Academic journal article New Formations

History after the End of History: Critical Counterfactualism and Revolution

Academic journal article New Formations

History after the End of History: Critical Counterfactualism and Revolution

Article excerpt

First, the problem: 'Revolution' is frequently characterised as either irrelevant or unimaginable in the North. Fredric Jameson has offered a typical formulation: 'so successful have such positions [as Samuel Huntington's] been in contemporary ideological "discursive struggle" that most of us are probably unconsciously convinced of ... the eternity of the [capitalist] system, and incapacitated to imagine anything else ... that carries conviction'. (1) For leftists--including Jameson--still committed to the total transformation of the status quo, this disappearance of revolution from serious consideration is obviously a dilemma.

When one returns to earlier theorists of revolution for clues as to how one might retool them for new times, however, it becomes evident that alongside the attenuation of a revolutionary imaginary, something else has been lost of late as well: the assumption that non-elites might participate in this attenuation. Until quite recently, recognition of effective--though not necessarily conscious or unconflicted--complicity with capital by potentially insurgent groups came easily to revolutionary strategists and politico-intellectuals. (2) This former commonplace has all but disappeared. I propose that these two phenomena are linked--that the idea of 'revolution' seems an embarrassment or impossibility in the North in part because it forces the issue of complicity into the open at a time when 'postcolonial' and globalisation theories have made it unfashionable. Complicity theses lost steam after the 1970s in the US and Europe, when we were confronted with depleting opportunities for ever-higher standards of living for most people under conditions of 'globalisation', and a shift in focus from the 'North's' exploitation of the 'South' to the specificity of situations in different former colonies in influential strands of postcolonial theory. (3) At the same time, however, global inequality has steadily been increasing, and is more massive now than at any point in history; the relative benefit of living in the North can hardly be in dispute, despite changes in the workings of capital or fashions in theory, as the direction of migrant flow attests. Indeed, the intransigence of North/South inequality argues--pace theorists of decentred 'Empire' such as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri--that the North continues to bear a substantially different relation to global capital than the South, and, more important, that, just as Fanon and Lenin observed, the resulting inequality has the effect of encouraging peoples in the relatively privileged North to protect their own lot rather than join in struggles for transformation with the most oppressed in the South--a tendency that complicates, if not undermines, concepts such as Hardt and Negri's 'Multitude'.

Instead of assuming collaboration among the 'Multitude' as inherent to the current global dynamic, then, I propose that education is required for it to become manifest in an effective form. One likely pedagogic strategy is currently emerging in what I will be calling 'critical counterfactualism'--the reclaiming of still incomplete revolutionary projects. In its spirit, I return to Fanon and Lenin to insist that it is undialectical to assume that non-elite complicity with capital plays no role in current global struggles alongside a collective longing for the anti-capitalist 'common' that Hardt and Negri emphasise. Such a position is speculative, and therefore cannot be 'proved' empirically any more than theirs can, but the cost of refusing to consider complicity at all seems very high indeed. Taking a cue from Theodor Adorno, who strategically affirmed 'individualism' in some instances and decried it in others, for example, depending on the argumentative occasion, I strategically present a strong form of the complicity case here not because I think that it is the only force at work in current global politics as they unfold in the North, but because evading it entirely does the right far more good than the left, it seems to me, at a time when debates about 'history' and who makes it are ubiquitous and important. …

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