I thought I need to read more 'mainstream' history to get a balanced picture seeing as I read a lot of 'alternative' information. So in the library I spotted Eric Hobsbawm's 627 page tome on the 'Short Twentieth Century' 1914-1991 - 'The Age of Extremes'. Hobsbawm is a witty and engaging writer with an effortless style and a habit of easily condensing information. He is considered one of the leading historians in the world. He is generally thought to be of a left-wing or Marxist orientation.
I actually knew him as a kid as he was a friend of my father and lived locally. To his great amusement I earnestly told him how all Professors tend to turn yellow or green (I forget which) due to being indoors so much (Eric lived into his nineties near to Hampstead Heath and never changed colour as far as I know). I had got that information from reading The Comet in Moominland, the classic surrealist children's novel.
Anyway I must be one of the few people to introduce Eric Hobsbawm to new history sources in his eighties. I lent him a copy of Saharasia by James Demeo, which traces the rise of armoured, aggressive cultures from the old world deserts (which formed from 4000BC onwards greatly traumatizing the inhabitants of North Africa and the Middle East). Before this time this area had a much wetter landscape and matriarchal cultures. Hobsbawm read the book and commented to me that he thought Demeo's take on the emergence of patriarchal warlike nomadic tribes was factually correct. He said he couldn't agree with Demeo's HIV scepticism though (there is an appendix in Saharasia detailing scientific evidence against the HIV hypothesis being the cause of AIDS).
So back to 'Age of Extremes' what did I learn from this fascinating book? A key point was that just the threat of civil non-compliance on a mass scale disarmed several Eastern European socialist states even when they had the military support to crush rebellion. This is a important point today when we face out-of-control increasingly authoritarian governments in the West. I also learnt that there has in a sense been only one world war-the hostilities and warfare never really abated between 1917 and 1939. Ten per cent of the 1913 population level were murdered by 1945 (187 million).
What I learnt underlined that the surface complexity of our recent history could actually be caused by a small number of key events. In fact most of the century of death and warfare can be traced to two or maybe three events (my understanding not Hobsbawm's explicit thesis).
1. The 1917 October Revolution : rapid forced industrialization of a massive peasant country, more authoritarian government in Russia and fascism in Germany as a backlash effect against the perceived communist threat. I noted how Hobsbawm highlighted Alexander II's assassination (1855-1881). This Tsar ended serfdom in Russia and tried to liberalise society but was killed by revolutionaries. I wondered if Russia might have taken a more gradualist approach had he lived.
2. The Great Slump of 1929: This alongside the deliberate crippling of Germany's post WW1 economy literally guaranteed the rise of Hitler and WW2.
One could add a third point and say the French Revolution of 1798 set the scene for violent societal change worldwide, but as Hobsbawm notes, only the rise of Islam can compare to the spread, since 1917, of USSR-inspired socialism on a global scale. Only state socialism and Islam have spread with such rapidity he states.
The slump of 1929 also did much to aid the global spread of Soviet-style socialism. The collapse of the US economy and therefore the implosion of the dependent raw-producer economies of the third world made the USSR look economically viable to smaller nations. The French Revolution did not have a similar global effect Hobsbawm notes.
Back to points 1 & 2 (1917 & 1929). According to some alternative researchers the events of 1917 and the Bolsheviks themselves were backed by money from the big banks of US and Europe. The events of 1929 according to alternative financial researchers were also caused intentionally by bankers (slumps can be caused by the sudden withdrawal of credit and cash by the banks). The ensuing slump can be good for banks who buy up the property of the target country for 'pennies-on-the-pound'. The 1929 slump would also ensure the rise of fascism, the worldwide growth of socialism (as the USSR seemed immune to the great slump) and even the creation of the atomic bomb (without the threat of fascism governments would not have financed the huge cost in such a short time. The Western scientists who were of an often pacifist outlook at that time would not have cooperated so readily without the Nazi threat). Lastly the 1929 slump guaranteed WW2 by ensuring the rise of fascism in an already artificially depressed Germany. So if war is the perfect foil for banks then 1929 led directly to a vast, global state of almost permanent war.
The world war period of 1914 to 1945 also had other predictable effects. It ensnared in debt all the Western countries to the bankers of the USA/global elite and destroyed the economies of every participant apart from the USA (which emerged from the wars as a global super-power).
Hobsbawm also notes with insight how socialism and capitalism are not as different as they might appear. Both share a humanistic-leaning value system and endorse so-called scientific rationalism as mankind's highest guide. I would also add that pure market economies are a myth, except as failed bloodthirsty US experiments in South America in the 1970s. Big Western powers got where they are today through protectionism at home, exploitation abroad and the state as the biggest 'corporation' as Hobsbawm notes. So as Hobsbawm states there are more similarities than are usually admitted between the systems. Both capitalism and Soviet socialism were also united against fascism. It would have been impossible for fascism to be defeated without the terrible sacrifice that the Russians undertook.
The military power of Germany was undermined by Hitler's very strange war decisions. He opened the European war on two fronts at once (by attacking Russia) and at a similar time provoked the USA into joining the war by declaring war on America. So Hitler, more than any other single person, may have made the NAZI defeat possible.
Another strange aspect of history Hobsbawm notes is how the USSR sabotaged its own support in the West by renouncing moderate labour movements in those countries. Hobsbawm also made the interesting revelation that Stalin was only 5'3 and was known as the 'Man of Steel' - this reminded me of the UK's own 'Iron Lady'.
Despite Hobsbawm's insights, ability to connect facts and his sheer readability I found one aspect particularly puzzling by its omission. The banks. The great slump of 1929 led directly to fascism, World War 2 and the eventual rebuilding of a world with the US and USSR as the superpowers. Hobsbawm fails to convince me with his Marxist analysis of the cause of the 1929 slump (an imbalance between the industrial rate of production and the USA's consumption of goods according to Hobsbawm). He does not include the role of banking in what was actually the pivotal event, in causative terms of the whole century of war.
Hobsbawm commented that George Orwell's 1984, though unusually prescient, may have merely been named after its publishing date (1948). Given Orwell's insider information (through Aldous Huxley's family) I think it may actually be more likely that '1984' signifies the 100th anniversary of the Fabien Society (founded 1884). The Fabien society is a Marxist group dedicated to slow warfare on societies resulting in their transformation from within. Tony Blair was said to be a member. The wolf in sheep's clothing is their icon. The connection to 1984 was not mine incidentally.
On other subjects, Hobsbawm makes a somewhat emotive dismissal of UFOs as something that has only occurred since World War2 and only appeals to the gullible (top military people have almost made official disclosure unnecessary, see HERE). Strangely, he is pro water-flouridation (sodium flouride, which Prime-minister Cameron wants added to UK water, is a known neuro-toxin. It's calcium flouride that was thought to help teeth, sodium fluoride is used in rat poison). Hobsbawm appears to be pro-bio-engineering, anti-Lysenko (a rival genetic theory to Darwin), anti-alternative science and anti-aether theories (which are gaining ever more support see HERE). Rather than Hobsbawm’s, 'Titanic labours to maintain belief in aether,' there were well financed moves by Einstein, Morley and Michelson to cover up Dayton Millers superior work (which supported aether). Hobsbawm is dismissive of the USSR's interest in alternative sciences (but doesn't name them, one assumes he means bio-plasma theories).
Despite lacking a critique of the pernicious role of the Federal Reserve and private central banking in the causation of the 1929 slump and a seemingly unquestioning support of mainstream scientific dogma Hobsbawm is an engaging and lucid writer, well worth reading. I certainly enjoyed reading his work.