He was a member of the Communist Party Historians Group from until its demise and subsequently president of its successor, the Socialist History Society until his death. The Soviet invasion of Hungary in led thousands of its members to leave the British Communist Party — but Hobsbawm, unique among his colleagues, remained in the party, but was distrusted by its leadership and ceased political work by the end of the s. I think very few attempts have been made to build a system on the total assumption of social ownership and social management. At its peak the Soviet system tried it. And in the past 20 or 30 years, the capitalist system has also tried it. One of the worst things about the politics of the past 30 years is that the rich have forgotten to be afraid of the poor — of most of the people in the world.
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Unlike some others, Hobsbawm achieved this wider recognition without in any major way revolting against either Marxism or Marx. In a profession notorious for microscopic preoccupations, few historians have ever commanded such a wide field in such detail or with such authority.
To the last, Hobsbawm considered himself to be essentially a 19th-century historian, but his sense of that and other centuries was both unprecedentedly broad and unusually cosmopolitan. Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, a good place for a historian of empire, in , a good year for a communist.
But Eric was British of no ordinary background. Another uncle, Sidney, went to Egypt before the first world war and found a job there in a shipping office for Leopold. There, in , Leopold Hobsbawm met Nelly Gruen, a young Viennese from a middle-class family who had been given a trip to Egypt as a prize for completing her school studies. Politics made their impact around this time. The first political conversation that he could recall took place in an Alpine sanatorium in these years, too.
Two motherly Jewish women were discussing Leon Trotsky. Two years later his mother died of TB. Eric was 14, and his Uncle Sidney took charge once more, taking Eric and his sister Nancy to live in Berlin. Around this time he joined the Socialist Schoolboys, which he described as "de facto part of the communist movement" and sold its publication, Schulkampf School Struggle. The gangly teenage boy who settled with his sister in Edgware in described himself later as "completely continental and German speaking".
School, though, was "not a problem" because the English education system was "way behind" the German. A cousin in Balham introduced him to jazz for the first time — the "unanswerable sound", he called it. But, he added, "it was not. But his politics, which were never a secret, led to rejection. Instead he became an improbable sapper in Field Company, which he later described as "a very working-class unit trying to build some patently inadequate defences against invasion on the coasts of East Anglia".
This, too, was a formative experience for the often aloof young intellectual prodigy. They were not very clever, except for the Scots and Welsh, but they were very, very good people. After the war, returning to Cambridge, he made another choice, abandoning a planned doctorate on north African agrarian reform in favour of research on the Fabians. In he got his first tenured job, as a history lecturer at Birkbeck College, London, where he was to remain for much of his teaching life. With the onset of the cold war, a very British academic McCarthyism meant that the Cambridge lectureship which Hobsbawm always coveted never materialised.
He shuttled between Cambridge and London, one of the principal organisers and driving forces of the Communist Party Historians Group, a glittering radical academy which brought together some of the most prominent historians of the postwar era.
Whatever else it achieved, the CP Historians Group, about which Hobsbawm wrote an authoritative essay in , certainly provided a nucleus for many of his first steps as a major historical writer. The foundation of the Past and Present journal — now the most lasting, if fully independent, legacy of the Historians Group — also belongs to this period.
Hobsbawm was never to leave the Communist party and always thought of himself as part of an international communist movement. For many, this remained the insuperable obstacle to an embrace of his writing.
Over Hungary in , an event which split the CP and drove many intellectuals out of the party, he was a voice of protest who nevertheless remained. Yet, as with his contemporary, Christopher Hill, who left the CP at this time, the political trauma of and the start of a lastingly happy second marriage combined in some way to trigger a sustained and fruitful period of historical writing that was to establish fame and reputation. These works are reminders that Hobsbawm was both a bridge between European and British historiography and a forerunner of the notable rise of the study of social history in post Britain.
By this time, though, Hobsbawm had already published the first of the works on which both his popular and academic reputations still rest.
It has rarely been out of print. A fourth volume, The Age of Extremes: , more quirky and speculative but in some respects the most remarkable and admirable of all, extended the sequence in The books were not conceived as a tetralogy, but as they appeared, they acquired individual and cumulative classic status. In he married again, this time to Marlene Schwarz, of Austrian descent.
They moved to Hampstead and bought a small second home in Wales. They had two children, Andrew and Julia. His conversations with the Italian communist — and now state president — Giorgio Napolitano date from these years, and were published as The Italian Road to Socialism. But his most influential political work centred on his increasing certainty that the European labour movement had ceased to be capable of bearing the transformational role assigned to it by earlier Marxists.
These uncompromisingly revisionist articles were collected under the general heading The Forward March of Labour Halted. Kinnock publicly acknowledged his debt to Hobsbawm and allowed himself to be interviewed by the man he described as as "my favourite Marxist".
In its citation, Downing Street said Hobsbawm continued to publish works that "address problems in history and politics that have re-emerged to disturb the complacency of Europe".
In his later years, Hobsbawm enjoyed widespread reputation and respect. That his writings continued to command such audiences at a time when his politics were in some ways so eclipsed was the kind of disjunction which exasperated rightwingers, but it was a paradox on which the subtle judgment of this least complacent of intellects feasted.
In his later years, he liked to quote EM Forster that he was "always standing at a slight angle to the universe". Whether the remark says more about Hobsbawm or about the universe was something that he enjoyed disputing, confident in the knowledge that it was in some senses a lesson for them both.
He is survived by Marlene and his three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
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И поэтому она не является историей всей Европы или всего мира. А если влияние революции на какую-либо страну в это время было незначительным, я не упоминал о нем. Поэтому читатель узнает из книги кое-что о Египте, но ничего о Японии, об Ирландии узнает больше, чем о Болгарии, о Латинской Америке — больше, чем об Африке. Естественно, это не означает, что истории не упомянутых здесь стран и народов являются менее любопытными или значительными, чем те, которые освещаются в этой книге.
Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm
Век революции (1789-1848). Век Капитала (1848-1875). Век Империи (1875-1914). (fb2)
Eric Hobsbawm obituary