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11:00 PM, Mar 31, 1996 • By DAVID HOROWITZ
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The Crisis Decades [1973 to the present] began to shed labor at a spectacular rate, even in plainly expanding industries ....The number of workers diminished, rel- atively, absolutely and, in any case, rapidly. The rising unemployment of these decades was not merely cyclical but structural. The jobs lost in bad times would not come back when times improved: they would never come back.

Just as Hobsbawm the radical returns to the anti-capi- talist myths of his youth, so Hobsbawm the historian imagines the capitalist past forev- er recurring in its pre- sent: "In the 1980s and early 1990s the capital ist world found itself once again staggering under the burdens of the inter-war years, which the Golden Age appeared to have removed: mass unem- ployment, severe cycli- cal slumps, the ever- more spectacular con- frontation of homeless beggars and luxurious plenty." To this struc- tural dislocation, Hobs- bawm attributes Ameri- ca's growing culture of hate and what he per- ceives as a general social breakdown (including an alleged epidemic of mass murders). In oth- er words, Marx was right.


But Marx was not right. In fact, the Cold War decades coincid- ed with a period in which capitalist economies revolutionized the lives of ordinary working people to a degree previously unimaginable. It was an era that witnessed the great- est social transformation in human history -- the first time in 5,000 years that more than a tiny percent- age of the population of any society attained some degree of material well-being. This was at the heart of the demoralization and collapse of the socialist empire, whose peoples were condemned to abysmal pover- ty by Marxist ideas: the dazzling prospect of American progress in the era that stretched from Eisen- hower to Reagan.

The Age of Extremes can thus be seen as an elaborate defense of the two destructive arguments behind which the Left has caused so much 20th-century mis- ery-the evils of cap- italism and the promise of socialism. In the wake of its dis- asters, the false hope of the socialist future is now only tenuous- ly put forward by so- phisticated radicals like Hobsbawm. But the two arguments cannot really be sepa- rated, since the nihil- istic rejection of the present order is pred- icated on the dream of a social redemp- tion. The final words of Hobsbawm's trea- tise are intellectually as extreme as any manifesto by Rosa Luxemburg or Karl Marx:

We have reached a point of historic crisis. . If humanity is to have a recog- nizable future, it cannot be by pro- longing the past or the present. If we try to build the third millenni- um on that basis we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say the alternative to a changed society, is darkness.

Capitalist darkness or socialist light. For the Left, as Irving Howe once put it, "socialism is still the name of our desire." But to deny the connection between the radical idea and its practice, as Hobsbawm and his admirers do, is to court the delusion of every progressive gen- eration since 1789. Progressives who take this view of the disasters they create do not understand the way in which the futile quest for an earthly paradise is an integral theme of the human tragedy. *

David Horowitz is president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, in Los Angeles. His memoir, Radical Son, wkll be published shortly by Free Press.