Global Class Formation and the New Global Left in World Historical Perspective*


Chris Chase-Dunn and Shoon Lio

Institute for Research on World-Systems

University of California-Riverside

To be presented at the session on “Globalization, labor and the transformation of work" organized by Jonathan Westover at the annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association, April 7-11, 2010. Available as IROWS Working Paper # 57 at

Draft v. 3/5/10  9469 words

* Thanks to Richard Niemeyer, Preeta Saxena, Matheu Kaneshiro, and James Love for their help on a related paper.


Abstract: This paper reviews some of the literature on globalization and class relations and examines the changing nature of class relations and the core/periphery hierarchy over the last several centuries. We suggest ways to study how much class relations are becoming globalized and we begin to resolve the disconcerting problem of viewing the world as a single global society at the same time as it is also understood as system of national societies. This is part of an historical and contemporary study of the emergence of global classes, including transnational political and economic elites, but also transnational organizations of workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, women, environmentalists and other counter-hegemonic political movements that are contesting capitalist globalization. We examine conceptual issues that arise in the analysis of the relationships between class, nation, and the core/periphery hierarchy, as well as transnational relations. We formulate an approach to the conceptualization and operationalization of global classes and propose a research strategy that will allow us to estimate the trajectories of global class formation and integration over the last 200 years. 


 The neoliberal globalization project has reorganized global class relations in the world-system, producing a situation in which the labor movement is taking new forms and is making alliances with other anti-systemic movements and progressive regimes in an emerging constellation of progressive forces that has become known as the New Global Left. This paper recapitulates the major contributions to understanding recent changes in the global class structure, discusses ways to empirically untangle the complicated relationship between the global class structure and the core/periphery hierarchy as understood in the world-systems perspective, and considers possible roles that the emerging transnational working class might play in the world revolution of 20xx.

Waves of economic and political integration -- increasing and then decreasing trade and investment globalization as well as a spiraling emergence of transnational and international political organizations – have accompanied a process in which both elites and masses have oscillated from predominantly local and national consciousness and organization toward increasingly transnational and global identities and interconnections. Our research focuses on problems of operationalizing and measuring several aspects of global class formation and the trajectory of these trends since 1800. We also consider the extent to which increasing transnational organization of classes may have altered (or be altering) the other cyclical processes and secular trends of the capitalist world-system. Especially important are the possible consequences of global class formation for hegemonic rivalry and the probability of war among core states.

The popular discourse about globalization presumes the recent emergence of an international realm of economic competition that has made military competition among the most powerful states obsolete. It is often assumed that the core countries have achieved a degree of interdependence such that future rivalries can easily be resolved without resort to warfare.

There is also an important literature about the emergence of a new stage of global capitalism in which large transnational corporations and financial markets operate on an intercontinental scale and a relatively powerful and integrated transnational group of capitalists and managers have emerged to constitute an organized and connected global ruling class. It is alleged that this new stage of global capitalism has importantly transformed the logic of economic development and governance.  This approach claims that national states have lost power to international financial markets and global corporations, and that organized labor has lost leverage over firms because of capital flight, job blackmail and flexible specialization.  Like the popular globalization discourse, the global capitalism thesis tends to assume that warfare among the most powerful states is a thing of the past.  This is based on the notion that the global capitalist class is so well integrated that it will settle future disputes without resorting to warfare. The basic claim is that a transnational elite has recently emerged that is much more solidly integrated than in earlier periods.  Most of the evidence adduced to support this idea is anecdotal. An important part of our task is to devise a strategy for comparing the amount and qualitative nature of elite integration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

We want to conceptualize, operationalize and measure global class formation (at the elite as well as the popular levels) over the last two centuries in order to evaluate the claims of the “global capitalism” school. Our study of global class formation analyses changes in the nature and distribution of economic and political/military power among states and firms as well as regional and global proto-state organizations (Concert of Europe, League of Nations, U.N., World Bank, IMF, OECD, Group of 8, WTO, etc.) since 1800. The regional, geographical, national, core/periphery and civilizational dimensions of these structural changes need to be considered.  

            Both popular and most academic discourses on globalization presume that the emergence of a global culture or a global social order is a relatively recent phenomenon. According to this literature, globalization involves two processes at work. The first process entails the extension of a particular culture to the entire globe (Featherstone 1995) Heterogeneous cultures become incorporated and integrated into a dominant culture which eventually covers the entire world. This suggests a greater cultural integration, homogenization and unification that cross national boundaries.  The second process points to the emergence of a global economic order in which the core countries have achieved a degree of interdependence such that future rivalries can be easily resolved without resort to warfare. 

Structural Globalization vs. the Globalization Project

It is important to distinguish between different definitions of globalization, especially between globalization as different kinds of large-scale integration vs. globalization as a political project.

There have been upward sweeps of economic, political and cultural integration since the Stone Age. Globalization as  increased density and extent of interaction networks is not new, although it has only become global in extent since the Europeans went around the Earth in the 16th century. Since then there have been waves of globalization as well as upward sweeps. So structural globalization is a cycle of expansion and deglobalization and also an upward trend. A quantitative study of trade globalization, operationalized as the ratio of international imports relative to the size of the whole world economy, produced the results shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Trade Globalization, 1830-1995

            But much of what is referred to by the word globalization is actually a set of ideological assumptions about how the world works and political policy recommendations. Phil McMichael (2004) calls this the ‘the globalization project.” Others have called it “neoliberalism,” “Reaganism-

Thatcherism “and “the Washington Consensus.” It is a set of bromides about the wonders of markets, the evils of state regulation, the need for dismantling the welfare state and labor unions, downsizing and streamlining public and private organizations, greater efficiency of private over public organizations, the need to be competitive in the global marketplace, etc. This neoliberal ideology and set of policy prescriptions emerged as a reaction to the World Revolution of 1968 and became hegemonic in the 1980s. It was also empowered by the needs of core capitalists to cut costs and to find new profitable areas of investment.  Japanese and German manufacturing, decimated in World War II, had eventually  recovered and caught up with U.S. manufacturing in the 1970s. The great wave of financialization that has emerged in the capitalist world-economy since the 1970s was produce by this development, and the post-World War II social contract based on Keynsian national development and full employment was attacked and dismantled. Global class formation is conditioned by both structural and ideological globalization.

The core/periphery hierarchy and global class formation

            Contemporary popular discourse about global inequalities and justice uses the terms “Global North and Global South.” This replaced an earlier terminology that referred to the “Third World” which was often conceived as populated by backward peoples and underdeveloped countries. Our theoretical approach analyzes the contemporary world-system as a stratified structure -- a multidimensional nested hierarchy of socially constructed inequalities that is analogous in some ways with the stratification systems within national societies. The core/periphery hierarchy is organized as a set of economic and military power differentials among national states and the peoples in different parts of the world. Some earlier world-systems also had core/periphery hierarchies, but in the modern Europe-centered system the core/periphery hierarchy was originally constituted as a set of colonial empires in which most of the European core states had formal legal power over regions in the Americas, Africa and Asia. The colonial empires were abolished in waves of decolonization, but the core/periphery hierarchy became restructured as an unequal division of labor and a set of international economic institutions that perpetuated neocolonial unequal relations. The core/periphery hierarchy has evolved and there has been upward and downward mobility within it. Real historical capitalism has reproduced global inequality and the exploitation of non-core regions has been a necessary part of the modern accumulation process, not just an inert backwater (Wallerstein 1974; Chase-Dunn 1998).  The non-core has also played an important role in the evolution of the institutions of global governance, because resistance and revolutions in the non-core have challenged the powerful core states. The processes of hegemonic rise and fall has been conditioned by recurrent challenges from the non-core.

            In its evolution the core/periphery hierarchy has moved from a set of unequal relations among “mother countries” and their colonies, to unequal relations among formally sovereign national states, toward a set of global class relations.  There has been a global class system all along, but waves of globalization and resistance have increasingly formed intraclass links so that the global hierarchy has moved in the direction of a global class system of the kind described in the works of William I. Robinson (2004, 2008). The core/periphery (c/p) hierarchy has always been a complicated nested system with core/periphery relations existing within countries as well as between them. But it has always been possible to assign national societies to the three zones of the c/p hierarchy: the core, the periphery and the semiperiphery. And this is still possible today despite the move toward a global class system. There are still significant advantages to being a worker in the core and disadvantages to being a worker in the periphery despite the move toward a global class system. 

Jeffrey Kentor’s (2000, 2005) quantitative measure of the position of national societies in the world-system remains the best operationalization because it included GNP per capita, military capability, and economic dominance/dependence (See Appendix). We have trichotomized Kentor’s combined continuous indicator of world-system position into core, periphery and semiperiphery categories for purposes of our research. 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.” We divide the “Global South” 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.).  Brazil is in the semiperiphery. Kenya and most of the countries in Africa are in the periphery. 

Figure 2: The global hierarchy of national societies: core, semiperiphery and periphery

            Figure 2 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 cross-hatch. The visually obvious thing is that North America and Europe are mostly core, Latin America is mostly semiperipheral, Africa is mostly peripheral and Asia is a mix of core, periphery and semiperiphery.

            The comparative world-systems perspective developed by Chase-Dunn and Hall (1997) suggests that semiperipheral regions have been unusually fertile sources of innovations and have implemented social organizational forms that transformed the scale and logic of world-systems. This is termed the hypothesis of “semiperipheral development.”  This hypothesis suggests that attention should be paid to events and developments within the semiperiphery, both the emergence of social movements and the emergence of national regimes. The World Social Forum process is global in extent but its entry upon the world stage has been primarily in semiperipheral Brazil and India. And the “Pink Tide” process in Latin America, led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has seen the emergence of populist regimes in several Latin American countries in the last decade. We want to pay special attention to these two phenomena and to their interaction with one another because of the hypothesis of semiperipheral development and for our consideration of global classs formation.

Theories of Global Capitalism

We will explicate the arguments of several authors who have developed the class structure aspects of the thesis of global capitalism.  Some of the globalization scholars contend that globalization is a social integration process that runs from tribal groups to nation-states, superstate blocs and a world-state society (Featherstone 1995). The impetus for the emergence of such a global order is alleged to be technological development (Haggard 1995;Featherstone 1995). Technological developments such as means of transportation and the rapid development of mass media and communication technology have enabled the binding together of larger expanses of time-space at an inter-societal and global level.  For instance, the rapid development of communications technology has been significant for the spatial expansion and intensification of financial activities. Computers and telecommunication satellites have slashed the cost of transmitting information internationally, of confirming transactions and of paying for transactions (Haggard 1995:xiv). The development of the technology of war has also furthered the binding of people together in a sociation of conflict over large areas.

Globalization is conceived by Robinson and Harris (2000) as being furthered by the expansion of economic activity in so far as the common forms of industrial production, commodities, market behavior, trade and consumption have become generalized around the world. Particular kinds of economic and social institutions have arisen and proliferated throughout the world that bind diverse people together. Robinson and Harris contend that the nineteenth century rise of the Joint Stock Company and national corporations led to the globalization of a particular form of economic institutions and practices as well as the development of national capitalist classes. Capitalist classes within the boundaries of the nation-state developed interests in opposition to rival national capitalists in other countries. What Robinson and Harris allege to be different between the pre-World War I integration and that of today is that the pre-1913 integration was through “arms-length” trade in goods and services between nationally based production systems and through cross border financial flows in the form of portfolio capital.  Robinson and Harris (2000:19) contend that in the nineteenth century national capitalist classes organized national production chains and mobilized domestic labor to produced commodities within their own borders, which they then traded for commodities produced in other countries.

Robinson and Harris also observe that national governments have traditionally taxed goods moving in international trade and tried to limit and constrain international capital movement. Arguably, this led to the lengthening of the worldwide Great Depression. However, after World War II, national governments have generally lowered their trade barriers. Multilateral negotiations under General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) such as the Kennedy Round in the 1960s, the Tokyo Round in the 1970s and the Uruguay Round of the 1990s are examples of the lowering of barriers to the international flows of goods and capital (Haggard 1995).

Bill Robinson (1996) contends that an integrated global capitalist class has emerged and that the United States government is its tool. Each country in the periphery and the semiperiphery has a local class fraction of businessmen and politicians who represent the transnational capitalist class. Robinson tends to identify factions as those who promote and espouse the neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” about privatization and liberalization of trade and investment.

Leslie Sklair (2001) explicitly links his definition of the transnational capitalist class to the transnational corporation as an institution. Saskia Sassen (1991), on the other hand, focuses on both the organizational and market-structured aspects of the emergence of global financial institutions within global cities such as London, New York and Tokyo. She also stresses the importance of “producer services” and the casualization of low-skilled labor as the embodiment of an allegedly new division of labor in these global cities. [1]

Scholars such as George Ritzer and Mike Featherstone argue that there is greater functional and cultural integration in production and consumption now than ever before. For instance, certain retailing forms of business techniques and marketing have rapidly proliferated around the world e.g. the global success of fast-food franchises such as McDonald’s. Ritzer (1993) and Featherstone (1995) argue that the principles of the fast-food restaurant are dominating more sectors of American society and the rest of the world.

Emergence of a Transnational Capitalist Class For Itself

According to David Kowalewski (1997), networks of private and public elites have been constructed within national societies across the world in the post World War II period.  These networks or “establishments” have become more transnational in their structure and processes. Increasingly the political and economic elites of the North have established links with those of the South into a web of mutual benefit. The emergence of a transnational or global elite class has been facilitated by the increasing concentration of capital in the world.  Transnational elites have been the major agents for a new global class formation. Kowalewski quotes from the speech that Walter Wriston of Citicorp delivered to the International Industrial Conference:

The development of the World Corporation into a truly multinational organization has produced a group of managers of many nationalities whose perception of the needs and wants of the human race know no boundaries.  They really believe in One World…. They are managers who are against the partitioning of the world …on the pragmatic ground that the planet has become too small…to engage in the old nationalistic games (Cited in Kowalewski 1997:20).

Kowalewski (1997:15) contends that the transnational capitalist class has emerged because of the secular trend of capital concentration.  The world’s capitalist elites have merged through a number of informal and formal connections.  Informal connections are those connections that have expressive rather than instrumental objectives. These include ties and relationships that ease the frictions arising from more formal connections. Examples of informal connections include family, school and social clubs.

            Formal connections are those institutional connections that have instrumental objectives (Kowaleski 1997: 16). They include interlocking directorates, shareholdings, joint ventures, economic associations, public enterprises, and political payments. All of these various networks form the structure that permits the transnational elite to “form a collective consciousness of identity, values, and solidarity.  It allows them to formulate common strategies “(Kowalewski 1997:18). Many scholars have focused on the emergence of transnational and global institutions that furthered the concentration of capital and facilitated the emergence of this transnational elite.   Most accounts begin with World War II and argue that class formation in the twentieth century is a new phenomenon that needs to be explained.  We will take up this historical challenge by examining global processes in the nineteenth century and compare them with the twentieth century.

Classes in the World-System: The Spiral of Integration

An alternative approach is provided by the world-systems perspective (Wallerstein 1974; Chase-Dunn 1998; Arrighi 1994). In this view the modern world-system has been importantly integrated by transnational relations for centuries. National development has occurred within a larger arena of geopolitical and economic competition. The objective class structure of the world has been structured politically as an interstate system, a system of competing and unequally powerful states, but transnational alliances and business activities have been central to the evolution of organizational strategies and the expansion of the world-system for six hundred years.

There has been a global capitalist class for centuries in the "an sich" (objective) sense. It has gotten bigger (fewer landed aristocracies to compete with), and it has gotten more integrated in a series of waves separated by periods of disintegration and conflict (World Wars). The global capitalist class is probably more integrated now than it has ever been, but how much more? And is it integrated enough to prevent future world wars? Also the transnational capitalist class has evolved while it has grown. Most of its early integration was based on informal and kin-based ties of the kind discussed below. But the trend since World War II has been toward integration based on formal institutions. The World Economic Forum, founded in 1971, is the most important institution for integrating the global capitalist class by bringing the leadership groups of the largest transnational corporations together with politicians, entertainers and academicians.

The organizational structure of classes and states has oscillated back and forth between greater transnational integration and more “mercantile” and state-organized national structures.  This cycle corresponds to waves of expansion and intensification of international trade and investment and is affected by the rise and fall of hegemonic core powers – the Dutch in the seventeenth century, the British in the nineteenth century and the United States in the twentieth century. These cycles are combined with an upward trend toward greater integration and the two together take the form an upward spiral.. Thus the world-systems perspective does not deny that the most recent wave of transnational integration has attained a greater level than earlier waves. But the question of the slope of the upward trend is an important one, and even more important is the question of whether or not the level of integration attained will be great enough to prevent the kind of interstate warfare that occurred twice in the twentieth century.

Figure 3 diagrams the global class structure, indicating that a portion of each class is transnationally linked. For the global capitalism theorists this is a condition of recent origin, whereas for world-systemites it has long been the case, but the size of the transnational segments has been getting larger with each upward spiral of integration. The big question that we would like to answer is how much larger are the transnational segments now than they were in the nineteenth century; and are they large enough to prevent the system from undergoing another period of world war?


world classes

Figure 3: World Classes with Transnational Segments

Nineteenth Century Globalization and the Ideology of Liberalism

Cultural integration existed between the different elites of the core nations and also between core and peripheral elites in the nineteenth century. For instance, the ruling class that governed Argentina at the turn of the century coalesced in the 1880s around the consolidation of the national state and the development of consistent ties to international capital and commodity markets (Johns 1993). To legitimate their position, the ruling elites of Buenos Aires spent most of their wealth on a cosmopolitan style of consumption designed to ape the elites of Paris and London. However, the entrance of the world economy and the cultural integration between the elites of the core and periphery led to the emergence of upwardly mobile immigrants from Europe who contested the right of the Buenos Aires elites to control the nation (ibid.). 

As with the contemporary wave of global integration, a nineteenth century liberal ideology generated the widespread expectation that free trade would bring about the end of an era of despotism.  However, for free trade and democratic government to spread globally, there must be greater international economic and social integration. In the last half of the nineteenth century international trade and finance became highly integrated and cosmopolitan.  The Pax Britannica championed free trade and strove to overcome the structure of the mercantilist era in which states placed substantial restrictions on trade as part of the project of nation building.

            International migration spurred global integration. Continental merchants and bankers settled in London while the sons of British and European manufacturers traveled the world to develop export markets (Jones 1987:28). English was the primary language used by this emerging cosmopolitan trading community. London was the most important world city and the pound Sterling served as world money. Thus, in the major ports of the world, there were merchants of various national and ethnic origins engaged in international trade.

Partnerships and collaborations in the form of joint ventures crossed national

boundaries. For instance, the Discount Bank of Buenos Aires, which was established in 1822, could count among its founding directors Juan Jose Cristobal de Anchorena, Thomas Fair, William Cartwright. Robert Montgomery, James Brittain, Juan Pedro Aquirre and Sebastian Lezica (Jones 1987:70). German-American firms established by men such as DeForest, Tornquist, Zimmerrman and Lynch formed a number of transnational partnerships. Originally the venture was for the exporting of German textiles.  Later it became the conduit for Argentine wool for the European continent. In 1836, the partners included Benjamin W. Frazier of Philadelphia.   In the 1820s three Argentinians -- Braulio Costa, Felix Castro and Marcelino Carranza -- formed a partnership with William Parish Robertson, the Scottish scion of the Hamburg parish family, to distribute North American wheat (Jones 1987:71). Intermarriage, the attainment of public office, the acquisition of land, and failure to return to their countries of origin, as well as a shared elite culture, led to the formation of a cosmopolitan transnational class in the nineteenth century.

Intermarriage and the Emergence of a Global Elite Culture

Intermarriage between groups is an important form of intergroup integration in nearly all world-systems (Chase-Dunn and Hall 1997: 135). In kin-based systems kin groups create political and economic alliances primarily by means of marriage. In modern complex systems family structures only complement other institutional structures, but they still remain an important aspect of the informal linkages that create trust among both elites and masses. The institutions of informal association have long been examined as an important aspect of national class formation (e.g. Domhoff 1998), but this kind of analysis is also important to the examination of transnational class linkages.

 Intermarriage was an important mechanism for the formation and integration of a transnational mercantile class in the nineteenth century. Families concerned with foreign trade usually place their sons in the houses of their overseas correspondents to learn the trade (Jones 1987: 88). Apprenticeship not only led to the diffusion of a cosmopolitan liberal ideology across national boundaries, it also created social contracts that would lead to intermarriage.  For instance, the children of Liverpool merchant Henry Green had intermarried with the major families of the Argentine social registry such as the Bunge, Casares, Casal, Vedoya, Devota, Bullrich and Sanchez Elia families. The children of Edward Lumb, a British merchant in Buenos Aires, linked themselves through marriage with the leading Anglo-Argentine landowning clans: the Thompsons, Napps, and Goads (Jones 1987:73).

In the first half of the century, European businessmen on the  African coast took indigenous wives who were active partners in their trading ventures (Jones 1987). Many of the West African mercantile elites were the result of such liaisons.  Anglo-American intermarriages were also becoming fashionable by the late 1880s. Between 1870 and 1914 there were 454 rich young American women who crossed the Atlantic to marry husbands of European nobility (Fowler 19xx). Of the 454, one hundred women married members of the British nobility.  The European nobility received an infusion of cash while the daughters and families of the American nouveaux riche obtained Old World prestige and titles.

The most prominent of the Anglo-American marriages was the Churchill family (Fowler 1993).  Intermarriage also created cross-national relationships that mitigated the risks of international trade. Merchant banks preferred working with a trusted house that would perform business for them on commission and joint accounts (Jones 1987:99). Intermarriage facilitated the creation of integrated international connections. For instance, the Rathbones of Liverpool relied on Henry Gair for representation in the United States. Gair’s sister was married to William Rathbone (ibid).  Thus, intermarriage facilitated the development of an integrated landowning cosmopolitan class because it created the social capital for firms to mitigate the risks of international trade.  Also, intermarriage created a transnational culture with its particular institutional practices to diffuse across national boundaries.

Structural Integration via Legal Incorporation and Joint Stock Companies

In the seventeenth century Dutch investors from Amsterdam who were not allowed to invest in the Dutch East India Company were important movers in the formation of the English East India Company. Dutch capitalists were not very patriotic, especially when their economic interests were inconsistent with the policies or machinations of the Dutch state.

In the nineteenth century wartime disruptions, the move to more capital-intensive manufacturing, the breakdown of established systems of regulated trade, and the diffusion of a global liberal ideology accelerated the processes of international mercantile apprenticeship. Migration facilitated the intermingling of merchants of different nationalities (Jones 1987). 

This intermingling led to a more complete social integration; the newcomers diversified out of international trade into landownership in their adoptive countries. Intermarriage between the northern elites and indigenous elites led to the formation of a cosmopolitan elite in which ethnicity and nationality were not the primary determinants of status.   Structurally, the system still impeded the creation of strong transnational interlocking partnerships.  For instance, unlimited liability made these interlocking partnerships too risky. Thus, there were attempts to push for partnership with limited liability.  Major railways and banks achieved limited liability through legislative acts in one country after another (Jones 1987:104).  Easier legal incorporation of limited liability firms permitted the rapid spread of banks, shipping companies and other ventures (Jones 1987: 106).

This limited liability made it easier for an owner to leave direct supervision in the hands of a local managing agent while he lived a life as a rentier, spreading his capital in a number of securities. Another effect of incorporation was that it reduced the risks involved in the diversification of firms.   Firms would diversify by creating a new corporation for every venture. 

Nationalism and Fragmentation of the Transnational Bourgeoisie

According to Jones (1987) merchants from both the core and periphery moved into banking and land, insurance, railways, public utilities, manufacture, distribution and mining. In the process, more vertically integrated systems for the finance, processing and shipment of internationally traded commodities emerged. This led to greater contact and competition between firms.  Railways facilitated the movement of produce and commodities to markets and the people to work. 

Native and expatriate international merchants found their ambiguous nationality and comprador status more of a liability in countries where the political tide had turned against cosmopolitan liberalism (Jones 1987: 197).  The cosmopolitan bourgeoisie were under simultaneous threat from local populist pressures and the competitive forces of metropolitan capital (Jones 1987:198). When Mexico’s Minister of finance, Jose Yves Limantour ran for president in 1900, he was attacked by his enemies for being a Frenchman because of his parentage and because he had sacrificed the short-run domestic interests of Mexico through conservative monetary and spending policies (Topik 200:732). Merchants tried to deal with these twin threats by developing closer accommodation with the local states that were willing to help those businessmen who identified with and resided in the country.

Though we are unconvinced by many of the arguments that portray the contemporary period as a qualitatively new form of global capitalism based on transnational corporations, globalized financial markets or flexible specialization, we do see at least one development that indicates that a new dynamic may be operating. The series of global debt cycles that began in the early nineteenth century virtually always ended in a collapse of the financial structures and a recalibration of the relationship between the real world of production and consumption and the symbolic world of financial claims to future income streams (Suter 1992). The global debt crisis of the 1980s did not eventuate in such a collapse. The debt was restructured and some was written off, but the majority of the load of symbolic claims survived. This non-collapse was made possible by the organizational coordination of the U.S., Japanese and European banks facilitated by the international financial institutions and the U.S. Federal Reserve. None of the main players tried to grab their assets first, and so the house of cards remained. This indicates a new level of coordination and cooperation beyond what was possible in earlier high points of international elite integration. The question remains as to how strong this integration is, and how much disruption it can withstand.

We have demonstrated that there was a good deal of transnational integration in the last half of nineteenth century and that it declined during the contraction of international economic integration that occurred in early twentieth century. What we have not been yet able to do is figure out how to move toward a quantitative estimate of the degree of transnational elite integration for the world-system as a whole. As with other efforts to measure globalization  (e.g. Chase-Dunn, Kawano, and Brewer 2000), the estimation of a global characteristic needs to take account of the changing size of the system as a whole. Of course there are more transnational communications and interactions now than there were in the nineteenth century. There are also more within-nation communications and interactions because the world population and the world economy have become larger. It is the ratio of these that must be studied.

Intermarriage, interlocking directorates and joint ventures are possible empirical indicators of elite integration that might be operationalized in order to construct the measurements that we see as vital. We propose to compare these indicators of integration of the global capitalist class for two time periods, the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the last two decades of the twentieth century.

The boundaries between classes are usually fuzzy and so an effort to study the whole global capitalist class would quickly encounter the sticky problem of where to draw the line. We will avoid this conundrum by focusing on only the very top segment of the global capitalist class, and this will be defined as two entities; the richest 100 individuals on earth as indicated by wealth and income, and the largest 100 business enterprises as indicated by yearly gross revenues and number of employees. It should be possible to identify these segments for the decades under study and to study the degree of integration of these segments regarding informal and formal ties.

The comparative study of ties needs to pay attention not only to the overall degree of integration but also to the structure of the integration. Our main motivation for studying elite integration is to shed light on the probabilities and possibilities of future wars among the great powers. Studies of earlier world wars and their relationship with the processes of hegemonic rise and fall, or what Modelski and Thompson (1996) call the “power cycle” of the rise and fall of “system leaders” have noted some interesting patterns. William R. Thompson  (2000) notes that declining “system leaders” often ally with an amiable rising challenger against another challenger that is perceived at more threatening. Thompson then looks closely at the formerly hostile relationship between the United States and Britain during the latter part of the nineteenth century became friendlier and allowed the two powers to stand together against the Axis powers in World Wars I and II.

The question this raises for our study of integration is “integration with whom?” A truly global integration that would prevent bloc formation in a conflictive situation would need to crosscut the most friable cleavages. This instructs us to pay close attention to whatever links there may have been before World War I across the fault lines that emerged as chasms of the Great War.

The World Working Class

            Defined objectively in terms of control over the means of production there has been a single world proletariat for centuries. Its fully proletarianized segment has undoubtedly grown as a proportion of the whole world work force, but there has long been a large semi-proletariat of part-time workers who rely on rural redoubts for at least some of their sustenance. The classical migrant labor forces have evolved into a more permanently urbanized group of “informal sector” workers in the megacities of the periphery and semiperiphery.  In order to study the question of transnational class integration analogous to our study of the global capitalist class we need to first get a good grip on the structure of the global work force. In this we need to include peasants who grow their own food and/or produce for the market. In order to keep our study feasible we will adopt the same strategy of looking at the two fin-de-sciecle decades of each century. So the first question is to compare the structure of the world work force in these two time periods.

            The second question is about integration. And here we are interested in communications, direct interactions, organizational ties, and participation in explicitly international and transnational political organizations. Migration is an important aspect of these ties.

            Boswell and Chase-Dunn (2000) have conceptualized “world revolutions” in which the mobilization of movements of resistance to domination and exploitation has restructured the normative and institutional structures of “world orders.” Thus they see the abolition of legal slavery and the eventual elimination of formal colonialism as the result of movements of resistance that eventually culminated in structuring normative regimes that all states and actors are sanctioned for violating. The labor movement, the socialist movement and the communist states are all understood as efforts of resistance to capitalism that attempted to fundamentally restructure its logic, but that instead impelled capitalists and their statesmen to expand and reorganize the institutions of capital accumulation. In this view the workers and peasants are not inert victims. Rather their efforts to resist and to found less exploitative institutions have been an important driving force in the evolution of global capitalism.

            The question at hand is about the comparison of transnational integration of the global working class in the last two decades of the last two centuries. This question is also germane to the problem of global conflict broached above. Labor internationalism has long been understood as a potential force for peace. The classical failure of the Second International on the eve of World War I is perhaps the most poignant episode.

            Samuel Huntington (1973) long ago predicted that the growth and multiplication of transnational corporations would eventually lead to the building of global unions as a necessary counter-response by organized labor. Transborder organizing and global labor agreements have indeed been implemented in the following years (Stevis and Boswell 2008) but these efforts have continued to suffer from the problems created by nationalism, cultural differences and North/South differences income and interests. The global labor movement has a long way to go in becoming a powerful force. Much progress has been made in allying with other social movements, but there are still big problems of collective action on a global scale.  The socialist and communist claims that the working class would be the agent of the transformation of capitalism to a more cooperative and humane social logic has fallen on hard times, though the theories of global capitalism and the idea of a globalized working class may hold out hope for a revitalization of these ideas. 

The Pink Tide

            The World Social Forum (WSF) is not the only political force that demonstrates the rise of the New Global Left. The WSF is embedded within a larger socio-historical context that is challenging the hegemony of global capital. It was this larger context that facilitated the founding of the WSF in 2001. The anti-IMF protests of the 1980s and the Zapatista rebellion of 1994 were early harbingers of the current world revolution that challenges the neoliberal capitalist order.

            History proceeds in a series of waves. Capitalist expansions ebb and flow, and egalitarian and humanistic counter-movements emerge in a cyclical dialectical struggle. Polanyi(1944) called this the double-movement (Polanyi 1944), while others have termed it a “spiral of capitalism and socialism.” This spiral of capitalism and socialism describes the undulations of the global economy that has alternated between expansive commodification throughout the global economy, followed by resistance movements on behalf of workers and other oppressed groups (Boswell and Chase-Dunn 2000). The Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal capitalist globalization project extended the power of transnational capital. This project has reached its ideological and material limits. It has increased inequality within and between countries, exacerbated rapid urbanization in the Global South (so-called Planet of Slums), attacked the welfare state and institutional protections for the poor, and led to global financial collapse. The globalization project was crisis management because of overaccumulation in core manufacturing and a declining profit rate in the 1970s and 1980s. Obvious limitations of the expansion of financialization led certain neoconservative elements of the global elite to support “imperial over-reach” an effort to use military power to control the global oil supply as a means to prop up declining U.S. economic hegemony. The economic meltdown of 2008 may seal the end of the current phase of capital expansion of both the neoliberal and the neoconservative political projects.

            A global countermovement has arisen to challenge neoliberalism and neoconservatism and  decades of capitalist expansion. This progressive countermovement is composed of increasingly transnational social movements and a growing number of populist governments in Latin America – the so-called Pink Tide. The Pink Tide is composed of populist leftist regimes that have come to state power in Latin America, seeking dramatic structural transformation of the global economy (See Table 1).  


Pink Tide





Costa Rica



Dominican Republic



French Guiana


















Netherlands Antilles






Puerto Rico



Saint Martin
















































El Salvador



Table 1: Pink Tide status of Latin American countries: 0= not Pink Tide; 1= Partial Pink Tide,

            2= Full-Blown Pink Tide

            An important difference between these and many earlier Leftist regimes in the non-core is that they have come to head up governments by means of popular elections rather than by violent revolutions. This signifies an important difference from earlier world revolutions. The spread of electoral democracy to the non-core has been part of a larger political incorporation of former colonies into the European interstate system. This evolutionary development of the global political system has mainly been caused by the industrialization of the non-core and the growing size of the urban working class in non-core countries (Silver 2003). While much of the democratization of the Global South has taken the form of “polyarchy” in which elites play musical chairs (Robinson 1996), in some countries Most of the Pink Tide Leftist regimes have been voted into power. This is a very different form of regime formation than the revolutionary road taken by most earlier Leftist regimes in the non-core.

            The ideologies of the Pink Tide regimes have been both socialist and indigenist, with different mixes in different countries. The acknowledged leader of the Pink Tide as a distinctive brand of leftist populism is the Bolivarian Revolution led by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But various other forms of progressive political ideologies are also heading up states in Latin America. Indigenist and socialist Evo Morales is president of Bolivia.The Fidelistas in Cuba remain in power. President Lula and the Brazilian Workers Party are still important players. In Chile social democrats are in power. Sandinistas in Nicaragua and FMLN in El Salvador are elected leaders. And several European-style social democrats lead some of the Caribbean islands. These regimes are supported by the mobilization of historically subordinate populations including the indigenous, poor, and women. The rise of the voiceless and the challenge to neoliberal capitalism seems to have its epicenter in Latin America. While there are important differences of emphasis among these regimes, they have much in common, and as a whole they constitute an important bloc of the New Global Left. We agree with William I. Robinson’s assessment of the Bolivarian Revolution and its potential to lead the global working class in a renewed challenge to transnational capitalism (Robinson 2008).

            Latin America has a unique and complex history in which class and ethnic struggles within countries have repeatedly intersected with the world historical context. The conquest of the Americas featured the decimation of indigenous populations and their enserfment in systems of agricultural land-tenure and the expansion of a slave-based plantation economy in which a huge number of Africans were forcibly relocated to the New World. This was an important part of what.Karl Marx called “the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist accumulation.” It is safe to generalize that the beginnings of the post-Columbian Americas were characterized by the primitive accumulation of native and African populations. In other words, capital has deep roots in the underdevelopment of Latin America, and the legacies of primitive accumulation continue to leave large masses of poor eking out their living. Although each country has had its own unique history, important commonalities that these countries share include indigenous rebellions, slave revolts, anti-colonial struggles for independence, concomitant wars and altercations between authoritarianism and democracy, the commodification of natural resources, competing commercial interests, foreign intervention (often at the behest of core capital), and leftist popular waves.  In other words, Latin America has been a battleground of global and internal class conflict since 1492..

            The development of states in Latin America featured the rise of the rich. Landed elites, national capitalists and military personnel jockeyed for power and attempted to develop their respective countries and to protect existing privileges. With the passage of time, important oppressed segments of the population have continued to struggle for recognition, engaging in waves of politicization. A populist wave surged through Latin America during the 1950s and 1960s, finally representing people as opposed to elites. These mass movements were decisive turns to the left. Another major event in this time period was the Cuban Revolution, allowing for Fidel Castro to set up a centralized socialist economy 90 miles from Florida. Waves of leftist regimes rose (or attempted to rise) throughout Latin America, including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala and Colombia, all of which fell prey to U.S.-backed overthrows and were replaced by comprador elites.

            Thus one sees waves between the spread of capital domination and the struggle for popular rights throughout the history of many countries in Latin America. Capital seemed to have won, particularly throughout the Reagan years. Then a former military general won the votes of the poor in Venezuela. A team including socialists became elected in Chile. A member of the working party came to power in Brazil. A brave president in Argentina finally stood up against the demands of the International Monetary Fund and Wall Street.

            Figure 4: The Pink Tide in Latin America (dots= full blown Pink Tide; cross-hatch= partial Pink Tide)

            As one can see from Figure 4, the rise of the left has engulfed nearly all of South America and a considerable portion of Central America. Why is Latin America the site of both populist Leftist regimes and transnational social movements that contest neoliberal capitalist globalization? We suggest that part of the explanation is that Latin America as a world region has so many  semiperipheral countries. These countries have more options to pursue independent strategies than the overwhelmingly peripheral countries of Africa do. But some of the Pink Tide countries in Latin America are also peripheral. There is a regional effect that does not seem to be operating in either Africa or Asia. Another reason why the Pink Tide phenomenon is concentrated in Latin America is that the foremost proponent of the neoliberal policies has been the United States, and Latin America has long been the non-core “back yard” of the United States. Many, if not most, of the people of Latin America think of the United States as the “collossus of the North.” The U.S. has been the titular hegemon during the period of the capitalist globalization project, and so the political challenge to neoliberalism is strongest in that region of the world in which the U.S. has long played the role of neocolonial core. Both Africa and Asia have a more complicated relationship with former colonial powers.

Wallerstein’s long run rise of wages (pp 58-59) in his Decline of American Power,  3 major trends that reach asymptotes (wages, taxes, ecological degradation).

Stages of w-s devel. Arrighi, systemic cycles of accum. Iw. Millenariansism and asymtotes, continuity and change. The stages issue.  What are the important diffs from the last sysemic cycle of accum and the last period of hegemonic downturn?  See 3 futures.

Measuring global class formation:  class in itself, class for itself

How to measure. How not to. Within/between diffs, struggle to deal with north/south diffs within labor movment and other movements. Issues. South/south diffs. 

How much global class formation? Compare with 19th century or earlier

Bergesen on globology and the global mode of production

John Meyer, et al on world society

Leslie Sklair on transnational practices

Bill robinson on transnational capitalist class, transnational capitalist state, and new informalized global  working class.

Struna paper on global proletarian fractions

Roberts and Struna asa paper on C/p and class

More on the core periphery hierarchy and global class formation

Bev Silver, informalization, planet of slums,  deruralization.

The global reserve army of labor.  Semiproletarianization.

Evo of glob class and c/p hierarchy interact. Waves of. Spiral of cap and soc.

Class relations in and for an sich and fur sich.

Globalized workers- attack on unions. History of Job blackmail., regional-global

When all labor is free we will have socialism

Coercion and free labor’ pkap. The function of class harmony in the core.

Urbanization, proletarianization, informal sector, casualized labor


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[1] But see Gareth Steadman Jones (1971) on quite similar developments in nineteenth century London.