Social Revolution 1945 to 1990
Eric Hobsbawm’s writing style was that of a historian. Nevertheless, his objective was always: adding to political action and thought, which he accomplished more effectively through this book than all his other works. Retrospectively, the author discovered that global socialism’s challenge to the capitalist idea had a strength which was its opponent’s weakness. Also, in truth, a large number of individuals who backed socialism sincerely to the very end held a belief, for long, that socialism’s political Byzantinism, bureaucratic rigidities, and mass murders would eventually be overcome, and that the above horrors were responsible for ensuring capitalism remained afloat. The weaknesses of the socialist theory were underrated, while those of the capitalist theory were overvalued. In effect, the world was convinced in its belief that capitalism was unable to solve issues, while socialism could tackle their own issues. However, the latter issues were deep-rooted rather than being ephemeral problems. Thus, man’s blunder in this regard could be considered a fine example of a blunder. From time to time, and with little conviction, the author suggests that a novel form of socialist theory may enjoy potential success. However, in no part of his book is this sort of hope encouraged. According to him, the Soviet’s collapse was partly because of the Brezhnev regime’s decision to attempt to get in line with America in the race for arms. On the other hand, Hobsbawm also makes it clear that the above factor only intensified a command economy’s rigidities, which surfaced in full force after detente allowed socialist economy integration into the international economy. No matter which perspective one adopts when reading the author’s acute analysis, one will arrive at the following two conclusions: command economies are unable to compete with economies that are capitalist; and one cannot find any cause to believe the idea that socialism in an alternative form can compete more successfully (Genovse, 2012).
In fact, Hobsbawm’s book entirely supports the idea of mixed economies being superior to economies that are either free-market or socialist. Ultimately, one gets the feeling that the author accepts that mixed economies, irrespective of how hard they are to defend rationally, are both economically and morally preferable to other alternatives. If Hobsbawm considers mixed economies as ‘socialist’ like a few social democrats do, one must accept this. He is aware of the fact that this type of “socialism” is very different from what people perceived themselves to be striving for when they joined/supported left-socialism or communism (Genovse, 2012).
Decline of Peasantry
According to Hobsbawm, the most important and dramatic social change that occurred in the latter half of the 20th century, cutting society off irreversibly from the past world is peasantry’s death for, ever since the times of Neolithic man, humanity survived off farming, livestock or fish. Except for Britain, farmers and peasants continued to constitute a key part of occupied populations of even developed nations well into the previous century, to the extent that, during the 1930’s (Hobsbawm’s student days), peasantry’s refusal to die out continued to be utilized as the argument against Marx’s prediction of its imminent collapse. After all, the author writes that Belgium and Britain were the only two developed nations where fisheries and agriculture employed below 20% of national population, just before World War II broke out. He claims that agriculture constituted about 25% even in USA and Germany (the biggest industrial economies in which agricultural population was witnessing a steady decline). Meanwhile in France, Austria, and Sweden, it continued to be about 35-40%. Lastly, for backward agrarian European nations such as Romania and Bulgaria, around 80% of the population comprised of land-workers (Hobsbawm, 1994).
Moreover, the author takes into account what occurred during three-quarters of the way through the 20th century — By the early eighties, not even 3 in every hundred Britons or Belgians belonged to the agricultural population, such that average Britons were much more likely to come across an individual in their everyday life who was once a farmer in Bangladesh or India than an individual who actually tilled land in Britain. America’s farming population reached this percentage as well, however, considering the nation’s steep decline over a long period, this was not as surprising as the reality that this small percentage of the labor force could flood America and the rest of the globe with immeasurable amounts of food. The author asserts that all expected the West’s farmers to decrease in number by the eighties. However, instead, the Spanish and Portuguese who accounted for just below half the population during the 1950s reduced to 17 and 14.5% respectively about three decades later. Even in Japan, farmers decreased in number to 52.4% (1947) and further to 9% (1985), that is, between the period that a soldier still in his youth returned from WWII and the point in time that he gave up his subsequent career in a civilian profession (Hobsbawm, 1994).
In his review of the previous century, Hobsbawm prudently demonstrates Marx’s continued analytical relevance. Still, his interpretations parallel, to an extraordinary degree, the opinions of conservative theoreticians whom, except for Schumpeter, he fails to cite. He utilizes Schumpeter’s expansion of Kondratieff’s notion of capitalism’s long waves, as well as on Schumpeter’s expansion of Marx’s notions on how capitalism ruthlessly destroys pre-capitalist values and institutions crucial to its political and social stability. The author also realizes, with cool frankness, that 20th-century ideological wars have reflected the religious crusades of prior eras, and that fascist, socialist, and communist, as well as liberal ideologies surfaced as secularized adaptations of Christian rigidity or, more precisely, Christianity’s great heresies. With regard to this subject, Hobsbawm presents an assessment more in line with Eric Voegelin’s investigations into contemporary “Gnosticism” than the author wishes to acknowledge (Genovse, 2012). He maintains that if the prediction by Marx, that industrialization was capable of eliminating peasantry, was ultimately becoming a reality in nations undergoing industrialization headlong, the actually astonishing occurrence was the farming population’s decline in nations whose clear lack of development of this sort saw the United Nations attempted camouflage using various euphemisms to substitute the words ‘poor’ and ‘backward’. At the same time when hopeful new leftists were repeating Chairman Mao’s tactic for the revolution’s success by rallying innumerable rural millions to stand up against the surrounded urban status quo strongholds, these millions abandoned villages themselves and moved into cities (Hobsbawm, 1994).
Revolution through Education
Subsequently, Hobsbawm maintains that just as remarkable as the deterioration and ultimate collapse of peasantry, and far more widespread, was the growth of occupations necessitating secondary education and college/university education. Basic literacy or universal elementary education was certainly the goal of nearly all governments, to the extent that, by the latter part of the eighties, only states that were most destitute or honest admitted to the illiteracy of about half their inhabitants and all save for Africa and Afghanistan were ready to accept that not even 20% of their citizens were literate. Hobsbawm claims that such an explosion of figures was especially dramatic in the context of university education, previously so rare as to remain demographically negligible, with the exception of America. Prior to WWII, even Britain, Germany, and France, three among the greatest, most literate, and developed of nations having an overall 150-million-strong population, did not contain over 150,000 (approx.) university students among them (i.e., a tenth percent of the three nations’ joint populations). Still, by late-80s, millions of individuals in Russia, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, as well as the U.S., India, Mexico, Brazil, and Philippines were students (Hobsbawm, 1994).
The author has a further argument with regard to the reason for 1968 not bringing about revolution. He contends that students by themselves, irrespective of their number and “mobilizability,” were incapable of bringing about revolution alone. Their efficacy as regards politics lay with their ability of acting as detonators and signals for bigger but less quickly combustible groups. Ever since the 60’s, students occasionally succeeded in this regard. They ignited huge waves of strikes among the Italian and French working classes. However, after two decades of unmatched improvement for workers in economies characterized by full employment, the one thing least important to blue-collar masses was revolution. In case of democratic nations as extensively different as South Korea, Czechoslovakia and China, not till the eighties and beyond did student uprisings look like they would realize their potential to spark reform, or at the very least, force governmental authorities to consider them a major public threat and undertake large-scale massacre as in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Moreover, he claims that after 1968’s great dreams failed, some radical student groups did, in fact, try to incite revolution by themselves via small-group terror activities. However, in spite of receiving considerable publicity, such movements seldom had any major political effect. In places where this was possible, authorities crushed them fairly quickly once they decided upon acting (e.g., the seventies’ unparalleled systematic torture and brutality in South American ‘dirty wars’, and Italian backstairs negotiations and bribery. The lone major survivors of the above initiatives during the 1990s were the ETA (separatist group) and the supposedly-communist Sendero Luminoso (peasant guerrilla) of Peru, an undesirable gift to Peruvians from students and staff of the Ayacucho University (Hobsbawm, 1994).
Women’s Role in Revolution
Additionally, Hobsbawm addresses the topic of the role women had to play in revolution, stating that in industrialized nations, the intellectual/educated women’s movement or middleclass feminism expanded into a kind of generic awareness that it was time for females’ self-assertion or liberation. This was on account of the fact that the definite initial middleclass feminism, while, at times, not closely applicable to the remaining Western felinity’s concerns, did raise questions concerning all. Further, such questions grew in importance as the delineated social upheaval generated an intense, and in several ways abrupt, cultural and moral revolution — a drastic change in conventions of personal and social conduct. Women played a critical role in the above Cultural Revolution as it revolved around, and was expressed through, reform in conventional households and families wherein they had, since forever, occupied a central place (Hobsbawm, 1994).
Understanding Social Democracy by Sheri Berman
Europe could easily be considered the most unstable area in the world for the former half of last century, marked by war, political and social conflict, and economic crisis. As the century’s latter half approached, it became one among the calmest regions, enjoying a period of prosperity and harmony. There are two narratives that commonly emerge as an answer to the obvious question of what changed to bring about such an utter change. The first deals with the fight between the democratic form of governance and alternative forms, setting liberalism against Marxist-Leninism, fascism, and National Socialism. The other concentrates on the competition of capitalism with its alternatives, and pits liberals against communists and socialists. Democratic capitalism can simply be regarded as the best, and in fact, the “natural” societal organizational form, these narratives claim, and after Western Europe embraced it wholeheartedly, all became well (Berman, 2011).
The industrial revolution’s onset saw liberalism emerging as the foremost contemporary economic and political ideology. With capitalism’s spread across the European continent in the 19th century, liberalism explained as well as justified the transformations brought by the novel system. Liberals publicized reliance on progress — their belief was that a market was capable of offering optimal good to the maximum number of individuals. Also, their conviction was that states ought to interfere to the minimum possible extent in individuals’ lives. Indeed, such a close match could be observed between the ideology and the times that people often consider the 19th century a period of liberalism. Nevertheless, by the mid-19th century, the idea lost its freshness. Early capitalism’s practical repercussions, particularly the striking inequalities, atomization, and social dislocation engendered by it, spurred a counterattack against liberalism, together with a quest for alternatives. To the left, the basic and strongest challenge arose from Marxism. By the end-19th century, a deterministic and scientific form of Marxism was set up as the formal ideology of a great deal of global socialism (Berman, 2011).
Furthermore, the war, by itself, greatly altered many individuals’ opinions of the proper roles of markets and states. Each European government took over the responsibility to manage its economy and control society in the period of war. However, following the war, these nations took care not to withdraw from social and economic life as was attempted by most after World War I. Wartime experience apparently demonstrated, categorically, that, in contrast to the wisdom ‘received’ in the 1920s-30s, central governmental authorities were actually capable of effectively controlling economic development (Tipton & Aldrich, 1987). These kinds of beliefs weren’t limited to leftists by any means. After learning from several decades of crisis and war that lax capitalism and social divisions could result in disaster if one left it unattended, other groups started embracing similar programs and policies (Berman, 2011).
For maintaining consistency with its past, a socio-democratic reaction to modern-day issues should, centrally, believe in the importance of politics, as well as the commitment to utilizing democratically acquired control for directing economic forces towards serving the common good. To “sincere” social democrats, efficacy may be a key criterion when it comes to judging policy. However, it mustn’t be the lone or even most crucial condition. Traditionally, social democratic supporters have tolerated or accepted the market due to its ability of providing the material on whose basis one can create a good life. Yet, they have not been keen on accepting the importance of the market to social life. Thus, a socio-democratic course would move between neoliberalism’s globophilia and several current leftists’ globaphobia, and argue in support of a system capable of promoting real growth whilst ramming home the fact that markets must be contained and monitored for minimization of political and social ills inevitably caused by them (Berman, 2011).
Global Depeasantization 1945-1990 by Farshad Araghi
The key protagonists in the discussion on this subject include parties that hold the argument that capitalism’s unavoidable expansion will cause peasantry to disappear from rural areas. Hence, in due course, slowly or swiftly, indirectly or directly, peasants will witness their transformation into rural capitalist farmers and wageworkers. This explains the supposed “disappearance thesis.” Meanwhile, those supporting “permanence” (termed campesinistas in the discussion in Latin America) contend that, for numerous reasons, peasant societies fail to adhere to industrial capitalism laws and that, in contrast, they have their own developmental logic that leads to peasantry’s survival as well as that of its reproduction conditions in rural parts (Araghi, 1995).
Araghi, in his work, concentrates on depeasantization’s global dimension post-WWII. Methodologically, he aims to examine the transformation process of peasantries of the Third World from a historical and global viewpoint that stresses the interaction between social, political, ideological, and economic forces at global as well as domestic levels. This view enables one to steer clear of two interlinked sociological analysis issues: (1) The reification issue -in this case, reification of nation-states, the world system, or peasantry, and (2) Teleological beliefs regarding social change’s direction and nature. Therefore, instead of presenting depeasantization in a homogenous, continuous temporal framework and interpreting it as an empirical representation of analytical categories, Araghi has endeavoured to examine international depeasantization as an element of an evolving global politico-economic order. A study of this order’s social construction constitutes the primary step towards depeasantization’s concrete analysis (Araghi, 1995).
Relating the transformation in postwar peasantries’ state of existence to changes in world polity and economy, Araghi made a distinction between two stages of international depeasantization. The collections of ideological, economic, and political processes and respective depeasantization processes in individual phases were divergent. In the initial stage (1945-1973), the author proved that simultaneous depeasantization and peasantization processes resulted in a relative, and not absolute, deterioration of peasantries in Third World countries (Araghi, 1995).
During the second phase (1973-1990), depeasantization occurred at an accelerated rate. The author connects this acceleration to the world economy’s ongoing transformation, beginning from the early seventies. The destabilization of nation-states as well as their ability (at least, if not readiness) of regulating national economies is one of the consequences of globalization (i.e., restructuring of internationalism). The author argues that denationalization, especially of agriculture, has resulted in swift de-ruralization of developing regions (Araghi, 1995).
The book by Eric Hobsbawm has rightly been considered to set a standard for 20th-century accounts. Such books were expected to proliferate with the close of the century and the start of the new millennium. Few would be capable of matching the broad scope and strong analysis of Hobsbawm’s book. Others would portray greater mastery of specialist historical content (into which, according to Hobsbawm, he has merely dipped). However, they would barely be capable of addressing with such confidence all major scientific, political, art and economic issues which have occupied the minds of intellectuals in the course of the century. It would be best to approach Hobsbawm as (equally) a historian and political theorist (Freedman, 1997).
To Hobsbawm, the Era of Extremes comes after those of Empire, Revolution, and Capitalism — topics that he has discussed in detail, already, and with tremendous distinction. This era is further divided into the 1914-50 Era of Catastrophe, the 1950-75 Golden Age, and the 1975-onwards Landslide. Neither labeling nor periodization is particularly felicitous. The author confines his discussions to a ‘short’ 20th century characterized by WWI’s onset and culminating in the Soviet collapse at the beginning of the century’s last decade. In practice, Hobsbawm permits his study to go beyond the year 1991. He is highly aware of political forces requiring understanding if one has to explain 1914. One cannot consider either 1950 or 1975 as evident punctuation points. Though the economic progress between the above two points may be called ‘golden’, one can hardly regard it as convincing to label the period after 1975 as the ‘landslide’, which gives the impression that things started going steadily downhill, beginning with that point. This impression is unfair to an image of much greater complexity (Freedman, 1997).
Araghi, F. A., 1995. Global Depeasantization, 1945-1990. The Sociological Quarterly, 36(2), pp. 337-368.
Berman, S., 2011. Understanding Social Democracy. Columbia University, pp. 2-38.
Freedman, L., 1997. Review of The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991. [Online]
Available at: http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/28
[Accessed 06 June 201].
Frank Tipton and Robert Aldrich, An Economic and Social History of Europe from 1939 to the Present (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), 6, 48
Genovse, E., 2012. From the Archives: Eugene Genovese on Eric Hobsbawm. [Online]
Available at: https://newrepublic.com/article/107966/eugene-genovese-eric-hobsbawm-age-of-extremes [Accessed 06 June 2016].
Hobsbawm, E., 1994. The Social Revolution. In: The Age of Extremes. London: Clays Ltd., St. Ives plc, pp. 287-319.
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