Developmental Stalemate In The Eastern Mediterranean: Some Conceptual Tools For The Understanding Of Contemporary Problems

Developmental Stalemate In The Eastern Mediterranean: Some Conceptual Tools For The Understanding Of Contemporary Problems

Ivan Ivekovic

Conventional social sciences of both Weberian and Marxian inspiration assumed that the processes of modernization, urbanization, mass education and intensified social communication would gradually homogenize the world population, leading to the lessening of the tensions associated with social and cultural differences. Contrary to such expectations, it seems that on the eve of the twenty-first century ethnic and religious conflicts have multiplied. Recent wars in the space of former Yugoslavia, in the Caucasus, communal violence in the Indian sub-continent, internal troubles in Turkey, Algeria, etc., seem to confirm this. Could it be that there are some common causes that actually generate such conflict?

In trying to answer this question, this essay assumes that development is a disruptive process and that it affects in various ways even the most isolated and remote communities. Old social institutions, habits and ways of life related to traditional agrarian communities are being undermined or changed beyond recognition; at the same time, new institutions and norms of conduct are being shaped under the impact of hectic and uneven modernization, but are still not consolidated and generally accepted. Disruption, whether it comes from outside or from within the community, exerts pressure and provokes resistance. Pressure and resistance lead to tension which may escalate into political violence.

Without pretending to give a comprehensive answer, this essay offers some conceptual tools which offer an explanation of contemporary problems. The essay is divided into three sections: a brief discussion of the long-term historical trajectory of human society; an introduction to the geopolitical concept of ‘regional laboratory’, which describes the role of regional ‘client-states’ and ‘pivots’; and an explanation of the process of transition to mass industrial society as a three-stage process.


Braudel’s (1980) trajectory of tres longue duree of humankind may be reduced to a process of growth, geographic expansion and of maturing of stationary agrarian or pastoral communities, and of their subsequent transition to mass and mobile industrial society. This overlaps with the process of transition from use-value to commodity production. Transition to mass industrial society was the most recent stage in this sequence of this long-term historical trajectory.

The process itself was initiated with the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago when foraging (food-gathering, hunting and fishing) began to be replaced with systematic plant cultivation and animal breeding. Archeological evidence confirms that this revolution originated in the Middle East and then spread to the Mediterranean basin, to the regions north of the Black Sea and finally rolled over Europe. Systematic planting allowed an increase in population density and it was hypothesized that demographic growth stimulated in its turn the ‘wave-of-advance’ or the geographic expansion and consolidation of peasant communities which at that time used a primitive slash-and-bum technique. Humans discovered that with their labor they could improve their condition. Prior to this discovery, the human creature, like the rest of the animal world, found in nature goods of a use-value for his survival. Labor itself arises from the scarcity of the means necessary for human survival. Yet the value of goods produced did not arise out of this scarcity but out of labor. Labor molded man’s consciousness and transformed him into a cognizant being. Labor also created all the values needed by humankind for its existence. As explained by one researcher:

With his labor, man started taking from nature even those goods which previously had been inaccessible to him. Thus he began taking control of the laws of his own reproduction, making his survival dependent on the quantity of foodstuffs that he could produce with his own labor. Man had no need to create those goods which were available in nature; he worked only to acquire those which he lacked, which he needed for his survival and which were scarce. In this respect nothing has changed to the present day.

Millennia had to go before production began, before the existing world system of commodity production came into being. Yet all the goods in nature have retained unchanged their form of use-value. They remain so until such time as man with his labor transforms them into a commodity value, i.e. until he takes them to the market for the purpose of trading, when they become commodities (Dakovic, 1994: 5).

The man in question was, of course, a peasant and he lived in scattered and mutually isolated agrarian communities. The subsequent development, expansion and maturing of these communities, their political organization, their continuous transformation and interaction represents the long-term historical trajectory of humankind. This strikingly simple statement requires a re-reading of history. This essay is however focused on the last sequence of this trajectory when industrialization linked to the capitalist mode of appropriation/production was initiated, leading to the emergence and consolidation of the modern nation-state.

The switch to merchant agriculture producing food for the growing urban population in Europe and raw materials for European nascent industries announced the beginning of this uneven and hectic sequence of transition to mass commodity production, as well as the beginning of the capitalist integration of the world economy. Capitalist relations gradually spread from Europe into peripheral and less developed zones through direct colonization, or through the imposition of free trade as in the case of the Ottoman Empire, Persia, China or Latin America. By the end of the 19th century, most of the globe was already drawn into the orbit of this whirlpool.

Today, this process is called globalization. Globalization seems to be the highest stage of the capitalist integration of the world economy linked to transnational capital. In this stage, the process has accelerated regional and local political fragmentation, including the fragmentation of the Middle East (which for the last 40 years was masked with Cold War confrontations). It seems that economic integration on one side and political volatility on the other, are integral parts of the same dialectical process of modernization. Of course, such a hypothesis has to be documented or refuted in each specific regional laboratory. The Eastern Mediterranean is only one of them.

Each step forward in the capitalist integration of the world economy required the readjustment of both domestic productive forces (PF) and the related social structure of accumulation (SSA). The above concepts will be elaborated in the next section. As it will be argued, this process of transition proceeds by stages or sequences of socio-economic, political and technological development. The transition from one stage to another invariably leads to destruction in order that a new SSA at the domestic level could be constructed and a new articulation established between the national and international levels.

Destruction of social institutions and relationships that had up to that moment governed the life of communities may lead to social fragmentation. Pressured from within and without, the threatened communities usually crack along their internal fault lines – ethnic, religious and/or class divisions. If institutional channels for peaceful conflict resolution are not available, or if the confronted parties and their political elites are unable or unwilling to compromise, then the clash of conflicting vested interests becomes inevitable.

At this stage, the perceived scarcity of resources, especially a worsened land-to-labor ratio, may aggravate the clash of interests by intensifying competition for the appropriation of these resources both between rival political elites and between the communities they represent. A short survey of conflict-zones will indeed show that contemporary political conflicts are the most acute in regions of peasant overpopulation and of surplus manpower, which was not absorbed by the modern sector of the economy. The related and unresolved peasant question generates in turn violent patriarchal reactions or neopatriarchal convulsions (Ivekovic, 1996), which are characteristic of threatened agrarian communities. For this reason perhaps, current conflicts and political violence take a violent and bloody turn in some countries, and may not in others. That is the second hypothesis of this essay.

Although presenting themselves and seen by many analysts as ethnic, racial, communal or religious conflicts, all of them have underlying material causes. The clash of material interests may result in developmental violence whose aim is the control of natural and human resources linked to specific territories, and the appropriation of the products of other peoples’ labor. In some countries such conflicts erupted over the appropriation of foreign aid. Developmental violence is then justified/explained by political elites with different ideologies, or with contradictory ‘national interests’ (Morgenthau, 1952:961), with allegedly opposed ‘political cultures’ (Almond & Powell, 1988: 40-46), with the ‘clash of civilizations’ (Huntington, 1993), or with mutually exclusive ethnic, racial, communal or religious identities. Most time it is ignored that these collective identities are not God-given or genetically reproduced but are politically constructed and reconstructed as imagined political communities (Anderson, 1983) out of the pre-existing human material. The modern nation state is such a historically derived political artifact. Rejecting the idea that such communities are static and immutable, and adopting a constructivist approach, this essay, nevertheless, could not avoid such terms as ‘ethnic conflict’ and ‘Islamist neopopulism’ because they enter every day jargon and are succinct. This essay, however, argues that the phenomena in question have nothing to do with ethnicity or religion per se, that both are produced and manipulated by elites in order to serve their exclusive political projects. In the following pages some of the above ideas will be elaborated on in order to demonstrate that most of contemporary conflicts, internal, regional or international, whatever descriptive prefix may be attached to them, can be reduced to their developmental dimension.


The concept of regional laboratories is essentially a geopolitical model, wrapping together a moving configuration of forces, both internal and external, with certain enduring constraints and/or comparative advantages of physical space, and of its natural and human resources. It is a spatial framework for the analysis of specific clusters of countries which share certain common characteristics. The Middle East together with North Africa may be considered as such a regional laboratory. The Balkans, next door, is another one. The Soviet successor states of Transcaucasia and Central Asia constitute today a new laboratory which for the first time in modern history separates Russia from the Middle East. The Vishegrad Group (Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia) is still another cluster of countries from which most of the candidates for the membership in the European Union and NATO had been selected. The three Baltic states, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, represent a similar cluster. Russia itself, with all the uncertainties it is facing, is yet another huge laboratory stretched over eleven time zones.

These overlapping regional laboratories are in fact links of one chain, whose pulsating and overlapping boundaries are set by changing configurations of forces and political conventions. The conventions usually take into account some distinctive sets of the physical space, which are then supplanted with human geography and economic considerations. The laboratories themselves seem to operate as interconnected vessels, because internal developments in one of them often spill over their imagined boundaries directly influencing developments in the more or less distant neighborhood. Sometimes, as is the case with ethnic and regional conflicts in the space of former Yugoslavia and in the Caucasus region, these developments take strikingly similar forms, which Rosenau (1995) described as ‘distant proximities’.

However, these laboratories are not politically, economically or culturally homogenized entities. Even the laboratory of Western Europe, with its unfolding agenda of economic and political integration, is far from being a homogeneous whole. Besides the Ulster, Basque, and Corsican problems, the very term of ‘Europe of regions’ suggests that the project of European unification is not seeking to eliminate internal diversity. Diversity in itself, whether cultural, social or political, is not necessarily disruptive if a basic consensus holding together a community or a group is maintained.

In the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean such a consensus has never existed in modern times. Not only have the different states often pursued mutually opposed and externally influenced political agendas, but they have also often lacked the internal consensus necessary to modernize and standardize their populations. As already mentioned, the cold war masked these regional and domestic fault-lines until recently, but now it has become evident that they were not generated by exogenous forces only.

Asymmetrical Clients and Regional Pivots

The post-Cold War system of states is hierarchical and it may be represented as a step-pyramid in whose structure different states occupy different moving positions. The relative position of each state depends primarily on the level of development of its productive forces, of its technological potentials and of its place in the global division of labor. Military force, unrelated to industrial power, is of secondary importance. The bottom of the pyramid is crowded with weak and small client-states whose modernization process has been retarded. They aspire to improve their precarious position but cannot unless their productive forces are rearranged in the manner that suits the requirements of the global liberal system. Only then they may be co-opted into the EU, but even then non-economic criteria (geopolitical or ideological considerations) may prevail and postpone their cooptation.

Theories of interdependence as elaborated by Keohane and Nye (1977) point to the unequal cost of inter-state transactions and elaborate the shifts of power in the international system of nation-states. These theories are perhaps able to explain the complex relationships which are established between Western liberal economies, but are hopelessly useless when they have to deal with peripheral or semi-peripheral countries whose national economies are not yet fully integrated into the global system. To put it differently, they may eventually explain the actual international position and the dominant role of the U.S. and describe the nature of its relationship with major Western partners and allies, and even with such small countries as Luxembourg or Singapore; however, the voices become elusive and conspicuously silent the moment they have to define the new role of Second and Third World countries in the emerging international liberal order (or disorder). They are written from the perspective of American hegemony and directly or indirectly justify this hegemony, ignoring the other side of the same international equation. What is the position and role of countries such as Yugoslavia (Serbia/Montenegro), Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina? Is the latter an independent country or a mandated territory of the UN/NATO and how much is the Milosevic government really an independent international actor? All three of them are clearly dependent on the wills and whims of the ‘international community’ and, as we have seen in Dayton and later in Rambouillet, they behaved, at least in this phase of the conflict resolution process, like classical client-states. Even Russia itself, which was given a decorative role in the international Contact Group for former Yugoslavia, had no other alternative than to acquiesce to the decisions of others.

The same description may be applied to the Soviet successor states in Transcaucasia and Central Asia, as well as to the states included in the laboratory of the Middle East and North Africa. What is, for instance, the maneuvering space left to ‘rogue states’ such as Iraq or Libya?

Trying to answer such questions and not finding more adequate concepts, I re-introduced the old term of ‘client-states’, meaning that the international autonomy of most of these countries is objectively limited and that they are forced to behave in the international arena, at least when it comes to options which have a wider geopolitical significance, as ‘clients’ to powerful ‘patrons’. Nevertheless, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Gaddafi’s Lybia, to mention only these three, are in the same time ‘asymmetrical’ (Cohen, 1984). Indeed, they do not abide by norms of civilized behavior, both internationally and internally. They have two dimensions: externally, they are weak and vulnerable; internally and towards their own subjects, they are repressive and ‘strong’ in spite of the weak level of social legitimacy of their respective governments. Nevertheless, such typical asymmetrical and rogue states are often compelled to play international roles which fit into regional ‘grand scenarios’ written by more powerful external actors. Indeed, the wars waged by rump-Yugoslavia in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and recently in Kosovo, provided the American administration with the opportunity to reassert its leading position in post-Cold War European affairs, to redefine the role of NATO and proceed with its eastward expansion. The cooptation of new members into the European Union has additionally postponed the project of European unification well into the next century.

Similarly, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait provided the United States with the opportunity to impose itself as the only power-broker in the Middle East and to unilaterally decide which one of the local states to contain or promote into pivots. According to Robert Chase and collaborators (1996: 33-51), besides Israel, Turkey and Egypt play such pivotal roles in Washington’s post-cold war Middle Eastern strategy. Such states are allowed a larger maneuvering space within the region in which they are situated because of their unique geopolitical location and specific weight. Unlike ordinary clients, they are not compelled to support fully all the moves of U.S. foreign policy. They are allowed a certain degree of tactical autonomy in the overall interest of U.S. regional strategy. They are asymmetrical pivots, enjoying a special relationship with Washington which tolerates their occasional escapades. In that sense, they are in a much better position than asymmetrical client-states described previously.


Two inter-linked levels of conceptualization of this framework are particularly important: the first is primarily related to internal economic and technological developments, modernization; the second belongs more properly to the political economy of contemporary international relations.

Some Navigational Tools

Although other variables play important roles, the level of modernization of each country is essentially the outcome of the maturing of its productive forces (PF). These are composed of two elements: (1) the subjective one, consisting of human labor, skills, knowledge, innovation, working habits and organization; (2) the material component, consisting of available tools, machinery, physical and chemical ingredients, of the processed raw materials. The performances of the hardware, tools and machinery depend, of course, on the subjective factor, while scientific and technological know-how, which is also the product of human labor, is a basic indicator of the technological age achieved by a given community/society. The last time-sequence of modernization corresponds to the capitalist stage of development on the world scale, and consists of the transition to industry and the emergence of the modern nation-state. This sequence can be divided into three stages. Each one of the consecutive stages of modernization is characterized by a specific level of development of domestic PF, by the related social structure of accumulation (SSA), by a specific articulation of modes of production established both at the domestic level, and in-between the domestic and international levels.

Important for the framework adopted in this analysis is the concept of SSA as elaborated by Gordon (1978 and 1980), and Gordon, Edwards and Reich (1982), who insist on the crucial role of institutions which hold together a system. A system, as Maurice Godelier (1978: 56) underlined back in the 1960s, is a group of structures inter-linked by certain rules both at the domestic and international levels. Rules are “… explicit principles whereby all elements of a system are combined and related, the norms intentionally created and applied in order to ‘organize’ social life.” My addition to Gordon and his collaborators is that structures are made up of institutions and that these institutions are not only economic but also political, social and cultural. Furthermore, they must be adapted or they have to adapt themselves constantly to changes and innovations. In spite of cyclical and other crises, capitalism has up to now certainly demonstrated a high level of adaptability to new circumstances. State-command economies have not.

As already mentioned, overlapping with the transition from agrarian communities to mass industrial society is the process of transition from natural (use-value) to market (commodity) economies. True, different agrarian communities exchanged commodities since the time they were able to produce a surplus above the minimum necessary for their simple reproduction. Since that time, marketplaces have existed. Initially occasional and very modest, they gradually expanded, gaining in importance, including into their orbit more and more people, social groups and communities. In spite of this gradual generalization of commodity production, agrarian communities continued to produce use-values not only for their simple but also for their expanded reproduction. They were, nevertheless, adversely affected. In many developing countries the massive switch to cash crop production resulted in acute shortages of food stuffs and has had dramatic, even tragic, social effects. It destroyed many previously self-sufficient communities as illustrated by the example of some hunting/gathering communities in Africa which are presently directly threatened by commercial poaching. Although not completely eliminated as a survival strategy, the natural economy was increasingly displaced by commodity production and it seems that it is an irreversible process. However, peasant communities have had the tendency to retreat into subsistence agriculture and informal economic patterns when threatened with serious disruption.

Thwarted Modernization

The stage of modernization was introduced to Europe by the formally independent nation state; and in most of the underdeveloped periphery by the colonial state. It had to solve a number of specific problems linked to the initial accumulation of capital, such as: the establishment of a modern bureaucracy and state, the consolidation of individual property; the introduction of standard laws and institutions, the standardization of the population, and the monetization of the economy. In many independent countries, land reform was introduced during this stage of development. This stage was not usually associated with civil liberties or labor protection.

A number of problems continue to burden most of today’s underdeveloped countries which entered the stage of modernization: the inefficiency of the state and non-consolidated institutions of the legal system; a non-standardized population; a non-integrated domestic market (while their export sector is well integrated into the international division of labor); the constant reproduction of natural economy (subsistence production) and a significant proportion of petty-commodity (non-industrial) production; initial industrial development which cannot cope with the demographic explosion; the worsening of conditions in the traditional sector of agriculture in which the majority of the population is involved (the land to labor ratio); importance of the informal economy.

All this reproduces distorted development whose main characteristics are: uneven development of different production sectors; a perverted class pyramid with extreme social polarization; non-consolidated institutions of the modern nation-state; a civil society that opposes the modernizing state. Distorted development itself became the main obstacle for the smooth transition to a higher stage of modernization.

The second stage of modernization is a higher stage of development through which most highly industrialized countries have passed. This stage was initially associated with the protectionist state and was the direct outcome of state-promoted mercantilist policies whose main goal was to assure the growth of domestic PF and to lay down the basis for accelerated industrialization. Mercantilism was the dominant economic doctrine of 19th century continental Europe. During the depression of the 1930s, it took the form of import-substitution industrialization. The state-command economy that was introduced in the USSR in 1929 was one of the variations of this model of development from above which was copied after the Second World War by all communist-controlled states. Another variation was the Kemalist model of development from above which was introduced in Turkey at the same time and which was later copied by nationalist/populist governments that issued from the process of decolonization. Both of them were authoritarian, directly suppressed civil society, and curtailed civic and political rights. In their essence, whatever was their ideological rationalization, they were economically autocratic, guided by the idea that economic self-sufficiency and self-reliance were the pre-conditions for true national independence and prosperity. They used state power in order to promote accelerated modernization or what is called self-centered development based on industrialization. Nevertheless, not a single one of these models of development from above succeeded in delinking from the emerging global (capitalist) system. The so-called world socialist system promoted in the USSR, East South Europe or China never became a feasible alternative; rather, it remained an underdeveloped appendix to the existing global system.

Paradoxically perhaps, Leninism-Stalinism and similar models laid down the basis for capitalist development, not for socialism. Indeed, it seems that there is no such a thing as a socialist path to socialism (Leftwitch, 1995). There is also no way to promote the quantitative and qualitative growth of productive forces of any contemporary society by circumventing industrialization. Industrialization is inseparable from technological innovation (see the second part of this section). Each innovation in its turn creates problems of adaptation of the SSA.

Meanwhile, core countries of the existing world system had reached the third stage of modernization which corresponds to the age of electronics, information technologies, biotechnology and is associated with transnational capital. In fact, national markets, even of large industrial countries, including the United States, became too narrow for their productive forces which have now reached such a level of technological development and such outputs that new investments require global market outlets. Already in 1985, business strategist Kenichi Ohmae (1985) argued that the accelerating tempo of technological change meant that the largest corporations now needed to have access to markets of 600 million or more people in order to survive. Thus, they had to break the fences of closed national markets and begin to operate on a global scale by going transnational. They found out, however, that protectionist policies of a number of states, still struggling with stage two modernization, were blocking their globalization. Nevertheless, they were to a large extent successful and now the ongoing globalization is affecting all the countries irrespective of their level of modernization.

I am aware of the academic debate surrounding such vague concepts elaborated originally as complex interdependence (Keohane & Nye, 1977: 24-29) and translated more recently as globalization (for a comprehensive review of the debate see Jones, 1995). The first elaboration, obviously written from the point of view of US economic and military supremacy, is little concerned with the fact that most of the weaker economies and countries are clearly in a position, not only of dependence but of outright submission (recall dependency theories). The more neutral term of globalization, which originated from the same perspective, seems more acceptable because it does not a priori exclude negative implications. Rejecting for my part the holistic interpretation of the term, I had, nevertheless, no alternative but to use it, defining it as the multiplicity of linkages and interconnections between states, economies, polities, societies and cultures which make up the modern world framework, but it is a historically evolved, permanently constructed/reconstructed and dialectical process which gained a new momentum only more recently in association with the third stage of modernization.

Globalization proceeds unevenly, productive sector by sector, and not country by country. Different geographical zones, clusters of countries, individual countries and regions are drawn into the orbit of modernization in different stages and in different ways, at different times and paces. Each one of them occupies a specific moving position on the imaginary overall scale of modernization. Or, to say the same thing differently – the articulation which is established between the dominant mode of production (capitalist matrix related to the third stage of modernization) and the subservient ones (related to earlier stages of modernization) is in constant evolution and may vary, both regionally from country to country and across economic sectors. The inclusion of a specific country into the orbit of modernization at its first stage (colonial conquest for example) was usually a dramatic political and social process for the native population (resistance to pacification and the related destruction or subjugation of the traditional economy and way of life). Similarly, the advent of modernization’s second stage world-wide, as well as the related readjustment of the relationships between the core and periphery, has been marked by major social disturbances and political upheavals (world wars, anti-colonial revolutions, civil wars, putsches).

In Eastern European countries and in the Soviet Union, where the modernization process was always one or two steps behind the industrialized West, the internal transition from the first to the second stage of modernization, which is always painful, was more recently affected by global trends linked to the third stage of modernization. We know the result: the state-command system which internally more or less efficiently managed the process of stage one modernization proved incapable of adapting itself further due to the lack of dynamism, general rigidity and impotence of its ruling nomenklatura. It proved unable to build up a new and adequate SSA which would contain qualitatively buttressed productive forces that already corresponded to stage three modernization. It collapsed, opening the way to anti- and post-communist counter-elites who promised a utopian capitalist future which they are, for the time-being, unable to deliver.

Dealing in such a way with the transition from agrarian to industrial society, I intended to avoid world system simplification which represents another abstraction because the world capitalist system is not a comprehensive and homogeneous whole as these theories purport. As the recent economic crisis in Asia and Russia has shown, mechanisms of unequal exchange between core, semi-periphery and periphery do not operate as automatically through self-regulating markets as it was often presented. The actual global system is subdivided into imperfectly connected sub-systems and into productive sub-sectors whose mutual relations evolve with the development of new productive forces. Some subsystems, also called international regimes, function better than others and are maintained by international treaties and institutions, supported, of course, with the economic leverage of industrially advanced countries and by transnational capital.

The ‘to be or not to be’ question for peripheral countries today is not ‘how to break the bonds with the world capitalist system’ or to de-link, which proved to be an inoperative strategy, but rather ‘how to insert themselves as advantageously as possible into the existing international division of labor’. However, the countries which have not succeeded to advance past the first stage of modernization and to create a favorable environment for the growth of their domestic productive forces (including a technological basis) have no chance. They will be subjected to the process of globalization but on discriminatory terms that are likely to reproduce the development of underdevelopment (Frank, 1960). In short, I argue that most of the Third World countries are today either unable to solve the problems of the first stage of modernization or trapped in the process of transition from the first stage to the second. That, for the time being, is also the case of ex-communist countries.

Technological Ages and Innovation

The first stage of modernization was announced by the introduction of machines. Their subsequent rapid proliferation soon began to undermine not only the mode of production of traditional agrarian communities but also to erode their social tissue. The machine is more than a complex tool invented by man because it carries out certain tasks that living labor cannot perform. Besides, the machine can produce other machines. Their introduction marked the beginning of mass production displacing petty commodity production, as well as unskilled and artisan labor. It had however, less success in displacing the subsistence and informal economies which both found their niches as survival strategies of the poor. Once human know-how/labor invested into the machine has been paid back (constant capital), the machine continues to produce gratuitously new values, although, quite paradoxically, the prices of its products are not always decreasing. This surplus output of the machine has not only presented its owner with opportunities for earning additional profit but has depreciated human labor exerting a continuous pressure on wages. The owner of the machine thus gained an unprecedented leverage over the whole process of production and over manpower. On the other hand, the owner of the technological know-how that has produced the machine gained a powerful pressure tool against those who import and use such a machine; i.e., against technologically less developed countries. Almost all technological innovations originated from and are still monopolized by the corporations of highly industrialized countries.

Physical and skilled workers alike became appendixes of the machine, some kind of extension that could be replaced as any other spare part. With the spread of industrialization gradually emerged a mass and anonymous industrial society in which standardized workers/individuals, previously personalities in their own right, with their own social statuses and roles, became part of the amorphous mass. As Marx remarked, this anonymous and replaceable individual became alienated from his work and from such a society. Alienation creates social frustrations. At the same time, technology gained its own momentum directly dictating the organization of work and tempo of production, the size of the market, as well as shaping social relations. This is important when speaking of technological ages (Chirot, 1991), because each one of the levels of technological development requires a re-arrangement of the pre-existing SSA.

Shifts in the composition of the labor force, usually concomitant with technological progress, may become major sources of new social tensions. If these shifts correspond more or less to the ethnic stratification of society, i.e. if certain ethnic groups are over-represented in one category or another, then such disparities may generate conflict. The emphasis on rationality and productivity inevitably leads to the introduction of wage-incentives, rewarding skilled manpower (managers, engineers, specialists and technicians), provoking on the other side an egalitarian reaction of less favored labor groups, which attempt to block technological modernization and economic reforms. All over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the share of manual labor in the final product has dramatically dwindled in the 1980s, creating new disparities within the working class itself, sharpening cleavages between blue and white collar workers.

Chirot’s (1991) periodogram of technological ages may offer an idea concerning the quality and the level of technological development reached by individual countries. He distinguished: (1) the initial age of cotton-textile industries of the Manchester type that ran roughly between the 1780s and 1830s opening the way to (2) the age of rail and iron somewhere between 1840 and 1870; then came (3) the age of steel exemplified by the Pittsburgh type of industrialization running between the 1870s and the First World war opening in its turn the way to (4) the age of automobile and petrochemicals roughly between 1910 and the 1970s which no import-substitution model of development or planned economy succeeded to master fully; (5) finally, while the West and Japan were already well into the age of electronics/information technologies/biotechnology which was initiated somewhere in the 1970s, state-command and import-substitution economies were still struggling with social and political problems created by the social structure of accumulation related to the Pittsburgh type of industrialization that Chirot described as the “. . . most impressive rust belt in the world” (Chirot, 1991: 6).

Scientific activities and technological research in less developed countries tend to be a form of consumption rather than investment and the reasons for this lie in their dependence on external sources of know-how and technology, as well as in the structure of underdevelopment itself. Many less developed countries only recently acquired through transfer the technology corresponding to the age of cotton-textile, and are unable for the time-being to produce iron and steel or are making only the first steps in that direction.

Second World countries successfully attained the technological age of steel. By various indices of economic production, human capital or social welfare, several East European countries narrowed the gap or even overtook some Western European countries. Some of them even made significant steps into the age of petrochemicals (but not automobile), but that was the threshold they could not trespass without adapting their SSA both domestically and internationally. Trying to explain what went wrong in the economies of these countries, Eric Hobsbawm (1991: 19-20) asserted that they could have survived if these economies were insulated from the rest of the world which was not the case and added that they “. . . were completely incapable of developing the equivalent of the information society.”

Chirot’s periodogram is, however, only an abstract model. Certain highly developed countries were practically able to avoid the building of the technological infrastructure for the production of certain industrial commodities. Switzerland’s corporations, for example, never bothered to build up a relevant automobile industry, but they had the know-how for such a technology. Similarly, there is today an exclusive club of countries that have mastered nuclear technology, yet some of them have no intention of building a nuclear bomb. Possessing the nuclear or even cosmic technology, as the Soviet case clearly indicates, is not in itself a sufficient condition for access to the third stage of modernization. Rather, general technological maturity, more evenly distributed among different domestic industrial sectors, seems to be one of the crucial pre-conditions for such a promotion.

Political Fragmentation and the Agenda for Economic Integration

The shaping of segregated ethnic communities, i.e. the emergence of ethno-states in the Yugoslav and Caucasian space, was certainly a redefining response to internal and external economic pressures of modernization. It also represented a response to the pressures of productive forces that were bolstered by the modernizing state. The modest absorption capacity of internal administrative markets limited in the same time industrial output (quantity), while the rigidity of state-regulations did not permit technological innovation and the shift to new products (quality). It is quite natural then that the horizontally increased output of the same range of products puts on the political agenda the opening up of previously closed economies to trans-border trade. In other words, as in any modern economy, overproduction without innovation became a fetter. However, the products offered to external purchasers had to satisfy required quality-standards at competitive prices, which was not the case with most manufactured goods produced in the European East or in the USSR (except for the Soviet or Czechoslovak military hardware). As the market principle eroded state-command economies, both from inside and outside, and the old system of state-redistribution was collapsing, generating new social differentiation and new conflict of interests in the process, it became important to redefine the role both of the state and of its SSA. The systemic blockade quite naturally put on the political agenda the formation of smaller state-entities which would allow the reorganization of the society’s productive forces and of its SSA, and of the re-distributive function of the state, satisfying in the same time the power-ambitions and material appetites of new nationalist elites. Expansionist global markets associated with the third stage of modernization at the world scale accelerated the process of internal disintegration.

Global economic processes proceed gradually, sector by sector and country by country. Because their capacity of absorption is still relatively limited they are predisposed to handle smaller and weaker productive units (state entities). Thus, political fragmentation on one side became the precondition for the integration of markets on the other side. Both are parts of the same contemporary global mosaic. Or, to put it simply, the political fragmentation of the European East and of the Middle East is only the other facet of the uneven and convulsed process of (West) European integration. Or, to put it still differently, the resurgence of ethno-national identities on one side is correlated with the construction of a European supra-national identity on the other side. However, Western Europe itself is not immune to a special kind of fragmentation. The very term Europe of regions is self-explanatory: as the process of supranational European integration is gaining momentum – different regional, sub-national identities assert themselves, perhaps with more vigor than previously. In the same time, it seems that today’s Second and Third World states are reduced to flexible productive units, which may be decomposed and recomposed according to the economic necessities of global markets. The decomposition of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia seem to confirm this thesis.

It also seems that there are time-sequences when global economic processes require the establishment of larger territorial states (for example the constitution of the Ottoman or of the Habsburg states, or the unification of Germany and Italy in the 19th century), followed by periods of political fragmentation (the emergence of nation-states all over Eastern Europe between 1830 and 1918-23), followed by political and economic standardization of larger clusters of countries (the Cold-War division of Europe into two antagonistic power-blocs), replaced again with political fragmentation (Eastern Europe and the Soviet space after the collapse of Communism). The idea is that these remodeled state-entities will fit better into the readjusted international division of labor, which is of course characterized by inequalities. The present inequalities are not only the consequence of self-regulating market mechanisms of unequal exchange or of the accumulation of capital at the world scale, but also of the post-Cold War configuration of forces dominated by the United States.

Globalizing processes which are intentional and therefore more or less rational human projects prefer to handle clusters of countries and not single freelance state-units, although few asymmetrical states are tolerated for special geopolitical reasons (Ivekovic, 1998). The integration of the former German Democratic Republic into the Bundesrepublik was unique and so extravagantly costly that it is not likely to be repeated in the foreseeable future. Fragmentation also should be organized, because it is impossible to invent a specific, separate model of integration for each country. Therefore the economic systems of these countries should be standardized first, which is done through international financial institutions and their structural adjustment programs, and through regional economic-cooperation projects. One such regional project in the fragmented Eastern European space is the already mentioned Vishegrad Group which evolved into the Central European Free-Trade Association (CEFTA). These countries form today the cordon sanitaire bordering the European Union, from which the first candidates for integration into the EU and NATO had been selected.

In January 1997, the Clinton administration launched the Southern Eastern Cooperation Initiative (SECI) which covers the Balkan region whose aim is to promote economic cooperation among twelve countries: Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, the FR of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova. All these countries, except Croatia, whose authorities fear the renewal of Yugoslavia, accepted the initiative. Perhaps more important, the Americans succeeded in convincing the Western Europeans that Washington’s initiative is, in fact, complementary with future EU projects in the European East. The idea is to facilitate within this cluster of countries trade exchange and human communication, develop a common infrastructure (roads, railways connections, pipe-lines) and standardize customs tariffs and trade legislation, which could lead in the future to the establishment of another free trade zone in southeastern Europe and neutralize potential sources of conflict. The fact that Turkey is included in the SECI illustrates American concerns with the pivotal geopolitical position of this country as a continental link between Europe and the Middle East.

The idea behind the future Middle Eastern and North African Market (MENA), also promoted by the US and EU, is the same. The economies of the countries located in the Eastern Mediterranean have to be gradually standardized, which for the time being seems an impossible task. However, if the ruling elites of the countries situated in this regional laboratory want to promote domestic development, they will have sooner or later, in spite of present political animosities, to find a common ground for regional cooperation linked to global economic processes.

The agenda in front of Transcaucasia and Central Asia is similar. This regional laboratory is part of the new Russian Near Abroad which is presently fragmented into a number of vulnerable small state-entities, nominally independent nation-states, in dispute with each other and torn by internal contradictions or break-away movements. The Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), ultimately joined not only by Armenia but by Azerbaijan and Georgia as well, did not succeed to become the structure that would integrate economically, politically or militarily the former Soviet political space. It serves for the time-being only to mask Russian hegemonic projects in the Near Abroad. The problem is that the Russian Federation itself is economically shattered and politically fragmented. Although Russia remains a regional power, it has been downgraded to the rank of a Third World country (Petras and Vieux, 1995). Its productive forces will need quite a time to regenerate on a new basis and to reach once again the level of second stage modernization. If this happens in the future, it can be only in association with global capital markets, not in opposition to them. The Chinese 20-year long experiment with capitalism seems to confirm such a scenario. A radically restructured and re-invigorated economy of Russia along market principles may indeed become a formidable force of regional economic and then political integration but in an uncertain future.

It seems that the above described Balkanization of the European periphery is an integral part of the dialectical process of global integration/fragmentation. To put it simply, the fragmentation of the European periphery is the other face of the process of Western European integration. If that is the case, then even the apparently irrational destruction of the economic infrastructure and human capital both in the Yugoslav and Transcaucasian spaces has a kind of external rationale. Smaller and weaker state-units, all of them on the waiting list for integration (into EU, WEU and NATO), are likely to be swallowed-up more easily by the global system than larger and more complex states. If that is so, then the ethnonational exclusiveness (economic nationalism) and the bazaar mentality of peripheral elites (whose members are recruited from the bureaucratic petty bourgeoisie or the former communist nomenklatura) may prove to be major obstacles for the integration of these peripheral countries into the mass industrial society of the 21st century. The logic of segregated ethnic development directly contradicts globalization processes.


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Ivan Ivekovic is Professor of Political Science, the American University in Cairo.

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