Riverside and IROWS

Trip Start May 26, 2007
Trip End Jul 06, 2007

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Flag of United States  , California
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

This entry has a limited distribution for those who may have more interest in academic / political work. But my time there was absolutely a thrill. I visited Chris Chase-Dunn who is the other leading developer of World-Systems Analysis after Wallerstein. Chris is spluttering spark-plug of a man, with immense energy and enthusiasm. His enthusiasm and commitment and a very direct speaking style could be easily mistaken for aggression, but it really is hi-octane. A very supportive scholar, he has arranged sponsorship from various bodies to enable me to stay, paying for the hotel accommodation and an honorarium for giving a paper, and he personally took me to lunch every day. We ate lunch at a campus cafeteria called the "barn" and apparently Bob Dylan played there in the sixties! I had been allocated an office for work space, but to tell the truth most of the three days were spent deep in conversation.

Chris sees himself as a veteran of the 'world-revolution of 1968' and kept me immensely amused about his draft induction, when he was thrown out of the draft office because he told them he wanted to go into the army to organise American soldiers politically! He also told some other interesting stories about Central America! In many ways, like Mike whom he knows, they both still operate as SDS (Mike) / Wobbly (Chris) organisers in their working life. As I still function a bit like an old time cadre too, I am immensely appreciative and sympathetic.

Chris liked my emerging synthesis on the great divergence that I had proposed with Ken, adding to it that the mandarin class had sound political reasons for keeping merchants at arms length, and it had to do with maintaining their political position in the empire. (Suddenly as I write this, I am wondering if this might nit be the class interpretation behind China's famous 1423 shift from an expanding, maritime. Commercial power into a preservative, internally focussed empire. Must write this to various people and see).

Chris's own institute - Institute for Research on World-Systems (IROWS) publishes a journal (Journal for World-Systems Research), has a website with lots of fascinating working papers, and regularly organises speakers and papers (like me!) There are some very interesting people working there. My paper was well attended, about 25 students and staff, (and 1 strange guy whom Chris thinks may be a cop) and good questions. I basically gave the paper on contemporary Marxist historiography that I gave at UWA some weeks ago, but with a world -systems twist in the ending, in which I suggested the emerging paradigm of primitive accumulation and state centred class struggle could be integrated into the world systems paradigm by a radical rethink of the terms. If we separated world-systems, as systems of commercial, political and ideological networks, characterised by a hegemonic core -periphery relationship of unequal exchange, from the idea of a capitalist  world-economy characterised by exploitative relations of production, and then saw both as dedicated to what the late AG Frank called the 'cumulation of accumulation', the world-system through plunder and tribute and price manipulation, and the world-economy through surplus value extraction, we could in fact integrate the two traditions. The two systems basically exist side by side from the early 16th century, the world-system still centred on China, to whom most of the world's silver flows, while the world-economy grows up around the Atlantic. The latter eventually provides the conjunction in terms of 18th and 19th century industrialisation which permitted Europe to take over the world-system. In this schema, I was suggesting the paradigm I was talking about showed how the capitalist world-economy evolved out of England and into the rest of the world, while the world-system analysis showed the more ancient form on supra-regional interactions, until the merger of the nineteenth century. The idea wasn't accepted, but I didn't expect it to be, as it would need a detailed case to argue it, but this is the guts of what I'll write up in the next two weeks for my Milwaukee paper.

The main work of IROWS has been the modelling of macro scale long term social change, so they undertake comparative analysis of historical world-systems, from the very small to the massive, and try to account for rise and demise, upswings ad contractions, cycles of war and peace and so on. It is a fascinating way to look at history, and one that would probably leave most historians bewildered, with their cult of the isolated 'fact'. I am not sure I am fully convinced but then I have a massive reading list t catch up on when I get back too! But my initial joking description, that these guys were 'Sociologising history' has some pertinency here!

Chris' other area of work is mapping future social change. To this end he is very active within the World Social Forum, both as one of the key movement intellectuals and as well as a researcher of the Forums. He had been closely involved with the Bamako declaration of the 2006 WSF, issued by Samir Amin to call for work into establishing a new Global Party (apparently Amin uses the term "Fifth International"!), and the Nairobi WSF this year, where one specific outcome was the issuing of many manifestos about future organisation for social change. One outcome of this is his new project to re-examine the history of the Comintern and previous Internationals from a technical, operational aspect, to build on past experience in developing a multi-lingual, internationalist operation.

This visit was amazingly fruitful. Good contacts, some new ideas. I have been asked to submit my paper for the journal. Invited to come back and work in the institute, even just to write my thesis. Asked to comment on Chris's most recent papers and also asked to join in his Global Party / Comintern research project! Above all, I have gained a sense of community and intellectual / political network, an acknowledgement from prominent scholar-activists that I am on the right track, and that is welcome, encouraging and pleasing. Final words from Chris were almost cadre instructions: "You guys have done a SF before, now go and do it again. It's the right time. Meet quarterly to review your progress, leave it to individuals and groups, keep it simple. Organise space and open it, concentrate on communicating to other groups how to use the space. Don't micro-manage!" There you are, orders received comrade!
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