THE MARXIST REVIEW OF BOOKS
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:
'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 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
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
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
'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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
- Out of the Ghetto: Joe Jacobs, Phoenix Press, £9
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
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!'
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 43, May 1992