Edited to add:Update on the scandal by Hilda Kean, 15 October 2012
Archive for October, 2012
Eric Hobsbawm: A Tribute from the Socialist History Society
The Socialist History Society is deeply saddened to learn of the death of its Honorary President Eric Hobsbawm on 1 October at the age of 95.
As an individual and as a historian, Eric Hobsbawm has long been an inspiration to many thousands of people around the world who have read his books. As a historian of great integrity and distinction, there is no doubt that he will continue to inspire future generations of scholars and activists.
He was and will remain a towering figure and influence for many years to come.
Eric Hobsbawm was the last of a remarkable generation of historians who changed fundamentally the ways that people look at the world. They opened up research into many new aspects of human societies and popular movements that had been previously ignored by historians.
Never afraid to court controversy, Hobsbawm was unwavering in his commitment to the basic principles that he adopted in his youth. He was always prepared to articulate unpopular opinions if he believed he was expressing the truth.
Eric Hobsbawm was, of course, one of the founders of the SHS’s predecessor, the Communist Party Historians’ Group. Its legacy still lives on, not least in such areas as labour history, and the study of popular culture and movements. It shows the continuing relevance and validity of Marxist scholarship.
Eric Hobsbawm was more than just a historian. He was a ‘public intellectual’ who helped us to remain connected to basic values of human solidarity. He expressed the reasons why people continue to hope and work for a better future for all humanity.
As even some right-leaning critics admitted, Hobsbawm came to exemplify the fundamental principles of humanitarianism, enlightenment, integrity, critical thinking and a belief in humanity’s ability to improve the world by collective action. Such principles are today sadly lacking in much of what is done by contemporary political leaders and written by historians and commentators on current affairs.
Although his death is a great loss to us, we are encouraged by the knowledge that Eric Hobsbawm will certainly continue to influence future generations as a guide and as a teacher. His books, translated into so many languages, will go on attracting readers worldwide, and will not go out of print or circulation any time soon.
The SHS is proud of its close association with Eric Hobsbawm. We would like to put on record our appreciation of our late President. He was always unstintingly supportive of our work. His only public appearance in the UK to promote what turned out to be his last book, How to Change the World, took place under the auspices of the Society at the Bishopsgate Institute in 2011.
The SHS will be announcing what is being planned by way of tributes to Eric Hobsbawm in due course.
We send our sincerest condolences to his widow Marlene and the entire Hobsbawm family.
The Socialist History Society Committee
2 October 2012
Eric Hobsbawm – towering above his critics
A personal tribute
Naturally there have been many glowing tributes to Eric Hobsbawm following his death on 1 October at the age of 95, but there have also been some extremely ungenerous slights and grotesque attacks on his integrity as an individual and as a historian.
It is a deplorable fact that literally within hours of the news of his death being announced, supposedly respected institutions like the BBC saw fit to pour out their bile in a sickening attempt to besmirch the reputation of a man of obvious greatness, not only travestying what he stood for but slighting his very professionalism as a writer and commentator. Nick Higham on the BBC’s website, for example, offers this cliché-ridden travesty in what purported to be serious analysis;
‘Eric Hobsbawm was remarkable among historians in being proud to call himself a Marxist long after Marxism had been discredited in the West.
‘To his admirers he was one of the greatest historians of the 20th Century. To his critics he was an apologist for Soviet tyranny who never fully changed his views.
‘But he was too shrewd, too open-minded to pursue a narrow Marxist approach in his work or his politics.’
Thus, readers are encouraged to see Hobsbawm as ‘remarkable’ for the fact that he remained a Marxist, at a time when all evidence apparently pointed against its continuing relevance, according to this BBC expert, who wishes to assert that there can be no other remaining Marxist historians at work today; ‘an apologist for Soviet tyranny ’ is simply one who refused to toe the establishment line and is clearly meant to imply that Hobsbawm’s opinions remained well beyond the pale of respectable right-thinking society. Finally, even the suggestion of his ‘shrewdness’ has within it a coded implication of dishonesty, and might even be construed as having a racist connotation.
It is quite absurd that these canards about Hobsbawm being the ‘last Marxist historian’ are trotted out once again; it not only does a disservice to our intelligence, but more importantly it is highly insulting to the memory of a remarkable person who was intellectually head and shoulders above all of his critics and who has only just died.
Under the headline, ‘A believer in the Red utopia to the very end’ conservative historian Michael Burleigh asserted in The Daily Telegraph that ‘grotesque facts never got in the way of Eric Hobsbawm’s devotion to communism’; this nasty denunciation goes on to accuse him of being ‘deceitful’ and, this author cannot resist drawing upon Orwell to utter a clear racist comment, calling Hobsbawm a ‘foreign guru’, which is surely just about as low as you can get.
We should rightly be incensed by some of these comments that have appeared so far, which even though sadly predictable and facile seem so inappropriate coming within just a few hours of Hobsbawm’s death.
Hobsbawm was in fact the last of a remarkable generation and obviously more than just a historian. As a ‘public intellectual’ his example enabled us to remain connected to basic values of human solidarity and he expressed the reasons why we continue to hope and work for a better future for all humanity.
Hobsbawm, as he himself realised as much as his right-leaning critics, came to exemplify the fundamental principles of humanitarianism, enlightenment, integrity, critical thinking and a belief in human capacities to improve their world by collective action. Such principles are today in very short supply in much of what is done by political leaders and written by historians and commentators.
We can derive encouragement, however, from the knowledge that Eric Hobsbawm is certain to remain a continuing influence as a guide and teacher to future generations; his books, translated into so many languages, will go on attracting readers worldwide, and are never likely to go out of print or circulation. In a word, Hobsbawm was and remains an inspiration and he was a comrade to the very end. He will continue to tower well above his critics.