[WSF-Discuss] Wallerstein on Loss of Control by the Hegemons (my word, not his)

peter waterman peterwaterman1936 at gmail.com
Sat May 31 09:05:09 CDT 2014

Peter sez:

I had to smile when I read Manny W saying, far more elegantly than I could
hope to, exactly what I have been thinking.

However, what could he be thinking of when he speculates about something
worse than capitalism?

Surely it is capitalism that is that 'rough beast' that classical Marxism
portrayed, and which slouches now not toward Bethelehem but toward an
Apocalypse, of which the Writing is Already on the Wall?


The Center Isn’t Holding Very Well <http://nigdwp.kaapeli.fi/?p=102>
Posted on May 17, 2014 <http://nigdwp.kaapeli.fi/?p=102> by admin

*by Immanuel Wallerstein*

The list of countries with enduring and worsening civil strife is growing.
A short while ago, the world media were highlighting Syria. Now they are
highlighting Ukraine. Will it be Thailand tomorrow? Who knows? The variety
of explanations of the strife and the passion with which they are promoted
is very striking.

Our modern world-system is supposed to permit the Establishment elites who
hold the reins of power to debate with each other and then come to a
“compromise” that they can guarantee. Normally these elites situate
themselves in two basic camps – center/right and center/left. There are
indeed differences between them, but the result of the
“compromises” has been that the amount of change over time is minimal.

This has operated as a top-down political structure, within each country
and geopolitically between countries. The outcome has been an equilibrium
slowly moving upward. Most analysts of the current strife tend to assume
that the strings are still being pulled by Establishment elites. Each side
asserts that the low-level actors of the other side are being manipulated
by high-level elites. Everyone seems to assume that, if their side puts
enough pressure on the
elites of the other side, these other elites will agree to a “compromise”
closer to what their side wants.

This seems to me a fantastic misreading of the realities of our current
situation, which is one of extended chaos as a result of the structural
crisis of our modern world-system. I do not think that the elites are any
longer succeeding in manipulating their low-level followers. I think the
low-level followers are defying the elites, doing their own thing, and
trying to manipulate the elites. This is indeed something new. It is a
bottom-up rather than a top-down politics.

Bottom-up politics is sometimes alluded to when the media speak of
“extremists” becoming important actors, but the locution “extremists”
misses the point too. When we are amidst bottom-up politics, there are
versions of every complexion – from the far right to the far left, but
including ones in the center. One can bemoan this, as did
Yeats in one of his oft-quoted lines from *The Second Coming*:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

But note that Yeats is attributing the category of “best” to the old
elites. Are they really the best? What is indeed true, to cite one of
Yeats’s less quoted lines, is that “the falcon cannot hear the falconer.”

How then can we navigate politically in such an environment? It is very
confusing analytically. I think however that step one is to cease
attributing what is happening to the evil machinations of some
Establishment elites. They are no longer in control. They can of course
still do great physical harm by imprudent actions. They are by no means
paragons of virtue. But those of us who wish to seek a better world to
emerge from this chaotic situation have to depend on ourselves, on our own
multiple ways of organizing the struggle. We need, in short, less
denunciation and more constructive local action.

The wisest lines of Yeats are the last two in the poem:

“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

As our existing historical system is in the process of dying, there is a
fierce struggle over what kind of new historical system will succeed it.
Soon, we may indeed no longer live in a capitalist system, but we could
come to live in an even worse system – a “rough beast” seeking to be born?
To be sure, this is only one possible collective choice. The alternative
choice is a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system, also
seeking to be born. Which one we
shall see at the end of the struggle is up to us, bottom-up.

*Immanuel Wallerstein’s Commentary No. 377, May 15, 2014*; originally
posted at http://www.binghamton.edu/fbc/commentaries/


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   3. *Interface Journal Special (co-editor), November 2012: For the Global
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   4. *Blog: http://www.unionbook.org/profile/peterwaterman.
   <http://www.unionbook.org/profile/peterwaterman.> *
   5. *Interface Journal Special (Co-Editor) Social Movement
   Internationalisms. See Call for Papers <http://www.interfacejournal.net/>,
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   7. *Under, Against, Beyond: Labour and Social Movements Confront a
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