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Re: Fw: question re anti-systemic movements
by Threehegemons
20 January 2002 18:47 UTC
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> I am wondering whether el Qaeda is an anti-systemic movement, in the
> sense of world(-)system(s) research.
> If not, why not?
> In a very general sense, it might be considered as anti-systemic.
> However, it is not clear to me whether it is anti-systemic in a WS
> sense. (Is the adjective "anti-systemic" within world(-)system(s)
> research reserved for leftist movements?)
> Gert

The text 'anti-systemic movements' identifies them as beginning in 1848.  In 
other words, the authors (Wallerstein, Arrighi, Hopkins) are basically talking 
about the workers and nationalist movements.  These movements challenged the 
inequality between classes and nations.  But even narrowly defining these 
movements as 'anti-systemic' has its problems, since, according to the analysis 
of these authors , these movements typically move toward positions that 
ultimately reinforce the strength of the system. They did so by seeing the 
state as their savior and eventually disciplining their supporters by adapting 
the ideology of liberalism, or slow and steady 'progress'. Furthermore, these 
movements largely neglected or were antagonistic to what became the demands of 
the 'new social movements'--feminism, environmentalism, hostility to big 
bureaucries, etc.  Put another way, these movements reinforced the domination 
of the weakest stratas of the system, until they were challenged in 1968.  

I haven't seen sustained discussion of what counts as an 'anti-systemic' 
movement.  I have heard much informal discussion, questioning whether the 1848 
starting point is useful, whether movements that were not a part of the 
conventional 'left' loosely conceived, should be included. Wallerstein notes in 
places that the question of whether movements should form organizations is a 
debatable one--but the 'anti-systemic' movements framework is very focused on 

The question of whether movements that actively work to stengthen patriarchy, 
militarism, etc but clearly oppose a liberal world order should be considered 
'anti-systemic' is also vexing.  One could argue that the claims of 
conservative landlords, fascists, religious fundamentalists et al that they are 
defending a community against the corrosions of capitalism is so much b.s. to 
win over the masses, but the same argument can be made about the historic uses 
of socialist and marxist ideologies.

More generally, the implicit notion of 'anti-systemic' movement thinking--that 
one changes the world by building a movement and adopting the proper strategy 
may one day (perhaps soon) be regarded as a relic of the enlightenment, 
unilluminating for explaining reality.  After all, world systems analysis 
itself has done much to demolish this belief--first Wallerstein undermined the 
claims that the French Revolution involved the triumph of a bourgeoisie intent 
on creating 'capitalism' (he was also always skeptical that the Soviet 
revolution had produced something worth calling 'socialism'), then Arrighi 
suggested that the history of capitalism is largely the product of the 
reconstruction of trade and production systems in the wake of financial 
expansions, rather than the history of class struggles...  Gunder Frank's 
claims about the long continuities of the system also undermine any remaining 
belief in the power of some single political project to simply shape or oppose 
the system.

Most recently, Arrighi has emphasized the development of a new complex of 
social relations in East Asia that has roots that precede its incorporation 
into the capitalist world system.  He has suggested something similar is 
happening with India, and I would add that one could probably also find such 
processes in Africa or the Middle East/Islamic world.  In this view, 
movements--whether we are talking about workers movements, or crowds outside 
international meetings, or riots, or 'new social movements' or for that matter 
Al-Quaeda will have something to do with how things turn out in the next fifty 
years, but they by no means will be the only ones talking or having the final 

Basically, I think the emergence of a variety of movements, including those 
like Al-Quaeda, which champion patriarchy, violence, etc. combined with 
grievances about class or country-to-country inequality are a recurrent element 
of the world system.  How the system transforms is partly dependent on how 
strong or weak different movements become.  But I'm not sure how one would tag 
some movements and not others as authentically 'anti-systemic'.  A lot also 
depends on whether you buy Wallerstein's argument that we are presently at a 
bifurcation point where the system is dramatically less stable than at any 
other point in its history.

Steven Sherman

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