The 20th century just passed can be described as an “extreme age” where miracles and disasters coexist. On the one hand, productivity and science and technology have developed rapidly, and human material civilization has reached its peak in history. At the same time, the problems of large-scale revolutions, wars, massacres and poverty have become more prominent than ever. The originator of the term “era of extremes” was the famous British Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm. He took Marxism as his creed throughout his life, actively engaged in academic research and various social activities, and won a wide international reputation. Hobsbawm is known in the Western world by various titles, such as “Lion of the Left”, “Practice Marxist Number One”, “Unyielding Communist”, “Last Marxist Historian” and even ” the greatest historian of our time” and so on. From these titles, it is not difficult to imagine his ideological characteristics and academic achievements.
Hobsbawm was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt, into a middle-class Jewish family. In 1931, during his stay in Berlin, he joined the Socialist Young Students Association and established a Marxist belief that never wavered in his life. Hobsbawm came to England in 1933 and joined the British Communist Party in 1936. During World War II, Hobsbawm joined the British Army, but was limited by his membership of the Communist Party. On the eve of the “Cold War” in 1946, Hobsbawm began a real academic career. He got a teaching position before Communist Party members were excluded from education, so he says he entered academia “just in time”. At this time, the British Communist Party’s Marxist Historian Group was established in London, and Hobsbawm actively participated in a series of activities of the organization. In 1956, due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, there was a wave of Communists quitting the party in Western European countries. Of the group of British Communist Party historians, only Hobsbawm remained in the party, and his membership in the Communist Party was not finally terminated until 1991. As a peer of Russia’s “October Revolution”, his life experience can be called an abbreviation of the 20th century. He experienced two world wars in his life, witnessed the rise and fall of Hitler’s “Third Reich”, experienced the beginning and end of the Cold War, and witnessed the “one super dominance” of the United States and the spread of global terrorism. These experiences give his historical research a strong sense of reality.
Hobsbawm was largely influenced by his political beliefs and was not promoted to professor until 1970. But Hobsbawm’s academic reputation as a leading figure in the British Marxist historical school, along with Edward P. Thompson, was well established long before that.
After the Second World War, an important feature in the field of Western history was the rise and development of the Marxist school of history in the United Kingdom, the school of history of the yearbook in France, and the school of social science history in the United States. British Marxist school of historians, also known as the new social history school. This school is not as well-organized as the Yearbook History School, but it has a large number of famous scholars and rich writings, so it can enjoy a high reputation in the West, where Marxism has been suppressed and attacked. For example, Al Lei Moulton is the author of the first British general history of the United Kingdom written from a Marxist perspective, “A British History of the People”, Christopher Hill devoted himself to the study of the British Revolution in the 17th century, and Rodney Hilton devoted himself to the Middle Ages. Economic and social history research, Dona Thor specializes in the history of the British people’s democracy and so on. Of course the most famous, when pushed Hobsbawm and Edward.P.Thompson. What these scholars have in common is that they all adhere to the theoretical guidance of Marxism, adhere to the “bottom-up” view of history, adhere to the research method that combines history with other social disciplines, and pay close attention to real-world politics and social movements. And these characteristics are most representative in Hobsbawm.
Talented and energetic, Hobsbawm focused his field of study on the 19th century and advanced both before and after. Hobsbawm is good at holistic macro research, and his representative works in this regard are the ‘Trilogy of Ages’ centered on the 19th century – namely The Age of Revolution: 1789-1848 (The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848). ) “The Age of Capital: 1848-1875” (The Age of Capital, 1848-1875), “The Age of Empire: 1875-1914” (The Age of Empire, 1875-1914) and “The Age of Extremes: 1914” for the study of the twentieth century -1991 (The Age of Extremes; The Short Twinieth Century, 1914-1991). Hobsbawm knew that rationalizing the past was a difficult task. Instead of simplistic treatment, he adopted the new social history His writing method is full of calm and profound analysis rather than boring lectures. Although Hobsbawm uses a lot of second-hand and even third-hand materials in his self-confessed book, it is widely welcomed and praised by academic circles, and is even more popular among readers. It has a far-reaching impact and aroused a period of “age trend”. For example, “The Age of Extremes” was republished 12 times within two years after its publication, and was translated into 37 languages.
According to Hobsbawm, the 19th century was “long” and the 20th century “short,” as can be seen from the distribution of its lengths. He was optimistic and progressive when studying the history of the 19th century, but turned pessimistic when studying the history of the 20th century. And its optimism and pessimism are based on reality, not blindly optimistic or unfounded. He proposed that the French Revolution of 1789 and the British Industrial Revolution at the same time could be called a “dual revolution”, which constituted the two main driving forces for the development and change of capitalism. After that, he analyzed the “cultural revolution” in “The Age of Extremes”, pointing out that these three revolutions have completely changed the appearance of the world and the fate of mankind. His “revolutionary history view” is different from the “civilization form history view” advocated by Toynbee, and also different from the “global history view” proposed by Stavrianos and others. He applied the overall analysis method of Marxism and the comprehensive research method of sociology, etc., and it is not difficult to see the influence of the Yearbook School from the division of the time period of capitalist development. Therefore, we can think that he “created a Marxist historiography”.
Some critics argue that his 19th-century “decade trilogy” still bears traces of Western-centrism. It should be noted, however, that the 19th century was indeed an era of capitalist expansion to the world. The series focuses on analyzing the ups and downs of capitalism rather than a panorama of world history, and naturally there are trade-offs in choreography. Western bourgeois scholars criticized him for defending communism too much, but we can also see his criticism and reflection on the international communist movement. Referring to The Age of Extremes, Hobsbawm said: “For a man like me who was born in 1917, his own life actually coincides with the period in which I am currently planning to write.” Indeed, How can contemporary people write contemporary history completely out of personal experience and beliefs?
In the micro-combined application of history and social science research, Hobsbawm has pioneered the wind. His representatives in this area are “The Extraordinary Little People: Revolt, Rebellion, and Jazz”, “Primitive Rebellion: The Rustic Forms of Social Movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries” and “The Bandit”. These historical studies focusing on the people of the lower classes from a unique micro perspective reflect a “bottom-up” perspective of historical research, which contrasts with the “Quarterlogy of Ages” in a grand narrative style. Of course, Hobsbawm did not choose these topics out of curiosity or grandstanding, but because he hoped to understand the current world from historical analysis, with practical considerations.
The so-called lower class refers not only to workers and peasants, but also to the urban poor and bandits. “Extraordinary Little People” believes that the protagonists of history are not “big men” such as politicians and military strategists, but groups of ordinary people such as farmers and workers. Therefore, Hobsbawm studied those little people whose “names were completely unknown and could not be known”, such as the social status changes of shoemakers and other craftsmen in European history, and described the world from the end of the 18th century to the 1990s. Workers’ and Peasants’ Movement. Of course, these figures are not extracted in isolation as “historical symbols”, but are specific people who are closely related to the entire era. In the book “Primitive Rebellion”, Hobsbawm proposed that the peasant resistance movement in the pre-modern period was the prototype of the modern working class struggle, the struggle of the peasants at the bottom of the society against the upper society.
Contains economic, cultural and political aspects. While enjoying jazz, Hobsbawm also pays attention to those groups of abnormal existence such as bandits in society. The book “The Bandits” deepens some of the content in “The Primal Rebellion”, focusing on new socio-historical research. Based on a large number of poems and ballads, the book explores a large number of bandits in various eras and regions, and explains why people in different eras sing praises to some legendary bandits. In fact, the robbers he refers to are not purely robbers, robbers or underworlds, but Robin Hood-style robbers who rob the rich and help the poor. The translations of the two Chinese translations of the book, Bandits: From Robin Hood to Heroes of the Water Margin and Bandits: An Outlier of Ordered Life, fully reflect his research interests. This book is as fascinating as a novel and has been published in more than 20 languages so far. The book also created a precedent for the study of bandits in the strict sense, and the books on bandits that appeared under its influence continued to appear.
In terms of historical theory and historical thought, Hobsbawm also has a lot of originality, such as his investigation of “invented tradition” and “nationalism”. He believes that “invented traditions” include two categories, one is “traditions that have been invented, constructed and formalized”; tradition of”‘. The next question is, why do people “invent” traditions? It turns out that “traditions” were invented and constantly rationalized in order to strengthen and instill certain social values and behavioral norms through constant repetition. Thinking of our Chinese civilization, isn’t there also a lot of “invented traditions”? Another example is his research on ethnicity and nationalism, which is also thought-provoking. The formation and development of nation-states is an important factor in the rise of modern Europe. However, the issue of ethnicity and nationalism has been mythologically continued in the subsequent historical process and has become a double-edged sword, which has both progressive and destructive effects. Hobsbawm was critical of the colonial national liberation movement, and even more worried about contemporary nationalism issues, which indeed has certain inspiration and reference for us.
Hobsbawm has endured the pressure of real politics and the criticism of his academic peers for many years, but he has always insisted on using the Marxist method to understand the real world. For historians, seeking truth and truth is the basic academic moral bottom line, but real historians cannot stop there. According to Hobsbawm, the task of the historian is not merely to discover the past, but must also explain the past, and the purpose of explaining the past is to shape the future. He explained this perfectly with his own historical research.
As the oldest British historian of Marxism today, Hobsbawm continues to engage us in the history understanding and interpretation.