Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

In Uncategorized on October 1, 2012 by kmflett

Eric Hobsbawm 1917-2012

Eric Hobsbawm who has died aged 95 was along with Edward and Dorothy Thompson, John Saville and Christopher Hill one of the great post 1945 socialist historians.

He did not however, unlike them, leave the Communist Party in 1956.

I heard Hobsbawm speak on many occasions down the decades, always a fascinating moment. While we came from two very different wings of the left- he from the Communist Party, or Stalinist, tradition and myself from the [unorthodox] Trotskyist one- he was kind enough to provide some encouraging comments for my first volume of socialist history some years ago.

The art of Hobsbawm’s history was of course the sweep of grand narrative but particularly the attention to detail. If you wanted anecdotes which perfectly illustrated historical points on flat caps, football or fish and chips Hobsbawm had them at his finger tips.

Labour history, Hobsbawm’s core subject can sometimes seem rather dull, but never in his work.

The range of his work from the rural rebellions of Captain Swing to the history of marxism and jazz will be an inspiration to future generations of scholars.

Despite the accusations of cold war warriors and anti-marxists there has never been any suggestions that Hobsbawm’s politics interfered with conclusions drawn from historical research in archives and papers. Of course his politics directed his research agenda but that is a different matter

Hobsbawm’s politics were more controversial than his history on the left and it might be argued that the two were not quite as closely connected as one might have expected them to be and generally that was just as well.

In particular his Forward March of Labour Halted which laid some of the intellectual ground work for the New Labour was a less than happy intervention.

Hobsbawm wrote and published widely over many decades and towered in recent times over socialist history. It is to be hoped that his work will continue to inspire new work in socialist history and that there are some unpublished pieces still to see the light of day.

I should add that given the number of people who have opined on Hobsbawm’s life who are not marxist historians or even marxists it would do no harm to hear from a few of the genre of which this brief piece is a modest contribution

Dr Keith Flett, Convenor Socialist History Seminar Institute of Historical Research

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