The End of Prehistory?

Francis Fukuyama, the bourgeois impressionist whose announcement that the collapse of the Soviet bloc signalled the "end of history" encapsulated the bourgeois triumphalism of the early 1990s, has taken note of the recent protests against "globalization." In the 22 May issue of Time magazine Fukuyama observes: "the egalitarian political impulse to constrain the power of the wealthy in the interests of the weak and the marginal remains strong and is already making a comeback." While not a particularly unique insight, Fukuyama is a competent journalist who articulates the concerns of many elements of the ruling class:

"There is plenty about our present globalized economic system that should trouble not just aging radicals but ordinary people as well. A financial panic starting in distant money centers can cause you, through no fault of your own, to lose your job, as happened to millions of people during the Asian financial crisis of 1997....Do you want to extend your social safety net a bit further? The faceless bond market will zap your country's interest rates. Do you want to prevent your airwaves from being taken over by Howard Stern or Baywatch? Can't do it, because the world of information is inherently borderless. Do you want to pass a law to protect endangered species in your own country? A group of faceless bureaucrats in the WTO may declare it a barrier to trade. And all this is true in boom times like the present--think of how people will regard global capitalism during the next economic downturn!
"So the sources of grievance against the capitalist world order are still there and increasingly powerful. The question is, What form will the backlash against globalization take?"

Similar diagnoses have been made by a wide variety of left-liberals and social democrats, but few dare plagiarize so boldly as Fukuyama in prescribing a cure:

"It is clear that socialism cannot be rebuilt in a single country. Workers pushing too hard for higher wages in Michigan will simply see their jobs disappear to Guadalajara or Penang. Only if all workers around the world were unionized, pushing simultaneously for a global rise in wages, would companies be unable to play off one group of workers against another. Karl Marx's exhortation `Workers of the world, unite! has never seemed more apt.
"In theory, then, what the left needs today is a Fourth International uniting the poor and dispossessed around the world in an organization that would be as global as the multinational corporations and financial institutions they face." [emphasis added]

Leon Trotsky launched the Fourth International in 1938 in order to lead the expropriation of the expropriators--an act that, in Marx's words, "brings...the prehistory of human society to a close" and marks the beginning of humanity's ability to consciously control its fate.

Published: 5 June 2000