Zinoviev and Fukuyama: Historical Predictions

© AFP 2023 / BORIS HORVATAmerican political economist, chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest and author Francis Fukuyama, attends a conference during the first day of the 2013 Economic Forum in Aix-en-Provence (Rencontres Economiques d'Aix-en-Provence) on July 5, 2013
American political economist, chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest and author Francis Fukuyama, attends a conference during the first day of the 2013 Economic Forum in Aix-en-Provence (Rencontres Economiques d'Aix-en-Provence) on July 5, 2013 - Sputnik International
The world is just fine. The problem is the inability of modern states and the world elite to comprehend what is happening and create new instruments to understand and control social development processes, Oleg Yuryev, member of Zinoviev Club, believes.

Fukuyama and the logical paradox of infinity

There is no doubt that Fukuyama's prediction falls into the "unfulfilled" category. He effectively recognized this himself in his recent article devoted to the 25th anniversary of his controversial essay about the end of history. The following are some quotes from that article.

"Twenty-five years ago," Fukuyama writes, "I argued that history was turning out very differently from what thinkers on the left had imagined. "The process of economic and political modernization was leading not to communism, as the Marxists had asserted and the Soviet Union had avowed, but to some form of liberal democracy and a market economy."

How does this prediction measure up to reality? Fukuyama carefully words his answer to this question. "The year 2014 feels very different from 1989. Russia is a menacing electoral authoritarian regime fueled by petrodollars, seeking to bully itsneighbors and take back territories lost when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. China remains authoritarian but now has the second-largest economy in the world, as well as its own territorial ambitions in the South and East China Seas.

"The problem in today's world isn't just that authoritarian powers are on the move… And then there are the developed democracies. Both the U.S. and the European Union experienced severe financial crises in the past decade, which meant anemic growth and high unemployment, especially for young people. Though the U.S. economy has now started to expand again, the benefits haven't been evenly shared, and the country's polarized and partisan political system hardly seems a shining example for other democracies."

Nevertheless, Fukuyama is not prepared to part with the underlying idea. "When observing broad historical trends, it is important not to get carried away by short-term developments. The hallmark of a durable political system is its long-term sustainability, not its performance in any given decade."

Remember the theologians' answer to the criticism of the Revelation of Saint John the Theologian, or the Apocalypse. When theologians are told that there still has not been an Antichrist or the second coming of Jesus Christ or the end of the world or Doomsday or the Kingdom of God on Earth, they say that the Revelation says nothing about a timeframe. Therefore, everything will come in due time. The respected professor essentially says the same thing, steering the discussion into a line of reasoning that involves an implicit concept of historical time that can last forever. Indeed, within this conceptual framework it is impossible to deny that Fukuyama's prediction will be fulfilled someday. However, it is just as impossible to deny the denial of the prediction, that it will not be fulfilled. This is known as the logical paradox of infinity: Both thesis and antithesis can be proved.

There is another reason for disagreeing with the professor. The fact is that the future arises from a clash between the past and the present. It cannot evolve other than as a stage, an element in the development of an ongoing process in the actual unfolding sequence of events, human activities in a concrete, definitive historical context that has already materialized. And what does this say about Fukuyama's prediction if it is applied to the realities of the modern world?

Historical order disappears

There is another difficulty. Fukuyama's prediction, just as any proposition laying claim to the status of a historical prediction, is based on the assumption that history is a process involving stable dependencies, connections between events and actions by people, nations, and states. So, if we look at the history of the world over the past 25 years, order and stability in it will be only symbolic, because the course of history at this stage is characterized in fact by growing instability and uncertainty, or, to use a word so loved by many politicians, turbulence.

For lack of time I cannot give examples to corroborate this proposition. Still, since the priority of the economy is never contested by anybody, I will cite a recent report released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). It notes that six years after the outbreak of the global crisis, world economic growth remains low: 2.5 percent in 2014. According to the report's authors, attempts to return to traditional business practices could not and cannot eliminate the root causes of the crisis. The financial sector continues to prevail over real economy, wages as a share of GDP steadily decline, and there is growing inequality in the distribution of wealth and income within countries and between countries.

It is also important to mention the growing activity of radical, primarily Islamist movements and organizations. The Islamic State has become a fact, the significance of which goes beyond the Middle East, since it sets a dangerous precedent for the entire world. It has to be admitted that there are no effective countermeasures against such forces, against international terrorism.

These and other phenomena and processes suggest that connectivity and orderliness are disappearing from history. The very possibility of making predictions and, which is politically even more disturbing, the ability both of individual states and the world community as a whole to plan and manage their own life, primarily to ensure international security, is in question.

Rethinking the present

The question has to do with the nature of the growing chaos. Does it have an ontological nature, i.e., is the result of some deep changes in the way the human community is organized that do not depend on human will? Or is the world just fine while the problem lies with us, in the inability of modern states, the world elite, to comprehend what is going on and create new instruments to analyze and control social development processes?

I believe it is the latter, despite the fact that we have intellectual capital that enables us to count on the successful achievement of the aforementioned goal: The sociological theory developed by outstanding thinker Alexander Zinoviev. Let us consider some of its propositions.

First, one of its key propositions is that the Western world is evolving toward a so-called super-society of the Western type. Zinoviev believes that this generally took shape by the late 1980s.

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The 2008 crisis turned out to be so unlike other crises and so protracted and difficult to overcome because it was the first crisis of a super-society. Eight years prior to that, in his book, Super-Society Ahead, Zinoviev singled out a feature of that fundamentally new stage in the evolution of capital, in the form of financial totalitarianism. Most experts who have studied the root causes of the global crisis came to the conclusion that it was brought about by the domination of the financial sector over the real sector of the economy, thereby corroborating Zinoviev's theory.

Does Western super-society have prospects for development? According to Zinoviev, if the Western countries that constitute the core of super-society are able to achieve dominant positions in the world, then it will be able to exist for quite a long time even though it carries systemic flaws that will ultimately lead super-society to decline.

Mikhail Khazin, a respected Russian scholar, is more critical of the prospects for super-society. According to him, economic growth over the past 30 years has been achieved as a result of growing credit debt. Consequently, the role of the banking and financial system in the economy has increased, since they ensured that growth. It seems that the credit mechanism of economic stimulation has now run out of steam. The debt burden on households and businesses has approached a point beyond which modern capitalism will start to crumble unless it finds new sources of growth. However, none seem to be in sight.

Second, the disintegration of the Soviet Union has led to the disappearance of competition and rivalry from world history. That prompted the West to carry out a unipolar world project as a world run by the Western super-society. The opposition to that strategy from "Putin's" Russia and a number of other states came as an unpleasant surprise to the United States and its allies, judging from their hysterical reaction.

Is Russia today in a position to become, if not the embodiment of a new project for humankind, then at least a leader in the movement to create conditions for multivariate history? In principle, considering our country's history, its accumulated experience and traditions, the people's mentality and the high degree of the cohesion of society in the context of the events around Ukraine, the country has the essential potential for that. However, it is concentrated today mostly in the political and spiritual domains.

This is important but insufficient. It is vital to move from talk to the effect that we are not afraid of sanctions, but on the contrary, it is a good thing that they were introduced because now we will start modernizing our economy (who prevented us from doing so before?) toward concrete action. The economy is in bad shape, probably the worst since the 1998 default. According to official statements, GDP growth in 2014 is unlikely to exceed 1 percent. To compare, China's growth will be no less than seven percent, the United States' around 2-2.5 percent, and the world average around three percent.

National wealth (the aggregate value of financial and material assets) is growing extremely slowly. It is the fastest in China and Japan. With the current growth rates, by 2017 Russia's national wealth will reach the United States' 1903 level.

What is even worse is that Russia remains a country with the highest income inequality indicators in the world. In Russia, one percent of the richest people own 71 percent of all personal assets. To compare, in Europe and China this indicator is 32 percent while the world average is 46 percent.

In short, it is critical to ensure not simply accelerated economic development but acceleration on the basis of modern technology combined with steady household income growth and the closing of the outrageous income inequality gap. This can only be done if we build a strong state.

Third, an important component of Zinoviev's theory is the key role of ideology and information in the process of governance in the modern world. Successful resistance to Western globalism, he argued, requires its opponents to develop an attractive alternative project.

According to Zinoviev, it would be wrong to completely discount the possibility of revisiting the communist project in some revamped form. After all, real communism, as embodied by the Soviet Union, collapsed not because it had a congenital birth trauma that made a full-fledged life impossible, but because its development was artificially interrupted.

Nevertheless, communist renaissance is unlikely in the foreseeable future. The quest for national identity and the formulation of Russia's national idea is, as we can see, proceeding by invoking history, traditions and spiritual legacy. This does not mean that Russia is distancing itself from Europe, its experience, culture and values. Russia, Russian civilization, is an inalienable part of Europe in every respect. This is a search for a national idea that can respond to the historical and modern realities of Russia and its peoples.

It so happens that our spiritual work, based on respect for everything that has been created by humankind, is conducive to overcoming the extremes of radical liberalism. Russia is reproached for its conservatism, but it is the kind of conservatism that ensures continuity in progress, the preservation and enrichment of everything that has passed the test of time and serves as a reliable guideline for development. In this respect the Russian position, Russia's practical experience, is important for humankind as a whole.

Fourth, as the 2008 crisis showed, the brunt of the effort to overcome the crisis was borne by nation states, which reaffirmed yet again that it is too early to discard the state as an instrument of governance.

I seriously doubt that electoral democracy, the system of checks and balances, will ensure the speed and the level of competence in making decisions and the effectiveness of their implementation that is required in the ever more challenging environment. We could see for ourselves that even countries that are respectfully described as mature democracies are not ensured against administrative mistakes or corruption or social and ethnic conflicts. Also, all is not well with their human rights records.

This is why there is a pressing need for a new nation-state model. This is not only a matter of developing and introducing new political and managerial technologies. This is, above all, a matter of achieving a new quality of human capital, new not only in terms of professionalism, culture and business skills but also in terms of civic, moral and spiritual personal values. Unsurprisingly, Zinoviev linked his hope for the future of Russia and the entire world to the formation of a new type of person. It is essential to consider what can help the evolution of a new person on a mass scale.

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