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Immanuel Wallerstein (1930-2019)

It is significant that I first overheard the name Immanuel Wallerstein from Walter Rodney. I don't remember the detail of what he was saying. But Rodney would have recognized immediately the affinities between the argument he had made implicitly in his *History of the Upper Guinea Coast* (1970) and explicitly in *How Europe Underdeveloped Africa* (1972)-- about the co-production of European 'development' and African 'underdevelopment', and the argument of Eric Williams’s *Capitalism and Slavery*-- and the thrust of volume I of Wallerstein's *The Modern World System* (1974). Wallerstein later celebrated these affinities in a fine essay on Rodney's three monographs in *The American Ethnologist* (1986).

Wallerstein had begun in his 20s as a student of African politics, writing a comparative thesis on Nkrumah's Ghana and Houphouët-Boigny's Cote d'Ivoire. But, perhaps disappointing the CIA and the other funders of the new 'area studies' in the United States, rather than studying Africa in order to facilitate its domination and exploitation, Wallerstein began a lifelong alliance with the forces of liberation across Africa, Latin America and Asia. He, like Rodney, was deeply influenced by Fanon, and it seems clear that the first volume of The Modern World System while focussed on the early modern world was at the same time (one thinks of James's Black Jacobins) a displaced discussion of the 20th century, and the forms of neo-colonial domination and exploitation the emergence of which Fanon had so acutely diagnosed.

Wallerstein carried within him not just a profound knowledge of, and love for, people in Africa among whom he had lived and worked. He (and Rodney) also were moved by the current in American Marxist political economic thought led by Paul Sweezy and Paul Baran around *Monthly Review* (it is telling that Rodney chose *Monthly Review Press* as the American publisher for *History of the Upper Guinea Coast*). Sweezy had from 1950 onwards challenged the strong eurocentric (even anglocentric) tendencies in Marxist thought about the origins of capitalism -- a tradition of diffusionist arguments about the rise of the modern world economy which runs from Maurice Dobb to Robert Brenner, Ellen Wood and their disciples. Sweezy insisted that it was under the impact of colonial expansion and long distance trade that capitalism became the dominant social form in Europe. These arguments found synergy in the 1960s with the emerging 'dependencia' school of Latin American political economy (Andre Gunder Frank's *Development and Underdevelopment in Latin America* was also published by Monthly Review).

"World systems theory", the model which Wallerstein proposed, insisted that modern capitalism did not arise in some trick of spontaneous generation in the medieval English countryside. It was the product of economic interactions which connected west Eurasia and North Africa, and later the Americas and West Africa, and that it took the form of the emergence of a global 'core' and a global 'periphery' (later complicated with ideas of semi peripheries). He continued to develop the model throughout his life, writing a prodigious stream of essays and books.

His instincts were theoretical rather than empirical, and while he was a great supporter and user of historians from Rodney to Braudel, what really excited him were big ideas which made sense of everything. The cost of this, sometimes, were somewhat mechanical and functionalist and clunky arguments, and an excessive attraction to things like Kondratieff Cycles. But this investment in theory led him to ideas which stimulated research in anthropology, economics, history and sociology around the world.

He was always on the side of those making freedom and justice. And he never stopped trying to see the world from Africa, Asia and Latin America towards what he called in 2006 “a more universal universalism, a truly collective planetary universalism”.
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