the world-system, and they find empirical gaps in the distribution of national GNP per capita that are said to be the boundaries between the core and the semiperiphery and the semiperiphery and the periphery. Babones (2005) also finds these gaps in the international distribution of levels of economic development (GNP per capita).
But another way to look at the core/periphery hierarchy is as a multidimensional set of power hierarchies, that includes economic, political and military power forming a continuous hierarchy that is a relatively stable stratification hierarchy in the sense that most of national societies stay in the same position over time, but that also experiences occasional instances of upward and downward mobility? From this perspective the labels of core, periphery and semiperiphery are just convenient signifiers of relative overall position in a continuous hierarchy rather than truly discrete categories. Semiperipherality is just a rough appellation for those that are rather more in the middle of a continuous distribution of positions. There are likely to be important different ways to be semiperipheral depending on where a national society is on the different hierarchical dimensions. And these differences may be related to how a national society, or the movements that are based in these national societies, behave in world politics? I contend that the question of cutting points between allegedly discrete core, peripheral and semiperipheral zones is largely a matter of convenience in what is, in the long run, a continuous set of distributions. In order to produce a map that shows where the semiperipheral countries are it is necessary to adopt cutting points, but it is not necessary to claim that there are empirically discrete positions within the global hierarchy.
Jeffrey Kentor’s (2000, 2008) quantitative measure of the position of national societies in the world-system remains the best continuous measure because it includes GNP per capita, military capability, and economic dominance/dependence (Kentor 2008). I have trichotomized Kentor’s continuous indicator of world-system position into core, periphery and semiperipheral categories in order to do research and to produce the kind of map shown in Figure 3 below. The core category is nearly equivalent to the World Bank’s “high income” classification, and is what most people mean by the term “Global North.” The “Global South” is divided into two categories: the semiperiphery and the periphery. The semiperiphery includes large countries (e.g. Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, India, China) and smaller countries with middle levels of GNP per capita (e.g. Taiwan, South Korea, South Africa, Israel, etc.). <![if !vml]><![endif]>
Figure 3: The global hierarchy of national societies: core, semiperiphery and periphery in 2000 (Source of data: Kentor 2008) Countries and cutting points are listed in Table 1 in the Appendix
Figure 3 depicts the global hierarchy of national societies divided into the three world-system zones. The core countries are in dark black, the peripheral countries are gray, and the semiperipheral countries in the middle of the global hierarchy are in crosshatch. Several terms have been used in recent popular and social science literatures that are approximately equivalent to what we mean by the semiperiphery: Newly Industrializing Countries (NICS), “emerging markets,” and most recently BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). In Figure 3 it is visually obvious that North America and Europe are mostly core, Latin America is mostly semiperipheral, Africa is mostly peripheral and Asia is a mix of the three zones.
As we have said above, the evolutionary world-systems perspective contends that semiperipheral regions have been unusually fertile locations where social organizational forms that transformed the scale and logic of world-systems have been implemented. The hypothesis of semiperipheral development suggests that close attention should be paid to events and developments within the semiperiphery, especially the emergence of social movements and new kinds of national regimes.
The World Social Forum (WSF) process is conceptually global in extent, but its entry upon the world stage as an instrument of the New Global Left has come primarily from semiperipheral Brazil and India. The “Pink Tide” process in Latin America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has been constituted by the emergence of both reformist and antisystemic national regimes in fourteen out of twenty-three Latin American countries since the Cuban Revolution (Chase-Dunn and Morosin 2013). We want to pay special attention to these kinds of phenomena and to their interaction with one another because of the hypothesis of semiperipheral development.
Wallerstein’s development of the concept of the semiperiphery has often implied that the main function of having a stratum in the middle is to somewhat depolarize the larger system analogously to a large middle class within a national society (e.g Wallerstein 1976). This functionalist tendency has been elaborated in the notion of “subimperialism” originally developed by Ruy Mauro Marini (1972) and more recent discussed by Patrick Bond (2013) in his analysis of the BRICS. This approach focusses on the instances in which semiperipheral polities have reinforced and reproduced the existing global structures of power. Bond’s study of post-apartheid South Africa’s “talk left, walk right” penchant is convincing. But he may underestimate the extent to which the emergent BRICS coalition is counter-hegemonic. The discussion of the need for an alternative to the U.S. dollar in the global economy and the proposal for a new development bank for the Global South have had an unsettling effect on the powers-that-be in Washington and New York even if Bond makes little of these challenges. As we have said above, semiperipheral development is not carried out by all semiperipheral polities. It is undoubtedly the case that the very existence of polities that are in between the extremes of the core/periphery hierarchy tends to hide the polarization that is a fundamental process in many world-systems. But the fact that emerging powers are increasingly banding together and promulgating policies that challenge the hegemony of the United States and the institutions that have been produced by the European and Asian core powers indicates that semiperipherality does not just reproduce the existing global hierarchy. The question for the New Global Left is how to encourage the potential for constructing a more egalitarian world society. Bond is certainly right that the transnational social movements need to push the BRICS to more effectively address the fundamental problems of ecological crisis, global inequality and global democracy.
The Challengers: Counter-hegemonic, reformist and anti-systemic
There are several different kinds of significant contemporary challengers to the powers-that-be in the world-system. The question of reproduction vs. transformation requires understanding the different kinds of challengers. Here we follow Jackie Smith and Dawn Weist (2012) in distinguishing between counter-hegemonic movements, regimes and coalitions that opposed U.S. hegemony but are not politically progressive (Iran, North Korea, Al Qaeda and the subimperialist actions of some of the BRICS). <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
Among regimes, movements and coalitions that are progressive we distinguish between those that are reformists and those that are antisystemic. Our study of Latin American regimes (Chase-Dunn and Morosin 2013) makes a distinction between reformist regimes that have adopted some socially progressive policies or taken some anti-neoliberal international positions and antisystemic regimes such as most of the members of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America. <![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Smith and Wiest (2012:10) define antisystemic as follows: ‘“Antisystemic movements” include a diverse “family of movements” working to advance greater democracy and equality (Arrighi, Hopkins and Wallerstein 1989). According to Wallerstein, “to be antisystemic is to argue that neither liberty nor equality is possible under the existing system and that both are possible only in a transformed world” (1990:36).’
Thus we have three categories for organizing a discussion of challengers: counter-hegemonic, reformist and anti-systemic. Some of the challengers to global neoliberalism and the hegemony of the United States are not progressive. Thus the New Global Left must distinguish between its allies and those political actors that are deemed to not be progressive. And among the latter there may be some that can be worked with on a tactical basis or convinced to pursue more progressive goals.
International geopolitics is a game that state regimes need to play. The logic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is hard to escape when one is in charge of national defense. This is the main factor behind the phenomenon of “strange bedfellows,” as when Hugo Chavez pals around with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Regarding the hypothesis of semiperipheral development and the Pink Tide phenomenon in Latin America, we found that both semiperipheral and peripheral countries were equally likely to have moved toward either reformist or anti-systemic regime forms in the last few decades. But when we examine the timing of these moves we find that it was the semiperipheral countries that were the most likely to have initiated these changes (Chase-Dunn and Morosin 2013: Tables 2-4). Latin America as a whole has had more of these progressive challenging regimes because there has been a regional propinquity effect, and because it Latin American the non-core “backyard” of the global hegemon (the United States). Latin America is has a larger proportion of semiperipheral countries than do other world regions.
It should also be noted that the spread of the trappings of electoral democracy to the non-core has provided opportunities for progressive movements to peacefully attain power in local and national state organizations. Salvador Allende’s election in Chile was an example that was followed by the more recent electoral victories of populists of various kinds in Latin America. The imposition of draconian structural adjustment programs in Latin America in the 1980s and the rise neoliberal politicians who attacked labor unions and subsidies for the urban poor led to a reaction in many countries in which populist politicians were able to mobilize support from the expanded informal sector workers in the megacities, leading in many cases to the emergence of reformist and anti-systemic national regimes. The establishment of relatively institutionalized electoral processes in most Latin American countries has led the World Social Forum to proscribe individuals who represent political groups that advocate armed struggle from attending the WSF meeting as representatives of those groups.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> But all this should not lead us to suppose that violence and military power are no longer important in politics. The fate of Allende and of the presidencies of Jean Bertrand Aristide in Haiti remind us that death squads, the military, and foreign intervention remain as powerful factors.
The relationship between the progressive national regimes and the progressive transnational social movements has been contentious. Despite strong support from the Brazilian Workers Party and the Lula regime in Brazil, the charter of the World Social Forum does not allow people to attend the meetings as formal representatives of states. When Chavez and Lula tried to make appearances at WSF meetings large numbers of movement activists protested. The horizontalists, autonomists and anarchists activists tend to see those who hold state power as the enemy even if they claim to be progressives. In some cases exceptions are made, as when autonomists from Europe have provided support for Evo Morales’s presidency in Bolivia (e.g. López and Iglesias Turrión, 2006).
The World Social Forum (WSF) process has itself been a complicated dance toward global party formation and the construction of a new global United or Popular Front (Amin 2007; Chase-Dunn and Reese 2007). Its charter prohibits the WSF itself from adopting a program or policy stances. The WSF is supposed to be an arena for the grass roots movements to use to organize themselves and make alliances with one another. In practice this has led to competition among the movements and NGOs for hegemony within a hoped for emergent New Global Left. Studies of attendees at global World Social Forum meetings in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Nairobi, Kenya reveal a multicentric network of overlapping movements, in which four or five more central movements connect all the rest with one another (Chase-Dunn and Kaneshiro (2009). Up until 2011 the World Social Forum process had little participation from the Middle East. The Arab Spring revolts got the attention of activists, and in March of 2013 the World Social Forum will be held in Tunis. The connection of the Arab Spring revolts and continuing political contestation in Egypt with global neoliberalism and austerity has been obscured by the struggle for national democracy within the Middle Eastern countries and the rise of Islamist parties. But this larger connection is becoming more visible with the emergence of anti-austerity movements in Greece, Spain (2nd –tier core powers) and the United States, and the visibility of a Black Bloc in Egypt (Levine 2013).
The Next Three Futures: the movements and the regimes
Elsewhere Kirk Lawrence and I have discussed three broad possible scenarios that depict in general terms what might happen in the several decades (Chase-Dunn and Lawrence 2011; Lawrence 2012). We imagine the possibility of another round of U.S. hegemony in which the United States reindustrializes based on its comparative advantages in new lead high technology industries and provides global order that accommodates rising powers and challenging social movements. We conclude that this scenario is unlikely to come about because of the continuing political stalemate within the U.S. and growing resistance to U.S. unilateral use of military power.
We also contemplate the possible emergence of a democratic world government that would coordinate collectively rational responses to population pressure, global climate change and ecological degradation, global inequality and rivalries among national states and transnational social movements. We see this as a possible outcome that might be brought about if progressive transnational social movements could form a powerful coalition and could work with progressive national regimes in the Global South to democratize global governance and to organize a legitimate authority with the capacity to help resolve the great crises of the 21st century. This next phase could either take the form of another systemic cycle of capitalist accumulation or it might involve a qualitative transformation to a new world society based on forms of socialism.
And we also contemplate “collapse” in which continuing U.S. hegemonic decline, rising challenges from the BRICS, a contentious multilateralism, conflictive action by both progressive and regressive transnational social movements lead to high levels of conflict that prevent coordinated responses to the emergent crises. This scenario could be much like what happened in the first half of the 20th century, or it could be worse because of the potential for huge destruction caused by more lethal weapons and because of the more globalized extent of ecological degradation. This is may be the most likely scenario. But the other paths are not yet completely impossible.
Giovanni Arrighi (2007), in his last book, Adam Smith in Beijing, discussed the possible emergence of another systemic cycle of accumulation that is less warlike and exploitative than the kind of capitalism that has risen out of the Europe-centered world-system. Arrighi saw the rise of China as providing a model of “market society” in which the power of finance capital is balanced by the strength of technocrats who are able to implement development projects that are kinder to labor and less driven by the military industrial complex. China is not large enough economically, despite its immense number of people, to become the next hegemon. And, as Arrighi carefully explains, the current regime in Beijing has made great efforts to avoid any discourse about hegemonic rise and global leadership. He persuasively contends that the current Chinese leadership just wants a level playing field upon which China can develop its economic potential. These leaders are also quite sensitive and resentful of criticism from the West about the nature of their political institutions. Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank (1998) and many other academics in the West now recognize the pervasive nature of Eurocentrism. Our lack of knowledge about East Asian history has facilitated negative images of East Asian backwardness, including the Marxian notion of “the Asiatic Mode of Production” and these have served well as justifications for colonialism and intervention. The apparent need of Western political leaders for a bogeyman (now that Osama Bin Laden has been dispatched) understandably makes the Chinese leadership nervous. The Chinese leaders are well aware that the racist imagery of the Yellow Peril and China-bashing might again serve the agenda of Western political leaders looking for a scapegoat for current or future catastrophes.
This said, the New Global Left (Santos 2006) needs a good analysis of the possible helpful, or not so helpful, roles that the Chinese people and current and future Chinese governments might play in the coming decades. Arrighi’s analysis implies that the Chinese development path provides a useful example for the rest of the world, and that the rise of China may help the rest of the world to reduce global inequalities and to move toward a more sustainable and just form of political economy.
Arrighi contends that contemporary China is pursuing a model of market society that is similar in many ways to the paternalistic commodifying “natural” path that Adam Smith saw in earlier centuries. Arrighi’s contention that China has not yet developed full-blown capitalism is largely based on Samir Amin’s observation that the rural peasantry has not yet been dispossessed of land and so full proletarianization has not emerged. One may wonder whether or not dispossession of land is still a requisite of capitalism in the age of flexible accumulation and outsourcing. Mike Davis (2005:97-100) tells the story of the Bangkok-based Charoen Pokphand Company (CP), a large-scale poultry producer who brought Tyson-style (American) industrialized chicken production (the “Livestock Revolution”) first to Thailand and then to China. Davis (2005:99) quotes Isabelle Delforge as saying “With contract farming, large companies control the whole production process: they lend money to farmers, they sell them chicks, feed and medicine, and they have the right to buy the whole production. But usually the company is not committed to buy the chickens if the demand is low. Contract farmers bear all the risks related to production and become extremely dependent on demand from the world market. They become factory workers in their own field.” Davis reports that, after starting in Shenzen, CP has built more than one hundred feed mills and poultry-processing plants throughout China. This all sounds rather like capitalism despite that farmers have not been dispossessed of their land.
Arrighi implied that the current Chinese regime is relatively environment-friendly. Others contend that this was indeed the case in traditional China, but not of the Communist regime. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) embrace of the family-owned automobile for the masses could have at least employed California-style catalytic-converters fifteen years ago, a proven technology for reducing auto emissions that would not have added much to the cost of each car. Instead Chinese cities are choking on automobile exhaust fumes. Decisions like that are both bad for the environment and for the human population. Regarding greenhouse gas emissions, Global South activists such as Walden Bello (2012) contend that China must be included among the countries that should undertake rapid reduction in emissions.
It would seem logical that Arrighi’s depiction of Chinese “market society” as a more sustainable and labor-friendly form of society than that of the capitalist West implies that other nations should emulate the Chinese model in order to deal with the issues of inequality and environmental degradation that capitalist globalization has presented us with in the 21st century. But Arrighi (personal communication) denied that he was saying this. He pointed out that the historical conditions that produced the institutional complexes and culture of China today are impossible to replicate, and also that the world does not need one model, but rather many approaches. And yet it is important to ask whether or not the institutional elements that Arrighi found in China are of use elsewhere in the efforts to construct more humane and sustainable national societies and a democratic and egalitarian world society.
The notion that China may be an exemplar of contemporary egalitarianism in relations with the periphery would seem to be contradicted by the situation in Tibet and by the reports of many observers of Chinese projects in Africa. Progressive world citizens will not condone China-bashing, and I agree with Arrighi that China is, and is likely to continue to be, a somewhat more progressive force in world politics than many other powerful actors. But what does the Chinese model of market society imply for those who are looking for progressive alternatives to global capitalism?
Arrighi’s (2007) effort to tease out the combination of economic and political institutional forms that make the difference between better and worse forms of modernity is a valuable start, but needs to be further developed. The contemporary global justice movement that perceives a “democratic deficit” in the existing institutions of global governance and in many forms of representative democracy that exist within core states is not likely to find much worth emulating in the paternalistic Confucianist state that the CCP regime seems to be embracing. At the 2008 opening ceremony to the Beijing Olympic Games Confucian harmony had erased all vestiges of the Chinese Revolution except the red flag. Mao was gone. The class struggle was gone. The heroic workers and peasants were gone. And so was the Red Detachment of Women. The representation of modern China to the world was a vision of social harmony, technological achievements of the traditional past, openness to the world, and precise, large-scale drumming and tai chi. It was Confucian harmony and the paternalism of the “grandfather state” devoid of any alternative version of legitimate authority except national pride.
The issue of democracy cannot be brushed aside as only a manifestation of Eurocentric ignorance. It is unfortunate that the neoliberals and the neoconservatives have used a discourse about representative democracy and human rights to badger the Chinese regime, but this will not make the democracy problem go away for the New Global Left.
And the issue of institutional forms of property also badly needs to be addressed. The CCP is promoting the rapid expansion of private property in the major means of production and the reorganization of state-owned firms. But private and/or state ownership of large firms are not the only options. Investment decisions in large-scale undertakings could be shaped by market mechanisms, thus allocating capital to firms that are productive and efficient, while profits are distributed to all adult citizens (Roemer 1994). The role of the state in this kind of market socialism is to redistribute shares to each individual at the age of adulthood and to incentivize the protection of the environment. In Eastern Europe most of the post-1989 experiments in public ownership were carried out in the context of “shock therapy” in which neoliberal economists engineered a transition from former state-led and centrally planned economies to capitalism. Citizens were issued coupons, which were then rapidly bought up by a new class of capitalists (usually former party apparatchiks), thus proving that this kind of market socialism does not work. But a country like China could carry out experiments with real market socialism in which the whole public benefits from the profits of large firms while at the same time using market mechanisms to allocate capital and labor. That would be a kind of market society worth emulating.
Both a new stage of capitalism and a qualitative systemic transformation to some form of socialism are possible within the next several decades, but a new systemic cycle of capitalism is more likely. The progressive evolution of global governance has occurred in the past when enlightened conservatives implemented the demands of an earlier world revolution in order to reduce the pressures from below that are brought to bear in a current world revolution. The most likely outcome of the current conjuncture is probably global Keynesianism in which enlightened conservatives in the global elite form a more legitimate, capable and democratic set of global governance institutions to deal with the problems of the 21st century. If U.S. hegemonic decline is slow, as it has been up to now, and if financial and ecological crises are spread out in time and conflicts between ethnic groups and nations are also spread out, then the enlightened conservatives will have a chance to produce a reformed world order that is still capitalist but that meets the current challenges at least partially. But if the perfect storm of calamities should all come together in a short period of time (a single decade) the progressive movements and the progressive non-core regimes would have a chance to radically change the mode of accumulation to a form of global socialism.
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Table 1: Classifications of countries into world-system zones
World Bank World-system
Hong Kong (China) Semiperiphery
Korea (Rep.) Semiperiphery
New Zealand Semiperiphery
Taiwan (excluded from all sources) Semiperiphery
United Kingdom Core
United States Core
Costa Rica Semiperiphery
South Africa Semiperiphery
Dominican Republic Periphery
El Salvador Periphery
The World Bank classification is based on the Gross National Income per Capita in 2004 (World Bank 2006; see also: www.worldbank.org/data/
The world-system zone designation is based on Kentor’s (2008) measure of the overall position in the world-system in 2000 CE The cutting point between core and semiperipheral countries has been set at 2.00. The cutting point between semiperipheral and peripheral countries at –0.89.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Research on these topics has been carried out by the Polities and Settlements Research Working Group at the Institute of Research on World-Systems at the University of California-Riverside. The project web site is at https://irows.ucr.edu/
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> World-systems are defined as being composed of those human settlements and polities within a region that are importantly interacting with one another (Chase-Dunn and Hall, 1997).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> We use the term ‘polity’ to denote generally a spatially-bounded realm of sovereign authority such as a
band, tribe, chiefdom, state or empire. We designate polities as subsystems of world-systems because
they are easier to bound spatially than are societies.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The important book on world revolutions by Giovanni Arrighi, Terence Hopkins and Immanuel Wallerstein (1984) pointed out that revolutionaries rarely attain their demands immediately. Rather what happens is that “enlightened conservatives” implement the demands of the most recent previous world revolution in order to cool out the challenges of a current world revolution. This is the way in which world revolutions produce the evolution of global governance.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Chase-Dunn and Mann (1998) studied a very small world-system that existed in Northern California before the arrival of the Europeans. This system had very little in the way of core/periphery domination or exploitation.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Hugo Radice (2009) provides a helpful and thorough review of the disputes about the conceptualization of the semiperiphery in the modern world-system.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> “Counter-hegemonic movements are those oriented toward challenging the leadership of the dominant state actor in the world-system, which since the mid-twentieth century has been the United States” (Smith and Weist 2012).
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Though Nicaragua is a member of ALBA we categorize the Ortega regime as reformist rather than antisystemic.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> World Social Forum Charter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Social_Forum#Charter_of_Principles