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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le célèbre historien marxiste Eric Hobsbawm est décédé

by Claude Mazauric

The celebrated Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm has died

Translated Tuesday 9 October 2012, by Harry Cross and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Eric Hobsbawm was an internationally celebrated historian who kept “the dream of the October Revolution somewhere inside him” his entire life. This made him the target of numerous criticisms by distinguished thinkers from more consensual currents, but the shining intellectual never renounced his engagement.

Eric Hobsbawm, who has recently passed away at the age of 95, was a major historian of our time. He possessed a fertile mind, the capacity to write prolifically and flamboyantly. His corpus of work, both immense and erudite, was universal in its reach, as were the life and experiences of the man himself.

Born in Egypt in 1917 to an Austrian mother and an English father, his formative years both politically and intellectually were spent first in Vienna and then in Berlin, which was where he became a communist through the antifascist movement. In 1933 he moved to England where at Cambridge University, with others of his generation, he helped build a vibrant Marxist intellectual culture that was both profound and inquisitive, which informed all of his work as an historian and as a critical observer of various societies and economies. He spoke and wrote in numerous languages and was able to elicit through his analysis the power relations that affect the history of populations and civilizations.

One of the first to understand the nature of the sunset of the Soviet and Stalinist experience in Europe, he never underestimated the decisive importance for the history of humanity of what was undertaken in the events of October 1917 and in the victory of 1945, which fed, the world over, notably in Latin America and in Asia, the hope for a social emancipation from domination and exploitation. Hobsbawm never ceased to hold an engaged interest in the struggles that defeated the Nazi monstrosity, fought back colonialism, and confronted racism and xenophobia. He recalled this a few years ago [1], when the Modern History Society honoured him at the (École normale supérieure) on Rue d’Ulm, in Paris.

Eric was a generous man and a faithful friend who knew how to express his confidence and esteem for his colleagues, even for those junior to him in the profession. His body of work, translated into languages for a worldwide audience over a period of more than half a century, includes his sumptuous autobiography of an intellectual maverick – as he would describe himself – which was published by Ramsay in 2002; his Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991., which imbecilic French “neo-liberals” attempted to censure (!); and his short collection Echoes of the Marseillaise: two centuries look back on the French Revolution, which countered many tradition interpretations of the event in the Anglo-Saxon world, tolling the knell on a long period of influence of the school of François Furet.

Of the great Eric, one can say the same as Jean-Jacques Rousseau said of himself in anticipation, that “alive or dead, he will never cease to worry them.” I leave it to readers to guess who is included in this “them”. You will excuse me if I take this opportunity to express my personal sadness and to express to his wife Marlene the fraternal greetings and friendship of all those in France who knew and loved Eric Hobsbawm as much as we did.

Pierre Laurent, National secretary of the French Communist Party: “The loss of a great mind”

“It is with great sadness that I have just learnt of the passing of Eric Hobsbawm. His life spanned a century. It was one of an engaged and free intellectual […] In 1936, he joined in London the Communist Party. His fields of study were many but he always combined his engagement in and his reflection on the future of the world: capitalism, nationalism, marginal groups… Even in leaving the Communist Party, he never renounced his ideals, and sought to rejuvenate Marxism. In the 1990s, while theses proclaiming the end of history and the definitive victory of capitalism reigned supreme, his book The Age of Extremes […] caused a stir since it encouraged a new consideration of “the short 20th century” beyond the received wisdom regarding totalitarianism. Throughout his entire life, his work demonstrated the refutation of this supposed equation between communism and Nazism. Progressives have lost a member of their rank and file, and all those who take an interest in the history of the 20th century have lost a great mind and a thinker of global proportions.”

[1Saturday, 20 May, 2006, in the Salle des résistants, at a meeting of the Société d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine

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