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  • After LeninismThe New World Disorder
  • Ken Jowitt (bio)

For nearly half a century, international and national boundaries and identities have been shaped by the existence of a world of Leninist regimes led in varying ways and to different degrees by the Soviet Union. For half a century we have thought in terms of East and West; now, with the mass extinction of Leninist regimes, the East as such has vanished, taking the primary axis of international politics along with it. Thermonuclear Russia still exists, but the imperial construct called the Soviet bloc is gone, and the Soviet Union proper (itself an empire) may soon follow. The "Leninist extinction" has radically altered the geopolitical frame of reference that countries throughout the world have long used to bound and define themselves.

The Third World, for instance, has bounded and defined itself since its beginning at the Bandung Conference of 1955 by distinguishing itself from the West on the one hand and the Leninist world on the other. Whatever shared political identity the "nonaligned" states of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have had has been largely negative: they were neither liberal nor Leninist. The Third World's ideological identity, its geographical borders, and its capacity to secure development assistance have all hinged upon the conflict between the other two worlds, one led by the United States, the other by the Soviet Union. Yet now the bipolar alignment with reference to which the nonaligned states of the Third World defined themselves has disappeared.

Boundaries are an essential component of a recognizable and coherent identity. Whether the borders in question are territorial, ideological, [End Page 11] religious, economic, social, cultural, or amalgams thereof, their erosion or dissolution is likely to be traumatic. This is all the more so when boundaries have been organized and understood in highly categoric terms, as they were during the period of the Cold War.

We cannot expect the "clearing away" effect of Leninism's extinction to be self-contained, a political storm with an impact conveniently limited to the confines of what used to be the Leninist world. On the contrary, the Leninist extinction of 1989 has hurled the entire world into a situation not altogether unlike the one described in the Book of Genesis. Central points of reference and firm, even rigid, boundaries have given way to territorial, ideological, and political confusion and uncertainty. We now inhabit a world which, while not "without form and void" like the primordial chaos in Genesis, is nonetheless a great deal more fluid than it was just a very short while ago. The major imperatives of this world, moreover, will be the same as those facing Yahweh in Genesis: "naming and bounding."

We must respond to a world that will be increasingly unfamiliar, perplexing, and threatening. Many kinds of existing boundaries will come under assault; many will change. The task will be to establish new national and international boundaries and to identify--"name" and "bound"--the new entities that result.

In his much discussed essay on "The End of History," Francis Fukuyama has taken the view that "the triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism."1 His allowance for the "sudden appearance of new ideologies or previously unrecognized contradictions in liberal societies" is a throwaway. For him, Hitler, the Nazi revolution, and World War II were a "diseased bypath in the general course of European development." Similarly, his allowance that the "fascist alternative may not have been played out yet in the Soviet Union," is a liberal Goliath's view of a possible fascist David. "Exceptions" on the order of the Nazi and Bolshevik regimes do not prove the liberal "rule"—the former almost destroyed liberalism, and the latter had the nuclear weapons to do so.

Fukuyama is correct to observe that liberal capitalism is now the only politically global civilization, and to suggest that "the present world seems to confirm that the fundamental principles of sociopolitical organization have not advanced terribly far since 1806." But neither of these propositions can justify his Idealist, ahistorical assertion that liberal capitalist civilization is the absolute end...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 11-20
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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