After Progress in the South: Khomeini, Saddam or Migration?
Immanuel Wallerstein, the celebrated author of The
Modern World-System Series, is the director of the Fernand Braudel Center
at Binghamton University and the directeur d'etudes Associe at the Ecole
Des Haute Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
The following was adapted by NPQ from comments made at the Intellectuels
Du Monde meeting in Paris in February of 1997.
Paris - From 1848 to 1989, the antisystemic movements
hailed their successes and excused their failures with the soothing assurance
that history was with them, and therefore with those they claimed to represent-the
proletariat, the peoples, the "people." In fact, this belief
in the inevitability of progress was in the long run extremely demobilizing,
and we are seeing today the fruits of this demobilization in the widespread
disillusionment and cynicism which 150 years of such revolutionary activity
The single greatest factor that has broken the spell of the idea of historically
inevitable progress has been the patent reality of North-South polarization.
For over 20 years now-marked by the worldwide revolution of 1968 and culminating
in the collapse of the so-called communisms in 1989-the faith in state-centered
and state-promoted reformism has been steadily eroding. The "neo-liberals"
have seized the occasion to shout the triumph of the free market, and
in desperation this idea has had some momentary resonance. But it has
no substance because those that have turned away from a belief in state-centered
reformism have not turned away from the democratic egalitarian agenda
that underlay this faith; rather they have turned away from the strategy
that had for 150 years been assumed to achieve this agenda and in fact
The story of the last 20 years is not that of the turn to the free market
as the panacea but the turn to "identity"-based groups as the
refuge in a time of the slow but accelerating disintegration of states.
We see this both in the North and in the South, from "multiculturalism"
in the US and its emerging equivalents in Western Europe to the quite
non-traditionalist religious fundamentalisms across the world. The negative
critique of all these movements has been very powerful and has had an
enormous impact. It is their positive program that has been very murky
and ill defined. Their tactics have been "deconstructive" and
essentially defensive. But they have not yet staked out an alternative
strategy to that of the historic antisystemic movements which they consider
to have fizzled out.
Meanwhile, despite the geocultural (and hence political) confusion, the
capitalist world economy proceeds on its merry way, following its well-laid-out
paths of constant restructuring of the formal frameworks without changing
the fundamental reality of the ceaseless accumulation of capital and its
very unequal distribution.
What may we then expect in the next 30-50 years in the world economy,
and what political dilemmas does it pose for us? Very summarily, we can
expect ?ve years or so of worldwide depression completing the last subphase
of a Kondratieff cyclical downturn [generational cycle of technological
and political innovation-ed.] we have been in since 1967-1973, followed
probably by another big expansion of the world economy lasting for 25
years or so.
In this "upturn" at the beginning of the 21st century, we may
expect a further North-South polarization and a further economic and social
marginalization of large sectors of the South. This will, of course, be
nothing new, except for one great difference: the disappearance of the
soporific of the belief in progress and the efficacy of the reformist
state. But without this element of political stabilization, further acute
economic and demographic polarization will be very explosive.
We may expect three kinds of reactions in the South, all of which have
been prefigured in the last 20 years. I call them the Khomeini option,
the Saddam Hussein option and the individual option.
The Khomeini option is that of radical alterity, the refusal of the geocultural
framework. The Saddam Hussein option is quite different. It is the option
of direct military confrontation by the South of the North. The individual
option is illegal immigration from South to North. All three options have
been contained as of now by the North, albeit with difficulty. They will,
however, become-all three-more and more difficult to contain, as more
and more instances of each occur simultaneously.
The net result over the next 30-50 years will be enormous world disorder,
taking three forms: civil disorders in countries of the South, North-South
armed confrontations and great civil disorder in the North (as the populations
of "Southern" origin grow as a percentage of the population,
but without or with inadequate political and social rights).
The issue is not to bemoan this state of affairs, nor to wish it away.
The issue is to come up with a meaningful political strategy as the systemic
bifurcation occurs, so that we have some chance of emerging in 50 years
with a better rather than a worse "order" that will by then
have emerged out of the "chaos."