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2022, vol. 56, br. 2, str. 658-679
Društvena i ekonomska kriza kroz prizmu Kondratijevljeve teorije dugih talasa
Univerzitet u Banjoj Luci, Fakultet političkih nauka, Republika Srpska, BiH
Ključne reči: Kondratijevljevi dugi talasi; tehnološka paradigma; Svetski sistem; geokultura; kriza
Razmere savremene ekonomske krize srušile su teorije o linearnom i samoregulativnom tržištu. Ispostavilo se da je "nevidljiva ruka" Adama Smita najobičniji mit u službi održavanja monopola. U potrazi za alternativnim tumačenjima, odlučujemo da predmet rada bude sagledavanje razmera svetske krize i reakcija velikih sila iz ugla Kondratijevljeve teorije dugih talasa. Na početku, izlažemo osnovne teorijske postavke, dopunjene savremenim sociološkim tumačenjima. Zatim, izdvajamo društveno-tehnološke faktore od presudnog uticaja na smenu dugih talasa. Na kraju, skiciramo odnos snaga između velikih sila i njihove buduće geokulturne strategije. Rad ima za cilj da pronikne u mehanizam zakonomernih kriza i ukaže na neophodnost primene teorije dugih talasa pri izradi strateških dokumenata na najvišem nivou.


World economy has been in a state of systemic crisis ever since the financial bubble burst in 2008. Not only did the sudden COVID-19 pandemic deepen the existing crisis but it also gave the ruling economic elites an excuse for strategic mistakes they had made in the past (Katić, 2020). Meanwhile, the burden of responsibility to the largest extent was borne by an average citizen, whereas financial speculation was in full swing. An ever more growing disproportion between the rich and the poor, going hand in hand with the inability of political agents and institutions to channel popular dissatisfaction, has forced the middle class, which was led to the brink of bare existence, to claim their basic rights through out-of-institutional activity, at the same time without excluding the option of a civil war and a new revolution. If we add global challenges to the economic and political turbulence, such as a shortage of natural resources, climate change, wars accompanied by national and religious intolerance, it becomes clear why an increasing number of people doubt the progressive future of mankind. The situation induced by the COVID-19 pandemic metaphorically symbolises the tip of the iceberg which threatens to break off any minute now and take with it all the flotsam and jetsam accumulated on the slopes of world civilisation. The impression we get is that mankind is at a critical moment - a point of bifurcation which at the same time gives the opportunity of a clean slate but also threatens to plunge back in the “compromised past”. Which of the two options is more realistic, whether there is room for optimism – these are only few of the questions we will try to answer by applying the methodology of famous Russian economist Nikolai Kondratiev, who was active in the early twentieth century.

An overview of the long-wave theory

We are witness to classic theories of economic development, which are based on continuous and linear progress, with the odd financial intervention of the “regulatory authorities”, not reflecting socio-economic reality. Mainstream theories do not possess capacities to deal with the phenomenon of structurally conditioned economic crises. Hence, a need arises for alternative theories, which perceive economic development as intermittent alternations of periods of growth and recession. Kondratiev waves specifically belong to this type of theories. The waves are based on the sinusoidal curve graph model whereby economic development is shown in the form of oscillations, similar to heartbeat or any other organic matter.

Kondratiev cycles are called “long” because, compared to those of Joseph Kitchin (3 to 7 years) and Clément Juglar (7 to 11 years), they are half a century long. Kondratiev sees them as “waves” because they are just not determined mechanical processes, but also complex oscillations within the biosphere which, among other things, depend on socio-cultural, anthropological, and even cosmic factors. What all long waves have in common is that they consist of two phases. The first phase, so called Phase A, denotes expansion. Its beginning is marked by gradual inclusion of new technologies in economic flows, by opening new jobs, labour retraining, kickstarting more efficient production and, consequently, directing capital at the actual production. The second phase, so called Phase B, is a period of “saturated market” and maximum performance of innovative technologies from the preceding phase. This phase brings along crises, wars, reduced production output, financial machinations in the market and unemployment. Until now, five Kondratiev waves have been recorded. A precise demarcation has not been aligned, but there is a general agreement about it (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 Шематски приказ дугих таласa / A graph of long waves of innovation

Извор: самостално / Source: author’s own source

Positive dynamics is reflected in this Chart and denoted as Phase A. Following the pinnacle of success, economy gradually dwindles into depression, i.e., the decreasing Phase B. The main trigger for the commencement of a new wave of innovation is the event called “techno-economic paradigm”. A new, energy-efficient, technologically more modern industry with expanded capacities and possibilities comes in the place of the old industry (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 Смена технолошких парадигми савременог економског развоја / Change of techno-economic paradigms of modern economic development

Избор: / Selected by: (Glazyev, 2012)

The commencement of a new wave of innovation is a “turning point” marked by a moment when the scope of the new techno-economic paradigm in world scale prevails over the negative impact of the previous one. It is at this point in time that speculation in the financial market is replaced by a balanced relationship between an individual and the community, through regulation passed by competent institutions, a drop in the prices of energy resources and adjustments of all other sectors to this new economic reality (Glazyev, 2012).

New inventions and technological innovation are potentially present at all times, in all places: universities, institutes, small and medium enterprises. Nevertheless, socio-cultural circumstances cannot automatically adapt to the new ideas. The true reason for this is that the state system is susceptible to inertia, this being proportionate with how well-organised it is. Forming a new techno-economic paradigm is not an autonomous process. It evolves in interaction with ideological, political and social conflicts in society. Where socio-cultural circumstances have matured enough for technological innovation to be applied, this is where we can expect a “turning point”. Pérez wrote about the impact of socio-cultural circumstances on the change of techno-economic paradigm (Pérez, 2011, p. 50): “revolutionary transformation is part of the nature of capitalism, and they entail a strong interdependence between economy and social institutes as well as their radical change”.

Long waves of innovation have their territorial dimension within which the described temporal laws manifest themselves. Geographic discoveries and capitalist expansion have resisted distant determinism. Uncharted parts of the world are a thing of the past, what comes next is the universe. Meanwhile, world economy has created a complete socio-political system, the so-called World-System, which may be defined as “the entirety of sociums which are either directly or indirectly interconnected and at the same time isolated from any outside contact which could affect their relationships” (Grinin & Korotaev, 2008, p. 22).

A predominant structure of the existing World-System in Wallerstein (2005) is a hierarchy based on the monopoly of the most modern types of production. As a consequence, there is an infinite concentration of capital in the hands of individuals who, of their own volition, similarly to the social contract theory, form powerful economic and political centres of the World-System. These centres tacitly maintain a cartel of sensitive technologies, with the purpose of subduing periphery countries. In doing so, what they get help from, in addition to technological supremacy, is a special geoculture - “the cultural framework within which the World-System operates” (Wallerstein, 1991, p. 11). This term is largely similar to Antonio Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony”, according to which no political-economic system is capable of surviving without the subdued people being convinced that the order in question is correct. The World-System is Western-centric, not only because of the technological monopoly, but also due to the norms established solely on the basis of European standards: capitalism, ideology of liberalism, the French Revolution (Wallerstein, 2004).

The periphery, although it accepts predominant geoculture, is resigned to a subdued position; it is left to the illusion of a free flow of goods and capital; it is forced to export natural resources and import screwdriver technologies (Wallerstein, 2005). The same author refuses to accept the prevailing opinion that the expansion of capitalism contributes to a reaffirmation of the free market and instead accepts the thesis that capitalism is an anti-market concept which intensifies social inequality. There is no competition in the World-System. Instead, it is just about a rat race in pursuit of the monopoly. Geopolitical turbulence such as the breakup of the USSR, WWI and WWII represent a manifestation of this rat race, or struggle. In a game in which everything is fair, the centre goes out of its way to maintain its privileges, while the periphery struggles to keep its place under the sun. Finally, every monopoly is ousted, quite frequently with the use of the same methods that put it in place to begin with.

Success of certain countries primarily depends on their ability to adapt to these laws and only after this, it depends on internal socio-cultural circumstances. In other words, a prerequisite for national prosperity is to grasp properly one’s own positions within the centre-periphery structure, however without losing sight of the dynamic economic laws. This means that under certain circumstances, a voluntarily reduction of the national sovereignty may have positive effects (Savanović, 2014). From the methodological point of view, not only do long waves serve to predict economic crises but they also have an impact on the relationships between the centre and the periphery, which then “flows over” into the relationships between major powers.

Long wave transition

Whenever a new wave of innovation commences, specific social and technological factors are set in motion. In this section, we will try to point out the most significant factors that are characteristic solely of the Kondratiev sixth wave of innovation.

Global warming

Modern transition period is primarily marked by environmental challenges. A widely accepted opinion in the academic community is that if we continue to walk the red line (we will not limit ourselves to global warming of the planet of 2°С by the end of the century), the consequences of climate change will be all-encompassing, and losses will be difficult to predict (Yekukin, 2020). The most important thing of all is that walking the red trajectory irreversibly depletes and destroys the biosphere. A missed opportunity to integrate green technologies in the previous techno-economic paradigm was a dearly paid mistake that should never happen again. The breakup of the USSR and privatisation of Soviet oil sources in the early 1990s extended the unimpeded dominance of transnational energy companies and disregarded the environmental red flags.

Today, investment in the environment proportionately mitigates future safety risks. Unfortunately, collective action at the highest level is unmistakably lacking. From the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015 until 2019, gas emissions globally grew from 50 to 55 billion tons (Harvey, 2020). As it turns out, the interests of major capital and “all-out war” are more important than long-term interests of humankind. Rather than eliminating the predominant dirty industries, the focus was placed on reshaping consumer mentality of an average citizen through lockdowns, closed borders, prohibition of gathering and other methods of “social dressage”. It later transpired that movement restrictions resulted in the highest decrease in annual CO2 carbon emissions ever. Just several months of a global lockdown were enough for the biosphere to launch the process of regeneration. Consequently, there have been initiatives by some scientists who insisted that studies into the effects of short-term lockdowns, as an alternative for the pollution reduction measure, should be conducted (Khan, Shah, Shah, 2021). After such conclusions, it is clear that the epidemiological situation is not the sole factor due to which movement restrictions are imposed.

Lockdown, as a form of collective shock therapy, is unsustainable in the long run. Consumer habits of the population that have been acquired for years may only be altered gradually, with a combination of new technologies and consumers’ awareness, and by no means through coercion by the state. To this end, renewable and clean sources of energy must be incentivised, whereas taxes should be successively imposed on entities that emit CO2 and their lobbyists should be sanctioned. The basic criterion for ranking successful economies should be the level of presence of green technologies, whereas failure to comply with defined environmental standards should constitute a cause for the introduction of sanctions. Passing one such universal law is only a matter of time because the new Kondratiev wave of innovation has made “green” technologies surface whereas “dirty” technologies are sinking. Until then, monopolists in the form of transnational gas and oil companies, which hold in the key levers of power, will do whatever they can to prevent that this scenario is realised.

Cyber revolution

The most striking feature of the Kondratiev sixth wave of innovation is an overlapping of techno-economic paradigm with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which the founder of the World Economic Forum in Davos defines as “the convergence of various technologies and blurring the boundary between the physical, digital, and biological realities” (Schwab, 2016). Russian scientists Grinin and Grinin (2016, p. 43) observe this phenomenon through the prism of cyber revolution, “the most substantial technological transformation from the industrial principle of production to production and services, which are based on the operation of self-regulating systems.”

Thanks to a symbiosis of digital technologies and increasingly complex algorithms, we are rapidly approaching the process of mass automation. Airplanes largely fly on their own, the artificial heart keeps man alive, programmes autonomously execute financial transactions, while 3D printers “develop” residential buildings. The introduction of a 5G mobile network will accelerate data transfers and as a result further promote this tendency. Cyber revolution achieves its greatest potentials in the fields such as biology, genetics, and physiognomy. Medical services will become the main focus of the cyber age, by way of analogy with textile industry at the time of the First Industrial Revolution and the invention of the steam engine. Consequently, life expectancy will be longer (see Figure 3), reproduction of human organs will be unlimited, but at the same time we will witness gradual disappearance of differences between humanoid robots and genetically modified man.

Figure 3 Раст броја становника старијих од 80 година у свету / Increase in the number of citizens over the age of 80 in the world

Извор/Source: (Grinin & Grinin, 2016)

Unthinkable possibilities will open for man, which will allow him to manage natural, social and production processes. At the same time, socio-social processes will decreasingly depend on the will of individual persons. Instead, they will increasingly depend on management systems controlled by artificial intelligence. The downside of this is that an automation of human functions makes room for abuse, surveillance, and control for which the excuse will be a more efficient optimisation. The upside is that mobile communications connect huge numbers of citizens, which keeps the critical mass on standby. For this reason, the application of new cyber laws requires a more transparent relationship between the citizens and authorities. For the time being, the swords are crossed outside institutions - in the streets, and the impression we get is that neither side is willing to compromise, believing that technologies of the future work in their favour. Political institutions on which the “free world” is built, such as democracy, privacy and freedom of speech look anachronous and contradictory in the cyber age. Carlita Pérez argues in her book (2011) that the technological revolution brings with it not just a change in production structures but also a change in the organisation of states, society even ideology and culture.

The collapse of liberal geoculture

For the first time in the history of the Western-centric World-System, the basis for a new technological paradigm has moved to the East, to the territory with a population of 1.3 billion. The traditional centres of power responded to the exponential growth of the Chinese economy with sanctions and termination of the free market. The reason for this lies in the inability of socio-cultural adaptation to the new technological-economic innovation cycle and an attempt to retain the monopoly at all costs. These new tendencies are best reflected in the business elites in Davos. They do not shy away from criticising the most important liberal thinker Milton Friedman and, in doing so, they even question the very neoliberal order. “Free-market fundamentalism has eroded worker rights and economic security, triggered a deregulatory race to the bottom and ruinous tax competition, and enabled the emergence of massive new global monopolies. Trade, taxation, and competition rules that reflect decades of neoliberal influence will now have to be revised” (Schwab, 2020).

Concurrently with the Western business elites turning to conservativism, nationalist movements are living a renaissance. If one just scratches the surface, the unequivocal conclusion is that populistic movements in the West, fighters against “deep state”, actually implement the political agenda which serves the interests of business elites. Political conservativism correlates with economic protectionism and isolationism. The populistic wave (Trump, Johnson) has been instrumentalised on the foreign front by rekindling the trade war and creating tensions in international relations, whereas at the local level, it strives to deal with socio-liberal forces (Sanders, Corbin). This outcome is something that both business elites and the academic community count on. In mid-1990s, in his now iconic book The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel Huntington defined the relationship between the West and the rest of the world, while in his book Who We Are he anticipated the polarisation of American society (Huntington, 2007).

The processes occurring within the Euro-Atlantic community are of a deeply reactionary nature and they are driven exclusively by Western-centric interests. Increasing military budgets of the European NATO countries during Donald Trump’s term of office did not aim to reconstruct liberal geoculture, as was declared. Instead, the aim was to retain monopoly over its debris. Such policies have a negative impact on living standards of average citizens and results in further erosion of liberal geoculture. Instead of sovereign national states, the most significant legacy of the French Revolution is the formation of civilisational blocs. The free market and the “invisible hand” are replaced by protectionism, isolationism and state reallocation. The ideology of liberalism, in its extreme form (gender policies, homosexuality, freedom of speech), is implemented not for the purpose of reconciliation but in order to encourage artificial divisions to advanced and backward civilisations (Brubaker, 2017).

The outcome of transition

The trend of deglobalisation is predominant in the West and is the exact opposite of what the case in the East is. A successful technological and political reform carried out by Beijing in the past few decades is directly connected with the integration in global trends. In order for this positive trend to continue, it is essentially in China’s interest for the markets to continue being free, with no bearing of politics. In his (2017) keynote speech in Davos, Xi Jinping reminded that “there was a time when China also had doubts about economic globalisation, but we came to the conclusion that integration into the global economy is a historical trend. Any attempt to cut off the flow of capital, technologies, and channel the waters in the ocean back into isolated lakes and creeks is simply not possible”. Despite declaratory commitment, Beijing stimulates the growth of global economy by investing in the major “Belt and Road” initiative”. The purpose of modernising transport routes is to reduce the cost of trade and connect continental markets of Eurasia. At this particular point in time, what is of significance to China is to maintain its image of a peace-loving country which is willing to compromise, in order to keep the gates of European markets and their partners open for as long as possible.

The strengthening of Chinese soft power is to a large extent far behind its economy. Due to strategic and political culture, which do not have anything in common with the West, Beijing is lacking efficient mechanisms to confront Cold-War tendencies. Whether we want it or not, Chinese dignitaries are forced to consciously walk into “Thucydides Trap”, which was set in their close proximity, and thus provoke a ready-made reaction of the opponents. Taking into account the fact that technological and financial interdependence from the early 21st century, symbolically called Chimerica (Ferguson & Schularick, 2007), de facto survives, a new bipolarism will essentially stand for a form of simulation at the highest decision-making level, with a view to maintaining the system. In such a scenario, commencement of the Kondratiev sixth wave of innovation will be marked by a formal fall of the iron curtain and introduction of an illegitimate state control by means of new cyber-management systems. Using the Cold War as an excuse, violation of the sovereignty of small countries will become more frequent. Ideology again embraces all spheres of social organisation, as a consequence causing permanent tension among wider masses. Instead of the technological revolution being made available to mankind, thus making ideological differences pointless, it will serve as a means of rekindling a new cold war.

Due to a negligible share of 3% in the world’s GDP, of which more than one half accounts for the exploitation of ores in the Cold-War scenario, Moscow is predestined to have the role of a periphery. Russia is in a similar situation as Yugoslavia was after the Second World War. It is reluctant to accept the embrace of “Big Brother” and it is far too proud to give up this segment of its sovereignty. Both then and now, the main foothold in overcoming the calculated Cold-War inertia is the mystical India. Moreover, both then and now, the counterweight of “realpolitik” of bloc alignment was the ideology of universalism and faith in a “conscience of mankind”. Nevertheless, former Yugoslavia was in a better position. Thanks to liberal geoculture in which trust was put, ideals and universalism were possible, and their making happen was a matter of agreement. Times have changed, while the former ideals and values have now faded. Increasingly stronger competition and the clash of civilisations have forced the West to turn to itself. Liberal geoculture has become a ballast of the past, the main culprit for present crises, which generated a ripe area for the Cold War and the bloody scenario.

The most important task of the new generation of politicians is to reinstate faith in a bright future of human community and in place of old culture align new geoculture with a broad international consensus. In this context, we suggest that the place of the French Revolution, as the main political symbol of previous geoculture, should be taken by the USSR’s victory in WWII. Both events represented a trigger for national awakening and start of a fight for freedom, fraternity and unity. In the former case, it was about a political transformation of continental Europe, abandoning absolutist methods of ruling and creating national states. In the latter case, it was about social transformation of the entire World-System, doing away with the colonial past and liberation movements taking power. Anticolonial struggle is closely connected with the outcome of WWII - it represents an extension of the struggle against European imperialism, which even after 1945 did not want to give up its colonial lands and the role of those who bring civilisation to third-world countries. Compared to the French Revolution, whose cultural range is limited solely to the North-western hemisphere, the results of WWII have incomparably larger geocultural potential.

Modern ideology of liberalism disappears in abstract norms and serves as a reason for new conflicts. In such conditions, historical examples outweigh the theoretic approach. The best example of liberalism in recent history, i.e., moment in which “general human values strived to become a priority with respect to class, national and corporate interests” (Gorbachev, 2021) was Perestroika, remaining to date - a voluntary form of democratisation of the world’s greatest power. Unfortunately, due to Western triumphalism, breakup of the USSR and later escalated tensions in American-Russian relations, the potentials of “new thinking” underlying Perestroika were left unutilised. Nevertheless, this historical moment remained fixed as a no-alternative track to building future relations not only between Europe and Russia but also among all other countries. The fact of the matter is that Perestroika represents a bridge that connects Western-centric and future polycentric geoculture. It reminds us that a future order cannot be built on the ruins of the previous one and that democracy, human liberties and collaboration with Europe are welcome. The question remains whether, after several centuries of “civilisation-bringing role” and its superiority complex, Europe will muster strength to build relations with its neighbours on a truly equal footing.

The core of Russia’s strategic culture is its attempt to harmonise historical contradictions. On the one hand, there is Stalinism: building an empire modelled on Genghis Khan, despotism, forming a strategic partnership with China. On the other hand, there is Perestroika: coming closer to the West, democratisation, and liberalisation. Two irreconcilable extremes, which manifested themselves within a space of a few decades, have coexisted for centuries in Russia’s strategic thinking, and they have gradually been merging into the idea of Great Eurasia: “A system in which various values, traditions and ideas coexist, enrich one another while at the same preserving their own specific characteristics and differences” (Putin, 2019). It is neither westernisation nor easternisation that would make mankind respond suitably to existential challenges. Instead, a unity of the West and the East, of the rational and the spiritual would, will accomplish this. In this regard, Eurasian geoculture is no antipode of Western one, it is the latter’s logical extension. The former set as its objective to expand the World-System to the utmost boundaries, whereas the latter’s objective is to create a unity in a multitude.

In the circumstances of Western protectionism and the Chinese version of socialism, Russia remains susceptible to different cultural influences and expanding economic collaboration with as many entities as possible. The Great Eurasian partnership is what once the Non-Aligned Movement used to be. These are two relatively complementary projects, with similar objectives and geostrategic prioritisation directed at the global south (Malešević, 2020). The factors such as openness to other economies, well-educated population, high immigration inflows, unlimited quantities of natural resources, political stability all acknowledge the fact that Russian socio-cultural basis readily awaits the techno-economic paradigm which is still to come. The strategic goal of Russia is that in a new Kondratiev cycle it becomes the centre rather than merely periphery, in order for geocultural visions to become reality as efficiently as possible.


The traditional economic theory based on the principles of the rational choice theory and profit maximisation aims to reduce economy to a formal and exact science that is fully independent of culture, politics and technology. On the other hand, the Kondratiev theory nurtures a holistic approach according to which economy is an integral part of the system, inseparable from other social sciences and natural sciences. It sees capitalism through an intermittent alternation of economic cycles and suggests that a “turning point” is the right time for a thorough social reform and the beginning of massive investment in innovative technologies. Regrettably, social inertia and certain individuals’ desire of not letting go of their privileges make it difficult for economic cycles to change, thus creating additional turbulence within the World-System.

This situation reminds to a large extent of the circumstances marking an imminent beginning of the World War Two and Great Depression. Political elites of the times apparently were unable to rise to the challenge because they sought solutions in war. Almost a century has elapsed since these unfortunate events, and we see the world undergoing the same scenario all over again. The only difference now are nuclear weapons, which are the crucial deterrence factor. Instead of a world war, there are multiple local conflicts accompanied by continuous hybrid threats, one of which are biological weapons. Taking into account the reactions of national security apparatuses and absence of collective action, COVID-19 undoubtedly became one of the instruments of hybrid war, if not the most important one. In such circumstances, it is entirely irrelevant whether the virus is natural or man-made. The most important thing is that the “epidemiological situation” is used effectively for geopolitical purposes. On the one hand, the centre of the World-System uses the pandemic as a reason for furthering the policy of isolationism, while, on the other hand, the periphery uses it for the expansion of its political influence.

The COVID-19 pandemic marked the beginning of the Third World War, which evolves according to a defined scenario: the centre tries to maintain its privileges, while the periphery seeks its place under the sun. The governing elites obviously are not mature enough to be able to act in a coordinated manner when long waves of innovation change but instead they try to maintain the monopoly in an artificial manner. What we can only hope for is that with the beginning of the previous Kondratiev wave of technological innovation in mind, phenomena like Perestroika will prevail over war rhetoric. In this case, every time a next change of long waves of technological innovation occurs, a voluntary disintegration of declining major powers will become a rule rather than an exception. Social evolution of the World-System – the diminishing of global tensions is possible only after egotistical principles of homo econmicus are dismissed and after the cyclical nature of economic-technological development is accepted, whereby a crisis is seen as the opportunity for a clean slate.


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O članku

jezik rada: srpski, engleski
vrsta rada: izvorni naučni članak
DOI: 10.5937/socpreg56-35119
primljen: 28.11.2021.
revidiran: 14.06.2022.
prihvaćen: 15.06.2022.
objavljen u SCIndeksu: 22.07.2022.
metod recenzije: dvostruko anoniman
Creative Commons License 4.0

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