Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Eric Hobsbawn

I have to confess that I owe a slightly perverse debt of gratitude to Eric Hobsbawn who died yesterday.

It was his 'Labour's Lost Millions' article published in Marxism Today in 1983 that sent me on the trajectory that ended with me joining the then Militant. At the time I was a member of the Young Communist League having made the rookie mistake of believing that the Communist Party were to the left of Labour. My wonderfully tolerant Bennite parents didn't give me much to rebel against - but this was one way of expressing the unavoidable teenage rejection of the older generation. 

Fortunately this delusion only lasted a few months before Hobsbawn's article came out. Instinctively I knew it to be a rejection of class politics and of of the values of the labour movement in favour of something that would come to be later known as 'New Labour'. And so I probably became one of the few who joined the Labour Party with the express view of seeking out the Militant and the 'proper' Marxists. So thanks for that Eric.

Like any socialist  with an interest in history, I had his books - and it is only fair to say that his history was very much better than his politics and in a world of Niall Ferguson, Andrew Roberts and David Starkey, they remain essential reading.  

But strangely enough, I think that perhaps one of the things most to Hobsbawn's credit was the very thing that most obituaries are criticising him for - he maintained his party membership long after that brief period in the sixties when it may have had some cachet in academic circles. 

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