When the Soviet Union finally came to an end from the constant sabotage efforts by market reformers, many cheered the end of communism. One Francis Fukuyama hailed it as the end of history; liberal Western-style democracy had won out as the greatest system of social organisation, the pinnacle of humanity’s development. A new interview with Fukuyama in the Wall Street Journal by Fukuyama seems to say otherwise. He’s changed his position, he now claims that the election of Donald Trump “could usher in the collapse of the postwar world order.”
In not so many words he predicts that the rise of Trump-style nationalist leaders will pave the way for another world war. Such leaders will be antagonistic towards international bodies and seek to dominate the globe economically and militarily.
“There was a world order, in the sense that there are a lot of formal institutions like all the Bretton Woods institutions and military alliances. Obviously if the world is populated by a lot of populist, nationalist leaders, they inherently don’t believe in international institutions, and so they’re not going to provide any support for those. They are creating an international network where they are lending support to one another.
“The bottom line of Trump’s policy is quite consistent: He’s a nationalist, both in terms of economic policy and global political order. He’s not going to buy into the type of cooperative arrangements that have been the underpinning of the liberal world order since the late 1940s.
“This is tremendously dangerous because there’s a lot of economic nationalism already out there, and the U.S. has played a role in keeping this under wraps. If the hegemonic power shifts sides to a populist nationalist platform, the impetus towards maintaining that liberal order is potentially going to collapse.
“… this is the more likely one than the political one: Where you don’t like deals that you can negotiate, so you threaten a punitive tariff or you take actions against companies investing abroad and countries retaliate.
“China has a lot of sources of leverage over us, beginning with how much of their currency they’ve been willing to buy, and they’ve been buying airplanes from Boeing and turbines from GE, and there’re all sorts of ways that economic relationship could go south very quickly.”
What Fukuyama is saying, is that there could be a new round of national hostilities around the globe. He even describes the likely spark of such conflicts: trade issues, and global political manoeuvring. Where have we seen this before? In the writings of Vladimir Lenin. He theorised that imperialism and thus modern global conflict was the product of competing capitals. Finance capital, the every hungry monster of capitalism, drives the exploitation and brutalization of the system to greater heights. It plunders the third world and demands a political sphere of control over it. Other capitals which share a common national identity will organise against competing capitals. This antagonism will eventually break out into a series of World Wars – which as we have seen, did in fact, happen.
But what of the last several decades? There has been no world war since the defeat of the Nazi empire at the hands of the Soviets and others. The Cold War could be seen in as a manifestation of that conflict. Once the Soviet Union fell to sabotage there was only one global power left, the United States. Since that time there has been no one to challenge U.S. hegemony. Junior partners in imperialism have fed off the scraps of the American empire: Canada, UK, Australia, Japan, France, and Western Europe. A temporary alliance of imperialist powers formed where “everyone knew their place”, so to speak. Kautsky theorised such thing. He wrote of “super-imperialism” or “ultra-imperialism,” where weaker rivals (“sub-imperialists”) would remain loyal to a global hierarchy or “supra-structure.” Despite his social-democratic positions, he did accurately predict how imperialism was going to turn out. Or, at least, predict one of the manifestations it can take.
I think, what Fukuyama sees in the election of Trump, and the predicted corresponding rise of similar leaders – is the break up this alliance of “ultra-imperialism.” Have not Russia and China both held incredibly nationalistic leaders which direct goals of undermining U.S. influence in their sections of the world for their own benefit? That tentative alliance among the United States and its “sub-imperialists” might well be over.
So, why was Fukuyama wrong about the “end of history”? He saw only the conflict of socialism versus capitalism. To him, these were the only two factors in the global order. He failed to understand that capitalism is a dynamic system riddled with self-destructive contradictions. Capitalism cannot simply be reduced to a series of booms and busts. Its own internal mechanisms are always creating new and unique forms of crisis which place increased tensions on relationships, social stability, and antagonisms with rivals. Capitalism is always transforming and changing as conditions change.
We are far from the “end of history.”