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The Current Conjuncture: Short-run and Middle-run Projections

1. Where We Are:

a) The world has entered a depression, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

b) The United States has entered a serious decline in geopolitical power, whose greatest impact is yet to come (in the next five years).

c) The world environment is entering into serious crisis (and nothing much will be done about it) (in the next five years).

d) The rumblings of left-oriented social movements are everywhere, but they are poorly coordinated and lack clear tactical vision (because they lack clear middle-run strategic vision).

e) Far-right forces have clearer short-run tactical vision than the left (a combination of preparing for violence and a refusal of all centrist compromise), but they too lack clear middle-run strategic vision.

f) The future (both short-run and middle-run) is very, very uncertain.

2. Most Possible Developments in the Next Five Years

a) Explosion of last bubble — (most of all, but not only) sovereign debt, especially of the United States.

b) Consequences of this:

b1) Significant drop in value of U.S. dollar, and hence move into genuine multi-currency world-economy;

b2) Significant increase in world unemployment rates, everywhere;

b3) Absence of safe havens leading to wild fluctuations in currency exchange rates, and hence unwillingness to invest.

c) Enormous (much increased) turmoil throughout Middle East, and notably:

c1) Probable military regime in Pakistan, backing more or less openly Taliban in Afghanistan;

c2) De facto control of Afghanistan by Taliban;

c3) U.S. full military withdrawal from Iraq, and possibly even Afghanistan;

c4) 50% chance of Israeli bombing of Iran, followed by fierce worldwide reaction against Israel;

c5) Shaky regime in Saudi Arabia, with possible military coup.

d) Consequences within United States:

d1) Fierce demonization of Obama (and Democrats) for treason;

d2) At best, narrow Obama reelection in 2012;

d3) Ultra-rightwing push for military takeover, with at least widespread creation of armed militias defying government.

e) Creation of non-U.S.-centered geopolitical blocs:

e1) Strengthening of Western Europe-Russia geopolitical ties;

e2) Strengthening of China-Japan-South Korea geopolitical ties;

e3) Strengthening of South American geopolitical ties, led by Brazil, with multiple attempts of rightwing coups (success uncertain).

f) Environment: No significant lessening of environmental degradation and no achievement of major counter-measures.

3. Likely Developments of Next 15-25 Years:

a) Open recognition by major controllers of capital of impossibility of significant future capital accumulation, and therefore active search for alternative systemic models that would enable them to retain three key features of current system (hierarchization, exploitation, and polarization),

b) Slower recognition by world “left” that active issue is not whether or not to end capitalism but how to organize for successor system that will be in process of construction,

4. What Kinds of Policies for the World Left?

a) Neither “left” governments nor “left” social movements can do much more in the short run (next five years) than engage in defensive actions, whose guiding characteristic should be actions that “minimize the pain” of the working strata generally, and the most oppressed and poverty-overwhelmed in particular.  All “left” governments continue to live within the constraints of the capitalist world-economy.

b) The actual policies that would “minimize the pain” vary, depending on the political structure of the state and the economic position of the state in the world-economy.  There is no state in which the working strata will not suffer in the coming five years (including in the North), and there is no program that is applicable everywhere.  Organized left movements need to respect bottom-up popular pressures.

c) The crucial battle is in the middle-run (next 15-25 years).  This is a battle not about capitalism, but about what will replace it as an historical social system.  Both the right forces and the left forces exist throughout the world.  The battle is not between states but between worldwide social forces.

d) Neither the left forces nor the right forces are presently unified worldwide, and in both camps there are serious internal struggles over the correct strategy to pursue.

e) The outcome of the internal struggles in each camp and the outcome of the struggle between the two camps are both completely uncertain at the present time.  History is on no one’s side.  The ultimate outcome may be far better or for worse than the present capitalist world-system.

f) The key mode of proceeding is (1) achieving analytic lucidity, (2) followed by fundamental moral choice, (3) followed by intelligent, effective political action.  Not at all easy.

Immanuel Wallerstein is Senior Research Scholar at Yale University.  He founded and led the Fernand Braudel Center at Binghamton University from 1976-2005.  This article was first published Seminário dez anos depois on 4 December 2009; it is reproduced here for non-profit educational purposes.

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