Hope, for liberalism, is the hope of ceaseless progress. It's a strange hope in that it is both a guarantee as much as a desire. Progress is guaranteed under liberalism: it's the unshakable notion that "history is on our side" and "things are always getting better." As Benjamin critiques, "Josef Dietzgen announced: 'Labor is the savior of modern times... In the improvement of labor consists the wealth, which can now finally fulfill what no redeemer could hitherto achieve.' . . This vulgar-Marxist concept of what labor is, does not bother to ask the question of how its products affect workers, so long as these are no longer at their disposal. It wishes to perceive only the progression of the exploitation of nature, not the regression of society."
This ideology, inherited by neoliberalism, has even dropped the pretense of agency. Labor will improve itself, it says, and the market will always improve, ceaselessly. Society need not even act, for they are already within a system that functions for them, in which their rational choices have functionally been already chosen, and always already procure further progress. This ideology, which Benjamin calls the ideology of Historicism, just as equally considers time as “empty” and “homogenous”, where history is considered the amassment of facts, not that of potentials. This system is precisely the ‘’denial’’ of potentials. Even as Blanqui noted, “In this world, progress is for our descendants alone.” The system as such displaces our present into that future, thereby denying ourselves the potential of ‘’now.’’
Hope as progress and hopelessness as fate stand as “indissolvable antinomies”. They function as the same tool by the bourgeois to keep humanity enchained within their ideological timelines. They are necessarily ‘’historical’’ emotions, and they must in turn be fought on historical grounds. “The only writer of history with the gift of setting alight the sparks of hope in the past, is the one who is convinced of this: that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious.” The melancholy described and the hopeful myth of progress are counterparts of the same ideological mechanism. What binds these together is their promise of "return", the essence of myth. The return of the past and returning to the future, both permanently fixed in historical time.
Benjamin, in his final work, describes a method of historical materialism that might be referred to as Redemptive History. Redemption does not seek to return to or revive, but to fulfill
those lost causes. It presents humankind as the actor within a historical continuum that is anything but settled. History, rather than the dead facts of emptied time, is instead as here today as it was then. “Are we not touched by the same breath of air which was among that which came before? is there not an echo of those who have been silenced in the voices to which we lend our ears today? have not the women, who we court, sisters who they do not recognize anymore?” It presents the left not as the reenactors of old struggles, or pioneers of new future struggles, but the inheritors and redeemers of that same struggle: a struggle that is always on the verge of being retooled by the bourgeois as dead and permanently lost to history. Thus, Benjamin writes,
“In every epoch, the attempt must be made to deliver tradition anew from the conformism which is on the point of overwhelming it. For the Messiah arrives not merely as the Redeemer; he also arrives as the vanquisher of the Anti-Christ.”
The struggle of today, which Fisher investigated with Hauntology, is the struggle to recognize the present as now
. To recognize that we are in now time
, that now
is the time of now
. And that revolution is always the channeling the potential of now
. A redemptive history does not seek to glorify the past nor mourn it but to realize it now
, to channel it now
; to recognize now
as the same time as what was once, during past revolution, their now
. “History is the object of a construction whose place is formed not in homogenous and empty time, but in that which is fulfilled by the here-and-now.” The optimist and the doomer therefore rest their fates on a historical system that is constructed against them.
The history of the left is the history of failure, no doubt, but it is precisely how we read that failure that will determine us now
. “To do justice,” Benjamin writes, “to the figure of Kafka in its purity and peculiar beauty, one must never lose sight of one thing: it is the purity and beauty of a failure.” Failure here is not eradication, repudiation or denial, but failure as a gesture towards an incompleteness: a fundamentally flawed incompleteness in the world that both Kafka’s works and the Left seek to redeem. Its enemies, therefore, are those who wish to present the world as sealed off perfected system, in which nothing can or should be done to change it. Every gesture towards its incompleteness, every failure, is thus also a radical gesture towards the potential for change: an attempt to blow up the historical continuum within that capital so ruthlessly secures it own power.