Given the structural crisis of the capatalist world-system, fighting for a new society is already taking place - although most people are still not aware of this. In the chaos of the transitional phase every action carries weight - like the famous butterfly effect, where a flap can cause a storm, says Wallerstein. The "Davos group" aims for a new system in which the privileges of the elites and the negative effects of capitalism could be preserved: hierachy, exploitation, inequality. On the other side, the "group of Porto Alegre" fights for a relatively egalitarian and democratic world. But movements have to learn from the mistakes of the old left. Instead of opting for centralization and internal hierachy which lead to endless frictions, they should develop horizontal network structures.
Immanuel Wallerstein, senior research scholar at Yale University, USA. Co-founder of the world-systems analysis. From 1994-1998 president of the International Sociological Association. Author of numerous books, including "The Modern World-System".
Scheidler: You have already mentioned this structure of crisis of the World System. You are also writing that a struggle about a successor system or successor systems is already going on. Who is engaged in this struggle and what options are there, what are the possible outcomes of this struggle?
Wallerstein: I can talk more easily about the possible outcomes than who is engaged in it. There are really only two theoretically possible outcomes. One is to create a new, non-capitalist system, which however, shares the worst features of capitalism: hierarchy, exploitation, ruinous inequality. Now, you can do that in many ways other than through a capitalist system and people will try to invent these ways, that’s one alternative. The other alternative is quite the opposite. It is to create for the first time in history a relatively egalitarian, relatively democratic system. So these are the two alternatives. And that is what we are fighting about, even if the people don’t realise that that is what we are fighting about. So, who is fighting? Well, most people aren’t aware that they are in this kind of battle. So there are small groups on each side, who are aware and are trying to mobilize people. Because, basically, in this kind of chaotic situation we have ... how shall I put it … The historical debate of Western philosophy has been between determinism and free will. And people took a position on which is the basic reality of the world. Is it a determinist world or is it a world of free will. And I say you have to historicise that. It is not one or the other, it is one or the other at different points in time. When a system is in normal operation, it is a determinist system. You can try to change it in very fundamental ways and it gets pushed back to an equilibrium. A moving equilibrium, but an equilibrium. When you are in the transition from one system to another, when you are in a structural crisis, then you are in a system of free will, because every little motion of everybody’s part shifts the system in significant ways. Its the theory of the butterfly. It was discovered forty, fifty, sixty years ago that, if a butterfly flaps its wings over here, at the other end of the world it changes the climate, because it changes the initial conditions of some process. So, I always say at that point: We are all little butterflies, and every nano-action and every nano-weight affects the outcome. But, while we know that the outcome has to be one or the other of these two wings, these two branches of the bifurcation, what we don’t know is which branch will win. There is no way of predicting that. We just have to struggle along and fight along and try to persuade more and more butterflies to do things on our side than on the other side.
Scheidler: Yesterday you talked about the errors of the Old Left, what you called the Two-Step-Ideology, first seize state power and then change the world and you have said that this ideology has failed historically. Why has it failed and what are the alternatives – horizontal decentralized struggles for change and what about the state and elections, then?
Wallerstein: It has failed because it has succeeded. It succeeded basically in the period 1945 to 1970 when it came to power all over the world – anti-systemic movements – and they didn’t change the world. They didn’t change the world, because they didn’t want to change the world. When they came to power, they wanted to pursue their privileged positions. What’s the alternative? Is it horizontalism? Yes, I think it is, but I have to persuade people.
Scheidler: Explain what horizontalism means?
Wallerstein: Horizontalism means that you assemble a family of anti-systemic movements of all conceivable kinds. You listen to each other and you talk to each other and you try to learn from each other, but you don’t create a single structure with a hierarchy within it. You support each other in thrusts. So five movements over here make it together to do X, and six movements over there get together to do Y and it is all good, it is all a plus, without attempting to create a vertical structure which inevitably means we have to exclude movements, that don’t pursue the exact verticalist strategy which is what the Old Left used to do and it meant continuous splits of the various movements, endless splits of the movements, endless angers, endless attempts to control the others, which in the long run turned out to be self-defeating.
Scheidler: You talk about the spirit of Davos in opposition to the spirit of Porto Alegre. Explain what you mean by this.
Wallerstein: I just use this language to summarize the two alternatives in the bifurcation – the spirit of Porto Alegre is the spirit of moving towards a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian world, and the spirit of Davos is the spirit of finding a new structure that will replicate the advantages to the privileged minority of the old system, but based on some new kind of method of doing that which could turn out to be far worse than the actual, negative system we now have. In any case, it won’t be better.
Scheidler: What about the splits within the spirit of Davos?
Wallerstein: You see, within each of these two spirits there are two versions of what to do, so they are fighting with each other. The Davos people are fighting between using the technique of forceful repressiveness versus the technique of seductive pseudo-reforms, which could be attractive to people in the other camp. The spirit of Porto Alegre is split between the horizontalists and a sort of revived version of verticalism. We really have four points of view floating around, and that gets very complicated for people to understand and appreciate and analyse and leads to still greater confusion, but that’s the reality. We are living in a very difficult world in which it is difficult to discern what we want to do, how we ought to do it and all that in the context of not knowing what the outcome will be. We cannot know intrinsically who will win. We can only hope and work to make our side win.