Eric Hobsbawm was one of the UK’s leading historians and one of the most significant intellectuals of the past half century. His life and works were shaped by his emotional commitment to radical socialism. His books focused not on kings, queens and statesmen, but on the economic and social forces underpinning them. (Source: persianrealm.com)
Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman interviews Prof Eric Hobsbawm on ‘responsible capitalism’ (19 Jan 2012):
Eric Hobsbawm – Intellectuals and the Spanish Civil War:
The introduction is in Spanish. The rest ofthe lecture is delivered in English. The Spanish part ends at 1:27 Segovia, Saturday 23 September, 2006
Eric Hobsbawm,died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London where he had been suffering from pneumonia, his daughter Julia said. Mr Hobsbawm, a historian in the Marxist tradition, wrote more than 30 books.
His reputation rests largely on four works, including History of the 20th Century, The Age of Extremes, which has been translated into 40 languages.
In a statement his family said: “He will be greatly missed not only by his wife of 50 years, Marlene, and his three children, seven grandchildren and great grandchild, but also by his many thousands of readers and students around the world.”
Born to Jewish parents in Egypt in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, Prof Hobsbawm’s life and works were shaped by his commitment to radical socialism. (See Related BBC News)
BBC’s Nick Higham’s Tribute:
Eric Hobsbawm was remarkable among historians in being proud to call himself a Marxist long after Marxism had been discredited in the West.
To his admirers he was one of the greatest historians of the 20th Century. To his critics he was an apologist for Soviet tyranny who never fully changed his views. But he was too shrewd, too open-minded to pursue a narrow Marxist approach in his work or his politics.
In his trilogy, the Age of Revolution, the Age of Capital and the Age of Empire, he wrote the history of the 19th Century. In the Age of Extremes, he wrote the history of his own times. As a Marxist he believed historical events were driven by economic changes but his interests were broad.
He was a 19th century historian in two senses. The “long 19th Century” from the French Revolution to WWI was his particular area of expertise. But his best work also had a scope reminiscent of the great historians of the century before last.
Eric Hobsbawm was one of the UK’s leading historians and one of the most significant intellectuals of the past half century. His life and works were shaped by his emotional commitment to radical socialism.
In his autobiography, published when he was 85, Eric Hobsbawm said: “I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world.”
He was born into a middle-class Jewish family in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, at Alexandria in Egypt, then a British protectorate.
But his father, a British tradesman, and his mother, an Austrian writer, both died during the Depression in central Europe.
Eric Hobsbawm was a 14-year-old orphan, living with his uncle in Berlin, when he joined the Communist Party.
In his 80s, he reflected: “Anybody who saw Hitler’s rise happen first-hand could not have helped but be shaped by it, politically. That boy is still somewhere inside, always will be.”
He came to Britain in 1933, went to school in London and won a scholarship to Cambridge, where the Soviet Union had many admirers.
There was a wartime marriage which did not last but Hobsbawm reckoned he was lucky to secure his first post as a history lecturer, at Birkbeck College in London, just before the Berlin crisis of 1948 and the height of the Cold War.
But it was partly because of his political affiliation that he had to wait until 1970 before he was promoted to professor.
He published his first major work, Primitive Rebels, in 1959, about southern European bandits, while, under the pseudonym Francis Newton, he was also the New Statesman’s jazz critic for several years and later wrote The Jazz Scene.
In the 1960s, Eric Hobsbawm married again and began to establish an international standing as a historian.
This reputation rests largely on four works; The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, Empire, and his 1994 History of the 20th Century, The Age of Extremes, which has been translated into about 40 languages.
His books focused not on kings, queens and statesmen, but on the economic and social forces underpinning them.
Hobsbawm said he had lived “through almost all of the most extraordinary and terrible century in human history”.
But, in a startling assertion, he argued that Communism was of “limited historical interest” compared to the gigantic success of the capitalist “mixed economy” from the mid-1950s to 1973, which he described as “the most profound revolution in society since the Stone Age”.
Eric Hobsbawm came under fire for his reluctance to condemn the excesses of Communist totalitarianism.
The Hungarian uprising radically changed his views
Although he was still a card-carrying member of the British Communist Party until shortly before it was wound up in 1991, he said he had effectively ceased to be a member in 1956 when Soviet tanks crushed the uprising in Hungary and Khrushchev laid bare the evils of Stalinism.
But rejecting the ideal in which he had invested so much emotion was clearly a painful experience.
In 1998, the Blair government made him a Companion of Honour and while Hobsbawm said it was “better to have a Labour government than not,” he was critical of the conduct of the “war on terrorism” and accused the United States of trying to “recolonise” the world.
Eric Hobsbawm said Communism had done the world a service by defeating fascism and to the end of his days he insisted that criticising capitalism was as important as ever.
“Social injustice still needs to be denounced and fought,” he said. “The world will not get better on its own.”
The renowned historian Eric Hobsbawm has watched the revolutions of 2011 with excitement – and notes that it’s now the middle class, not the working class, that is making waves.
“It was an enormous joy to discover once again that it’s possible for people to get down in the streets, to demonstrate, to overthrow governments,” says EJ Hobsbawm at the close of a year of revolutionary upheaval in the Arab world.