Introduction to Transitions and Modes in the World System
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The present “transition from socialism to capitalism” and the possible future
“shift of hegemony from the United States to Japan” are occasion to re-examine
several scientific tenents of our politics and political tenents of our social
science. Among these are 1) the “transition from feudalism to capitalism,” 2)
the “transition from capitalisnm to socialism,” 3) the process of “transition”
itself, 4) the notion of feudal, capitalist and socialist “modes of
production,” and 5) and the hegemonic rise and decline of Europe and the West
in the modern world capitalist system. The question arises whether any or all
of the above are based on scientific analytical categories, or whether they
are only derived from fond ideological beliefs. Perhaps both contemporary
political reality and available historical evidence should now lead us to
abandon some or even all of these positions.
My tentative conclusion will be that ideological blinkers – or worse, mindset
– have too long prevented us from seeing that the world political economic
system long predated the rise of capitalism in Europe and its hegemony in the
world. The rise of Europe represented a hegemonic shift from East to West
within a pre-existing system. If there was any transition then, it was this
hegemonic shift within the system rather than the formation of a new system.
We are again in one of the alternating periods of hegemony and rivalry in the
world system now, which portends a renewed westward shift of hegemony across
the Pacific. To identify the system with its dominant mode of production is a
mistake. There was no transition from feudalism to capitalism as such. Nor was
there (to be) an analogous transition from capitalism to socialism. If these
analytical categories of “modes of production” prevent us from seeing the real
world political economic system, it would be better to abandon them
altogether. These categories of “transition” and “modes” are not essential or
even useful tools, but rather obstacles to the scientific study of the
underlying continuity and essential properties of the world system in the
past. They also shackle our political struggle and ability to confront and
manage the development of this same system in the present and future.
A number of recent academic publications offer a good opportunity for such a
re-examination of the (un?)holy canons in our historical science and
contemporary politics. These publications include The Brenner Debate (19xx)
on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe, Before European
Hegemony on the westward shift of hegemony in the thirteenth century by Janet
Abu-Lughod (l989), The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers in Europe and America
by Paul Kennedy (l987), Long Cycles in World Politics during the last 500
years by George Modelski (1987), On Global War during the same period by
William Thompson, Global Formation: Structures of the World-Economy then and
now by Christopher Chase-Dunn, and other works on hegemonial changes.
Several recent articles by Wallerstein also offer a particularly revealing
opportunity to re-examine all of the issues posed in my opening paragraphs.
Wallerstein (l989 a) looked back on the last,

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World System And Number Of Recent Academic Publications. (June 29, 2021). Retrieved from