The American sociologist was one of the most powerful detractors of the existing world order and consistently emphasised the need for alternatives over his decades-long career.
Immanuel Wallerstein, a prominent American political scientist, famed for his longstanding opposition to capitalism and its global elites, passed away on Sunday.
Wallerstein posited that in modern times there are no longer several systems separated by imperial borders and led by different dynasties, as there has been during much of human history.
According to the socialist professor, there is only one world system led by the capitalist order and even current nation-states are mere competing forces in this system.
"There are not, and cannot be multiple capitalisms because capitalism is a singular structure that is the defining feature of the modern world system," the professor famously declared.
In the 1970s, he coined the term ‘antisystemic movement’ to offer alternatives to the world system. His magnum opus wasThe Modern World System, first published in 1974. Other prominent works, among whichWorld Systems Analysis had a special place, were widely celebrated.
His powerful criticism of the global system, which was marked by his denunciation of capitalism’s inhumane treatment of its human subjects by turning them into mere market products, made him a great inspiration for the anti-globalist movement.
According to him, the new world system has no central structure, it only has a core, periphery and semi-periphery regions led by Marx’s capitalist mode of production, unlike in previous eras, when there was always a political nucleus.
Wallerstein wrote his last article on July 1, almost prophetically, it read like it was written by someone who knew his death was approaching and titled - This is the end; this is the beginning.
The professor consistently wrote commentary virtually every month since 1998. In his latest, he declared that it would truly be his last one.
“This is the 500th such commentary. This will be the last commentary ever,” wrote the 88-year-old intellectual.
“I have devoted myself to writing these commentaries with complete regularity. But no one lives forever, and there is no way I can continue doing these commentaries much longer,” he continued.
“So, sometime ago I said to myself I will try to make it to number 500 and then call it quits. I have made it to 500 and I am calling it quits.”
Two months after he quit, the professor passed away.
A new ‘1968 complex’?
“It is the future that is more important and more interesting, but also inherently unknowable. Because of the structural crisis of the modern-world system, it is possible, possible but not absolutely certain, that a transformatory use of a 1968 complex will be achieved by someone or some group,” the professor wrote in his last article.
Wallerstein’s “1968 complex” refers to a set of political groups, which challenged the ruling “military-industrial complex” by launching popular protests across the globe.
The protests, which took place not only in capitalist Western states like the US, Britain and France but also in communist states like Poland and Czechoslovakia, had shaken both capitalist and communist establishments of the world.
But in the end they were squashed.
In the US, where Wallerstein had also witnessed the Columbian student protests as an academic in 1968, a year, which left a lifelong impact on the scholar, protests had been violently crushed as Martin Luther King, a powerful black civil rights leader, and Robert F. Kennedy, a progressive Democrat leader, were also assassinated.
“The bullets that killed MLK and RFK snuffed out any hope of forging a new progressive coalition. For a generation, progressives have been left wondering: What if they had lived?” wrote Steven M. Gillon, a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma.
Despite the expansion of global capitalism’s reach across the world, Wallerstein, a strong follower of the 1968 spirit, being a Marxsist sociologist, continued to believe that at some point, the political situation could be reversed against the capitalist ruling class if the new generations of anti-globalists could form unusual alliances.
But after many disappointments on the left, he was also unapologetically rational.
“So, the world might go down further by-paths. Or it may not,” he wrote. “I have indicated in the past that I thought the crucial struggle was a class struggle, using class in a very broadly defined sense.
“What those who will be alive in the future can do is to struggle with themselves so this change may be a real one. I still think that and therefore I think there is a 50-50 chance that we’ll make it to transformatory change, but only 50-50,” he concluded.
The professor, who taught at the most prestigious universities across the globe, was last a senior research scholar at Yale University from 2000 to 2019.
He was also the recipient of several awards from distinguished institutions.
In 2003, he received the Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award from the American Sociological Association. In 2004, he was awarded with the Gold Kondratieff Medal by the International N. D. Kondratieff Foundation and the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RAEN).