Living for Change column by Grace Lee Boggs
CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Fri Jan 5 10:27:05 MST 2001
Living for Change ( at www.michigancitizen.com )
Grace Lee Boggs ( comrade of Raya Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James)
2050 will be what we make it
As we enter the 21st century, I believe we are in the early stages of the second
American democratic revolution in my lifetime.
The first began 45 years ago with the Montgomery Bus Boycott triggered by the Emmett
Till lynching. Now, in the wake of the Supreme Court coup awarding the presidency to
Bush, Americans in all walks of life are questioning the legitimacy of the American
political system and wondering how to create a government of, by and for the people to
replace the government of, by and for corporations that we have now.
The revolution, as Karl Marx once wrote, sometimes needs the whip of the
For an idea of what this revolution will involve, I recommend two recent books by
Immanuel Wallerstein: The End of the World As We Know It and Utopistics (only 90
Wallerstein, a life-long student of world-historic systems and anti-systemic
movements, has concluded that capitalism is in terminal crisis and is unlikely to
exist in 50 years.
The next 25-50 years, he says, will probably be terrible ones in terms of human social
relations. But they will also be terribly exciting ones because in times of crisis and
transition, the free-will factor becomes central. The world of 2050 will be what we
This leaves full rein for our agency, for our commitment, and for our moral judgment.
It also means that this period will be a time of terrible struggle, because the stakes
are much higher than in so-called normal times.
World-historic systems are entities based on a particular division of labor,
integrated production systems, a set of organizing principles and institutions, and a
definite life span.
Thus European feudalism, which depended upon serf labor, began falling apart in the
15th century because depopulation and the abandonment of villages in the wake of the
Black Plague enabled peasants to exact better terms from landowners.
This led to a decline in the power and revenues of the three key institutions of
feudalism: the nobility, the states and the Church, and eventually their collapse.
Feudalism was replaced by capitalism which operates by endlessly accumulating capital
through exploiting labor.
Capitalism is now in terminal crisis for three reasons. 1) Going to the ends of the
earth for labor, it is exhausting the supply of workers employable at minimal wages.
(2) Costs to repair capitalist destruction of the environment are becoming
prohibitive. 3) The Old Left Communists and reformists, who advocated transforming the
system by strengthening the state, can no longer channelize the anger of the masses.
This was revealed by the New Left movements and rebellions of the 1960s.
What will replace capitalism? This will be the central political debate of the next
Our challenge, as we struggle for political democracy, is also to imagine, project and
struggle for alternatives to capitalism. Wallerstein calls this Utopistics. Utopias
tend to breed illusions and therefore inevitably disillusions. But Utopistics involves
the sober, rational and realistic evaluations of human social systems, the constraints
on what they can be and the zones open to human creativity.
Utopistics requires that we think holistically, consciously reuniting science,
politics and morality and including a sense of social timing. We need to heal the
philosophic split between the true and the good, or between the technical and the
ethical, which, beginning with Cartesian rationalism in the 17th century, elevated
scientists into our intellectual masters and gave capitalism free rein to expand
Now that capitalism's chickens are coming home to roost, we need a holistic vision of
an alternative, so that we can begin moving towards it, recognizing that there is no
guarantee of victory but taking maximum advantage of the free will factor in a period
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