REAL AND IMAGINARY, IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
W. Warren Wagar
(this short paper was presented at the annual meeting of the
American Sociological Association
in Toronto on August 11, 1997 at a PEWS roundtable on global democracy)
I have six points to raise.
- Point One. I like the expression "antisystemic movements,"
as expounded in the oft-quoted 1989 volume of that title co-authored by
my Binghamton colleagues Giovanni Arrighi, Terry Hopkins, and Immanuel
Wallerstein. But I disagree with the way they use this expression. I think
they are too generous, much too generous. Among the older antisystemic
movements they list Social Democracy, Communism, trade unionism, and movements
for national liberation; and they also speak of the "new" antisystemic
social movements, which include the Peace, Green, and New Age movements,
the women's movements, and the minority rights movements. Now, I submit
that none of these was or is antisystemic except portions of the Social
Democratic Second International in its pre-1914 heyday; and portions of
the Leninist Third International in the period from 1919 to about 1923,
together with various small Trotskyite movements in later years. "Antisystemic"
should mean what it says: against the system, against the capitalist world-system
with its globalized world-economy and its various sovereign nation- (or
rather would-be sovereign, would-be nation-) states. (Actually, none of
them is sovereign and very few, fewer than 10%, are one-nation-states.)
Antisystemic should mean against the system--the whole system, lock, stock,
and barrel, the world-system.
- Point Two. Most of the purported antisystemic movements were and are
movements--whatever their ideological trappings--to wrest a share of power
and wealth from the owners and managers of the world-system on behalf of
the segmental interests they represent. This is true whether we are talking
about Indians or Amerindians, women or gays, trade-union members or Untouchables.
They all seek a piece of the action, but within the system. Within the
system. For example, what do most Palestinians want? They want land, restitution,
recognition. They want full membership in the United Nations, the authority
to send and receive ambassadors, the right to print pretty postage stamps,
and have their own national airline--perhaps PalAir? Is the movement for
Palestinian independence antisystemic? Don't fool yourself. In the current
world situation, and given all that the Palestinian people have endured
since the mid-1940s, I strongly favor the creation and recognition of an
independent Palestinian state. But such a state would not be, could not
be, antisystemic--nor for that matter are the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah.
The point is that the modern capitalist world-system is not intrinsically
white, male, straight, and European. It did historically originate in a
white, male, straight, European milieu (unless you're a disciple of Andre
Gunder Frank), but now that it has been fairly launched, anybody can play.
If the population of the world in the next century should suddenly be slashed
to nothing but parthenogenetic Nigerian Lesbian Buddhists and gay Japanese
Presbyterian clones, the capitalist world-system could nevertheless persist
- Point Three. The rest of the so-called antisystemic movements today--now
I'm thinking of the Greens, the Peace folks, and the New Agers--do not
necessarily represent segmental interests and may have a genuinely global
focus, but very few of them are really against the system as such. Rather,
they just want the system to be composed of good people, with lofty spiritual
values, and a vast desire to save the planet. Most of the members of these
movements have no fundamental quarrel with the system as such, only with
its wicked ways, which can be mended with a good healthy dose of mystical
or pacifist or ecological fervor. The best proof that they have no fundamental
quarrel with the system is that the system shows no fear of them and, by
and large, lets them alone. Even world federalists are immune from surveillance,
since their idea of world government is prosystemic. A world federal government,
as they see it, would simply protect the nation-states and economic arrangements
and cultural differences that already exist. Far from creating a new world
civilization, it would help to stabilize and perpetuate the old one.
- Point Four. There is no possibility of global democracy in the world
of 1997 or of any year or decade soon. The system has been on a winning
streak since at least the mid-1920s, and moves inexorably from strength
to strength. Nothing, not the Great Depression, not the second World War,
not the breakup of the European colonial empires, not the rise and fall
of the Soviet Union and its bloc, has done anything but strengthen it.
And not one authentically antisystemic movement of any significance exists
in the world today to oppose it.
- Point Five. The modern capitalist world-system will not enter into
decline or attract significant opposition until and unless it begins to
fail, and fail spectacularly: through such disasters as the wholesale declassement
of its middle classes, a series of global environmental calamities resulting
in the implosion of the world-economy, or an apocalyptically ruinous North-South
- Point Six. Even then, antisystemic movements will prove ineffectual
until and unless they develop a deep cosmopolitan socialist humanism transcending
all segmental creeds and loyalties, and until and unless they collaborate
on a global scale to oppose the force of the world-system with their own
unrelenting force. The notion of a popular front of all kinds of disgruntled
elements linked by no common thread except dissatisfaction with the status
quo is a notion doomed to fail. We've been there, done that, and it doesn't
deliver the goods. Seular socialist humanism--by which I mean rational
faith in democracy, civil liberties, public stewardship of capital, and
the unity and common destiny of humankind--must lead us out of the cultural
anarchy and reaction of the now-expiring 20th century to a new commonsense
global republic of working men and women. What drags us down is our desperate
allegiance to segmental cultures long outgrown; what can lift us up is
the flickering but persistent flame of reason. Without the psychic cohesion
that only a common world-view can supply, all would-be oppositional movements
are just whistling in the dark. This does not mean that segmental beliefs
and loyalties must be abandoned, if and when they are compatible with secular
socialist humanism. But such beliefs can never take precedence over our
common world-view. We have to believe, and believe more powerfully and
effectually than everybody else, in our common world-view, or the struggle
is lost. So I am not speaking here of compromises or coalitions or half-measures.
I am talking about a binding rational faith in human unity and destiny
that demands and receives our paramount loyalty.
W. Warren Wagar August 11, 1997 Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Civitas Mundi