The Cold War
The book “The Age of Extremes” written by Eric Hobsbawm very accurately defines the proceedings of cold war in the twentieth century. The book has been deeply appreciated because of the strong analysis it gives of the entire scenario. Hobsbawm has been always known as both the political theorist and historian who made his mark by very intellectually highlighting all the issues that lead to the cold war and it’s after affects by taking arts, technology, economics and politics into account.
He has divided the entire book into three stages `The Age of Catastrophe’ (1914-50), `The Golden Age’ (1950-75), and `The Landslide’ (1975 to 1991 and beyond). The cold war is covered in all the three stages. He has started with the First World War ending the book by telling the tale of Soviet Union collapse in the year 1990. He gives a very dramatic conclusion by analyzing the future situation after the year 1991. He does not seem so optimistic about the future by stating lines such as “The world of the third millennium will therefore almost certainly continue to be one of violent politics and violent political changes. The only thing uncertain about them is where they will lead. (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 460). As time passes many of Hobsbawm assumptions of “Social distribution and not growth would dominate the politics of the new millennium” are turning out to be true which is gaining him more and more respect (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 77).
While he considers the period between 1914 and 1950 as the golden period he labeled the later century as the disastrous one blaming the downfall of economy on the communist society. He openly accepts communism failed to perform its best while on the other hand capitalism which also existed in the economy survived meagerly. All the time when the system of communism was only making promises capitalism was coming up with strategies that helped a lot of people to avoid depression. However, this was only in the initial stages. During the first stage of cold war both the systems played their economic cards well but gradually as communism system declined capitalism also lost its strength. He explained situation of capitalism in the countries either involved in cold war or affected by cold war as “Those of us who lived through the years of the Great Slump still find it almost impossible to understand how the orthodoxies of the pure free market” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 103). He finishes the book with a pessimistic approach on capitalism. He thinks communism will not work anymore on the economy as it has proved to be incapable of establishing a healthy environment having social stability and humanity.
He explains the cold war by defining a relationship existing between the war and creation of science and technology. The advancements in technology motivated people to live in a world drenched in luxury which led them to make irrational decisions resulting in war. It made Russia undergo a civil war followed by miserable famine and a horrifying war with Nazis. At the end it did enhance the raising standards of the country due to the industrialization still the success was gained at the expense of lives of millions. He has not defined cold war in terms of guns and tanks instead he has illustrated Stalinism and the Holocaust movement along with the acts of oppression and genocide. Hobsbawm believes all of these malicious acts were result of extremist attitude created through capitalism which allowed people to act completely unchecked. Even after the war the communist theorists did not learn the lesson and were still stuck to the same old views Hobsbawm defines the situation as “The Soviet view was that, both internationally and within each country, post-war politics should continue within the framework of the all-embracing anti-fascist alliance” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 168). This narrow approach of communist theorist took the Soviet Union by hand and dragged it into pessimistic stagnation and a gradual collapse. Unchecked capitalism also became the reason of failure of socialism which if had been maintained properly could have been a very reliable model for many of the economies. He defines socialism as “hardly anyone believed in the system or felt any loyalty to it, not even those who governed it” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 488).
Hobsbawm possesses great fear for free market capitalism. He was right about it being a failure by saying, “The belief, following neoclassical economics, that unrestricted international trade would allow the poorer countries to come closer to the rich, runs counter to historical experience as well as common sense” (Hobsbawm, 1996, p. 571). He wrote the book just a few years later cold war ended and being an anti communist he has adopted a post-euphoric mood.
Now a few years later with things appearing calmer it seems Hobsbawm has exaggerated the critical conditions of global economy. Communism and socialism is no longer active liberalization is more used and globalization does not allow governments to shape the lives of the people living in their countries. Yet the manner in which Hobsbawm has sketched the failed ideologies is quite true and accurate he has made use of statistical facts to support his views which has given his book world wide acceptance.
Hobsbawm, E. (1996). An Age of Extremes. London, U.K: Vintage.