Eric Hobsbawm on the tasks of Marxist historians today

[The new issue of New Left Review (No.61, Jan-Feb 2010) is really excellent for a whole number of reasons, but one thing of particular interest to readers of Socialist History News might be the interview with Eric Hobsbawm, World Distempers, on contemporary history post 1991. The interview concludes with the following question and answer]:

If you were to pick still unexplored topics or fields presenting major challenges for future historians, what would they be?

The big problem is a very general one. By palaeontological standards the human species has transformed its existence at astonishing speed, but the rate of change has varied enormously. Sometimes it has moved very slowly, sometimes very fast, sometimes controlled, sometimes not. Clearly this implies a growing control over nature, but we should not claim to know whither this is leading us. Marxists have rightly focused on changes in the mode of production and their social relations as the generators of historical change. However, if we think in terms of how ‘men make their own history’, the great question is this: historically, communities and social systems have aimed at stabilization and reproduction, creating mechanisms to keep at bay disturbing leaps into the unknown. Resistance to the imposition of change from outside is still a major factor in world politics today. How is it, then, that humans and societies structured to resist dynamic development come to terms with a mode of production whose essence is endless and unpredictable dynamic development? Marxist historians might profitably investigate the operations of this basic contradiction between the mechanisms bringing about change and those geared to resist it.

2 Responses to “Eric Hobsbawm on the tasks of Marxist historians today”

  1. 1 Hobbes
    3 February 2010 at 12:17 am


    I’m starting a new socialist blog called Rosa’s Ghost. I
    was hoping you might add it to your links page. It would be a great
    help. Thanks in advance.


  2. 10 February 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Perry Anderson’s exhaustive comparative analysis of Russia and China is another highlight of this special issue of NLR. His reasoning that the USSR was only held together by the party explains why it all unravelled so easily and also exposes how futile is the dream of the neocons now trying to prise open China by egging on Tibet and the Uighars, who are at best tiny minorities standing alone; China is much more uniform culturally and ideologically than the USSR ever was, in fact it is one of the longest surviving unitary states in human history. Also Anderson’s judgement on Gorbachov, too besotted with fame in the West to address the deepening economic problems at home, is damning too, in comparison the Chinese leadership proves far more astute.

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February 2010

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