All good historians and decent people will mourn the passing of Eric Hobsbawm – a very great historian. I remember reading ‘Age of Empire’ at school – it was revelatory. The importance of Hobsbawm’s work is acknowledged even by right wing historian Niall Ferguson. This is simply because, whatever his political views, Ferguson fully understands the values of Hobsbawm’s remarkbale body of work.
No doubt the parsimonious shallow minded inhabitants of Dailymailworld will excoriate his life long commitment to Marxism and membership of the Communist Party.
The people who make this kind of judgement are pygmies. Hobsbawm who was Jewish grew up in Vienna and Berlin: he experienced at first had the rise of the Nazi Party – his commitment to communism was a value system that rejected the destructive forces of fascism. The Daily Mail of course was a ‘fellow travelling’ paper that advertised the delights of Hitler’s Germany to its readers. That’s a pretty skewed morality isn’t it?
Hobsbawm did not deny the horrors of Stalin’s Soviet Union – for him the moral values of Communism remained incorruptible. He denounced Soviet attacks on freedom and democracy – and rejoiced in the Prague Spring. Much narrow mind anti Hobsbawmism is simple ignorance.
The ambition and depth of Hobsbawm’s historical work was informed by these values, but not subservient to them. He did not write propaganda. To grasp the emergence of aggressive modern capitalism and imperialism over the last few hundred years demands that we read Hobsbawm – now more than ever.