Our thesis is that the contemporary world system has a history of at least five
thousand years. The rise to dominance of Europe and the West in this world system are only
recent -- and perhaps passing -- events. Thus, our thesis poses a more humanocentric
challenge to Eurocentrism.
Our main theoretical categories are:
- 1. The world system itself. Per contra Wallerstein (1974), we believe that the
existence and development of the same world system in which we live stretches back at
least five thousand years (Frank 1990a, 1991a,b; Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992; Frank and
Gills 1992). Wallerstein emphasizes the difference a hyphen [-] makes. Unlike our nearly
World [wide] System, World-Systems are in a "world" of their own, which need not
be even nearly world wide. Of course however, the "new world" in the
"Americas" was home to some world-systems of its own before its incorporation
into our (pre-existing) world system after 1492.
- 2. The process of capital accumulation as the motor force of [world system] history.
Wallerstein and others regard continuous capital accumulation as the differentia specifica
of the "modern world-system." We have argued elsewhere that in this regard the
"modern" world system is not so different and that this same process of capital
accumulation has played a, if not the, central role in the world system for several
millennia ( Frank 1991b and Gills and Frank 1990/91). Amin (1991) and Wallerstein (1991)
disagree. They argue that previous world-systems were what Amin calls
"tributary" or Wallerstein "world empires." In these, Amin claims that
politics and ideology were in command, not the economic law of value in the accumulation
of capital. Wallerstein seems to agree.
- 3. The center-periphery structure in and of the world [system]. This structure is
familiar to analysts of dependence in the "modern" world system and especially
in Latin America since 1492. It includes but is not limited to the transfer of surplus
between zones of the world system. Frank (1967, 1969) wrote about this among others.
However, we now find that this analytical category is also applicable to the world system
- 4. The alternation between hegemony and rivalry.In this process, regional hegemonies
and rivalries succeed the previous period of hegemony. World system and international
relations literature has recently produced many good analyses of alternation between
hegemonic leadership and rivalry for hegemony in the world system since 1492, for instance
by Wallerstein (1979), or since 1494 by Modelski (1987) and by Modelski and Thompson
(1988). However, hegemony and rivalry for the same also mark world [system] history long
before that (Gills and Frank 1992).
- 5. Long [and short] economic cycles of alternating ascending [sometimes denominated
"A"] phases and descending [sometimes denominated "B"] phases. In the
real world historical process and in its analysis by students of the "modern"
world system, these long cycles are also associated with each of the previous categories.
That is, an important characteristic of the "modern" world system is that the
process of capital accumulation, changes in center-periphery position within it, and world
system hegemony and rivalry are all cyclical and occur in tandem with each other. Frank
analyzed the same for the "modern" world system under the title World
Accumulation 1492-1789 and Dependent Accumulation and Underdevelopment (Frank 1978a,b).
However, we now find that this same world system cycle and its features also extends back
many centuries before 1492.
Our thesis is elaborated in a forthcoming book, tentatively entitled The World System:
From Five Hundred Years to Five Thousand, to which this essay is the draft introduction.
In this book, this thesis is introduced by the early contribution of Kaisa Ekholm and
Jonathan Friedman (1982). It is extended by David Wilkinson (1987) who argues that in 1500
BC relations between Egypt and Mesopotamia gave rise to what he calls "Central
Civilization," which has incessantly spread out through the world ever since. The
"one world system" thesis is then elaborated in our chapters.
Amin and Wallerstein critique this thesis and defend their thesis that the "modern
world-system" began five hundred years ago. They argue in particular that its
capitalist mode of production distinguishes it fundamentally from "world
empires" and all previous world-systems, which Amin calls "tributary." In
his critical reply to us, Wallerstein emphasizes the above mentioned distinction between
his plural "world-systems" with a hyphen and our singular "world
system" without an added hyphen. Janet Abu-Lughod (1989), whose work we also review
below, contributes a critical discussion of these issues and defends the existence of a
"thirteenth century world system," which she regards as distinguishable as it
Our thesis speaks to several disciplines or concerns and participates in longstanding
controversies within and between them. Among these fields and concerns, beyond
world-systems theory itself, we here note our challenge to Eurocentrism. Then we outline
the connections of our thesis with historiography, civilizationism, archaeology,
classicism in ancient history, medievalism, modern history, economic history, macro
historical sociology, political geography, international relations, development studies,
ecology, anthropology, race and ethnic relations and their studies, gender relations and
their study, etc. Our thesis, its similarities and differences with others, and the
discussions of the same also have some important philosophical, social scientific, and
political implications, which we may briefly note in conclusion.
This introductory essay spells out these concerns and debates; and it indicates the
positions that participating authors take in the same. Therefore, the book will hover in
the background below. However in this journal version, references will be to already
published sources wherever possible.
World System Theory
We ask whether the principal systemic features of the "modern world system"
can also be identified earlier than 1500 or not? Wallerstein (1974, 1984, 1989a,b, 1991),
Modelski (1987), and Amin (1991) argue that the differentiae specific of our world system
are new since 1500 and essentially different from previous times and places. However,
Modelski (1991) includes some leadership before 1500 in his analysis. Christopher
Chase-Dunn (1986) and others find parallels in "other" and prior world systems.
Wilkinson (1989) discovers at least some of these features also in his "Central
Civilization" and elsewhere. However, he sees historical continuity, but no world
system. Abu-Lughod (1989) sees a "thirteenth century world system," but she
regards it as different from the world system since 1500 or before 1250. Moreover, she is
not so interested in comparing systemic features or characteristics. We combine all of the
above into an analysis, or at least an identification, of the principal features of this
world system over several thousand years of its history and development (Frank 1990a,
1991a,b, Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992).
According to Wallerstein (1989b,c 1988 and elsewhere) and many students of world
capitalism, the differentia specifica of the modern world system is the ceaseless
accumulation of capital. It is this ceaseless accumulation of capital that may be said to
be its most central activity and to constitute its differentia specifica. No previous
historical system seems to have had any comparable mot d'ordre (1989b:9).
Samir Amin (1991) also argues that this economic imperative is new and uniquely
characterizes only the modern capitalist world system. Of course, this is not the same as
arguing that capital accumulation was absent, minor or irrelevant elsewhere and earlier.
On the contrary, capital accumulation did exist and even define this world system also
before, indeed long before, 1500. On the contrary, capital accumulation did exist and even
define this (or another?) world system also before, indeed long before, 1500.
Yet, Wallerstein, Amin and most others argue that there is something very unique and
uniquely powerful about modern capital, i.e. an imperative to accumulate
"ceaselessly" in order to accumulate at all. We contend that this imperative,
both in the familiar money form as well as other forms of capital, is not a unique
systemic feature of modern "capitalism." Rather the imperative of ceaseless
accumulation is a characteristic of competitive pressures throughout world system history.
Moreover, we note below the existence of cycles in economic growth, both "pre-"
and "post-" "capitalist," in the entire world system (Gills and Frank
1992). Therefore, something more fundamental than "ceaseless"
"capitalist" accumulation in its modern form seems also to be at work in world
[system] history throughout the millennia.
That is also the position of Ekholm and Friedman (1982), who find "capital,"
as well as the now familiar logic of imperialism to accompany the expansion of capital,
already existing from very ancient times in Mesopotamia. L. Orlin (1970), for instance,
refers to "Assyrian Colonies in Cappadocia" and Mitchell Allen (1984) to
"Assyrian Colonies in Anatolia." Ekholm and Friedman argue that ancient capital,
particularly in its form of the accumulation of bullion (money capital), is essentially
the same as capital in later, including modern times.
In this regard, and to anticipate our review of "archaeology" below, a
generation and more ago the perhaps best known polar opposite positions were represented
Karl Polanyi (1957) and Gordon Childe (1936, 1942). Polanyi is known for his deprecation
of the role of markets and by extension of profit driven accumulation. Yet even Polanyi
concluded in a later essay, only posthumously published in 1975 and again in 1977, that
throughout, the external origin of trade is conspicuous; internal trade is largely
derivative of external trade, ... [and] with trade the priority of the external line is
evident ....for what we term 'luxuries' were no more than the necessities of the rich and
powerful, whose import interest largely determined foreign policy....Acquisition of goods
from a distance may be practiced by a trader either from ... (status motive) - or for the
sake of gain...(profit motive) .... [There are] many combinations of the two... (Polanyi
1975: 154, 135, 136-7).
Gordon Childe represented the historical materialist and Marxist positions. Yet even so
"Childe consistently underestimated the potential surplus that could have been
generated by Neolithic economies" according to the archaeologist Philip Kohl (1987:
17). In a related vein, the well known archaeological student of both Mesopotamia and
Meso-America, Robert Adams (1978: 284) suggests "perhaps - to venture still a little
further in this direction - we have wrongly deprecated the entrepreneurial element in the
historical development of at least the more complex societies."
We also argue for this latter position, which is supported by more and more
archeological evidence and analysis, some of which is reviewed by Sherratt (1991) and
Algaze (nd). However, we wish to expand the working definition also of capital beyond the
confines of current Marxism to encompass much wider manifestations of surplus transfer,
both private and public. Therefore, we argue that for millennia already and throughout the
world (system) there has been capital accumulation through infrastructural investment in
agriculture (eg. clearing and irrigating land) and livestock (cattle, sheep, horses,
camels and pasturage for them); industry (plant and equipment as well as new technology
for the same); transport (more and better ports, ships, roads, way stations, camels,
carts); commerce (money capital, resident and itinerant foreign traders, and institutions
for their promotion and protection); military (fortifications, weapons, warships, horses
and standing armies to man them); legitimacy (temples and luxuries); and of course the
education, training, and cultural development of "human capital." Ekholm and
Friedman (1982) refer to capital accumulation already in pre- historic times, and it can
also be inferred from various archaeologists cited below. Even the drive to accumulate, or
the obligation to do so in a competitive world, is not confined to modern capitalism.
Are other characteristics, in particular a core-periphery structure, of the modern
world system unique to it since 1500? Or are they also identifiable elsewhere and earlier?
In a short list of three main characteristics of his modern world system, Wallerstein
this descriptive trinity (core-periphery, A/B [cycle phases], hegemony-rivalry) as a
pattern maintained over centuries is unique to the modern world-system. Its origin was
precisely in the late fifteenth century (Wallerstein 1988b:108).
Wallerstein also makes lists of six (1989b) and twelve (1989a) characteristics of his
modern world capitalist system since l500. Frank (1991a) argues why all of them also apply
earlier. The sections on archaeology, classicism and medievalism below show how these
categories, and particularly core-periphery, are also applicable to pre-history, the
ancient world and pre- modern history.
Another of the three world system characteristics mentioned by Wallerstein is
hegemony/rivalry. But is this feature limited to the world since 1500? Or did it also
exist elsewhere and earlier? Or, indeed, does it also characterize the same world system
earlier? Wallerstein himself discusses the rise and fall of mostly economically based
hegemony only since 1500. Modelski (1987) and Modelski and Thompson (1988) as well as
Thompson (1989) analyze largely politically based and exercised hegemony since 1494. Paul
Kennedy's (1987) best seller about the Rise and Fall of Great Powers went still farther
back, but did not connect them in any systematic way.
Wallerstein employs a sequential model of hegemony which refers to productive
competitiveness in other core markets, subsequent commercial competitiveness, and
financial competitiveness. While this is a useful model of sequential attainment of
different dimensions of hegemonic power,it leads to over-emphasis on a temporary and
fragile "moment" when a core power attains all three advantages simultaneously.
It also confines our analysis of global hegemony too much to the single succession of a
few such momentary hegemons, to the detriment of analysis of the total phenomena of global
hegemony. Even when there is such a momentary hegemon, there are always other inter-linked
hegemonic powers. Wallerstein distinguishes modern "hegemony" from traditional
"imperium." Yet all of his hegemonic powers themselves held colonial possessions
and co-existed in a larger system of global hegemony in which other powers exercised
imperium. Modelski (1987) and others emphasize political/military hegemony.
Our use of the term hegemony-rivalry refers to the political economic predominance by a
center of accumulation, which alternates with periods of rivalry among several such
centers of accumulation. Therefore, we argue that hegemony-rivalry has also characterized
the world system for thousands of years (Gills and Frank 1990/91, 1992). As suggested
above, hegemony is not only political. It is also based on center-periphery relations,
which permit the hegemonic center to further its accumulation of capital at the expense of
its periphery, hinterland, and its rivals. After a time, not the least through the
economic-military overextension signalled by Kennedy (1987), the hegemonic empire loses
this power again. The decline in the hegemony of a great power gives way to an interregnum
of competitive economic, political and military rivalry among others to take its place.
After an interregnum of rivalry with other claimants, the previous hegemonical power is
replaced by another one. Shifting systems of also economic, political and military
alliances, reminiscent of those featured by George Orwell in his 1984, are instrumental in
first creating, then maintaining, and finally losing hegemonical imperial power.
We argue that there have been not only numerous and repeated instances of hegemony and
rivalry at imperial regional levels. We also suggest that we may be able to recognize some
instances of overarching "super-hegemony" and centralizing
"super-accumulation" at the world system wide level before 1500 Gills and Frank
1990/91, 1992). The Mongol empire certainly, and Sung China perhaps, had a claim to
super-hegemony. Thus, very significantly, the later rise to super-hegemony in and of
Western Europe, Great Britain and the United States after 1500 were not unique first
instances in the creation of a hegemonic world system. Instead, as Abu-Lughod (1989:338)
persuasively argues " 'the fall of the East' preceded the 'Rise of the West'"
and resulted in an hegemonical shift from East to West. This shift came at a time -- and
perhaps as a result -- of over- extension and political economic decline in various parts
of the East. It suffered a period of cyclical economic decline so common to them all as to
have been world system wide. Thus the "Rise of the West," including European
hegemony and its expansion and later transfer to the "New World" across the
Atlantic, did not just constitute a new Modern World Capitalist System. This development
also -- and even moreso -- represented a new but continued development and hegemonic shift
within an old world system.
Janet Abu-Lughod (1989) makes a major contribution to the writing of world history in
pushing the starting date for the world system back to 1250. In so doing, she has finally
cut into the gordian knot of the supposed break in world history 1500, as per Wallerstein
(1974) and others. She denies that the present world system emerged in Europe through the
transition from any previous mode of production. She argues instead that whatever mode of
production existed in the sixteenth century also existed already in the thirteenth century
in Europe -- and in the "Middle East", India and China.
Abu-Lughod shows that eight interlinking city centered regions were united in a single
thirteenth century world system and division of labor. According to her reading, however,
this world system economy experienced its apogee between 1250 and 1350 and declined to
(virtual) extinction thereafter, before being reborn in Southern and Western Europe in the
sixteenth century. In her words, "of crucial importance is the fact that the 'Fall of
the East' preceded the 'Rise of the West'." She argues that
if we assume that restructuring, rather than substitution, is what happens when world
systems succeed one another, albeit after periods of disorganization, then failure cannot
refer to the parts themselves but only to the declining efficacy of the ways in which they
were formerly connected. In saying the thirteenth-century world system failed, we mean
that the system itself devolved....From earliest times, the geographically central 'core
regions' ...were Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, to which the Mediterranean was
eventually appended. These cores persisted through the classical and thirteenth-century
world systems. A decisive reorganization of this pattern did not occur until the sixteenth
century (Abu-Lughod 1989:343-45).
It seems at least plausible, if not obvious, then to argue that between the fourteenth
century decline of the East and the fifteenth-sixteenth century rise of the West there
occurred a "declining efficacy" and "disorganization " of "the
ways in which they were formerly connected." In that case, consequently there would
have been a shift of the center of gravity in the system from East to West - but not a
complete failure of the system as a whole. On the contrary, this temporary disorganization
and renewed reorganization could and should be read as the continuation and evolution of
the system as a whole. Indeed, in our approach all history can and should be analyzed in
terms of the shifts in centers of accumulation, as we emphasize in our titles "World
System Cycles, Crises and Hegemonial Shifts 1700 BC to 1700 AD" (Gills and Frank
1992) and "1492 and Latin America at the Margin of World System History:
992-1492-1992 and East > West Hegemonial Shifts" (Frank 1992a).
Thus, Wallerstein (1989b) sees a single cycle in Europe (albeit "matched by a new
market articulation in China...[in] this vast trading world-system,") and yet a
variety of "unstable" systems around the world, each of which "seldom
lasted more than 4-500 years" (1989b: 35). On the other hand, Abu-Lughod (1989) sees
a single world system, certainly in the thirteenth century cyclical conjuncture on which
she concentrates, but also in earlier periods. Yet, successively each of her world systems
cyclically rise (out of what?) and decline (into what?). However, neither Wallerstein nor
Abu-Lughod is (yet?) willing to join their insights in the additional step to see both a
single world system and its continuous cyclical development.
The third characteristic of Wallerstein's world system after 1500 is long economic
cycles of capital accumulation. Their upward "A" and downward "B"
phases generate changes of hegemony and of position in the center-periphery-hinterland
structure. These cycles, and especially the Kondratieffs, play important roles in the real
development of the world system and in its analysis by Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978),
Modelski (1987), Goldstein (1987), and Thompson (1989). All emphasize the relations among
cycles in the economy, hegemony and war. However, are these cycles limited to modern
times, or do they extend farther back? Wallerstein himself notes that
It is the long swing that was crucial....The feudal system in western Europe seems
quite clearly to have operated by a pattern of cycles of expansion and contraction of two
lengths: circa 50 years [which seem to resemble the so-called Kondratieff cycles found in
the capitalist world economy] and circa 200-300 years.... The patterns of the expansions
and contractions are clearly laid out and widely accepted among those writing about the
late Middle Ages and early modern times in Europe....It is the long swing that was
crucial. Thus 1050-1250+ was a time of the expansion of Europe (the Crusades, the
colonizations) ....The "crisis" or great contractions of 1250-1450+ included the
Black Plague... (1989b: 33,34)
Thus, even according to Wallerstein there was systematic cyclical continuity across his
1500 divide -- in Europe. But Abu-Lughod (1989), Mc Neill (1983) and others offer and
analyze substantial evidence that this same cycle was in fact world system wide.
Wallerstein (1989b: 57,58) also perceives some of the evidence. Moreover, all these
developments were driven by the motor force of capital accumulation. The "crucial
long swing" was a cycle of capital accumulation. Frank (1991b) tries to demonstrate
that this same cyclical pattern definitely extends back through the eleventh century and
that it could well be traced further back as well. Gills and Frank (1992) trace these long
cycles much farther back to at least 1700 BC in world [system] history.
So do these characteristic similarities with the "modern-
world-capitalist-system" extend only to "other" earlier empires, state
systems, regional economies or different "world systems"? Frank and Gills argue
that similar characteristics extend backwards through time in the same world system, which
itself also extends much farther back in time. That is, they argue for the extension back
in time through the same world system of the essential features of the "modern-world-
capitalist-system" of Wallerstein (1974), Frank (1978), Modelski (1987), Goldstein
(1987), Thompson (1989) and others, and of the "other" world systems and
civilizations of Chase- Dunn (1986,1989), Wilkinson (1987,1989) and others. This extension
of the world system to at least 5,000 years has implications for many disciplines and
concerns in history and social science, beginning with historiography and the
Eurocentrism, which underlies much of it other "scientific" and cultural
Eurocentrism and its Alternatives
Samir Amin (1989) in Eurocentrism and Martin Bernal (1987) in his Black Athena: The
Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization recently criticized Eurocentrism and offered
alternative approaches especially on an ideological level, which center on the Eastern
Mediterranean and North Africa respectively. Another alternative to Eurocentrism is the
development of "Afrocentrism" by African American historians and others in the
United States, which as its name implies centers on Africa, specifically including
Sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that these critiques of Eurocentrism are all to the good,
but that they are too limited.
Our approach offers the basis for a wider world historic humanocentric alternative to
Eurocentrism. World history should be a reflection and representation of the full
diversity of human experience and development, which far exceeds the limited and limiting
recent bounds of the "West." Indeed, the "West" does not exist, except
by reference to the "inscrutable" "East." Yet their historical
existence is only a figment of "Western" imagination. Eurocentrism and other
centrisms prevent seeing or even asking how all the "parts" related to the world
[system] whole. Therefore, Eurocentrism is also an analytical fetter on world history.
A few generations ago, even some Western historians like Frederick Teggart in 1918
(1977: 248) criticized "Eurocentric" history and pleaded for a single
"Eurasian" history in which
the two parts of Eurasia are inextricably bound together. Mackinder has shown how much
light may be thrown on European history by regarding it as subordinate to Asiatic....The
oldest of historians (Herodotus) held the idea that epochs of European history were marked
by alternating movements across the imaginary line that separates East from West."
Yet since then, Western domination in power and technology has further extended the
domain of its culture and Eurocentric Western perspective through proselytizing religion,
mass media, language, education, yes and "world" history writing and teaching,
also using the (in)famous Mercator projection maps, etc. Nonetheless, homogenization has
proceeded less far and fast than some hoped and others feared; and many people around the
world are seeking renewed and diverse self - affirmation and self - determination:
"Think globally. Act locally". Some scholars also speak of this problematique in
terms of "globalization-localization" (Featherstone 1990, King 1991, Lash and
Urry 1987, Robertson 1990).
Western Eurocentric world history and its distortions need not be replaced by
"equal time" for the history of all cultures. Nor need we admit (a variety of
competing) other centric histories, be they Islamo-, Nippo-, Sino- or whatever other
centric. No, we can and should all aspire to a non-exclusivist humanocentric history. This
world history can be more than a historical "entitlement program," which gives
all (contemporary) cultures or nationalities their due separate but equal shares of the
past. Instead, a humanocentric history can and must also recognize our historical and
contemporary unity in and through diversity beyond our ideological affirmations of
Although we should not aspire to "equal time" in history of everybody in the
world, world history also need not just concentrate on adding representative
"non-Western civilizations" and cultures to Western ones. Nor should we limit
our historical study of cultures and civilizations to the comparative examination of their
distinctive and common features. This is the procedure of most so called courses and
textbooks on "world" history or "comparative civilizations." Some
examples of these approaches and their internal contradictions and limitations are
examined in Frank (1990a). Two well known examples to be examined below are the
comparative studies of civilizations by Toynbee and Quigley. Another example is the
approach to "Civilization as a Unit of World History" by Edward Farmer (1985)
and Farmer at al (1977) in their Comparative History of Civilizations in Asia.
We argue that our world history can and should also make efforts to connect and relate
the diversity of histories and times to each other. It may be empirically possible, and in
that case it is historically important, to uncover all sorts of historical connections
among peoples and places, not only over time but especially at the same time. These
connections would lend additional meaning to our comparisons. Frederick Teggart (1939)
made such connections, for instance, in his Rome and China: A Study of Correlations in
Historical Events. Teggart correlated and connected diverse political and economic events
(particularly wars, "barbarian" invasions, and interruption/ resumption of
trade) in these two areas and others in between. Teggart made these connections among
contemporaneous events "for the purpose of gaining verifiable knowledge concerning
'the way things work' in the world of human relations...in the spirit of modern scientific
work, on the study of World History" (Teggart 1939 v, xii and see below).
A one world history should also seek to systematize these connections and relations, as
well as comparisons, into an analysis of a world system history? This is now the opinion
of our contemporary dean of world history, William Mc Neill (1990). Recently, he reflected
back over "The Rise of the West After Twenty Five Years" and concluded that
The central methodological weakness of my book is that while it emphasizes interactions
across civilizational boundaries, it pays inadequate attention to the emergence of the
ecumenical world system within which we live today .... Being too much preoccupied by the
notion of 'civilization,' I bungled by not giving the initial emergence of a
trans-civilizational process the sustained emphasis it deserved.... In the ancient Middle
East, the resulting interactions ... led to the emergence of a cosmopolitan world system
between 1700 and 500 BC.... There is a sense, indeed, in which the rise of civilizations
in the Aegean (later Mediterranean) coast lands and in India after 1500 BC were and
remained part of the emergent world system centered on the Middle East....All three
regions and their peoples remained in close and uninterrupted contact throughout the
classical era....[Moreover] one may, perhaps, assume that a similar [to the modern]
primacy for economic exchanges existed also in earlier times all the way back [to] the
earliest beginnings of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia.... (McNeill 1990:9-10,12-14).
Thirty five years earlier, Marshall Hodgson (1954) had already pleaded
During the last three thousand years there has been one zone, possessing to some degree
a common history, which has been so inclusive that its study must take a preponderant
place in any possible world-historical investigation....The various lands of urbanized,
literate civilization in the Eastern Hemisphere, in a continuous zone from the Atlantic to
the Pacific, have been in commercial and commonly in intellectual contact with each other,
mediately or immediately. Not only have the bulk of mankind lived in this zone, but its
influence has emanated into much of the rest of the world (Hodgson 1954: 716).
[In] the following approach...events may be dealt with in their relation to the total
constellation of historical forces of which they are a part.... This means that we are to
consider how events reflect interdependent interregional developments (Hodgson 1954: 717).
Hodgson (1958: 879) thought that "few scholarly tasks are more urgent."
This same theme was taken up by L.S. Stavrianos (1970: 3-6) in The World to 1500. A
Global History. In the "Introduction: Nature of World History" he wrote:
The distinctive feature of this book is that it is a history. It deals with the entire
globe rather than some one country or region. It is concerned not with Western man or
non-Western man, but with all mankind.... The global approach to history represents a new
departure in modern historiography....The story of man from its very beginnings has a
basic unity that must be recognized and respected. Neither Western nor non-Western history
may be properly comprehended without a global overview encompassing both. Only then is it
possible to perceive the interaction amongst all peoples at all times, and the primary
role of that interaction in determining the course of human history.... World history is
not the sum of histories of the civilizations of the world.... The structure of world
history requires focusing on historical movements that have had major influence on man's
development, so the geography of world history requires focusing on those regions that
initiated those historical movements. When this is done, one land unit stands out uniquely
and unchallengeable: Eurasia, the veritable heartland of world history since Neolithic
times....To an overwhelming degree, the history of man is the history of these Eurasian
In Volume I, No. 1 of the new Journal of World History, Allerdyce (1990: 62,67,69)
quoted others to the effect that what world history "needs is a simple,
all-encompassing, elegant idea, which offers an adequate conceptual base for a world
history." We suggest that the basic elements of this idea may be found in the
foregoing quotations from McNeill, Hodgson, and Stavrianos. The central concept of this
all- encompassing idea advanced here is the process of capital in the world system.
This approach requires the rejection of still another historiographic tradition. We
should not treat historical diversity and comparisons like Perry Anderson (1974). He goes
beyond comparing the same or similar historical processes and formations like absolutism
at different times. He also argues explicitly that "there is no such thing as a
uniform temporal medium: for the times of the major Absolutism...were precisely,
enormously diverse...no single temporality covers it." Instead, the systematization
of inter-regional world history must realize as Hodgson (1954: 719) argued that
What is important is the recognition...that there has been some sort of developing
pattern in which all these interregional developments can be studied, as they are affected
by and in turn affect its elements as constituted at any one time.
Frank (1978:20) already argued that
Anderson's apparent attempt to make historiographic virtue out of empirical necessity
when he argues that the historical times of events are different though their dates may be
the same must be received with the greatest of care -and alarm. For however useful it may
be [comparatively] to relate the same thing through different times, the essential
(because it is the most necessary and the least accomplished) contribution of the
historian to historical understanding is successively to relate different things and
places at the same time in the historical process.
Much earlier already, Teggart (1939) had long since
establish[ed] (for the first time) the existence of [temporal] correlations in
historical events...which exhibits the relationship between contemporaneous disturbances
in several areas...[and] awareness of the concurrence of events in different
regions....The study of the past can become effective only when it is fully realized that
all peoples have histories, that these histories run concurrently and in the same world,
and that the act of comparing is the beginning of knowledge....It at once sets a new
problem for investigation by raising the question of how the correspondences in events are
to be accounted for (Teggart 1939: 243, 245, 239, emphasis in the original).
Therefore, we should discard the usual Western Eurocentric rendition of history, which
jumps discontinuously from ancient Mesopotamia to Egypt, to "classical" Greece
and then Rome, to medieval Western Europe, and then on to the Atlantic West, with
scattered backflashes to China, India, etc. Meanwhile, all other history drops out of the
story. Or peoples and places never even appear in history, unless they are useful as a
supposedly direct descendants of development in the West. Instead, any world history
should try to trace and establish the historical continuity of developments between then
and now in the world systemic whole and all its parts. Hodgson and McNeill already
emphasized this continuity. David Wilkinson (1987) puts Hodgson's early suggestion into
practice and demonstrates convincingly that "Central Civilization" has a
continuous and expanding (we would say world system) history since Mesopotamia and Egypt
established relations in about 1500 BC. We return to his thesis below.
We argue that these relations extend even farther out and further back. During another
millennium from 2500 BC or earlier already, peoples established relations with each other
around and through the Mediterranean to the Levant, Anatolia, Mesopotamia and importantly
on to the Persian Highlands and between them and the Indus Valley, as well as with many
Central Asian "nomads" and others. Gordon Childe (1942) already argued for the
recognition and analysis of these and even earlier and more widespread such relations in
Moreover, world [system] history is not limited to that of sedentary
"civilizations" and their relations. It also includes "barbarian"
nomads and others, and especially the multifarious relations among the former and the
latter. Following Lattimore (1962) and others, we make a strong plea for much more study
of Central and Inner Asian "nomadic" and other "peripheral" peoples.
We commend special attention to the significance of their continuous trade and political
relations with their "civilized" neighbors, and to the timing and causes of the
recurrent waves of migratory and invasory incursions from Central/Inner Asia into East,
South, and West Asia and Europe. Similarly, the nomadic tribes of the Arabian Peninsula
merit more attention long before the time of Mohammed. Moreover, it is high time to drop
and take exception to the now pejorative term "barbarian." The supposed
difference between peoples who have been so called and those supposedly more
"civilized" are doubtful at best. There is even reason to question many supposed
distinctions between "nomad" and "sedentary" peoples. However that may
be, there can be little doubt about the "Centrality of Central Asia" in world
(system) history (Frank 1992c).
Africa has also received less attention than it merits in world (system) history.
Curtin has done pioneering work on trade and migration in Africa, but in his Cross
Cultural Trade in World History (1984) he has not sought to pursue the African connection
in AfroAsia as far back in history as it may deserve. The South East Asian peoples and
their history were long since intimately related to and also influential on those of China
and India, if only for the trade and migrations with and between them. Yet South East Asia
is often largely omitted from even those world histories, which give their due to China
Civilizationists and many historians as well as macro sociologists claim to write the
history of the world, but without ever attempting to do world history. They distinguish
various civilizations or other systems, and sometimes study one problem or another, like
ideology, power, economy, technology, etc. Toynbee (1946), Quigley (1961), and more
recently Mann (1986) are among them.
Arnold Toynbee (1946:34-40) finds 19 or 21 separate civilizations, 5 still living and
16 dead (though "most of them [were/are] related as parent or offspring to one or
more of the others" (p.34). He rejects "the egocentric illusion [of] the
misconception of the unity of history-involving the assumption that there is only one
river of civilization, our own." We should indeed reject this Euro / Western
egocentric illusion, but it is Toynbee's misconception to assume that there cannot have
been or be a single unifying river unless it was "our" Western or another
civilizational river. We suggest there was much of a common river and unity of history in
a single world system. However, it was multi-cultural in origin and expression; which has
been systematically distorted by Eurocentrism.
Toynbee also rightly rejects "the illusion of 'the unchanging East'."
"The East" has no historical existence. Indeed, it was a Euro / Western centric
invention. Moreover of course, the many peoples and regions of "the East" have
been very different and ever changing. This fact and reading of history need and should
not, however, exclude these peoples and regions from participation in a common stream of
history or historical systemic unity.
Thirdly, Toynbee rightly rejects "the illusion of progress as something which
proceeds in a straight line." Leaving the criterion of progress or not aside for the
moment, we can nonetheless observe cyclical ups and downs in parts of the system and maybe
in the whole system itself (Gills and Frank 1992).
Finally, Toynbee rejects the "very different concept of the unity of
history," as the diffusion of Egyptaic civilization over thousands of years. We
accept the rejection of this diffusion, but not his unwarranted rejection of the unity of
history or of a single historical world system.
Carroll Quigley (1961) devotes more attention than Toynbee to the interrelations and
mutual influences among civilizations and their rise and declines through their seven
stages of mixture, gestation, expansion, conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion.
Nonetheless, he still recognizes sixteen separate civilizations. Thus, Quigley also writes
a history of the world without attempting to write world history. Instead, he emphasizes
their separate internal logics of development through a purportedly "universal"
pattern of stages.
David Wilkinson (1987), by contrast, writes a more unitary history about what he calls
"Central Civilization." It began in the West Asian part of the Eurasian landmass
and spread eventually to encompass the entire globe.
Central Civilization is the chief entity to which theories of class society, the social
system, world- economy and world systems must apply if they are to apply at all. A
suitable theoretical account of its economic process does not yet exist; one for its
political process may....(56-7)
Wilkinson's subtitles indicate his intent and recommended procedure:
Recognizing Central Civilization as a Reality.... Recognizing a single entity in
adjacent "civilizations" ....Recognizing a single entity after civilizations
collide ....Recognizing a single entity when "civilizations" succeed each
other.... Did Central Civilization Ever Fall? (35-39).
Wilkinson's answer is No, since its birth when Sumer and Egypt joined hands around 1500
BC. Therefore Chase-Dunn and Hall (1991) have suggested that we should "adapt
Wilkinson's terminology and call their system the 'Central World System'."
However, we are wary about the category of "civilization" itself.
"Civilization" is ambiguous as a unit and terribly difficult to bound either in
space or in time. When McNeill says he "bungled" by being too preoccupied with
as the unit of analysis, it was because it stands in the way of seeing and analyzing
world [system] history as a whole.
As already observed in our discussion of capital accumulation and the role of markets
and entrepreneurship in ancient history, the field was long dominated by the work of
scholars such as Moses Finley (1985, original 1975) and Karl Polanyi (1957). Both deny or
downplay the role of the market relations in the ancient economy, and by implication the
scope for "capital" accumulation. Ekholm and Friedman (1982) provocatively
attempted to expand world system analysis to the ancient economy and to break with this
predominant view. They put forward a bold thesis on the continuity of "capital"
and imperialism in the ancient world. Archeological critiques of Polanyi, in particular by
Silver (1985), Kohl (1989), Woolf (1990), and Sherrat (1991) re-examine the evidence.
Archaeologists find ample empirical evidence of capital formation and for the operation of
true price-setting markets in the ancient economy. Gills and Frank (1990/91, 1992) rely on
this evidence to systematize their reading of the role of capital accumulation and markets
in the ancient world system.
Yet, all too often, historians and others have operated with the simplistic assumption
that ancient states and empires were purely extractive, expropriating mechanisms. Anderson
(1974) emphasizes the primacy of the political/ coercive means of extraction of surplus in
pre-capitalist social formations. Amin (1989, 1991) similarly emphasizes the ideological
and political-extractive character of surplus extraction in the "tributary"
modes of production. We believe that the emphasis on these characterizations of ancient
political economy are distorting. There is growing evidence of the vital and widespread
role of private merchant capital and "free" imperial cities in generating the
revenues on which the state lived in even the most militaristic and coercive of the
ancient empires, Assyria, not to mention the more famous Phoenician commercial interests.
What holds true for Assyria holds equally true for every other ancient empire and even
China, though there perhaps to a somewhat lesser extent. Once this is recognized, the way
is open to new studies of the trans-regional economic processes involving the transfer of
goods and capital across ancient Eurasia and their effects "within" all the
Nonetheless, much of the work so far remains either civilizational or comparative
civilizational in scope and conception. The leap to applying center-periphery and world
system conceptual frame-works to the wider geographical, social and economic contexts we
believe to exist has yet to be fully accomplished. There are a few glimmers of light on
the horizon in this regard, for instance Sherrat's (1992) paper on the bronze age
"world system" and McNeill's (1991) comments on the scope and significance of
economic relations in the ancient world system quoted earlier. We believe that there is
good reason to encourage this nascent trend to analysis at the largest scale possible
given the state of the archeological and historical evidence as the logical extension of
the method and theses we advocate over the entire course of world history.
However, a new wave in archaeological studies has recently appeared. It applies
center-periphery and/or world systems analysis to the study of complex societies of the
past. Thus, Rowlands, Larsen and Kristiansen, Eds. (1987) entitled a book Centre and
Periphery in the Ancient World; Champion (198x) edited one on Centre and Periphery:
Comparative Studies in Archeology; Chase-Dunn and Hall 1991 on Pre-Capitalist Core-
Periphery Relations; Greg Woolf (1990) discusses "World- systems analysis and the
Roman empire," and Andrew Sherrat writes of "Core, Periphery, and Margin:
Perspectives on the Bronze Age" (n.d.) and asks "What Would a Bronze Age World
System Look Like?" (1992). Thus, much of this new literature and its very titles
about ancient and "pre-capitalist" societies or "worlds" make the
growing recognition explicit that it is not only possible, but analytically fruitful to
apply concepts developed for the analysis of the modern world also to the
"pre-modern" and indeed the "pre-historical" world.
Progress in this direction has, however, been limited by the attempt to apply
Wallersteinian categories too rigidly and/or by confining them to
"world-systems" of excessively narrow scope. Guillermo Algaze (n.d.), for
instance, comparatively examines "Prehistoric World Systems, Imperialism, and the[ir]
Expansion" in each of Egypt, Southern Mesopotamia, and the Indus Valley, as well as
Central Mexico. Yet he does not consider the connections among the first three, as well as
among them and Northern Mesopotamia, Anatolia, the Levant, Persia, and Central Asia, which
are examined in Gills and Frank (1992). George Dales (1976) probed the "Shifting
Trade Patterns between the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley in the Third Millennium
B.C." Hiebert and Lambsberg-Karlovsky (1991) in turn examine the relations between
"Central Asia and the Indo-Iranian Borderlands."
Philip Kohl (1991) also examines the connections between Persia and Transcaucasian
Central Asia, and between that in turn and the Indus Valley. He sees parallels and shifts
of center of gravity between the latter, but is reluctant to probe possible causal
interrelations. Kohl (1987,1989, 1991) has also written several times about
center-periphery relations and "the use and abuse of world systems theory"
regarding these areas. He concludes that "these Central Asian materials cannot easily
be incorporated into an unmodified Wallersteinian world systems model....Economic
development and dependency were not linked phenomena during the Bronze Age....Central Asia
clearly interacted with South Asia and Iran in the late third millennium, but it was
neither a core, a periphery, nor semi-periphery" (Kohl 1989: 235,236,237). Moreover,
among others, Kohl also stresses the maritime connections with Oman.
From our perspective, all of these structures and processes, as well as the specific
historical events, can and should be studied as part of a single world system process. It
seems particularly opportune to do so when, just as we write, even the popular press
(front page headline in the International Herald Tribune Feb. 6, 1992) reports the use of
satellite observation to make the "major new find...of the Omanum Emporium" at
or near "Ancient Arabia's Lost City" of [Omanian] Ubar, which was the center of
the overland and maritime frankincense trade with most of the areas we just discussed
above. Only extension and adaptation of world system analysis to earlier times can offer
analytical categories, which are essential to analyze all this in its then contemporary
Bronze Age systemic interrelations. Moreover, we agree with the archaeologists like Kohl
who suggest that the age old inquiry into the origins of the ancient state also must be
reoriented to take account of "international relations." However, these
relations were rival and competitive for economic suzerainty, and not only on a bilateral
basis, but within an "interstate" world system. We return to this matter in our
sections on international relations and anthropology below.
Classicism in Ancient History
In Classicism, Eurocentricity as noted above, has been recently powerfully criticized
by Martin Bernal (1987) and Samir Amin (1989). Both argue that ancient Greece was less the
beginning of "Western" than the continuation of "Eastern" civilization
and culture. However, we would caution against misuse of Bernal's work by some of his new
"Afrocentrist" interpreters. Similarly, "poly-centrism" can be misused
by multiculturalist counter-attacks on Eurocentric culture. On a more material level, the
archaeologists Andrew and Susan Sherratt insist similarly about Aegean civilization that
"its growth can only be understood in the context if its interaction with these
larger economic structures" in the Levant and "behind them stood the much larger
urban economies of Mesopotamia and Egypt" where for "already 2000 years ... the
easterners had the gold, the skills, the bulk, the exotic materials, the sophisticated
lifestyle, and the investment capacity" (Sherratt 1989:355). Why else, Gills and
Frank (1992) ask, would Alexander have turned East to seek his fortune?
Our world system perspective not only reinforces the Amin and Bernal ideological
critique of Eurocentrism, but carries it much further still. We also offer an analytic
context, indeed a framework, within which to perceive and analyze the "interaction
with these larger structures" by Greek, Roman and other "civilizations" in
"classical" times. Thus, our perspective offers a powerful antidote to the
Eurocentric classical historians, who were so successful that they imposed their bias upon
the ancient world by privileging the role of Graeco-Roman civilization in the story of
world history. The contributions of non-Western, and particularly "Oriental,"
societies were systematically denigrated or dismissed as unimportant. Most importantly,
Eurocentric classisism distorted the real political and economic position of the
"West"- i.e. the Graeco-Romans, in the ancient world as a whole. Yet we know
that Hellas began its ascendance after a preparatory period of so-called
"Orientalizing", i.e. emulating and integrating with the more advanced and
prosperous centres of civilization and commerce in the "East".
The Eurocentric distortions of classicism in ancient history can best be corrected by
applying a world system approach in which all the major zones of ancient Eurasia are
analyzed on the basis of their participation in a common economic process. Culturalism and
the assumption of Western superiority has distorted analyses of the true world historical
position and relations of the West European and West Asian (Middle Eastern) regions. A
world system framework clarifies that for most of world history, including ancient
"classical" history, Europe was ever "marginal" and West Asia ever
The ultimate center of economic gravity in this ancient world remained in the East even
after the rise of Hellas, which is well attested to in the history of the Hellenistic
kingdoms. It can be argued that, even when Rome ascended to political predominance over
these Hellenistic kingdoms, the real economic core of this pan- Mediterranean- Oriental
world system nevertheless decidedly remained in the East, whilst Rome itself played a
largely parasitic role. The historical evidence corroborates the contention that the real
position of the West relative to that of the East has been misunderstood. Witness the
evidence from the ambition of Antony and Cleopatra to rule this world from the East; to
the secession of Queen Zenobia in the 3rd century; to the founding of Constantinople as
the Eastern capital, and its subsequent centuries long tenure as the premier economic
metropole of the East. Indeed, the so-called "fall" of the Roman empire was of
course mainly confined to the economically far weaker Western provinces. It was primarily
Eurocentric bias and privileging of Graeco-Roman civilization that produced the quite
false dichotomy between the "fall" of Rome and the subsequent Byzantine empire.
The latter, of course, was the same Roman empire; and it only retrenched and regrouped in
its economic core in the East.
The true position and relations of the West European and West Asian [Middle Eastern]
region have been even less analyzed within the context of the entire Eurasian economic
world. Teggart (1939) established a model for how such a task might be accomplished. Such
a project would need to incorporate the ancient history of every major region in Eurasia,
especially those of China, India, Central Asia, and S.E. Asia. Our world system history
offers a framework to do so. In that framework as in world historical reality, Europe was
ever marginal and West Asia central. Gills and Frank (1991) discuss a Eurasian wide
pattern of correlations in economic expansion and contraction and hegemonic rise and
decline during the ancient period. The attempt is to explore the synchronization and
sequentialization of these patterns between all the major zones of ancient Eurasia, on the
working assumption that they participated in a common world acccumulation process.
Most study of medieval history is also extremely Eurocentric. The famous "Dark
Ages" refer explicitly to Europe, indeed to Western Europe. However, the implication
is that either the rest of the world also experienced centuries of the same; or worse,
that it did not exist at all, or if it did so, there were no connections between [Western]
Europe and the remainder of the world. All of these theses and their implications are
directly challenged by Frank and Gills' study of the Afro- Eurasian world system during
In terms of 20th century European sociological historiography, the dispute could be
summarized through the polar opposite positions of the contemporaries Max Weber and Werner
Sombart. The archaeologists Andrew and Susan Sherratt (1991) identify this contrast with
regard already to the ancient world. However, it also applies to medieval times; or
rather, perhaps it was projected backward by Weber and Sombart from their study of
medieval times and indeed from their concern with modern capitalism. Weber and Marx were
antagonists in their interpretation of capitalism and in the theoretical aparatuses they
bequeathed to 20th century social science and history. However, they were tactical allies
with regard to their interpretation of the preceding medieval times, from which however
differently both sought to distinguish modern capitalism. They saw medieval Europe as sunk
in a dark age hole of immobility, which was closed in upon itself. For them and for their
many and mutually antagonistic followers through most of the 20th century, Europe was
characterized by small scale and agrarian feudal fiefdoms based on master-serf relations.
The most important exponents of similar theses among historians was perhaps Marc Bloch.
All of these followed in turn Edward Gibbon's renowned Decline and Fall of the Roman
Empire from the 18th century and European Renaissance writers before that.
A contrary thesis was developed and defended by Sombart (1977,1979), who laid much
greater emphasis on commercial developments, by Alfons Dopsch (1918), and to some extent
by Henri Pirenne (1936) and Henri See (1926). Dopsch emphasized the continued importance
of trade after the decline of the Roman empire in the West and denied that Europe
involuted completely. Pirenne recognized the integration at least of Western Europe in the
Age of Charlemange. Though See, like Marx and Weber was concerned with The Origins of
Modern Capitalism, he identified many medieval commercial precursors, also in the Church.
Sture Bolin argued against Pirenne and suggested that without Mohammed -- or indeed Rurik,
the Swedish invader of Russia -- there could have been no Charlemange. That is, medieval
Western Europe was systemically related to Eastern Europe and Islam. (For a discussion of
these theses, see Adelson 1962). The important place and role of Venice and Genoa in late
medieval Europe were derived from their connections with the Byzantines and others in the
"East." The Crusades went there because that was where the action was, while
Europe still was in a backwater of world system history.
However even if we start in Europe as we should not, these observations lead us much
farther afield. The importance of the commercial and monetary ties between Europe and
Islamic lands is emphasized, among others, by Maurice Lombard (1975). He rightly terms the
medieval centuries as The Golden Age of Islam. Marshall Hodgson (1974) sees medieval Islam
as the veritable center and hub of a flourishing Eurasian ecumene, while [Western] Europe
- and by Eurocentric extension the world? - supposedly languished in "dark
ages." K.N. Chaudhuri (1985 and 1990) goes on to analyze the medieval splendor in
Asia before Europe. Countless historians of China have studied the rise and decline of the
Sui, Tang, and Song dynasties; and the world historian William McNeill (1983) ascribes
world preeminence to the latter in the late Middle Ages. Christopher Beckwith (1987)
insists on the systemic connection among all of these regions and other regions, in
particular Central Asia including Tibet, and their polities throughout the medieval
period. Gills and Frank (1992) and Frank (1991c) rely heavily on all of these authors to
construct their analysis of the world system during the medieval period.
From a world system perspective medieval Europe was socially, politically and
economically quite backward or less developed in comparison with the contemporary cores in
the world system, all of which lay to the East. Perhaps no other region in Eurasia
suffered so deep and prolonged a retrogression after the classical period. In this sense,
medieval Europe was an exception rather than the rule, and Eurocentric pre-occupation with
feudal social forms distorts our appreciation of real social, political, and economic
development in the world as a whole during those centuries. Thus in this regard also,
Eurocentrism distorts our understanding of human history.
From Early Modern to Modern History
Early modern history is variously dated more or less from the 13th to 15th centuries,
depending on the specific historical topic under review. These include but are not
confined to the following more or less contemporaneous or temporally overlapping events:
The War of the Roses in Tudor Britain and/or the Hundred Years War in Europe, the
Renaissance in Europe, Norman expansion southward through Europe, the end of the European
Crusades, European expansion westward through the Mediterranean into and then across the
Atlantic, Mameluk rule in Egypt, the decline of the Byzantine empire, the rise of the
Ottoman empire and its expansion westward, Mongol expansion in all directions, the Black
Death, the rise of the Safavid empire in Iran, India before and during the Moslem
conquest, the Yuan dynasty in China and then its replacement by the Ming dynasty, and
farther afield perhaps the Mali empire in West Africa, the rise of the Incas in Peru and
of the Aztecs in Mexico. At best, some of these events or empires are treated
comparatively, as in the "Early Modern Seminar" at the University of Minnesota
led by Edward Farmer, whose approach was discussed above. Yet all of them are treated
either independently of each other or at most in relation to their immediate neighbors.
Per contra, in the world system according to Frank and Gills, at least all of these
Eurasian events would be supposed if not treated as having been interlinked and related to
each other. Gills and Frank (1992) do not treat the Mongol expansion and the Black death
as arising Deus ex Machina out of nowhere and their impact on and the reactions in China,
India, Persia and Europe as isolated instances. Instead, we treat all of these events and
others are as integral parts of an integrated Eurasian wide world system and historical
process. Exceptionally, Janet Abu Lughod's (1989) Before European Hegemony does the same.
She treats eight of these areas as interlinked across Eurasia during the years 1250-1350.
We already commented on her work in connection with " world system theory"
Palat and Wallerstein (1990) speak of an "evolving Indian Ocean world
economy," which combined a set of intersecting trade and production linkages from
Aden and Mocha on the Red Sea, and Basra, Gombroon and Hormuz on the Persian Gulf, to
Surat and Calicut on the western seaboard and Pulicat and Hughli on the Coromandl and
Bengal coasts of India, Melaka on the Malay archipelago; and the imperial capitals such as
Delhi and Teheran, connected by caravan trails. They "lived at the same pace as the
outside world, keeping up with the trades and rhythms of the globe" (Palat and
Wallerstein 1990:30-31, also Braudel 1982:18).
Nevertheless, Palat and Wallerstein insist that three autonomous historical systems
existed: the Indian Ocean world- economy, that centered around China, and the
Mediterranean/ European zones, which merely converged at intersections. Yet they note the
"swift collapse of these cities once their fulcral positions were undermined."
But they would have it that "their riches accumulated from their intermediary role in
the trade between different world-systems" rather than acknowledging the existence of
a single world economy. Furthermore, Palat and Wallerstein conclude that "despite the
temporal contemporaneity of post - 1400 expansion of networks of exchange and
intensification of relational dependencies in Europe and in the world of the Indian Ocean,
the processes of large-scale socio-historical transformation in the two historical systems
were fundamentally dissimilar. In one zone, it led to the emergence of the capitalist
world-economy. In the other, to an expanded petty commodity production that did not lead
to a real subsumption of labour" (Palat and Wallerstein 1990:40). Gills and Frank
(1992) regard this as an excessively nearsighted view.
Per contra other students of the world system therefore, if other parts of the world
have been the most important players in the same world system earlier on some of these
players still were important in the same world system after 1492 as well. Therefore, it is
necessary to rephrase [or repose?] the question of "incorporation" into the
system as perceived by Wallerstein and others, eg. in the 1987 issue of Review dedicated
to "Incorporation into the World-Economy: How the World-System Expands."
Moreover, the hegemony first of Iberia in the 16th century and then of the Netherlands in
the 17th, as well as the relative monopolies of trade on which they were based, came at
the expense of still operative trading powers, eg. the Ottomans and Indians, among others.
However, beyond the retreat into greater isolation of China under the Ming at one end
of Eurasia, another major reason that this historical development eventually became a more
uni- polar rather than a multi-polar transition is explained by J. M. Blaut (1977) with
reference to the other end: The Western European maritime powers' conquered the Americas
and injected its bullion into their own processes of capital accumulation. The Western
powers then used the same to gain increasing control over the trade nexus of the still
attractive and profitable Indian Ocean and Asia as a whole. Yet as late as 1680 the
English mercantilist Sir Josiah Child still observed that "we obstruct their [Mogul
Indian] trade with all the Eastern nations which is ten times as much as ours and all
European nations put together" (cited in Palat and Wallerstein 1990:26). In that
case, what was really in or out of the world system, what were its essential features, and
when did these features and the world system itself begin?
In this regard, an argument similar to ours was already made by Jacques Gernet in his
History of China:
what we have acquired the habit of regarding - according to the history of the world
that is in fact no more than the history of the West - as the beginning of modern times
was only the repercussion of the upsurge of the urban, mercantile civilizations whose
realm extended, before the Mongol invasion, from the Mediterranean to the Sea of China.
The West gathered up part of this legacy and received from it the leaven which was to make
possible its own development. The transmission was favored by the crusades of the twelfth
and thirteenth centuries and the expansion of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth and
fourteenth centuries....There is nothing surprising about this Western backwardness: the
Italian cities...were at the terminus of the great commercial routes of Asia.... The
upsurge of the West, which was only to emerge from its relative isolation thanks to its
maritime expansion, occurred at a time when the two great civilizations of Asia [China and
Islam] were threatened (Gernet 1982:347-8).
The same problematique marks much of economic history. In recent Eurocentric times,
economic history has focused on Europe, its rise, and its expansion worldwide. Far too
many books to mention have been written on the whys and wherefores of the "Rise of
the West;" and almost all of them have sought the answer in this or that factor or
combination of them WITHIN Europe. When the rest of the world IS there, as for scholars
such as Jones (1981), Hall (1985) or Baechler, Hall and Mann (1988), it is only to be
found deficient or defective in some crucial historical, economic, social, political,
ideological, or cultural respect in comparison to the West. Therefore, these authors also
revert to an internal explanation of the presumed superiority of the West to explain its
ascendance over the rest of the world. For all of them, the rise of Europe was a unique
"miracle" and not a product of history and shifts within the world [system]. The
major exception in posing and answering this question is McNeill's The Rise of the West;
and it is not an economic but a world history!
As for the others, we may chose The Rise of the Western World: A New Economic History
by Douglass C. North and Robert Paul Thomas (1973) as an example. The reason is the
explicitness of its title, its emphasis on "new," the renown of the authors, and
their revision of received theory. Yet under their subtitles "Theory and Overview: 1.
The Issue" and on the very first page, they clearly state "the development of an
efficient economic organization in Western Europe accounts for the rise of the West"
(North and Thomas 1973:1, our emphasis). They then trace this institutional change, and
especially the development of property rights, to increased economic scarcity, which was
generated in turn by a demographic upturn in Western Europe. The rest of the world was not
there for them, but we shall return to its demographics in our discussion of macro
historical sociology below. Here it is worthy of note, as North and Thomas (1973:vii)
emphasize in their preface, that their economic history is "consistent with and
complementary to standard neo-classical economic theory."
Marxist economic history, by contrast, has been dominated by concepts like "mode
of production" and "class struggle." Yet, both of these concepts have
generally also been interpreted within a framework of a single "society" or
social formation, or at least a single entity, whether that be a state or a civilization.
That is, with regard to "the rise of the West" and "the development of
capitalism," Marxist economic history has been equally or even more Eurocentric than
its "bourgeois" opponents. Examples are the famous debate in the 1950s on
"the transition from feudalism to capitalism" among Maurice Dobb, Paul Sweezy,
Kohachiro Takahashi, Rodney Hilton and others (reprinted in Hilton 1976) and the Brenner
Debate on "European feudalism" (Aston and Philpin, Eds. 1985). De Ste. Croix
(1981) on the class struggles in the ancient "Graeco-Roman" civilization and
Anderson (1974) on "Japanese feudalism," which they also considered as a
This limitation on the scope of analysis was not inevitable nor laid down by any law.
Rather, it was the result of Eurocentrism and a preference for endogenous class based
causal explanatory frameworks. In this preference for the limited and limiting units of
analysis, like the national state or society or civilization, "transitions"
occur mainly for "internal" "class" reasons. Central to
these"transitions" have been the transitions between modes of production, which
were usually analyzed as if they occurred wholly within each separate entity according to
the development of its internal contradictions.
Thus Anderson (1974) analyzed the "fall" of late Rome in the West as the
demise of the slave mode of production and its gradual replacement by the feudal mode of
production. Brenner (in Aston and Philpin, Eds 1985) analyses the transition from
feudalism to capitalism in Europe as if it occurred primarily (if not solely) as a
consequence of internal class contradictions that brought about a crisis of feudal
relations in the European social formation - irrespective of external causes. This was
also the central theme of Maurice Dobb (1946) which led to the debate between him and
other "productionists" like Rodney Hilton and others versus the
"circulationist" Paul Sweezy, who emphasized the contribution of world market
relations to the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe, without however yet
studying the dynamics of that world economy itself. Kohachiro Takahashi tryed to take an
intermediate position between the two sides in this debate in the early 1950s (reprinted
in Hilton 1976). The same themes and theses resurfaced a generation later in the Brenner -
Wallerstein exchange. To re-examine the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western
Europe and the simultaneous rise of the "second serfdom" in Eastern Europe,
Brenner takes a Dobbsian productionist position; and Wallerstein focuses on the
development of the capitalist modern world-system.
To re-examine the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe and the
simultaneous rise of the "second serfdom" in Eastern Europe, Brenner takes a
Dobbsian productionist position; and Wallerstein focuses on the development of the
capitalist modern world-system. Denemark and Thomas (1988) review this debate and contend
that it is better to maintain a wider system level of analysis and also to pay more
attention to the concrete determinants of power within political. Denemark and Thomas
point to the errors of overly state-centric analysis. Their refutation of Brenner's claims
that Poland's relative status was primarily conditioned by its internal structure and not
by trade is a useful empirical affirmation of the greater explanatory power of a world
system based framework of analysis. An illustration of the importance of these long term
and large scale structural factors is that from his vantage point as a Hungarian Jeno
Szc could observe that in drawing the line between East and West Europe at their
meetings in Moscow and Yalta,
It is as if Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt had studied carefully the status quo of the
age of Charlemagne on the 1130th anniversary of his death....[Also] the old Roman limes
would show up an Europe's morphological map, thus presaging right from the start the birth
of a 'Central Europe' within the notion of the 'West'..... The whole history of the
Hapsburg state was an attempt to balance the unbalanceable while being squeezed somewhere
between the two extremes of East-Central Europe. The only consequent structural element in
that formula...[was] the setting up by the Hapsburgs of a diminished -- East-Central
European -- copy on an "imperial scale" of the division of labour drawn up by
the nascent "world economy" on a larger scale... between West (industrial) and
East (agricultural).... In the "Hapsburg division of labour," Hungary was cast
in the East's role [with its East European hinterland and Austria governing Bohemia in the
West's] (Szcs 1983:133, 172, 173).
The issue of how to combine the respective strengths and insights of the global and
local levels of analysis is taken up in a forthcoming collection on
"neo-structuralism" (Palan and Gills 1993).
At the center of these still very relevant discussions is a vital methodological issue.
Should we take as the primary unit of analysis a single society (if such a thing can be
said to exist!), or a single state, or even a single mode of production (if there ever was
one in isolation)? Doing so leads us to privilege production and endogenous factors in
formulating our causal explanations of social change. Or should we take on the largest
unit of analysis suggested by the material and political-military interactions in which
any particular geographical area is involved? That leads us to privilege (or at least to
emphasize) accumulation, exchange and hegemonic influences or rivalries. That is our
methodological choice. Of course, we differ from Wallerstein in that we do not see the
world system as arising from 1500, but much earlier. Therefore, we do not regard the
"transition," if any, as an intra-European process, but more as the consequence
of a shift in the economic center of gravity from East to West. That is our argument
explicitly in Gills and Frank (1992) and in Frank (1991b,1992a,b). Thus, we then find
"systemic" and conjunctural causal explanations of "transitional"
change that appear "external" to Europe and its "internal" relations
of production. Since these appear primary to the "productionists," they
therefore accuse us of "circulationism." Frank (1991b) in turn inveighs against
"Transitional Ideological Modes: Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism."
In this regard we may perhaps be permitted a personal but revealing aside. In 1965, one
of us debated with Rodolfo Puiggros in the Sunday supplement of a Mexican newspaper about
the transition between feudalism and capitalism in Latin American agriculture (Frank
1965). The title was "With What Mode of Production does the Hen Convert Maize into
Golden Eggs?" The answer was that the hen's mode of production in agriculture and a
forteriori Latin America itself was capitalist since its Conquest and incorporation into
the capitalist system by the newly hegemonial Europe. Fifteen years later, Frank's then
seventeen year old son Paulo suddenly said like a bolt out of the sky that "obviously
Latin America could not have been feudal, since it was colonized by Europe."
The 1965 article began by inviting the readers to solve a puzzle: connect nine points,
which visually seem to form [and enclose] a square, with a single line of four continuous
and straight segments. The point was - and still is - that it is impossible to find the
solution as long as we stay within the limited frame that the nine points appear to impose
on us: "The solution is that we must emerge from the limited and self imposed
frame" by going outside it. The argument in 1965 was that "if we are to
understand the Latin American problematique we must begin with the world system that
creates it and go outside the self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the
Ibero-American or national frame" (reprinted in Frank 1969:231).
That is still the point, and it applies equally to understanding "the transition
from feudalism to capitalism" in Europe and to "the rise of the western world: a
new economic history." In the last generation, all sides of the Dobb- Sweezy debates,
the Brenner debates, the Brenner-Wallerstein debates among Marxist and neo-Marxist, as
well as the debates between neo-classicists and other Eurocentric scholars before them
have posed all their questions and sought all their answers only or primarily within
Europe, be it in its "mode of production," "institutions of property"
or otherwise. Yet if we are to understand this apparently European problematique we must
also "begin with the world system that creates it and go outside the self-imposed
optical and mental illusion of the [nine point enclosed square Latin American or European]
or national frame."
We recommend the world system as the locus, and the process of accumulation within it
as its motor force of development, as the primary determinants of the historical process.
In this regard we are very much in agreement with Wallerstein, Amin, Abu-Lughod and others
- as far as they go. However, as noted in our discussion of world system theory above, we
want also to apply the same methodology much further in space and time. We believe that
Marxist and neo-Marxist historiography also should not be confined in its self imposed
"isolationist" orthodoxy. Rather, historical materialist analysis, Marxist or
otherwise, should move in ever more holistic and inclusive directions. These were already
proposed by earlier materialist economic historians, like Gordon Childe (1936, 1942) and
later by Fernand Braudel's (1953, 1981-84) "total history". Only then can we
hope to comprehend the full causal frameworks for transitions - be they in modes, centers
of accumulation or hegemonic power - on the scale of the "world-as-a-whole".
[Macro] Historical Sociology
Both the Marxist heritage and its self-limitations also impinge on macro historical
[political] sociology, and so do our critiques thereof from a world system perspective.
For example, Michael Mann (1986: 1-2) sums up his approach in two statements. Both could
offer justification and basis for a world system historical approach. However, in Mann's
hands they do rather the opposite:
Societies are not unitary. They are not social systems (closed or open); they are not
totalities. We can never find a single bounded society in geographical or social space.
Because there is no system, no totality, there cannot be "sub-systems,"
"dimensions," or "levels" of such a totality. Because there is no
whole, social relations cannot be reduced "ultimately," "in the last
instance," to some systemic property of it - like the "mode of material
production," or the "cultural" or "normative system," or the
"form of military organization." Because there is no bounded totality, it is not
helpful to divide social change or conflict into "endogenous" and
"exogenous" varieties. Because there is no social system, there is no
"evolutionary" process within it.... There is no one master concept or basic
unit of "society."....I would abolish the concept of "society"
The second statement flows from the first. Conceiving of societies as multiple
overlapping and intersecting power networks gives us the best available entry into the
issue of what is ultimately "primary" or "determining" in
societies....[There are] four sources of social power: ideological, economic, military,
and political (IEMP) relationships.
We can only agree to Mann's proposal to abolish the concept of society and to his
rejection of the search for some single ultimately determinant property thereof. For most
of Mann's rejection of the premises of orthodox history and social science, right and
left, also eliminates many underbrush obstacles on the way to the world system history we
propose. However, we have some reservations about his prima facie rejection of all
totality and systemic property as well as to his singular preoccupation with power alone.
In particular, we can not be satisfied by his inquiry only into "the sources of
social power" at different times and places, without a systematic attempt to
investigate possible connections between here and there, and to trace possible
continuities between then and now. Moreover, we suggest that Mann's focus on power itself
devotes insufficient attention to the use, if not the motive, of power for ulterior
This more materialist perspective is much more pervasive in Jack A. Goldstone's (1991)
Revolutions and Rebellions in the Early Modern World. This book is not so much, and
certainly not just, another study of revolutions and rebellions. In addition, indeed
instead, it offers a demographic / structural and cyclical analysis of economic,
political, social, cultural and ideological factors responsible for state breakdown. The
revolutions are only the straw that break the camel's back; and the rebellions are those
that fail to do so, because the structural conditions are not ripe. "Any claim that
such trends were produced solely by unique local conditions is thoroughly undermined by
the evidence" (p.462). To explain, we may best let Goldstone speak for himself:
EARLY MODERN HISTORY: A WORLD HISTORY
My primary conclusion is quite beautiful in its parsimony. It is that the periodic state
breakdowns in Europe, China and the Middle East from 1500 to 1800 were the result of a
single basic process.... The main trend was that population growth, in the context of
relatively inflexible economic and social structures, led to changes in prices, shifts in
resources, and increasing social demands with which the agrarian-bureaucratic states could
not successfully cope. The four related critical trends were as follows: (1) Pressures
increased on state finances and inflation eroded state income and population growth raised
real expenses.... (2) Intra-elite conflicts became more prevalent as larger families and
inflation made it more difficult for some families to maintain their status ... while
creating new aspirants to elite positions.... (3) Popular unrest grew, as competition for
land, urban migration flooded labor markets, declining real wages, and increased
youthfulness raised the mass mobilization potential of the populace.... (4) The ideologies
of rectification and transformation became increasingly salient ... and turned both elites
and middling groups to heterodox religious movements in the search for reform, order, and
discipline. The conjunctures of these four critical trends ... combined to undermine
stability on multiple levels of social organization. This basic process was triggered all
across Eurasia by periods of sustained population increases that occurred in the sixteenth
and early seventeenth centuries and again in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, thus producing worldwide waves of state breakdown. In contrast, in the late
seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries populations did not grow, and the basic process
and its four subthemes were absent. Political and social stability resulted (Goldstone
1991:459-60 emphasis in the original).
What lies behind the long cycles of expansion and contraction at least of
"economic" growth rates and their political consequences, which are identified
by Gills and Frank (1992)? Perhaps demographic changes, due in turn to Eurasian wide ups
and downs in mortality rates, as Goldstone persuasively argues. They could well combine
with the long cycles of typically 200 years expansion and contraction, which we identify.
Alas, we have not even investigated this possibility - if it is possible to do so with
available demographic evidence. However, ecological cycles, as Goldstone also calls them,
perhaps based on climactic changes, have also been suggested and investigated by others;
and they are discussed in Frank (1990 and 1991/2). Goldstone's kind of analysis could and
should be extended beyond the cases he studied.
Goldstone's demographically based economic, political and social cycles of course
challenge both the view that history is only linearly progressive and that, at least since
early modern times, it is determined by the development of capitalism. We agree (Gills and
Frank 1992, Frank 1991a). Of course Goldstone's point is even more well taken, if the
demographic and political economic cycles extend farther back than the supposed origin of
capitalism around 1800, 1500 or whenever. Indeed and although Goldstone himself does not
go so far as to say so, his materialist analysis undermines the very idea of capitalism as
a separate and useful category, not to mention system. That is what Frank (1991b) argues,
also on materialist grounds.
A related major case in point is the insistence, against all the evidence, that the
class struggle between classes is the motor force of history. Goldstone denies that, and
adduces contrary evidence again and again. Alvin Gouldner (19xx) already emphasized the
contradiction between The Two Marxisms. One holds that material economic conditions shape
social relations and form consciousness, and the other claims that the class struggle and
consciousness thereof drive history. Yet at about the same time, the Polish Marxist Leszek
Nowak (1983 translation) pointed out that the transition from slavery to feudalism was not
generated by inter-class slave revolts against their masters, and the transition from
feudalism to capitalism was not due to inter-class uprisings by serfs against their lords.
In both "transitions" if any, the conflicts and "struggles" were
intra-class within the old and emerging new ruling classes, which responded to underlying
economic changes. Slave and serf revolts were at best secondary and supplementary. Now
Goldstone demonstrates that in each of the cases he analyzes, the important conflicts and
struggles were among the existing and emerging elites, and not between the
"people" and them. "Factional conflict within the elites, over access to
office, patronage, and state policy, rather than conflict across classes, led to state
paralysis and state breakdown" (Goldstone 1991:461), as Frank and Gills (1990/91)also
observed. Grass roots social movements from below were supplementary in that they helped
further destabilize an already unstable state, if only by obliging it to spend already
scarce resources to defend itself; and that the popular movements favored the interests of
some elite factions against others. "I know of no popular rebellion that succeeded by
itself without associated elite revolts or elite leadership in creating institutional
change" (Goldstone 1991: 11). All this would be obvious, if it were not so frequently
denied by those whose ideology leads them to claim to know better.
Gills (1989) also refers to the intra-elite struggles underlying periodic crisis. He
sees this pattern virtually everywhere prior to 1500. The pattern is driven not only
demographically, but more fundamentally as a cyclical struggle among elites for control
over shares of the surplus and state power. The typical pattern, as evident in the history
of East Asia, is for privatization of accumulation to grow to a point at which it
threatens the stability of the state, whose revenue declines as the rate of exploitation
increases. This immiserates the peasantry and impoverishes the economy, and precipitates
rebellion. In East Asian history, the timing of major rebellions is closely correlated to
the entropic nadir in this cycle of accumulation and hegemony.
These and other revolts and revolutions have been the object of long study by Charles
Tilly and his associates. They help fill an important void in the analysis of world system
history, in which people's participation often does not receive the attention it
rightfully deserves.Under the suggestive title Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge
Comparisons Tilly (1984) asks "how can we improve our understanding of the
large-scale structures and processes that were transforming the world...?" Tilly
answers and argues that "the most pressing theoretical problems are to connect local
events to international structures of power and to improve existing models of these
international structures." He considers doing so at the world-historical, the world-
systemic, the macrohistorical, and the microhistorical levels. "If the world forms
but a single coherent network, the first two levels collapse into one...How many levels
exist and what units define them are partly empirical questions." But "if any
connection counts, we will most likely discover that with trivial exceptions the world has
always formed a single system." Tilly rightly rejects counting any connection; but he
jumps to the unfounded conclusion that therefore "only in the last few hundred years,
by the criterion of rapid, visible, and significant influences, could someone plausibly
argue for all the world as a single system....[This] implies that human history has seen
many world systems, often simultaneously dominating different parts of the globe."
Therefore, Tilly argues that we must study many "big structures, large processes,
huge comparisons." Yet Tilly's own objectives and alternative criteria to the
pernicious postulates also permit alternative plausible arguments. To begin with, there
could have been a multi-centered and yet single system. Nonetheless, Tilly himself still
does not accept these arguments. On the contrary, in private correspondence of July
30,1989 he suggests that we would have to adopt precise numerical criteria of degrees of
influences to measure significance, which in turn we reject as deleterious. Thus, we could
say that Tilly's study of social movements breathes welcome life into the baby; but he
throws out much of the wider social bath water, all of the systemic bath tub, and leaves
the baby perilously suspended in mid air.
Political geography as a world-encompassing subject is concerned primarily with
analysis of the spatial dimensions of global political economy. Formerly, the dominant
form of international political geography was geopolitics, which was pre-occupied with
strategic studies and power politics. Global power rivalry among the great powers called
into being a social science discipline to inform strategists and statesmen. As such,
geopolitics was the handmaiden of International Relations, a similarly policy-oriented
academic community. Mahan and Mackinder epitomized the infancy of geopolitics and its
strategic obsession, e.g. in Mackinder's famous "heartland" theory.
Fortunately, in recent years political geography has been taken in new directions by
critical scholarship addressing the spatial dimensions of the modern capitalist world
economy. Particularly instrumental therein have been geographers like Peter Taylor (1989)
who also edits the journal Political Geography, R.J. Johnson and P.J.Taylor (1986),
Richard Peet (1991), and A.D. King (1991). Wallerstein (1991) has also contributed in this
The spatial analysis of capitalism on world scale has become more "fluid." It
is moving away from notions of fixed territoriality, particularly when addressing
questions of nation and nationalism, identity and locality, and the organization of
production. The burgeoning literature on globalization/localization, postmodernism and
critical human geography, and global culture indicates the still increasing intellectual
interest in new ways of incorporating the spatial dimension into analyses of global
processes (Soja 1988, Lash and Urry 1987, Jameson 1984, Anderson 1983, Featherstone 1991,
A.D. King 1991).
The debates about world system theory and history intersect with these spatial
explorations in political geography and critical social theory. If taken to its logical
conclusion, the Gills and Frank (1992) approach to cycles of accumulation and hegemony at
the scale of the world system as a whole implies a new conceptualization of the spatial
dimension of world accumulation/hegemonic processes. The fluidity of the spatial
organization of the world system becomes all the more sharply apparent in a perpetual
process of restructuring, which has been continuous for not only the past 500, but
throughout 5000 years of world system history.
The "geography of imperialism" should be understood not merely territorially,
but sequentially, via the shifts in centres of accumulation that occur over time, and
which themselves reflect the underlying processes of competitive accumulation that forever
restructure the spatial organization of the world economy. In reality, no political
geographical/ spatial unit or entity, be it nation or state, is fixed. Instead, all have
historically been and still are being kaliediscopically transformed on the wheel of the
processes of accumulation in the world system.
International Relations and International Political Economy
Of all the academic disciplines our world system history should speak to International
Relations (IR) and International Political Economy (IPE) are the most obvious candidates.
World system analysis established its value by challenging both disciplines by its very
multidisciplinary and holistic approach. By insisting on studying 500 years of world
system history, world system analysis broke with the short-term post-1945 self-definition
of both IR and IPE. It also broke with the then predominant state centric approach in IR,
which was mirrored in the modernization approach in Development Studies. World system
theory made a case for the superiority of taking the world system as a whole as the unit
of analysis. Since its first onslaught on the state centric approach, conventional IR has
been influenced by growing dissatisfaction with traditional realist state centrism. A
number of prominent IR theorists have turned their attention instead to IPE (Gilpin 1987,
Keohane 1984, Krasner 1983).
Our approach to hegemonic transitions also complements rather than competes with or
contradicts the new Gramscian school in IR by, for instance, Stephen Gill (1990) and
Robert Cox (1981, 1983, 1987). They use larger frameworks of global hegemony, but also
incorporate class and social forces, as well as their relationship to world order. This
work complements our insistence on analyzing "inter-linking hegemonies" in world
historical processes. Gills (1993) attempts new synthesis of the Gramscian and world
system approach in an analysis of hegemonic transitions in East Asia. However, most
adherents of the new Gramscian approach to IR/IPE do not (yet) extend their analysis back
in time beyond the relatively recent modern period.
However, the main point of continuing contact and dialogue between IR theorists and
world system theorists has been long cycle theory. Both were concerned with understanding
the relationship between economic cycles of expansion and contraction and leadership/
hegemonic cycles. These relationships were explored especially in Modelski (1987), and
Modelski and Thompson (1988) coming from the "political" IR side; Wallerstein
(1974) and Frank (1978) on the "economic" world system side; the reader on both
edited by Thompson (1983); reworking all of the above and much more in the magistral study
on long cycles and war by Goldstein (1988), and reflected in recent discussion of world
leadership and hegemony (Rapkin 1990). In addition to establishing historically grounded
empirical studies of long term cyclical change in the international/world system, they
also made a contribution to cumulative social science knowledge, as reviewed by Chase-Dunn
This dialogue and growing interest in historically grounded IR and IPE theory also led
to the establishment of the World Historical Systems (WHS) sub-section of the IPE section
in the International Studies Association (ISA). However, the 1991 and 1992 meetings of the
WHS show that a growing number of its members and others are now applying the study of a
combination of both "political" and the "economic" long cycles, and
also of center-periphery structures, to world-systems -- or like we to the world system --
before 1500. Our theses on world accumulation attempt to push the historical agenda of
research even further back in socio-historical time. Thereby, the established virtues of
the world system and long cycle approaches are extended to contribute to the study of
world history. Pre-modern history and archaeology in turn can contribute to and perhaps
"re-define" the study of IR and IPE.
The key question we pose to both existing world system theory and to IR and IPE
theorists is whether there are fundamental historical cyclical patterns that shape not
only the present and the last 500 years, but also much more of human history. Do the
patterns of historical cyclical development of the present originate only 500 years ago
with the emergence of the "capitalist mode of production" and the "modern
inter- state system," or do they emerge much earlier, as we suggest in Gills and
Frank (1992)? If these patterns transcend transitions between modes of production and
hegemonic power, as we think the evidence indicates, then the implications for social
science are far-reaching indeed. We do not want to fall into some trap of
"transhistoricism" by claiming that all world history is the same. We do not
deny the reality of constant change and restructuring in the world economy. Far from it;
what we seek to establish is that a process of accumulation existed in a world economic
system long before the emergence of the "capitalist modern world-system" and
that rhythms of expansion and contraction in this world system/economy have a continuity,
which long antedate -- and indeed contribute to and help account for -- the emergence of
this "capitalist modern world-system." These patterns are inter-linked with the
historical rise and decline of hegemonic powers and shifts in the centers of power, whose
fundamental characteristics, as we maintain, also long predate modern states systems.
Our hypotheses not only counter the short-termism and state-centrism of much of IR and
some of IPE. They also challenge these disciplines their concerns to encompass more of the
human experience and to analyze it more holistically. Ultimately, our position makes a
case for both a macro- and a micro-historical sociology as the basis of any IR and/or IPE
theory to understand and formulate policy for the modern world. The call for a world
historical approach to IR and IPE does not mean that current changes and conditions in the
world system are irrelevant or a distraction. The real purpose of world historical
approaches is to inform and enrich our understanding of and policy for these on-going
socio-political processes in the world today -- and tomorrow. We explore some of these
social scientific, political and practical implications below in our conclusions.
Development studies as such was born only after the Second World War and is, not unlike
its second cousin "socialist development," already over the hill if not
downright dead (Seers 1979, Hirschman 1981). The present world economic crisis has
replaced concern with "development" by that for crisis management in the South
and East. Moreover "development" has been replaced by the new buzzword
"democracy," although managing the crisis allows for hardly any democratic
control of public policy (Frank 1992d). On the other hand as we contend, the world system
has been around for over five thousand years already; and its systematic study along these
lines has only just begun. However, both the existence and the study of this world system
have farreaching implications for both development studies and "development"
A world system perspective on "development" helps clarify how much -- that is
how little if at all - the "development" we have known has been good for people.
That "Development is bad for women," feminists say (Frank 1991c). If that is
true, development is already bad for over half the world's population. However,
"development" has also been bad for most men, as Wallerstein explicitly and Amin
implicitly point out: Over the five centuries' existence of the modern world-system, as
they see it, the growing polarization of income and wealth in the world has not benefitted
most men [and still less women] relative to the relatively few who have benefitted. Today,
roughly speaking, 20 percent of the population get 80 percent of the world's goodies, and
80 percent have to share the poverty of the remaining 20 percent of the goods. Wallerstein
argues that as a result, the majority of the people in the world are also absolutely worse
off than they were five hundred or even two hundred years ago. If now we extend the idea
of the world system still much farther back in history, the perspective on polarization
and "development" becomes dimmer still, even if Amin argues that world scale
polarization only began with the birth of the modern world [capitalist] system.
However that may be, if there is only one world system, then "national"
[state] development within it can only be the [temporary] improvement of a region's or a
people's position within that system. In that case indeed, the very term
"development" makes little sense unless it refers to the development of the
whole world system itself, and not just of some part if it (Frank 1991c). That is, the
entire [national state/society] foundation of "modernization" theory and policy,
whether "capitalist or "socialist" is challenged by the world system
[theory] as well as by the bitter experience of those who put their faith in it and/or
were obliged to suffer its costs.
The verity of this discovery is spectacularly illustrated by the experience with
"socialist development." To begin with, the "development of socialism"
was always little more than misnamed "socialist" development, as distinct from
some "other" development, but nonetheless [national/ state] development above
and before all else. That has now been unmasked as a snare and a delusion. Unfortunately,
perhaps even more on the ideological right than on the left, the blame for the failure is
falsely attributed to the "socialist" part of this [non]development. In fact,
the "socialist Development" was tried and failed exclusively in underdeveloped
regions, which had been so for ages and remain the same - for that reason, that is because
of their inherited and still continuing position in the world system, and not because of
their supposed "socialism." To the possible retort that some
"capitalist" countries did "develop" however, the answer is that most
"capitalist" countries, regions, etc. on the world also did not
"develop" and that they failed to do so for the same reason: not their
"capitalist" or "socialist" "system," but their position in
the world system! So the existence, participation in, and awareness of the world system
puts the problematique of "development" in a completely different light from
that which was mistakenly and ideologically thrown upon it during the four postwar
Development "policy" -- and "theory" -- has largely been a sham.
Very few actors in this drama [farce? tragedy?] have sought anything other than their own
profit and enrichment -- at the expense of others. That has been true not only of
"capitalists" for whom it comes naturally, but also of "socialists"
for whom it may come "unnaturally;" but it comes nonetheless. The development
"theory" either had "policy" makers as its referent who turned out not
to exist, or it had none at all to begin with. How could it have been otherwise, if all
are part and parcel of the same dog-eat-dog competitive world system? In that system only
a few can win the "development" race at any one time; and apparently they cannot
even maintain their lead for long.
If world system theory is an outgrowth of dependence theory, as is often claimed
especially by observers who subscribe to neither; then it should not be surprising if
"world system" also has implications for "dependence." Briefly, they
are that dependence exists - indeed has existed for millennia within the world system; and
that eliminating dependence or being/becoming independent of the world system is
impossible. Thus, dependentistas, including Frank (1967, 1969) and others, were right in
giving structural dependence a central place in their analysis. Indeed, they did not know
how right they were; for that dependence cannot be eliminated simply by replacing one
"system" by another, because there is only one world system. On the other hand
therefore, the dependentistas were wrong in proposing easy solutions for dependence, as
Frank (1991c) acknowledges under the title "The Underdevelopment of
Development." It has been an essential part in the center- periphery structure of the
world system for thousands of years; and it is not likely to be overcome easily or to
disappear soon. Although they are not unrelated, concern about "dependent [under]
development" has be shifting to concern for ecologically "sustainable
development" (Redclift 1987).
Our thesis also touches on the contemporary and growing globe embracing ecological
threat and world wide consciousness about the same. We argue that it was ecological
considerations that led to the formation of the world system in the first place (Gills and
Frank 1991/2). The initial connections between Mesopotamia and Anatolia, Egypt and the
Levant, etc. were forged to overcome ecologically determined regional deficiencies:
Mesopotamia had to import metals from Anatolia, and Egypt wood from the Levant. Ecological
considerations and changes also underlay many of the migrations and invasions from Central
Asia into their neighboring regions to the East, South and West. The resulting human
activity, in turn however, also had far reaching ecological effects. Some may have been
regionally beneficial for, or at least supportable by, the environment. Others, however,
caused far-reaching environmental damage and, perhaps in combination with climactic and
other environmental changes, led to regional environmental disasters. As a result, entire
civilizations disappeared, like the Harappan one in the Indus Valley.
Once formed, the "central" world system as whole survived however. Indeed, it
expanded to incorporate ever more of the globe within it. Eventually, technological
development, population growth and of course the exploitation by man both of others and of
the environment in the world system led to the growing globe embracing environmental
damages and threats, of which consciousness is only just emerging. However, vast regional
environmental damage and consciousness thereof -- for instance in the Americas -- occurred
before in the world system and as a result of its expansion in what Alfred Crosby (1986)
called Ecological Imperialism:The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Analogous, if
perhaps less dramatic, human caused ecological scourges also occurred earlier in various
Eurasian parts of the world system. Now, however, ecological disaster in the world system
has itself become altogether global as well. Yet, the existence of the world system
generates the causes of this disaster primarily among the rich who most benefit from the
system and visits the damages and costs selectively among the poor who can least defend
themselves and their meager livelihood against the ecological threat and the structure and
operation of the world system. Some of these people[s] have traditionally been the object
of study by anthropologists.
Pursuing the world system back over thousands of years also touches some concerns of
anthropologists. We have already considered the concern of archaeologists among them and
some of the issues they debate. Evolutionism or neo-evolutionism a la White and Steward,
fell on hard times among anthropologists. However, there is certainly an overlap of
interest with the longer historical view of a world system theory for 5,000 or more years,
even if that is perhaps an exceedingly short view. The Lenskis (1962) referred to a 10,000
year world system, and physical anthropologists are of course concerned with more and more
millions of years of human kind and its migration. Another issue is that of independent
invention vs. diffusion. Emphasis on ties over long distances, not to mention
participation in the same system, lends additional credence to diffusion and/or to
simultaneous or repeated invention in response to common problems and stimuli.
A related recurrent issue among anthropologists is the question whether the societies
they study are or were pristinely independent or related to others and participants in a
wider system of societies. Currently, the long widespread thesis that the 'Kung [Bushmen]
led a pristine independent existence in the Kalahari Desert has been the subject of
increasing disconfirmation. Like most peoples, they have long participated in broader
relations. It may nonetheless not be legitimate to say that these have long included the
world system. Nor should it be excluded. However, the longstanding
"substantivist" vs. "formalist" debate among economic anthropologists
may find its gordian knot cut when the "societies" they discuss are part of the
world system. The formalists argued that the same economic "laws" [eg. of supply
and demand] operate in all societies and times. The substantivists disagreed and countered
that most societies were organized around "redistribution" and
"reciprocity" instead. Reference in this regard has already been made above to
the major substantivist writer Polanyi, who has been challenge by new archeological finds.
These finds and authors support a five thousand year world system without however becoming
The transition from roaming if not nomadic hunters and gatherers to settled
agriculturalists has not been as unidirectional as was once claimed. Instead, adaptive
"transitions" have gone back and forth in response to ecological but also socio
economic changes in the areas that particular peoples inhabited, which often formed part
of and were subject to the influences of the world system (cf. Lattimore 1962). Thus, the
anthropological concern with kinship based social organization also appears in a different
context, if kinship based "societies" are viewed as part of the world system.
In particular, political organization that is supposedly derived only or primarily from
kinship organization is subject to reinterpretation. Political organization and especially
state formation has responded not only or even primarily to "internal" needs
within this or that "society" but has been a function of contacts and rivalries
with neighbors and/or invaders from afar within the world system. They in turn often
responded to world system wide circumstances and changes. A survey of the related
anthropological literature on state formation based on "internal" factors or on
"inter-polity relations" may be found in Cohen (1978). For Central Asia and its
relations with its neighbors in East, South and West Asia, this problematique is analyzed
among others by the anthropologists Khazanaov (1979) and Barfield (1989) and in Frank
(1992c). (Barfield 1989:6-7) summarizes following Irons (1976): "Among pastoral
nomadic societies hierarchical political institutions are generated only by external
relations with state societies and never develop purely as a result of internal dynamics
of such societies." The anthropologists Talal Asad (1973) in Anthropology and the
Colonial Encounter and Eric Wolf (1982) in Europe and the People without History deal with
the relations between colonial powers and indigenous peoples. Although their concern is
with relatively recent times, analogous problems also existed during encounters within the
world system before modern times. Of particular interest in this regard, are the related
issues of ethnicity, race, their relations and study.
Ethnic and Race Relations/Studies
Another vital concern for anthropologists is ethnogenesis and ethnicity, which is of
special relevance to ethnic identity, not to mention racial identification, today. The
recurrent major and incessant more minor Vlkerwanderungen in, through, and out
Eurasia have certainly mixed and mixed up ethnicity and race. So how can they be
Whatever the gaps in our knowledge, or the disputes about, past ethnogenesis and
present ethnicity, their fundamentals are clear: ethnogenesis is less traditional than
situational, and ethnicity is less of an identity among "us" than a relation
with "them." Both the situation and the relation are substantially defined by
state and other political power; and the presence, absence, and especially the change in
economic welfare occasions changes in the perception of ethnic identity and in the urgency
of its expression. The anthropologist Frederick Barth (1969) persuasively argued for the
recognition of situational and relational ethnic identity in his Ethnic Groups and
Boundaries. The same was reiterated in more general terms in Nathan Glazer and Daniel
Moynihan's Ethnicity: Theory and Experience. Summarizing in the words of Roger Ballard's
(1976) review of the latter "ethnicity is then, a political phenomenon, in which
material interest unites with moral and emotional bonds." Frank and Gills argue that
all of these in turn are part and parcel of participation and changing circumstances in
the world system, to which ethnic identity and racial identification are the responses.
Therefore, our study of the millennial world system also bears on these vital concerns,
which are convulsing the ex-Soviet Union and Yugoslavia as we write. In this regard, we
may also recall again the previously cited literature on globalization and localism by
among others Featherstone (1991), Friedman (1991), S. Hall (1991), A.D. King (1991). To
summarize in the words pronounced by Michael Gorbachev before the United Nations, and we
believe by Hegel before him: "unity in diversity."
Feminist archaeologists and historians (thank Goddess for them!) have begun to dig up
or reinterpret a paleolithic and neolithic past supposedly governed by non-patriarchal
"partnership" relations. However, these relations were found to be
"indigenous" particularly in Catal Huyuk and Hacilar in Anatolia, the site of
Jericho in the Levant, later in Minoan Crete, and in the Balkans (Eisler 1987, following
especially Marija Gimbutas 1980,1981 and James Mellaart 1975). Figurines that suggest
non-patriarchal Goddess worship have also been found farther eastward into India. These
scholars argue that these societies, and by extension Western Judeo-Christian society,
only switched to patriarchy later after armed invaders from Inner and Central Asia brought
them warfare, military technology, oppression and therewith the "diffusion" of
patriarchy. Thus, these feminists suggest that Western patriarchy is the result of its
(unwelcome) diffusion from farther East in Inner Asia. This thesis is supported by the
work of James DeMeo (1987,1990,1991). He claims that "matrist" (but not
matriarchal) relations were "original" in much of the wetter and greener world
before Arabia and Central Asia dried up about 4000-3,500 BC. Then desertification expanded
through what he calls the 1,000 mile wide Saharasian belt stretching 8,000 miles from
Africa through Inner Asia to China. As a result, many of its inhabitants suffered famines
and were obliged to become pastoralist nomads, whose harsh and competitive realities then
fostered "patrism" including patriarchy.
(Re)writing history from a more gender balanced or feminist perspective is very welcome
as all to the good. We particularly need more "feminist historical materialist"
analysis of different and changing gender and family relations, accumulation, politics and
culture/ideology. For much of history has been dominated by men in their own interest and
written by them from their own perspective. However, the above cited feminist version of
history seems less than satisfactory and has at least the following four weaknesses and
limitations: 1. It focuses rather selectively on some circum-Mediterranean societies with
supposedly indigenous partnership societies and sees patriarchy as having been only
belatedly diffused there from Inner Asia. 2. Patriarchy was well established very early
even in several societies to the east of the Mediterranean. 3. Patriarchy was not
comparatively more evident in Central Asia nomad societies, but rather the contrary. Frank
I have therefore tried specifically to ask every professional Central Asianist I have
met whether the evidence available to them supports the Eisler and DeMeo theses.
Unanimously, they have all said that it does not. According to their evidence on the
contrary, Central Asian nomad societies accorded women higher status and had more
egalitarian gender relations than their sedentary neighbors in Eurasia. I hesitate to cite
the people who could only offer their evidence to me orally. However, I can quote some who
have written something about this matter [of which we here reproduce short selections from
a sample of two]: "Women had more authority and autonomy than their sisters in
neighboring sedentary societies.... Although the details cannot be confirmed for the
entire history of Inner Asia, most visitors made comments [to this effect]" (Barfield
1989:25). "Information dating from Mongol times suggests that women in the steppe
empires had more rights and independence than their counterparts in sedentary states.
These indications are confirmed for the Uighur empire (Kwanten 1979:58).
Finally 4., to go to the roots of a world-wide problem like patriarchy, these primarily
Euro-Mediterranean centered feminist historians would do well to expand their scope to
that of the world, if not also to the world system, as a whole. Beyond, DeMeo's
multi-cultural data, drawn from all around the world, a world systemic analysis could
perhaps throw some additional light on this world wide gender problem. For instance, just
as emphasis on the competitive process of capital accumulation in the world system puts
class and state formation in a different light, so may the same also offer a better
perspective on the formation of the gender structure of society.
Some Philosophical, Social Scientific, and Political Implications
This thesis and approach also speaks to the age old philosophical dilemma about
determinism and free will. The formation of and incorporation within the world system may
or may not have been necessary and "determined." However, the world system both
limited or "determined" and expanded the options or "free will" once
the world system came into existence and/or incorporated a region or people within it.
Surely, the formation and expansion of the world system and its "division of
labor" increased material possibilities and cultural options for at least those who
benefit from the system and probably for those who propagate it. However, the division of
labor also assigned roles and strengthened social structures and historical processes,
which limited the options and perhaps determined some of the choices of all participants
in the system. Of course, those who are directly exploited and/or oppressed in, not to
mention those who are eliminated by, the system have their options limited and perhaps
largely determined. However, even those who derive most of the benefits from their
positions "on top" of the system probably have some of their behavior
"determined" by the exigencies of maintaining and/or furthering their positions
within and benefits from the system. Thus the unequal structure and the cyclical process,
as well as the "progressive development" of the system simultaneously expand the
"free will" possibilities and "determine" the limited options within
However, the "determinism" is not pre-determined. The options are determined
in and by the structure and process of the system at each point in time. They were not
pre-determined before hand by some "invisible hand" and for all time. Like a
glacier, the historical process within the system and indeed the world system itself make
their own way, both adapting to and changing the ecology.
The recognition and analysis of the system, as distinct from its existence
independently of its recognition, further holism in social science. Many social scientists
and historians reject holism in theory, and/or they are not very holistic in [their]
practice. We seek to make our analysis as holistic as possible. So do
"world-systems" theorists. Yet, we do so in different ways, guided by our
respective visions of the "whole." For Amin and Wallerstein, the important whole
system is the modern capitalist world-system. Perhaps for Abu-Lughod as well, although she
also devotes her attention to the "thirteenth century world system." All three
also recognize other historical world-systems, as do Ekholm and Friedman, who devote more
attention to studying ancient ones. We extend the same kind of holism to the study of a
single world system and its development over five thousand years. We suggest that this
approach is an appropriate application both of the world system idea or approach and the
holist mandate in social science and history. Ekholm and Friedman are receptive thereto;
Abu-Lughod is skeptical; and Amin and Wallerstein reject this extension of world-system
and use of holism. The latter altogether, and the former partly, argue that before 1500
there were other world-systems, which can and should also be studied holistically, but on
their own terms. Of course, if our present world system really has had a millennial
existence and history as we claim, then our holistic long view approach is all the more
Like our "world-systems" colleagues, we also subscribe to and practice what
we call the "three legged stool" approach: like that stool, our study of the
social world system is supported equally by three ecological/economic, political, and
cultural/ ideological/ ethical legs. At one time or another, some of us may concentrate
excessively or inadequately on one or two of these legs to the apparent exclusion of the
other[s]. However in principle, if not always in practice, we recognize the role of all
three legs. The most neglected one, perhaps, is the ecological material of the economic
leg. That, unfortunately, is a shortcoming we still share with all too many other students
Our thesis, as well as the related debates reviewed above, also have far reaching
political implications. Amin and Wallerstein identify the world system with its mode of
production. Our study of the millennial world system and how it operates lead us to demur.
Gills insists that the world system must not be confused with its "modes of
production." Instead, he sees a complex mixture or articulation of modes at all times
in the development of the world accumulation process and the world system and cannot
accept the identification of the world system with a single dominant mode. Frank goes
further and argues that feudalism, and socialism, but also capitalism, are only
"ideological modes," which should be excluded from our social scientific
This issue is perhaps the central political point in the social scientific debate,
which Amin and Wallerstein also join. They argue that the modern world-system is uniquely
characterized by the capitalist mode of production. That is why they will not accept the
proposal that the analysis of this world system can and should be pushed back before 1500.
Before that, they argue and are joined by Abu-Lughod, there were other world-systems. Amin
and Wallerstein insist, like probably all Marxists and most others whether or not they see
other prior world-systems, that in earlier times other modes of production were dominant.
Amin sums them all up as "tributary" modes of production, in which
"politics [and ideology] is/was in command" to recall Mao Tsedong. In the modern
capitalist world-system, by contrast, the economic law of value is in command, and that on
a world system scale.
We insist that this is nothing new. Therefore, Frank also suggests that it is would be
senseless to call all that previous history throughout most of the world
"capitalist." If "capitalism" does not distinguish one
"thing" from another, then there is no point in maintaining that label. Amin,
Wallerstein, most others, and insist that "capitalism" is distinguishable. Of
course, today especially the political/ ideological right finds "capitalism"
particularly distinguished and distinguishable from "socialism." Frank denies
that any of these categories have any social scientific and/or empirical content and
suggests that they serve only ideological "false consciousness" purposes to
confuse and confound instead.
The [mis]use and replacement of these categories bears importantly on the analysis and
understanding of some major world events today, particularly the end of
"socialism" and of American "hegemony," albeit not of the "end of
history." We believe that ideological blinkers - or worse, mindset - have too long
prevented us from seeing that the world political economic system long predated the rise
of capitalism in Europe and its hegemony in the world. The rise of Europe represented a
hegemonic shift from East to West within a pre-existing system. If there was any
transition then, it was this hegemonic shift within the system rather than the formation
of a new system. We are again in one of the alternating periods of hegemony and rivalry in
the world system now, which portends a renewed westward shift of hegemony across the
Pacific. To identify the system with its dominant mode of production is a mistake. There
was no transition from feudalism to capitalism as such. Nor was there (to be) an analogous
transition from capitalism to socialism. If these analytical categories of "modes of
production" prevent us from seeing the real world political economic system, it would
be better to abandon them altogether.
We should ask: What was the ideological reason for Wallerstein's and Frank's
"scientific" construction of a sixteenth century transition (from feudalism in
Europe) to a modern world capitalist economy and system? It was the belief in a subsequent
transition from capitalism to socialism, if not immediately in the world as a whole, at
least through "socialism in one country" after another. Traditional Marxists and
many others who debated with us, even more so, were intent on preserving faith in the
prior but for them more recent transition from one (feudal) mode of production to another
(capitalist) one. Their political / ideological reason was that they were intent on the
subsequent transition to still another and supposedly different socialist mode of
production. That was (and is?) the position of Marxists, traditional and otherwise, like
the above cited Brenner (in Aston and Philpin 1985) and Anderson (1974). That is still the
position of Samir Amin (1989), who like Wallerstein, now wants to take refuge in
"proto-capitalism" -- and by extension "proto-socialism." (Before he
was ousted after the Tienanmen massacre, Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang came up with the idea
that China is now only in the stage of "primary" socialism).
If people would dare to undertake a "transition" from their
"scientific" categories, they could spare themselves and their readers some of
the political (dis)illusions regarding recent events in the "second" and
"third" worlds. These categories of "transition" and "modes"
are not essential or even useful tools, but rather obstacles to the scientific study of
the underlying continuity and essential properties of the world system in the past. They
also shackle our political struggle and ability to confront and manage the development of
this same system in the present and future.
We would all do better to see the reality of the globe embracing structure and the long
historical development of the whole world system itself, full stop. Better recognize this
system's "unity in diversity," as Mikhail Gorbachev said at the United Nations.
That would really be a "transition" in thinking. This "transition"
would help us much better to chose among the diversities which are really available in
that world system -- Vives cettes differences! Moreover, this transition in thinking could
also help us to understand the real transitions that there are and to guide us in the
struggle for the good and against the socially bad difference.
In particular, we suggest that these labels confuse and confound the real world system
issues about which people have to and do dispute and fight. The belief in these labels
supports disputes about political "systems" and self- determination, which have
little or no real possibilities to be put into practice in the single really existing
world system. The same labels serve to misguide or defuse the real social movements. About
these, Amin, Frank and Wallerstein agree enough, despite their disagreements about world
system history, to have written a book jointly with Giovanni Arrighi and Marta Fuentes
under the title Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System (1990).
Our joint conclusion was -- A Luta Continua!
We thank Sing Chew, William McNeill, and Peter Taylor for their very useful comments
and Robert Denemark for his very great help on a draft, which went far beyond the call of
colleagial "duty." The shortcomings, perhaps for failure to follow all of their
advice, are ours.