E.N.D. and the Beginning: History Turns on a New Hinge

By Thompson, E. P. P. | The Nation, January 29, 1990 | Go to article overview

E.N.D. and the Beginning: History Turns on a New Hinge


Thompson, E. P. P., The Nation


E.N.D. AND THE BEGINNING

History Turns on A New Hinge

We have witnessed in the past months astonishing events, coming pell-mell one after another, rising in a surreal crescendo in the final two months of 1989.

The first signals were ideological, with the overthrow of forty-year-old taboos, with the publication of nonauthors and the rehabilitation of nonpersons. Then, in the Soviet Union, the curbing of the K.G.B., the surge forward in glasnost, the assertion of some forms of law. Then the astonishing televised theater of the Soviet Parliament and the defeat and humiliation of party officials in elections, followed by waves of strikes, especially of the miners, and the outburst of nationalisms. Then the rapid loosening of controls in Eastern and Central Europe and the virtual dissolution of the Hungarian Communist Party (I never thought I would see the sacrosanct Leninist dogma, the "leading role" of the C.P., withdrawn by the party itself). Power sharing in Poland. Then the spectacle of thousands upon thousands of East Germans crossing to the West, at first through Hungary and Czechoslovakia and later through the peaceful "revolution" in the G.D.R. and the opening of the Berlin wall. Then even the cautious Bulgarians joining democracy's chorus; the exciting days that transformed Czechoslovakia.

As a fearsome counterpoint to all this, the terrible theater of Tiananmen Square, the tank assault on students. And, as a climax to the year, compressing all the lessons of Stalinism into one horrendous week of bloodshed, the partly nineteenth-century and partly TV-inspired revolution in Rumania, with the Christmas Day execution of the Ceausescus.

How, it must seem, could it be possible for any system to be more discredited than communism or any set of ideas to be exposed as more bankrupt than Marxism-Leninism? The question is enforced by the total loss of self-confidence in the ruling Communist circles in Eastern Europe and, very widely, in the Soviet Union.

No wonder Western cold warriors are sounding off their triumphal notes. It would be strange if they did not. Francis Fukuyama wrote "The End of History?" as a contribution to a symposium in The National Interest this past summer. He celebrates the "unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism, "whose consequence will be "the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Another contributor to the symposium, Professor Allan Bloom, is even more ecstatic:

This glorious victory...is the noblest achievement of

democracy, a miracle of steadfastness on the part of an

alliance of popular governments...over a fifty year

period....This victory is the victory of justice, of freedom

over tyranny, the rallying of all good and reasonable men

and women....It is the ideas of freedom and equality that

have animated the West and have won.

I must thank Professor Bloom for voicing with such naivete the thoughts of so many others, and for giving me a text to interrogate. This text says that "we have won" the cold war and that this is due to the ideas and steadfastness of "the West."

But hold on! It does not seem to be "the West" but the Soviet, Polish, Hungarian, East German, Czechoslovak, Bulgarian and Rumanian peoples who have started to settle their own accounts. The ideas of the "free West" have never, I think, been greatly at risk in the West from Communist tyranny -- indeed that tyranny has often been a foil to set off Western freedoms to greater advantage. Certainly, notions of human rights have been strongly endorsed in some Western codes and institutions, although imperfectly practiced. But the peoples on "the other side" are not being dispensed these rights by some Western charity; they are obtaining them by their own efforts.

Indeed, one might call into question the whole triumphalist script, on several grounds:

[section] Far from hastening these changes, it can be argued that the NATO posture delayed them. …

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