Eric Hobsbawm: Why historian's loyalty to Marxism never wavered
By Timothy Snyder, special for CNN
Editor’s note: Eric Hobsbawm, seen by many peers as the greatest post-war historian of European ideas, has died aged 95. Here, Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, explains why Hobsbawm’s determination to stick with Marxism long after it went out of fashion made his message so special to historians and readers around the world. The paperback of Snyder’s most recent book, “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin,” was released on Monday.
(CNN) — Why did Eric Hobsbawm, one of the greatest historians of modern times, remain a Marxist after the end of the Soviet Union, and defend communism into the 21st century?
To be a man of Hobsbawm’s generation was to have experienced the collapse of capitalism in the Great Depression, to be a Jew of Hobsbawm’s generation was to have seen the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In those years of the 1930s, the years when Hobsbawm was a brilliant youth, was to face what seemed to be a binary choice, to be with the Nazis or against them. And no one seemed to be more against the Nazis than the communists. Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party as a very young man, and was loyal, in his way, to the end.
Communism also offered, as perhaps no non-religious ideas do today, a sense of community. To belong to the Communist Party was to have a sense of conspiracy, a loyalty to friends who had suffered and would suffer more, and a collective sense that the struggle was not in vain, for a more glorious world could and would come. Like religion for Americans, who repeat that “things happen for a reason,” communism offered a logic of pain and progress. Every arrest, every sentence to a concentration camp, every execution was not just a moment of horror, but further proof of capitalism’s decadence and weakness.
And elsewhere …
by Esther Hadley
Eric Hobsbawm at his London home: the historian’s lifelong commitment to Marxism made him a controversial figure. Photograph: Anne Katrin Purkiss/Rex
Eric Hobsbawm, one of the leading historians of the 20th century, has died, his family said on Monday.
Hobsbawm, a lifelong Marxist whose work influenced generations of historians and politicians, died in the early hours of Monday morning at the Royal Free Hospital in London after a long illness, his daughter Julia said. He was 95. » Continue reading
Eric Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party aged 14
Eric Hobsbawm, one of Britain’s most eminent historians, has died at the age of 95, his family have confirmed.
He 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. » Continue reading
By Stephen Kotkin
E. J. Hobsbawm, who was born the same year as the Russian Revolution, and driven to Britain from Central Europe by Nazism, died on October 1st, aged ninety-five. I met him just once, as a junior professor among senior colleagues who had a long acquaintance with “Eric.” On that single occasion, a dinner in Princeton University’s faculty club, following a Hobsbawm lecture, he came across as refreshingly serious—intellectually curious and politically engaged—yet un-full of himself. He had already long ago become probably the world’s best known living historian, with books translated into some forty languages. » Continue reading
Eric Hobsbawm in 2008 | Roland Schlager/European Pressphoto Agency
By William Grimes
Eric J. Hobsbawm, whose three-volume economic history of the rise of industrial capitalism established him as Britain’s pre-eminent Marxist historian, died on Monday in London. He was 95.
The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter, Julia Hobsbawm.
Mr. Hobsbawm, the leading light in a group of historians within the British Communist Party that included Christopher Hill, E. P. Thompson and Raymond Williams, helped recast the traditional understanding of history as a series of great events orchestrated by great men. Instead, he focused on labor movements in the 19th century and what he called the “pre-political” resistance of bandits, millenarians and urban rioters in early capitalist societies. » Continue reading
Eric Hobsbawm was best known for three volumes, spanning the period from 1789 to 1914: “The Age of Revolution” (1962), “The Age of Capital” (1975) and “The Age of Empire” (1987). A later volume, “Age of Extremes”, took the story forward from 1914 to 1991. (Jerry Bauer)
Hobsbawm was read by generations of students and revered for his ability to make history come alive, using his socialist perspective to tell stories from the people’s point of view.
Eric Hobsbawm, who was honored as one of Britain’s most distinguished historians despite retaining an allegiance to the Communist Party that lasted long after many supporters had left in disgust, has died. He was 95.
Hobsbawm died early Monday at a London hospital, said his daughter Julia Hobsbawm. He had pneumonia and leukemia.
Read by generations of students and revered for his ability to make history come alive, Hobsbawm used his socialist perspective to tell stories from the people’s point of view.
His reading of Karl Marx and his experience living in Germany in the 1930s formed his views. He joined the Communist Party in England in 1936 and stayed a member long after Soviet military force crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the liberal reforms of the Prague Spring in 1968, although he publicly opposed both interventions. » Continue reading