Immanuel Wallerstein https://iwallerstein.com Mon, 01 Jul 2019 17:02:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This is the end; this is the beginning https://iwallerstein.com/this-is-the-end-this-is-the-beginning/ Mon, 01 Jul 2019 04:00:57 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2408 My first commentary appeared on October 1, 1998. It was published by the Fernand Braudel Center (FBC) at Binghamton University. I have produced commentaries on the first and the fifteenth of every month since then without exception. This is the 500th such commentary. This will be the last commentary ever.

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My first commentary appeared on October 1, 1998. It was published by the Fernand Braudel Center (FBC) at Binghamton University. I have produced commentaries on the first and the fifteenth of every month since then without exception. This is the 500th such commentary. This will be the last commentary ever.

I have devoted myself to writing these commentaries with complete regularity. But no one lives forever, and there is no way I can continue doing these commentaries much longer.

So, sometime ago I said to myself I will try to make it to number 500 and then call it quits. I have made it to 500 and I am calling it quits.

My commentaries have a special format. They are not blogs, which are writings that the next to the last writer changes at his will. On the contrary, my commentaries are meant to be permanent and to never change.

The commentaries have a clear format. Sometimes as in commentary number one, the title is the theme. But most frequently the title is the theme in the following particular fashion.

The commentary opens with a few words that attract the attention of the reader followed either by a question mark or by a colon. There follows what might be thought of as a subtitle in which I indicate the concrete references to which this commentary makes allusion. This is usually another five or six words.

All commentaries may be translated, and I seek to have as many as possible translated. The translations have a strict format. We give rights gratis for the first 1,000 copies initial translation. This is to pay for the costs of translation.

But after that, the commentaries must follow certain rules. Nothing can be added, and nothing can be subtracted from the commentary, which must be reproduced in all fidelity. In order to ensure that this is the case, a proposer of a new translation is answered in the following manner.

First, we check to see whether previously a commentary has been translated. If it has, we thank the proposer for his or her interest and indicate that the translation has already been made. We indicate to the proposer the location of the completed translation. There can only be one translation, as there can only be one English language version.

There is only one language in which all 500 commentaries have been translated. This language is Mandarin Chinese. Furthermore, the translator has always been the same person. She is a former student of mine and is very familiar with my thought. Other languages have multiple issues translated, but only Mandarin Chinese has everything.

For a long time now, the commentaries are available for purchase by profit-seeking publications. They may enter into agreement with my agent – Agence Global. I take the occasion to thank all those who have been involved in fulfilling this arrangement.

It is I, and no one else, who chooses the theme of the commentary and who guarantees the uniqueness of the translation. All commentaries and all translations on an archive are available to anyone whatsoever, whether the person writes to us regularly or is simply someone who tunes in this one time. These commentaries are permanent members of a community of commentaries.

This is the sense in which the present commentary is at an end.

It is the future that is more important and more interesting, but also inherently unknowable. Because of the structural crisis of the modern-world system, it is possible, possible but not absolutely certain, that a transformatory use of a 1968 complex will be achieved by someone or some group. It will probably take much time and will continue on past the point of the end of commentaries. What form this new activity will take is hard to predict.

So, the world might go down further by-paths. Or it may not. I have indicated in the past that I thought the crucial struggle was a class struggle, using class in a very broadly defined sense. What those who will be alive in the future can do is to struggle with themselves so this change may be a real one. I still think that and therefore I think there is a 50-50 chance that we’ll make it to transformatory change, but only 50-50.

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Europe’s telephone and the politics of non-real change https://iwallerstein.com/europes-telephone-and-the-politics-of-non-real-change/ Sat, 15 Jun 2019 04:00:23 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2405 U.S. superdiplomat Henry Kissinger is famously said to have asked, “Who do I call if I call Europe?” The question is repeatedly cited as a clever way to suggest pessimism about Europe as a reality. The answer, of course, depends upon what you want to know about Europe.

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U.S. superdiplomat Henry Kissinger is famously said to have asked, “Who do I call if I call Europe?” The question is repeatedly cited as a clever way to suggest pessimism about Europe as a reality. The answer, of course, depends upon what you want to know about Europe. There are at least a dozen European institutions of varying kinds of memberships and interests. You can telephone any one of them. Europe is so much a reality that there is even a European institution made up of those who wish to abolish European institutions.

We shall try to do two things in this commentary. One is to discuss the difference between what I call real change and non-real change. For that the discussion of Europe’s telephone is very helpful to us to see what is going on.

The second thing that we shall try to do is to discuss the epistemology of analysis and the ways in which we have come to talk of something we call    TimeSpace Analysis (TSA).

Let me first explain what I think happens when I try to do a commentary. I begin with the dating and the name of the title. I then begin to dictate what is necessary. So, let me start the dictation for this one.

Since October, 1998, I have been writing commentaries that appear on the 1st and the 15th of the month. I have not missed any. They have a standard pattern of being told.

Over 500 years of the modern world-system the analyses have shifted back and forth between situations where the conservative view was on top and situations in which the non-conservative view was on top.

How come? Well, that can be explained if we turn to what seems to be an axiomatic view that we can predict the outcome of a thing about which we are wanting to know by looking at how we fared 25 years ago.

Today, the problem with which almost everyone throughout the world-system is devoted to the answer is, “will Donald Trump be reelected in 2020?” and the axiom tells us the way to know what to look for 25 years is to see how people were faring at that time. And if they were faring well 25 years ago, he will be reelected; if they were faring badly, he will not be reelected.

Why should this be so? It has to do with how successive entries affect previous ones. Suppose we take the most recent of these large shifts, one that began more-or-less around 1945 and is still going on today.

What is happening? Every time one asks a question, “What is happening?” one is affecting minutely, but truly, a mix of numbers that are 25 years old. Let us see why:

So, we can try to take an average of all the previous times of what people think they have of 25 years ago. We discover that the average would be an impossibly complex mathematical exercise, which no one is capable of doing. So, we can’t really know what the average reading of 25 years ago is. We can guess of course, and perhaps even come close, but there is no way we can absolutely without error know what people were feeling 25 years ago. Ergo, we are not able to predict.

Take three problems whose content concern people. One is the state of women. One is the degree to which internal questions are settled arbitrarily by those in charge. And one is the degree to which our country and people within our country are hegemonic in the world-systems.

In 1945, the establishment view was that women had no rights whatsoever. This view will change over the next 25 years to one in which women have many rights.

Another problem is the state of power of those in charge. The third is the degree to which one country is hegemonic in the world-system.

Over 25 years, all three reach a turning point in which they seem to change completely. This is an illusion. In fact, all that has changed is the names of the people, or the groups which are dominant in the system, it is still a system that is bilateral, and no fundamental change can be made. On the power of people in charge of the system, their power was absolute circa 1949. And in terms of the U.S. as the hegemonic power, it was unquestioned circa 1945.

Each of these three analyses moves to a presumable changing point in which everything has been turned upside down after 25 years. In point of fact, all that has changed is who is on top and who is on bottom. The system remains the same. That is why I call it “non-real change”.

Unlike previous shifts in the history of the modern world-system, the shift that began to occur c1945 was different because it went much more swiftly as a result of the structural change of the modern world system. This structural change meant that when we arrived at the virtual change in 1968 more or less, we could have made a real change. In point of fact, we did not do that. There was a reversion to the old mode of calculating things, but with a new language.

What is the difference of the changes that were regularly made over 500 years and the last change that has been made since 1949? The difference has to do with the number of categories in which we label our calculations. If the labels are normal changes over the 500-year period, these labels will all be bilateral. They will say more conservative language equals language less conservative. This is what I mean by non-real change. Non-real change appears to be a change, but in fact is not a change. The only way in which you could have a change that does not appear to be a change, but is a real change, is if you seize the moment of structural crisis of the modern world-system, and actually instead of calculating bilaterally, calculate in another way entirely, which I call “quadrilateral change”.

There is another change in reality of great importance. It is whether we start in the normal way with completely autonomous analyses for historical time and global space. Using TimeSpace Analysis, we can then find out whether there has been real change or non-real change. Where we are now, we can enter this debate as something we can learn from TimeSpace Analysis, and which we could not learn as long as we were dealing separately with historical time and global space.

We have tried to explain what non-real change is and we have tried to explain what TimeSpace Analysis is. If we have not succeeded, it is because it is so difficult to explain this.

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Again and Again! https://iwallerstein.com/again-and-again/ Sat, 01 Jun 2019 04:00:44 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2401 Two leading actors in the modern world systems – Donald Trump and Theresa May of England – sound like broken records. They say the same thing each time they talk, knowing full well that their case is extremely weak.

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Two leading actors in the modern world systems – Donald Trump and Theresa May of England – sound like broken records. They say the same thing each time they talk, knowing full well that their case is extremely weak.

Why have they done this? They have no better choice if they wish to remain leading actors. They are cheating, asserting that they are proposing something possible. In fact, it is the opposite. They are asserting as possible their ability to alter a situation, one that is virtually impossible to change.

More and more people come to understand what is happening. They see that they no longer participate in decisions. They react by withdrawing from participation at all. This withdrawal in turn alters the situation in a way that is not friendly to leading actors.

Why do the leading actors do this? They do this because there is no better alternative.

So, what is the bottom line for all of us? We can at most guess the possibilities, but there is no way we can be absolutely certain of knowing what will happen.

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Decisive moment! Decisive moment? https://iwallerstein.com/decisive-moment-decisive-moment/ Wed, 15 May 2019 04:00:25 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2396 We all want to know what the future portends for us about anything important. We all tend to believe the future will be what the present is. If the polls show we shall make a certain decision, deciding if something looks good now, it will continue to look good as the future goes on. At the same time, it is a well-tested phenomenon we can’t remember decisions more than six months ago. What is a result of combining these two seeming facts? Let me try to explain how a combination works.

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We all want to know what the future portends for us about anything important. We all tend to believe the future will be what the present is. If the polls show we shall make a certain decision, deciding if something looks good now, it will continue to look good as the future goes on. At the same time, it is a well-tested phenomenon we can’t remember decisions more than six months ago. What is a result of combining these two seeming facts? Let me try to explain how a combination works.

An example would be a decision most people are most concerned with – the election of the United States President in 2020. While we think the present is a favorable outlook for Donald Trump, it seems to me that it is more complicated.

Every day and every morning new elements enter the picture and by a small amount the present prediction is less valid. This continues over time. Think of it as a slow train pulling away from the accuracy of our prediction. By the time six months have passed, accuracy is reduced to almost zero.

So, it might be most sensible to start where we were six months ago and emphasize new things! And say that this predicts what will happen next. We are, therefore, urged to learn what it was six months ago. How can we do that?

There is first our memory of it, and second public evidence of it taken six months ago. If things favored Trump six months ago, he will be reelected. If things were less good six months ago, he will not be reelected.

How good are our assessments of whatever we felt six months ago? Six months for whom? Voting in the state of Oregon is completed and nothing that has happened since then can affect those votes.

There are other states with different rules about when a vote is taken in their state or at a local level. So, to know what people felt six months ago we have to combine an estimate of six months ago for different groups of people. This is, of course, a very difficult mathematical exercise and it is not likely people will do it well.

In addition, in the United States the vote is taken in a body called the Electoral College. This Electoral College is not in the computer but something that actually meets. When it meets, most electors have made promises how they would vote. They are not legally required to keep those promises. Some have violated them in the past and others may do so in the future. Now we realize what a hard time it is to predict today the vote in the Electoral College tomorrow. Some will then say the whole thing is not worth trying to see what will happen.

How do they then predict? Some do it by guesswork; some give up entirely. How can we know what will happen? Is there any way? It seems doubtful.

We may then enter a world totally cynical in which everyone does what they feel like doing.

So, decisive moment! But also decisive moment? There may not be a decisive moment.

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The Fire of Notre Dame Cathedral: How Tragic? https://iwallerstein.com/the-fire-of-notre-dame-cathedral-how-tragic/ Wed, 01 May 2019 04:00:44 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2389 On April 15, 2019, a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a tragedy for people all across the world, and particularly those in France. Everyone who ever saw it usually loved it. So this was a tragedy for perhaps half the world, if not many more. The question remains: was it undoable? The answer is absolutely not.

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On April 15, 2019, a fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame was a tragedy for people all across the world, and particularly those in France. Everyone who ever saw it usually loved it. So this was a tragedy for perhaps half the world, if not many more. The question remains: was it undoable? The answer is absolutely not.

There is absolutely no reason Notre Dame cannot be restored exactly as it was, or as we wish to improve it. It is only a question of political will and money.

We have the technical capacity to do it, the will, and we will have the money.

We have the technical capacity because we know where every rock was located before this tragedy. The Cathedral was first built in the twelfth century. It has been constructed and reconstructed numerous times since then. There is no truly original cathedral. The one burnt down is a reconstruction of many previous ones.

France was politically divided before this. The personal hope of President Macron was that this project of reconstruction would reunify the population. It did momentarily. The moment is over and France is as divided as ever.

The fire was a tragedy, but far from the worst that could have been. The authorities think the fire was an accident and they think they have saved the essential parts of the structure. I hope this is so. It doesn’t really matter. They can reconstruct if they want.

It would be a real tragedy if it were not recuperable. Imagine the following: the great art museums, such as the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or any other museums, are subject to fires which cannot be undone.

A fire at any other institution is a permanent loss of whatever was inside. This is what presumably happened in the great library of Alexandria. All of what was humanity prior, which was stored in the museum in Alexandria, is lost forever. If a fire started in a comparable location today – whether accidental or deliberate – it would not be recuperable. So let us get things into perspective.

The cathedral fire deeply saddened us all, but we have not lost very much because of it. We shall have Notre Dame again. Were the Louvre to have a similar catastrophe, we would never be able to replace its contents again.

This may not assuage our present emotions, but emotions are passing phenomena. If Notre Dame is rebuilt, we may not even remember what our emotions had been.

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Ontological Dilemmas https://iwallerstein.com/ontological-dilemmas/ Mon, 15 Apr 2019 04:00:26 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2386 Epistemology, especially statistics, is the study of how we measure things and how we know if our measurements are correct. Ontology is the study of whether the things we are measuring actually do exist.

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Epistemology, especially statistics, is the study of how we measure things and how we know if our measurements are correct. Ontology is the study of whether the things we are measuring actually do exist.

A very long time ago, beginning in the sixteenth century, analysts were primarily concerned with methodological problems. But in the last century, more and more analysts turned their concerns to ontological problems.

The reason for this shift was the sense of increasing numbers of analysts that most of the benefits were awarded to those who worked on methodological problems. They turned to ontological problems as a way of challenging the domination of thought activity by a small group of the entire population.

They said, in effect, what you are studying does not exist; if you study what exists you discover different groups gain the benefits of collective activity. They asserted that there are groups that existed defined by specific groups, such as gender or race.

Increasingly, the majority of analysts turned therefore to the study of such groups as defined by ontology.

In recent years, the spokespeople for methodology began a movement to the primacy of return to their emphasis. Thus continued the struggle of thought possibilities.

The shift to ontology has not been without its own difficulties; this can be seen by attempting to use ontology to obtain acceptable results.

Let me give some examples: Suppose we say that nothing exists. Does the statement that <nothing exists> exist?

Let me give a second example. If nothing exists, are the two ways of forming groups equally valid? Is the statement that <the two ways of forming groups [are] equally valid> consonant with ontology premises?

What we see therefore is a pattern in which analyses shift over time, back and forth, between methodology and ontology primacy. These shifts occur slowly over long periods of time.

However, in the last 50 years or so, the shifts have become more frequent. What could explain this? It seems that shifts in structure of the modern world-system may account for greater frequency of shifts. Insofar as all these shifts occur within the framework of the modern world-system’s own normality, shifts are slow and infrequent.

But when the modern world-system enters a structural crisis, everything becomes more frequent and chaotic, and shifts from the emphasis on methodology to the emphasis on ontology are no exception.

Thus, we are adding a third layer to our understanding of thought activity. There is the methodological emphasis, the ontological emphasis, and the structure of the modern world-system. What exists? This is not a solvable problem. Rather, we can speak of ontological dilemmas.

 

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Who is Winning? It All Depends When https://iwallerstein.com/who-is-winning-it-all-depends-when/ Mon, 01 Apr 2019 04:00:55 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2383 For a worldwide struggle to capture the surplus-value there is always a choice. One can give priority to short-term gains. Or one can give priority to middle-turn gains. One cannot do both. Whoever seeks short-term gains will always win out in the short run. It is the road of apparent selfishness. Pursue one’s own gains, no matter […]

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For a worldwide struggle to capture the surplus-value there is always a choice.

One can give priority to short-term gains. Or one can give priority to middle-turn gains. One cannot do both.

Whoever seeks short-term gains will always win out in the short run. It is the road of apparent selfishness. Pursue one’s own gains, no matter what happens to the others.

However, after a few years, the short-turn gains are exhausted. Preferences shift. Suddenly, it is middle-term gains as a result of class struggle that matters.

Now, the selfish are the losers, the sacrifices rewarded.

Because we are in the structural crisis of the capitalist world-economy, there are constant fluctuations. We go back and forth between the short-term and the middle-run as the only thing that matters.

At the moment, a major actor, President Trump, has opted for a short-run priority. It looks good for him.

But he and others will soon have to shift for a middle-run emphasis.

It will soon look bad for him.

Since what he cares about is re-election in 2020, the timing of the shifts is crucial, but also unpredictable.

Those interested in winning the class struggle should concentrate on that struggle as the only sensible option.

 

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Unacceptable compromises: A clarification https://iwallerstein.com/unacceptable-compromises-a-clarification/ Fri, 15 Mar 2019 04:00:21 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2380 Two of my regular readers sent me indications that I was not clear in my explanation of what I was talking about when I spoke of unacceptable compromises. I shall attempt to answer their queries and objections. Let me start by reproducing what they sent me. The first was a query from Alan Maki who […]

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Two of my regular readers sent me indications that I was not clear in my explanation of what I was talking about when I spoke of unacceptable compromises.

I shall attempt to answer their queries and objections. Let me start by reproducing what they sent me.

The first was a query from Alan Maki who had one concern which was the word: “compromise.” I reproduce it here: “What are you talking about compromising on?”

The second email was from Mike Miller whose query was much longer.

Let me respond to each of them. I know that the author of this query was an activist in the Ontario Labour Party and devoted much energy to obtaining the victory of the Labour Party, which he saw as a rejection of the parties of no change. They rotated between the Center Left and a Center Right version of changeless policies. Analytically my correspondent interpreted the electoral victory of the Labour Party as a demand for significant change.

Mike Miller said that the successful creation of a strong union called The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) over the past twenty or fifty years, despite all the attempts to crush it, is evidence that change is possible.

The victory of the Ontario Labour Party and the ability of the ILWU to beat back all attempts to crush it are evidence that change is possible and cannot be called unacceptable.

Both objections miss the point. I do not deny that the electoral victory of the Labour Party was a great achievement. I salute it and do so publicly as a wonderful achievement. I do not deny that the ability of the ILWU to resist all the many attempts to crush it is a great achievement. I salute it.

This is precisely the point why these are compromises are unacceptable. Not everybody who lives in Ontario, Canada, will benefit by the achievement of the electoral victory of the Labour Party. There will be losers. There are those who are outside this party’s structure in Ontario or outside any party structure whatsoever. They gain nothing and may lose something by the victory of the Ontario Labour Party.

I do not deny that the ability of the ILWU to beat back all the many attempts to crush it was a great achievement. Nonetheless it is unacceptable because persons who are not members of the ILWU are excluded from its benefits and therefore are not included in the favorable results of the ILWU.

So, I repeat, every achievement involves militancy, but also short-run compromises as can be seen by reading the history of the ILWU (see in the network for the item entitled The ILWU Story).

The achievements in both cases were enormous. The benefits were and will be enormous. But precisely for this reason benefits have to be assessed against the balance of the exclusions that the benefits brought.

Following the situation in each case shows that to achieve what they did achieve involved compromises. This may be the benefit of the struggle, but the necessary compromises that are unacceptable because they exclude others were part of the achievement and those necessary compromises made possible the achievements.

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Can Unacceptable Compromises Prevail? https://iwallerstein.com/can-unacceptable-compromises-prevail/ Fri, 01 Mar 2019 05:00:34 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2371 Every compromise has losers. Every compromise has dissenters. Every compromise includes a betrayal. Yet no political struggle can end without a compromise. Compromises do not last forever and often only briefly. Yet there exists no alternative to making them in the short run. In the short run, we are all seeking to minimize the pain. […]

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Every compromise has losers.

Every compromise has dissenters.

Every compromise includes a betrayal. Yet no political struggle can end without a compromise. Compromises do not last forever and often only briefly. Yet there exists no alternative to making them in the short run.

In the short run, we are all seeking to minimize the pain. Minimizing the pain requires a compromise so that assistance to those who need it can be given. But the compromise does not solve any problem in the long run. So, in the middle run (more than three years) we have to pursue a solution without compromise. It is all a matter of timing – the very short run versus the middle run.

If we don’t compromise in the short run, we hurt the people who are weakest. If we do compromise in the middle run, we hurt the people who are weakest. It’s an impossible game which we all have to play.

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How to Fight a Class Struggle https://iwallerstein.com/how-to-fight-a-class-struggle/ Fri, 15 Feb 2019 05:00:14 +0000 https://iwallerstein.com/?p=2368 Class struggles are eternal, but how they are fought depends on the ongoing state of the world-system in which they are located.

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Class struggles are eternal, but how they are fought depends on the ongoing state of the world-system in which they are located.

World-systems have three temporalities. They come into existence and this needs to be explained. Secondly, they are stabilized structures and operate according to the rules on which they are founded. And thirdly, the rules by which they maintain their relative stability cease to work effectively and they enter a structural crisis.

We have been living in the modern world-system, which is a capitalist world-system. We are presently in the third stage of its existence, which is that of structural crisis.

During the previous phase, that of stabilized structures or normality, there was a grand debate within the left about how one could achieve the objective of destroying capitalism as a system. This debate occurred both within movements created by the working class or proletariat (such as trade-unions or social-democratic parties) and within nationalist parties or national-liberation movements.

Each side of this grand debate believed that its strategy and its alone could succeed. In fact, while each side created zones in which it seemed to succeed, neither did. The most dramatic examples of presumed success stories that turned out to be unable to avoid the pull to a return to normality was the collapse of the Soviet Union on the one hand and the collapse of the Maoist cultural revolution on the other.

The turning point was the world-revolution of 1968, which was marked by three features: It was a world-revolution in that analogous events occurred throughout the world-system. They all rejected both the state-oriented strategy and the transformative cultural strategy. It was a matter they said that was not either/or but rather both/and.

Finally, the world-revolution of 1968 also failed. It did however bring to an end the hegemony of centrist liberalism and its power to tame both the left and the right, which were liberated to return to the struggle as independent actors.

At first, the resurrected right seemed to prevail. It instituted the Washington Consensus and launched the slogan of TINA (or there is no alternative). But income and social inequality became so extreme that the left rebounded and constrained the ability of the United States to maintain or restore its dominance.

The return of the left to a premier role also came to a swift end. And thus began a process of wild swings, a defining feature of a structural crisis. In a structural crisis, the left needs to pursue a policy of seeking in the very short run both state power in order to minimize the pain for the lower 99 percent of the population AND in the middle run to pursue a cultural transformation of everyone.

These seemingly contradictory pursuits are very disconcerting. They are however the only way to pursue the class struggle in the remaining years of the structural crisis. If we can do it, we can win. If not, we shall lose.

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