Second World, Semiperiphery and State-Civilisation in Multipolar World Theory [Part Two]


Part Two


Let us now turn to a different theory: the 'world-system analysis' constructed by Immanuel Wallerstein [1]. Wallerstein, an exponent of the Marxist school of International Relations (especially in its Trotskyist interpretation), on the basis of the doctrine of "the long run" (F. Braudel [2]) and the Latin American theorists of structural economics (R. Prebisch [3], S. Furtado [4]), developed a model of world zoning according to the level of development of capitalism. This view represents a development of Vladimir Lenin's ideas on imperialism [5] as the highest stage of development of capitalism, according to which the capitalist system naturally gravitates towards globalisation and the spread of its influence over all humanity. Colonial wars between the developed powers are only the initial stage. Capitalism is gradually realising the unity of its supranational goals and forming the core of world government. This is fully consistent with liberal International Relations theory, where the phenomenon of 'imperialism', critically understood by Marxists, is described in apologetic terms as the goal of a 'global society', the One World.

The geographical expression of the system-world theory is the identification of three levels [6].

The centre, the core or 'rich North', constitutes the zone of maximum development of capitalism. North America and Western Europe correspond to the core, i.e. Atlanticism and the Western European civilisation corresponding to it, the pole of which shifted in the 20th century to the United States. The core of Wallerstein's world-system coincides with the 'first world'.

Around the core lies the first ring, which in Wallerstein's theory is called the 'semi-periphery'. It comprises countries that are inferior to the core in terms of development, but are desperately trying to achieve what they consider to be the model. The countries in the semi-periphery are also capitalist, but adapt models of capitalism to their national characteristics. As a rule, 'Caesarist' regimes (according to A. Gramsci's nomenclature [7]) are formed in them, i.e. liberal hegemony is only partially accepted - especially in the economy, technologies and industrialisation models, while local models corresponding to pre-capitalist or non-capitalist models continue to dominate the political system, culture and social consciousness.

Wallerstein's semi-periphery comprises the more developed countries of Latin America, especially Brazil, India, China and Russia. In other words, these are again the countries of the BRIC or BRICS club, i.e. the 'second world'.

Wallerstein's periphery corresponds to what was originally understood as the 'third world' with the same basic characteristics - underdevelopment, backwardness, inefficiency, archaic, non-competitiveness, corruption, etc. - as the 'second world'. This is also referred to as the 'poor South'.

In Wallerstein's world-systems theory, a statement on the main trend of development follows. It stems from the Marxist belief in the progress and change of economic formations. This means that between the core, the semi-periphery and the periphery there are not only spatial, but also historical and temporal relations.

The periphery corresponds to the past, to the archaic pre-capitalist order.

The core embodies the universal future, global capitalism (hence globalisation).

The semi-periphery is the zone where decomposition takes place into what returns to the core and what collapses into the periphery. According to Wallerstein, the semi-periphery is not an alternative to capitalism, but only a delayed stage of it. It is a delayed future. Wallerstein himself was therefore not particularly interested in the semi-periphery, tracing only those trends that confirmed the split of such societies into a liberal globalist elite and the increasingly archaic and proletarianised masses. Wallerstein predicted that the semi-periphery would soon split into core and periphery and cease to exist.

Once the semi-periphery disappears, the whole world will become global: the rich North will interact directly with the poor South, where once again the elites will be included in the core and the masses, mixed with the masses of the other areas in a global migration, will become the international world proletariat. At this point the proletarian revolution predicted by Marx, the crisis of the world capitalist system and subsequently of communism, will begin. And this should only happen after the completion of the capitalist globalisation process, and thus after the abolition of the semi-periphery. As a Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist, Wallerstein believed that socialism could not be built in one country, neither in the USSR nor in China, but would only be a postponement of globalisation and thus of the world revolution that would follow it. Just as Marx and Engels in their Manifesto of the Communist Party [8] emphasised that while the bourgeoisie struggles with medieval institutions, communists should support it and only after the success of bourgeois revolutions should they enter into direct confrontation with the capitalists, in the same way Wallerstein and most contemporary cultural Marxists and leftists are in favour of globalisation against the preservation of sovereignty by individual powers, only to confront them decisively after the total victory of the liberals and globalists. This is why they do not call their doctrine antiglobalism but alterglobalism, proposing projects of post-liberalism rather than anti-liberalism [9].

A multipolar reading of semipolarism

In the context of a multipolar world, Wallerstein's world system as a complete whole is rather the antithesis. Multipolarism sees the very phenomenon of the semi-periphery in a very different way. It is not merely a temporary condition of backward societies not yet included in the core, but the possibility of an alternative course of history that rejects the universality of capitalism and liberal globalisation and denies the core the right to be synonymous with the future and an example of universal destiny. The semi-periphery is not seen as an intermediate phenomenon between the core and the periphery, but as an independent combination of a core civilisation identity that remains unchanged and a process of modernisation. Huntington [10], who spoke of a clash of civilisations replacing the bipolar world, used the expression 'modernisation without westernisation'. This is a conscious strategy of the semi-periphery elites, who choose not to integrate into the global core elites, but to remain ruling class in the context of civilisation of the semi-periphery. This is what we see in China, in Islamic countries and to some extent in Russia.

The concept of the semi-periphery, detached from the Marxist-Trotskyist context of the system-world theory, turns out to be identical to that of the 'second world'. This allows us to focus in more detail on the vectors of relations between the countries of the semi-periphery (BRICS) and the core and net periphery countries.

By combining the potential of the countries of the semi-periphery and establishing an intellectual dialogue between the elites that have consciously decided not to integrate themselves into the core of global liberal capitalism, one obtains a project with resources comparable to and even greater than the aggregate potential of the core (first world), but with a completely different development vector. Intellectually, the semi-periphery does not act here as the territory of a 'delayed future', but as a zone of free choice, which can at any time sovereignly combine elements of 'future' and 'past' in any proportion. It is sufficient to abandon the liberal and Marxist dogma of linear time and socio-technical progress, but this is not as difficult as it sounds, because Confucian, Islamic, Orthodox, Catholic and Hindu theories of time do not know the dogma of progress and see the future on which capitalists and Marxists insist as purely negative, as an eschatological apocalyptic scenario, or have a completely different view of it.

The semi-periphery (the second world) then ceases to be an intermediate stage and a grey area between 'progress' and 'barbarism', 'civilisation' and 'archaic', but establishes itself as a field of sovereign civilisations that themselves establish basic criteria, norms and measures - with regard to human nature, God, immortality, time, the soul, religion, gender, the family, society, justice, development, etc.

The core itself thus loses its status as a universal goal and becomes just one civilisation among others. The second world states: everything is a semi-periphery, from which one can go either to the core or to the periphery, and the core countries themselves are not an abstract example of a universal future, but just one of humanity's regions, one of its provinces, that has made its choice, but this choice must remain within its borders.

Part One


[1] Wallerstein I. The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Emergence of the European World Economy in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Academic Press, 1976
[2] Braudel F. Le Temps du Monde. Paris: Armand Colin, 1979.
[3] Prebisch R. Capitalismo periférico. Crisis y transformación, Santiago de Chile: CEPAL,1981.
[4] Furtado C. Desenvolvimento e subdesenvolvimento. Rio de Janeiro: Fundo de Cultura, 1961.
[5] Ленин В.И. Империализм, как высшая стадия капитализма. Популярный очерк/ Ленин В.И. Полное собрание сочинений. 5-издание. Т. 27. М.: Политиздат, 1969.
[6] Wallerstein I. World-Systems Analysis: An Introduction. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press. 2004.   
[7] Грамши А. Избранные произведения: Т. 1—3. — М.: Изд. иностранной литературы, 1957—1959.
[8] Маркс К., Энгельс Ф. Манифест коммунистической партии/ Маркс К., Энгельс Ф. Сочинения. Т. 4. М.: государственное издательство политической литературы, 1955.
[9] Wallerstein I. After Liberalism. New York: New Press, 1995.
[10] Huntington S. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York : Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Translation by Lorenzo Maria Pacini