When we think about the subject of history, what usually comes first to our mind is history as the study of the past. Historians have argued over the principles, theories and methods that could best represent the sequence of past events. Yet the past is such a strange place, for we cannot access it thoroughly despite all of the detailed historical investigations historians have written. What the institution of history has brought to us is merely the images of the past. We want to understand history because it is what constitutes the present. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” so it goes, the popular saying from the philosopher George Santayana. Santayana’s quote reminds us to the problem of temporality in History. History in this sense does not only convey with the past but also with the present and the future. To speak about history is to speak about our relationship with time.
In the Summer of 1989, Francis Fukuyama wrote an article called ‘The End of History?’ The question mark disappeared when he expanded the article into a book titled The End of History and The Last Man in 1992. Fukuyama’s notion of History does not deal with history as the sequence of past events. He speaks of History in a grand philosophical sense, that is History as temporality. Fukuyama declares that 1989 was the moment when History ended. The year 1989 witnessed the fall of Berlin Wall, which marked the end of the Cold War and the triumph of the Western Bloc’s capitalism over the Eastern Bloc’s communism.
Fukuyama’s philosophy of the End of History leans on the idea that History is a dialectical progress of elements working in opposite direction and reconciles over time. He considers the fall of Berlin Wall to be the pinnacle of this reconciliation—the point when the world was not divided into two ideological blocs anymore, and when the process of economic and political modernisation was leading to the form of global capitalism and liberal democracy, which would exist permanently.
At the end of History, there are no longer conflicting ideologies and historic struggles because there is no alternative to the victorious capitalism. For Fukuyama, the end of History is such a sad and boring time:
“There will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual care-taking of the museum of human history.”
Inside this museum, there is no room for new creation, and everything is left only for consumption. What we have is only nostalgia for a time when History existed. Time is irresistibly linear in Fukuyama’s version of the end of History. Our bodies are stuck in a permanent present and the past can only be visited, praised or mourned occasionally as an inanimate object in museums. And the future—there is no such thing as change for the future because according to Fukuyama, the dialectics of History have stopped moving.
Yet, has History really ended?
I have trouble thinking about which tense I should use now. Are we living at the end of History or after the end of History? The confusing temporality that Fukuyama’s thesis brought to the table rises because the declaration of the end of History closes any imagination for the future. Proclaiming the end of history is a performance of sovereign power because it marks a desire for an end, a desire, which limits the creative forces for alternatives. The end of history is hailed by a winner who avoids engaging in a rematch but wants to sustain its victory. History came to an end not because it gets old and loses its breath like an ageing man with severe illness. History was murdered, but as it was put to an end its spectre began to haunt us.
A foul murder that leads to unnatural death has made the ghost of a dead body haunting the earth. Popular culture attests to this plot: from the ghost of Hamlet’s father to the horrifying ghost of Hollywood’s The Conjuring. Ghosts convey unsolved mysteries, repressed fear, desire and the limitation of language to represent the unrepresentable. It haunts us because there is a story that needs to be unfolded. The pervasive figure of ghost is central in Derrida’s Specters of Marx. In this book, Derrida speaks on the spectre of communism that recurred after its death in 1989. Asserting the relevancy of exorcising the ghost of communism in our present, Derrida does not suggest revitalising neither the totalitarianism of communism that was practiced by the Soviet, nor the imaginary ideal conception of communism in a disembodied past. Instead, having a dialogue with the spectre of communism means to do a just critique to communism and recognise that the future is now.
Thinking in the framework of the spectral is not the same with thinking retrospectively. The ghost is an untimely being because its presence complicates the differentiation between life and death, ending and beginning and the way we separate past, present and future. It disrupts the epoch of monolithic time and changes our understanding of being-in-time from linear to non-linear order. Ultimately, the presence of ghost makes us realise possible futures; the stories that could have been. When we speak on the unnatural death of History under the method of Derrida’s hauntology, what does it mean to be haunted by the ghost of History? What does the spectre of History want to tell us? What History could have been?
Fukuyama considers 1989 to be the culminating point of the clash between Soviet communism and Western capitalism. Yet this explanation is insufficient to cover the manifold of Histories outside the East and West blocs. History that lives in the periphery needs to be read in its own spatio-temporality framework; they are histories that have multiple ends. Designating the year 1989 as the sole narrative of the end of History means uniforming different kinds of temporalities outside the competing Cold War ideologies.
Engaging with the ghostly figures in History entails recognition to the Other, the invisible spectre which nonetheless exists. It is, in a way, a form of decolonizing History. These spectres of Histories outside History are appearing and disappearing sporadically in erratic moments and because ghosts are unrepresentable, an alternative mechanism of seeing, hearing and engaging is required. Tracing the spectre of Histories does not mean that we merely revisit them in retrospect, but more than that; it is an act of resistance to a particular historical configuration that can lead us to rethinking the present future. Performing hauntology inevitably involves the act of mourning, so let us dig the scattered graves of Histories at the moment when time is out of joint. Let us mine the years where the idea of future existed.
Bandung, Indonesia, 1955 — representatives from 29 countries of Asian and African nations gathered to discuss the prospect of decolonization by refusing to align whether to neither the East nor the West bloc. From the event now known as the Bandung Conference the term “Third World” was coined for the first time. In his speech at the conference, Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president depicted the world at that time as the age of horror:
“Yes, we are living in a world of fear. The life of man today is corroded and made bitter by fear. Fear of the future, fear of the hydrogen bomb, fear of ideologies. Perhaps this fear is a greater danger than the danger itself, because it is fear which drives men to act foolishly, to act thoughtlessly, to act dangerously…”
The fear that Soekarno portrayed in his speech is the fear of heterogeneity. It is the fear of the threatening anti-colonial spectres conveyed with dreams towards new kinds of collectivism and social relations that surpassed the ideology of either Soviet communism or Western capitalism. Bandung’s anti-colonial imagination refused to see dialectical progress of History as a competition between two ideological blocs like Fukuyama does. Instead, the Bandung Conference offers a perspective to understand History as dialectic between the colonized and the colonizer, between the oppressed and the oppressor. Indian Prime Minister Nehru addressed that in the time of Cold War ideological clash and under the threat of nuclear war, “the world has succeeded in preventing that; I cannot speak for the future . . .” For the superpower blocs, future belonged to and would be determined by the winner of the Cold War battle. It was certainly a militaristic view of historical progress. Bandung Conference, on the other hand, imagined the future as an infinite horizon where everyone is welcomed to speak for their own future.
The Bandung Conference was the forerunner to the Non-Aligned Movement where the first conference was established in Belgrade, 1961. Between 1961 and 1990, there were twelve non-aligned conference following the first one that took place in Egypt (1964), Zambia (1970), Algeria (1973), Sri Lanka (1976), Cuba (1979), India (1983), Zimbabwe (1986), Belgrade (1989), Indonesia (1992), Colombia (1995) and South Africa (1998). However, there was no great significance of these conferences and it actually signalled that the spirit of the Bandung Conference was dead, concurrently with the defeat of nationalist-leftist movements all over Asia and Africa (Berger, 2004: 49).
.In the 1950s, the Bandung Conference interacted with the enthusiasm of decolonization as the nation state system was consolidated in many newly independent states in Asia and Africa. Many of nationalist struggles in Asia went hand-in-hand with Leftist movements that manifested in the Hukbalahap Rebellion in Philippines (1942-1954), the Malayan Emergency in British Malaya (1948-1960) and Soekarno’s increasing proximity to the Indonesian Communist Party, which was then the second biggest Communist party in the world. In the mid 1960s, however, some of the Asian strongholds singly began to crumble, due to various causes such as the death of Nehru in 1964, the fall of Sirimavo Bandaranaike government in Sri Lanka, 1965 and the weakening power of Soekarno since 1965, which led to the prolonged and bloody anti-communist campaign led by his successor, Soeharto (Berger, 2004: 52).
The second iteration of the Bandung Conference was planned to be held in Algeria in 1965, but it never took place due to various interventions and proxy wars that influenced local and regional conflict after 1955, and ultimately, the toppling of Ben Bella government in Algeria. China’s active participation in the Bandung Conference had made the West Bloc suspicious that the non-aligned position of the Bandung Conference would shift towards the left. The Sino-Soviet split since the 1960s, on the other hand, also directly affected the failed effort to organize the second conference (Weinstein, 1965). Indeed, the idea of “peaceful co-existence” that the Bandung Conference projected was not an easy thing to manifest.
As a spirit, the Bandung Conference remains alive through government’s artificial reproduction such as in the celebrations of its 60th Anniversary last year in 2015. Romanticism to the greatness of the Bandung Conference eventually makes its legacy less dangerous. The conference now becomes a platform for strategic partnerships between nations, but the anti-colonial statement which underlie it in the first place have faded away. To revive the relevance of the Bandung Conference and move away from nostalgia, one must accept the fact that the spirit of the Bandung Conference was put to death in the heat of the Cold War. The specter of Bandung, however, is still haunting us. It is a spectre of decolonization that refuses to accept a uniformity of time under one hegemonic form of History.
Operating our mind in the framework of hauntology means that we should look for the spectre, rather than the spirit of the conference. To speak with spirit is to engage with the sacred and abstract ideal. On the other hand, to speak with spectre is to deal with threatening, uncontrollable forces that were once recognised as the fear of the future. A ghost is a figure from the past that continues to haunt us in the present. A ghost is excess from the real. It is the idealisation of the real, but it is nonetheless real. A ghost is a past that has never been present; it is a history of what could have been. Although killed repetitively, a ghost will always present. Exorcising the spectre of history is not only about making visible the unrepresentable ghost but also about opening up the spectre of possibilities which were repressed at the end of History.
If we are thinking about the years when the spirit of Bandung was unsuccessfully revitalised in a chronological linear model of History, those years would only be signs of small and unimportant deaths that slowly culminated to the point when Berlin Wall fell in 1989. The intervals of historical space and time between Bandung 1955 and Berlin 1989 need to be refilled with disjunction and anachronism that characterise the spectrality of History.
Moreover, practicing hauntology should involve a refusal to give up on the desire for a utopian future.
In Fukuyama’s worldview, posing the question “What if?” would be a mere gesture of sadness and regret. In other words, if the future is already a given, and if it is merely possibilities that are determined before becoming realised, then the future is impossible. To avoid such unhappy endings, we must think of the past as pregnant with possibilities. In this conception of temporality, the question “What if?” could raise the forces of speculation to crack the end of History.
Speculation necessitates imagination but it is not Alice in Wonderland kind of imagination that we are talking about. To construct a speculative narrative of other pasts and alternative futures, one needs to rely on a rigorous factual historical research. Speculation and counterfactual thinking, together with with rigourous imagination can play an important role in contesting the present in terms of images of speculative future. Counterfactual speculation provokes the sense of future possibilities and serves to make comments on the present (Black, 2015: 180). Like the ghosts, speculation allows us to create a new relationship with time. What-ifs scenarios present choices individuals made and could have made with its human agency as well as the factors of causalities and contingencies in History. As a thought experiment, speculation of future demands our awareness of change in the present. It also makes us rethink aspects of reality that often overlooked, such as the supremacy of the superpower blocs or the importance of the year 1989 in global history. It gives a tool for unmaking History and a pathway for other Histories to reclaim its power to speak for its own future.
What if nuclear bomb had not been invented? What if the West had not win the Cold War, would the world be less benign or perhaps less malign? What if the Bandung Conference became a successful movement in gathering the Third World solidarity? What if there was a strong coalition of non-aligned governments in Asia and Africa? What if Southeast Asia had a different grouping that overcame Asia and bypassed the Pacific? What if Soekarno had not lose his power? What if the leftist movement in Asia was able to gain bigger power? How close did we come to alternative worlds the Bandung Conference imagine?
With these haunting what-ifs questions, the spectre of Bandung demands our imagination to think of the lost future and importantly, of what we want for the future.
Berger, Mark, The Battle for Asia: From Decolonization to Globalization, London, RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.
Black, Jeremy, Other Pasts, Different Presents, Alternative Futures, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 2015.
Derrida, Jacques, Specters of Marx, Peggy Kamuf (transl.), New York, Routledge, 1994.
Fukuyama, Francis, The End of History and The Last Man, London, Penguin Books, 1992.
Weinstein, Franklin B., “The Second Asian-African Conference: Preliminary Bouts”, Asian Survey, Vol.5, No.7 (Jul., 1965), pp.359-373.