Histories of the Present: Giovanni Arrighi, the Longue Duree of Geohistorical Capitalism, and the Current Crisis

8 July 2009
The range and scope of Giovanni Arrighi’s intellectual work – and in particular his ability to provide analysis rooted in a long-term geohistorical context - is truly an astonishing achievement,while his generosity of spirit towards his intellectual interlocutors had few equals.

One of the more telling features of the present is the scarcity of analysis able to place today’s current socioeconomic crisis in geohistorical perspective. In terms of capitalism over the longue duree, no intellectual has developed a more formidable analysis of the present crisis than Giovanni Arrighi. (1) Arrighi, of course, along with Immanuel Wallerstein (1974, 1980, 1989) and the late Terence Hopkins, was one of the originators and foremost proponents of the world-systems perspective on European capitalism, global income inequalities, and “development” (see Arrighi, Hopkins & Wallerstein, 1989). (2) The world-systems perspective itself – challenging as it did the dominance of post-World War II modernization theory - came out of the movements of the 1960s and brought together a fruitful synthesis of Marxism, Third World radicalism, and critical currents in social science, from the work of the French Annales school to that of the German historical school (see Goldfrank, 2000).

World-systems analysis was developed initially by Wallerstein and Hopkins, who were sympathetic to the students who took over Columbia University during the student uprising and associated “world revolution of 1968” (both were on the executive committee of the ad hoc faculty committee). Hopkins and Wallerstein eventually migrated to the State University of New York (SUNY) at Binghamton in the 1970s, which became for a time the center of world-systems studies. The world-system perspective was thus a direct product of the movements of the 1960s and one of its enduring intellectual legacies.

Arrighi joined the Binghamton faculty in the late 1970s and became an instrumental part of both the graduate program and the related Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems and Civilizations. Here, various collective research working groups brought together faculty and graduate students to work on common research projects. At one time or another, Binghamton has hosted scholars and/or working groups, including Anibal Quijano, Bernard Magubane and Walter Mignolo.

The range and scope of Arrighi’s work - from the analysis of Southern Africa to his account of the rise of Chinese-led East Asia, as well as the prospects for the Global South and a new Bandung – is truly an astonishing achievement. Moreover, as Ravi Sundaram – now director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi - noted at a conference honoring and critically discussing Arrighi’s lifetime of work in the context of the present crisis in Madrid this May, Arrighi had a generosity of spirit towards his intellectual interlocutors that had few equals. (3) This type of spirited discussion and debate within the framework of mutual solidarity, which Giovanni thrived on, is surely necessary as part of the renewal of progressive forces around the globe. An inspiration to many, it was thus with great sadness that the news of Giovanni’s passing this June 18, 2009, after a long battle with cancer, was received by scholars, activists, friends, former students, and associates.

The conference in Madrid, which gathered persons from across the globe -- including many of Arrighi’s former students and collaborators from the 1960s to the present -- was intended to be a sort of reunion and an occasion to discuss the current crisis and Giovanni’s work. Unfortunately, at the last minute, due to his illness, Giovanni and his wife and intellectual partner Beverly Silver, were unable to attend. Using modern technology, from a hospital room in the US, Giovanni and Beverly were occasionally able to listen in. Still, it was far from the spirited and heated exchange of views with Giovanni and Beverly that all the participants had very much hoped for. Despite this painful absence the conference -- whose participants included Lu Aiguo, Samir Amin, Perry Anderson, Amiya Bagchi (2005), Walden Bello, Robert Brenner, Gillian Hart, Hung Ho-fung, Bill Martin, Emir Sadr, Ravi Palat, John Saul, and a host of others -- as Beverly Silver noted, was by all accounts, a great success. Spirited discussions and debates sustained a growing energy for the entire five days, often during marathon sessions.

Born in Milan in 1937, Giovanni’s political trajectory was decisively shaped by the anti-fascist attitudes of his family. The political context in which these attitudes emerged of course was the Nazi occupation of parts of Italy, the growth of an indigenous resistance and the arrival of the Allies. Originally trained in neoclassical economics in Italy and then involved in a series of different business enterprises, Arrighi eventually migrated to Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia), in the early 1960s. As William Martin (2005: 381) noted in a piece underscoring the importance of scholars from C.L.R. James to W.E.B. Du Bois to Oliver Cox in adumbrating the perspective, “World-systems analysis, like the capitalist world-economy, has deep African roots.” (4) Arrighi’s (2009) migration to Africa was, in his own words, “a true intellectual rebirth,” one where he “began” his “long march from neo-classical economics to comparative-historical sociology.” Here, with John Saul, Martin Legassick and others, this new generation of activist-scholars developed a pioneering politico-economic analysis focusing on the contradictions engendered by the proletarianization and dispossession of the Southern African peasantry.

Rhodesia was also where Giovanni, who in 1966 became member of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), also met his one-time student and later friend, colleague and fellow ZAPU member and representative Bhasker Vashee - an African of Indian descent and fellow internationalist who later became a long-time director and lifelong supporter of the Transnational Institute, taking over from the legendary anti-imperialist activist-scholar Eqbal Ahmad (2006). (5) Indeed, Giovanni and Bhasker were cell mates, jailed for their anti-colonial activities, Giovanni being deported about a week after his arrest; Basker only getting released from a year in solitary confinement after a sustained international campaign to secure his release. By 1966 Giovanni had moved to Dar es Salaam, at the time when Tanzania was a home for national liberation movements from all over Africa. Here, Arrighi’s colleagues included a wide range of radical scholars, including John Saul, Walter Rodney, and Immanuel Wallerstein.

Later Giovanni returned to Italy to teach and was involved in movements stressing the autonomy of the working-class (autonomia), helping to found Gruppo Gramsci. By the late 1970s Arrighi completed one of his landmark works, The Geometry of Imperialism, republished with a new postscript in 1983. It was around this time that Giovanni began to reconceptualize this work as a bridge towards what would become his most significant book, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power & the Origins of Our Times, later followed by (2007) Adam Smith in Beijing. Arrighi’s work is considered by many today as the single most important account of both the longue duree and current crisis of global capitalism.(6)

Here, drawing on the work of Smith, Polanyi, Gramsci, Marx and Braudel – including the latter’s notion of capitalism as the anti-market -- Arrighi argues that capitalism evolved over a series of long centuries, within which recurrent combinations of governmental and business organizations have led successive systemic cycles of accumulation (SCA). These cycles have been characterized by material expansions of the capitalist world-system. When these expansions reach their limits, capital moves into the realm of high finance, where militarized interstate competition for mobile capital provides some of greatest opportunities for financial expansions.

Thus, the flip side of these financial expansions has been the reciprocal stimulus of military industrialization and haute finance as part of the larger restructuring of the world-system that accompanies autumns of SCAs and the hegemonic structures of which they are a part. Financial expansions initially lead to a temporary efflorescence of the declining hegemonic power, as in what George Soros has referred to as the “bubble of American supremacy” following the collapse of the Soviet empire and breakup of the USSR. Eventually, however, these militarized financial expansions all gave way to increasing systemic chaos as well as new organizational revolutions in an emerging hegemonic bloc of business and governmental organizations “endowed with ever-more extensive and complex organizational capabilities to control the social and political environment of capital accumulation on a global scale,” a process which as Arrighi (1994: 14, 18) noted has a clear “built-in limit”.

Of particular significant here is that unlike Wallerstein, but like Braudel, Arrighi locates the origins of world capitalism not in the territorial states of Europe during the long sixteen century, but instead in the Italian city-states of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, in what was a regional forerunner of the modern world-system. Arrighi then traces the alliance of Genoese capital and Spanish power that produced the great discoveries, before going on to analyze the changing fortunes of the Dutch, British and US hegemonies, their respective SCAs and the challenges posed to US power by the East Asian economic renaissance, today joined by China. (7) In a series of subsequent works that made up what Arrighi called a unplanned trilogy, Chaos & Governance in the Modern World System (with co-author Beverly Silver and collaborators, University of Minnesota Press, 1999), and Adam Smith in Beijing (New York: Verso, 2007), as well as in a series of articles and an updated version of the Long Twentieth Century (forthcoming), this powerful analysis was carried forward right up to the present.

Take for example, Arrighi & Silver’s (1999: 273-274, 287-288) now decade old propositions:

The global financial expansion of the last twenty years or so is neither a new stage of world capitalism nor the harbinger of a “coming hegemony of global markets.” Rather, it is the clearest sign that we are in the midst of a hegemonic crisis. As such, the expansion can be expected to be a temporary phenomenon that will end more or less catastrophically…”; [today,] “the financial expansion itself seems to rest on increasingly precarious grounds,” [resulting in a] “backlash” [which] “announces that the massive redistribution of income and wealth on which the expansion rests has reached, or is about to reach, its limits. And once the redistribution can no longer be sustained economically, socially, and politically, the financial expansion is bound to end. The only question that remains open is this respect is not whether, but how soon and how catastrophically the present global dominance of unregulated financial markets will collapse…But the blindness that led the ruling groups of these states to mistake the “autumn” for a new “spring” of their hegemonic power meant that the end came sooner and more catastrophically than it might otherwise have…A similar blindness is evident today.” [And so,] “A more or less imminent fall of the West from the commanding heights of the world capitalist system is possible, even likely…the United States has even greater capabilities than Britain did a century ago to convert its declining hegemony into an exploitative dominion. If the system eventually breaks down, it will be primarily because of U.S. resistance to adjustment and accommodation. And conversely, U.S. adjustment and accommodation to the rising economic power of the East Asian region is an essential condition for a non-catastrophic transition to a new world order.

In Adam Smith in Beijing, Arrighi returned to many of these issues in light of reemergence of a Chinese-centered East Asia and America’s reckless gamble to continue its hegemonic reign with the invasion and occupation of Iraq, home to the second largest reserves of oil in the world. Rather than heralding a new age of US hegemony, as its advocates hoped for, Arrighi (2007) emphasized how the ambitions of the Project for the New American Century, whose members staffed key positions in the Bush White House, has instead increased the long-term likelihood that we will increasingly be speaking of the US in the twenty-first century “Asian” age, and what commentators have already begun to call “The Beijing Consensus” (Ramo, 2002). (8)

Adam Smith in Beijing, like its predecessors, bears careful reading, given both the density of the analysis and the scope of its ambitions. As Arrighi (2007: xi) notes, the book’s purpose “is as much to offer an interpretation of the ongoing shift of the epicenter of the global political economy from North America to East Asia in light of Adam Smith’s theory of economic development, as it is to offer an interpretation of The Wealth of Nations in light of that shift.” At the same time, the book also tackles a number of other issues, notably the reasons for what Kenneth Pomeranz (2000) has called the “great divergence” between Western Europe, its settler offshoots and East Asia. In the latter part of the book Arrighi traces the growing bifurcation between US global military power and East Asia’s increasing economic power – evidenced in the accumulation of trillions of dollars in surpluses in Chinese-led East Asia and their investment in US treasury securities and other dollar-denominated assets, including most recently in subprime mortgages. These developments are seen as anomalies which have no real precedent in previous SCA and related hegemonic cycles.

Additionally, Arrghi’s book, drawing on a series of earlier drafts published in the New Left Review (NLR), takes up an appreciation and critique -- albeit in comparative world-historical perspective -- of the recent work of Robert Brenner (1998, 2002, 2006), which many consider to be the most compelling account of the present long downturn and related crisis of global capitalism. Brenner is a scholar already famous for his work on the origins of capitalism. In many ways this appreciation and critique of Brenner is not surprising, revealing as is it is of Arrighi’s method. As a teacher and scholar, Arrighi always instructed his students and colleagues to attack an argument on its strong rather than its weak points.

Bob Brenner (1977, 1981) is of course one of the leading critics of world-system analysis, which Brenner early on criticized as a form of “neo-Smithian Marxism.” His work on the origins of capitalist development later gave rise to the so-called Brenner debate (Aston & Philpin, 1987). In many ways, in terms of their analysis of the origins of capitalist development, Arrighi and Brenner could not be further apart. The burden of Brenner’s critique of Wallerstein’s world-system perspective was largely to focus on the centrality of class relations and the class struggle in agriculture, to the exclusion of virtually everything else, locating the origins of capitalist development in the English countryside. In contrast, Wallerstein and Arrighi both locate the origins of capitalism in the context of an expanding world-system, tied together by a single division of labor, one which transgresses the territorial boundaries of individual nation-states.

Yet on the question of capitalist agriculture, Wallerstein and Brenner -- despite their great differences – and following in the tradition of the Annales focus on rural history, have more in common with each other than with Arrighi’s treatment of capitalism’s origins in the Long Twentieth Century (see also Brenner & Isett, 2002). In Arrighi’s work (1994, 1998), agricultural capitalism plays little to no role in the origins of world-scale capitalist development. This contrasts sharply with Wallerstein’s Modern World-System -- hereafter MWS -- the first volume of which, after all, is subtitled “Capitalist Agriculture & the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century.” In this, as Walter Goldfrank (2000: 162) remarked in his “Paradigm Regained? The Rules of Wallerstein’s World-System Method,”

Wallerstein’s focus had much in common with Barrington Moore’s classic work, Social Origins of Dictatorship & Democracy: Lord & Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (1966). In contrast, Braudel’s version of capitalist history, following Oliver Cox (1959), located capitalism on the top level of world trade and high finance -- and only to a lesser extent in industry -- and that is the position to which Arrighi largely adhered. The present day crisis of capitalism on a world scale would seem an especially fortuitous time to revisit these important debates on the nature of capitalist development, its origins, future trajectories, possible demise and realistic world-historic alternatives. A key question here is what type of alternative system(s) might better approximate humanity’s hopes for a more democratic, egalitarian, peaceful and socially just world order(s).

In terms of the current crisis, Arrighi and Brenner have much more in common, both in terms of the analysis of the long boom and the subsequent long downturn. One paradox is that Brenner -- the person who attacked “neo-Smithian Marxism” -- gives an account of the crisis that is quite similar to Arrighi’s own neo-Smithian analysis of the end of all material expansions: that increasing competition brings down profits. Thus, both Arrighi and Brenner consider the current crisis not so much as a financial crisis as such but instead as emblematic of a much deeper crisis of capitalism, dating from the long downturn of the 1970s.

Brenner, however, largely characterizes this crisis as one of over-production, whereas Arrighi sees the downturn as primarily a crisis of over-accumulation. Another aspect of Arrighi’s (2007) emphasis, in contrast to Brenner, is to relate the current long downturn more centrally to the ongoing crisis of US hegemony -- akin for all its differences to the troubles of British hegemony in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century -- as well as to varying degrees the rising power of labor. (9) In a stunning reversal, Brenner, who earlier emphasized the centrality of class struggle in the origins of capitalist development, here largely discounts the role of labor and the class struggle in the origins of the long downturn, focusing instead almost exclusively on inter-capitalist competition between Japan, Germany and the US.

Brenner’s focus on manufacturing in Japan, Germany and the US, contrasts as well with Arrighi’s greater emphasis on money, finance and financialization, in the context of the ongoing crisis of US hegemony. Arrighi highlights in particular the exponential growth of offshore money markets, the related dismantling of the Bretton Woods fixed exchange rate regime and the move to flexible exchange rates in the context of the Vietnam War and the larger fiscal crisis of what James O’Conner calls the US “welfare-warfare state.” The subsequent liberalization of capital controls in much of the world that accompanied this move to flexible exchange rates has, as predicted, led to speculative bubbles and successive financial crises across the globe.
A particularly decisive turning point here for Arrighi was the US-led militarized financial expansion of the late 1970s and early 1980s, within which the US competed for mobile capital on the global capital markets by borrowing via the most regressive means possible. This was a crucial shift, as it was during this time that Washington abandoned its earlier tolerance for forms of developmentalism in favor of a counter-revolution in development policy associated with the so-called Washington Consensus, the unraveling of which in the context of the collapse of “neoliberal” capitalism continues today (see Serra & Stiglitz, 2008; Eatwell and Taylor, 2000; Arrighi, 1994, 2002).

Among the best analysts of this process of US-led state-corporate globalization was Peter Gowan (1999), in his Global Gamble: Washington’s Faustian Bid for World Dominance and a series of related articles (see also Davis, 1986; see also Sassen, 2008). Gowan focused particular attention on the drive of what Jagdish Bhagwati (2002) calls the “Wall-Street Treasury complex” -- replete with savings from Asian investors -- to open up Asian markets via financial warfare.

Here, the elimination of capital controls, the deregulation of financial markets and the growth of speculative finance capital – from derivatives to hedge funds – in the context of China’s export rise, led directly to the Asian economic crisis of 1997 and subsequent attempts at increased regional financial integration. (10) This important work of Gowan - a one-time fellow of TNI and a long-time editorial member of NLR, who also passed away this June - put him in a very select league of the foremost analysts of US power in the American Century and beyond, most especially the brilliant linguist and leading political thinker Noam Chomsky (1982, 1991, 1993, 2007, 2010).(11)
Shortly before his death, Arrighi (2009) reflected in retrospect about his own work, in an interview conducted by David Harvey, one of the leading scholars of capitalism. Harvey queried: “The current crisis of the world financial system looks like the most spectacular vindication of your long-standing theoretical predictions that anymore could imagine. Are there any aspects of the crisis that have surprised you?; Arrighi (2009: 90) responded by noting the various things that he did miss: the details of the speculative bubbles, from the dot.com boom to the housing super-bubble, to the periodization of the Belle Epoque of US hegemony, which now he sees as really gaining steam under Clinton, going onto note that: “With the bursting of the housing bubble, what we are observing now is, quite clearly, the terminal crisis of US financial centrality and hegemony” (see also Canova, 2008).

Among the central aspects of Arrighi’s (1994: 4-5; 2009: 90-94) periodization of global capitalism is the fundamental convergence with Braudel and Schumpeter’s emphasis on capitalism’s flexibility, non-specialization and capacity for change and adaptation. Herein lies too the privileged role of money capital and the system of national debts in restarting capitalism as it accumulates in declining centers and aims to lay claim on future incomes by investing in rising hegemons, from Venice to the US. (12) Equally as important is Arrighi’s steadfast related emphasis on geohistory, in which he demonstrates how recurrent combinations of geography and history have made and unmade capitalist fortunes.
Among the most important albeit neglected aspects of Arrighi’s analysis – and one central to understanding his deployment of Gramsci’s concept of hegemony in the context of capitalism as a global system – is that it was the recurrent battles between capitalist and territorialist powers that have always been central to the making and remaking of global capitalism. Here, though seldom noted, Arrighi’s capitalist and territorialist powers were to a great extent synonyms for the recurrent battles between naval and later air powers (Venice, the United Provinces, England, the US) and territorialist Continental powers, successively Spain, France, Germany and the USSR).

As Arrighi emphasizes, financial expansions and the intensified competition for mobile capital and growing systemic chaos which as a rule characterize hegemonic transitions, each initially remade the world on increasingly narrow and militarized social foundations. The trajectory of US power since the late 1970s demonstrates this quite clearly (Gowan, 1999; see also Reifer, 2007). Ultimately though, these recurrent militarized foundations expansions all ended in the remaking of the global system on new and enlarged social foundations under a rising hegemonic power, or at least in the collapse of the Continental challenger. The last instance of the collapse of a Continental challenger was the dramatic fall of the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe and the break up of the Soviet Union itself, with much of the region now returning to its original Third World role, in a battle won as much in the global capital markets as on any battlefield, as Arrighi many times underscored (see also Berend, 1996). In this schema, revealed is not only capitalism’s eclecticism and flexibility but also the evolutionary and dynamic nature of this expanding system as it grew to global scope.
Another critical aspect of Arrighi’s (1990, 1991, 2002) work is the analysis of different world-regions and attendant global income inequalities. Here Arrighi always aimed to take into account: a) the pre-colonial heritage b) the impact of colonialism and c) post-colonial developments, within the framework of comparative world-historical analysis. The thrust of Arrighi’s (1991, 2002) most recent work here was to combine his long-term comparative analysis of sub-Saharan Africa with his more recent work on East Asia, as well as to analyze development in other regions, from the experience of Eastern Europe to what he called the organic core of the capitalist world-economy -- including Western Europe, Japan and the US.

Another important aspect of Arrighi’s (1998) work was to rethink what he called “the nondebates of the 1970s” – first among Theda Skocpol, Robert Brenner and Immanuel Wallerstein, and secondly between Wallerstein and Braudel. Here, Arrighi noted that as helpful as these nondebates may have been in the past for protecting emerging research agendas against their premature demise, “eventually they become counterproductive for the full realization of their potentialities. I feel that world-systems analysis has long reached this stage and that it can only benefit from a vigorous discussion of issues that should have been debated long ago but never were.”

In this context, Perry Anderson (2007: Ch. 12), long-time editor of NLR, has some especially revealing passages in his chapter-long essay about Brenner’s important body of work. (13) After reviewing Brenner's argument on the centrality of agricultural capitalism in England -- to the exclusion of virtually everything else, including towns and (overseas) commerce -- in the origins of capitalist development, Anderson (2007: 251) makes a telling admission:

For all the power of this case, there were always difficulties with its overall context. The idea of capitalism in one country, taken literally, is only a bit more plausible than that of socialism...Historically, it makes better sense to view the emergence of capitalism like this: as a value-added process gaining in complexity as it moved along a chain of interrelated sites. In this story, the role of cities was always central. English landowners could have never started their conversion to commercial agriculture without the market for wool in Flemish towns (see also Jameson, 1998: 136-161).

No one to my knowledge has yet noted the convergence between Brenner and Wallerstein – in dramatic contrast to the work of both Braudel and Arrighi - on the centrality of agricultural capitalism, in England for Brenner and in England and in the emerging peripheries of the world-economy in the Americas and Eastern Europe for Wallerstein, in the emergence of capitalism. Of course, the differences here are even greater than the affinities: capitalism develops in the countryside of the English nation state for Brenner and in the context of the emerging world-system for Wallerstein. Wallerstein provided a brilliant sketch of the interrelations between agricultural capitalism and Braudel’s top level of world trade and finance in the MWS. Yet to date no one has sufficiently explored how these dynamic forms of agricultural capitalism might be related to the growth of capitalism at the top level of world trade and finance dealt with in Braudel’s classic trilogy, Civilization & Capitalism, 15th-18th Century and in Arrighi’s Long Twentieth Century. In many ways this is not surprising as the thrust of Braudel and Arrighi’s own work – in contrast to the earlier emphasis of Annales and Brenner on rural history - has been to generally discount the potential importance of agriculture in the world-systemic origins of capitalist development.

Significant in this context is Arrighi’s own return to his earlier work on the role of labor supplies, in which he draws on the important work of Gillian Hart (2002) on East Asia and Southern Africa. Hart has highlighted the contradictions of capital accumulation through dispossession by full proletarianization, most clearly revealed, as Arrighi notes, in what Samir Amin (1976) called the “Africa of the labor reserves” throughout much of Southern Africa, including in the land of apartheid (see also Mamdani, 1996). Here, the combination of white settler colonialism -- in the context of the spread of capitalist agriculture, the discovery of vast reserves of mineral wealth and persistent labor shortages -- led European colonists to promote the full dispossession of a great deal of the African peasantry so as to provide low cost migrant labor first for the mines and later in manufacturing industry. Over time, however, the full proletarianization of these groups ended up raising labor costs and leading to increasing economic stagnation.

This Southern African experience of accumulation through dispossession in the context of white settler colonialism contrasts sharply, as Gillian Hart (2002) has emphasized - to the “developmental success” stories of East Asia - including most recently China’s dramatic economic ascent. The East Asian trajectory has been one of capital accumulation without dispossession, combined with associated “rural development” and “industrialization,” including through Township Village Enterprises”; “Just as the Southern African tradition has ultimately narrowed domestic markets, raised reproduction costs, and lowered the quality of the labor force, so the East Asian tradition has simultaneously expanded domestic markets, lowered reproduction costs, and raised the quality of the labor force” (Arrighi, Aschoff & Scully, 2009: 39-40; see also Hart, 2002: 206-231). (14)

The paradox here – underscored by Arrighi and his co-authors - is that the full proletarianization of the original producers through accumulation with disposession, although classically associated with the origins of successful capitalist development, have become among the biggest barriers to such development in Southern Africa, as well as perhaps in many other regions of the Global South. Differing trajectories of accumulation with or without dispossession and associated policies of racial exclusion are thus drawn on to look at the radical divergence in development experiences in East Asia and Southern Africa. Specific policy changes in Southern Africa are recommended to address these challenges, most especially the need for massive land redistribution along with concomitant increases in education and social welfare designed to benefit the vast majority of Africans (Arrighi, Aschoff & Scully, 2009; see also Sen, 1999). (15)

Hart’s and Arrighi’s own work on accumulation with and without dispossession in the developmental trajectories of contemporary Southern Africa and East Asia might also shed some light on the question of the origins of capitalist development in agriculture analyzed by Brenner and Wallerstein. In fact, though it has not been done to date, one can imagine teasing out a series of geohistorical linkages between Marx, Wallerstein’s, Braudel's and Arrighi’s work on the "top level of world trade and high finance” - with the work of Barrington Moore, Brenner, Wallerstein and others on agricultural capitalism, that relates these developments in an original synthesis. The idea here would be to demonstrate more fully - including through building on Wallerstein’s classic treatment of these issues in the MWS and through a re-reading of both the "Brenner debate" and what Giovanni calls the "non-debates" of the 1970s - how capitalist agriculture, urbanization and what Arrighi calls a "capitalist system of statemaking and warmaking” - are all intimately entwined in the world-historical origins of capitalist development, as Perry Anderson somewhat intimates in the passage from Spectrum cited above.

These debates about past and present are of course intertwined; excurses into the past being quintessentially inquiries into the present, reflecting contemporary concerns.
For as NLR (1977: 1) noted in an editorial introduction to Brenner’s critique of so-called neo-Smithian Marxism in the late 1970s,

The famous debate in the 1940s among Marxist historians – Dobb, Sweezy, Hilton, Takahashi and others – on the origins of capitalism stands as one of the most sustained international exchanges on a central theoretical issue to have taken place within historical materialism. The implications of its conflicting accounts of how capitalism emerged, and why it did so in some regions of the world rather than others, were clearly of far more than purely historical interest. They affect assessments of the coordinates of class struggle on a global scale today, interpretations of the bourgeois state and conceptions of the transition from capitalism to socialism. The debate further involved a series of key theoretical problems concerning the nature of historical determination, the relation of economics to politics and the validity of Marx’s basis analysis of capitalism. (16)

Much the same could be said for present day debates on these matters, to which we should arguably return, in light of new developments and research findings. Arrighi had hoped in recent years to put together a compilation of his most important work on the foundations of global inequality. Sadly, Arrighi himself will now not be able to complete this work, though one hopes that others will collect his more important pieces on these matters and make them available to the wider audience that they deserve. One can only wonder to what extent Arrighi might have drawn in this endeavor on the important work done on inequalities over the last few decades developed by the likes of Jean Dreze, Amartya Sen, Amiya Kumar Bagchi (2005), Charles Tilly (1999), Branko Milanovic (2005), and Roberto Korzeniewicz and colleagues.(17) In the meantime, there could be no better tribute to the memory of Giovanni Arrighi and his quest for a more humane global system than for scholars and activists to return to these central questions of our time, as integral parts of our ongoing collective efforts to understand the world and transform it in more peaceful, socially just, environmentally sustainable and egalitarian directions.

Among the most significant losses in the maelstrom of contemporary twenty-first century life, replete with its sound bite culture and what Noam Chomsky - borrowing from Isaiah Berlin – calls the secular priesthood of elite intellectuals, is the virtual disappearance of attempts at analyzing the present in the longue duree. Giovanni Arrighi’s work -- and that of his collaborators and generations of students and activist-scholars he inspired -- represents a pioneering effort to do exactly this. As my friend and colleague, Wilbert van der Zeijden expressed it to me, in the context of the loss this same June of two of the world’s most important contemporary intellectuals, Giovanni Arrighi and Peter Gowan, we can “only hope that our generation will be able (and wise enough) to build on their research, thinking and…visions.”

So, in the words of the African liberation movements, a luta continua!

Ahmad, Eqbal, The Selected Writings of Eqbal Ahmad, foreword by Noam Chomsky, edited by Carollee Bengelsoorf, Margaret Cerullo, & Yogesh Chandrani, New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
Amin, Samir, Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976.
Anderson, Perry, Spectrum: From Right to Left in the World of Ideas, New York: Verso, 2007.
Arrighi, Giovanni and John S. Saul, Essays on the Political Economy of Africa, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1973.
Arrighi, Giovanni, The Geometry of Imperialism, London: Verso, 1983.
Arrighi, Giovanni, "The Stratification of the World-Economy: An Exploration of the Semiperipheral Zone," Review, Volume X, #1, Summer 1986, pp. 9-74.
Arrighi, Giovanni & Fortunata Piselli, “Capitalist Development in Hostile Environments: Feuds, Class Struggles, and Migrations in a Peripheral Region of Southern Italy,” Review, X, 4, 1987, pp. 649-751.
Arrighi, Giovanni, Terence K. Hopkins & Immanuel Wallerstein, Antisystemic Movements, New York: Verso, 1989.
Arrighi, Giovanni, "Marxist Century, American Century: The Making and Remaking of the World Labour Movement," New Left Review, Number 179, January/February, 1990b, pp. 29-64 http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=88.
Arrighi, Giovanni, "World Income Inequalities and the Future of Socialism," New Left Review, # 189, September/October 1991, pp. 39-68 http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=1649.
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I would like to thank all the participants in the international conference on Giovanni Arrighi’s work and the current crisis sponsored by Spain’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia for the stimulating debate and discussion, which has very much influenced my own thinking. Thanks also to Tom Doberzeniecki for helpful comments. I alone of course am responsible for any errors.
An earlier version of this essay is forthcoming as part of a review symposium on Arrighi’s work in the electronic Journal of World-Systems Research
(1) According to his website at Johns Hopkins University, where Arrighi served as one time director of the Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History and as Department Chair from 2003-2006, and where he taught since the late 1990s, he was eventually given one of the school’s highest honors, a named professorship, the George Armstong Kelly Professor of Sociology: the site goes on to note that: “Giovanni will be further honored at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting with a session titled “From Rhodesia to Beijing: Reflections on the Scholarship of Giovanni Arrighi” on Saturday, August 8 from 4:30-6:10 p.m. at the Hilton San Francisco.”
(2) See also Branko Milanovic’s (2005) important work, which draws on Arrighi’s important interventions on world income inequalities in analyzing today’s global polarization of wealth.
(3) Papers from the conference, which was sponsored by Spain’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, are expected to be published in an edited volume in the next few years.
(4) See also here the important three volume collection edited by Aquino de Braganca & Immanuel Wallerstein, The African Liberation Reader: Documents of the National Liberation Movements, Zed Press, 1982.
(5) Ahmad’s (2006) writings have now been put together in an important collection. The late Edward Said dedicated his Culture & Imperalism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993) to Eqbal, his long time friend and mentor.
On Basker, see a) the brief biography as well as b) a rare interview with Basker himself and c) various tributes, including one by Arrighi TNI now sponsors a Basker Vashee memorial lecture and had hoped that Arrighi might have been healthy enough to deliver the next one.
(6) For a brief sense of the achievement, see the various entries by Ingham and by Reifer in The Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology, 2006. See also Frederic Jameson’s brilliant reviews in The Cultural Turn, Chapter 7-8, New York: Verso, 1998, pp. 136-189.
The Long Twentieth Century, which came out in 1994, does not of course trace in detail the current crisis of the last few decades, a subject that is taken up in Arrighi’s (2007) Adam Smith in Beijing. Nevertheless, as will be discussed later, the analytical framework Arrighi laid out in the early 1990s seems prescient enough in light of the financial meltdowns of 2008 and 2009. Later, we will discuss Arrighi’s (2007) analysis of what is widely considered the most important and comprehensive alternative analysis of the current crisis by Robert Brenner (2003, 2006). See also Arrighi & Silver, 1999, to be discussed later as well.
(7) Our understanding of the central role of Genoese cosmopolitan financial capitalism in the making of the modern world is today being transformed through the important but little known efforts of one of Fernand Braudel’s former students, Giuseppe Felloni, who has spent some thirty years studying and cataloguing the archives – written in Latin -- of Genoa’s legendary Banco di San Giorgi. On Felloni’s Herculean work, see Vincent Boland, “The World’s First Modern, Public Bank”, Financial Times, April 17, 2009 and references cited therein.
(8) See also the related Beijing declaration
(9) See also the important article by Beverly J. Silver & Giovanni Arrighi, “Workers North & South,” Socialist Register 2001, edited by Leo Panitch & Colin Leys, London: Merlin Press, 2000, pp. 53-76, Arrighi’s (1990) own “Marxist Century, American Century: The Making & Remaking of the World Labour Movement,” New Left Review 179, January/February 2009, pp. 29-64, and Silver, 2003.
(10) A fundamental work on the central role of hedge funds during the crisis – that demolishes much of the reigning neoliberal and IMF orthodoxy - is Gordon de Brouwer (2001), Hedge Funds in Emerging Markets, Cambridge University Press. See also Alfred Steinherr’s Derivatives, John Wiley, 1998, 2000. The growth of East Asian financial integration has been covered in expert fashion by Injoo Sohn (2005, 2007). Finally, see Eatwell & Taylor, 2000, as well as Helleiner (1994), and Panitch & Konings (2008).
(11) For Gowan’s most sustained engagement with the world-systems perspective, see his important review of Arrighi & Silver’s Chaos & Governance in the Modern World System in New Left Review 13, Jan/Feb. 2002, pp. 136-145 and his “Contemporary Intracore Relations & World-Systems Theory,” in Christopher Chase-Dunn & Salvatore Babones, eds., Global Social Change, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 2006, pp. 213-238, in which Gowan engages centrally with the important work of Christopher Chase-Dunn and Thomas Hall (1997) and Chase-Dunn, 1989. Chase-Dunn is currently the director of the Institute for Research on World-Systems at UC Riverside.
(12) For an important article on the often neglected centrality of money and banking in the origins and development of capitalism see Geoffrey Ingham, “Capitalism, Money & Banking: A Critique of Recent Historical Sociology,” British Journal of Sociology, Volume no. 50, Issue no. 1, March 1999, pp. 76-96. See also Ingham 2004, 2008.
For one of the best blogs on current financial crisis as it continues to unfold, see the joint TNI and Institute for Policy Studies website casinocrash.org - “critical thinking on the financial and economic crisis.”
(13) In this chapter, Anderson (2007) develops one of the most sustained critical engagements with Brenner’s analysis of the long downturn, analyzing its merits and the theoretical and empirical questions it leaves unanswered. Among Brenner’s key weaknesses, as Anderson (2007: 261-262; see also Arrighi, 2007: 139-142) points out, include: a) the assumption rather than argumentation on the central role of material production , specifically industrial manufacturing, in the account of the long downturn and b) the theoretical neglect (as traditional among economists from Marx on), as to the role of money, currencies, exchange rates, as well as the importance of US dollar seignorage in the global system, the latter exactly those areas that are the great strengths of Arrighi’s work. Anderson’s chapter includes a preliminary discussion here of Arrighi’s early critique of Brenner, subsequently revised and included in Adam Smith in Beijing.
Another key issue that remained to be more fully addressed is the linkage between the deep structure of US militarized state-corporate capitalism and US power in the global system as a whole.
(14) Giovanni Arrighi, Nicole Aschoff & Benjamin Scully, “Accumulation by Dispossession & its Limits: The Southern African Paradigm Revisited,” February 17, 2009, unpublished paper, forthcoming. The authors (2009: 8-10) also cite Hart’s (2002: 199-200) suggestion that we take the insights gleaned from this analysis of comparative-historical differences between Southern African and East Asian development trajectories, so as to “revisit classical political economy debates, and revise the teleological assumption about ‘primitive accumulation’ through which dispossession is seen as a natural concomitant of capitalist development.”
For a long historical view of inequality in South Africa, see the important work by Terreblanche (2005).
(15) An interesting direction in which to take this comparative analysis would be to more fully include the experience of Latin America. For the beginnings of such an analysis, contrasting the examples of Japan-led East Asia and US-led Latin America, in terms of models of development and industrialization, see the important work of the late Fernando Fajnzylber, 1990a, b; see also Reifer, 2006: 133-135; see also de Janvry, 1981. For an analysis examining the centrality of environmental issues for questions of sustainable development, see Faber, 1993. More extensive discussions of the increasing centrality of environmental questions in struggles for sustainable development and social justice can be found in the journal, Capitalism, Nature & Socialism.
(16) See also the contributions to the debate collected in The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, Verso, 1976, with an introduction by Rodney Hilton.
(17) Korzeniewicz – another one of Arrighi’s former students - and his colleagues are authors of what by all accounts will be a fundamental work on global inequalities, Unveiling Inequality (forthcoming from the Russell Sage Foundation, 2009).

About the authors

Tom Reifer

Tom Reifer is currently Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of San Diego and publishes widely on global peace and social justice issues. He has also been a long-time activist in the anti-nuclear movement as well as a rank and file trade union activist. His specialty is the study of large-scale, long-term social change and world-systems analysis. 

He is currently working on a book "Lawyers, Guns & Money: Wall Street & the American Century"