GLOBALISATION - THE END OF EVERYTHING ELSE
end of everything else
the 1990s, the phrase ‘the end of history’ became a commonplace
without its significance being one wit better understood than it had
been in the summer of 1989 when Francis Fukuyama published his article
with almost that title, months before the Berlin Wall came down. No
matter how often Fukuyama explains that the ‘History’ that had come
to its end carried a capital-H, was the Hegelian concept of History as
an Idea realising itself in the world, commentators never tire of
telling him that a run of wars, revolutions and economic crises have
proven him wrong, above all, that September 11 and its aftermaths
demolished his thesis along with the Twin Towers.
Hegel decided that capital-H History ended
in 1806 after the Battle of Jena led to a freeing of serfs in the
conquered German lands, heralding the pre-eminence of two capital-I
Ideas from the French Revolution: Dignity and Equality. Lord and
Bondsman were no more. Hereafter, all human activities – which Hegel
apotheosised to capital-H History – would be ways of enacting those
twinned Ideas, or of resisting their fulfilment.
Maggie, there are alternatives.
from the follies of Philosophical Idealism, Fukuyama went astray in
picturing neo-liberal capitalism and bourgeois democracy as the final
forms in which Dignity and Equality might express themselves during the
coming few hundred years, unless, he mused, Japan Inc. moved in first,
though that model was slipping into a deflationary spiral as his
book-length version went to press in 1992. Instead, the next twenty
years threw up five divergent challenges to the Thatcherite dictate that
‘There Is No Alternative’:
Attempts by progressives at a critique of
globalisation fared hardly better by attacking it as a race to the
bottom for low wages instead of recognising capital’s 600-year pursuit
of minimum labour-times, a mistake allied to chatter about the ‘flight
of capital’ as if a factory could be relocated at the press of a
computer key as readily as cash. This economic illiteracy is compounded
by a want of historical knowledge about how global trade sparked the
transition to capitalism from around 1400. To make matters worse, the
Left largely and wrongly assumes that financial capital is more
parasitic than its industrial forms.
Both Left and Right erred in picturing the
demise of the nation-market-state at the hands of transnational firms.
Some nation-market-states, obviously Iraq, did lose out to imperial ones
though, even there, Halliburton needs the US military. Everywhere,
corporations rely on the apparatuses of the state to organise capital
and disorganise labour in ways that company managers cannot achieve.
After the 1997 East Asian crisis, the IMF switched to underwriting
‘effective states’, that is, those with the clout to repress
populations in revolt against the neo-liberal economic policies imposed
through the Fund.
Post-Modernists are not aware that much of
what they claim as their own was in Modernism. For fractured identity,
think Analytic Cubism, a Mahler symphony, Brecht’s alienation effect,
Surrealism as automatic and a-telic. Even in architecture, where the
term Post-Modern originated, few skyscrapers have been free of ornament.
Referring to settler Australia as
‘Post-Colonial’ overlooks that our feeble efforts at independence
have gone towards de-dominionisation, for instance, waiting for a
republic. Except for the US of A, erstwhile territorial possessions are
not Post-Colonial but Neo-Colonial, defined by Nasser and Sukarno as
formal political freedom veiling economic dominance, which is true also
for Australia and, since the early 1990s, is again becoming the case for
The rise of capitalism in China is one more
zig-zag in the de-colonisations that began during the French Revolution,
to be revived by the Bolshevik and Maoist revolutions, and are finding
expressions in the Bolivarian revolution and in upsurges across the Arab
world. This protracted process threatens the dominance of metropolitan
capitals, not necessarily the rule of capital.
the Grandest Narrative
The more that capital triumphs, the livelier
is the backlash from those whose habits and beliefs are being trampled.
The big events since the Battle of Jena are instalments in a 600-year
tug of war between the rule of capital and previous ways of living.
Although the Fundamentalism of Bin Laden’s militants flows from a
rejection of modernity by Islamic scholars in the nineteenth century,
that strand did not come to the fore until modernising projects failed a
majority of the Prophet’s followers. Since the 1950s, they have
endured the defeat of Nasserism, of Arab Socialism and of OPEC, the
resilience of Zionism and the conflict in Kashmir. These ruptured
expectations fuel the furies.
the wake of the collapse of secular hopes, Islamists tied their miseries
more tightly to their religion, which, as Marx said, serves as ‘the
heart of a heartless world’. Faith
offers the Dignity that the nation-market-state did not deliver while
Sharia promises Equality between men, though not for women. A few seek
Dignity as ‘Paradise Now’ through suicide bombing. In a twist on the
progressive humanism of the Safafiyyah, many more are internalising their piety as ritual.
Socialist revolutions also broke through the
village gates, often at the cost of re-enforcing defensive rural
mentalities. Nowhere has that reaction been more telling than in
Afghanistan where Communists in the late 1970s tried to carry gender
equity into the tribal areas. US imperialists should have backed that
Kabul regime as an ally in modernisation.
Are we to see the failures to install
Dignity and Equality through socialist planning as terminal, or but
embryonic attempts by hundreds of millions of people to earn esteem and
win justice? Like mass movements against war, the efforts to realise
those ideals are unprecedented in human experience. Once we recall how
haunted by other traditions is the rule of capital still, no one again
should expect to see socialism in one lifetime.
That it took the Battle of Jena to inscribe
Dignity and Equality onto Hegel’s concept of History confirms that
political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, occasionally also
delivering authority and legitimacy. The long twentieth century proved
to be a new hundred years war during which aerial bombing shifted mass
destruction back onto non-combatants. Armies across Africa wage wars of
plunder against civilians because they cannot fight back. Industrial
regimes de-labourised the battlefield to avoid the mass conscription
that deprived states of their monopoly of violence. The military can
thus more easily defeat or subvert popular uprisings, as in the
Philippines after Marcos, and lately in the Arab revolt. Chavez is alive
only because he brought half the Venezuelan army with him.
In contemporary capitalism, over-consumption
is a surrogate for the workplace satisfactions denied by alienated
labour. That super-abundance of commodities is also essential for the
realisation of profit from the over-production required for the survival
of capital. As a result, debt versus avarice, gluttony versus vanity,
are the choices that delineate morality under neo-liberal capital, not a
quest for Dignity and Equality.
McQueen is a freelance historian working from Canberra. His latest book
is Framework of Flesh, Builders’
labourers battle for health and safety (Ginninderra, 2009). His
history of the Builders’ Labourers’ Federation will appear late in
2011. He wrote the introductory essay for Peter Lyssiotis’s Men
of Flowers. He is supposed to be finishing a history of colour in
Australian life but keeps getting distracted by the crisis in the
accumulation of capital.