Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

'Well grubbed, old mole!'

The Sunday Times carried an interesting interview with Francis Fukuyama, the neo-con who has now admitted that he was wrong about Iraq and US power. Of the Iraq war, he says this:

'I’m not just shocked, I’m completely appalled by the sheer level of incompetence. If you are going to be a ‘benevolent hegemon’ [a reference to America’s status as the sole superpower], you had better be good at it.'

Fukuyama has split with his former friends, writing a book After the Neocons:

'Most of them are lying low because they realise what they advocated hasn’t worked out at all and they’re just hoping something will turn up...I have concluded that neoconservatism, both as a symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.'

Of course, as Alex Callinicos has pointed out, Fukuyama is no anti-imperialist. Yet this is not the first time Fukuyama has been wrong about something. In 1989, Fukuyama put forward his famous 'End of History' thesis. This is not the place to deal with that argument in detail, but key to it was the argument that with the collapse of the Soviet Union, 'Communism' could no longer mount any serious ideological or political challenge to Western liberal capitalism:

'Marx, speaking Hegel's language, asserted that liberal society contained a fundamental contradiction that could not be resolved within its context, that between capital and labor, and this contradiction has constituted the chief accusation against liberalism ever since. But surely, the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West. As Kojève (among others) noted, the egalitarianism of modern America represents the essential achievement of the classless society envisioned by Marx. This is not to say that there are not rich people and poor people in the United States, or that the gap between them has not grown in recent years. But the root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist, so much as with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up, which are in turn the historical legacy of premodern conditions. Thus black poverty in the United States is not the inherent product of liberalism, but is rather the "legacy of slavery and racism" which persisted long after the formal abolition of slavery.

As a result of the receding of the class issue, the appeal of communism in the developed Western world, it is safe to say, is lower today than any time since the end of the First World War. This can he measured in any number of ways: in the declining membership and electoral pull of the major European communist parties, and their overtly revisionist programs; in the corresponding electoral success of conservative parties from Britain and Germany to the United States and Japan, which are unabashedly pro-market and anti-statist; and in an intellectual climate whose most "advanced" members no longer believe that bourgeois society is something that ultimately needs to be overcome. This is not to say that the opinions of progressive intellectuals in Western countries are not deeply pathological in any number of ways. But those who believe that the future must inevitably be socialist tend to be very old, or very marginal to the real political discourse of their societies.'

At the time, many people, including many 'Marxists', more or less believed Fukuyama as pessimism engulfed much of the Left and optimism swept over the Right. Of course, people didn't tend to openly endorse him (Thatcher famously said 'The End of History? Beginning of nonsense') but there was a general feeling that he had 'put his finger onto something'.

Yet if proof was needed about just how wrong he was not just about Iraq but about 'the end of History' - the last few days have shown it. The idea that 'the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West' seems a little odd given that on March 28th there looks as though there might be a General Strike in France and the biggest industrial action in Britain since our General Strike in 1926. On top of this we have had an international day of protest against the occupation of Iraq and tremendous street battles in Paris including a student occupation of the Sorbonne.

'Is it 1968?' I was asked the other day. 'No, its 2006 you fool' I replied. History never repeats itself exactly. But one thing is certain. If you want to understand the world today then you write off Marx and his understanding that society is shaped by class struggle at your peril. The Red Mole of History is back.

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At 4:10 pm, Blogger Doug Nesbitt said...

"In 1989, Fukuyama famously put forward his famous 'End of History' thesis."

Repetition in sentences: another sign of the SWPs crisis!

I've found myself telling everyone about the events in France and their eyes bug out to reveal a little spark going off. Then when I tell them 1.5m are set to strike on March 28 in Britain, they become instant socialists and rush me to get a wad of SWs. It's actually quite amazing. I have to admit this is students, though.

The radicalization is not just because of events in France and Britain, but developments here in Ontario and Canada in general: There's an ongoing strike by all Ontario college faculty; an announcement that a two-year tuition freeze is being lifted (while the province turns a surplus!); revelations that 62% of Canadians oppose the Cdn presence in Afghanistan, and finally a series of great anti-war demos on M18.

Needless to say, things are pretty exciting here, but my term papers are suffering dearly!

At 5:33 pm, Blogger Snowball said...

Canada does sound cool, Doug thanks.

Apologies for the double posting of 'famous' - I was in a rush and just wanted to make sure there was some sort of mention of the industrial struggle on my blog alongside the vital Marxist critique of King Henry IV (who as we all know is causing the international working class movement such a headache at the moment).

However, I really should be busy writing something other than my blog as well...


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