Immanuel Wallerstein, Post-Modernists, & Kosovo

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 21 13:28:28 MDT 2000

As I have already explained, Immanuel Wallerstein never understood
the causal mechanisms of the transition from the world before
capitalism to the capitalist world.  And his inability to understand
them led to his incapacity to _fully_ understand the nature of the
former & still existing socialist countries, national liberation
movements, & neoliberal & humanitarian imperialism -- especially
attacks on Yugoslavia.  Wallerstein's takes on these subjects are
similar to post-colonialist/post-modernist scholars's -- he stands
close to Gayatri Spivak, Etienne Balibar (see _Race, Nation, Class:
Ambiguous Identities_ by Etienne Balibar & Immanuel Wallerstein),
etc.  He has much in common with "anarchists" like Chomsky;
enthusiasts for Seattle, A16, etc. (which some of them call
"anti-systemic movements" a la Wallerstein); the Frankfurt School
theorists; etc.

*****   "Liberalism and Democracy: Frères Ennemis?"

by Immanuel Wallerstein

© Immanuel Wallerstein 1997.

Fourth Daalder Lecture, Rijksuniversiteit Leiden, Interfacultaire
Vakgroep Politieke Wetenschappen, March 15,

...Let us start with some contemporary realities. I think there are
four elements in the post-1989 situation that are basic, in the sense
that they form the parameters within which political decisions are
necessarily being made. The first is the profound disillusionment,
worldwide, with the historic Old Left, in which I group not only the
Communist parties, but the Social-Democratic parties and the national
liberation movements as well. The second is the massive offensive to
deregulate constraints on the movement of capital and commodities,
and to dismantle simultaneously the welfare state. This offensive is
sometimes called "neo-liberalism." The third is the constantly
increasing economic, social, and demographic polarization of the
world-system, which the neoliberal offensive promises to fuel
further. The fourth is the fact that, despite all of this or perhaps
because of all of this, the demand for democracy for democracy, not
liberalism is stronger than it has been at any time in the history of
the modern world-system.

The first reality, the disillusionment with the Old Left, is
primarily, in my view, the result of the fact that, over time, the
Old Left abandoned the struggle for democracy and advanced in fact a
liberal program, in the very simple sense that they built their
programs around the crucial role of the competent people. To be sure,
they defined who was competent somewhat differently from centrist
political parties, at least theoretically. However, in practice, it
is not sure that they recruited their competent people from very
different social backgrounds from those privileged in liberal
discourse. In any case, the reality turned out to be insufficiently
different for their mass base, and this base has been abandoning them
as a result.{5}

[5. This is a theme that I have pursued in detail in After Liberalism
(New York: New Press, 1995), especially but not only in Part IV. See
also "Marx, Marxism-Leninism, and Socialist Experiences in the Modern
World-System" in Geopolitics and Geoculture (Cambridge: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1991, 84-97, and "Social Science and the Communist
Interlude, or Interpretations of Contemporary History," paper
delivered at ISA Regional Colloquium, "Building Open Society and
Perspectives of Sociology in East-Central Europe," Krakow, Poland,
Sept. 15-17, 1996.]...

<>   *****

What Wallerstein has to say about the Old Left & Communist Parties is
not wrong with regard to what is called Euro-communism & the
Communist Parties which have basically become social democratic
(after the initial advance in post-war history, in the case of
Japan).  However, to posit the experience of formerly & still
actually existing socialist countries as a variant of "liberalism,"
as Wallerstein does in _After Liberalism_, is misleading and makes us
unable to understand, for instance, attacks on Yugoslavia (besides
the fact that Wallerstein's take on socialist countries is similar to
the Frankfurt School's, post-modernists', Chomsky's, etc.).

*****   To: nettime-l at
Subject: <nettime> (fwd) Immanuel Wallerstein on Kosovo
From: Geert Lovink <geert at>
Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 20:35:39 +0200 (CEST)

"Bombs Away!"

...I have no doubt myself that the Yugoslav government has been
guilty of atrocious behavior in Kosovo, as they has been previously,
directly or via intermediaries, in Bosnia-Herzogovina. To be sure,
their opponents, the Kosovo Liberation Army in this case, and the
Croatians and Bosnians in the previous war, have also been guilty of
atrocities. And I for one am not going to do the arithmetic to figure
out who has done more atrocities than the other. Civil wars bring out
the worst in peoples, and the Balkan wars of the last five years are
not unusual in that respect. But it does weaken the moral
justification for intervention when the immoralities are not

Furthermore, if Serb behavior in Kosovo is to be reprimanded, then
the moral authorities who take it upon themselves to enforce moral
law must explain why they have been unwilling to intervene in Sierra
Leone or Liberia, in northern Ireland, in Chile under Pinochet, in
Indonesia under Sukarno, in Chechnya, or even for that matter in the
Basque country. No doubt each situation is different from the other,
and perhaps of different dimensions, but civil wars abound and
atrocities abound. And if we are to take moral enforcers seriously,
the least one can ask is that they are minimally consistent and
minimally disinterested.

So, in the end, we are thrown back on a political analysis. Who did
what for what reasons, and how much do particular actions aid in the
reasonable solution of the disputes? Let us start with the local
participants in the conflict. In the geographically and ethnically
intertwined and overlapping zones of the Balkans, the former Federal
Republic of Yugoslavia was probably the optimal structure to ensure
not only internal peace but maximal economic growth. But it came

This was not inevitable. There were some key turning-points. One was
in 1987 when Milosevic decided to build his political future on
Serbian nationalism rather than on Yugoslav nationalism/Communism and
moved within two years to suppress Kosovo autonomy. This gave the
excuse for, and perhaps instigated, the wave of successions:
Slovenia, then Croatia, then Bosnia-Herzogovina, then the attempted
secessions within Croatia and Bosnia by the Serbs, then the Kosovars.
No doubt, non-Balkan forces also played a role, especially Germany in
supporting, if not more than that, the idea of Croatian independence.

Still, Milosevic's initial moves were a grievous long-term political
error. We now find ourselves in one of those nasty, violent struggles
in which everyone is afraid, paranoiac, and unwilling to contemplate
any sort of real political compromise. And the fascist Ustashi in
Croatia and Chetniks in Serbia are once again a serious political

[The entire essay is available at

Now, again, the history of the current disaster begins in the rise of
Milosevic in 1987 -- this is ideological short-sightedness.

What Wallerstein says about Kosovo is not very different from what
Chomsky has said.


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