Capitalism, cycles and systems

Image: Berk Ozdemir


The question of the historical cycles of capital

Fernand Braudel recognized the influence of the Soviet economist Nikolai Kondratiev and his theory of the “long waves” of economic development, in formulating his concept of “long duration”: “Beyond cycles and intercycles, there is what economists call, without , however, study it, the secular tendency… His considerations on the structural crises, not having passed the test of historical verifications, are presented as sketches or hypotheses, only buried in the recent past, until 1929, at most until the 1870s They do, however, provide a useful introduction to long-term history. They are like a first key”.[I]

The “long waves” theory of capitalist accumulation was formulated in the 1920s by Kondratiev: the debate on his theories raised the question of the historical cycles of capital, and came to influence the debates on historical cycles in general. Let's briefly see how.

Marx had studied the cycles of capitalist production, concluding that the crises produced every seven to eleven years were due to the contradictions of this mode of production, which generated overaccumulation of goods and capital. To these average cycles, Kondratiev superimposed long waves, linked to large-scale technological innovations, dependent, in turn, on the lifespan of durable capital goods (calculated by him at approximately 50 years).

Capitalism would thus experience long cycles of expansion and contraction in the long term, alongside “short” cycles, interrupted by quick crises; the long waves would last several decades, marked by rising phases (Phase A), followed by slow and persistent depressions (Phase B). These ideas appeared in Helphand (a German social democrat of Russian origin, better known by his code name parvus) and van Gelderen,[ii] but they only found a statistical translation in the work of Kondratiev, who established the following long waves in the history of the capitalist economy:                   

Kondratiev also studied the economic conditions for carrying out changes in the technological pattern: “Large investments require large sums of capital for loans. Hence the following conditions must necessarily be fulfilled before a long wave can begin to rise: (1) a propensity to save; (2) relatively large supply of low-interest loan capital”. Kondratiev even theorized that inventions (conditions for technological renewal) were also produced by waves. The pair technological innovation/economic conditions would condition the totality of economic and social development. The long waves did not, according to Kondratiev, have identical duration, since they oscillated between 47 and 60 years, the first being the longest. The years in which the first waves began or ended could vary slightly and coincide with important political events, such as the French Revolution of 1789 or the European revolutions of 1848. Although his work has been criticized for errors or statistical inadequacies, his hypothesis of work has become usual for economic historians.

To prove these theses, Kondratiev elaborated long national and international statistical series (wages, savings, prices, production of raw materials, gold, foreign trade), which he considered sufficient to provide an empirical basis for his theory, identifying “waves of growth” in the periods 1789-1823, 1848-1873 and 1894-1914: the intervals would correspond to “decaying waves”.[iii]

Kondratiev's theory was the subject of polemics in the USSR, with a notable intervention by Leon Trotsky: “Investigating epochs labeled as major cycles with the same 'rigidly legitimate rhythm' that is observable in minor cycles… is obviously a false generalization of an analogy formal. The periodic recurrence of minor cycles is conditioned by the inner dynamics of capitalist forces, and manifests itself whenever and everywhere once the market has sprung into existence. With regard to the long phases (of fifty years) of the tendency of capitalist evolution, for which Professor Kondratiev unfoundedly suggests the use of the term 'cycles', we must emphasize that the character and duration are determined, not by the internal dynamics of the capitalist economy, if not by the external conditions that constitute the structure of capitalist evolution. The acquisition for capitalism of new countries and continents, the discovery of new natural resources, and major facts of a 'superstructural' order such as wars and revolutions, determine the character and situation of stagnant or declining rising epochs of capitalist development”.[iv]

If none of Kondratiev's Soviet critics questioned the existence of long waves for certain economic processes, the majority denied their general, regular and periodic existence for capitalism as a whole. Trotsky also criticized the fact that Kondratiev's scheme did not distinguish between the historical rise and fall of capitalism. Oparin found the technical improvements brought about by inventions incompatible with the rise in prices typical of the rising wave. According to Sukhanov, capitalism was constantly changing from feudalism in crisis to the monopoly stage (the period covered by Kondratiev's “long waves”). The oscillations he discovered, as deviations from a theoretical normality of capitalism, were nothing more than a reflection of the different capitalist phases. Kondratiev's theories were expounded in articles in the early 1920s: in 1924, Kondratiev published a companion article, Statistical and dynamic conception of economic fluctuations.

Thus, Soviet economists and theorists rejected both Kondratiev's theory and its empirical basis. Oparin criticized the mathematical criteria used by Kondratiev, as well as his arbitrary choice of statistical series (which ignored other available series). Eventov insisted on the unity of the economic process and on the reciprocal influence between fluctuations of different durations: he questioned whether it could be possible to separate Marx's average cycles and Kondratiev's "evolutionary trends" (to which a qualitatively different character was attributed), considering it inadmissible to determine points of balance based on quantitative data.

Goberman concluded that, starting from the Kondratiev series, “only the movement of prices in the 1815th and 1840th centuries remained to be explained, as an independent phenomenon”. Gerzstein went further, proposing that Kondratiev's depressive phase between XNUMX-XNUMX (characterized by a downward trend in prices) was a period of unprecedented development of capitalist productive forces, the “true” period of the Industrial Revolution (considered outside the framework exclusive to England).

Kondratiev sought, as we have seen, to demonstrate that, in addition to the normal conjunctural cycle of capitalism, there were longer economic periods; these periods had a cyclical and recurrent character, and that this could be explained in strictly economic terms, linked to the cycle of investments. Kondratiev modified the dates of his cycles as follows: (1) from 1790 to 1810-1817, expansion (first long cycle); (2) from 1810-1817 to 1844-1851, descending phase; (3) from 1844-1851 to 1870-1875, expansion; (4) from 1870-1875 to 1890-1896, descending phase; (5) from 1890-1896 to 1914-1920, expansion.

The investigation of long cycles reached controversial results from the point of view of economic history; one of its representatives concluded: “The results achieved are not identical, but the theses that support the existence of an agreement between the movements of prices and those of production seem to be more solid than those that deny it or those that affirm that both movements are divergent.[v]

Kondratiev was not able, however, to formulate a theory that would allow him to establish laws of capitalist development based on long cycles, although most researchers were inclined towards the existence of long-term regularities, as proposed by him. Some scholars concluded that “long series must be constructed in some way to be explained, and even more must be explained in order to be constructed”, emphasizing that “technical progress is not a univocal phenomenon, derived from an immanent logic, independently of the historical context in which it is produced, and universal”;[vi] or that “the theoretical model elaborated [from the long cycles] is still far from being complete”.[vii] George Garvy stated that "the analysis of Kondratiev's statistical work leads us to the conclusion that he failed to demonstrate the existence of long cycles in economic life".[viii]

Kondratiev's theory also assumed an eternal adjustment of capitalism, which would mean its temporal indeterminacy, against which it was argued that “the physiology of an evolving organism is diverse in each of its successive stages. Capitalist evolution is an organic process with well-defined stages: youth, maturity, decay… and death” (Sukhanov).

For Bogdanov, the long waves had causes exogenous to the capitalist system: “The historical evolution of capitalism is determined by certain external factors. These must be considered accidental and to some extent independent of the internal rhythm of the capitalist economy”. This was the axis of Trotsky's aforementioned criticism: “With regard to the long phases (50 years) of the trend of capitalist evolution, for which Kondratiev suggests, without foundation, the name of cycles (or waves), it is worth noting that the its character and duration are determined, not by the internal dynamics of the capitalist economy, but by the external conditions that constitute the structure of capitalist evolution”. Trotsky proposed to elaborate the curve of capitalist development, “incorporating its non-periodic (basic trends) and periodic (recurrent) elements”.

In the same text, Trotsky attempted a periodization of capitalism from the Industrial Revolution onwards, taking into account its cyclical development: “The curve of economic progress highlights two types of movement: one, fundamental, which expresses general elevation; the other, secondary, which corresponds to constant periodic fluctuations, relative to the sixteen cycles of a period of 138 years. At that time, capitalism lived aspiring and expiring differently, according to the times. From the point of view of the grassroots movement, the point of view of the progress and decay of capitalism, the 138-year epoch can be divided into five periods: from 1783 to 1815, capitalism develops slowly, the curve climbs painfully; after the 1848 revolution, which expanded the limits of the European market, we witnessed a very sharp turnaround. Between 1851 and 1873, the curve suddenly rises. In 1873, the developed productive forces collided with the limits of the market.

A financial panic ensues. Then begins a period of depression which lasts until 1894. Cyclical fluctuations take place during this time; however the basic curve falls at approximately the same level. From 1894 onwards, a new era of capitalist prosperity began, and until the war, the curve rose with vertiginous speed. In the end, the failure of the capitalist economy in the course of the fifth period takes effect from 1914”. In each new cycle, the contradictions set in motion by capital accumulation would be greater; the cycle of capital, through periodic crises, decomposed and recomposed itself, but it did not repeat itself identically.

In a balance of investigations tending to prove the validity of long cycles, economists stated that “we do not believe that the existence of long waves has been demonstrated, based on the fact that the interpretation of data presupposes the intervention of value judgments, and not the application of a universally accepted proof test”.[ix] Schumpeter's “business cycle”, a tributary of the debates on “long cycles”, included the articulation between the Kitchner (40 months), Juglar (ten years) and Kondratiev (50 years) cycles.[X] In spite of all these caveats, the theoretical proposal of the Soviet economist gained new impetus after the Second World War, until it became the inspiring basis of a broader theory, which also inspired a new approach to capitalism.

The theory of long waves, which Kondratiev had limited to the analysis of secular movements of capitalism, was extended, expanded and modified by Braudel to formulate a conceptualization pertinent to the study of history in its entirety. Us Annals, the concept of “long duration” had its origins in Ernest Labrousse, a pioneer of quantitative serial history, in his work on secular price movements.[xi] Braudel extrapolated the concept of the field of economic history and, based on it, opposed his “three-dimensional” view of history, with three planes, to Marx’s “two-dimensional” view, based on the historical succession of modes of production, supposedly more limited, because it lacks the “thickness” given by the “third dimension”, the long duration.

On this basis, Braudel formulated the project of a “geohistory” as that of a “true retrospective human geography; thus obliging geographers (which would be relatively easy) to pay more attention to time, and historians (which would be more embarrassing) to worry about space and what it supports, what it engenders, with what it how much it facilitates or hinders – in a word, make them realize its formidable permanence: such would be the ambition of this geohistory”.[xii] In this methodological framework, “for me [Braudel], capitalism is a phenomenon of superstructure, a phenomenon of minority, a phenomenon of altitude”.

Critics of Braudel and his school pointed out methodological shortcomings: “(In Braudel) from the almost immovable presence of space and climate to everyday political events, there are no connections that explain how these elements of a plan act on others, to unite them in a global explanation”. For Braudel, capitalism would be a spontaneous activity of society, since it is consubstantial with its nature (“Privilege of the minority, capitalism is unthinkable without the active complicity of society”), a kind of closed circuit that would reproduce itself. It was widely pointed out that in Annals, the concern with economic history is descriptive and limited to circulation, without touching on the problems of production.[xiii] Braudel limited the relevance of Marx's theory to modern capitalism, declaring its uselessness for the analysis of broader periods.

This has been the subject of various criticisms. For some historians, what dominated the production of Annalsin the 1950s and 1960s was “the idea of ​​building a model of transition from Europe from the Ancien Régime to industrial civilization which, sharing with Marxism then in vogue the priority of the material dimensions of existence, had polemicised with the former regarding the essential factors of process, emphasizing a neo-Malthusian reading that confronted (or replaced) the Marxist reading in the debate on the transition from feudalism to capitalism”.[xiv] Based on the approach based on “long duration”, for Braudel, as well as for Henri Pirenne,[xv] the capitalist era had its origins in the twelfth century, with the commercial renaissance of European urban centers, when, in northern Italy and in the cities of Flanders and northern Germany, large merchants, who were often also bankers, attained a decisive social and economic role , influencing craft and manufacturing production, progressively removing it from the tutelage of large landowners and the nobility, and also changing the mentality regarding productive economic activities, until then despised as “vile”.

It was not a new debate. The question of the origins and specificities of capitalisms has been the proper object of economic history, since its origins. The first steps of this discipline were taken with Friedrich List, born in 1789, whose main work, the National System of Political Economy, was published in 1841.[xvi] List and other German economists expressed in their approaches the emergence of capitalist competition between nations. List accused Adam Smith of “cosmopolitanism, materialism, particularism, individualism” and, defending the role of the State as a promoter of economic development and national independence, laid the foundations for a theory of stages of development and “underdevelopment”. He attributed a primordial role to the state in the economy, postulating that "a good system [of political economy] absolutely needs a firm historical foundation". In what was ahead of its time, because, gradually, history shifted to the economy as a research field of economic trajectories and oscillations and their meaning.

The junction between history and economics thus had a double basis, conditioned by the social context of the history of knowledge and by the differentiation and specialization of the discipline. On the one hand, the formation of the modern science of political economy, at the same time that, in the words of the Marxist historian WitoldKula, “the economy erupts into history (when) the masses, by launching themselves into the struggle for their rights, had to seek historical legitimation for itself”.[xvii] At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, economic history began to take shape as an independent discipline, but it was only after the First World War that it quickly emancipated itself, which, in the academic area, was achieved with the publication, in the USA, of the Journal of Economic and Business History (1926), in England, from the Economic History Review (1927) and, above all, with the publication, in France, of the Annales d'Histoire Economique et Sociale (1929)

Economic history was established at times when the neoclassical approach prevailed in the economy, which excluded the theory of value based on work and the transience or historical specificity of capitalism. In a well-known handbook formulation, Charles Morazé defined the economy as the natural basis of the “logic of history”: “The economic factor appears as the universal basis, the permanent framework. It is the skeleton whose preliminary development is indispensable to any other progress of which it is, however, a function. Thus, at the origin of all great historical questions we find these problems of everyday life, the meaning of which we must try to demonstrate. It is for his own happiness that man works, based undoubtedly on the discovery of an ideal of varying elevation, but also subordinated, in the vast majority of cases, to the satisfaction, more or less refined, of the immediate needs of his nature”.[xviii] The “human sciences” would play an auxiliary role to the synthetic discipline par excellence, history, its logic being determined by an economy based on satisfying the immediate needs of human nature, in the “pursuit of happiness”.

This point of view was questioned when the social sciences suffered the shock arising from the crisis of their philosophical assumptions and contact with cultures that had developed based on different assumptions. The human sciences had been pressured to pursue a “social technology” arising from sociological, economic, anthropological, political, historical and even philosophical research;[xx] economics, “multiplied works on the economics of crime, marriage, education, suicide, environment or knick-knacks (which) only indicate that economics is now seen as a universal discipline of services, and not to understand what humanity does in the world. their daily life, or how their activities change”.[xx]

Questioning this angle, the remaining “humanities” were distinguished, including the exact and biological sciences, by their latent, potential or explicit conflict with the dominant ideology: “The social sciences were rarely institutionalized like the natural sciences, and even , social scientists seemed much better able to withstand the pressure than their peers. In one case, the dissenter is ignored and not rewarded. In the other, he is applauded and respected”.[xxx]

In this context, the vanguard of economic history was taken from the hands of economists by historians thanks to the dynamism of Annals, initially restricted to France. Analyzing the history of France and the French Revolution, Ernest Labrousse, one of its precursors, proposed, as we have seen, the analysis of secular economic trends. In its sequence, the ideas of Fernand Braudel provided a sophistication of economic history. On the basis of the Braudelian reading, Giovanni Arrighi proposed four “systemic cycles of accumulation” throughout the history of capitalism. When material expansion reaches its apex, there would be a “financialization” of the accumulation mode and the consequent fall of the accumulator center. The cycles of would partially overlap, indicating that the accumulation centers not only succeed one another, but would also articulate contradictorily in their development. For Arrighi, each cycle would have two phases: the first would be characterized by the emphasis on productive and commercial accumulation; the second would be distinguished by the importance given to financial accumulation.[xxiii] These formulations had a strong impact on current analyzes of “globalized” (or “worldwide”) capitalism at the same time as “financialized”.

For another author in this area, Immanuel Wallerstein, who resumed and reformulated Braudel's idea of ​​the “world-economy”, capital always existed, capitalism being the system in which “capital came to be used (invested) in a very specific". What originated in the XNUMXth century, for this author, was not the (tendency) capitalist world economy, but the “European world-system”, an idea that he illustrated in his work Modern World System, divided into three volumes: “Capitalist agriculture and the origins of the European world-economy in the sixteenth century”, “Mercantilism and the consolidation of the European world-economy, 1600-1750” and “The second era of great expansion of the European capitalist world, 1730-1840”.

In the prelude to the first period addressed, “the sufficient conditions (of capitalism) arise involuntarily and contingently between 1250 and 1450, a period that many authors qualify as the “crisis of feudalism”… The result of the decline of feudalism was one among countless possibilities, and in the heat of events it was intrinsically impossible to anticipate such a peculiar development. This is exactly Wallerstein's position regarding the transition from feudalism to capitalism, that is, the formation of the modern world-system.[xxiii]

Although the Braudelian inspiration of Wallerstein's work is explicit, its author presented it as overcoming the "stage-based" and anachronistic approach of the sociology of development, capable of establishing similarities between XNUMXth-century France and XNUMXth-century India, comparisons against which opposed the concept, taken from Wolfram Eberhard in his studies on the Far East,[xxv] of “world time”: “If XNUMXth-century France could share structural features with XNUMXth-century India, they must nevertheless be considered as very different in the world context; (because of that) I definitely abandoned the idea of ​​taking the sovereign State as a unit of analysis and even that even more vague concept, the national society. Neither was a social system, and one can only speak of social changes in social systems.

In this scheme, the only social system was the world system”.[xxiv] In this approach, capitalism would be a defining quality of the most recent “world-system”, without differentiating a historical era. The “world-systems” would encompass the modes of production, but not the other way around. Its systemic logic, different in each case, would be the axis of interpretation of history. Disciples, including partially critical ones, of Wallerstein, temporarily retreated this focus, even postulating the existence of an Afro-Eurasian “world-system”, certainly not capitalist, of a millennium duration, as a great antecedent of the modern “European world-system” .[xxv] Other authors pushed back this chronology and expanded its scope even further, reaching extreme formulations in its spatial and temporal dimensions.[xxviii] The theory of “world-systems” as superior units was an adaptation-change of the space-time proposal carried out by Braudel through the notion of “long duration”.

A “world-economy”, for Braudel, was a system capable of containing extensive and economically centralized territories: in this “autonomous entity”, economic flows would go from the periphery to the center, with a social system where all people would be economically connected; therefore, it would be non-political, and also geographically delimited. By “world-economy” Braudel meant the economy of a part of the planet capable of forming a self-sufficient system; political power was the basis of the constitution of an imperial center. Wallerstein, on the other hand, invoked the examples of the Renaissance and the Reformation to explain that the crisis of feudalism ended the imperial principle and the supremacy of politics, which would have been transformed into an instrument destined only to collect the economic surplus. The capitalist “world-system” would be characterized, specifically, by “possessing boundaries wider than any political unit”: “In the capitalist system there is no political authority capable of exercising authority over the whole”.[xxviii]

For Wallerstein, “historical capitalism” would mean the generalized commodification of processes that had previously followed paths other than those of a market: “In the most important historical systems ('civilizations') there has always been a certain level of commodification, therefore of commercialization. As a result, there have always been people seeking benefits in the market. But there is an abysmal difference between a historical system in which there are a few merchant-entrepreneurs, or capitalists, and another in which the ethosand capitalist practice.

Before the modern world-system what happened in each of these other historical systems was that when one capitalist stratum became too rich or too successful or gained too much influence over existing institutions, other institutional, cultural, religious, military groups or politicians attacked it, using their share of power and their value systems to assert the need to contain and curb the profit-oriented stratum. The result was that these strata saw their attempts to impose their practices on the historical system as a priority frustrated. At times, the accumulated capital was cruelly and brutally taken away from them and, in any case, they were forced to obey the values ​​and practices that kept them marginalized”.[xxix]

There would always have been, in this approach, capitalist strata without them managing to impose their ethos to society, until the emergence of the contemporary world system. This would have been the product of the disaggregation of previous “world-economies”, which did not have a specific mode of production. Both capitalism and the world market would be nothing more than the broader development of pre-existing phenomena, without historical rupture. Wallerstein explained the formation of the sixteenth-century world-system, at the beginning of the capitalist system, and its transformations, considering capitalism as a “world system”. Its unit of analysis is therefore the world-system (not the nation-state), within which the economic, social, political and cultural spheres are related.

The capitalist world-economy would be a system based on a hierarchical inequality of distribution, with the concentration of certain types of production (relatively monopolized production, with high profitability), in limited zones, headquarters of greater capital accumulation, which would allow the reinforcement of the state structures, seeking to guarantee the survival of monopolies. The capitalist world system would function and evolve as a function, in the first place, of its economic factors, not the political ones.

For Wallerstein, there were world-economies before capitalism, but they always turned into empires and/or disintegrated: China, Persia and Rome are his main examples. On the other hand, the European “world-economy” was constituted from the end of the XNUMXth century onwards, with the emergence of capitalism (originated, according to Braudel, as we have seen, in the XNUMXth century); the constitution of the world market, according to this author, was not specifically linked to the emergence of capitalism, because “there was not just one capitalism, but several capitalisms (which) coexisted, each with its own zone, its own circuits. They are linked, but they do not penetrate each other, nor do they even support each other”. Together with this “there was a trend towards a unitary life on a world scale, followed by a fall”. According to Wallerstein, the modern “world-system” would be based on the inter-regional and transnational division of labor and the division of the world into central, semi-peripheral and peripheral countries.

The core countries would concentrate highly specialized and capital-intensive production, while the rest of the world is dedicated to labor-intensive and non-specialized production and the extraction of raw materials. This tends to reinforce the dominance of core countries. However, the system has dynamic characteristics, partly as a result of revolutions in transport technology, so that each country may gain or lose its status. On the other hand, against its critics, this system would not be restricted to economics only: “If that were the case, it would be called a 'world-economy' and not a 'world-system'. Wallerstein draws attention to the peculiarity that this economic system has lasted for about 500 years and has not turned into a world-empire. And 'this peculiarity is the political aspect of the form of economic organization called capitalism'”.[xxx]

In the capitalist world-economy, conjunctural cycles would behave, for Wallerstein, in an analogous way to the Kondratiev cycles, lasting approximately fifty years and constituted by phases of expansion and contraction motivated by technological changes determined by the pursuit of profit. Capitalism's periodic readjustments would have three main consequences: (1) “The constant geographical restructuring of the capitalist world system (maintaining) the hierarchically organized commodity chain system”; (2) Provoke a periodic coincidence of workers' interests with the interests of a minority of entrepreneurs, since "one of the most immediate and efficient ways to increase workers' real income is the greater commodification of their own labor" (replacing, for example, domestic production processes by industrial processes, increasing proletarianization); (3) The constant growth of the loci of capitalism, through “periodic explosions”, with “improvements” in transport, communications and armament, motivated less by the need for new markets where to realize the profits of capitalist production, than by the demand for labor with lower prices and costs.[xxxii]

Wallerstein's theories suffered not only attempts at correction in detail, but also radical criticisms of their own methodological basis. By considering only the cumulative or gradual character of the accumulation process, the capitalist era would lose its specific historical character. Certainly, capitalist economic relations emerged as international projections of a regional economy, which expanded militarily and commercially worldwide. However, for his critics, Wallerstein's theory “erres in considering the world-system in strictly circulationist terms [referring only to the circulation of goods and capital].

Capitalism, defined as a system of accumulation aiming profit through the market, is conceptualized in a context of exchange relations; economic relations take place between states within the framework of these exchanges. As a result, the question of the mode of production and its social component, the relations of production, is eliminated from the analysis, just as the relations and class struggles based on these relations disappear as irrelevant. The system itself, in its totality and static abstraction, becomes an end in itself, in fact, in the construction of an 'ideal type'”.[xxxi]

For James Petras, “without a clear notion of the antagonistic class interests within a social formation, there is a tendency among world-system theorists to dissolve the question into a series of abstract imperatives about development, deduced from a system of social stratification, similar to the functional requirements and equilibrium models of [Talcott] Parsons' sociology”.[xxxii] In a similar critique, we read that “the world-economy presents a characterization of historical capitalism very similar to mercantile capitalism. It considers that this system was forged by commodifying productive activity with global mechanisms of competition, expansion of markets and bankruptcy of inefficient companies...

Wallerstein denied the relevance of the proletariat as a constitutive part of this system. He attributed this stance to arguments tied to the national scope and asserted that capitalism extracts surplus value from a wide variety of exploited people. He pointed out that the world-economy works through the control that capitalists exercise. But he did not clarify what are the differences that separate capitalism from the modes of production that preceded it. This difference arises from the existence of surplus value generated specifically by salaried workers. Only the reinvestment of this surplus appropriated by the bourgeoisie feeds accumulation”.[xxxv]

Indeed, Wallerstein asserted that the "system" extracts surplus from exploited people of various kinds. His “theoretical” arguments are, in fact, strongly empirical, lacking in them the basic categories of the Marxian analysis of capital's contradictions: overproduction (which would be a “misleading concept”), periodic crises, placed in a secondary plane and not analytical, in short, the tendency to fall in the rate of profit. In Gianfranco Pala's synthesis, “if structure and class relations are not enough to characterize a 'world-system', there is nothing left to define it other than its 'globality'. Which is equivalent to affirming a banality, that is, nothing. A specific difference of the capitalist mode of production is dissolved… We are faced with a 'descriptivism' – just because it is obvious – about the passage from one [social] form or situation to another”.[xxxiv] In addition to these “outside” criticisms, one should also consider the divergences between defenders of the world-systems theory, which has, in its original formulation, and even more so in its derivatives, a variable, temporal and spatial geometry.

For another author, the concern of the defenders of world-systems theory with its “systemic logic” and its cyclical rhythms is “obsessive”, “tendentially functionalist”, and “may become a straitjacket, sterilizing the potentialities of this modality of reflection”: “By world-system we must understand a unit whose integral parts cannot be analyzed separately. Thus, world-system processes are always total… The incorporation of elements from complexity theory, together with an emphasis on the determinative character of mid-cycles, is bringing the world-system perspective to an inflection point, where its most fruitful characteristics are being eliminated. In an analysis inspired by inevitable systemic disintegration, as outlined above, what is the actual place of history? Where is the overcoming of the nomothetic-ideographic antinomy?”,[xxxiv] proclaimed as the objective of this theory. To formulate the question is to answer it (in the negative, of course).

For its defenders, the dominant “world-system” would be characterized by the incessant accumulation of capital, the regional division of labor, phenomena of domination between center and peripheries, alternation of periods of hegemony exercised by different powers, and economic cycles. The international division of labor implies unequal exchanges, in which the center of the system, relying on a more effective mobilization of the workforce, innovation capacity and political-military power, exports products with greater added value, establishing monopolistic situations. In its last phase, the system would not only face internal shocks, in the struggle for new hegemonies, but also the opposition of “counter-hegemonic movements”, without a determined class character, since the world-system would not be based on the exploitation of a specific class , but several.

In their most recent avatars, world-system analysts have used concepts derived from quantum physics – “systemic chaos”, “entropy” – to categorize today's phenomena (defined as the “terminal crisis” of “historical capitalism”),[xxxviii] and it is clear that history is moving further and further away from these debates. Because these would be characteristics of the current world-system, more geographically comprehensive than the previous ones, not an era of history with a differentiated, specific and universal mode of production. But it is precisely the universal and unique character of this history that was called into question in the second half of the XNUMXth century.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (Boitempo).



[I] Fernand Braudel. History and social sciences: the long run. History Magazine, São Paulo, University of São Paulo, XXXI, (62), 1965.

[ii] Jacob van Gelderen (1891-1940) was a Dutch economist, who, along with Salomon de Wolff, proposed the existence of economic super cycles of 50 to 60 years (HetObject der TheoretischeStaathuishoudkunde.Weltevreden, Kolff, 1928).

[iii] Nikolai Kondratiev. The Long Waves of Conjuncture. São Paulo, Com-Arte, 2018 [1922]. Kondratiev's first reference to extended cycles occurs in his 1922 book The World Economy and its Situation during and after the War. The book was an empirical analysis of the economic events produced since 1914, with less reference to explicitly theoretical issues. The concept of prolonged cycles was introduced in later chapters in the form of a historical generalization.

[iv] Leon Trotsky. The curve of capitalist development. In: A School of Revolutionary Strategy. Buenos Aires, Ediciones del Siglo, 1973 [1923].

[v] Maurice Niveau. History of Contemporary Economic Events. Barcelona, ​​Ariel, 1974.

[vi] Bernard Rosier. Les Théories des Crises Economiques. Paris, La Découverte, 1988.

[vii] Andrew Tylecote. The Long Wave in the World Economy. London, Routledge, 1992.

[viii] George Garvy. Kondratiev's wide cycles. In: The Broad Waves of the Economy. Madrid, Revista de Occidente, 1946.

[ix] David Gordon. Segmented Work, Divided Workers.Madrid, Ministerio de Trabajo y Seguridad Social, 1986. For more up-to-date debates, see: Ernest Mandel. Las Ondas Largas del Desarrollo Capitalista. Madrid, Siglo XXI, 1986; for a critique of the theory: Richard B. Day. The theory of long waves: Kondratiev, Trotsky, Mandel. New Left Review I/99, London, September-October 1976; where the author points out that Mandel intended to agree, simultaneously, with Trotsky and Kondratiev regarding long cycles, “which is, logically, impossible”.

[X] Joseph A. Schumpeter. The analysis of economic change. Readings in Business Cycle Theory No. 2, Philadelphia, 1948.

[xi] Ernest Labrousse. Esquisse du Mouvementdes Prix et des Revenusen France auXVIIIèSiècle. Paris, Dalloz, 1933.

[xii] Fernand Braudel. The geohistory. Between Past & Future nº 1, São Paulo CNPq/Xamã, May 2002.

[xiii] Joseph Fontana. History: Analysis of the Past and Social Project.Barcelona, ​​Criticism, 1982.

[xiv] Fernando Devoto. Braudel and the Historical Renewal. Buenos Aires, CEAL, 1991.

[xv] Henri Pirenne. Economic and Social History of the Middle Ages. São Paulo, Mestre Jou, 1966; where the author referred to the “tendency towards the continuous accumulation of wealth, which we call capitalism”.

[xvi] Friedrich List. National System of Political Economy. Mexico, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1997 [1841].

[xvii] Witold Kula. Problems and Methods of Economic History. Barcelona, ​​Peninsula, 1974.

[xviii] Charles Moraze. Logic of History. São Paulo, Difel, 1970 [1967].

[xx] Paul Mercier. History of Anthropology. Barcelona, ​​Peninsula, 1989.

[xx] Eric J. Hobsbawn. Historians and economists. About History. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2013.

[xxx] Geoffrey Hawthorn. Enlightenment and Despair. A history of sociology. Rio de Janeiro, Peace and Land, 1982.

[xxiii] Giovanni Arrighi. The Long Twentieth Century. São Paulo-Rio de Janeiro, Unesp-Contraponto, 1996.

[xxiii] Eduardo Barros Mariutti. Considerations on the world-system perspective. New Studies nº 69, São Paulo, July 2004.

[xxv] Wolfram Eberhard. The History of China. Slp, Intl Business Pubs USA, 2009 [1950].

[xxiv]Immanuel Wallerstein. The Modern World System. Mexico, Siglo XXI, 1998, vol. 1.

[xxv] Philippe Beaujard. Asia-Europe-Afrique: a système monde (-400, +600). In: Philippe Norel and Laurent Testot (eds.). Une Histoire du Monde Global. Auxerre, ÉditionsSciencesHumaines, 2012.

[xxviii] André Gunder Frank and Barry K. Gills. The World System. Five hundredyearsorfivethousand? London, Routledge, 1993.

[xxviii] Immanuel Wallerstein. The Capitalist World Economy. New York, Cambridge University Press, 1979.

[xxix] Immanuel Wallerstein. Historical Capitalism. São Paulo, Brasiliense, 1995.

[xxx] Jose Ricardo Martins. Immanuel Wallerstein and the world-system: a theory still current?, November 2015.

[xxxii] Immanuel Wallerstein. Historical Capitalism, cit.

[xxxi]BerchBerberoglu. L'Ereditàdell'Impero. Milan, Vangelista, 1993.

[xxxii] James Petras. Critical Perspectives on Imperialism and Social Class in the Third World. New York, Monthly Review Press, 1978.

[xxxv] Claudio Katz. Dependency Theory. 50 years later. São Paulo, Popular Expression, 2020.

[xxxiv] Gianfranco Pala. The vagrant pietra. invariant nº 25, Rome, 1993.

[xxxiv] Eduardo Barros Mariutti. Op. cit. The so-called nomothetic approach tries to make generalizations about the world and understand social patterns on a large scale. The ideographic approach involves uncovering a large amount of detailed information about a narrower subject of study. In sociology, a nomothetic explanation is one that presents a generalized understanding of a given case; the ideographic explanation presents a complete description of a given case.

[xxxviii] See Terence Hopkins, Immanuel Wallerstein et al. The Age of Transition.Trajectory of the world-system 1945-2025. London/New Jersey, Zed Books, 1996. In Wallerstein's words, “the capitalist world-economy has now entered its terminal crisis, a crisis which is expected to last for about fifty years. The real question before us is what will happen during this crisis, during this transition from the present world-system to another type of historical system or systems”.









See this link for all articles


  • João Cândido and the Revolt of the Whipwhip revolt 23/06/2024 By PETRÔNIO DOMINGUES: In the current context, in which there is so much discussion about State reparations for the black population, the name of João Cândido cannot be forgotten
  • Fear and HopeJoao_Carlos_Salles 24/06/2024 By JOÃO CARLOS SALLES: Against the destruction of the public university
  • The collapse of Zionismfree palestine 80 23/06/2024 By ILAN PAPPÉ: Whether people welcome the idea or fear it, Israel's collapse has become predictable. This possibility should inform the long-term conversation about the future of the region
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Return to the path of hopelate afternoon 21/06/2024 By JUAREZ GUIMARÃES & MARILANE TEIXEIRA: Five initiatives that can allow the Brazilian left and center-left to resume dialogue with the majority hope of Brazilians
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Theological manual of neoliberal neo-PentecostalismJesus saves 22/06/2024 By LEONARDO SACRAMENTO: Theology has become coaching or encouraging disputes between workers in the world of work
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones