18 December 2012

The Coming Storm: Ethnic Nationalism

Hobsbawm remains firm in his conviction that "human needs cannot be satisfied by the market," and that capitalism is a historical phenomenon — which means it is not permanent, that its dynamism points to more and deeper crises to come. The current crisis has once again suggested to millions of people that "capitalism is not the answer, but the question." What are we then to make of this historical question, and how exactly do we resolve it?

How to Change the World is an optimistic title that seems to hold out the promise of some kind of answer. But Hobsbawm's book is not a call to today's working class, which in the end he diagnoses as "helpless." In fact, he argues that the most likely working-class politics in the coming era will not be some version of socialism but rather "ethnic nationalism": an attempt to fight globalization and mass unemployment through anti-immigrant (and anti-Chinese) policies. So if a rebellion from today's working class isn't going to "change the world," how exactly do we change it? The Communist Manifesto, Hobsbawm points out, did mention one alternative ending to the succession of capitalist crises: not proletarian revolution, but rather "the common ruin of the contending classes." Given what we're seeing today, with a profound weakening of the working class among contending forces, this "common ruin" seems like a possible scenario — and perhaps even a likely one.

(book review by jon wiener of eric hobsbawm's how to change the world)

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