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  • The Socialist Alternative
  • Ralph Miliband (bio)

Since Francis Fukuyama's essay takes up some key themes from his book The End of History and the Last Man, I think it would be useful for the purposes of this symposium if I were to focus part of my comments on that work itself.1 The core of Fukuyama's argument is that there is no satisfactory alternative to what he calls liberal democracy (I prefer to call it capitalist democracy). The main challenge to capitalist democracy in this century, he says, was Soviet-style communism, which has now revealed itself to be a definite failure. Other alternatives of one sort or another—fascism, various forms of rightist authoritarianism, or Iranian-style theocracy—remain possible, but they are infinitely less satisfactory than capitalist democracy, and do not in any case correspond to the march of history. The future belongs to capitalist democracy, which represents, in Fukuyama's words, "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution" and the "final form of human government" (p. xi). "Left-wing critics of liberal democracies," he also claims, "are singularly lacking in radical solutions to overcoming the more intractable forms of inequality" (p. 293, emphasis in the original).

In opposition to this line of reasoning, I wish to argue that there does indeed exist a radical alternative on the left to capitalist democracy. This alternative is socialist democracy, which has nothing whatsoever to do with Soviet communism, and which Fukuyama altogether fails to [End Page 118] consider. He takes note of the many Westerners who hoped that the peoples of the postcommunist countries would use their newly won freedoms to "choose a 'humane' left-wing alternative that was neither communism nor capitalist democracy" (p. 34). This, he quite rightly adds, turned out to be a total illusion. Many socialists who had been bitterly critical of Soviet communism had harbored hopes that the Soviet Union might eventually begin to approximate something that could be called a socialist society. But the illusory nature of these particular hopes tells us nothing about the possibility of socialism.

Fukuyama also notes in an endnote that "in the course of the entire controversy over [my original article on 'The End of History?' in The National Interest], no one that I am aware of suggested an alternative form of social organization that he or she personally believed was better" than liberal democracy (pp. 347-48n.10). If so, this proves the present decrepitude of the left, but nothing else. I do want to consider the socialist alternative, which I think is an infinitely more desirable and viable form of social organization than capitalist democracy. In order to prepare the ground for my defense of this view, however, I must first say something about capitalist democracy, and why a radical alternative to it is an essential condition of human progress.

Fukuyama concedes that "liberal democracies are doubtless plagued by a host of problems like unemployment, pollution, drugs, crime, and the like" (p. 288); that the "economic inequality brought about by capitalism ipso facto implies unequal recognition" (p. 289); and most remarkably, that "major social inequalities will remain even in the most perfect of liberal societies" (p. 292). This frank admission from so determined an advocate of capitalist democracy is very damaging to his case, not least given his insistence that liberal democracy uniquely satisfies the desire for "recognition" that he locates at the heart of the historical process. Even so, his acknowledgment of the inadequacy of capitalist democracy does not go nearly far enough. There is a much greater and larger indictment to be drawn up against it, of which I can only suggest a few items here.

Let me begin by suggesting that capitalist democracy is a contradiction in terms, for it encapsulates two opposed systems. On the one hand there is capitalism, a system of economic organization that demands the existence of a relatively small class of people who own and control the main means of industrial, commercial, and financial activity, as well as a major part of the means of communication; these people thereby exercise a totally disproportionate amount of influence on politics and society both in their own countries and...


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