Monday, October 01, 2012

Eric Hobsbawm (June 9, 1917 – October 1, 2012)

“Once again it is manifest that the economic system’s operations must be analysed both historically, as a phase and not the end of history, and realistically, i.e., not in terms of an ideal market equilibrium, but of a built-in mechanism that generates potentially system-changing periodic crises. The present one may be one of these. Once again it is evident that even between major crises, ‘the market’ has no answer to the major problems confronting the twenty-first century: that unlimited and increasingly high-tech economic growth in the pursuit of unsustainable profit produces global wealth, but at the cost of an increasingly dispensable factor of production, human labour, and, one might add, of the globe’s natural resources. Economic and political liberalism, singly or in combination, cannot provide the solution to the problems of the twenty-first century. Once again the time has come to take Marx seriously.”—Eric Hobsbawm

From the Wikipedia entry (albeit edited):

Eric (John Ernest) Hobsbawm (9 June 1917 - 1 October 2012) was a British Marxist historian, public intellectual, and author. His best known works include the trilogy about the long 19th century: The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848, The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 and The Age of Empire: 1875–1914; and an edited volume which introduced the influential idea of ‘invented traditions.’ [….]

He was a Marxist and was a long-standing member of the now defunct Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the associated Communist Party Historians Group. He was president of Birkbeck, University of London. He was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1998, a high-ranking British honour for outstanding achievement in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion . In 2003 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for European History since 1900, ‘For his brilliant analysis of the troubled history of twentieth-century Europe and for his ability to combine in-depth historical research with great literary talent.’ [….]

In 1994, Neal Ascherson said of Hobsbawm: ‘No historian now writing in English can match his overwhelming command of fact and source. But the key word is “command.” Hobsbawm’s capacity to store and retrieve detail has now reached a scale normally approached only by large archives with big staffs.’ In 2002, Hobsbawm was described by right-leaning magazine The Spectator as ‘arguably our greatest living historian—not only Britain’s, but the world’s,’ while Niall Ferguson wrote: ‘That Hobsbawm is one of the great historians of his generation is undeniable. . . . His quartet of books beginning with The Age of Revolution and ending with The Age of Extremes constitute the best starting point I know for anyone who wishes to begin studying modern history. Nothing else produced by the British Marxist historians will endure as these books will.’ In 2003, The New York Times described him as ‘one of the great British historians of his age, an unapologetic Communist and a polymath whose erudite, elegantly written histories are still widely read in schools here and abroad.’ James Joll wrote in The New York Review of Books that ‘Eric Hobsbawm’s nineteenth century trilogy is one of the great achievements of historical writing in recent decades.’ Ian Kershaw said that Hobsbawm’s take on the twentieth century, his 1994 book, The Age of Extremes, consisted of ‘masterly analysis’….” [….]

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Hobsbawm was once a member of a remarkable fraternity of historians: the Communist Party Historians Group, that included such luminaries as Maurice Dobb, Christopher Hill, Victor Kiernan, George Rudé, Dorothy Thompson (née Towers), and E.P. Thompson. This group (sans some members after 1956) continued until the dissolution of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1991. “In early 1992 it reconstituted itself as the Socialist History Society, and made full membership available to anybody regardless of party affiliation. The SHS now publishes a twice-yearly journal ‘Socialist History’ and a series of monographs called ‘Occasional Papers.’”

The Guardian’s obituary notice.
See too this piece by Marc Mulholland in Jacobin.

In addition the those cited above, among his many books I recommend:
  • Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movements in the 19th and 20th Centuries (1959)
  • Labouring Men: Studies in the History of Labour (1964)
  • Workers: Worlds of Labour (1984)
  • Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (2nd ed., 1992)
  • Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion, and Jazz (1998)
  • How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism (2011)


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