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On the Pasts We Sometimes Deludedly Believe Have Passed

On the Pasts We Sometimes Deludedly Believe Have Passed

Wednesday, 28 September, 2022 - 16:45

In a sense, those who had been defeated in the past have re-emerged as apparent victors. Their re-emergence has taken this form precisely because the past victories against them have not been final, that is, because the past does not pass easily and automatically.

Leading a right-wing coalition in Italy, neo-fascists have returned to power in the country as though fascism and Mussolini had not been defeated in the Second World War.

With the ongoing war that Russia has waged on Ukraine, there is reason to believe that Moscow intends to go back to pre-Soviet Union defeat in the Cold War. Even the dismantlement of major empires following the First World War has found figures working to negate it.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is perhaps the most prominent of those seeking to revert to an imperial past. The rulers of Iran are certainly the most vigorous of those seeking to establish it from zero.

At the same time, the state of affairs in contemporary Europe is an embodiment of the nation-state attempting to revolt against the victory of globalization: the European integration project was undermined by Brexit, while we see the proliferation of nationalist forces demanding an end to the trans-border Union or that it be made less effective.

These facts together, added to the resurgence of fundamentalist movements of all kinds all over the world, demonstrate that any linear trajectory of history is a fantasy equaled only by the fantasy of the end of history.

There is no such thing as total decisive victories or final absolute defeats, nor are there beginnings that end everything that preceded them or conclusions that give finality to an unregrettable passing of pasts.

Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and her son Charles’ proclamation as king, in the midst of massive crowds that attended out of their own volition, pointed to the weakness of what the British critic Raymond Williams called “residual ideology” in comparison with the “dominant” and the “emergent” consciousnesses. It is far more than mere “influence” the old cultural practices have on modern societies.

There is no doubt that these returns and resurrections derive from several intertwined factors. And there are always intertwined factors behind political phenomena (though many lean towards confiscating these phenomena and claiming that they derive from a single factor, usually a “conspiracy” orchestrated by the US or Zionism).

It is thus no longer novel to rightfully say that the way in which wealth is distributed in our world, whether within the same country or among different countries, is to a large extent responsible. By the way, Italy, where we saw the latest of these resurrections of the past, speaks to these two discrepancies.

The fact is that the matter is multifaceted; as on the one hand, there are the unfair neoliberal policies that have turned into what resembles a religious doctrine, and on the other, there is the impoverishment that arises from major economic and social changes, like that which had been created by the industrial revolution in the past and that which we see with globalization today.

However, another factor is the weakness related to the formation of some countries, be it in terms of their adoption of political democracy or aspects tied to capitalism and the market economy.

Modern Russia provides what is perhaps the clearest model for this protracted preclusion vis-à-vis modern phenomena: capitalism turned, at the hands of Boris Yeltsin, into a corrupt and shambolic oligarchy. This came after socialism, with its great promises in 1917, was turned into a totalitarian regime that climaxed with Joseph Stalin.

If it is true that history is not just a matter of acts of will or heroic pursuits, then it is also true that the actions of despotic regimes and civil wars, which together propelled waves of millions of refugees, certainly played their part in contributing to this immense wreck.

This course, with its successful endeavors, its attempts, and its intentions, is waging several wars across the globe. In the cases where they become hopeless or run up against concrete reality, they don’t hesitate to threaten to use nuclear weapons. We see that in Russia just as we do in North Korea.

As for the times in which they triumph, they triumph by adapting to the novelties of the contemporary world and acquiescing to them, as the neo-fascist movements are doing in Italy. However, whatever the case may be, reforming democracy by making it more egalitarian and inclusive remains a necessary prerequisite for strengthening and entrenching the future, as well as for reassuring us about its capacity to withstand the challenges stemming from pasts that do not pass easily.

After the Second World War, and as part of their efforts to confront the Communist challenge in France and Italy, it was seen that this victory would be solidified by granting it a social dimension. And so, the welfare state was established, and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was launched. Through this process, the future could rest assured, and this reassurance went on for four consecutive decades.

After the Cold War, the victory was tainted by neoliberalism and an openhanded willingness to overlook the rest of the world and its peoples’ aspirations for freedom as well as equality. This weakened the future further in its battle with the past. The harm of sleeping arrogantly on the silk sheets of victory does not only befall the arrogant victors.

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