Immanuel Wallerstein passed away on August 31st, 2019. This is a very sad occasion for all organic intellectuals, activists, observers of the left on international relations and all those who, thanks to Emmanuel Wallerstein, have been influenced and throughout the years have created a large cohort who have adhered to his philosophy of “World Systems”. This concept on the status and reordering of the world has become the focal point of any systemic analysis of international relations, imperialist rivalry and a fundamental understanding of how this world of nations has developed over the centuries. In other words concepts of “World Order” and as we approach the chaos, rivalry and confrontation of the beginning of a “New World Order” are understandable because of the worldview developed and profoundly studied by Immanuel Wallerstein and his colleagues such as Samir Amin who has also departed.
The question that was put forward by Wallerstein on the understanding of “World Systems” was opposite to a capitalist power generated understanding of the world. His reference in “World Systems” was to the exploitive and oppressive nature of capitalism and imperialism. These elements were the basis on which the study of “World Systems” was not only a fundamental break with a capitalist approach, but was more a willingness to make people understand why capitalism and imperialism existed on the world stage.
At the end of World War II, the planet entered into the nuclear age. Independent of whether a nation possessed or not nuclear weapons, this new age of destruction had placed all of humanity under the umbrella of planetary destruction. This has led today to a planet in chaos. Rivalry rather than cooperation has become the order of the day for imperialists such the United States, China and Russia. This is why the study of “World Systems” is more vital today than it has ever been.
Climate change or system change is the fundamental question that should have our interest and guide our actions. The majority of the treaties that had produced certain parameters around the suicidal pursuit for nuclear weapons are either no longer in place or on the verge of being pushed aside. Democracy around the world is in peril. The rise of autocratic leaders, of neo-fascists, of authoritarian rulers, all based on extreme right wing populism, is the third element in this destructive equation.
Not understanding what is happening today on our planet and only listening to the tenors of capitalism coming out of DAVOS, the UN and the different capitals of the capitalist world, will lead us to confrontations, which if we look closely are already happening. Here again it remains pivotal to apply the “World Systems” concept of Wallerstein, not only to understand intellectually what is going on but also to guide us in our struggles to stop the destruction of our only home, planet Earth.
The philosophy of ecology as defined by Murray Bookchin, is based on a political and social program that should be put forward to demonstrate that environmentalism is just a nice word for eco-capitalism. Murray Bookchin as he develops the concept of social and political ecology points to eco-socialism as a product of the philosophy of ecology and predicates that eco-socialism is essential to stop all expansion of capitalism/imperialism, autocratic rule that is leading to the emergence and control by neo-fascism.
To point to nationalism as a safe haven of control in the struggle for a New World Order of capitalism/imperialism as a good strategy to combat what we our facing, as some would have us believe, is political and ideological suicide. To support this idea is not to understand Wallerstein’s “World Systems”. Nationalisms in all its different forms, from moderate to fascism, is born out of not only a policy of isolation but a deep misunderstanding of the planetary crisis and how we should combat it. Here I am not talking about the Trump administration and similar administrations around the world but of the left. Yes! The left.
The left is in disarray and needs to get back to the fundamental issues of class struggle, and not by making itself believe that a slight immersion into a moderate approach to nationalism is good for the left. In Wallerstein’s “World Systems” it is very clear that the fundamental struggle that faces and which has always faced the left, is based on class. In the problems facing us today a tactic of taking one step backwards (nationalism) to gain two steps forward is suicidal.
The contradictions facing us today are universal. In other words they are Glocal. Our political struggle is local but our ideological intent is universal.
Donald Cuccioletta is a historian, writer and activist. President of ALTERNATIVES (Montreal); coordinator of “Les Nouveaux cahiers du Socialisme”; founder and coordinator of the Montreal Urban Left.