Crises and Counter-Movements in World Evolutionary Perspective*
Christopher Chase-Dunn and Roy Kwon
Institute for Research on World-Systems
University of California-Riverside
paper considers the meaning of the recent global financial meltdown by
comparing it with earlier debt crises and periods of collapse. Is this just
another debt crisis like the ones that have periodically occurred over the past
200 years, or is it part of the end of capitalism and the transformation to a
new and different logic of social reproduction? We discuss the contemporary
network of global counter-movements and national regimes that are seeking to
transform the capitalist world-system into a more humane, sustainable and
egalitarian civilization and we also discuss how the current crisis has
affected the network of counter-movements and regimes, including the Pink Tide
populist regimes in
*A keynote address on this topic was presented at
the international conference on “The Global Economic Crisis: Perceptions and
Impacts” September 10-11, 2010 The World Society Foundation,
Forthcoming in Christian Suter and Mark Herkenrath (Eds.) The Global Economic Crisis: Perceptions and Impacts (World Society Studies 2011).Wien/Berlin/Zürich: LIT Verlag
The recent financial crisis has generated a huge scholarly literature and immense popular reflection about its causes and its meaning for the past and for the future of world society. This paper is intended to place the current crisis, and the contemporary network of transnational social movements and progressive national regimes, in world historical and evolutionary perspective. The main point is to accurately determine the similarities and differences between the current crisis and responses with earlier periods of dislocation and breakdown in the modern world-system and in earlier world-systems. What is different in this approach from most of the literature on the financial meltdown is a much greater temporal depth and a more world-systemic form of analysis. This paper will employ three different time horizons in the discussion of crises and counter-movements:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>50,000 years;
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]> 5,000 years;
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]> 500 years.
We will discuss the evolution of the regime of global debt restructuring since 1820 and the consequences of the trajectories of global governance, globalization and counter-hegemonic movements over the next several decades of the future. We will also address the depth of the crisis. Is it just another cyclical debt crisis following a boom of the kind that has happened eight times since 1820 (Suter 2009: Tables 1and 2)? Is it a structural or systemic crisis of capitalism as a logic of accumulation and social reproduction? The several time horizons will be germane to the analysis of the depth of the latest crisis and its significance for the future.
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. 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). The most important idea that comes out of this theoretical perspective is that transformational changes are brought about mainly 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 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 did core/periphery hierarchies emerge. Semiperipherality is the position of some of the polities in a core/periphery hierarchy. Some of the polities that are located in semiperipheral positions became the agents that formed larger chiefdoms, states and empires by means of conquest (semiperipheral marcher polities), and some specialized trading states in 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 (
Figure 1: Waves of Colonization and Decolonization Since 1400- Number of colonies established and number of decolonizations (Source: 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 remained multicentric, meaning
that a number of sovereign 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
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 1644 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 sovereign
Each of the 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
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 tried to compete with one another and to contain 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). The Protestant Reformation in
The current world revolution of 20xx (Chase-Dunn and
Niemeyer 2009) will be discussed as the global counter-movement in 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
The Meltdown of 2008
Financial bubbles and meltdowns are business as usual in the modern world-system. Christian Suter’s (1987,1992,2009; Pfister and Suter 1987 ) studies of government-guaranteed loans, financial crises and debt settlements since 1820 show that there have been nine boom periods in the expansion of lending from core lenders to non-core governments, including the most recent period from 2003-2007 (Suter 2009: Table 1). These have been followed by debt crises in which governments in the non-core have defaulted or come close to default (Suter 2009: Table 2). The huge debt crisis of the 1980s did not result in financial collapse, unlike all earlier debt crises in the last two centuries, because the European, Japanese and U.S. banks, led by the U.S. Federal Reserve and helped by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, managed a coordinated renegotiation of the terms of the debt and avoided a “beggar-thy-neighbor” panic of the kind that had caused the house of cards to tumble down in earlier collapses. This was significant as a harbinger of the rise of a more coordinated transnational capitalist class and an emerging transnational state.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The coordinated ability of the global financial institutions to reschedule the terms of the debts allowed countries that were in trouble to continuing paying interest, albeit on somewhat better terms. This meant that the mountain of “securities” did not completely collapse as it had done in earlier debt crises. It also facilitated the further financialization of the global economy and the continued expansion of the debt bubble such that it is now much larger than the “real” world economy of goods and services (e.g. see Figure 2).
Figure 2: The expansion of credit as a % of global GDP, 1960-2009 (Source: World Development Indicators, 2011)
Figure 2 shows the trajectory of one indicator of global financialization from 1960 to 2009. The indicator is global domestic credit provided by the banking sector as a percentage of the global GDP. This indicator of financialization, which does not include credit that banks offered to borrowers abroad, rose dramatically over the last 4 ½ decades, indicating that the relationship between real goods and services and symbolic forms that may be used to pay a debt has changed. Financialization means that the symbolic economy and the activities of financial services have come to be larger than the “real” economy of the production and exchange of goods and other services. It also indicates that finance capital has become a predominant player in the whole world economy. Though we do not have comparable quantitative indicators to produce the kind of graph shown in Figure 1 for the last decades of the nineteenth century, it is well-known that there was a somewhat similar expansion of finance capital during the period of British hegemonic decline in industrial production
Suter’s (2009:9) most recent study of the evolution of the global debt restructuring regime that deals with sovereign debt (government-guaranteed bonds) delineates five debt restructuring regimes since 1820, including the most recent (1999-2008) regime. The most recent regime is called the “post-Washington Consensus” and is characterized as being organized as market-based debt restructurings and a decreased institutionalization of creditor coordination. This is interesting because it indicates a less-coordinated debt regime relatively to the highly-coordinated earlier Washington Consensus regime from1960 to 1998. Suter (2009: Table 3) also shows that the average duration of debt servicing incapacity has remained relatively low since 1999 and the degree of debt relief is similar to what it has been since 1926. Suter interprets these findings as indicating that the seemingly less coordinated market-based “post-Washington Consensus” regime is still embedded in the larger cooperative framework of the Washington Consensus.
It is also possible that the less
institutionalized and coordinated framework has arisen because the
When Nicolas Sarkozy, the neo-liberal French President, wanted to raise the issue of global financial regulation at the September 2009 meeting of the G-20, the U.S. Obama administration completely ignored him. Wall Street, the Club of London and the Club of Paris do not want greater global financial regulation and they have the political clout to undercut serious reform.
agree with David Harvey’s (2010) analysis of the causes of the current crisis,
which is mainly due to the contradictions of capitalism as a logic of
development. Capitalism must expand in order to continue to exist. Investors
are not content with very low rates of return. As capitals compete with one
another they develop overcapacity in the ability to produce commodities
relative to the effective demand. Effective demand is a function of the ability
of buyers to purchase the products that capitalists produce. A good part of
effective demand is composed of the wages that capital pays to workers. As
workers are displaced from production as result of automation they often get
lower-paying jobs, reducing effective demand. This is called the “realization
problem.” Capitalists seek to escape from this by expanding into new markets,
developing new products, and finding cheaper sources of labor. Keynesian full-employment policies are an
effort to deal with the realization problem. But when profits are squeezed because
of too much perceived government support for labor unions, capitalists and
their political allies launch an attack on unions and the welfare state. But
these contradictions of capitalism are long-standing. As
At the same time
as the debt crisis of the 1980s there was a crisis of profitability in core
manufacturing. The productive capacity of
Giovanni Arrighi (1994) and Immanuel Wallerstein (1984) have argued that finance capitalism is not a stage in the long-term evolution of capitalism, as claimed by Rudolf Hilferding, but is rather a recurring last phase of the rise and fall of a hegemonic core power. Hilferding’s work was inspired by the great wave of financialization that occurred in the decades of the declining British hegemony (Hilferding 1981). It is the basic Marxian insight about the contradiction within capitalism based on the realization problem (overcapacity relative to effective demand), plus the world-system insight that this tends to become most acute during the decline of a hegemonic core power, that provides the best conceptual basis for understanding the main outlines of the current crisis in world historical perspective.
Some of the details of the financial meltdown that
escalated in October of 2008 are relevant for this long-run structural
perspective, and for the task of delineating how this crisis is different from
earlier crises. The timing of the
financial collapse, occurring as the “October surprise” of the
So what can be said about the most recent financial meltdown and the contemporary global counter-movement from the long-run perspectives? Is the latest meltdown just another bout of financial expansion and collapse? Does it constitute or portend a deep structural crisis in the capitalist mode of accumulation. What do the meltdown and the counter-movement signify about the evolution of capitalism and its possible transformation into a different mode of accumulation?
From the perspective of the last 50,000 years the big
news is demographic and ecological. After slowly expanding, with cyclical ups
and downs in particular regions, for millennia the human population went into
an upward surge in the last two centuries.
Humans have been degrading the environment locally and regionally since
they began the intensive use of natural resources. But in the last 200 years of
industrial production ecological degradation has become global in scope, with
global warming as the biggest consequence. A demographic transition to an
equilibrium population size began in the industrialized core countries in the
19th century and has spread unevenly to the non-core in the 20th
century. Public health measures have lowered the mortality rate and the
education and employment of women outside of the home is lowering the fertility
rate. But the total number of humans is likely to keep increasing for another
five or six decades. In the year 2000 there were about 6 billion people. But
the time the population stops climbing it will be 8, 10 or 12 billion. This
population big bang was made possible by industrialization and the vastly
expanded use of non-renewable fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are captured ancient
sunlight that took millions of years to accrete as plants and forests grew,
died and were compressed into oil and coal. The arrival of peak oil production
is near and energy prices will almost surely rise again after a long fall. The
recent financial meltdown is related to these long-run changes in the sense
that it was brought on partly by sectors of the global elite trying to protect
their privileges and wealth by seeking greater control over natural resources
and by over-expanding the financial sector. But non-elites are also implicated.
The housing expansion, suburbanization, and larger houses with fewer people in
them have been important mechanisms, especially in the
The main significance of the 5000 year time horizon is to point us to the rise and decline of modes of accumulation. The story here is that small-scale human polities were integrated primarily by normative structures institutionalized as kinship relations – the so-called kinship-based modes of accumulation. The family was the economy and the polity, and the family was organized as a moral order of obligations that allowed social labor to be mobilized and coordinated, and that regulated distribution. Kin-based accumulation was based on language, consensus-building through oral communication, and institutionalized reciprocity in sharing and exchange. As kin-based polities got larger they fought with one another and polities that developed institutionalized inequalities had selection advantages over those that did not. Kinship itself became hierarchical within chiefdoms, taking the form of ranked lineages or conical clans. Crises and countermovements were important forces of social change all along. Kin-based societies often responded to population pressures on resources by “hiving-off” in which a subgroup would emigrate, usually after formulating grievances in terms of violations of the moral order.
Around five thousand years ago the first early states and
cities emerged in
A tributary mode became predominant in the Mesopotamian
world-system in the early Bronze Age (around 3000 BCE). The East Asian regional
world-system was still predominantly tributary in the 19th century
CE. That is nearly a 5000 year run. The kin-based mode lasted even longer. All
human groups were organized around different versions of the kin-based modes in
the Paleolithic. If we date the beginning of the end of the kin-based modes at
the coming to predominance of the tributary mode in
This brings us to the capitalist mode, here defined as based
on the accumulation of profits rather than taxation or tribute. As we have
already said, early forms of capitalism emerged in the Bronze Age in the form
of small semiperipheral states that specialized in trade and the production of
commodities. But it was not until the 15th century that this form of
accumulation became predominant in a regional world-system (
Thus, in comparison with the earlier modes, capitalism is yet young. On the other hand, many have observed that social change has speeded up. The rise of tribute-taking based on institutionalized coercion took tens of thousands of years. Capitalism itself speeds up social change because it revolutionizes technology so quickly that other institutions are brought along, and people have become adjusted to more rapid reconfigurations of culture and institutions.
For Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), capitalism started in the 16th century, grew larger in a series of cycles and upward trends, and is now nearing “asymptotes” (ceilings) as some of its trends create problems that it cannot solve. Thus, for Wallerstein the world-system became capitalist and then it expanded until it became completely global, and now it is coming to face a big crisis because certain long-term trends cannot be accommodated within the logic of capitalism (Wallerstein 2003). The three long-term upward trends (ceiling effects) that capitalism cannot manage are:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>the long-term rise of real wages;
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>the long-term costs of material inputs; and
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>taxes.
All three upward trends cause the average rate of profit to fall. Capitalists devise strategies for combating these trends (automation, capital flight, job blackmail, attacks on the welfare state and unions), but they cannot really stop them in the long-run. Deindustrialization in one place leads to industrialization and the emergence of labor movements somewhere else (Silver 2003). The falling rate of profit means that capitalism as a logic of accumulation will face an irreconcilable structural crisis during the next 50 years, and some other system will emerge. Wallerstein calls the next five decades “The Age of Transition.”
Wallerstein’s “Age of Transition” is the next 50 years. Most analysts do not have that kind of time horizon. He sees recent losses by labor unions and the poor as temporary. He assumes that workers will eventually figure out how to protect themselves against market forces and capitalists. This may underestimate somewhat the difficulties of mobilizing effective labor organization in the era of globalized capitalism, but he is probably right in the long run. Global unions and political parties could give workers effective instruments for protecting their wages and working conditions from exploitation by global corporations if North/South issues that divide workers could be overcome.
is intentionally vague about the new system that will replace capitalism (as
was Marx). He sees the declining hegemony of the
Giovanni Arrighi’s (1994) evolutionary account of “systemic cycles of accumulation” has solved some of the problems of Wallerstein’s notion that world capitalism started in the long 16th century and then went through repetitive cycles and trends. Arrighi’s account is explicitly evolutionary, but rather than positing “stages of capitalism” and looking for each country to go through them (as most of the older Marxists did), he posits somewhat overlapping global cycles of accumulation in which finance capital and state power take on new forms and increasingly penetrate the whole system. This was a big improvement over both Wallerstein’s world cycles and trends and the traditional Marxist national stages of capitalism approach.
Arrighi’s (1994, 2006) “systemic cycles of accumulation”
are more different from one another than are Wallerstein’s cycles of expansion
and contraction and upward secular trends. And Arrighi (2006) has made more out
of the differences between the current period of
Wallerstein’s version is more apocalyptic and more millenarian. The old world is ending. The new world is beginning. In the coming bifurcation what people do may be prefigurative and causal of the world to come. Wallerstein agrees with the analysis proposed by the students of the New Left in 1968 (and large numbers of activists in the current global justice movement) that the tactic of taking state power has been shown to be futile because of the disappointing outcomes of the World Revolution of 1917 and the decolonization movements (but see below).
Regarding the issue of whether or not the recent meltdown is itself a structural crisis or the beginning of a long process of transformation, it is relevant to examine recent trends in economic globalization. Is there yet any sign that the world economy has entered a new period of deglobalization of the kind that occurred in the first half of the 20th century?
Immanuel Wallerstein contends that globalization has been occurring for five hundred years, and so there is little that is importantly new about the so-called stage of global capitalism that is alleged to have emerged in the last decades of the 20th century. Well before the emergence of globalization in the popular consciousness the world-systems perspective focused on the world economy and the system of interacting polities, rather than on single national societies. Globalization, in the sense of the expansion and intensification of larger and larger economic, political, military and information networks, has been increasing for millennia, albeit unevenly and in waves. And globalization is as much a cycle as a trend (see Figure 5). The wave of global integration that has swept the world in the decades since World War II is best understood by studying its similarities and differences with the waves of international trade and foreign investment expansion that have occurred in earlier centuries, especially the last half of the nineteenth century.
has insisted that
Figure 5: Trade Globalization 1820-2009: World Imports as a % of World GDP<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> (Sources: Chase-Dunn, Kawano, and Brewer 2000; World Development Indicators, 2011)
Figure 5 is an updated version of the trade globalization series published in Chase-Dunn, Kawano and Brewer 2000). It shows the great 19th century wave of global trade integration, a short and volatile wave between 1900 and 1929, and the post-1945 upswing that is characterized as the “stage of global capitalism.” The figure indicates that globalization is both a cycle and a bumpy trend. There have been significant periods of deglobalization in the late 19th century in the first half of the 20th century.
Figure 6: Trade Globalization Since 1970 (Sources: Chase-Dunn, Kawano, and Brewer 2000; World Development Indicators, 2011)
Figure 6 displays the same series as in Figure 5, except that it starts in 1970 instead of 1820. This enables us to see more clearly what has happened in the last four decades. As mentioned above, the long-term upward trend has been bumpy, with occasional down-turns such as the one shown in the 1970s. But the down-turns since 1945 have all been followed by upturns that restored the overall upward trend of trade globalization. The large decrease of trade globalization in wake of the global financial meltdown of 2008 represents a 21% decrease from the previous year, the largest reversal in trade globalization since World War II. The question is whether or not this sharp decease represents a reversal in the long upward trend observed over the past half century. Is this the beginning of another period of deglobalization?
Figure 7: Investment Globalization 1970-2010<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> (Sources: World Development Indicators, 2011)
A similar series that shows total FDI (foreign direct investment) as a percentage of global GDP is shown in Figure 7. This shows a long relatively flat period from 1970 to 1990 followed by a very steep upsurge until 2000, then a steep drop which is then followed by a steep recovery and then another drop. Investment globalization is much more volatile than is trade globalization (compare Figures 6 and 7). While trade globalization flattened in the first years of the 21s century, investment globalization took a sharp dive between 2000 and 2004 and sharply recovered and then took another dive from 2008 to 2010.
The World Revolution of 20xx
The contemporary world revolution is similar to earlier
ones, but also different. Our conceptualization of the New Global Left includes
civil society entities: individuals, social movement organizations, non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), but also political parties and progressive national
regimes. In this paper we will focus mainly on the relationships among the
movements and the progressive populist regimes that have emerged in Latin
America in the last decade and on the Arab Spring that began in
The boundaries of the progressive forces that have come together in the New Global Left are fuzzy and the process of inclusion and exclusion is ongoing (Santos 2006). The rules of inclusion and exclusion that are contained in the Charter of the World Social Forum, though still debated, have not changed much since their formulation in 2001.<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]>
The New Global Left has emerged as resistance to, and a critique of, global capitalism (Lindholm and Zuquete 2010). It is a coalition of social movements that includes recent incarnations of the old social movements that emerged in the 19th century (labor, anarchism, socialism, communism, feminism, environmentalism, peace, human rights) and movements that emerged in the world revolutions of 1968 and 1989 (queer rights, anti-corporate, fair trade, indigenous) and even more recent movements such as the slow food/food rights, global justice-alterglobalization, anti-globalization, health-HIV and alternative media) [Reese et al 2008]. The explicit focus on the Global South and global justice is somewhat similar to some earlier instances of the Global Left, especially the Communist International (COMINTERN), the Bandung Conference and the anti-colonial movements. The New Global Left contains remnants and reconfigured elements of earlier Global Lefts, but it is a qualitatively different constellation of forces because:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>there are new elements,
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>the old movements have been reshaped, and
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>a new technology (the Internet) is being used to mobilize protests in real time and to try to resolve North/South issues within movements and contradictions among movements.
There has also been a learning process in which the earlier successes and failures of the Global Left are being taken into account in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past. Many social movements have reacted to the neoliberal globalization project by going transnational to meet the challenges that are obviously not local or national (Reitan 2007). But some movements, especially those composing the Arab Spring, are focused mainly on regime change at home. The relations within the family of antisystemic movements and among the Latin American Pink Tide populist regimes are both cooperative and competitive. The issues that divide potential allies need to be brought out into the open and analyzed in order that cooperative efforts may be enhanced and progressive global collective action may become more effective.
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 challenged the neoliberal capitalist order. And the World Social Forum was founded explicitly as a counterhegemonic project vis a vis the World Economic Forum ( an annual gathering of global elites founded in 1971),
World history has proceeded in a series of waves. Capitalist expansions have ebbed and flowed, and egalitarian and humanistic counter-movements have emerged in a cyclical dialectical struggle. Polanyi (1944) called this the double-movement, 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 have 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 some countries, exacerbated rapid urbanization in the Global South (so-called Planet of Slums [Davis 2006]), attacked the welfare state and institutional protections for the poor, and led to global financial crisis.
A global network of counter-movements has arisen to challenge neoliberalism,
neoconservatism and corporate capitalism in general. This progressive network
is composed of increasingly transnational social movements as well as a growing
number of populist governments in
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 consisted mainly of the emergence of “polyarchy” in which elites manipulate elections in order to stay in control of the state (Robinson 1996), in some countries the Pink Tide Leftist regimes have been voted into power. This is a very different form of regime formation than the road taken by earlier Leftist regimes in the non-core. With a few exceptions earlier Left regimes came to state power by means of civil war or military coup.
The ideologies of the Latin American 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
of 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 seemed to have its
The rise of the left has engulfed nearly all of South
America and a considerable portion of Central America and the
Hugo Chavez of
The early Structural Adjustment Programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund in Latin America in the 1980s were instances of “shock therapy” that emboldened domestic neoliberals to attack the “welfare state,” unions and workers parties. In many countries these attacks resulted in downsizing and streamlining of urban industries, and workers in the formal sector lost their jobs and were forced into the informal economy, swelling the “planet of slums” (Davis 2006). This is the formation of a globalized working class as described by Bill Robinson (2006). In several countries the swollen urban informal sector was mobilized by political leaders into new populist movements and parties, and in some of these, the movements were eventually successful in electing their leaders to national power, creating the Pink Tide regimes. Thus did neoliberal Structural Adjustment Programs provoke counter-movements that eventuated in the Pink Tide regimes..
The very existence of the World Social Forum owes much to the Pink Tide regime
relations between the progressive transnational social movements and the
regimes of the Pink Tide have been both collaborative and contentious. We have
already noted the important role played by the Brazilian Workers Party in the
creation of the World Social Forum. But many of the activists in the movements
see involvement in struggles to gain and maintain power in existing states as a
trap that is likely to simply reproduce the injustices of the past. These kinds
of concerns have been raised by anarchists since the nineteenth century, but
The older Leftist organizations and movements are often depicted as hopelessly
Eurocentric and undemocratic by the neo-anarchists and autonomists, who instead
prefer participatory and horizontalist network forms of democracy and eschew
leadership by prominent intellectuals as well as by existing heads of state.
Thus when Lula, Chavez and Morales have tried to participate in the WSF, crowds
have gathered to protest their presence. The organizers of the WSF have
found various compromises, such as locating the speeches of Pink Tide
politicians at adjacent, but separate, venues. An exception to this kind
of contention is the support that European autonomists and anarchists have
provided to Evo Morales’s regime in
The Meltdown and the Counter-movements
What have been the effects of the global financial
meltdown on the counter-movements and the progressive national regimes? The
World Social Forum slogan that “Another World Is Possible” seems far more
appealing now than when the capitalist globalization project was booming. Critical
discourse has been taken more seriously by a broader audience. Marxist
geographer David Harvey has been interviewed on the BBC. The millenarian discourses of the Pink Tide
regimes and the radical social movements seem to be at least partly confirmed.
The “end of history” triumphalism and theories of the “new economy” seem to
have been swept into the dustbin. The
world-systems perspective has found greater support, at least among earlier
critics such as the more traditional Marxists.
The insistence of Wallerstein, Arrighi, and others that
On a more practical level, most of the social movement
organizations and NGOs have had more difficulty raising money, but this has
been counter-balanced by increased participation (Allison et al 2011). The environmental movement has received some setbacks
because the issue of high unemployment has come to the fore. The
The Arab Spring
movements that have swept the Arab world since December of 2010 are also part
of the world revolution of 20xx and they may play a role in the New Global Left.
As in earlier world revolutions contagion and new technologies of communication
have been important elements. And as in earlier world revolutions, rather
different movements stimulated by different local conditions converge in time
to challenge the powers that be. The
Arab Spring movements have been rather different from the global justice
movements. Their targets have mainly been authoritarian national regimes rather
than global capitalism. Youthful demonstrators have used Facebook to organized mainly peaceful protests that have succeeded
in causing several old entrenched regimes to step down. The countries in which these movements have
succeeded are not the poorest countries in Africa and the
issues raised by the Arab Spring movements have mainly been about national
democracy, not global justice. But the
example of masses of young people rallying against unpopular regimes now seems
to be spreading to the second-tier core states of
The financial meltdown of 2007-2008 was similar in some ways with earlier debt cycles, but different in others. Despite greater reliance on a less centrally-coordinated market-based approach to debt problems and frequent comparisons with 1929, there has not yet been a total collapse of the global financial system. The Wall Street bail-out allowed the stock markets and the credit system to recover. And there has been a very slow recovery of the real economy with a continuing high level of unemployment. There have been few protectionist challenges to the “free trade” regime. No large movements toward trade protectionism of the kind that became rampant in the 1930s have yet emerged. Trade globalization has seen a rather large decrease (Figures 5 and 6 above) and investment globalization has become wobbly, but it is not yet clear that these dips will be the beginning of another great wave of deglobalization.
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<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Using Mitchell’s (1992; 1993; 1995) national estimates of imports in country currencies, Chase-Dunn et al. (2000) created a measure of trade globalization from 1795 to 1995. While Chase-Dunn et al. explored the possibility of converting these import estimates to comparable currency units by using exchange rates (FX) between country currencies and the US dollar, this strategy proved unrealistic as it assumes that FX transformations accurately reflect the relative value of goods and services in different countries. Although a popular solution to remedy the “shortcomings” of FX has been to convert these measures into purchasing power parities (PPP) – which estimate the price for a domestic basket of goods for a more relative estimate of national currencies (Firebaugh 2003) – Korzeniewicz and Moran (2009: 60-63) show that PPP estimates are unrealistic for research that examines long periods of time unless PPP weights are recalculated for earlier time periods. Given the issues associated with currency conversion, Chase-Dunn et al. carefully compiled their estimate of trade globalization by computing each nation’s level of international trade openness separately. To do this, they computed a nation’s level of trade openness (imports/GDP) using local currencies in both the numerator and denominator, thus eliminating the need to convert local currencies into US dollars or other comparable units. These scholars then took each nation’s trade openess ratio (trade/GDP) and weighted the ratios by multiplying them by a country’s population, which is estimated as a proportion of the world population (for a more detailed description see Chase-Dunn et al. 2000:84-86). But while the Chase-Dunn et al. estimates of trade globalization end in 1995, Figure 5 extends the estimates using data from the World Development Indicators (World Bank 2009; 2010). We also compared Chase-Dunn’s trade data to the World Development Indicator’s trade data for the 1960 to 1995 period and found a high degree of similarity between these measures.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> Data for foreign direct investment (FDI), unlike trade, were much more limited across time. All FDI data were found in the World Development Indicators (World Bank 2009; 2010). The World Bank retains a comprehensive database on both inflows and outflows of FDI from 1970 to present times. We use FDI inflows, which the World Bank calculates as the total inflow of investment in an enterprise that is operating in an economy other than that of the investor. This includes equity capital, reinvestment of earnings, and all other long-term and short-term capital as reported in the balance of payments. The total sum of world FDI inflows is reported as a proportion of world GDP.
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The Transnational Social Movement Research Working Group at the University of California-Riverside has studied the movements participating in the World Social Forum since 2005. The project web page is at http://www.irows.ucr.edu/research/tsmstudy.htm
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The charter of the World Social Forum does not permit participation by those who attend as representatives of organizations that are engaged in, or that advocate, armed struggle. Nor are governments, confessional institutions or political parties supposed to send representatives to the WSF. See World Social Forum Charter http://wsf2007.org/process/wsf-charter/
<![if !supportFootnotes]><![endif]> The NATO