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The Rise and Future Demise of the World Capitalist System: Concepts for Comparative Analysis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 June 2009

Immanuel Wallerstein
McGill University


The growth within the capitalist world-economy of the industrial sector of production, the so-called ‘industrial revolution’, was accompanied by a very strong current of thought which denned this change as both a process of organic development and of progress. There were those who considered these economic developments and the concomitant changes in social organization to be some penultimate stage of world development whose final working-out was but a matter of time. These included such diverse thinkers as Saint-Simon, Comte, Hegel, Weber, Durkheim. And then there were the critics, most notably Marx, who argued, if you will, that the nineteenth-century present was only an antepenultimate stage of development, that the capitalist world was to know a cataclysmic political revolution which would then lead in the fullness of time to a final societal form, in this case the classless society.

Political Economy on the Move
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 1974

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1 Lukacs, George, ‘The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg’, in History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin Press, 1968), p. 27.Google Scholar

2 Nisbet, Robert A., Social Change and History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), pp. 302–3. I myself would exempt from this criticism the economic history literature.Google Scholar

3 Braudel, Fernand, ‘History and the Social Sciences’, in Burke, Peter (ed.) Economy and Society in Early Modern Europe (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972), pp. 38–9.Google Scholar

4 See André Gunder Frank, Ch. IV (A), ‘The Myth of Feudalism’ in Capitalism and Underdevelopment in Latin America (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1967), 221–42.Google Scholar

3 See Frederic Lane's discussion of ‘protection costs’ which is reprinted as Part Three of Venice and History (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966). For the specific discussion of tribute, see pp. 389–90, 416–20.Google Scholar

4 See Polanyi, Karl, ‘The Economy as Instituted Process’, in Polanyi, Karl, Arsenberg, Conrad M. and Pearson, Harry W. (eds.), Trade and Market in the Early Empire (Glencoe: Free Press, 1957), pp. 243–70.Google Scholar

7 See my The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York: Academic Press, 1974).Google Scholar

8 Philip Abrams concludes a similar plea with this admonition: ‘The academic and intellectual dissociation of history and sociology seems, then, to have had the effect of deterring both disciplines from attending seriously to the most important issues involved in the understanding of social transition’. ‘The Sense of the Past and the Origins of Sociology’, Past and Present, No. 55, May 1972, 32.

9 Frank, , op. cit., p. 3.Google Scholar

10 Frank's critique, now classic, of these theories is entitled ‘Sociology of Development and Underdevelopment of Sociology’ and is reprinted in Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969), 2194.Google Scholar

11 See Santos, Theontonio Dos, La Nueva Dependencia. (Buenos Aires: s/ediciones, 1968).Google Scholar

12 Laclau, Ernesto, (h) ‘Feudalism and Capitalism in Latin America’, New Left Review, No. 67, May–June 1971, 37–8.Google Scholar

13 The Accumulation of Capital (New York: Modern Reader Paperbacks, 364–5).Google Scholar Luxemburg however, as is evident, lends herself further to the confusion by using the terminology of ‘capitalistic’ and ‘non-capitalistic’ modes of production. Leaving these terms aside, her vision is impeccable: ‘From the aspect both of realising the surplus value and of producing the material elements of constant capital, international trade is a prime necessity for the historical existence of capitalism—an international trade which under actual conditions is essentially an exchange between capitalistic and non-capitalistic modes of production’. Ibid., 359. She shows similar insight into the need of recruiting labor for core areas from the periphery, what she calls ‘the increase in the variable capital’. See Ibid., p. 361.

14 The debate begins with Dobb, Maurice, Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1946).Google ScholarDobb, Paul Sweezy criticized in ‘The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism’, Science and Society, XIV, 2, Spring 1950, 134–57, with a ‘Reply’ by Dobb in the same issue. From that point on many others got into the debate in various parts of the world. I have reviewed and discussed this debate in extenso in Chapter 1 of my work cited above.Google Scholar

15 It would take us into a long discursus to defend the proposition that, like all great thinkers, there was the Marx who was the prisoner of his social location and the Marx, the genius, who could on occasion see from a wider vantage point. The former Marx generalized from British history. The latter Marx is the one who has inspired a critical conceptual framework of social reality. W. W. Rostow incidentally seeks to refute the former Marx by offering an alternative generalization from British history. He ignores the latter and more significant Marx. See The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto (Cambridge: at the University Press, 1960).Google Scholar

16 Laclau, , op. cit., 25, 30.Google Scholar

17 Cited in Burlatsky, F., The State and Communism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, n.d., circa 1961), p. 95.Google Scholar

18 Ibid., p. 97.

19 Tse-Tung, Mao, On The Correct Handling of Contradictions Among The People, 7th ed., revised translation (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1966), pp. 37–8.Google Scholar

20 Long Live The Invincible Thought of Mao Tse-Tung!, undated pamphlet, issued between 1967 and 1969, translated in Current Background, No. 884, July 18, 1969, 14.

21 This is t he position taken by Mao Tse-Tung in his speech to t he Work Conference of the Central Committee at Peitaiho in August 1962, as reported in the pamphlet, Long Live …, p. 20. Mao's position was subsequently endorsed at t he 10th Plenum of the 8th CCP Central Committee in September 1962, a session this same pamphlet describes as ‘a great turning point in the violent struggle between the proletarian headquarters and t he bourgeois headquarters in China’. Ibid., 21.

22 Remarks made by Mao at 10th Plenum, cited in Ibid., 20.

23 Tse-Tung, Mao, ‘Talk on the Question of Democratic Centralism’, January 30, 1962, in Current Background, No. 891, Oct. 8, 1969, 39.Google Scholar

24 ‘Communiqué of the 10th Plenary Session of the 8th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’, Current Background, No. 691, Oct. 5, 1962, 3.Google Scholar

25 Sdobnikov, Yuri (ed.), Socialism and Capitalism: Score and Prospects (Moscow: Progress Publ., 1971), p. 20. The book was compiled by staff members of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, and the senior contributor was Prof. V. Aboltin.Google Scholar

26 Ibid., p. 21.

27 Ibid., p. 26.

28 Ibid., p. 24.

29 Ibid., p. 25.

30 See Aron, Raymond, Dix-huit legons de la sociiti industrielle (Paris: Ed. Gallimard, 1962).Google Scholar

31 This is the dilemma, I feel, of Hobsbawm, E. J. in explaining his so-called ‘crisis of the seventeenth century’. See his Past and PresentGoogle Scholar article reprinted (with various critiques) in Aston, Trevor (ed.), The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).Google Scholar

32 Dobb, Maurice, Capitalism Yesterday and Today (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1958), p. 21. Italics mine.Google Scholar

33 Ibid., pp. 6–7.

34 Ibid., p. 21.

35 See my The Modern World-System, op. cit., Chap. 2.

36 I give a brief account of this in Three Paths of National Development in the Sixteenth Century’, Studies in Comparative International Development, VII, 2, Summer 1972, 95101.Google Scholar

37 See Emmanuel, Arghiri, Unequal Exchange (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972).Google Scholar

38 Bettelheim, Charles, ‘Theoretical Comments’ in Emmanuel, op. cit., 295.Google Scholar

39 See Siemenski, J., ‘Constitutional Conditions in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries’, Cambridge History of Poland, I, Reddaway, W. F. et al. (eds.), From the Origins to Sobieski (to 1696) (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1950), pp. 416–40Google Scholar; Tazbir, Janusz, ‘The Commonwealth of the Gentry’, in Aleksander Gieysztor et al., History of Poland (Warszawa: PWN-Polish Scientific Publ., 1968), pp. 169271.Google Scholar

40 See my fuller analysis in ‘Social Conflict in Post-Independence Black Africa: The Concepts of Race and Status-Group Reconsidered’ in Campbell, Ernest W. (ed.), Racial Tensions and National Identity (Nashville: Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 207–26.Google Scholar

41 Range in this sentence means the number of different occupations in which a significant proportion of the population is engaged. Thus peripheral society typically is overwhelmingly agricultural. A core society typically has its occupations well-distributed over all of Colin Clark's three sectors. If one shifted the connotation of range to talk of style of life, consumption patterns, even income distribution, quite possibly one might reverse the correlation. In a typical peripheral society, the differences between a subsistence farmer and an urban professional are probably far greater than those which could be found in a typical core state.

42 See my ‘The Two Modes of Ethnic Consciousness: Soviet Central Asia in Transition?’ in Allworth, Edward (ed.), The Nationality Question in Soviet Central Asia (New York: Praeger, 1973), pp. 168–75.Google Scholar

43 A. Adu Boahen cites the instructions of the British Board of Trade in 1751 to the Governor of Cape Castle (a small British fort and trading-settlement in what is now Ghana) to seek to stop the local people, the Fante, from cultivating cotton. The reason given was the following: ‘The introduction of culture and industry among the Negroes is contrary to the known established policy of this country, there is no saying where this might stop, and that it might extend to tobacco, sugar and every other commodity which we now take from our colonies; and thereby the Africans, who now support themselves by wars, would become planters and their slaves be employed in the culture of these articles in Africa, which they are employed in in America’. Cited in Boahen, A. Adu, Topics in West Africa History (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1966), p. 113.Google Scholar

44 Michels, Robert, ‘The Origins of the Anti-Capitalist Mass Spirit’, in Man in Contemporary Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), Vol. I, pp. 740–65.Google Scholar

45 See Kaufman, William W., British Policy and the Independence of Latin America, 1804–28 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951).Google Scholar

46 Cf. Coquery-Vidrovitch, Cathérine, ‘De I'impérialisme britannique à l'impérialisme contemporaine-l'avatar colonial,’ L'Homme et la société. No. 18, oct.-nov.-déc. 1970, 6190.Google Scholar

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