“The end of history will be a very sad time,” Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, as the party-State experiments of the Eastern Bloc gave way to mass uprisings, protests erupted in Tiananmen Square, and the Soviet Union pulled out of Afghanistan. The material referents by which Marxism laid claim to History as its guarantee — socialist states, workers’ movements, national liberation struggles — ceased to exist, throwing the tradition deeper into crisis. Fukuyama has been correct in his prediction that social and political life would become increasingly technocratic, and that no serious challenger to parliamentary democracy would arise. While it is true that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and growing tensions with NATO may remind us of the inter-imperialist antagonism Lenin wrote about, or seem like a symptom of a newly emergent multipolar world order, brought about by the unfolding of the dialectic of uneven and combined development which promises to render imperialist domination an impossibility, it is not a struggle of new and old, for a “higher” stage of human civilization — no such thing appears to be on the agenda. Indeed, Fukuyama accounted for such occurrences at the end of history. The various crises from the 1990s through today, including at least two major global financial crises and a global pandemic, have failed to generate a final confrontation between labour and capital. The homogenizing processes of global capital have proceeded without interruption, without exception. As Mark Fisher wrote, “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” What a sad time it has been, indeed.
My central thesis, however, is that it does not need to be. This essay is an investigation of the role of history in politics, or at least in its thought. The conjuncture is characterized by widespread depoliticization, in which there is a proliferation of fidelities to lapsed historical modes of politics incapable of effectively raising prescriptions or even recognizing the conjuncture for what it is. More specifically, this essay is an investigation of historicism, and the ways in which it orients subjectivities to external invariants, foreclosing the possibility of egalitarian invention at a distance from the State.
The Specter of Hegel
That we received “liberal democracy plus VCRs and stereos” rather than “Soviet power plus electrification,” is the great irony that awaited us at the end of history. Rather than the vindication of the militant subject of Truth, finally free of the constraints of State and Market, we have the homogenizing circulation of commodities, the reduction of the world to technical, quantitative operations. This is the meaning of the crisis of Marxism — today it is simply impossible to claim that history is a process with the proletariat as its subject and communism its goal. Here, I expose myself to an immediate objection: is this not a defeatist capitulation to “bourgeois” ideology? At this stage, it certainly seems so, but what standpoint could be better suited to an investigation of history than its end? As such, this section discusses the Hegelian philosophy of history, and the non-Marxist adaptations of it, before proceeding to Sylvain Lazarus’s conception of “classist historiography.”
For Hegel, world history is the dialectical process of World Spirit, understood as Reason and therefore Freedom (Reason is self-sufficient, thus not reliant on anything external to itself), developing consciousness of itself and actualizing itself towards a final end point in which the State secures the maximum freedom possible for its people. In this view, history is propelled by the imperfection of its various stages; it is the increasing perfection of the State, a movement towards freedom and the self-conscious reign of reason. The essentials for our purposes are as follows: subjectivity is conditioned relative to objective processes that are primarily embodied in the State; these objective processes tend towards a definite goal, inevitably so; everything that occurs is included in the overall development of World Spirit, and is thus progress.
This approach to history can be understood in a single word: teleology. The world is rendered into a totality which, through its self-movement, ascends towards perfection and freedom. Social transformation becomes a matter of grasping the Spirit in its movements, where the individual, or subject, so long as it is of a “historic people” (possesses a State), is determined by the objective factor, the subjective operating back on it in a dynamic interplay; its contingent needs and desires ultimately contributing to this end according to what is possible. Politics, then, arises from the objective and is subordinated to it: political upheaval is then self-conscious subjectivity, aware of its relation to the objective factors and therefore capable of acting on them, viz., , it is in some sense the manifestation of Reason.
It should also be noted that the State is seen as embodying the Spirit of the nation over which it presides. What is possible is determined by what is, understood as the result of a long process which has culminated in the present and will continue beyond it. Woodrow Wilson asks:
Even if we had clear insight into all the political past, and could form out of perfectly instructed heads a few steady, infallible, placidly wise maxims of government into which all sound political doctrine would be ultimately resolvable, would the country act on them?
He raises a deeply Hegelian point. Since the State must be a reflection of the Spirit of the nation and of the age, the State itself must only proceed according to that which is possible, which is in turn determined by that which has happened. It is not a matter of devising universalist maxims but acting on what arises on the basis of the history that produced what is. He continues:
The bulk of mankind is rigidly unphilosophical, and nowadays the bulk of mankind votes. A truth must become not only plain but also commonplace before it will be seen by the people who go to their work very early in the morning; and not to act upon it must involve great and pinching inconveniences before these same people will make up their minds to act upon it.
Which is to say that the State must only proceed according to the nature of what it is in the particularity of American society. Similarly, when he writes, “The cosmopolitan what-to-do must always be commanded by the American how-to-do-it,” it should be understood as a call to investigate the status of the overall progress of the unfolding of Spirit but only implement lessons which are in accordance with the particularity of his own State and of his time. Speculatively, there is no need to rush ahead of what is accepted in the moment, for knowing what has happened, is to know what is happening, and to know what is happening is to know what will happen — history will march on, and that which is in accordance with the objective process will arrive on the scene according to its time. As Carl Schmitt put it: “An ‘ought’ is impotent. What is right will make itself effective, and what merely should be, without actually existing, is not true but only a subjective mastery of life.”
Wilson deploys the Hegelian philosophy of history — his politics are authorized by the same view of history. His thought, like that of Marxism, lays claim to history as a process with an endpoint, which provides the basis for him thinking what is possible politically, and ultimately, what such politics mean. To him, history was the gradual unfolding of the struggle between good and evil, culminating in the triumph of the former over the latter.
To return to Fukuyama, who lays a different claim to history: “The Battle of Jena  marked the end of history because it […] actualized the principles of the French Revolution.” Much was left to be accomplished but “the basic principles of the liberal democratic state could not be improved upon.” While this conclusion may seem like low hanging fruit for Marxists, the ability to draw it within the same thought of history to announce precisely the impossibility of the Marxist project is of great significance. The recourse of the Marxist in the face of Fukuyama is to maintain faith that despite the disappearance of material referents which guarantee its claim to history, all that has happened is ultimately still leading to the inevitable coming of communism. What seems now to be a detour or a low point, will eventually be redeemed, and may even retroactively appear to have been a necessity. To paraphrase Plekhanov, “as long as needs remain unsatisfied the revolutionary movement will continue.” History only moves forward, and with a sufficiently long view, the irrationality becomes rationality.
The Science of History
The certainty with which Marxism lays claim to history, to the coming revolution, the advent of classless, stateless society, derives from its claims to scientificity, which are themselves underpinned by the Hegelian philosophy of history. The final victory of the proletariat is assured, because, quite simply, that’s just how history works, and Marx and Engels have demonstrated as much. As they declared in the 1848 Manifesto of the Communist Party, “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” This history of class struggle is one between oppressor and oppressed, the oppressed eventually negating the oppressor in accordance with the level of development of the productive forces. Each epoch generates the force(s) which, through the development of several contradictions (oppressor/oppressed, productive forces/relations of production, base/superstructure, etc.,) will inevitably be resolved in the passage to a higher stage of society, or result in the common ruin of the contending classes. There are objective, historical processes which must be grasped — in Hegelian terms, the Spirit of the time — if one is to transform the situation. It is a matter of consciousness of classes in history, and as the struggle between classes develops, this consciousness will too. Ultimately, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own gravediggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
In an 1852 letter to J. Weydermeyer, Marx clarifies that his “discovery” was not that of history as class struggle, but rather the recognition that it “necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” which of itself will only “constitute” the transition to communism. For Schmitt, this very claim to history, this declaration that this will happen because this is how history works, is what granted communists the “right” to use force in pursuit of what he terms “rationalist dictatorship.” He writes:
Only when it was scientifically formulated did socialism believe itself in possession of an essentially infallible truth, and just at that moment it claimed the right to use force. The scientific certainty of socialism appeared historically after 1848, that is, after socialism had become a political power that could hope to realize its ideas one day […] Convinced Marxism holds that it has found the true explanation for social, economic, and political life, and that a correct praxis follows from that knowledge; it follows that social life can be correctly grasped immanently in all of its objective necessity and thus controlled.
The tautology of Hegelian as well as of Marxist certainty moves in such circles, and provides a “self-guarantee” of its own truth. The scientific certainty that the historical moment of the proletariat has arrived is first produced, therefore, by a correct understanding of the process of development. The bourgeoisie cannot grasp the proletariat, but the proletariat can certainly grasp the bourgeoisie. With this the sun begins to set on the age of the bourgeoisie; the owl of Minerva begins its flight. But here that does not mean that the arts and sciences have progressed, but rather that the passing age has become an object of the historical consciousness of a new epoch.
That the science of history secured its own verification as truth, through its own conception of development, and that it’s claim to inevitability is what gave it its subjective purchase, it “authorized” the project of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the struggle to bring it about, is not only recognized by opponents of Marxism like Schmitt.
In The Role of the Individual in History, Plekhanov affirms the “dialectical materialist” understanding of history — all that happens, or can happen, is determined by history, which produces determinations in the form of social relations and needs — in order to defend it against charges that it reduces the role of the individual to nothing and allows no room for free will. Indeed, he writes that fatalism, knowledge of inevitability has been “psychologically necessary,” for action, remarking: “Those who think that as soon as we are convinced of the inevitability of a certain series of events we lose all psychological possibility to help bring on, or to counteract, these events, are very much mistaken.”
It is this understanding of history, and that politics stems from it, that makes it possible to deny that history has ended: everything is progress. Even in terms of events occurring unexpectedly, or not according to class struggle, events still appear as a series of steps towards the end point of communism. Because history unfolds in a rational way, it is knowable as such — for Plekhanov, even an “accident” like European colonization in North America, which did not occur on the basis of the development of the peoples on that land, but rather was the collision of different inevitable trajectories, is explainable by recourse to the economic. Engels’ The Role of Force in History is fascinating in this way. For Engels, Bismarck was not a bourgeois, but a junker, and while he did not consciously set out to fulfill a “historic task” like elevating the bourgeoisie to the ruling class, through his unification of Germany and various policy decisions, Engels argues that he acted as a force capable of completing the historic tasks of the bourgeoisie even when they were not conscious of the tasks. Going even further, Amilcar Cabral leans on this notion of history, declaring that history (along with Plekhanov, who also effectively argues this) is the history of the productive forces, and that European imperialism in Africa has been a necessary and progressive process in itself, it brought history to otherwise “non-historic” peoples.
This understanding of history, this science, is itself used in heterogeneous ways to explain the experiences of the 20th century: objective conditions were not right for the transition from capitalism to socialism, imperialist aggression intervened, the capitalist road won out, State policy was not properly informed by the scientific, socialism will be achieved only after a long period of capitalist development, and so on. Regardless of one’s position on the Soviet and Chinese experiences, it is seldom the case that a Marxist will put forward an analysis which meaningfully interrogates this science of history, and what it does. No matter the content of events, they are born out of a matrix of social relations, which are themselves the results of history. They are all steps towards the eventual end of history: communism.
Condemned to Win
Marxism is all powerful because it is true, and it is true because it finds verification in the operation of history itself. Millions of lives have been lost in service of the idea that a better world is possible, and all lessons have been hard won. Today, it seems that more and more people are tapping into this tradition by attending rallies, engaging in mutual aid, and struggling to build revolutionary organizations suited to the tasks that lay ahead of them. There exists a wide range of intellectualities one could adopt, and events to swear fidelity to. In the end they all take this received truth of history as their real — we are condemned to win. They re-enact the debates of the Second International and know exactly what they would have done if they were in “so and so’s” shoes during “such and such” point in history. They immerse and submerge themselves in the modes of politics of long exhausted sequences, and raise categories to the status of concepts. They know what not to do, and are preparing themselves, because they know that they are condemned to win. Science is on their side, and it is only a matter of time and the correct application of hard won theories. The revolution is coming, its inevitability is encoded in the very fabric of everyday life – we just don’t know when. Such is the promise that history offers the dialectical materialist.
But there is something about this history: why is consciousness of history, of class, insufficient for producing social transformation in this conjuncture? There is something in the line of sight of the dialectical materialist, yet unseen. It is that this history, our inheritance, through the very same mechanisms with which it has reassured us of victory, has led us astray.
The dialectic is a tyrant. It offers politics a guarantee, but in exchange for its replacement by a thought of the State. Which is to say, history offers politics only its own annihilation. Rather than politics being a subjective process of creation or invention, in which humans break with the laws of motion governing their situation, and present new possibilities for egalitarian social organization, politics becomes a matter of the objective operating on itself through an epiphenomenal subjective factor. Rather than invention, politics becomes subsumed under the processes of the state, “the economy,” and so on, becoming associated primarily with the conquest of power. The dialectic proposes that the subjective can only be understood in its operation on, and determination by the objective; the dialectic always leads back to a thought which centres on the State. The dialectic proposes that the subjective is only ever expressive of the objective. As Lazarus explains,
History is a thought relation of the State. What then can be said of history with respect to operation and determination? The question is all the more complex in that, depending on the case, it makes use of one or the other or both. Marx, for his part, maintains that history pertains to determination and operation. It is in this capacity that it can subsume politics and include it. Identified through operation and determination, history is tied up with politics through operation and to the State through its double determination.
Now, why does this matter? It has consequences on the ways in which politics is thought by Marxists. A consequence of dialectical thought is this idea of revolution as the category of politics (and history), which is what sustains thinking in terms of politics as the struggle for a revolution, rendering the dictatorship of the proletariat synonymous with the revolution, and ultimately relying on sustaining the revolution, understood as sustaining a revolutionary state, until class is abolished, and it is withered. In this sense, politics (which express the objective as subjectivity, thus class consciousness, class politics etc.,) is centered on antagonism with the State, which then becomes management of the State in the name of the proletariat, which then requires one to put faith in the State for the completion of emancipatory politics, which it cannot accomplish.
To offer an example from the National Liberation Struggle mode of politics, Kwame Nkrumah put forward the statement “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all shall be added unto thee.” Such a statement indicates a thought of politics which identifies emancipation with the seizure of State power. Once State power has been conquered, the State machinery smashed, etc., then harmonious development can take place, imperialism overcome, socialism established, and so on. However, Michael Neocosmos argues, once State power was taken, politics became centered on the State itself, in effect creating a disconnect between the masses and the State/party, and generating a situation in which politics became centered on managing interests and technical administration. Contrary to Nkrumah’s statement, the belief that the seizure of State power represents a transition to a new situation in which the new State serves as a guarantor of emancipatory politics continuing to unfold, as a safeguard against national enemies the State dropped any pretense of carrying through emancipation, and neocolonialism kicked in.
This is partly built on the notion that politics is expressive of the objective (this is the very meaning of the dialectic of subjective-objective), and that because the new State will have a progressive character, it will sustain forward momentum through its conditioning of subjectivity and the reaction back upon it. However, as Neocosmos writes:
The politics of the state, like politics in general, understood as subjectivity, as consciousness, as capacity, as agency, as choices, cannot be deduced from the class(es) these are said to represent, whichever these may be. Class representation can at best only enable the identification of policies with reference to class interests, and not politics as such. For the study of politics as subjectivity to advance in order to enable a grasping of political choice, it has to distance itself from the analysis of interests, for these ultimately propose little more than an objectivist determinism.
This interplay between subjective and objective, which centers the State, is at hand when Lenin writes about “habits”:
We set ourselves the ultimate aim of abolishing the state, i.e., all organised and systematic violence, all use of violence against people in general … In striving for socialism, however, we are convinced that it will develop into communism and, therefore, that the need for violence against people in general … will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination … In order to emphasise this element of habit, Engels speaks of a new generation, “reared in new, free social conditions,” which will “be able to discard the entire lumber of the state” — of any state, including the democratic-republican state.
And even more clearly:
The expression “the state withers away” is very well-chosen, for it indicates both the gradual and the spontaneous nature of the process. Only habit can, and undoubtedly will, have such an effect; for we see around us on millions of occasions how readily people become accustomed to observing the necessary rules of social intercourse when there is no exploitation, when there is nothing that arouses indignation, evokes protest and revolt, and creates the need for suppression.
Which is to say, the interplay between subjective and objective, according to the State, is expected to condition the people in their habits — the dictatorship of the proletariat representing a higher form of state — while these habits, in tandem with economic development, will bring about the end of history, communism. History has brought about the increasing perfection of the State machinery, perfected to the point that its highest level enacts its disappearance through its shaping of habits.
In 1923, Lenin reflects on the results of the project:
Our state apparatus is so deplorable, not to say wretched, that we must first think very carefully how to combat its defects, bearing in mind that these defects are rooted in the past, which, although it has been overthrown, has not yet been overcome, has not yet reached the stage of a culture, that has receded into the distant past. I say culture deliberately, because in these matters we can only regard as achieved what has become part and parcel of our culture, of our social life, our habits … We have been bustling for five years trying to improve our state apparatus, but it has been mere bustle, which has proved useless in these five years, or even futile, or even harmful. This bustle created the impression that we were doing something, but in effect it was only clogging up our institutions and our brains.
In the period of 1917 to 1923, there were attempts to find footing in a situation in which existing thought was inadequate, and experience was showing the difficulty associated with erecting a non-state state worthy of the name. The solution was to empower the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, to train people in new habits, and not to proceed ahead of what is possible in the conjuncture. The victory of socialism could only be assured by the success of proletarian revolution in the East, “but what interests us is not the inevitability of this complete victory of socialism …”. In the face of unfavourable objective conditions, it is a question of survival against counter-revolutionary states. Stalin would later rise to power and systematize the ideology of “Marxism-Leninism,” which contains strong themes of inevitable victory, historical necessity, strict expressivity between politics and the objective, and so on. It is worth noting here that Schmitt saw the possibility of an endless “rational dictatorship” being justified on the basis of the Hegelian philosophy underpinning Marxist thought, and that Badiou views this in terms of projecting the political categories of one’s conjuncture into eternity — the suturing of politics and philosophy.
As Alessandro Russo writes in connection to the Chinese experience,
In the doctrine of historical materialism, victory … was much more than the overthrow of a government. It was above all the converging point of historical contradictions between advanced and retrograde classes, new productive forces and old modes of production, counterpoised ideologies, and even between worldviews. Revolutionary culture carried the historical guarantee that socialism, which has led the way to complete victory over capitalism, would triumphantly march on to communism.
When Lenin speaks of habits, of culture, in the Chinese experience it is “revolutionary culture,” which is justified on the same basis of subjectivity and objectivity. However, Mao did not believe in “inevitable” victory — in fact, he thought in terms of probable defeat, in terms of the Chinese state existing as an exception to the general rule of capitalism. Mao steps out of the historicist focus on the State with the notions of revisionism, and capitalist restoration — the Party and the State can generate its own bourgeois, capitalism restored without a bloody counter-revolution. Going further, rather than an end of history, and thus of politics, Mao predicted that struggle between the old and new would remain.
The lessons of the Cultural Revolution are too many to summarize here with adequate attention, but the sequence marked something profound: the withering of the State has more to do with the creativity of the masses and their ability to invent new egalitarian forms, than it does with the seizure and maintenance of power by a party as the representative of a class. Enthusiasm for socialism, politics in command, it is right to rebel against reactionaries (especially if they are in the communist party), are all thoughts which do not rely on the authorization of history or the objective. Rather, they are de-dialecticized and de-historicized, placing politics as subjective, recognizing that emancipatory politics come from outside of the State, and are not merely expressions of the objective. Of course, it goes without saying that Mao still adhered in some ways to the historicism which comes along with dialectical thought.
The Cultural Revolution can be described as a mass political laboratory, where the masses, independent of, and often against the party, engaged in experiments to generate new egalitarian forms of human relationships, throwing the party as representative of class into question. According to Russo:
The communist parties proclaimed to embody a historical paradigm that guaranteed the political existence of the workers and of all possible egalitarian politics that had the “working class” as central. The experimental results of the 1960s proved, instead, that despite any alleged “historical connection” between the communist parties and the “working class,” the political role assigned to the workers was fictitious…
In the final stage of the sequence, Mao concluded that capitalist and socialist states were not very different, save for the ownership of the means of production, and that capitalist restoration would happen more easily than the transition to communism. However, Russo argues that these lessons were adopted by Deng Xiaopeng and the party leadership in a manner that would depoliticize the masses. Rather than following through on the campaign to study the dictatorship of the proletariat, an ongoing attempt to foster egalitarian inventions put forward by Mao in 1974, a policy of thorough negation of the Cultural Revolution was adopted and the political assessment of the question was banned. Russo continues,
Deng was aware that he could not simply restore the previous system of command but instead would have to create a new one. He also had to be able to map out a protracted strategy for effectively establishing “order,” that is, to re-establish authority over workers in the factories. By considering the whole process of reform, it is possible to identify at least three basic consistent moves: the suppression of the Maoist experiments in the factories; the full commodification of labour-power; and the maintenance in the government discourse of the ideological reference to the “working class” and its “historical” connection with its “class vanguard,” the Communist Party.
The new governmental discourse made clear that the State was willing to repress harshly, while also proclaiming itself to be the sole representative of the working class. This depoliticizes the working class, insofar as it denies the legitimacy of mass political experimentation, thus denying the possibility of a distance between workers and the State. The Party represents the working class, and operates according to the laws of historical development — which require capitalist development. Working class politics become associated with State development policy, with being a “good” worker, in faith that the objective laws of motion will someday bring about the emancipation of humanity. In representing the working class, the party eviscerates it politically.
As Russo summarizes,
The way in which the CCP achieved a new governmental order demonstrated to the world a means of bringing the worker politicization of the 1960s to a close. Despite the preservation of elements of a “class” discourse, it soon became clear that the very concept a “working class” had become a mere fiction in China. That this had occurred in a socialist country, notably one where there had been prolonged attempts to revitalize the political figure of the worker, could not but have profound consequences for all other contemporary governmental circumstances.
In other words, the thought of politics which centers on the proletariat, party, and State, has been closed off. These thoughts are no longer antagonistic to capital, but have been adopted by it: they circulate through governmental discourses and prevent a thought of politics at a distance from the State, and they are exhausted in terms of egalitarian invention.
Finally, in his study of the French Revolution, Lazarus takes aim at “classist historiography.” Historicism views revolutions as the transition between a State 1 and State 2 of a society – they are given their meaning according to what comes before and after, rather than the content of what actually occurs, and any knowledge of it is completely retrospective. This conception of revolution identifies politics with the State, with the completion of the politics in communism being more of the completion of a process of the State:
… be it with regard to revolution or with regard to the dictatorship of the proletariat, the transition takes on meaning only in relations to its ultimate and initial boundary marks, and can only have an internal characterization and an internal completion in a problematic of the State. Whether we are dealing with Marxism or historicism, a thought in terms of transition is inoperative for a thought of politics.
He then discusses conflictuality, the expressiveness of politics, referring to the dictatorship of the proletariat as a utopian category, and a historic category. He continues:
The utopia is a well-argued approximation, but for the simple reason that it is an approximation it is unrealizable and hence unrealistic. The essence of the approximation is the attribution of processes of politics to State conflictuality and to the antagonism in relation to the State; it is therefore an approximation concerning the politics brought about through the relation to the State and through the intermediary of conflictuality.
From this, it seems that far from a guarantee, the dialectic of history obscures what occurs following the seizure of State power — it assumes that political processes continue operating because the objective processes it identifies them with continue on, while also justifying governmental discourses which prevent the further egalitarian invention that is needed for politics. The Marxist view of history prevents it from being able to grasp the tasks which it sets for itself by virtue of the mechanisms it employs in its thought, i.e., it cannot actually think the withering of the State. This is the exact same mechanism which Fukuyama uses to announce the end of history, and it is the same mechanism by which Leo Strauss explains the subjectivity of the “German nihilists,” who understood it and set about destroying the world to avoid its conclusion. There is a significant issue with this guarantee.
As Althusser writes: “A truly materialist conception of history implies that we abandon the idea that history is ruled and dominated by laws which it is enough to know and respect in order to triumph over anti-history.” The experiences of the 20th century have shown that the seizure of state power, does not, in fact, generate laws of motion according to which the state will wither away, given the right objective conditions and leadership. The dialectical materialist philosophy has only served as the guarantee of the “truth” that the state, and whatever measures it takes, is necessary, and therefore it, and the Party must be the sole referents of subjectivity. It seems that rather than fetishize method as granting access to truth, we need to grasp the function of philosophy as a theoretical battlefield, in which positions are taken over and transformed along with the conjuncture, rather than positing eternal truths. The way dialectics structure our thought of history eviscerates any possibility of thinking politics, and serves as nothing but a breeding ground for millenarian sectarianism — depoliticized and ineffectual posturing for the eventual seizure of power.
Truly, Althusser initiated a break with the so-called “Official” Marxisms of his day, which represent intellectualities still present today. His project was to put Marxism on a proper philosophical foundation that, rather than produce state ideologies, and affective investment in “actually existing socialism” (real or imagined), understood its role in class struggle, and was defined by its practice rather than a system of positions. This work has been advanced by Lazarus, which gives up any hope of science being conducive to politics, dedicating itself instead to the study of subjective singularities — of politics as thought. The contribution of Anthropology of the Name is not as a guide to practice, it is not a science nor a philosophy. However, it is exactly what is needed today, as, if anything, it serves as something of an exorcist. There are too many sad ghosts at the end of history.
The End of History
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living,” — Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
There is the end of history and the end of history. That is, the culmination of the unfolding of the Idea (or Good, or class struggle) on the one hand, and the closure of a political intellectuality which takes history as its primary referent and guarantor on the other. What I propose is the latter. This essay started from the end of history to jump back to its beginning with Hegel, and proceeded forward through Marxism to the point we are at now. The essential points are: Marxism, by virtue of its Hegelian heritage, is characterized by an underlying thought of history, which grants it the guarantee of its triumph, but at the same time, prevents it from grasping politics, which is due to the nature of the dialectic. We are thus unable to think politics according to itself, and even our understanding of revolution as a transition always redirects thoughts of politics towards the State, or the social, which immediately re-centers itself on the State. It is time to give up this guarantee, which is no longer the subjective necessity that Plekhanov says it can be. In place of guarantees, of a thought of history in which the subjective and objective are only thought together, in which it is presumed that politics is always present because social antagonism exists, we need to re-orient ourselves to thought in terms of political sequences, which begin and end, and which find their completion as the result of internal developments, rather than external factors such as the productive forces or imperialism. The question right now is not reform or revolution, it is depoliticization or invention. We need to recognize the situation for what it is, and adapt our methods of thought if we are to break with it.
The end of history does not need to be a sad time. It can be a time of invention. Of thinking politics at a distance from the State, of no longer getting caught up in disagreements on which revolutionary should have taken charge at what time, of whose policies would have pushed their society towards communism. Instead of exposing ourselves to the disaster of making universal concepts of categories specific to those conjunctures, we must approach the categories as they existed within their own political sequences. We must invent new egalitarian forms of organization, without subordination to a bureaucracy which exists only to someday become the State. Beyond the end of history, politics stands on its own.
- Francis Fukuyama, “The End of History?” The National Interest, no. 16 (1989): 18.
- Alain Badiou, Can Politics Be Thought? (Duke University Press, 2018), 43; Louis Althusser, “The Crisis of Marxism (1977),” Viewpoint Magazine, December 15, 2017, https://viewpointmag.com/2017/12/15/crisis-marxism-1977/.
- Radhika Desai, Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire (Pluto Press, 2013). What is in question in this essay is not whether ‘multipolarity,’ understood as the dispersion of power on a global scale as the result of objective, political economic processes is a real phenomenon, but rather a questioning of there being any necessary connection between the emergence or viability of emancipatory politics and such processes. Which is to say, such processes have no politics, nor do they give rise to politics in the sense of invention at a distance from the state.
- Fukuyama, “The End of History?,” 18. Fukuyama’s argument provides the best way into the subject matter of this essay, despite the misgivings many have towards it. His argument is best appreciated for presenting a liberal Hegelian view of the philosophy of history and clearly grasping the impending period of depoliticization that was to follow the exhaustion of the revolutionary sequences of the 20th century. For Fukuyama, history has ended in the sense that there is no existing project which presents a higher form of human society than liberal democracy. There will of course still be wars, and other forms of state or governance, but the key is that they do not present themselves as transcending what already exists.
- Alain Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism (Stanford University Press, 2003), 8–15; Desai, Geopolitical Economy.
- Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (John Hunt Publishing, 2009).
- Asad Haider, “On Depoliticization,” Viewpoint Magazine, December 16, 2019, https://viewpointmag.com/2019/12/16/on-depoliticization/.
- Badiou, Can Politics Be Thought?, 43.
- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, The Philosophy of History (Batoche, 2004).
- Hegel, 64–88.
- Hegel, The Philosophy of History.
- Woodrow Wilson, “The Study of Administration,” Political Science Quarterly 2, no. 2 (87 1886): 209.
- Wilson, 209.
- Ibid, 221.
- Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy (MIT Press, 1988), 57.
- Ronald J. Pestritto, “Woodrow Wilson, the Organic State, and American Republicanism,” in History of American Political Thought, ed. Bryan-Paul Frost and Jeffrey Sikkenga (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019), 584–85.
- Fukuyama, “The End of History?” 5.
- It is significant that in such thoughts of history, one’s politics, one’s state, cannot help but take the position of protagonist, with an infallible grasp on laws of human development. To Fukuyama, the Marxist project was but a fleeting moment in the overall trajectory of history which culminates in the liberal state and market society. Marxists would likely argue the same of liberal democracy, of fascism, etc. Same system of logic, different subjects and ends.
- Georgij Valentinovič Plekhanov, Essays in Historical Materialism, Foundations, #9 (Paris: Foreign languages press, 2021), 72.
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in The Political Writings (London: Verso, 2019), 61.
- Marx and Engels, 73.
- Marx, “Marx to J. Weydemeyer in New York,” Marxist Internet Archive, 1852, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/letters/52_03_05-ab.htm.
- Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, 53.
- Schmitt, 63.
- Plekhanov, Essays in Historical Materialism, 47.
- Engels, “The Role of Force in History,” in Marx & Engels Collected Works (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 453–510.
- Amilcar Cabral, “Presuppositions and Objectives of National Liberation Struggle in Relation to Social Structure,” in Unity and Struggle, trans. Michael Wolfers (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979), 119–37.
- Sylvain Lazarus, Anthropology of the Name, trans. Gila Walker, The French List (Seagull Books, 2015), 52-53. Lazarus writes, “There are intellectualities. To identify one is to identify its mode. The mode will be the operative category of the singularity of each intellectuality and we will call ‘multiplicity of intellectualities’, the configuration of different modes. I posit the singularity and multiplicity of intellectualities.” A footnote on the same page clarifies “The mode is either a historical mode of politics, in which case it qualifies politics and is the relation of a politics to its thought; or it is a mode of intellectuality, that is to say, a particular configuration of the process there is thought.” Here, the term ‘intellectuality’ can be taken to mean a thought of politics that is based on a political sequence that has taken place. Names for these intellectualities include Trotskyism, Leninism, Maoism, and so on. What is important is that these names themselves are contested and do not have set meanings, they are polysemic. Fidelity to an event, in some ways, can be considered an aspect of developing an intellectuality — one sets about thinking politics based on the Cultural Revolution, or the Bolshevik seizure of power, or more nationally specific events such as Wounded Knee.
- Lazarus, Anthropology of the Name, 101.
- Lazarus, 102.
- According to Neocosmos in Thinking Freedom in Africa, the National Liberation Struggle (NLS) mode of politics existed in the 1950s and 1960s. The name of a mode is the name of a specific relation of a politics to its thought, but not the name of the politics itself. NLS is strongly associated with the Leninist influenced decolonial and anti-imperialist uprisings that took place in Africa during that period. cf., Salar Mohandesi’s Red Internationalism.
- Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (London; New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1957), 164.
- Michael Neocosmos, “Analysing Political Subjectivities: Naming the Post-Developmental State in Africa Today,” Journal of Asian and African Studies 45, no. 5 (October 2010): 534–53, https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909610373895.
- Neocosmos, 537.
- V.I. Lenin, “The State and Revolution,” in Collected Works, trans. Stepan Apresyan and Jim Riordan, vol. 25 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 461.
- Lenin, 467.
- Lenin, 410, 415.
- Lenin, “Better Fewer, But Better,” in Collected Works, trans. David Skvirsky and George Hanna, 2nd English, vol. 33 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 487–502, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/mar/02.htm.
- J.V. Stalin, “Dialectical and Historical Materialism,” in History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1951), 165–206; Alessandro Russo, Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 94.
- Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy; Alain Badiou, “Philosophy and Politics,” in Conditions, trans. Steven Corcoran (London; New York: Continuum, 2008), 145–76.
- Russo, Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture, 96.
- Russo, 91–98.
- Russo, Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture.
- Mao Zedong, “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People,” Marxist Internet Archive, 1957, https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.htm.
- Russo, Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture.
- Anonymous and Bruno Bosteels, “The Dialectical Mode: With Regard to Mao Zedong and Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War,” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 13, no. 3 (2005): 663–68. It is highly likely that this anonymous author is Sylvain Lazarus.
- Mao Tse-Tung, On Practice and Contradiction, Reissue edition (London; New York: Verso, 2017).
- Alessandro Russo, “Mummifying the Working Class: The Cultural Revolution and the Fates of the Political Parties of the 20th Century,” The China Quarterly, no. 227 (2016): 653–73.
- Russo, 657.
- Ibid, 657–58.
- Ibid, 662.
- Ibid, 663.
- Ibid, “Mummifying the Working Class.”
- Ibid, 670.
- Ibid, 671.
- Lazarus, Anthropology of the Name, 177.
- Lazarus, 182.
- Ibid, 183.
- Leo Strauss, “German Nihilism,” Interpretation 29, no. 3 (Spring 1999): 353–78.
- Louis Althusser, Philosophy of the Encounter, 255
- It is considerable that the age old debate over “socialism in one country” versus “permanent revolution” is merely a disagreement over the role of objective determinants and the ways in which a proper “dialectical” understanding sees a post-revolution state transitioning to “socialism.” In thought, the “Stalinists” and “Trotskyists” are not very different.
- Lazarus, Anthropology of the Name.
Amilcar Cabral. “Presuppositions and Objectives of National Liberation Struggle in Relation to Social Structure.” In Unity and Struggle, translated by Michael Wolfers, 119–37. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1979.
Anonymous, and Bruno Bosteels. “The Dialectical Mode: With Regard to Mao Zedong and Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique 13, no. 3 (2005): 663–68.
Badiou, Alain. Can Politics Be Thought? Duke University Press, 2018.
———. “Philosophy and Politics.” In Conditions, translated by Steven Corcoran, 145–76. London; New York: Continuum, 2008.
———. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. Stanford University Press, 2003.
Desai, Radhika. Geopolitical Economy: After US Hegemony, Globalization and Empire. Pluto Press, 2013.
Engels, Friedrich. “The Role of Force in History.” In Marx & Engels Collected Works, 453–510. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990.
Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? John Hunt Publishing, 2009.
Fukuyama, Francis. “The End of History?” The National Interest, no. 16 (1989): 3–18.
Haider, Asad. “On Depoliticization.” Viewpoint Magazine, December 16, 2019. https://viewpointmag.com/2019/12/16/on-depoliticization/.
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Philosophy of History. Batoche, 2004.
Lazarus, Sylvain. Anthropology of the Name. Translated by Gila Walker. The French List. Seagull Books, 2015. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/distributed/A/bo20021903.html.
Lenin, V.I. “Better Fewer, But Better.” In Collected Works, translated by David Skvirsky and George Hanna, 2nd English., 33:487–502. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1923/mar/02.htm.
———. “The State and Revolution.” In Collected Works, translated by Stepan Apresyan and Jim Riordan, 25:385–497. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.
Leo Strauss. “German Nihilism.” Interpretation 29, no. 3 (Spring 1999): 353–78.
Mao Zedong. “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People.” Marxist Internet Archive, 1957. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_58.html.
Mao Zedong. On Practice and Contradiction. Reissue edition. London ; New York: Verso, 2017.
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” In The Political Writings, 61–92. London: Verso, 2019.
Marx, Karl. “Marx to J. Weydemeyer in New York.” Marxist Internet Archive, 1852. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/letters/52_03_05-ab.htm.
Neocosmos, Michael. “Analysing Political Subjectivities: Naming the Post-Developmental State in Africa Today.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 45, no. 5 (October 2010): 534–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909610373895.
Nkrumah, Kwame. Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah. London; New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1957.
Pestritto, Ronald J. “Woodrow Wilson, the Organic State, and American Republicanism.” In History of American Political Thought, edited by Bryan-Paul Frost and Jeffrey Sikkenga, 582–601. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2019.
Plekhanov, Georgij Valentinovič. Essays in Historical Materialism. Foundations, #9. Paris: Foreign languages press, 2021.
Russo, Alessandro. Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture. Durham: Duke University Press, 2020.
———. “Mummifying the Working Class: The Cultural Revolution and the Fates of the Political Parties of the 20th Century.” The China Quarterly, no. 227 (2016): 653–73.
Schmitt, Carl. The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. MIT Press, 1988.
Stalin, J.V. “Dialectical and Historical Materialism.” In History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik), 165–206. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1951.
Strauss, Leo. “German Nihilism.” Interpretation 29, no. 3 (Spring 1999): 353–78.
Wilson, Woodrow. “The Study of Administration.” Political Science Quarterly 2, no. 2 (87 1886): 197–222.