Updated dec 2005












1. The actors: states, capital and peoples' movements
2. The stage: the world
3. Peoples' movements before the world market system
4. Local communities' defence against the world market system
5. Wage labourers' defence against capital owners
6. System peripheries' defence against the center
7. Agriculturalists' defence against the food markets
8. Marginalized peoples' aspiration for equality
9. The self-defence of civil society
10. The peoples' movement system
In Swedish

The Carriers of Democracy

The global peoples' movement system


Chapter 2: The stage, the world


The author will appreciate corrections of language as well as content.

by Jan Wiklund

The structure of the world

The history of the world 1450-2050


If states, business and peoples' movements are actors one may visualize them acting at a stage or place. This place is the world. But the world is of course tricky to describe. It is hard to describe something that constantly changes depending of the actions of the actors, in such a way that it doesn't look like actions by the stage or place. And it is also almost impossible to make a description of "everything" that hangs passably together in a narrative. A theory is needed for the world, of such a nature that the actors have roles in it.

I can see two such theories for the working of the world, two main perspectives on the world's development, which struggle with eachother for the favour of social scientists.

The first, by Björn Hettne called the modernization paradigm, and by Wolfgang Sachs called the development paradigm, presupposes that the Western history is natural and norm-giving. The world consists of developed countries and under-developed. The developed ones have also at some time been under-developed, and the under-developed till some time get developed, if they only leave their traditional patterns behind and modernize, or develop [1].

The modernization paradigm may according to Hettne be summarized in four points.

1. Development is a spontaneous, one-way process inherent in all societies.
2. Development implies a differentiation of the societal structure, different part-structures developing for specific purposes.
3. The development process may be subdivided into different stages, passed through by all societies and displaying what level this society has attained.
4. Development is stimulated through external competition or threats, and through measures for supporting modern sectors and modernizing traditional ones.

The core is point 2: modernizing or development is equal to differentiation or labour division - with the differentiated parts linked together through commodity relations.
The modernization paradigm likes to put up opposites; the society is supposed to move from the one to the other. From tradition to modernity, from status to contract, from particularism to universalism, from inheritance to career. These opposites come from an interpretation of the history of Western Europe/Northern America, which are supposed to describe a natural development that sooner or later will be copied by the whole world.

The modernization paradigm lacks actors, in so far as development seems to wheel forward by itself along a predestinated trajectory. It gives however room for "servants" who may speed up the process. The modernization paradigm is strongly pregnant with value: development is Good. Inherent conflicts are missing, or are written off as a result of the foolishness of traditionalists. The model is rewarding to take in for categories that are favoured by the process. Since there are several of these, varieties have appeared - liberal development theories expressing the self-understanding of capitalists, socialist development theories expressing the self-understanding of state functionaries, etc. They agree about what is happening, as about the desirability of development - even if they quarrel about the ways to speed up the process.

The background of the modernization paradigm in the development optimism of the nineteenth century is easily tractable, even if its apparatus rather spring from the then development critics. It is the most well-spread perspective, particularly in simplistic political debate. It is the perspective of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and it is a professional dogma for the ministers of finance in industrial countries. Development is not only immutable and one-way; it is also natural and morally imposed.

Scientifically, the model began to meet trouble when people in the sixties observed that modernizing according the recommendations of the model often caused more misery than wealth, and that the gap between the rich and the poor grew. Not least, the model fell in disrepute because the Vietnamese peasant movement show emphatically that the advices based on modernization theory was more of American middle class prejudices than science [2].

Critics have directed their attacks to four points.

Fistly, the non-existent empirical ground of the model. It is not true, says for example Tilly, that there is a continuous differentiation in the world. A few trade marks in each business supersede innumerable local producers, small languages die off, giving place to bigger languages, thousands of small principalities and tribal territories have given room for less than two hundred states. During the nineteenth century Europe, the showpiece of modernization, most areas were de-differentiated in so far that they were de-industrialized to the advantage of a few big industrial cities. Social anthropologists add that the cultures of the so-called pre-modern world were quite as differentiated as ours, and may point at Hollywood as an example.

Secondly, the arbitrariness of the stage concept. To which stage do countries like South Africa or Kuwait belong, or a free trade zone in China, or a banana plantation in Honduras? What is the characteristic of a stage? Most often, a GDP standard is used, but there is properly speaking no particular reason to do that, and still less to use the "nation" as a unit.

Thirdly, the idea of development or modernization, words that doesn't mean more, according to for example Wolfgang Sachs or Thomas Wallgren, than a moral approval beforehand of what is actually happening. The development ideologists presuppose, they say, that Western Europe, or perhaps rather the USA, represent the highest culture, a culture that has taken them a few hundred years to reach, and for that reason others have to move in the same direction. It is pathetic, says Sachs, that when there are empirical proofs of the misery this causes, the developmentalists have no other offer than more of the same [3].

Fourthly, and most important, the weakness of considering the development of each country separately, without considering the global context. The conditions for Britain's industrialization were hugely different from that of Ghana. In the first case it was a leading financial, military and political great power, in the other a country that is weak just because the other is stronger and richer. The world market is a mechanism that affects the whole world simultaneously, but affects different parts of it differently. What develops is not different countries, but the relations in the whole world.

The deficiencies of the modernization paradigm began, together with the global peoples' movement boom of the sixties, to induce people to look for other explanations. The tradition that seems to be most advanced in building a coherent alternative is the one that starts from the different effects of the world market in different parts of the world. As a viewpoint it is called "the world-system perspective" [4].


The structure of the world

This part is rather theoretic. It is not absolutely necessary for the understanding of the peoples' movement narratives that start with chapter 3, so you can skip over it and start again with the part The history the world 1450-2050. But since I will use some concepts picked up from the world system perspective, for example center, periphery and link, not to speak of world market system, these terms are explained here if they cause trouble.

According to an article by Immanuel Wallerstein, who may be said to personify the world system perspective, the world and its changes may be described as a system consisting of three patterns [5]. These patterns are

1. The system has a spatial dispersion in form of center and periphery, where the center deals with capital intensive production and the periphery with labour intensive. The center gains from the system while the periphery loses.
2. Its development is characterized by temporal cycles of expansion and stagnation, so called Kontradiev A and Kondratiev B phase.
3. The power relations within the system change between periods of hegemony when one center controls it, and rivalry when several centers struggle for control.

The driving forces can be described through two mechanisms.

4. The central form of production in the system is commodity production for the world market. All economic relations within the system, all production of necessities are linked in long global chains of tasks, while every exchange between the links of the chain takes the form of purhase and sale. The conditions for the links vary vastly, and these variations give the system its dynamics.
5. The pattern is created and maintained by capitalists' ambitions to simultaneously create markets - make everything to commodities that can be sold and bought - and destroy markets to rise a monopoly.

Since production for the world market is the core function of the system, it is called the world market system.

The division of people into classes - exploited direct producers and exploiting owners/controllers - is implied. But each of these are stratified.

In some links, a few capitalists have succeeded in monopolizing a capacity, a technical advantage or a resource. In some links the conditions more resemble the perfect competition of the schoolbooks. The center is the geographical area where most monopolized links are localized. And a monopoly in one link carries with it control of the whole commodity chain.

Because the links are assembled to chains of purchases and sales, owner relations and threats of violence, surplus can be transferred from competition links to monopolized links, from periphery to center. Since these transfers are one-way, winners and losers are created within the system.

In the core of the system there are owners who have monopolized control over global finance. Other owners are hierarchically subordinated to this one. Control over finance is the most important monopoly but there are also other important monopolies, for example monopoly of the leading technology of the age.

To own a monopoly is attractive. For that reason other actors try to get into the monopolized niche. Sometimes they succeed, and then a so called overproduction crisis arises in this business. The sales prices have to be decreased to make all the products marketable and the monopoly profits disappear. When this happens contemporaneously to several monopolies a phase of stagnation appears in the world economy. During the 1980s and 1990s there is such a stagnation phase because the earlier monopolies in auto industry and electronics have been broken.

The method to come out of stagnation is to create new monopolies through socalled innovations, and outsource the demonopolized links to the periphery, or rather to the semiperipheries and create "new industrial countries".

The semiperipheries are areas of both center and periphery characteristics. The semiperipheries are the most dynamic areas within the system, where most things happen, both in terms of system development and popular revolts.

In peripheries and semiperipheries lower salaries prevail, for reasons I come back to, so non-monopolies may survive there. It's the low salaries that make a periphery, which is the purpose of peripheries. Today, accordingly, old businesses like auto and electronics are localised out to the new industrial countries while the center invest in new monopolies within information and genetics.

Technical innovations that may give rise to new phases of expansion take place in the center, because the higher salaries there make it attractive to replace labour with technology.

A whole cycle of stagnation and resurgence usually takes about 50 years and is called, after a Russian economist, Kondratiev cycle. Rise is called Kondratiev A and stagnation is called Kondratiev B. Kondratiev cycles have been traced for the whole world market era. The most marked ones are the four cycles of the industrial society 1794-1815-1848, 1848-1873-1894, 1894-1913-1945 and 1945-1973-??. The first dash in the combination of years corresponds to A, the second corresponds to B.

I will sometimes use this terminology when I describe the setting of a peoples' movement.

Innovations, as well as monopolies, are protected by states, which are nurtured in their turn by allying with monopolies. This implies that states in the center are strong while states in the periphery are weak. There is always a power struggle between states to be sites for profitable monopolies, which are always promoted and enticed in every way. If the most important monopolies are dispersed between several geographic areas we will have several equal states struggling with eachother about the opportunities to monopolize new sectors. If the monopolies are assembled to the domain of one state we will have a hegemonic power that will dominate the world.

So far, conflict periods have been more common than hegemony periods. Hegemony is self-destroying. Firstly, the hegemonic power tends to overinvest in improductive military to protect its position. Secondly, it tends to take out too much of its surplus in luxury. Both take resources from the capacity to create new monopolies, which makes it easier for competitors to sneak in. This is what happens now when Europe and Japan/China begin to challenge the US.

"Development" is equal to the spreading of this system. Extensively, that is spreading to new parts of the world. And intensively, that is incorporating evermore of the human life and society into the commodity chains of purchase and sale. In the beginning of the system, the chains comprised spices, metals and a few luxurious textiles. Today, the world market system is busy incorporating the genes and the human communication.

At each step of the spreading process, conflicts arise. For subjection to the world market system is a painful and blood-stained process that destroys social systems and impoverishes the people that depend of these. It is these conflicts that give rise to the anti-systemic peoples' movements of the modern time.

Wallerstein's approach has been criticized by other scientists within the world market tradition for giving too much attention to economic factors and not enough to political and cultural. Albert Bergesen, for example, has emphasized that the system as a matter of fact has arisen and been spread through violence and colonial conquest, and is maintained by global class organizing. André Gunder Frank has pointed out that center and periphery are more of social and political concepts than economic - Scandinavia belongs to the center while Africa belongs to the periphery although both are wood exporters, he says; the explanation is that salaries are higher in Scandinavia [6]. Giovanni Arrighi tries to integrate both approaches, using Fernand Braudel's metaphor of three levels: The world is like a building with three storeys.

In the basement is the civil society's "non-economic" level ruled by reciprocity. Next floor is the level of the market, ruled by exchange of goods and services between equals. But the top floor is the capitalist storey, ruled by hierarchies and power relations; this is the level of both monopolies and states. While Wallerstein (at least superficially) depicts the world market system seen as from the level of the market, it can also be depicted from the level of capitalism. And then it looks different, more "political" [7].

Arrighi describes the world market system's development as cooperation between a succession of financiers and state hierarchs in their endeavour to get advantages over their competitors and control over popular movements. Through control over both violence and capital, each cooperation project has conquered new bases of strength outside the system, which have been used as resources in the power struggle within it, and invented new, effective methods for control of markets and society.

When a such finance/violence alliance is successful in its thirst for power, this results in a wave of successful and profitable production and commerce, so successful that after a while there is no use for all collected capital. Then a period of stagnation appears within production and commerce with real products; instead pure money dealing and speculation becomes the most important. After all, the aim of both production and commerce is profit and capital accumulation, if that can be arranged without productive efforts, so much the better.

But this changes the preconditions for the model of dominance the alliance has built. The political acceptance for the power of the power alliance decreases, both among the direct producers and among the "middle class" of non-hegemonic exploiters. Peoples' movements get more interest and greater opportunities to sap the power monopoly of the leading alliance. These weaknesses favour new alliances between finance and violence who get opportunities to challenge successfully. Historically, these new challengers have also been obliged to offer something to the leading social movements of the age to get their aspired hegemony.

Arrighi sees four such "system cycles" where a finance/violence alliance have taken control over the world market system, expanded it, degenerated into speculation and become a victim of peoples' movements and challenging finance/violence alliances.

  • Genova's bankers and Spain's armies ca 1480-1620

  • The Dutch merchants and the Orange dynasty ca 1620-1780

  • The British capitalists and state, ca 1780-1930

  • The US big enterprises and state, from ca 1930 on.

The years mark end points; the control has been strongest a few decades into the age, after which it is slowly decreasing (the grey-marked indicates a speculation phase):



Arrighi sees these cycles as more important and more signifying than the Kondratiev cycles. In other words, the market is less important and less signifying than power.

With the growth of the system, the leading power has got greater and more resourceful. Each new hegemony has built its power on integrating some new aspect of production, society and life into the world market system chains of purchase and sale relations and into the power sphere of the power alliance. The Dutch power built on integration of violence, the British on integration of production, the US on integration of what Arrighi calls transactions that is management, marketing and product development.

In the next part there is a more detailed description of which the power positions were and which peoples' movements they challenged and to a great degree were victims of.

Other authors have used other metaphors and focused on other factors; I will return to some of these in due time. What is common to them is that they see a world market system consisting of a gaining center and a losing periphery, through an organizing building of classes exploiting other classes. It is also the contrasts between center and periphery that has contributed with most of the intellectual energy in the attempts to describe the development of the world [8].

Of course the world system perspective has been criticized. According to Shannon there are two kinds of criticism [9].

One kind is focusing on the lack of scientific credibility in the world system perspective. According to them too much is founded on assumptions. There are for example no clear figures proving that the center plunders the periphery, at least not at the scale that the theory suggests. To which the defenders of the theory answer that social science theories can not be proved, usually it is enough to be able to produce credible arguments that cover the facts and can not be counter-proved. The critics also say that some points in the theory are so vague that they can never be either proved or counter-proved; for example they point at the Kondratiev cycles. And David Gordon et al have contended (without expressively attacking Wallerstein) that they are more political than economic and depend of the smooth functioning of a class compromise. Rise would imply a working labour peace while stagnation would mean that some of the parties have given notice, trying to push for a better agreement [10].

The other kind of criticism is rather ideological. People have for example accused the world system perspective of overemphasizing economic forces to the expense of political and cultural, and overemphasizing the importance of the center to the expense of the periphery. Here, of course, there are not "rights" and "wrongs", just more or less reasonable interpretations. And, as Arrighi has shown, it is possible to emphasize more the political factors without changing theories much.

But there is also a third kind of criticism Shannon doesn't mention.

The world system perspective, with its simple stipulating of the rich parts of the world as center and the poor parts as periphery is only a description of the routine-bound structures work, i.e. state and business. The world market system is the sum of the routines of state and business.

The center of peoples' movements is rather the mobilizations that serve as examples of others and even more mobilizations that have most power to affect the system as a whole to the advantage of people's movements. But these centers of peoples' movements are seldom in the center of the world market system. They tend to be situated in the semiperiphery and sometimes even in its periphery, and moreover move fast between sites. An over-explicit case was the peasant movement in Vietnam that made the system quiver around 1970.

And the civil society, which is the principal of the peoples' movements, has no center at all.

And if one then one-sidedly decides that the world has a center, the center of the world market system, one decides simultaneously that state and business is more important than the civil society and more worth considering.

For me, who depicts the world from a peoples' movement point of view, this should be a mortal sin.

But yet, it is difficult to understand why peoples' movements appear from the civil society to defend its people and its culture against state and business and the system these are parts of, if one have no reasonable picture of the functioning of this system.

So, waiting for still better theories, I will assume a worldview based in the world system perspective to describe the scene or background for peoples' movements actions. Meanwhile I will try to balance, not to make the system to a principal protagonist. And if I have to use the terms center and periphery, I am aware of the imperfection of the terms. But I have not found any better, and I can just remind my readers now and then that in using them I will only talk about the center and periphery of the system, not of the world.


The history of the world 1450-2050

The system described above has existed for some five hundred years. It has a development history that can be described in five points [11].

  • Earth, work, wealth and all relations and life spheres have been increasingly commercialized. Social anthropologists have called this an increasingly monocentric economy; while all other human cultures have managed different needs in different terms, the world market system has included them all as exchanges of money [12]. The aim of commercialization is to make it easier to make a profit at the purchase-sale relations that are the core transaction of the system. But since such a procedure is extremely insensitive to the difference between vital and trivial needs it is also extremely conflict breeding.
    It is of particular importance that work has been commercialized, either by spreading of wage labour to evermore sectors of the economy, or by making work dependent in other ways on the world market, for example as non-waged service to wage labour.

  • Capital intensity in all activity has increasingly grown, that is, ever more accumulated labour and raw material is needed to give preconditions for production. This implies that concentration of ownership and wealth is concentrated at increasingly fewer hands. The size and life-length of enterprises increases with time.

  • Capital is increasingly internationalized, in the sense that the localizing of investments is increasingly independent of where the investor is sited.

  • States and entrprises, that is, formal, routine governed organisations, for that reason get increasingly more power over people, collectives, and local communities. A trivial consequence of this tiat the routines get more power to repress the spontaneous expressions of life. Another less trivial is that this forces people and collectives to organise better, for defence. A third, more dismal one, is that peoples' collectives' and local communities' understanding of the world and their own situation decreases.

  • The system expanded increasingly to new territories and populations until about 1900 when it covered the whole earth.

The system was born in Western Europe during the fifteenth century [13].

The late middle age was in Europe an age when peasants and lower classes generally succeeded in strengthening their position. There were several reasons for that. There was a shortage of labour after the Black Death, so the direct producers could raise the price for their participation. Decreasing yields in agriculture caused that the parts of it that could go to the exploiters also decreased. And the power structures went into disarray when the international trade system of the High Middle Age went to pieces about 1350. This caused an increasingly desperate struggle within the upper classes over the surplus, to the detriment of their internal coherence and political leadership.

These internal antagonisms within the upper classes were utilized quite well by the lower classes for some while. The living standard rose; according to Braudel, the level in the late fifteenth century wouldn't be superseded until the 1920s [14]. Authority was dissolved. Democratic ideologies, with Christian overtones, got popular, thanks to the incompetence of the upper classes and the mobilization of the direct producers. Keeping the old restrictions in power met with increasing difficulty.

About 1500 the authorities succeeded in surmounting their internal disagreements and concentrating for a counter-offensive.

The strategy was not to go back to the old system. During the early middle age the power had been local. The economy was redistributive, that is, the surplus was distributed according to custom, governed by political power relations. The local land owner was also a judge, warlord and political boss in his community.

But now, the ruler strategy was changed. Since the popular movements were so effective in gaining power at the local level, the new system was built up at the national and international level. A combination of military dictatorships - "the renaissance state", "absolutism" - national market and transnationally connected commodity and finance chains, shattered the negotiating power of the direct producers and forced down the living standard below the hunger line for the majority within a few generations. Meanwhile, power and pomp was concentrated to a minority to a degree that hadn't existed since antiquity.

The leaders of the attack were an alliance of the Spanish military monarchy and the Genovese high finance, where both managed their part of the agreement to the advantage of both.

The military monarchy took responsibility for violence. It conquered South America, enslaved their inhabitants and plundered them for silver. The Genovese bankers used the silver to get control over the European economy, and in due time it would be used by the Europeans to get control over the world's economy. In return, the Genovese bankers financed the Spanish armies.

Other European dynasties tried to the best of their abilities, and in self-defence, to imitate the Spanish-Genovese model. But lack of capital condemned them for a long time to inferiority and forced them to use even more brutal force against their own subjects than the Spanish had to. Thought-control, ideological indoctrination, exterminating of independent organisations, death penalty for everything from political opposition to begging, incarceration, forced labour and witch-hunts helped to force down wages to a tenth of the fifteenth century level and create a surplus to use for capital accumulation, warfare and luxury [15].

In the new system that was being constructed there was one center, Western Europe, and two periferies, Eastern Europe and South America. Between them there was a division of labour.

  • The center comprised financial and military control. There were also the activities that demanded capital and for that reason was possible to monopolize. In the early world market system era this applied primarily to arms and naval technology, according to Braudel the businesses that enabled Europe to conquer the world. But other advanced industrial products were also produced in the center.

  • In the periphery, a still more repressive labour regime was applied than in the center. In eastern Europe servitude was introduced in the sixteenth century, in South America there was no legal protection at all. So products from there - food, raw materials and labour - were cheap for the buyers in Western Europe. In the beginning of the era Eastern Europe was specialized on grain and South America on metals.


The world in 1550


The low prices of peripheral products linked to the center's monopoly of violence resulted in the accumulation of surplus in the center, which made it still easier for the center to finance its accumulation of power.

But what caused the European power accumulation from the beginning, and what enabled Europe to conquer the whole world? Braudel points at a few technical inventions, but this seems superficial to me. What created this technical superiority?

Perhaps the most important one was the immense financial advantage made possible by the American silver, which made it feasible for Europe to buy the rest of the world. Apart from that, it seems that many historians are inclined to think that the secret was the state system, that is, the fact that within the center there were several roughly equal states, each dominated by a well integrated ruling class rather than a dynasty. This construction implied a decisive advantage. Competition between the states forced through a close cooperation between states and capitals, creating an advantage over models where there was no such cooperation. In this way technological and organisational efficiency was favoured, not least in the armed forces. So the armies that conquered the rich and mighty India in the eighteenth century were small but well officered and armed [16].

In the late sixteenth century, the opposition against the system grew. Peasants and local upper classes revolted against the dictatorship of the state and against the increasing taxes used for financing the repressive apparatus. Meanwhile, Spain's competitors - France, England and not least Sweden - banded together in their ambitions to get a part of the benefits of the system. In the early seventeenth century this resulted in the devastating war called the Thirty Years War.

The most successful of the revolts broke out in the industrial center of the age, in the Netherlands, and was directed against the Spanish empire. It was run by an alliance of merchants, local upper classes, and artisans, it lasted eighty years and coincided in the end with the Thirty Years War.

In 1648 all social forces in Europe agreed that the system had to be reformed to avoid a common extinction. The leaders of the reform were the Dutch merchants, who had by now achieved an enormous prestige. They were, through their rebellion, pioneers of the national autonomy coveted by all challenging states, they had financed the winning side of the Thirty Years War, they had instructed their allies in a new and effective war technology, they had, through their grain trade with "the other periphery", Eastern Europe, their spice trade with India and Indonesia, and their successful piracy against the Spaniards become the most liquid capitalists in Europe. Meanwhile, they were passable as representatives of the Peoples' movements since their rebellion was directed against royal taxation.

The new Dutch system built on two principles. The European societies was organised in a state system, where all center states were formal equals. And private citizens were excepted from responsibility for government actions; in other words, merchants were allowed to trade with all warring parties.

The last principle favoured the Dutch merchants. They were also favoured by three other keystones of the Dutch system.

  • A social invention, the limited company, with the attached stock exchange. Through these, capital could be directed towards the Duch trade, and Amsterdam could be the center for all financial transactions in Europe.

  • A particular limited company, the United East India Company, VOC in Dutch. It was equipped with military powers and set to conquer the trade routes of Asia. In applying a touchstone of strict profitability for its violence - it limited itself to annihilating competitors and terrorizing subcontractors - the Dutch could make the system much more effective than what the Spaniards and the Genovese had succeeded with.

  • A new attitude to the direct producers of the center. Since the Dutch revolt had been made possible by support from the lower classes, the merchant aristocracy had to yield some of their profits. Compensation, or integration, had to supplement for violence as a method of disciplination, and this tendency was strengthened by the English revolt against the royal dictatorship in the 1640s. The rulers met with increasing difficulties in their ambition to keep people down; historians has called this "the crisis of the seventeenth century" [17]. Of course they made up for this in the periphery; Arrighi thinks that the Dutch were the implementors of European racism on a grand scale, since they were the first to apply radically different norms of behaviour in center and periphery.

The Dutch hegemony was undermined from its inception. Other states began to practice nationalist economic politics, or used their power to promote Dutch methods in their territories and tried at the best of their ability to exclude Dutch merchants. One method, practiced by Britain and France, to get control over the world trade, at Dutch expense, was settler colonies with slave labour. VOC was also increasingly ineffective and corrupt, privileged as it was, and vulnerable to British and French piracy.

During the eighteenth century wars were waged between Britain and France about the leftover from Dutch trade. But what broke the Dutch hegemony was the systemic chaos that resulted from the wars, primarily that important groups refused to fall into line. Settler colonists in North America, slaves in Haiti, and direct producers in France rose in the late eighteenth century and upset the game.


The world in 1750


The capacity of the British finance/violence alliance to reorganise the system in the early nineteenth century gave hegemony to them. The capacity was based in control over the socalled triangular trade - the Atlantic trade with slaves and sugar as main ingredients - and the military conquest of the immense wealth of Bengal. But an ideological leadership was also needed, and this was based in the struggle against Napoleon's imperial plans in the name of national liberty.

The British system reform offered several news.

  • The revolutions that had helped Britain to hegemony couldn't be undone. So popular influence on states was recognized; the states were not seen any longer as the private property of dynasties. The settler states of America were also admitted to the state system.

  • A new principle was formulated to be superior to the state interests that popular majorities had gotten such a fatal influence over: free trade, or the market. The whole power of the hegemonic state was used to promote the monocentricity of the economy and commercialize things, labour and land/nature [18]. This market was controlled by London's high finance, by force of its control over a far-flung colonial empire.
    For after the rather discriminating use of violence of the Dutch, the world was now rapidly opened by British, and after that also by other European colonial armies. In 1800 European states controlled 35% of the worlds land, in 1914 they controlled 85%.

  • Production was integrated in the capitalist control in the form of enterprises where workers were ranged in a disciplinary system of command. The direct producers lost what autonomy they had had when they owned tools and workshops themselves, and became increasingly wage labourers.

While the Dutch hegemony had survived for a hundred and fifty years, the British was worn down at a quicker pace. For the popular movements had begun to learn how to struggle against the system.

In the center, labour movements arose to catch control over important links of the system. Both labour and agrarian movements turned violently against the corporate liberalism the British supported, because it destroyed both labour and land [19]. The market, which was now definitely superordinated to the civil society, knows no difference between the vital and the trivial, and the demand of the rich can easily cut out the survival of the poor, the nature and the local communities with no other excuse than it has the power to do it, according to Polanyi. And in the peripheries, national movements organised to resist the colonial system.

But as in earlier systemic crises, the direct cause for a hegemonic shift was conflicts between different state and capital combinations.

As early as in the 1870s, two center powers appeared which in many ways were more advanced than Britain. Meanwhile there was a deep recession, or Kondratiev B, so continued growth was only possible at the others' expense.


The world in 1900


The new center powers were USA and Germany. Both had potentially bigger home markets than Britain. Both were busy building a more effective industry than Britain's, based in large-scale enterprises instead of family businesses.

It became apparent that USA was the most effective of them, both at utilizing the advantages of the large-scale enterprise and utilizing the global power balances created by the increasingly strong peoples' movements. So it was USA that after two devastating wars reorganised the system under its leadership in 1944 in Bretton Woods, therewith guaranteeing its hegemony to the end of the century.

For the resources of the USA were immense at mid-century, compared with any possible competitor. Thanks to its isolated location, the country had for a long time been relieved of military costs, making productive investments extremely profitable. So capital was lured to the USA from the whole world, and 1945 USA was the biggest creditor and dominating producer with more than half the world's production. The American form of large-scale enterprise was unique; contrary to the German cartel it integrated the whole commodity chain in the same organisation. This rendered possible economic and organisational planning and removal of profits to the most favourable link. To this was added ideological leadership: USA was the only possible hegemonic power that had anything to offer the peoples' movements, thanks to its New Deal and its rather positive view on decolonization.

The US system built on the following news:

  • The labour movements of the center were acknowledged as junior partners in power, insofar as mass production for mass consumption was the dominating social and cultural principle in the system center. The precondition was of course that the labour movements abandoned other social and cultural aims.

  • The national movements were acknowledged insofar as all peoples were admitted to the state system. The states were also, as a concession to labour and agrarian movements, granted the right to break, to some degree, with free trade and run a finance, welfare and development policy of their own. Not least the US itself took, as a state, responsibility for its finance via the public Federal Reserve System, instead of relying on private banks.
    But the states were denied the right to secede from the system. The US managed it so that American businesses were granted right to operate in all countries.

  • A number of supranational institutions were created to look after the law-abidingness of all. Some of these institutions - the International Monetary Fund and later the World Trade Organisation - have much more resources than most states, particularly states in the system periphery.

The hegemony of the US was worn down even faster than the British.

For it appeared that the American big corporation as a model was a rather transient asset that was impossible for the US to keep as a monopoly. When developed it spread rapidly in the system, which resulted in a rapid drain on the US liquidity. In the mid seventies London began to show tendencies to regain its old role as the world's financial center.

Moreover, the peoples' movements appeared quite as militant, despite the USA's formal acknowledgement of their rights. About 1970 the Vietnamese agrarian movement succeeded in seriously undermining USA's economy, while labour movements, agrarian movements, and the American civil rights movement together called the legitimacy of the system in question, the Iranian revolution following ten years after. Meanwhile, the USA had constant problems with national movements in Latin America.

These, and other more pedestrian popular movements, have during the twentieth century succeeded so well in forcing the system to concessions that the ruling class began, in the seventies, to call in question if these concessions were tenable. From the Dutch war of liberation and on, states and business have seen it as advantageous to integrate peoples' movements who might otherwise cause trouble for the system, with higher salaries, social policies, and from the nineteenth century, citizenship and suffrage. The costs for this have been recovered in the system peripheries.

But from the late nineteenth century, peoples' movements in the system peripheries have also become effective enough to force the system to concessions. Together the peoples' movements had become so effective that the twentieth century was the first century in the history of the world market system when the average living standard didn't decrease. No one was left to pay for integration, which was discovered by the finance/violence alliance during the Thatcher-Reagan era. The destruction of integration mechanisms most people see as a sign of the strength of the rulers is rather a sign of the system's weakness and failing solvency.

Around the century shift we are in a phase when the system is dominated by finance and speculation instead of trade and production, a phase that is becoming increasingly chaotic. This is a sign that the US hegemony is approaching its end. The question is what will come next.


The world in 2000


According to Arrighi, hegemony is conquered by a finance/violence alliance which has firstly greater financial resources than all contenders, secondly greater violence resources, and thirdly a proposal for surmounting the systemic chaos and establish a new order. It is also an advantage to be ideologically leading, insofar that the proposed order to some degree is seen as good by the leading peoples' movements of the age.

It is hard to see anyone performing that role.

Neither Japan nor the EU is strong enough. They don't have greater production capacity than the US, and Japan is too small to get it. An alliance between Japan and the US along the same pattern as the Genova-Spain alliance may be a possibility; against it stands that they are too similar to avoid rivalry, according to Arrighi. On the other hand, China will in 2020 have a greater production capacity than any other state and might be a better partner for Japan. For such an outcome tells that the East Asian states seem to be the only ones that haven't suffered from the usual self-effacement of states [20].

Others don't think that anyone can challenge the USA, which will accordingly have to struggle on, increasingly unable to keep control, increasingly unable to withstand a growing systemic chaos [21].

There is a possibility that the problem can not be solved within the world market system we are used to since more than five hundred years. In that case there are two possibilities [22].

One possibility is that the rulers of the system take initiative to a system shift, like their predecessors did five hundred years ago. What a new system would look like is barely imaginable. Experiences from the last time suggest that such a shift would be immensely brutal for the direct producers.

The most likely outcome of such a shift ought to be one or more transnational empires, perhaps in the hands of a combined G8, IMF, WTO, NATO and Security Council. Such a step wouldn't be new; there are many thousand years' tradition of empires. An empire would be authoritarian, inegalitarian, but safe [23].

An empire would immediately end the autonomy of transnational corporations. One possibility is that these, in self-defence, would establish a system of their own, that would dispense with states. Such a system might perhaps also appear as a default consequence of state insolvency. It would be most similar to the feudal anarchy of the tenth century and offer great possibilities and massive risks.

One last possibility is that the rulers fail, thanks to powerful peoples' movement mobilizations, and the system with its hierarchies crumbles. Hopefully, this will lead to a more democratic and egalitarian society.

All that can be said is that future is more uncertain than it had been for five hundred years. But we know also from chaos theory that unstable conditions are easy to affect with small means. For that reason, perhaps the peoples' movements have a strategically easier task than it has ever had, and that their possibility to affect development in a democratic direction is greater than it has been in five hundred years [24].

So far we have considered the world from Braudel's two top floors, market's and capital's. Perhaps one should evaluate what the results have been for the first floor, the floor of civil society.

Such an evaluation is not easily done. But the following contentions are not unreasonable:

  • The power of bureaucratic structures has increased, and the power of individuals and groups has decreased during the world market system. States and great corporations have infinitely greater possibilities to influence development to their advantage than had their predecessors five hundred years ago. Uncertainty for people and local communities has increased as a consequence, and their negotiation power has decreased.

  • The world's majority probably works harder today than it did five hundred years ago. The reward for this work diminished successively until about 1900, and then increased somewhat. But nobody has ever demonstrated that the average income is higher today than in 1450.

  • The living standard has in many instances diminished even when the direct reward has increased, because the access to necessities from commons without the market has been destroyed and can not be made up with by money. While people before the world market system could live in frugality and still live rather well, their descendants live in poverty as soon as they don't consume as much as the global upper class [25].

  • Due to the constant transfers of surplus from system periphery to system center, the chasms between rich and poor has increased during the era of the world market system. While the upper class of the system is richer than any upper class has ever been, most people live at the same subsistence level as they have always done.

  • The gap is also been intensified and embittered by a structural racism, as a method to school different geographical categories into attractive or unattractive assignments. Structural racism didn't exist before 1450. Perhaps one should add that a comparative gap between sexes have also been permanented, although there were old traditions to start with [26].

  • The endeavour to create markets and innovate has multiplied the capacity to exploit nature and labour and turn them into products. This exploitative capacity, linked to the inability of the monocentric economy to differ vital needs from trivial ones have created an environmental crisis that threats human life with annihilation [27].

Are there any plain positive merits to set up against this? One would like to mention that the opportunities have increased technically speaking to get all needs met for the majority of people, and to abolish all poverty. One would like to mention that there is an opportunity for the first time for all people to communicate with eachother and take part of eachother's culture. But these are only unfulfilled promises, not reality. One would also like to point at the perhaps only social progress that has reached a mass scale, the reduction of epidemics, as the only success of the world market system. But we don't know if the methods it is attained with are tenable in the long run.
The chapters of this book will deal with the history of this first floor. For the assignment of the peoples' movements is to protect the social society against systems and routines that grow inhuman and choking, against irrational exploitation, repression and discrimination, or with other words, the destructive consequences of the world market system. So the history of the civil society is also to a high degree the history of social movements.



[1] Björn Hettne, Development theory and the Third World, Sarec Report R2:1982; Wolfgang Sachs, The development dictionary, Zed 1992. A more thorough critique of the perspective is found in Charles Tilly, Big structures, large processes, huge comparisons, Sage 1984. To the most representative researchers of this perspective belong, in rising aggressivity, Talcott Parsons, Daniel Lerner, Bert Hoselitz, Walt Rostow, and Samuel Huntington. But they date back to nineteenth century scientists like Émile Durkheim and have strangely enough developed from a conservative resistance to "development" to an enthusiastic acceptance.

[2] Noam Chomsky, American power and the new mandarin, Pelican 1969, depicts leading representatives of the modernization paradigm like Walt Rostow and Samuel Huntington considering bombing as a charitable action to the peasants since they would thereby be forced to the towns where they had to embrace modernity if they wanted or not.

[3] Wolfgang Sachs, The development dictionary. Thomas Wallgren, Ohållbart om hållbarhet, Miljöförbundet 1989.

[4] The best books about this is Immanuel Wallerstein's Historical capitalism, Verso 1983, and World system analysis, Duke University Press 2004. Another pedagogic book is Thomas Shannon, The world system perspective, Westview Press 1989. It also contains a review of the criticism of the perspective. I also recommend Peter J. Taylor, Political geography, Longman 1989. Christopher Chase-Dunn has also written a heavy volume, covering most: Global formation - structures of the world-economy, Blackwell 1989.

[5] Immanuel Wallerstein, The 'discoveries' and human progress, Estudos e ensaios 1988.

[6] Albert Bergesen, Turning world-system theory on its head, in Mike Featherstone (ed), Global structure - nationalism, globalization and modernity, Sage 1990. André Gunder Frank, Dependent accumulation and underdevelopment, Monthly Review Press 1978. Another author that has emphasized the political, in protest against Wallerstein's too economistic view, is George modelski, Long cycles in world politics, Macmillan 1987.

[7] Giovanni Arrighi, The long twentieth century, Verso 1994, referring to Fernand Braudel, The wheels of commerce, Harper Collins 1983.

[8] One of the roots to the world system perspective is found with East European Marxists in the early nineteenhundreds, for example Rosa Luxemburg and Nikolaj Bucharin, who were the first - together with the Indian Dadabhai Naoroji - to recognize the different results of capitalism in center and periphery. Those who coined the terms center and periphery were the economists at the UN Conisión Económica para América Latina, CEPAL, primarily Raúl Prebisch, Fernando Cardoso, Osvaldo Sunkel and Celso Furtado. Among historians who have studied the development of the world market system may be mentioned Karl Polanyi and Fernand Braudel. Those who have introduced some strictness into the perspective are André Gunder Frank, Samir Amin, Terrence Hopkins, Christopher Chase-Dunn, Giovanni Arrighi and foremost Immanuel Wallerstein.

[9] Thomas Shannon, The world system perspective, Westview Press 1989.

[10] David Gordon, Richard Edwards & Michael Reich, Segmented work, divided workers, Cambridge University Press 1982.

[11] Christopher Chase-Dunn, The world-system since 1950 - what has really changed, in Charles Bergquist (ed), Labor in capitalist world-economy, Sage 1984.

[12] Paul Bohannan, Social anthropology, Holt, Rinehart and Winston 1969.

[13] See the books mentioned above by Giovanni Arrighi, Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein, plus Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the people without history, University of California Press 1982. The latter has the advantage of being more exhaustive when describing non-European cultures. - Some historians would rather say "transformed" than "was born". See for example A.G. Frank & B.K. Gills (eds), The world system, Routledge 1993, that contends that the Eurasian economic system was born about 5000 years ago and after that only has gone through hegemony shifts. In a peoples' movement perspective however this is hairsplitting.

[14] Fernand Braudel, The Structures of Everyday Life, Harper & Row 1982

[15] The control mechanisms are described in Sheldon J. Watts, A social history of Western Europe 1450-1720, Hutchinson University Library 1984 and Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, Knopf 1978. Bronislaw Geremek, Poverty: a history, Blackwell 1994, describes the terror against peasants who were evicted from their land by the new market mechanisms. The witch-hunts is a theme for a whole literature, for example Hugh Trevor-Roper, The European witch-craze of the 16th and 17th centuries, Pengun 1969. According to Trevor-Roper, the splinters of medieval radical Christianity as well as popular ideology in general was included in witchery.

[16] The literature about "the rise of the West" is copious. The books I have found best is William McNeill, The pursuit of power, Blackwell 1983, Kenneth Pomeranz: The great divergence; China, Europe and the making of the modern world, Princeton University Press 2000, and David Christian: Maps of time, an introduction to big history, University of California Press 2004. Christian also stresses Europe's part as a link between the trade networks in the old and the new world. - One may compare with the fabolous technological breakthroughs during the socalled "warring states" in China in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C, when cast iron, steel, mass production of metal goods and modern harness come into use.

[17] Trevor Aston (ed), Crisis in Europe 1560-1660, Routledge and Kegan Paul 1965.

[18] Karl Polanyi, The great transformation, Henry Holt 1944.

[19] Karl Polanyi, ibid.

[20] Giovanni Arrighi, The rise of East Asia and the withering away of the interstate system, 90th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, aug 1995. See also Giovanni Arrighi & Beverly Silver, Chaos and governance in the modern world system, University of Minnesota Press 1999.

[21] For example Samir Amin in a number of articles; see for example U.S. Imperialism, Europe, and the Middle East, Moonthly Review Nov 2004..

[22] According to Arrighi, The long twentieth century.

[23] Probably, it is an outcome like this that is depicted in Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press 2000 - even if they somewhat confusedly believe it to be already accomplished.

[24] This discussion is elaborated by Immanuel Wallerstein in a number of essays, for example Peace, Stability, and Legitimacy, 1990-2025/2050, in Geir Lundestad (ed), The fall of great powers - Peace, stability, and legitimacy, Scandinavian University Press 1993

[25] This has been discussed by Wolfgang Sachs, The development dictionary. Also Karl Polanyi, The great transformation, treats the strange fact that misery may increase in the midst of increased wages.

[26] Immanuel Wallerstein, The discoveries and human progress, and Kathryn Ward, The economic status of women in the world-system, in Albert Bergesen (ed), Crises in the world-system, Sage 1983.

[27] See chapter 9, part Defense of the resource base. See also Vandana Shiva, Ecology and the politics of survival, Sage 1991.



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