It was in 1992 when the political scientist Fukuyama famously declared the ‘End of History’. The Iron Curtain had just come tumbling down (quite literally in some places) and communism was defeated through the Cold War by the liberal democracies of the West. Fukuyama believed (at the time) that this would be the final ideological conflict and the world would now inevitably turn to liberal democracy as the only viable way to rule. He was criticized right away, especially for what some perceived as his championing of neo-conservatism, and downright ridiculed after 9-11, when his prophecies were made to look exceedingly naïve in retrospect. Indeed, Fukuyama had underestimated the rise of radical Islam and even his ‘rectification’ from 2008, in which he estimated that Iran would constitute the biggest threat and downplayed the ability of radical Sunni Islam to obtain power, is looking less than prescient with the rise of IS. However, recent events may point towards another, possibly more important flaw in Fukuyama’s prophecies: the shaky marriage between liberal democracy and capitalism.
Fukuyama argued that not only liberal democracy would prevail, but that it would inherently have to be accompanied by capitalism. However, the banking crisis in 2008 revealed an important problem in that arranged marriage. The financial power of corporations such as banks helped them to evade democratic control, while the entanglement between public administration and private corporations nullified economic scrutiny, creating a situation of ‘moral hazard’. Fukuyama had been right in a way, because the belief in the Friedman-esque Chicago School of economics, i.e. what we could popularly call neo-liberalism and classical capitalism, had become so dominant in the post Reagan and Thatcher era, that the only warnings came from radical leftists and ‘dissident’ economists. Even the 2008 krach didn’t result in a sway of the economical or electoral pendulum. Not right away.
While Keynes’ ideas came to the rescue of the liberal democracies and their capitalist economies, and the ‘too big to fail’ financial corporations were bailed out, the political parties that advocated neo-liberal policies stayed or even came into power. However, when austerity measures started to hit, the chickens started coming home to roost.
In Greece, Tsipras’ leftist SYRIZA came into power and managed to stay the largest party even after the humiliation by EU, IMF and (other) creditors. In the United Kingdom, the Labour party lost the power to the Conservatives in 2010, and lost the elections this year again. Unsurprisingly, this lead to a reckoning at the top of the Labour party, but what was suprising was that the veteran Corbyn won the leadership election. Corbyn had been at the left fringes of the party for a long while, while Labour transformed into New Labour during the 90s and the 00s, and abandoned much of its classical social-democratic viewpoints. Under Blair and Brown, New Labour strayed away from Keynes and towards Friedman, one could say. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn, a clear representative of the classical left, was elected by the Labour voters, while the same Blair, together with other proponents of New Labour and conservatives campaigned against him, could be a telling switch. The reaction by Prime Minister Cameron, declaring the Labour Party a ‘threat to national security’ after Corbyn’s election, might also be an indication of some discomfort.
Worryingly for Cameron, Corbyn isn’t the only left-fringe veteran that finds himself closer to power than ever before: in what is only the prelude of the primaries of the Democratic party in the USA, the most unexpected of candidates is leading the polls, in the person of Bernie Sanders. In the country that has known the practice of McCarthyism, a candidate that dares to call himself a socialist is gathering significant popular support. That is truly remarkable, but not altogether incomprehensible in the same time.
Electorates have become aware of the fact that corporations are excessively powerful, and that they aren’t shy to use that power to evade rules, regulations and taxes. The distribution of wealth is far from equitable, especially on a world wide scale, which in turn gives rise to or at least amplifies unrest and most recently mass immigration. Finally the protection of the environment hasn’t exactly been a priority as corporations strongarmed governments and evaded regulations for short term financial benefits. The latest scandal involving Volkswagen, is only one example. This awareness is gaining momentum (cf. Piketty) and might translate into electoral results. Trends are only truly visible in retrospect, one could say. But we might be witnessing the first signs of the rise of neo-Marxism.