THE REBEL HISTORIAN ERIC HOBSBAWM
On June 9, 2007 Eric Hobsbawm died at 90
By Georg Fulberth
[This tribute published in: Freitag 23, June 2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2007/23/07231603.php.]
When the wall collapsed, conservatives and liberals triumphed, communists ran away and Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the end of history. Eric J. Hobsbawm, "a lifelong communist," watched this. In his book "The Age of Extremes" (1994), he explained what they had been through to combatants of the system conflict: the "short twentieth century" (1914-1991).
This century began as the "age of catastrophes" (1914-1945) and continued in the "Golden Age" of the welfare state (1945-1973) when all people seemed better off than ever before. The inhabitants of former colonies had hopes and began to fight for their fulfillment. To whoever lived in eastern socialism later after 1989, life could become even worse - if one was too young to have experienced Stalin and old enough to compare what followed with the new capitalism.
The "landslide" that began in 1973 in the West quickly involved the South and East. All the problems that broke out in 1914 returned. Only on account of the "triumphal scientific structure of research and theory," natural science, technology and medicine, "the 20th century will be remembered as an age of human progress, not primarily as an age of human tragedy." If the third millennium is crafted according to the theological dogmas of market radicalism, "we will fail. The price for this failure, the alternative to a transformed society, is darkness."
What was command socialism? On one hand, command socialism was an episode in the history of capitalism. On the other hand, "a transformed society" instead of "darkness" is a necessity or imperative. The author used a totally unsentimental language with reserved emotion for the experienced events including recollection of January 30, 1933 "when Hitler became Reich chancellor of Germany."
The "Age of Extremes" was a world success (not the first for this author). Intelligent conservatives and liberals scratched their heads. George Soros financed the translation into Rumanian. Still Eric Hobsbawm knew the price: "Nothing can sharpen a historian's mind more than defeat." Defeat makes the good historian.
Sometimes he was surprised he was at the right place at the right moment again and again. Hobsbawm's book "Primitive Rebels" appeared in 1959 when the guerillas broke out in the third world. A new generation in the capitalist centers was inspired by him. In 1962 the book was translated in German under the title "Sozialrebellen - die Briganten ohne Partei" before and beside the industrial rebellion. Whoever was politically socialized in SDS at that time knew this. "Primitive Rebels" is still a cult today among literate anarchists. While others quarreled with the problems of yesterday, he had long emphasized a fresh trace, the new nationalism and its dreadful inventions.
This scholarly work is a biography. The work consisting of three volumes on the history of the long 19th century was published between 1962 and 1987. At the same time the work is a history of capitalism and a defense of the French revolution against the British and North American.
Born in 1917 in Alexandria as the son of Jewish parents, Hobsbawm grew up and was educated in Vienna, Berlin and London and was politically active in "Red Cambridge." A world traveler, he absorbed the twentieth century in himself and reflected it to the end. He knew what was good in that short century: the jazz and not only the "Golden Age" and scientific progress.