Chess was invented in a brutal age
by Perry Anderson
Who would be a more competent autobiographer than a historian? Historians ought to be excellently suited to the difficult task of describing their lives, since they have learned to examine the past with an impartial eye and to be as attentive to unusual contexts as the lists of history.
Strangely enough, it was not them but the philosophers who excelled in this genre - they actually invented it. In fact, if philosophy provides the most abstract and impersonal texts, then autobiography provides the most concrete and personal. Actually, they should behave like oil and water to one another. And yet Augustine and Rousseau gave us their personal and sexual confessions, and Descartes a first history of their own mind.
In modern times it was J. St. Mill and Nietzsche, R. G. Collingwood and Bertrand Russell, Sartre and W. Quine who left biographies more remarkable than anything else written about them. In contrast, the number of historians who produced autobiographies of importance is astonishingly small. There are the self-centered memoirs by François Guizot and Alexis de Tocqueville from the 19th century, which are rarely read today, which are essentially only of interest as evidence of political evasions. Marc Bloch's post-mortem about 1940 is closer to the present, that mixture of life story and general hodgepodge - a poignant document, but too limited to offer more than occasional glimpses of the author. More recently there are the eccentric vignettes by Richard Cobb and chats by A. J. P. Taylor, which the author believes prove that he has lost the historical subjects. This genre, which seems so appropriate to the historians 'guild, has produced all in all only two classics: Gibbon's elegant mirror image of the late 18th century and Henry Adams' cabinet of horrors at the beginning of the 20th century.
Eric Hobsbawm has embarked on this generally disappointing area with a work that he presents to us as the "B-side" of his great story of the 20th century, the Age of Extremes, "not world history, illustrated by the experiences of an individual, but world history that shapes this experience "and the choices it offered him. Published by an 85-year-old author would have Dangerous Times. A life in the 20th century (Munich: Hanser, 2003) could be written by an energetic and razor-sharp 40-year-old. The book inevitably leads the reader to Hobsbawm's historical works because, be it incidentally or on purpose, it references what he has accomplished overall. It is actually the more intimate fifth volume of an ongoing project. You could also just call it "The Age of Eric Hobsbawm."
It's an autobiography made up of three completely different parts. The first deals with the author's childhood and adolescence up to his university studies and can be regarded as the most linguistically perfect text of this outstanding stylist. With sensitivity and restraint, but also with nervous sincerity, Hobsbawm leads us from his birth, which happened to take place in Alexandria, to his uncertain childhood in post-war Vienna, to the short but exciting youth in Berlin during the Weimar Republic. He fled the Nazis to England and on the eve of the Spanish Civil War he finally managed to arrive in Cambridge. With moving portraits of his parents, his unlucky English father and the tender Austrian mother - both died before he was 14 - he outlines one side of his psychological background. The mutual Jewish descent from the most anti-Semitic city in Europe is the other. He explains that the loyalty to his origins, which his mother taught him, goes hand in hand with the lack of an "emotional commitment ... to the small, militaristic, culturally disappointing and politically aggressive nation-state that demands my solidarity for racial reasons."
In Berlin, where an uncle (from the English branch of the family) was doing dirty business in the film industry, Hobsbawm discovered communism in a traditional Prussian high school at 15, shortly before Hitler came to power. There are few similarly vivid accounts of the tense atmosphere of those months in which the revolutionary left found itself. It is hardly surprising that the memory of that last march of the KPD, which was slowly trickling along in Berlin the previous evening, its defeat in mind, shaped him more deeply than his school days in quiet London at the time of the coalition government. He has a loving sense of humor about his experiences at St. Marylebone Grammar School ("that I passed exams with the same ease as a good helping of ice cream"). In depicting those contrasting scenes, he always proves to be the wise historian who locates the coincidences of his own life in the currents and countercurrents of a sharply defined space and time. The image that he conjures up with considerable skill shows a boy who is unlike the usual images of men: a loner, initially more attracted by nature than politics, thinking more abstractly and withdrawn, who only gradually gains self-confidence . The tenor of this self-portrait, with which he ends the description of his youth, is somewhat reminiscent of Kepler's horoscope, which he set up for himself: “Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm, a tall, angular, lanky, ugly, blond guy of almost eighteen and a half, with one quick comprehension, extensive, albeit superficial general knowledge and numerous original, very general and theoretical ideas, incorrigible poseur, all the more dangerous and here and there more effective when he talks himself into his pose ... without any moral sense, thoroughly selfish, some people highly unsympathetic , others sympathetic, others again, the majority, just ridiculous ... He is vain and conceited. He's a coward. He loves nature very much. And he forgets the German language. "
This is how the first part of Dangerous times. From a literary point of view, he could have finished the book here. We would then have a masterful torso that would move and torment us at the same time, like what Benjamin Constant or Jean-Paul Sartre left us with - journeys into the age of reason or passion, on the threshold of which travelers leave us. If one did not consider the idea to be absurd, one could regard the passage quoted above less as an introduction to the portrait of a historian as a young man than as the end of further self-explorations of this kind replaced by another company. We will never again get an insight into this inner workings.
Without further warning, the following chapter catapults us into the second part of Dangerous times who deals with Hobsbawm's membership of the British Communist Party (CPGB) from the late 1930s to its dissolution in the early 1990s. Here he talks about his time in Cambridge, at the height of the student communist engagement there; how he was stranded in the war as a suspect by the authorities; his attitude as a party member and his near-discrimination as an academic during the Cold War; his reactions to the crisis sparked by Khrushchev's revelations and the 1956 Hungarian uprising, which rocked the communist movement; the reasons why he stayed in the party after most of his fellow Marxist historians left it and why he found his choice more productive than theirs; how, in his opinion, he eventually helped to keep the Labor Party alive at the time the CPGB was disbanded.
These chapters use a completely different linguistic register. The change begins on the very first page, on which Hobsbawm, before going into his own Cambridge experiences, feels obliged to explain how little he was acquainted with [the British-Soviet double agents] Burgess and Maclean, Philby and Blunt who were all there before he went to university. He is honored to add that he would have taken on such assignments if asked to do so. A certain unease remains, however, as if a completely different personality emerged from the background of the report. The description of Cambridge that follows contains precise images of the archaic system of tutors and institutions and of the nature and motivations of the radical student body. The author points out that at the height of development the left made up about a fifth of the student body, of which no more than a tenth were communists. Hobsbawm emphasizes the informal influence that the party still wielded at the university - a result of vigorous agitation and efforts for scientific success, as well as the drive of its young activists. The presentation is convincing, but essentially only affects the community. We learn little about Hobsbawm's personal role in it, nothing at all about his own intellectual development, almost nothing about his emotional life - and there is hardly any reference to his political ideas. The pronoun used all the time is now the anonymous we of the generation. The first person singular is reserved for less meaningful moments, such as when dealing with a more conventional subject: “My last trimester, May / June 1939, was particularly enjoyable. I was editor-in-chief of Granta, was accepted into the 'Apostle' and achieved a 'First' with a star in the Tripos, which was connected to a scholarship in the Kings. "
How misleading this suppression of one's own subjectivity is can be seen from the strange postponement of decisive episodes of this period of the author's life in chapters that come several hundred pages after the report on his student days. At the end of the chapter on Cambridge, when he was working with James Klugmann for a cover organization of the Comintern during his summer vacation in Paris, he and the future historian Margot Heinemann are mentioned in passing. Hobsbawm explains cryptically about the former: “What did they know about him? He said nothing about the latter. He simply said that it "probably influenced him more politically than anyone else I knew." After this significant statement, Heinemann is never mentioned again. Only in the concluding reminiscences about the different parts of the world that Hobsbawm had traveled, at the very end of the book under the objectifying headings "France and Spain", one can sense what personal feelings might be hidden behind such choppy sentences.
There is nothing in his section on Cambridge that comes close to his passionate portrayal of the day the Bastille was stormed in the first year of the Popular Front as he drove through celebrating Paris on the truck of a French Socialist news team - 'It was one of those rare days where my thinking was shut off; in me there was only feeling and experiencing ”- and then drank and danced until dawn: a state of intoxication that was very different from the one triggered by the funeral march in Berlin. It would be strange if these stays in Paris, where he worked as a translator in the place that was the center of the world for all Comintern organizations in Europe, surrounded by the fermenting popular front, had meant nothing more to him than the party work in the socialist one Cambridge Club. He may even associate this different ambience with his - in these memories, which otherwise don't say a single word on this subject, unusual - confession about his sexual initiation "in a bed surrounded on all sides with mirrors" in a brothel near the Boulevard Sébastopol.
Previously, on his illegal entry into Spain shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, around the time John Cornford was joining the army in Barcelona, he considered joining the Republican Army. The passage where he asks himself retrospectively about this decision is also of enigmatic depth and beauty and rises above the more homely portrayal of his life in England. The attempt to combine these absent-minded remarks about a youthful revolutionary into an internalized synthesis is missing - and is intentionally left out. In the course of the narrative, the falling apart proves to be the price for increasing externalization.
Chronologically, the war follows Cambridge: For Hobsbawm, as he rightly complains bitterly, an unprofitable experience. The Ministry of Defense only sent him to a pioneer regiment, which was then ordered to Singapore. Eventually he was posted to formal service in the Education Corps in England, presumably mainly because he came from Austria and not just because he was a communist. From his time with the pioneers he learned firsthand to appreciate the traditional virtues of the English workers; he developed a "lasting, albeit desperate, admiration" for them, which was the beginning of a sensitive sympathy and shaped everything he has written about the masses since then Has. In any case, the acute economic insecurity, sometimes almost poverty, of his own circumstances in Vienna would have brought him closer to a proletarian standard of living than most English intellectuals of his generation.
During the war he got his first marriage; he married a communist who worked in the public service and about whom he hardly talks. When he was belatedly finally demobilized, he began working as a historian and soon found a job at Birkbeck College. Unfortunately, he found that the splendid career that was to be expected after his great start at Kings College was not going as planned because of the Cold War by preventing all communists from advancing. He appropriately suggests his hurt at being denied the permanent positions that would have been available to him at Cambridge in due course.
However, if you read between the lines, you will see that the report on this career kink is a little opaque. According to Hobsbawm, after the war he not only took part in the re-establishment of the "apostles," a circle of insiders that one can hardly imagine more typically, he was even the organizer of this community and recruited new members from the student body to the Mid 50s. Was there a connection between this activity and the fellowship which he was granted at Kings College at the height of the Cold War in 1949, rather than the speed with which he was given adequate accommodation when his marriage broke up? what he himself emphasized? An indication that there is more to this assumption than is initially apparent is provided by a strange omission in this context: The name Noel Annans, Fellow and later Provost at Kings College, that of a close friend, does not appear.
Hobsbawm and Communism
If such matters are in place in autobiographies, they are otherwise of little concern. Hobsbawm's focus in dealing with these years is politics. In three consecutive chapters, he explains what it meant to be a communist at the time, whether you were in power or not; what problems arose for British communists as a result of the development of the Soviet system during the Cold War; and how de-Stalinization sparked a crisis in the CPGB that made him one of the few remaining intellectuals in the party. Again and again he takes up this question: Why did he stay in the party to the bitter end? These extended reflections create mixed feelings. He looks at his decision for communism from the very general perspective of the period from the October Revolution to the end of the war. In doing so, he verbally defends those who made this decision and makes clear what it meant to them. He alternates between sociological observations and individual heroic, but also trivial examples. He highlights the ethos of selfless discipline and practical orientation - business acumen, as he calls it - as the true quality mark of the III. Internationale points out: “Communist parties were not up for romantic ideas.” [In the original, Hobsbawm writes: “Communist parties are not for romantics.”] “On the other hand, they thought a lot of organization and bureaucratic routine the dreams of storming barricades or even in Marxist theory.It can be summed up in a few words: 'Decisions must be carried out' and 'Party discipline'. What drew people to the party was that they could do better than the others. "
From a historical point of view, this picture must appear strangely crooked. A movement to which revolutionaries like Victor Serge or Leon Trotsky, Manabendra Roy or José Mariátegui, Henk Sneevliet or Richard Sorge belonged, should not have been for romantics? And how does Mao Zedong fit in, who was probably of greater importance for the history of communism - whether for better or for worse - than any of the good European officials and fighters presented to us here? Elsewhere, by the way, Hobsbawm condemned him as a 'romantic'. The truth is that a juxtaposition of barricades and theory against business acumen and assertiveness is ex post facto a rhetorical figure that at best says something about the self-image of the Stalinist European Comintern after 1927, which Hobsbawm himself was shaped by: it doesn't even reveal, however adequately its ambivalences. The cult of concrete-headed routine and practicalism, as expressed here, was often just a form of romance and by no means always the most effective. Fortunately, Hobsbawm himself does not always follow it, as his moving portrait of the Austrian revolutionary Franz Marek makes clear, which he places at the center of his moral reflections on "what it means to be a communist."
What were his own convictions after 1943, when the Comintern was dissolved by Zhdanov, and in 1947, when he convened the Cominform at the height of the Cold War? It's not easy to say. Part of that has to do with the fact that Dangerous times when dealing with his own understanding of communism avoids any overly precise chronology. Hobsbawm's general consideration of his experiences in communism, which leads more or less undated from Lenin to Gorbachev, follows immediately after his report on Cambridge and even before the war. When he takes up his personal story again, he is concerned with the attitude of the intellectuals in the British party to developments in the Cominform period, which they were dismayed about: the excommunication of Tito, the Kostov, Rajk and Slansky show trials. Here, too, the language is emphatically collective: "What should we think?" "None of us believed"; "Of course we underestimated"; "People like me"; "We also understood".
We learn little about Hobsbawm's personal opinion, only the fact that he doubted whether Basil Davidson was really a British spy, as he was accused in the Rajk trial (as was Rajk himself). Davidson's Cold War career had suffered. Hobsbawm leaves us in the dark about his opinion on the Moscow trials that put an end to the old Bolsheviks and set the pattern for the post-war trials in Sofia, Budapest and Prague. Nor does he ever mention that he has acquired the considerable literature on these events.
His report suggests that the British Communists, or at least party intellectuals, did not believe in the official versions of any of these trials. Which is not the same as knowing that it is a bunch of lies. There were also unofficial versions in circulation. When Khrushchev finally laid bare the foundations of the entire grotesque building of confessions from Stalin's torture cellars, Hobsbawm emphasizes the shock these revelations - which, of course, contained little that was not already widely known outside the USSR - caused the international communist movement. “In retrospect,” it says, “the reason for this is obvious. We had not been told the truth about something that must touch the very core of a communist's conviction. ”Although the personal pronoun is rather vague, it can be assumed that Hobsbawm, in some ways, continued to believe in Stalin's integrity. To what extent is impossible to determine from the structure of the representation. There is no doubt that no independent sources have been critically consulted, and what the leadership said was believed to be true. Apparently the party soldier and the historian were separate personalities.
Hobsbawm describes the crisis that Khrushchev's speech, which was followed a few months later by the Hungarian uprising, sparked in the CPGB in an image that reflects his excitement: British communists had "for over a year on the edge of their political equivalent to a collective Lived a nervous breakdown «. The CPGB historians' group, of which he was then chairman, became the core of the anti-bureaucratic opposition; virtually all members except himself left the party by the summer of 1957. Why did he stay? He has two answers and a marginal note. “I didn't come to communism as a young Englishman in England, but as a Central European in Germany when the Weimar Republic was on its last legs. And I came to him when being a communist wasn't just about fighting fascism, it was about the world revolution. I belong to the bottom of the first generation of communists, to those for whom the October Revolution was the central point of reference in the political universe. "So it was, he writes," for someone who joined the movement where I came from and to the time I had joined, simply more difficult to break with the party than for those who came later and elsewhere «.
That is certainly the simple biographical and well-formulated truth. But if the emergency situation and the hope that the communist movement offered him were more important to him than to his English contemporaries, it is less clear why the temporal contrast should have been more important than the geographical one, as he then suggests. Was the October Revolution meaningless to Christopher Hill, who joined the party in the mid-1930s, learned Russian - which Hobsbawm said he never did - and wrote a book about Lenin? What Hobsbawm formulates as a large, temporal rather than geographical difference, contains a highly informative remark about himself: as a party member since 1936, he explains, he belongs politically to the period of the Popular Front, which was oriented towards an alliance between capital and labor, what determine his strategic thinking up to the present; Emotionally, as someone who was convinced as a youth in Berlin in 1932, he felt connected to the original revolutionary program of the Bolsheviks. This dichotomy has many connections to his oeuvre.
However, if these are the deeper biographical reasons why Hobsbawm remained a communist after 1956, one would expect that more mundane political assessments also played a role. After all, de-Stalinization did not end that year. After the defeat of Malenkov and Molotov in the summer of 1957, Khrushchev pursued them in the USSR even more zealously than before. The labor camps emptied, the standard of living rose, the debate among intellectuals revived, and solidarity was shown to the latest chapter of the world revolution in the Caribbean. At the 22nd Congress, further steps were taken to come to terms with the past. The 1961 party congress brought developments that convinced many communists, shaken by the events of 1956, that the legacy of the October Revolution was gradually being redeemed, albeit in a roundabout way, and not finally abandoned. It would be understandable and in no way surprising if Hobsbawm had thought in that direction. There is no trace of this in the book, however. Strictly speaking, nowhere in the entire account of his communist experiences does he deal with the current political history of the period. Instead, he concludes his explanation of the reasons for remaining in the party by citing and explaining a "personal feeling: pride". If he had left her, his career prospects would have improved, but precisely because of this "I could prove myself to myself if I were to be successful as a well-known communist - whatever 'success' meant - despite this handicap."
Hobsbawm calls this combination of loyalty and ambition a kind of egoism that he does not defend. Most people would see it as evidence of unusual integrity and strength of character, as well as the courage to take unpopular positions. It was especially remarkable with a person for whom success obviously meant so much.
The slightly thrown paragraph in Dangerous times The various forms this success took can be seen as a friendly gesture: a global readership in dozens of languages, leading positions in three countries at the same time, at academies, numerous honorary doctorates, countless interviews and lectures, honors from near and far . No mention is made of other awards: the English reader will think of the Company of Honor to which Hobsbawm belongs, side by side with Lords Norman Tebbit, Douglas Hurd and William Howe. Earlier in this life story, Hobsbawm explains that he had "received at least some of the tokens of public recognition" that made him "a recognized member of the official British cultural establishment" because he was able to please his mother in her last years . With a disarming smile that rules out further questions, he added that if he said so he would “probably not be more sincere or insincere than Sir Isaiah Berlin, who used to apologize for having accepted the peerage by declaring, he only did this to please his mother. "
Great men have their weaknesses that they can forgive, including the occasional inability to see what their size is or what might damage it. In England, the inability to withstand medal sheet is as common among eminent scholars - primarily historians of all stripes - as it was among African slave traders. For Hobsbawm, it's not about distance, but about the link between political loyalty and social adjustment. Because he remained so steadfastly loyal to a despised movement, his final recognition in the world was of particular significance. Inwardly, he could evaluate any progress in one area as a derived shine for the other.
Psychologically, such complex balance exercises are quite normal. However, they come at a price. A crucial motive in Dangerous times is the constant effort to explain the meaning of a communist's life. But who is the author addressing?
If the repeated nervous turn to this task is in some ways embarrassing, it is because he is not consistent, but more often than one would like - from the first remark about the Cambridge spies to the expression of satisfaction that Edward Heath and Michael Heseltine Marxism Today honored by their cooperation -, turns to the established order as its addressee, to whom he is accountable in this book. This seems logically to stem from the lack of a thorough political debate or serious intellectual engagement with the issues that overshadowed the path of European communism, which is such an unexpected facet of this work. He writes about the Russian Revolution that "it must be obvious to everyone today that the failure of this project was preprogrammed." He offers no rationale for a conclusion so completely contrary to his insistence on the efficiency of Stalinism. But since this defeat is self-evident to his addressees, why should he explain something? That would require a different orientation and different references; then he would have to come up with names like Kautsky, Luxemburg, Trotsky and anticipatory ideas, which he avoids in these memoirs.
Hobsbawm and the Left
Disregarding these and other objections and restrictions, Hobsbawm's elegy on the political tradition to which he dedicated his life has a dignity and passion that demands respect from every human being. His treatment of the tradition of others, on the other hand, is far less impressive. Here, a lack of generosity spoils too many of his judgments. The problem begins the moment he tries to explain why he did not leave the party in 1956. Before arriving at the legitimate biographical reasons for his own decision, as if this were the necessary preparation for his own justification, he belittles those who made the opposite decision.
His portrait of Raphael Samuel - "this lively vagabond, the absolute negation of a planning and executive efficiency", devoted his "concentrated charge of energy" to putting "this crazy project" of a London coffee house into practice - prompted Hobsbawm to "this insane enterprise «To lament as much as his own support for it, given without any sense of proportion. Anyone reading this would not think that Samuel, who was a member of the CPGB for six years, created a political anthropology of the party, The Lost World of British Communism [Published in New Left Review], the value of which makes Hobsbawm's memory of it, who was a member eight times as long, seem rather poor.
We learn from Edward Thompson that he lacked a "built-in compass" and that after he had acquired it in 1962 The rise of the English working class had written - an ingenious work »despite the almost provocatively short period of time treated and the narrow, limited subject« - wasted his time on a theoretical discussion (meaning Thompson's extensive criticism of Louis Althusser) - »almost a crime« and despite the warning through Hobsbawm - instead of doing empirical research. Thompson would have been surprised to be called "uncertain" on these pages as to what, in a certain way, one could say about all human beings. Probably he would have thought that this was more true of the author himself. Practically and politically, according to Hobsbawm, the various currents of the New Left that grew out of the crisis of 1956 are negligible. Worse still, the radical students of North America and Europe in the 1960s - "my generation remained alien to the 1960s" - were responsible less for "a failed attempt at a certain kind of revolution" than for "the effective ratification of another kind of revolution: one that ... abolishes traditional politics and ultimately the politics of the traditional left «. Comparable to the ›ultra-left‹ in and outside of South America (“whose guevarist guerrilla attempts failed spectacularly”), who oriented themselves towards the Cuban revolution and “did not see or did not want to see what actually induced Latin American farmers to take up arms” - different than the FARC in Colombia or the Sendero Luminoso in Peru.
In this sour retrospect, hardly any statement stands up to thorough scrutiny. The New Left of the late 1950s played a key role in the campaign for nuclear disarmament, which failed to achieve its goals, but was no less meaningless as an engine of change than the unreformed CPGB. The student movements in Europe and the United States not only contributed to weakening the De Gaulle and Nixon regimes, as Hobsbawm himself reports in a forgettable moment, but were also - what he does not report - significantly involved in the US war to end in Vietnam on the home front; they have also given rise to the most powerful mobilization of the working class in France and Italy. In Latin America, the only successful revolution in Nicaragua was not only directly inspired but also supported by Cuba. About Peru and Colombia, Hobsbawm says that he can only approve of the break-up of the Sendero Luminoso by Fujimori; then why not also the overthrow of the FARC by Uribe?
In contrast to such absurdities, Hobsbawm reports on what he believed to be a more productive enterprise at the beginning of the 1980s. It's about the campaign he was in Marxism Today led to free the Labor Party from the danger of "Bennism". Here legitimate pride and life-threatening self-deception are strangely woven together. As Hobsbawm rightly points out, behind the militant union defeat of the Callaghan government in the 1970s, despite its remarkable strike successes, there was no surge in working class strength and organization; after Thatcher came to power, the left's seizure of a weakened Labor Party apparatus was not enough to defeat the new conservatism.However, the conclusions that he drew from these accurate observations were astonishingly simple: he saw the essential task of restoring a "moderate" leadership at all costs, able to win back the middle-class voters for the party - without Consideration of the obvious fact that this kind of traditional laborism had been exhausted, which had been shown in a desolate way in the late 1960s and in the 1970s and made the upswing of the left possible in the first place.
Hobsbawm reports with pleasure about his overestimated contribution to the outcry in the media, which put an end to Tony Benn and brought the unfortunate Neil Kinnock into office. As the entire Fleet Street, from Sun and Mirror until Guardian and the Telegraph, Benn wanted to slaughter, it is doubtful whether Hobsbawm's outcry was of such importance. He assures us that the future of the Labor Party was "definitely secured" after Kinnock carried out the necessary purges of the party. But even after Thatcher was no longer a role, the new leader turned out to be a fiasco in the 1992 elections. "I'm not alone," Hobsbawm mourns, "when I remember that election night as the saddest and most desperate of my political life." One wonders what March 1933 then meant. Such an overestimation shows the temporary loss of reality suffered by the historian in his crusade to save the Labor Party - Hugh Gaitskell's old slogan refreshed. Far from being saved in the sense he intended, the party was turned inside out and turned into a "thatcher in pants."
When he realizes that the Labor left has ceased to exist since his bailout of the party, he does not seem to understand that this was one of the prerequisites for the rise of Blairism, which he is now lamenting. Obviously played Marxism Today - a journalistically lively magazine that lacked intellectual and political backbone (it disappeared in 1991 with the party to which it belonged) - on a lower level, the role of the sorcerer's apprentice, who not least paved the way for the Thatcher cult as a model of a radical government, which was then taken over by New Labor with Aplomb.
In the end, Hobsbawm regrets that the Blair regime "drove us out of the 'Realpolitik'" and regretfully cites the rebuke, which was a veteran Marxism-Today-Kämpe, who had meanwhile landed in Downing Street, missed that criticism was no longer enough since New Labor had to "operate in a market economy and conform to its requirements." To which he only replied "All is well and good," to which modest replica merely added in protest that the leadership had an exaggerated trust in neoliberal ideology. This episode is by no means the whole of Hobsbawm, it just shows what happened to that part of his past that he always said determined his strategic thinking.
The Popular Front was able to arouse the masses into political activity and mobilize them to real enthusiasm, but even at its height in France and Spain in the 1930s it lacked a realistic sense of power and so it all ended in catastrophe. The fact that its legacy of sentimental illusions was dragged along into the post-war period without a comparable mobilization of the masses behind it had further banal consequences: the confusing disappearance of one Communist party after another from the governments on the continent between 1946 and 1947, the futile Efforts to reach a historical compromise in Italy in the 1970s and finally the desolate attempt in the 1980s to paste up the fragile shell of Laborism - that cold ashes of the glowing hopes of 1936.
In the last third of Dangerous times the style changes again. Hobsbawm eschews a coherent narrative and instead provides an overview of his professional career and travels. The pace slackens and the book seems more conventional now, although the old, cross-witted lightning bolts illuminate even flatter passages. What follows is an interesting account of the development of analytical social history, as it did with the journals Annales and Past & Present and replaced the older, purely political historiography. The author regrets their later withdrawal, which went hand in hand with the cultural change of the 80s.
Hobsbawm calls the historians who promoted this "modernizer," an all too vague and bureaucratic term, apart from the other connotations ("the main rail network on which the historiography trains were supposed to run was completed"), rather than real ones theoretical benefit would be. Here it sells below price. If you want to see how original your own approach to studying the past is - and there he surpasses Fernand Braudel, whom he says he was always a little overwhelmed by - then you have to look at his anthology How much history does the future need? turn to. This third part of the Dangerous times once again shows how little insight this autobiography conveys into Hobsbawm's preoccupation with the world of ideas. In the whole book he hardly mentions a philosophical work that has seriously influenced him. All we learn about his Marxism is that he is that Communist manifesto read at the grammar school in Berlin. He mentions that in the high school class in England literature was an exchange subject for philosophy; like other British Marxist historians, he came to history through an original passion for philosophy. The St. Marylebone Grammar School taught him "the amazing wonders of English poetry and prose"; beyond that, we do not learn anything about his actual reading. As for politics, he quotes passages by Brecht and Neruda - nothing follows about his worldview. This reluctance may also have taken place with a view to the readership who are disinterested in such problems.
Another field is travel. The book closes with Hobsbawm's travel experiences in France, Spain, Italy, Latin America and the USA. He writes about the first four with unreserved affection and without claiming any particular expertise. Rather, he admits that he was shaken or disappointed with the development there on various occasions and that the politics and culture of the Fifth Republic were incongenial compared to France in the 1940s and late 1930s. The speed with which capitalism was transforming Spain surprised him; Craxi's and Berlusconi's success in Italy had amazed him, as had the shrinking communist movement closest to him; he had come to terms with the lack of any real political progress, despite the tremendous social changes in Latin America. In another sense, these chapters are enjoyable accounts of joys and friendships in the societies he enjoyed.
The USA, where Hobsbawm spent more time than in all other countries combined, is different. Manhattan is an exception. He says he learned more about the country in a few months studying the jazz scene in 1960 than he did in the dozen years as a visiting professor during the 1980s and 1990s. These apparently increased his distance - an antipathy without his characteristic quantum of curiosity - towards the USA. While America's achievements are impressive, he writes, the inequality and political paralysis, self-centeredness and megalomania in the United States are qualities that make him happy to belong to a different culture. This remark is a reminder that the country that Hobsbawm means most does not appear in this overview. In Dangerous times he recounts childhood memories, including a brief episode in Wales, but does not return to England. This should by no means be taken as a sign of indifference. Contemporaries confirm that even in Cambridge, Hobsbawm felt unexpectedly strong for them as an Englishman and harbored patriotic sentiments, which later found expression in his staunch defense of the integrity of the United Kingdom and perhaps in his mixed feelings about the Falklands War. His relationship to his legal home and his cultural adoptive country is a complicated field that he leaves out in this self-portrait.
Dangerous times ends with a grand finale about September 11th and the political appropriation of this event, especially with the “audacity with which they portray the establishment of the US Empire as the defensive reaction of a civilization that is on the verge of nameless barbaric horrors to be haunted if it does not destroy 'international terrorism' «. From a historical perspective, he notes, the new American empire will be more dangerous than the British was because it is a far greater power. But it is unlikely that it will last any longer. Once again, says Hobsbawm, youth capitalism is making itself unbelievable, as enormous forces of social upheaval are turning the world upside down beyond anything previously known. Hobsbawm sees himself as a historian who benefited from never having fully belonged to a community and whose ideal is that migratory bird "that is just as at home in the Arctic as it is in the tropics and over half the globe". He appeals to the younger generations to avoid the fetish of identity and to make common cause with the poor and the weak. “But we don't want to put our hands on our laps, not even in unsatisfactory times. Social injustice still needs to be denounced and combated. The world doesn't get any better on its own. ”At the end of the memoir, regardless of all the formal differences and the considerations that trigger them, the lasting impression is that of a great spirit and the complex uniqueness of the life it reports. They do justice to the historian's achievement. An uncompromisingly vital person defied the years.
History of civil society
In what way illuminates Dangerous times the self-portrait juxtaposed with the historical background and as a counterpart to the book The age of extremes is presented, Eric Hobsbawm's view of the 20th century? Does both result in an overview of modernity? As far as the overarching concept is concerned, you can The Age of Revolution (German: European revolutions, Munich 1962, Cologne 2004), The Age of Capital (German: The heyday of capital. A cultural history of the years 1848-1875, Munich 1977), The Age of Empire (German: The imperial age 1875-1914, Frankfurt / New York 1989) and Age of Extremes (German: The age of extremes. World history of the 20th century, Munich / Vienna 1995) as a single project - as a tetralogy that is unsurpassed as a systematic report on the development of our world today. All volumes show the same amazing combination of positive properties such as the economy of synthesis, vivid description of the details, global orientation with an astute perception of regional differences, a universality that knows about agricultural yields as well as about stock exchange transactions, about nations or about classes, about statesmen or peasants as well as about science and the arts; there is broad sympathy for the various social groups, analytical skills and, last but not least, a style of remarkable clarity and power, characterized by the unexpectedly sudden appearance of electrifying images in the midst of an argument that is as cool as it is accurate on the even surface. It is amazing how often such pictorial lightning bolts are taken from nature, which Hobsbawm says was so close to him in his youth.
Within the epic span of these four volumes, however, there is a clear break between the first three, originally conceived as a trilogy, and the last volume, which can actually stand for itself and has characteristics that distinguish it from its predecessors. The trilogy, which covers the period from the French Revolution to the First World War, follows a consistent plan. In its logic it is a work of classical Marxism: each volume begins with the presentation of the economic foundations of the period, which is followed by a report on the political conflicts (in the first two volumes they are called "developments") and a panoramic description of the social classes. This is followed by an overview of the cultural and intellectual scene (titled "Results"). Theoretical weapons are not clashed here; Base and superstructure are never mentioned. Within this arrangement certain topics are particularly emphasized: There are very nice chapters on the Napoleonic Wars, the Romanticism, the worldwide boom in the 1850s and its losers, the causes of the First World War and on numerous other topics. Ten years before the term became commonplace, "globalization" was already an issue in the Imperial Age.
The political sympathies in the trilogy are clear. It is difficult to find another historian who (like Hobsbawm in the The heyday of capital) would write: “The author of this book cannot hide a certain reluctance, perhaps even contempt, in view of the period covered here; this aversion is, of course, tempered by admiration for its titanic material achievements and by the effort to understand even what he does not like. "Hobsbawm's general judgments are often cutting:" The introduction of liberalism was like a kind of silent bombardment, the social structure in which the farmer had always lived, shattered and in its place left nothing but the rich: a loneliness called freedom. «But judgments always have an individual flair and are seldom predictable. Who would have thought that a leftist could describe the Congress of Vienna as reasonable and realistic, or expected the author to rate Louis Napoleon more positively than Proudhon or Bakunin?
The first three books met with fairly unreserved admiration, but sparked less critical debate than they deserve, as is often the case in such cases. This is partly due to their thematic scope, which in fact does not allow an overall view. When that is gone, specific issues or considerations appear a little arbitrary or marginal. But if the essence of any great work is the questions it raises, it may be worthwhile to let a few disorganized thoughts fall on those mirror-polished surfaces. The axis on which the trilogy rests the history of the "long nineteenth century" - which extends from 1776 or 1789 to 1914 - is, in Hobsbawm's words, "the triumphant advance and upheaval of capitalism in the historically specific form of a liberal bourgeois society." . Here we have, in a nutshell, the trio of objects of study - the economic, the social, and the political - that determine the development in each of the volumes.
Capitalism and bourgeoisie
The aim of his work is "not a detailed presentation, but an interpretation of the kind that the French call› haute vulgarisation ‹," and Hobsbawm leaves the question open to what extent this is also an explanation, a question that is not irrelevant for his performance. At the beginning of his business he realizes that he is in European revolutions not to explain the origins of capitalism in the 16th and 17th centuries, but rather to treat the breakthrough of the industrial revolution in England from the 1780s onwards. He keeps his promise and presents an ingeniously to the point report on the imperial foundations of British industrialism. "Pulled up from the colonial trade to which it was bound, the cotton industry flew off like a glider." The cotton industry - whose raw material was mainly supplied by slaves and whose markets were secured by sea powers - represented the triumph of export over domestic consumption. Later historians have highlighted the relative advantage of British coal-based energy as a key requirement of the industrial revolution. Others have tried to refute this argument completely. So far, however, nobody has questioned Hobsbawm's emphasis on empire as a framework.
If, on the other hand, we come to the second great epoch of industrial expansion, the global boom of the 1850s, with the The heyday of capital begins, there is a gradual decrease in the pressure to explain.“Why has the economic expansion of our time expanded so spectacularly?” Asks Hobsbawm, saying “the question should be turned around” and is more about why this did not happen earlier. This fin de non-recevoir seems to me to be an excuse and will not be pursued any further. Instead, the author offers us a mix of factors, the railroad, improved connections, new gold reserves that are out of proportion to the extent of the change; Finally, he casually mentions the spread of economic liberalism ("to what extent the global liberalization movement was the cause, side effect or consequence of economic expansion must remain an open question").
There are even less verified causes for the descent into the Great Depression of 1873, the next decisive event in the world economy. A graphic shows the uneven development in the depression, but hardly gives any reasons for it. Hobsbawm simply comments on the renewed upswing in the 1890s with the assumption that the entire period of the "imperial age" moved in a Kondratievian rhythm - around twenty years of recession followed by twenty years of expansion. But "since we cannot explain them adequately, the Kondratiev phases do not help us much". We learn little more about possible reasons for the upswing than that purchasing power in the big cities grew after deflation during the downturn. Perhaps the lack of deeper investigation into such difficult questions is the price paid for the streamlined elegance of the trilogy, the pace of which is inconsistent with the patient economic digs practiced by Hobsbawm in essays such as The Crisis of the 17th Century (1954).
The second aspect of the trilogy program - the social - differs from the first in that it deals with other, more conceptual than empirical questions. You could say they begin with the famous concept of the dual revolution - "twin craters of a larger regional volcano". The problem is quite simple: while England was undergoing the industrial revolution at the end of the 18th century, it was the political revolution in France. Why did the two events fall apart?
According to traditional Marxist premises, a political revolution occurs when the progress of the new economic productive forces breaks the fetters of the outdated relations of production. But in one country the strength of modern industry did not shake either the monarchy or the oligarchy; in the other, the people's awakening did not result in an acceleration of advanced technology, but rather, as Hobsbawm observes, a consolidation of traditional peasant property. For a Marxist historian, this reciprocal asymmetry would actually have required more than an empirical statement. It can easily come across as overly critical when one accuses a larger work of what is not in it instead of benefiting from what is in it. In this case, however, the elegance with which Hobsbawm glides over what can be analytically called thin ice in his histoire raisonnée had to give rise to difficulties at a later point. Ultimately, it is a matter of specifying the relationship between capitalism and bourgeois society, about which the Trinitarian definition of the three "ages" says nothing more than that the former is a specific historical form of the second, without going into further details.
The critical point lies in the development of the European bourgeoisie as a political class. In his first volume, after describing the restorative decisions of 1815, Hobsbawm wrote the following about the revolutionary wave of 1830: In Western Europe it led to the final victory of the bourgeoisie over the aristocratic forces. For the next five decades, power lay with the "big bourgeoisie," the bankers and big industrialists, who in some cases include the top of the state bureaucracy. The aristocracy accepted it and was ready to play second fiddle or to pursue a policy primarily determined by bourgeois interests. The rulers did not yet feel threatened by the danger of universal suffrage, although they were under pressure from dissatisfied businessmen, the petty bourgeoisie and the first labor movements. "
That seems premature. If the bourgeoisie had already ruled Western Europe at the time of Lola Montez and King Bomba, what were the 1848 uprisings for? Why, at the end of an admirable survey of these events, does the author conclude that "the bourgeoisie ceased to be a revolutionary force"? In the half-century after 1830 universal male suffrage had finally been introduced in both France and Germany. But was that why Bismarck and MacMahon were simply bourgeois?
The second volume refers to a different periodization, which, however, increases the uncertainties rather than dissolves them. The period 1848–1875 presents itself primarily as “the era of the triumphant bourgeoisie”, the rise of which “appears indubitable and unchallenged”. At the same time, however, Hobsbawm admits that in most countries the bourgeoisie "no matter how you choose to define it, clearly exerted no political power, either directly or as a supervisory authority, except in subordinate or community levels. However, elsewhere the bourgeoisie had the preponderance [hegemony] and thus increasingly determined the direction of politics. There was no alternative to capitalism when it came to economic progress. "
This description implies, without explicitly saying it, that there was no agreement but a rejection between the fields of economics and politics. The rule of capital did not necessarily mean the rule of the bourgeoisie. This represents a central paradox that actually needs an explanation. The author avoids this, in this case partly by tearing apart the connections. The great political upheavals of the time are parts of a whole, elements of an epochal fault: the unification of Germany and Italy, the American Civil War and the Meiji Restoration in Japan. They will all be in the The heyday of capital dealt with, but in different chapters - "Conflicts, War", "Nations under Construction", "Winners" - which they do not place in any context that would account for the historical problem on which they are based.
If the European bourgeoisie was never really in power at the height of its power but ruled the state, what was its development after the "brief and transitory" moment of its triumph? in the Imperial Age the focus shifts to the third aspect of the program - politics. "This book examines that historical moment when it became clear that society and civilization, as it was created for themselves by the western liberal bourgeoisie, was not the final form of the modern industrial world, but only one of its early stages of development." For the first time, Hobsbawm explicitly separates economic form from social forces. He explains in depth the fluid composition and boundaries of the class and states that “the problem of defining the bourgeoisie as a group of men and women as well as the boundary line between it and the 'lower middle classes' had no immediate consequences for us the analysis of the capitalist development in this phase ... because the economic structures of the world of the 20th century, even if they are capitalist, are no longer those of the ›private enterprise‹ in the sense of the word, as a businessman would have accepted in 1870. «
The age of the Empire does not dwell on the continued influence of aristocratic and agrarian elites on the top of the state and society in the Belle Epoque, as the historian Arno Mayer did (Aristocratic power and bourgeoisie. The crisis in European society 1848–1917, Munich 1984) did. Hobsbawm, however, sees a "dissolution of the solid contours of the 19th century bourgeoisie" on the basis of the development of modern administration, women's emancipation and, above all, the crisis of liberalism - a moral and ideological self-destruction that led to 1914. "While bourgeois Europe drifted towards its catastrophe amid growing material prosperity, we observe the peculiar phenomenon of a bourgeoisie, or at least a considerable part of its youth and intellectuals, who voluntarily, even enthusiastically, plunged into the abyss." Author in the trilogy the connections between the components that make it up. Capitalism doesn't need this bourgeoisie, maybe none at all. The bourgeoisie does not need this liberalism, maybe none at all. The demonstrative pronouns remain indefinite and the difference between the particular and the general remains in the balance.
The age of extremes chronologically picks up the thread of the narrative again where the previous work ends, at the outbreak of the First World War. This continuity is underscored by the preview of some of the key themes associated with it and the history of the 20th century in the epilogue at the end of the trilogy. Nevertheless, there is a conceptual and structural break in between. The fourth volume, half as long as the previous volumes, is written in larger proportions. When you finally get to him after the first three volumes, it seems as if you are on the crest of a large mountain range and suddenly you see a peak in the proportions of the Andes. Without a doubt it is The age of extremes Hobsbawm's masterpiece. Its presentation and structure are well worth considering. The protagonists are also different. The most striking discontinuity in the fourth volume is the complete disappearance of the bourgeoisie, which no longer even appears in the index like chess, drugs or football. Did it disappear from history in August 1914? As a historian, you don't have to go back to previous topics, and a fresh start is always commendable. Such a sharp turning point is hardly a change of subject without meaning for the further direction.
The age of extremes
The basic structure of The age of extremes emerges from the periodization. The "short 20th century" between 1914 and 1991 can be divided into three phases: The first, the "Age of Catastrophe," extends from the battlefields of World War I to the Great Depression and the rise of fascism to the cataclysms of World War II and its immediate aftermath, including the fall of the European empires. The second, the "Golden Age," lasted from around 1950 to 1973: during this period there were new growth rates, new prosperity for the populations of the advanced capitalist countries, and the spread of mixed ones Economics and social security systems. The standard of living in the Eastern bloc rose, and the Middle Ages in the Third World ended when the peasants in the post-colonial countries poured from the plains to the modern cities. The third phase, the "landslide," began with the oil crisis and The beginning of the 1973 recession and continues to our present day economic stagnation and political decline in the west, the collapse of the USSR in the east, socio-cultural anomies throughout the north, and the spread of brutal ethnic conflicts in the south. The signs of the times are: dwindling growth, less order, less security. The barometer of human welfare is falling.
That is an impressive view of the century. The contrast between the two phases made visible by the author is extremely stark and fills the title of the work with life. As for the difference between parts 2 and 3, Hobsbawm apparently stayed true to his Marxist origins here, insofar as the most important turning point between the two is economics. Each period corresponds to a long Kondratievian wave - a dynamic quarter-century upswing, followed by a slow downswing. Once again, Hobsbawm emphasizes that there are these Kondratiev movements that cannot be explained. The age of extremes begins with a clearer emphasis that "it is my goal to understand and explain why things have just taken the course they took" than in the "interpretation" promised in the trilogy. The author's trust in the same unfathomable mechanisms could, however, be regarded as a serious admission of one's own limits, since the context of the entire presentation depends in a certain way on this deus absconditus.
However, Hobsbawm offers at least part of an explanation of the Great Crisis of the 1930s, the boom in the "Golden Age" and even, albeit less transparently, the long boom. He basically justifies the former with the insufficient demand (wage stagnation) in the USA in the age of jazz, which at that time was already too isolationist to play a responsible role in the world economy. The upswing was due to the effective handling of demand in the mixed economies of hard-tested post-war capitalism; this provided for regular wage increases to absorb production, and a far better international coordination of trade and investment. The cause of the downturn was the excessive demand that arose when wages outstripped labor productivity in the late 1960s and sparked general inflation, like when the gold-dollar system collapsed in the Bretton Woods era. The purpose of these notes is clear. Hobsbawm mentions them more casually with the skeptical air of a historian who distrusts the dogmas of economists of all stripes and suggests that they should not be given too much importance. However, they are conventional and surprisingly devoid of evidence in the opposite direction. Robert Brenner has demonstrated convincingly how little the outbreak of the Depression can be explained by wage depressions or the end of the post-war boom by wage explosions. He has also proposed a real theoretical explanation that Kondratiev could not provide, and has corroborated the long period of decline with much detailed empirical evidence. (Robert Brenner: "The Economics of Global Turbulence. A Special Report on the World Economy 1950–98", New Left Review, I / 239, 1998; ders .: Boom & Bubble. The USA in the world economy, Hamburg 2002) The black box isn't quite as black as Hobsbawm thinks.
Breaks and continuities
What is undisputed, however, is that the economic history of advanced capitalism in the second half of the last century, for whatever reasons, divides in the manner described by Hobsbawm. From the remarkable change in the early 1970s, however, Hobsbawm developed a much more far-reaching contrast of epochs that seemed to encompass all dimensions of social life and all parts of the world. How solid is the superstructure that rests on this foundation? Almost by definition, every Golden Age is suspect of legend. In this case, Hobsbawm used a statement by the left-wing Anglo-American economists Andrew Glyn, David Gordon and others when describing the post-war boom in the OECD area and applied it to an entire phase of world history. As always, as he himself admits, this happens in retrospect: the find is only perceived as a treasure afterwards. Only when you look at the rubble of the landslide can you tell that it was made of metal. This contrast can be assessed in different ways. However, if we limit ourselves to the essential questions that Hobsbawm deals with, then three in particular come to mind.
First: Was there really less material improvement for the majority of the world's population in the period after 1973 than in the period before? Slower growth rates, more modest wages, higher unemployment and growing inequality in the rich Atlantic areas and their antipodes do not necessarily mean that this was the case everywhere. During the period of long decline, there was also a dramatic change in the relative prosperity of the most densely populated areas of the world. In China alone, the population is more numerous than that of North America, Europe and Russia combined. Their rates of growth during the landslide make those of the Golden Age seem dwarfed. Despite the acute economic crisis of 1997/98, Southeast Asia, with a much larger population than South America, has developed faster since the 1970s than in the 1950s and 1960s. Even India accelerated its pace of development to a certain extent during this period. In all these parts of the world, where three-fifths of humanity live, misery has been reduced more considerably than in the happy times of the Atlantic boom.
Even if we take into account the deep hole into which most of the former Soviet Union sank, the indescribable abyss fell into vast regions of sub-Saharan Africa, and the general growth in inequality, it would be wealthy even with a mediocre calculation according to Bentham's standards, the later period is preferable to its predecessor. In doing so, we can use Hobsbawm's own excellent picture of human progress to confirm it. The peasantry did not disappear in the Golden Age, and certainly not after three decades of downturn. It still comprises around 45% of the world's population. By far the greatest decline, however, has occurred in the past 30 years of breakneck urbanization in the Third World. In that sense, the Middle Ages ended for most of humanity in the Age of Reagan, not Eisenhower's.
A second central topic in the Age of extremes st the political violence of the century - the 187 million war dead, massacre, execution or starvation that Hobsbawm places at the beginning of his story. How do the Golden Age and the landslide relate to one another on this issue? The form the former took was shaped by the Cold War, to which Hobsbawm devotes a brief chapter in which he essentially blames the United States and not the USSR or both. According to the author, the apocalyptic tone and zeal with which the conflict was carried on came exclusively from Washington. However, there was no immediate danger of a world war, both sides accepted the division of the world after 1945, and the irrationally accumulated and strategically inconsequential nuclear weapons were never used. Such a representation of the climax of the Cold War minimizes the danger of mutual annihilation, which was so much feared at the time, because it could damage the image of the Golden Age. Dangerous Times is more consistent and more sincere in it and speaks of life "under the black cloud of the atomic apocalypse".
Even without that, it was a time of murder and manslaughter. From 1950 to 1972 the Korean War, the French Wars in Indochina and Algeria, three wars in the Middle East, the Portuguese Wars in Africa, the Biafra conflict, the massacres in Indonesia, the Great Leap and the Cultural Revolution in China, and the American Vietnam War took place instead of. Total number of dead: about 35 million. There was a sharp drop in the global homicide rate during the landslide. From 1973 to 1994 when The age of extremes appeared, the war between Iran and Iraq, the massacres in Cambodia, the genocide in Rwanda, the counterrevolutionary terror in South and Central America, the fourth and fifth wars in the Middle East and the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans were the worst episodes: about 5 million dead. The barbarities of the present are far from over. In this regard, however, there is no reason to long for earlier times.
Why does the im Age of extremes used method of analysis in the two crucial criteria for evaluating the century so far removed from historical facts? The cause in both cases is the importance of East Asia and especially China, which make the crucial difference. This is where the highest number of victims occurred in the Golden Age and the highest growth rates in the landslide. In his autobiography, Hobsbawm writes: “To this day I observe in myself that I treat the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness that I do not feel towards communist China, since I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world in a way that China never did. ”This is a bit too much of a generalization. Brecht, from an older generation, or Althusser from Hobsbawm's own, felt differently. So it can be seen as an individual characteristic that should interest the historian. Taking into account the internationalism, which shaped Hobsbawm's personality particularly strongly, as well as the mixture of political experience, professional competence and sensitive sympathy, it would be absurd to accuse him of his European orientation. The age of extremes The perspective from Hobsbawm's origins in Vienna, Berlin and London is preserved and reflected in the autobiography.
China does not get the place it deserves in the portrayal of the century. Japan also plays a smaller role than would be appropriate, not least during the Golden Age or than would emerge from its role in the heyday of capital. The only Japanese who seems worth mentioning to the author is Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. This shows Hobsbawm's cultural distance. When asked how he found the country after a trip to Japan, the historian stared straight ahead for a while and then simply said: "Mars". Preferences are always a matter of taste: whoever gets deeply involved in certain foreign cultures, no matter how many, will inevitably have less close contact with others.
The third main theme that accompanies Hobsbawm's account of the last fifty years is "the dissolution of the old social and relationship structures and, hand in hand with it, the shattering of the links between the generations, between the past and the present." The socio-cultural benchmark is not as clear or as destructive as the material presented; In the description, however, the "crisis decades" of the 1970s and 1980s are referred to as the period in which the moral values that have determined human cohesion since time immemorial - family, place of birth, work, religion, class, ethical solidarities - declined most clearly . The result was the spread of "an absolutely asocial individualism", the psychological damage of which was increasingly compensated by a deformed collective fixation on identity politics. At this point it does indeed seem more plausible to assume a general trend in a certain direction than that of economic growth or violent crime. Since Hobsbawm relocates the beginning of the anti-traditional cultural revolution in the West to the 1960s for understandable reasons, it follows that the more extensive effects of this transformation must have taken place in the following decades.
Dating such a change is one thing, evaluating it is another. Hobsbawm's descriptions of the 1960s and their aftermath are both in the Age of extremes as in Dangerous times consistently rough. Its direction is similar to that which Régis Debray outlined for the first time under the leftist and which was then further developed by the right-wing Mark Lilla, namely that the hedonistic freedom of movement of this period was based on the same morality as the unbridled neoliberalism of the following. Whoever removes all inhibitions, first the sexual ones, then those of possessiveness, will ultimately only strive for undisguised individual pleasure. Hobsbawm does not make this connection quite so clearly; Rather, he emphasizes the independence of young people as a historically novel phenomenon, but his negative judgment of the "cultural revolution" is unequivocal.
There is, however, an obvious answer to such complaints: Has there ever been a single result of any great upheaval as general and profound as the global progress in women's emancipation? This development took place largely in the time of the landslide. The modern feminist movement and the mass inclusion of women in employment under less unequal conditions relative to men began in the 1970s. Hobsbawm appropriately emphasizes the sociological significance of all these developments, which he naturally welcomed. But they hardly play a role in his moral assessment of the dissolution of traditional ties. The bourgeois family with their patriarchs who im Imperial Age have been subjected to a devastating analysis, the author has now almost completely disappeared from his field of vision. Her demise was tacitly no longer viewed as a liberation.
We have thus returned to the missing actors of the short 20th century. The changed position of women is attributed to the "social revolution," which differs from the harmful cultural revolution discussed in the following chapter. In the first chapter, Hobsbawm describes the major collective forces of today's world and presents a panorama similar to the class panorama he presented for the 19th century. In it he dealt successively with the (dwindling or already disappeared) peasantry, the (growing) number of students and the (declining) workforce. There is no representation of the bourgeoisie that gives it a similar or comparable high priority as in the trilogy. Is it extinct? The structure of Dangerous times hides the problem because a cross-section of Western societies between 1914 and 1950 is missing. Rather, the author makes a big leap out of the middle of the Belle Epoque, with the The imperial age ends, over the interwar period to the end of the Golden Age or even the landslide. That hides and even deepens the break within the entire trilogy. The western bourgeoisies did not, of course, disband after Versailles, but played an enormous role throughout the entire age of the catastrophe - which Hobsbawm, who was coming to England at the time of Prime Minister Baldwin, knew very well. Then why did he sort them out?
One answer may be that The age of extremes exhibits a spatial anomaly. Economically, politically and culturally, whether you like it or not, the US is the country that clearly dominates this historical period; the short 20th century is often simply named after them. Corresponding emphasis in the book would therefore have been expected. In fact, the US has not been given any priority at all. America appears at relevant places in the text, in World Wars I and II, in the Great Depression, in the Cold War, in the crisis decades, etc. - in passages that are almost always discerning, but there are no related considerations. The difference with the treatment of Russia is striking. There are twice as many entries in the index for the USSR as there are for the USA, but the difference between the attention paid to the two is far greater overall. Three detailed analyzes are devoted to the USSR: one on the time of its founding by the Bolsheviks, one on the height of Stalinism and one on the decline under Brezhnev and the implosion under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. Nobody would advocate an abridged account of the October Revolution and its consequences. The central position of the loser makes the relative marginalization of the winner all the more apparent.
Dangerous times points to the biographical causes of an underlying unease in the USA. The reasons why the references to this country im Age of extremes
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