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James Heartfield looks at two very different approaches to historical thinking, from Francis Fukuyama and Frank Füredi

History with a capital H

Books discussed in this article include:

  • The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama, Hamish Hamilton, £20 hbk

  • Mythical Past, Elusive Future: History and Society in an Anxious Age, Frank Füredi, Pluto Press, £35 hbk, £10.95 pbk
'People say it's the end of History, but I say we ain't out of History yet!' Captain James T Kirk of the starship Enterprise put the case against Francis Fukuyama in Star Trek VI for space cadets everywhere. It is a rare honour for a former adviser to the American State Department to be taken up in a box-office hit, but it is characteristic of the splash made by Fukuyama's essay on international politics after the Cold War. Back in 1989, in an article entitled 'The end of history', Fukuyama argued that History had come to an end with the collapse of the ideological challenge of communism (National Interest, No16, 1989). Now in his follow-up book, The End of History and the Last Man,he returns to his theme, and to his critics, with a meditation upon how we got to the End of History and what we can expect there.

The original thesis of the End of History is part of a debate with the traditional viewpoint of American foreign policy shaped by Henry Kissinger and Jeane Kirkpatrick. Under the traditionalists, international relations were determined by the 'balance of power', under which the Soviet Union and the United States dominated their own spheres of interest. Then American hegemony was underpinned, morally and strategically, by the Cold War. So critics of the USA were accused of aiding the enemy, while the human rights abuses of allies, like Chile's General Pinochet, could be dismissed: 'He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch', was Washington's unofficial attitude to third world dictators.

Fukuyama's insight was that the Soviet Union was no longer in any position to act as a foil to America's mission abroad. Castigating the pessimism of those traditionalists who thought the Cold War would go on forever, Fukuyama trumpeted the final victory of American capitalism over Soviet communism. However, in the face of new anxieties about the tensions and rivalries among the Western powers themselves, Fukuyama's thesis has a definite apologetic intent: as we enter a new era of international instability, The End of History calmly expounds the inevitable triumph of the market system.

The End of History presents not one, but two versions of a Universal History that progresses inexorably towards liberal democratic capitalism. The first is a technological development, which in Fukuyama's view presupposes a market system as the only way to cope with an ad-vanced division of labour. Identifying technological progress with capitalism is an old trick, but one that Fukuyama is obliged to set to one side as faulty. It is worth examining why.

'A true Universal History of mankind would have to be able to explain not only the broad and incremental evolutionary trends but the discontinuous and unex-pected ones as well.' (p134) The view that there is no unproblematic tendency towards the future written into technology is an intuition of the conflict inherent within capitalism. But rather than address the limits that capitalism places upon the development of modern industry, Fukuyama drops his technological model of progress. In its place he favours a cultural progress, loosely modelled on the work of the nineteenth-century German idealist, GWF Hegel.

Fukuyama's Hegelianism has surprised English and European thinkers more used to a philistine pragmatism and materialism that explained social change as being so much natural instinct. But the cause of Fukuyama's idealism is all too material. Like his teacher, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, Fukuyama is looking for a cultural model of social cohesion where the promise of material progress seems less plausible. Hegel, with his philosophy of an ideal progress fits the bill.

At the end of the last century Hegel enjoyed a brief revival in Britain and Germany for similar reasons. TH Green in Britain and Wilhelm Dilthey in Germany made use of Hegel's idealised version of progress as a way of disguising the way that the forward march of the capitalist economy was faltering. Hegel's conception of progress - as something larger than the market, being embodied in political and cultural institutions - served as a cover. Then the problem for Britain was America's challenge to British domination of world trade. A cultural sense of an imperial mission beyond mere trade shored up Britain's increasingly militaristic grip on the globe.

Today, Fukuyama draws on the same intellectual resources to ward off the apparent failure of the American economy. Instead of a naturalistic or technical principle of history he substitutes the Hegelian 'struggle for recognition', premised upon Thymos, or 'spiritedness'. This compelling need for self worth is claimed to be the governing principle of human conduct and an alternative to naturalistic explanations of history.

The cultural explanation of human history is not only an apology for American decline, it is also an apology for social division in just the same way that naturalistic explanations once were. Fukuyama rejects natural explanations of racial division, only to translate those explanations into the new language. So America's blacks are no longer genetically inferior, but 'culturally hobbled' (p238). The same approach is taken to the backward capitalist countries whose uneven development and repressive regimes are explained by an attachment to 'totalistic' religions like Islam (p217). Where once the pseudo-science of eugenics would explain human behaviour by reference to natural factors, like your thyroids, Fukuyama prefers Thymos. Both explanations serve to mystify society, putting its problems beyond the intervention of human reason.

The apologetic intent of Fukuyama's cultural version of a Universalistic History is clearest in his division of the world between the Historical and Post-Historical nations. The former remain caught in the ideological struggles that precede the final ascent of liberal capitalism in the latter. This is a new version of the old East-West divide between the 'civilised' and the 'uncivilised' countries.

While the ideological conflicts between East and West are finished, the remaining conflict between Historical and Post-Historical societies is alarmingly reminiscent of what went before. Fukuyama counsels solidarity in the post-Historical world against the Historical societies, envisaging conflicts around oil, immigration and 'unregulated technological proliferation' (p278). In other words, the post-Historical world will need to force the Historical world to surrender its natural resources, while excluding its citizens and determining what sort of technological development is appropriate to post-Historical needs. Sounds familiar?

As for political rights for those unfortunate enough still to inhabit History, Fukuyama warns against equal recognition: 'A league of nations...would have to look more like Nato rather than the United Nations - that is, a league of truly free states brought together by their common commitment to liberal principles.' (p283) Combined with the imperative of governing the economics of the Historical world, this contempt for the political right of equal recognition among nations is a recipe for continued Western - sorry - post-Historical domination of the Historical (third) world.

Most radical critics of Francis Fukuyama recognise that the End of History is a formula that fixes the status quo for all time. Critics on the right have resented the way that the thing they most cherish, 'History', is drawn to a close. Left and right have responded with a Captain Kirk flourish along the lines of: History lives! Leftist Alex Callinicos even promises The Revenge of History in a recent book on Eastern Europe.

Frank Füredi, in his new book, Mythical Past, Elusive Future, explains the wrongheadedness of this approach. For Fukuyama and his critics, left and right, History has been adorned with a capital 'H'. Whether Fukuyama's Universal History has come to a close, or that of his critics soldiers on, History is treated as a power in its own right, lording it over men and women, spurring them on with new determinations. For Füredi, however, 'history too is a human construction' (p266). That is to say that the apologetic nature of Fukuyama's culmination of Universal History, as with any other History with a capital 'H', is that it degrades the role of human agency. Instead, we need 'historical thinking' that is sensitive to the possibility of change.

Füredi's starting point is the debates about the need for an inspirational History that are currently raging in all the major Western nations. Treating each in turn, from the German debate about the fascist legacy to British anxieties about the corrosive effect of multiculturalism in our schools, Füredi draws out the common link. All the major Western powers are suffering from a demand for tradition. Uncertain relations between the powers emphas-ise the shared need for a History that can serve as a source of affirmation. At the same time, Germany's desire to downplay its disreputable past, in order to walk tall again in the world, sits uneasily with a declining Britain's desire to relive the glories of the Second World War.

Through this critique of History, Füredi gets an unusual angle on the debate raging between relativists and traditionalists. While relativists call for the recognition of the cultures and histories of the oppressed, traditionalists see this as compromising the coherence of the host culture, insisting, as in Britain for example, that children are taught British history over those of other countries. Rather than accept the simple counterposition of these two outlooks, Mythical Past seeks to uncover their origins.

The absolute values sought by the traditionalists, Füredi argues, suffered a near fatal blow in the Second World War. The widespread association of capitalism first with slump, then militarism and finally the Holocaust was a massive defeat for all those who wished to promote the values of capitalist society. Nationalism was considered dangerous and the free market an anachronism. Throughout the Western world, ruling elites clawed back their authority only by affecting to take on board the criticisms of their system.

Dressed in the clothes of pluralism and social demo-cracy, the capitalist class presented itself as steering a course between the systems of communism and fascism, left and right. However, useful as this more modest self-image was in the postwar years, it stored up problems for the future. A reliance on state intervention encouraged new social demands, while suggesting that capitalism was inherently imperfect. More pointedly, pluralist politics eschewed one dominant point of view, compromising the authority of the powers that be. As Füredi points out, pluralism laid the basis for today's relativists, while the reaction against relativism is the principal motivation for the recasting of national histories.

Having set out the basis of the disagreement between traditionalists and relativists, Füredi then indicates their common ground. Looking at the growth of local history among both relativists and traditionalists, he argues that both sides of the debate treat History as a source of affirmation or identity, in a way that can only hypostasise History into something greater than mankind. Who we are becomes a given, shaped by the patterns of behaviour handed down from the past. Whether it is black History, labour History or British History, the point of agreement is that the past must dictate the future.

Füredi does not argue for a collective amnesia, however, but rather that in place of an affirmative History with its capital 'H' we need 'historical thinking'. By this he means a sense of history that emphasises its human centredness and its potential for change. This is to adopt Heraclitus' motto: 'Nothing permanent, but change', or to say 'don't ask me where I'm from, ask me where I'm going'.

In many ways this concluding point of the book seems the most tenuous, and necessarily so. For, although Füredi sets out all the elements of historical thinking - reason, human potentiality and change, as against tradition - he argues these points against the grain. What Füredi calls the 'closure of the historical imagination' - the apparent exhaustion of viable alternatives to capitalist society - reinforces the sense of futility so corrosive of the case for change.

It is in consideration of the practical limitations upon a voluntaristic leap into historical thinking that Füredi sets out a programme for a critique of History. In doing so, he does not challenge the overhauling of traditional Histories on their own terms, as is done with the left's discovery of alternative Histories. Rather, the project fixes upon the need for tradition felt by societies that have exhausted their progressive potential. The emphasis upon tradition as a cohering factor in society indicates the social conflicts that threaten to revolutionise the status quo. By drawing out the trajectory of national History as the attempted self-identity of capitalist society, Mythical Past lays the basis for the intellectual challenge to that identity, as a prelude to the practical challenge to that society.

FA Hayek

Prophet and loss

Friedrich Hayek, defender of the free market faith through the long years of Keynesian orthodoxy, died on 23 March 1992, having lived to see the fruits of his ideology, East and West. Hayek's most famous book, The Road to Serfdom (1944), made the case for unalloyed capitalism when everybody in his adopted British homeland thought that only state management could overcome the chaos of the free market. Now Hayek is celebrated by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher, as the 'slayer of the sacred cows' of state socialism.

The background to Road to Serfdom is the utter discrediting of capitalism in the years of depression and war. Hayek's chief antagonist in economic thinking, John Maynard Keynes, rose to prominence by counselling state-directed investment to overcome the anarchy of the market place, finding a ready audience at a time when the status of the free market was at an all time low.

When Winston Churchill fought the 1945 general election on a platform that drew upon The Road to Serfdom, his Labour opponent, Clement Attlee, made a withering reference to 'the Austrian Professor Friedrich August Von Hayek', and won the election by a landslide. Attlee was implying that the free market was an alien system in Britain, its birthplace, and, worse still, the British people agreed with him.

Hayek's apparently quixotic stand upon a market so free that even the currency was privatised had a long-term significance. Hayek understood instinctively that you cannot save capitalism by apologising for it. Taking on board the doubts about the market, as Keynes had done, could only promote challenges to the system while paralysing its supporters with a corrosive scepticism. Above all, Hayek sought to break the identification of the market with fascism, stressing that Nazism was just another form of state socialism.

While Keynesian economics better described the piecemeal measures needed to keep capitalism going in its monopoly phase, Hayek's free market rhetoric was closer to the soul of the system.

Hayek's moment came with the collapse of Keynesian economics in the recession of the seventies. Panicked by the failure of the Keynesian orthodoxy, the establishment was looking for something to take its place. Hayek's anti-statist polemic shifted the blame for the crisis away from capitalism and on to the Keynesian policies that had served as a crutch for the system in the postwar period. In particular, trade unions could be blamed for unemployment as their 'monopoly' was held to have priced workers out of a job. Hayek's formula fitted the need to blame the workers for the crisis and make them pay for it by reducing welfare commitments and forcing down wages - all in the name of the free market.

Attacking the Keynesian orthodoxy became a focus for attacking the trade unions as they hung on to the old postwar set-up. 'There will be no more urgent need than to erect new defences against the onslaughts of popular Keynesianism', wrote Hayek in 1975, anticipating the Tory struggle to 'curb trade union power'.

Like many right wingers who favoured a naked promotion of capitalist interests, Hayek grew less interested in the sort of democratic rhetoric that had informed his earlier campaigns against state interference in the rights of private property. He complained of the 'politician, acting on a modified Keynesian maxim that in the long run we are all out of office' (New Studies, 1978, p223). Democracy was worthless unless it was circumscribed by the market: 'I must confess to preferring non-democratic government under the law to unlimited (and therefore essentially lawless) government.' (New Studies, p154).

As Hayek's own version of public policy became the norm under the Tories, he was less given to the liberal, even Enlightenment arguments that he had turned against 'state socialism'. The rationality that he embraced was always individual rationality, since knowledge of the whole of society was impossible according to Hayek. But by the time of his final book, The Fatal Conceit, rationality itself was subordinated to tradition. Even the 'methodological individualism' he had adopted earlier was set aside, as the individual only existed through traditional society.

Hayek was one of the few intellectuals produced by the right in the whole of the twentieth century. His main point was that the only defensible capitalism was an unapologetic capitalism. Looking at the consequences of the market today - recession in the West, social collapse in the East - and looking at the extent to which Hayek's own eventual recognition that capitalism is incompatible with rationality and democracy has been borne out, the need for an equally unapologetic
anti-capitalism has never been more clear.

James Heartfield
  • Out of the Ghetto: Joe Jacobs, Phoenix Press, £9 pbk

Lessons for the left

When you pick up this book, don't expect a literary masterpiece. This is the story of Joe Jacobs in his own words. It is overlong, often repetitive and sometimes rambling. It is also compulsive and exasperating at the same time.

Out of the Ghetto is the story of a young Jewish militant in the Stepney branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1930s. Through Joe's recollections, we relive the confusion he experienced being on the receiving end of the political betrayals of the Communist Party.

After a decade out of print, this new edition is timely. In a period of working class retreat this story of solidarity, courage and contempt for the bosses is salutary. The disdain for the forces of law and order should be read especially by those
anti-racists today who spend their time appealing to the state to do something about fighting racism.

It has long been assumed on the left that the Communist Party organised the defence of the East End against Oswald Mosley's fascist blackshirts on 4 October 1936--in what has become known as 'The Battle of Cable Street'. Far from it. True, Joe and the young activists in Stepney were in the forefront. But half their energy was devoted to preventing their own leadership from organising a diversion.

The Central Committee wanted to hold a rally against fascism in Spain at the same time far away in Trafalgar Square! This craven tactic was better suited to keeping in with church leaders and parliamentarians than street fighting. Only at the last moment did the line change - and out of pragmatism rather than conviction, as the leadership sensed that the party could not be absent from what was going to be a popular struggle.

The most powerful episode in the book is the scene of the attempted eviction. In this terrible decade, thousands of families were dumped on the streets if they couldn't organise a moonlight flit first. Jacobs tells the story of how he and his comrades physically stopped the eviction by bailiffs of a known British Union of Fascists sympathiser. Jacobs says there was no sympathy for the fascist. His political outlook would be dealt with by the working class and the working class alone. The point was that no interference in the lives of working class people would be tolerated.

In the 1970s the British left went one better than the Communist Party in the 1930s. When called upon to defend the East End from the far right, it decided to boogie with bishops in Brixton's Brockwell Park. In the 1990s it makes no pretence of organising the working class to defend itself - but instead invites the state to pursue evictions and sackings. Well Joe, I should say that it's to this that we say 'never again!'

Alan Harding

Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 43, May 1992

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