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ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age
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Andre Gunder Frank

Feudalism, Capitalism, Socialism



The present "transition from socialism to capitalism" and the possible future "shift of hegemony from the United States to Japan" are occasion to re-examine several scientific tenents of our politics and political tenents of our social science. Among these are 1) the "transition from feudalism to capitalism," 2) the "transition from capitalisnm to socialism," 3) the process of "transition" itself, 4) the notion of feudal, capitalist and socialist "modes of production," and 5) and the hegemonic rise and decline of Europe and the West in the modern world capitalist system. The question arises whether any or all of the above are based on scientific analytical categories, or whether they are only derived from fond ideological beliefs. Perhaps both contemporary political reality and available historical evidence should now lead us to abandon some or even all of these positions.

My tentative conclusion will be 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. 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.

A number of recent academic publications offer a good opportunity for such a re-examination of the (un?)holy canons in our historical science and contemporary politics. These publications include The Brenner Debate (19xx) on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe, Before European Hegemony on the westward shift of hegemony in the thirteenth century by Janet Abu-Lughod (1989), The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in Europe and America by Paul Kennedy (1987), Long Cycles in World Politics during the last 500 years by George Modelski (1987), On Global War during the same period by William Thompson, Global Formation: Structures of the World-Economy then and now by Christopher Chase-Dunn, and other works on hegemonial changes.

Several recent articles by Wallerstein also offer a particularly revealing opportunity to re-examine all of the issues posed in my opening paragraphs. Wallerstein (1989 a) looked back on the last, and forward to the next, fifteen years of "World-System Analysis: The Second Phase" at the 1989 annual meetings of the American Sociological Association. Under the title " Under the title "The West, Capitalism, and the Modern World System," Wallerstein (1989 b) considers "why in Europe rather than China" in a contribution to a volume edited by Joseph Needham. In two further articles cited below, Wallerstein (1988, 1989c) hones down the definition of his modern-capitalist-world system and its differentia specifica from all others. These articles also offer a good occasion for us to re-examine these issues of transitions and modes, as well as those of origins of and hegemony in the modern world capitalist system. I will do so in this essay from an historical perspective on a world system history in which Europe was only a Johnny come lately and temporary hegemon.

Wallerstein (1989b) asks what is distinctive about the modern world-system, the capitalist world-system, and capitalism, which are the same for him. Others might quarrel with him about these identities, but I will accept them for now. Examination of Wallerstein's argument about this distinctiveness will show that it is internally self contradictory and externally contradicted by the historical evidence. My argument will be that Wallerstein's interpretation is too limited, indeed, self-limiting; because he fails to take sufficient account of the world system.

I made a similar argument about feudalism and capitalism already in a previous debate. Under the title "With What Mode of Production does the Hen Convert Maize into Golden Eggs?" I already argued with Rodolfo Puiggros in 1965 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" (Frank 1965 translated in Frank 1969:231). I now argue that the same imperative also applies to the problematique of transition between feudal and capitalist modes of production in Europe.

In the last generation, all sides of the Dobb-Sweezy (recently reprinted in Hilton 19xx) and Brenner (19xx) debates, like generations of "national frame" and other Eurocentric scholars before them, have sought the answer through a change in the mode of production within Europe. Yet if we are to understand this apparently European problematique we must also "begin with the world system that creates it" and abandon the "self-imposed optical and mental illusion of the [European] or national frame." If we (re)examine Wallerstein's argument and the historical evidence from a world system perspective, it appears that the world system was not born in 1550; it did not arise in Europe; and it is not distinctively capitalist.


Wallerstein identifies the most esential characteristics of the modern-world-capitalist-system variously in one, three, six, and twelve points.

The single most important and defining differentia specifica is:

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 of social limitlessness .... At the level of this central defining activity of ceaseless growth, the ceaseless accumulation of other historical system could have been said to have pursued such a mode of social life for more than at most brief moments.... The one thing that seems unquestionable, and unquestioned, is the hyperbolic growth curves--in production, population, and the accumulation of capital--that have been a continuing reality from the sixteenth century....There was the genesis of a radically new system....(Wallerstein 1989b: 9, 10, 26).

However, accumulation has played a, if not the, central role in the world system far beyond Europe and long before 1500, as Gills and Frank (1990) emphasize under the title "The Cumulation of Accumulation." Numerous historical and theoretical objections to this thesis, including Wallertein's are examined in detail and rejected as unfounded in Frank (1990). A small sample of the vast evidence in support of earlier world system accumulation is presented below.

Perhaps the differences become grater if we compare Wallerstein's modern-capitalist-world-system with alternatives on more counts than just one. Elsewhere, Wallerstein distinguishes three different characteristics that supposedly set his system apart:

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 1988:108).

As it happens, and well before reading Wallerstein's above cited 1988 article, Gills and Frank (1990) emphasized the very same trinity of center/periphery, A/B phased cycles, and hegemony/ rivalry as the other central defining characteristics of our world system. Certainly Chase-Dunn (1986), Abu-Lughod (1989), Wilkinson (1987,1989) among others have also found these same features earlier and elsewhere. Wallerstein (1989 a) himself recognizes this and said so in his above cited review at the American Sociological Association meetings.

So perhaps we should go into more detail still. Elsewhere, Wallerstein (1989c: 8-10) summarizes six "realities of the evolution of this historical system." Wallerstein (1989a) also does us the service of cutting these realities up into even more detail and extending the list to twelve "characteristics presumed to be the description of the capitalist world-economy":

(1) the ceaseless accumulation of capital as its driving force;
(2) an axial division of labor in which there is a core- periphery tension, such that there is some form of unequal exchange (not necessarily as defined originally by Arghiri Emmanuel) that is spatial;
(3) the structural existence of a semi peripheral zone;
(4) the large and continuing role of non-wage labor alongside of wage labor;
(5) the correspondence of the boundaries of the capitalist world-economy to that of an interstate system comprised of sovereign states;
(6) the location of the origins of this capitalist world- economy earlier than in the nineteenth century, probably in the sixteenth century;
(7) the view that this capitalist world-economy began in one part of the globe (largely Europe) and later expanded to the entire globe via a process of successive "incorporations;"
(8) the existence in this world-system of hegemonic states, each of whose periods of full or uncontested hegemony has however been relatively brief;
(9) the non-primordial character of states, ethnic groups, and households, all of which are constantly created and recreated; (10) the fundamental importance of racism and sexism as organizing principles of the system;
(11) the emergence of anti-systemic movements that simultaneously undermine and reenforce this system;
(12) a pattern of both cyclical rhythms and secular trends that incarnate the inherent contradictions of the system and which accounts for the systemic crisis in which we are presently living (Wallerstein 1989b:3-4).

I contend here (and support in Frank 1990 and Gills and Frank 1990) that again 240 of these 242 words by Wallerstein about the twelve characteristics of the world system after 1500 are also equally and totally true of world economy/ system(s) before 1500, whether "capitalist" or not. The two exceptions of one word each are under (6) the origins ... probably in the "sixteenth" century and under (7) that this world system began in "(largely Europe)." Everything else Wallerstein says about the presumed characteristics of the "capitalist world-economy" and the "modern world-system" was equally true also of the medieval and ancient world system.

Thus, if we examine these lists, no matter whether of a single defining differentia specifica, or the trinity, or a half dozen realities, or of the full dozen characteristics, we find that each of them is also equally true of other earlier world systems and/or of the same world system before 1500. Of course, I do not expect the reader to accept this statement only on my say so. He must undertake these comparisons himself. Fortunately however, in doing so he will find an excellent guide, no doubt better than me, in Wallerstein himself. For he now has some doubts about his own position and finds "an uncomfortable blurring of the distinctiveness of the patterns of the European medieval and modern world" (1989b: 33). Indeed, Wallerstein himself is among those who chips away at, and de facto questions, his own "unquestionable" faith in various ways.

Many of these [previous] historical systems had what we might call proto-capitalist elements. That is, there often was extensive commodity production. There existed producers and traders who sought profit. There was investment of capital. There was wage-labor. There was Weltanschauungen consonant with capitalism. But none had quite crossed the threshold of creating a system whose primary driving force was the incessant accumulation of capital (1989b: 35) We must now renew the question, why did not capitalism emerge anywhere earlier. It seems unlikely that the answer is an insufficient technological base....It is unlikely that the answer is an absence of an entrepreneurial spirit. The history of the world for at least two thousand years prior to 1500+ shows an enormous set of groups, throughout multiple historical systems, who showed an aptitude and inclination for capitalist enterprise -- as producers, as merchants, as financiers. "Proto-capitalism" was so widespread one might consider it to be a constitutive element of all the redistributive/tributary world-empires the world has known .... Something was preventing it [capitalism]. For they did have the money and energy at their disposition, and we have seen in the modern world how powerful these weapons can be (1989b:59-60,my emphasis,AGF).

Moreover, Wallerstein also negates the uniqueness of his "modern- world-capitalist-system" in numerous other passages and ways. Since it would be tedious to dissect all these instances, I will limit myself to citing a representative few. "All the empirical work of the past 50 years on these other systems has tended to reveal that they had much more extensive commodification than previously suspected....It is of course a matter of degree" (1989 b:19, 20). So are the relation and relative "political control" and "extra-economic coercion" to the "free" market here and there, then and now (1989 b: 14).

After Wallerstein's own recount of (proto)capitalist "elements" and matters of degree far and wide, long before 1500, it would be even more tedious for me to repeat my own as set out in Frank (1990) and even more in Gills and Frank (1990). Suffice it to observe here that (1) Wallerstein will readily admit that "hyperbolic growth curves in production, population and accumulation of capital" have been cyclical since 1500; and (2) Wallerstein and others must also recognize that in many times and places rapid and massive growth of production, population and accumulation occurred for much more than "brief" moments long before 1500. Wallerstein himself helps us observe below that this was true for instance during the period 1050-1250 in Europe. The same only much more so also ocurred at the same time in Sung China. Some centuries earlier, capital accumulation accelerated in Tang China, then in the Islamic Caliphate and previously in Gupta India and Sassanian Iran, among many other instances.

However, the economy and polity of the ancient and even the archaic world (system) were also characterized by the whole lot of Wallerstein's "elements" of (proto)capitalism (capital, money, profit, merchants, wage-labor, entrepreneurship, investment, technology, etc.) highlighted above and the ones he synthecised for the "modern" world capitalist system (capital accumulation, core-periphery, hegemony, inter-state system, cycles, racism, sexism, social movements and the lot). Simply recall the examples best known to Westerners: Rome, China (Great canals and walls), Egypt and Mesopotamia (irrigation systems and monuments). What is more (important for world system analysis), long cyclical ups (and subsequent downs) in accumulation may be said to have been world systemic if not world system wide. The important reasons is that they were systemically and systematically related to each other, eg. in Han China, Gupta India, Parthian and then Sassanian Persia, Imperial and then Byzantine Rome, Axum East Africa, and of course "barbarian" Inner Asia, not to mention other parts of the world.

That is, the historical evidence also meets the more difficult test of the specificity of capitalism posed by Maurice Godelier (1990). Godelier makes a fourfold classification of characteristics similar to those of Wallerstein. Godelier's position is even further from mine than Wallerstein's. Yet even Godelier remarks that the four characteristics of capitalism he identifies did not begin with capitalism. However, he argued, that the necessary and sufficient conditions of a new (capitalist) economic structure are their their "combination in a new relation" and their "mutual connection" with each other (manuscript pp 9-10). Yet the historical evieence shows that even the combination and mutual relation of Godelier's four, or Wallerstein's three, six or twelve characteristics did not begin with capitalism in 1500.

Significantly however, Wallerstein and the others, excepting Wilkinson, are only talking about some similarities with other "world" systems. Following them so far, I am only arguing from the old adage that "if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck [and demonstrably exhibits 9 other descriptive realities besides, which Wallerstein summarizes for his world- system] must also be a [world system] duck." But in that case, it or they could just be one or more other world system ducks, as Chase-Dunn argues. Even Wallerstein might admit this comparison, though the similarities might make him uncomfortable. So what is this invisible and still unspecified "something" that distinguishes the modern world capitalist system? Perhaps it is only the Weltanschauung of capitalism itself by Smith and Marx then, and Wallerstein and Amin now, as well as by most others, which retrospectively sees a qualitative break around 1500 where historically there was none. We will observe below that the essential something in this Weltanschauung they all share turns out to be the supposed identity of the (capitalist) mode of production and system. According to Smith and Marx who led me astray in writing my own book two decades ago, the discovery of America and of the passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope were the greatest events in the history of mankind and opened up new ground for the bourgeoisie. That is from a European point of view, of course. But from a wider world perspective these two events, as well as others within Europe, were only developments in the unfolding of world history itself. Why were these two new passages to the East and West Indies important, even for Europeans, and why did they want to get there better in the first place, if it was not because of what was going on there -- and what was to be gotten there -- before 1500?


Jacques Gernet (1985:347-8) proposes an alternative world perspective:

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.

In other words, the real issue is not just whether there were other world system ducks earlier and elsewhere that had the same one, three, six, or twelve characteristics as Wallerstein's world system duck. Nor is the issue one of transition between one and the other such ducks or systems. The real questions are whether there really was a transition to the birth of this world system around 1500, or whether the real historical development of this same ugly world system duckling reaches further back in time, and whether this system and the motive forces for its "transitions" were based in Europe or elsewhere in the wider world.

I believe that what Jacques Hamel and Mohammed Sfiaa (1990) call a "continuist" perspective is appropriate in answer to these questions. Such a perspective is suggested in their "Presentation" of Wallerstein (1990b), Godelier (1990) and others in Sociologie et Societ‚s. From that perspective, the historical record suggests that this same historical world economic and interstate system is at least five thousand years old. There was more continuity than discontinuity or even transition of this world (capitalist) economy as a historical system across the supposed divide of the world around 1500. More detailed support for this continuity is presented in Frank (1990) and Gills and Frank (1990). Moreover therefore, if there really was a "transition to capitalism" in the sixteenth century (which is also subject to challenge), it took place not in Europe nor especially due to changes within Europe but instead in the long preexisting world system and importantly due to changes in the system outside Europe. In other words, "to understand the problematique...[of transition "in" Europe] we must begin with the world system that creates it"!

To anticipate some both academic scientific and practical political conclusions, we may well recognize the last of Wallerstein's above cited 6 points above about the historical system: The system may well have a life cycle, as he says. But this cycle need not, and did not, begin with any transition from feudalism around 1500 as Wallerstein claims ....and it need not, and may not, end in 2050- 2100 with a transition to socialism as Wallerstein suggests. If we can identify any real transitions, each is likely really to be a transition between a transition and a transition.

On these issues of transition and/or continuity in the world system, Wallerstein's own account is again helpful, even though -or perhaps because - its short sighted Eurocentric perspective and internally contradictory arguments seriously undermine his own central argument and position. Thus, like Gernet, Abu-Lughod and others, Wallerstein also takes note of the Mongols and the crusades, but...

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. Moreover since Wallerstein omits doing so (despite his comparison with China), we may note in passing that not incidentally 1050-1250 was also the time of the great advances in technology, accumulation and expansion in Sung China; and that the crisis of 1250-1450 was world (system) wide, including China, as Abu-Lughod (1989) has rightly emphasized. Thus the clearly laid out "pattern of expansions and contractions," including probably that of "demand and prices," (1989b: 14) was not just (West) European, but perhaps world system wide. At the very least, their manifestations in Europe were also a function of its (cyclically determined?) changing center/periphery relations of trade and hegemony/rivalry with other parts of the world economy. All these not only merit study per se or to put the whole historical jigsaw puzzle together, but they require analysis to make any sense out of changes in Europe -- or in any other part of Eurasia and Africa. That is, the systemic relations extended far beyond Europe.

Yet even Wallerstein also recognizes several additional pieces of the jig-saw puzzle outside of Europe. Nonetheless, he is still unable to put it together; because he remains wedded to his old Weltanschauung.

The collapse of the Mongols [was a] crucial non-event.... The eleventh-century economic upsurge in the West that we have discussed was matched by a new market articulation in China....Both linked up to a Moslem trading ecumene across the Middle East. China's commercialization reinforced this model [why not system?]....The Mongol link completed the picture. What disrupted this vast trading world-system was the pandemic Black Death, itself quite probably a consequence of that very trading network. It hurt everywhere, but it completely eliminated the Mongol link (1989b: 57,58 my emphasis, AGF).

For Wallerstein, the collapse of the Mongols was the last of "four elements in an explanation" in the rise of capitalism in the West out of "the effect of the cumulated collapses." The other three were "the collapse of the signeurs, the collapse of the states, the collapse of the Church" (1989b: 47). There were political economic factors behind all four collapses.

Most governments became bankrupt...incapable of controlling their mercenaries....The Church was a major economic actor itself, and was hurt by the economic downturn in the dame way that both seigniors...and states... were hurt" (1989b: 47-55).

Yet Wallerstein resists and refuses to draw the logical - and historical - conclusions: To put the whole picture in the jig-saw puzzle together, we must liberate ourselves from the imaginary transition within the imaginary system confined to Europe. The solution to the puzzle of the four simultaneous and cumulative collapses and to the "crisis of feudalism in Europe" itself was (to be) found outside the limited and optically illusory framework of "Feudal Europe." We must instead look at the real transitions in the real world system and its history as a whole. The resolution of the "crisis of feudalism" involved changing relations within, and further expanding, the whole world system itself -- of course, at a world system time, which propitiously rendered this solution possible if not necessary.


To understand this and subsequent transitions therefore, we should

- 1. Abandon the schema of a "European" world (system) and look outside. Wallerstein and so many others look out the window from their European house; but they still cannot see its (still marginal) place in the world landscape. Why are the Mongols "the link" in a Chinese-Islamic "trading world-system" before 1500, yet Wallerstein and others still refuse to accept the prior existence of this system ?

- 2. Look at the whole world system. China, the Mongols, the Islamic world, and Europe, not to mention other parts of the Asio- Afro-European ecumene were linked into a trading and inter-state world system in the thirteenth century, a la Abu-Lughod. Should we recognize that this was the world system out of whose crisis hegemonial European capitalism emerged? Posing the right question is getting more than half of the right answer. Wallerstein provides another part of the right answer himself. Of course however, since he refuses to pose the question, he also does not see the answer. Was the "crucial cycle" limited to Europe? Most probably not. Wallerstein himself suggests some of its extra-European elements. Indeed, all four of the political economic elements of his explanation for the rise of capitalism in Europe include extra- European elements. The Mongols most obviously so, but also the financial crises of the governments, landlords, and Church in Europe. All were related to - in part reflections of? - the development of the 1250-1450 crisis outside Europe and in the world system as a whole. Similarly, the 1050-1250 expansion in Europe had also been part of a world (system) wide expansion (or else why would or could the Crusaders have gone eastward to seek fortune?). The crucial cycle was in the world system itself.

- 3. Recognize long cycles of development in this world system. Wallerstein recognizes that "it is the long swing that is crucial: "1050-1250 up-swing and 1250-1450 downswing...and 1450-1600 long sixteenth century" (renewed) upswing, before the renewed "seventeenth century crisis." Moreover, Wallerstein recognizes that it was the "crisis" during the 1250-1450 downturn that led to "cumulative collapse" and then to regeneration and a new "genesis." However, Wallerstein and others neglect to ask - and therefore to find any answer - to the crucial question: crisis, collapse, new genesis in what system? Of course, as George Modelski (who is also incapable of seeing this system, vide Modelski 1987) correctly pointed out to my seminar in person, "in order for us to look for a cycle, we must first be clear about the system in which this cycle occurs." So there are two possibilities: The same European system predates 1500, or Europe was part of an (also same) world system that also predates 1500. Either way Wallerstein's and others' temporal and Eurocentric myopia blinds them to seeing the whole picture of systemic historical reality.

- 4. Consider the probability of a continuous cyclical process of development in/of the same single world system. Of course, if there was a long cycle and it was crucial, the 1050-1250 up swing and the 1250-1400 downswing must have been the cyclical expression and development of an already existing system. However, in that case of course also, the 1050-1250 upswing may well have been a (re)genesis from a previous crisis / collapse / downswing, which in turn was the culmination of a previous upswing, and so on ... how far back? Curiously, Wallerstein sees a single cycle, at least in Europe, but 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 on which she concentrates, but also in earlier periods. However, each of her world systems successively cyclically rise (out of what?) and decline (into what?). Neither Wallerstein nor Abu-Lughod is (yet?) willing to join their insights in the additional -obvious? - step to see both a single world system and its continuous cyclical development.

- 5. Realize that hegemony in the world system did not begin in Europe after 1500, but that it shifted to Europe in the course of hegemonial crises and decline in the East of the same world system. Even Wallerstein quotes Abu-Lughod (1989) that "Before European Hegemony, the Fall of the East preceded the Rise of the West." Abu- Lughod is at pains to show how and why the various parts of the East declined at this time in world systemic terms. Therefore, the root causes of the rise of the West to hegemony and the transition to capitalism in Europe cannot be found within Europe alone, but must be sought in the course of the development of the world system - and also within its other parts - as a whole. "If we are to understand the problematique ... we must begin with the world system that creates it!"

- 6. Pursue the origins of the world system - and of its development in the past half millennium - as far back in time and out in space as the historical evidence and our ability to analyze it permit. Wallerstein (1989b: 37) writes

Obviously, any historical occurrence has immediate roots whose derivation can be traced back, ad infinitum. However, if we believe that the critical turning-point was 500-2500 years earlier, we are coming up with a cultural-genetic explanation which in effect says that the development of capitalism / "modernity" in the West, and in the West first, had been rendered "inevitable" by this earlier "civilizational" system.

The first sentence is true, and so is the premise in the first half of the second. However, the conclusions in the remainder are totally unwarranted and triply false. Tracing the roots of the present world system backwards in no wise obliges us to come up with cultural-genetic explanations; still less with civilizational ones; and least of all with the inevitability of the present or future outcome. It is at least equally possible - and as I argue here, much preferable - to come up with a longer and wider historical systemic explanation, within which earlier civilizational factors play only a partial role, and inevitability none at all. Therefore, Wallerstein's otherwise correct rejection of causation by alternative civilizational factors and their various interpretations by others is largely beside the point.

The "explanation" is not to be sought through the civilizational roots of the rise, nor the decline, of Rome, which Wallerstein (1989b: 37-39) discusses after other authors. The same goes for his discussion (pp. 39-47) of the "hurrah" for later culture in England and Italy schools. Instead, we should seek the explanations in the development of the world system within which Rome (and its rise and decline) were only regional parts (along with Parthian Iran, Gupta India, Han China, Central Asia and Africa) and transitional phases. The same goes for Italy and England. This holistic systematic analysis does not, of course deny the importance of local, national, regional or other developments. It only places them in the systemic contexts, which also influences these developments - and are in turn influenced by them. However, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the problematique of no part is properly understandable in isolation from the whole of which it is but a part. Wallerstein, of course, understands this truth full well - for the period since 1500. But he (still) subjectively refuses to admit it for the time before, despite the evidence he himself cites, which objectively supports it. I examine much more evidence for tracing this world system back at least 5000 years and challenge as unfounded the even greater reservations of others against so doing in Frank 1990 and Gills and Frank 1900.

- 7. Do not pursue the idea of "proto-capitalism" into the blind alley it is likely to be. The first supposed resolution of the feudalism-capitalism debate a quarter century ago was to try to "compromise" on "semi-feudalism" going on to become "semi-" "proto- " capitalism. I thought that this "compromise" was a non-starter then; and experience has shown that the "mode of production" debate detracted from better understanding of the problematique analyzing the world system that creates it itself. Wallerstein made his major contribution by taking this high road himself. It is likely only to befuddle our analysis again to now argue that the essential characteristics of the modern world capitalist system, quoted in 240 of the 242 words of Wallerstein's twelve point synthesis above, also are "proto-capitalist" "elements," which can be found all around the world in different times and "systems." It is better to proceed as Wallerstein (1989b) does on page 16 with the establish a continuous pattern of scientific / technological advance, located in many different world regions (China, India, the Near [to us] East, the Mediterranean zone), into which recent western scientific efforts have fit themselves, primarily since the sixteenth century. By underlining the continuities, this argument reduces the distinctiveness of what occurred in western Europe. Furthermore, it has been argued that, in this arena as in many others, Europe had previously been a "backward" or "marginal" zone, implying therefore that any explanation of significant change could not be accounted for exclusively or even primarily in terms of some west European affinity ...or tradition.

Of course, this means that recourse to the idea of "proto- capitalism" in "different" and "earlier" systems is not at all helpful. Instead, it is much more useful to recognize that technical change and capital accumulation, as well as all other characteristics of Wallerstein's "Modern" World System also characterized earlier times and system(s). In that case indeed, "we find an uncomfortable blurring of the distinctiveness of the patterns [of capitalism and proto-capitalism] of the medieval and modern world" (1989b: 33). What is it then that makes Wallerstein and others so "uncomfortable" ??? The answer is that this systemic holistic procedure threatens to pull the rug out from under the very foundations of their "scientific" edifice and also of their fondest ideological beliefs!

- 8. Liberate ourselves from the optical illusion of the false identity of "system" and "mode of production." Samir Amin contends that the system could not have been the same system before 1500 because it did not have the capitalist mode of production, which only developed later. Before 1500, according to Amin and others, modes of production were tributary. My answer is that the system was the same no matter what the mode of production was. The focus on the mode of production blinds us to seeing the more important systemic continuity." Wallerstein makes the same confusion between "mode" and "system". Indeed the single differentia specifica of Wallerstein's Modern World-Capitalist-System is its mode of production. Wallerstein's identification and also confusion of "system" and "mode" is evident throughout his works and widely recognized by others. So it is as well in the article I am "dissecting" here, eg.

the difference between capitalism as a mode of production and the multiple varieties of a redistributive or tributary mode of production is surely not, as often asserted... [in] "extra-economic coercion." For there is considerable extra-economic coercion in our capitalist/"modern" historical system, and markets of some kind have almost always existed in other historical systems. The most we can argue is a distinction that is more subtle (1989 b:14).

Wallerstein's system is his mode. So it is for Amin (1989), Brenner (19xx) -- and also for their ideological opponents on the right. (It may be appropriate to note paranthetically that our disagreement has generated long friendly discussions with the last named and still permits collaboration in our second joint book on contemporary problems with the first two in Amin et al. 1990. Moreover, both have written responses to my historical arguments in Amin 1990 and Wallerstein 1990). Nontheless, I maintain that once Wallerstein and Amin rattle at this mode so much as uncomfortably to blur its distinctiveness, they also rattle at the scaffolding of the construction of this system in 1500 -- to the point of the total breakdown of his argument about the differentia specifica and the beginning of Wallerstein's modern-world-capitalist-system. The one, three, six, or twelve essential characteristics of the world system, and its beginning, antedate Wallerstein's period by far.

We should separate our notions of system and mode. Then, we could at least recognize the real existence and millennial development of the real world system. I believe it is high time to abandon the sacrosanct belief in the ideological formulations about these supposed different modes of production or the supposed transitions between them in the millenial world system. A transition is a transition between a transition and a transition, as I already learned In Allende's Chile.

Therefore, I agree with Godelier (1990) when he says (p.35) that there are various ways to be materialist. However, I do not agree with his opinion (p. 28) that making a theory of the articulation of modes or production or the transitions among them is now a task of greatest urgency. On the contrary, I believe that both materialism, experience and good sense urge us to abandon this quest and to seek another more fruitful one based on the material analysis of material world system development.

- 9. Therefore, also dare to abandon (the sacrosanct belief in) capitalism as a distinct mode of production and separate system. What was the ideological reason for my and Wallerstein'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 Brenner (19xx) 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 Maurice Godelier and Samir Amin among others 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.


Is there a scientific / historical / academic justification to meddle with "proto-capitalism" in such a supposed long transition from feudalism to capitalism -- or from capitalism to proto- socialism? NO, definitely not, as the internal contradictions in Wallerstein's argument amply demonstrate.

So is there still a political/ideological reason to hold on to the fond belief in a supposed "transition from feudalism to capitalism," around 1800, or 1500, or whenever -- to support the fond belief in a "transition to socialism" in 1917, or 1949, or whenever? Is there any such reason still to continue looking for this earlier transition and its hegemonial development only in Europe, while real hegemony is now shifting (no doubt through the contemporary and near future non-hegemonic interregnum) back towards Asia? NO, there is none.

Ironically, Ronny Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterand and all the capitalists they represent are equally - or even more - infatuated with the ideology of capitalist distinctiveness, except that they glorify it. Their opponents on the left disagree in this valuation and still want to overcome capitalism through the transition to socialism. The right, instead, want to preserve and glorify capitalism while they vainglory in the self-destruction they see of Marxism, socialism, and the Evil Empire of the others. However, their ideological faith in the supposedly universally beneficial glories of the "magic" of the market, of course, also lack scientific foundation in reality. The world system wide reality is the competitive dog eat dog war of all against all (a la Hobbes), in which only the few can win and the many must lose. And so it has been for millennia, thanks to the world system's unequal structure and uneven process, which Wallerstein helps us identify.

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 - - A Luta Continua!


The following friends have made reflective comments: Christopher Chase-Dunn, Paulo Frank, especially Barry Gills, William McNeill, and Immanuel Wallerstein. However, all have reservations, especially on point 9 and my conclusions, to which I have not ceded.


Amin, Samir 1988. L'eurocentrisme. Critique d'une ideologie. Paris: Anthropos.

----- 1989. Le Systeme Mondial Contemporain el les Systemes Anterieurs. Unpublished Ms.

Amin, S., G. Arrighi, A.G. Frank, & I. Wallerstein 1982. Dynamics of the World Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press, and London: Macmillan Press.

------ 1990. Transforming the Revolution: Social Movements and the World-System. New York: Monthly Review Press, forthcoming.

Anderson, Perry 1974. Lineages of the Absolutist State. London: New Left Books. Abu-Lughod, Janet 1989. Before European Hegemony. The World System A.D. 1250-1350. New York: Oxford University Press.

Brenner, Robert 19xx. The Brenner Debate, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

Chase-Dunn, Christopher 1986. Rise and Demise: World-Systems and Modes of Production. Unpublished Ms. Boulder, Westview Press, forthcoming.

------ 1989. Global Formation. Strucrures of the World-Economy. Cambridge & Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

------ 1989. Core/Periphery Hierarchies in the Development of Intersocietal Networks. Unpublished Ms.

Frank, Andre Gunder 1965. Con Que Modo de Produccion Convierte la Gallina Maiz en Huevos de Oro? El Gallo Ilustrado Suplemento de El Dia, Mexico, October 31 and November 25.

------- 1969. Latin America: Underdevelopment or Revolution. New York: Monthly Review Press.

------- 1990. A Theoretical Introduction to 5,000 Years of World System History. Review, XIII, No. 2, Spring.

Gills, Barry K. and Andre Gunder Frank 1990. The Cumulation of Accumulation. Theses and Research Agenda for 5000 Years of World System History. Dialectical Anthropology Vo. 15, No. 2, July. Also In Precapitalist Core-Periphery Relations, C. Chase-Dunn & T. Hall, Eds. Boulder: Westview Press forthcoming

Godelier, Maurice 1990. Sociologie et Societ's, Vol. XXII, No. 1, June.

Hamel, Jacques and Mohammed Sfia 1990. Presnetation. Sociologie et Societ‚s. Vol. XXII, No. 1, June.

Modelski, George 1987. Long Cycles in World Politics. London: Macmillan Press.

Thompson, William R. 1988. On Global War. Historical-Structural Approaches to World Politics. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press.

Wallerstein, Immanuel 1974. The Modern World-System. Vol. I. New York: Academic Books.

------ 1988. The "Discoveries" and Human Progress. Estudos e Ensaios.

------- 1989 a. World System Analysis: The Second Phase. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the PEWS Section of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco, August 13, 1989; published in Review Vol. XIII, No. 2, Spring 1990.

-------- 1989 b. The West, Capitalism, and the Modern World- System. Prepared as a chapter in Joseph Needham, Science and Civilization in China, Vol. VII: The Social Background, Part 2. Sect. 48. Social and Economic Considerations. Published as "L'Occident, le capitalisme, et le systeme-monde moderne" in Sociologies et Societ‚s (Montreal) Vol. XXI, No. 1, June 1990. ------ 1989 c. Culture as the Ideological Battleground of the Modern World-System. Hitotsubashi Journal of Social Studies Vol. 21, No. 1, August 1989.

------ 1990. Systeme mondiale contre systeme-monde: Le deparage conceptuel de Frank" Sociologie et Societ‚s, Vol. XXII, No. 2, October.

Wilkinson, David 1987. Central Civilization. Comparative Civilizations Review No. 17, Fall, 31-59.

------- 1988. World-Economic Theories and Problems: Quigley vs. Wallerstein vs. Central Civilization. Paper delivered at Annual Meetings of the International Society for the Comparative Study of Civilizations, May 26-29.

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