One of the things that Francis Fukuyama's End of History argument was supposed to have ended was the epoch in which people took socialism seriously. According to Fukuyama's scenario, with the stunning collapse of the Soviet Union the human race had forever been immunized against that particular ideological error - at which point capitalism and liberal democracy would be man's only viable alternatives. The dog might return to his vomit, as the Bible tells us, but mankind would never return to the illusionary promises of socialism.
Yet in the recent Bolivian elections, the apparent winner was the socialist candidate Evo Morales, a close friend of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro. The election, it should be noted, has been described as "one of the most closely watched elections" in Bolivia's history, thanks to the presence of hundreds of international monitors. Furthermore, his main opponent, Jose Quiroga, conceded the election on Sunday night, and congratulated Morales on his victory.
In Bolivia, it would appear as if at least half of the End of History thesis had been fulfilled. Morales obtained his victory by a free and fair election, without violence or fraud, putting Bolivia squarely in the camp of being a liberal democracy. Yet what about the capitalist part of the End of History thesis? What explains the fact that the victory in this democratic election went to a socialist? If socialism was supposedly discredited for all time, why does it appear to be having a rebirth in South America?
Yet, before we try to answer that question, we must first ask what exactly does socialism mean today to men like Morales and Chavez and their many followers?
A supporter of Morales was quoted as saying: "I'm happy to see the people in power. We're showing the whole world that with each day, the people's struggle for equality, liberty, and justice becomes more important."
Now suppose you had read this quotation without knowing its context. Would you have described it as leftist? As socialist? Couldn't it just have easily have been a comment made by President Bush on the recent elections in Iraq? Isn't that what the current foreign policy of the United States has become all about -- putting the people in power? Aren't we trying to promote "equality, liberty, and justice" to those places of the world where they have long been so conspicuously absent? Yet no one would argue that the American government was actively trying to push the world back to the historical dead end of socialism -- not consciously anyway.
Morales is himself an Aymara Indian, and he has built his political base among the long suffering Indian population of Bolivia -- a population that happens to be in the majority numerically. He has vowed to help the Indians and to give them more rights -- all of which, once again, sounds fine and noble. Who could be against that? Morales has described himself as "the candidate of those despised in Bolivian history...of the most disdained, discriminated against...." And here again it is difficult not to feel sympathy with the man.
The problem, however, is that Morales has vowed, in his own words, to become Washington's "nightmare." And it is here that we gain a clue to what the idea of socialism has come to mean in South America today. Part of it may be a genuine desire to help the poor and disenfranchised, but part of it is wrapped up in a ferocious hatred of the United States. To be a socialist is, increasingly, to be an anti-American, and to be an anti-American is to be a socialist. You don't have to read Karl Marx; you just need to hate Uncle Sam.
Part of the End of History scenario was the idea that no democracy could be the enemy of another democracy: all would share the same values and the same ethos. But in South America, this is not how the scenario is playing out. In this region of the world, it is precisely the people's candidates, like Chavez and Morales, who have shown the deepest antagonism to the United States, and, by means of democratic elections, they have achieved the power to fuel and spread anti-American feeling in those nations that they lead. On the other hand, those candidates supported by the business elite of their countries, and who are pro-American in their sympathies, like Jose Quiroga, are being increasingly marginalized by their populist rivals.
Perhaps this is merely a pathology circumscribed only to countries south of our border. Yet as democracy spreads throughout the countries in which the majority of the people are mired in poverty, and often the victims of a lack of education, it is almost inevitable that many of them will be tempted by the old illusions of socialism, especially when these illusions are presented by populist heroes, like Morales and Chavez, whose stature in the eyes of their followers is often enhanced by their public defiance and continual denunciation of the United States. Furthermore, as the promise of socialism falls short of its expectations, as inevitably happens, those who have made these promises will almost certainly increase the level of their anti-American rhetoric, in an attempt to shift the blame from themselves onto someone else -- and that someone else is certain to be us.
That is perhaps the best explanation for the startling rebirth of socialism in South America and in other parts of the world. The world socialism is increasingly being drained of its old meaning and is being replaced with a new one -- and its new meaning could not be clearer: it has become the rallying cry of those who despise the United States. It's a slogan to gather together all those who regard us as the chief enemy of the human race.
If demagogic rancor could lift people out of poverty, poverty would have been eliminated from the planet long ago. Tragically, such rancor only works to keep demagogues in power and the people under their spell.