Eric Hobsbawm is dead

by Chris Bertram on October 1, 2012

Very sad news. Eric Hobsbawm, one of the 20th century’s great historians, has died. The Guardian has a report and an obituary. No doubt there will be more obituaries to come. (In fact there’s a very nice one by Marc Mulholland for Jacobin.)

{ 136 comments }

1

snuh 10.01.12 at 11:17 am

how is it that he died without being knighted? i’m vaguely aware that the honours system is ridiculous and borderline-corrupt. but it still doesn’t make sense; accepting the premise that being well connected helps, it’s not as if hobsbawn didn’t have friends in the labour party.

i suppose he might have been offered and refused it? but i couldn’t see anything about that on the interwebs.

2

Alex 10.01.12 at 11:37 am

He was a Companion of Honour, which is a much greater honour than a mere knighthood – it is in the personal gift of the monarch, and there are only ever 65 of them*. Ks are given out like sweets by comparison, to all sorts of third-rate political hacks, bureaucrats, and vacuous celebrities.

*weirdly, David Attenborough is both a CH and an OM, the other fixed-membership order, which tells you that the queen likes wildlife documentaries, or something.

3

Neville Morley 10.01.12 at 11:40 am

He was a Companion of Honour, which often seems to be the way in which those who decline other honours are nevertheless honoured; my guess would certainly be that he’s declined knighthoods if not peerages.

Why on earth did the Grauniad get Ferguson of all people to comment? To show that Hobsbawm’s reach went beyond the Left? It would have been fine if Ferguson had said something like “I look at his works and feel deeply conscious of the limitations of my own”, which would be the honest response of most professional historians…

4

Phil 10.01.12 at 11:40 am

As another old pinko wrote of himself,

There were few who thought him a starter,
Many who thought themselves smarter.
But he ended PM,
CH and OM,
an Earl and a Knight of the Garter.

A solitary CH seems quite lowly by comparison. Still, not bad for an old Commie.

5

ajay 10.01.12 at 11:44 am

Other double-hatters: Frederick Sanger, Michael Howard (the historian), David Hockney.

6

ajay 10.01.12 at 11:46 am

He was a Companion of Honour, which often seems to be the way in which those who decline other honours are nevertheless honoured;

Don’t think so; most of the CHs are fairly heavily loaded already, honours-wise. Knighthoods, peerages, CBEs etc.

7

Cian 10.01.12 at 11:48 am

Why on earth did the Grauniad get Ferguson of all people to comment?

They were friends, apparently.

8

Phil 10.01.12 at 11:50 am

In the case of Ferguson the appropriate reaction would be more like I look at his work and I think “Dear God, I’ve been calling myself a historian…” Still, you can’t really expect people to j’en appelle themselves (ref: another old pinko, or two).

9

nick s 10.01.12 at 12:05 pm

most of the CHs are fairly heavily loaded already, honours-wise

But the number of gong-decliners is fairly small, and there are quite a few of them who ended up accepting a CH and/or OM after declining knighthood. (Lucian Freud was another: “My younger brother has one of those. That’s all that needs to be said on the matter.”)

Anyway, RIP Hobsbawm, whose work will remain on the syllabus for a long time.

10

Bill Benzon 10.01.12 at 12:43 pm

Though it’s not what he was best known for, he wrote a very nice little book on jazz early in his career: http://www.amazon.com/The-Jazz-Scene-Eric-Hobsbawm/dp/0679406336

11

LFC 10.01.12 at 12:56 pm

I think (though stand open to correction) that his best work is probably on the 19th c..

His book on 1914-1991, Age of Extremes, is perhaps a little uneven; I say this having recently had occasion to re-look at ch.9. This deals w the ‘golden age’ of postwar capitalism and its end c.1970-73. The ‘causal’ story, while it is more or less there, gets chopped up and distributed into different bits of the narrative. Then one has to jump ahead to ch.14 for the continuation.

The first Hobsbawm bk I read was Age of Revolution. Still have the old paperback copy w my name and “September 1976″ written on corner of title page. RIP.

12

Asteri 10.01.12 at 12:57 pm

Just noticed that the second paragraph of Hobsbawm’s wikipedia entry claims that he apparently supported the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact, this is linked to a one Oliver Kamm! Who’d a thought it?

13

Chris Williams 10.01.12 at 1:49 pm

Oliver Kamm, step in to knife the recently dead for positions they held when they were 22-year-olds who’d grown up in Vienna and Berlin? Gosh.

14

js. 10.01.12 at 2:31 pm

supported the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact

I imagine this another way of saying he was a Party member? IIRC, in his autobiography he expresses a good bit of frustration about the policy.

RIP.

15

Magnus Ramage 10.01.12 at 2:37 pm

I notice that the obit in the Guardian is partly written by Dorothy Wedderburn (a sociologist of technology who sounds well worth knowing about), who herself died two weeks ago. Her obituary in the Guardian was by… Eric Hobsbawm. Of course these things are written far in advance, but it comes across quite oddly!

16

Chris Bertram 10.01.12 at 2:42 pm

I met a Guardian obituarist at a wake a couple of years back. She had lots of philosophical obits ready to go, but scanned the blogs and newspapers for news of illness, and if she detected any she’d get cracking with the updating and polishing.

17

rf 10.01.12 at 2:54 pm

“Of course these things are written far in advance, but it comes across quite oddly!”

I’m sure most people saw this, but hopefully it signals a new direction in obit writing

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/saltlaketribune/obituary.aspx?n=val-patterson&pid=158526785#fbLoggedOut

18

rootless_e 10.01.12 at 3:10 pm

19

Matt 10.01.12 at 3:14 pm

I haven’t read most of his work, but thought his short book on nationalism, _Nations and Nationalism Since 1780_, was one of the best things written on the subject. I thought it took a much clearer look at the subject that most of the other things written on the topic around the same time, in particular in noting how often nationalism was used by those at the top of a society to control and keep in line those further down, for the benefit of those at the top, an aspect largely glossed over by most of the more positive presentations of nationalism by philosophers and political scientists at the time. It’s well worth reading for people interested in the subject.

20

ajay 10.01.12 at 3:54 pm

I wonder how often 15 happens. Probably quite often: if you ask A to write B’s autobiography, it might well be because A is in the same field as B and knows her – so they’re probably fairly close to each other in age and life expectancy…

21

ajay 10.01.12 at 3:56 pm

For a more aged philosopher, 16 would be quite an unsettling experience. You’d be conscious of her thinking “Hmm, he looks in fairly good shape… poor colour though and a bit of a tremor… circulatory problems? That’s his second glass of wine… better give the obit a once-over when I get into the office tomorrow just to be sure.”

22

Donald Johnson 10.01.12 at 3:58 pm

Hobsbawm made a rather strange mistake for a Marxist historian in “The Age of Empire”. He contrasts the “modest scale” of atrocities in the premodern era compared with what happened after 1914, and specifically referred to the Congo. (He also mentioned the Amazon, and since there were many fewer Indians to kill there, he’s probably right about that.) I believe he also contrasted the megadeaths of the wars and upheavals in his “short 20th century” (starting in 1914) with what happened in the 19th in “The Age of Extremes”. What about the Chinese civil war, the mass famines under British rule in India and of course the millions dead in the Congo Free State? His comparison of relative atrocity scales only works if you confine yourself to Europe (though the Irish might have something to say about that.)

23

JW Mason 10.01.12 at 4:00 pm

if you ask A to write B’s autobiography, it might well be because A is in the same field as B and knows her

I would say it’s very likely A and B are in the same field, in that case.

;-)

24

ajay 10.01.12 at 4:08 pm

I believe he also contrasted the megadeaths of the wars and upheavals in his “short 20th century” (starting in 1914) with what happened in the 19th in “The Age of Extremes”. What about the Chinese civil war, the mass famines under British rule in India and of course the millions dead in the Congo Free State?

The Taiping Rebellion was huge, but not as bloody as WW2, as far as anyone can make out. The deaths in the Congo are literally innumerable; we just don’t have the information. What was the population before the Free State was set up? No idea. How many people simply fled elsewhere rather than die? No idea.
The Indian famines are trickier because you face the problem of intent to kill.

25

rootless_e 10.01.12 at 4:38 pm

26

rootless_e 10.01.12 at 5:28 pm

27

Freshly Squeezed Cynic 10.01.12 at 5:48 pm

28

Linnaeus 10.01.12 at 6:13 pm

I was also going to post the link to DeLong. I think it’s a useful critique of Hobsbawm, but frustrating at the same time.

29

IM 10.01.12 at 6:15 pm

I liked his work on bandits as social rebels.

30

Asteri 10.01.12 at 6:19 pm

@13

But oh no! Hobsbawn thought that the infamous pamphlet had been lost, but devastatingly; Ollie has a copy! Oh, and Hitchens C didn’t like him either. Will his reputation survive a blow delivered by a towering intellectual giant – and Dude Hitchens? History will be the judge.

31

Donald Johnson 10.01.12 at 7:07 pm

“The Taiping Rebellion was huge, but not as bloody as WW2, as far as anyone can make out. The deaths in the Congo are literally innumerable; we just don’t have the information. What was the population before the Free State was set up? No idea. How many people simply fled elsewhere rather than die? No idea.
The Indian famines are trickier because you face the problem of intent to kill.”

The Taiping Rebellion involved tens of millions of deaths–probably bigger than WWI and smaller than WWII, and out of a population of (IIRC) around 300 million Chinese. Anyway, Hobsbawm was talking orders of magnitude, not factors of two and he was wrong. The Congo free state death toll is estimated in the millions, but nobody can pin it down of course. But still, I’ve not seen anyone claim it was less than millions. Millions fleeing elsewhere –could that be done without a high death toll? As for intent, not all the famine deaths under communism were intentional and it’s tricky in the same way. There’s sort of a gray area where it’s hard to tell if a government is causing a massive death toll because it wants to kill them and sticking fanatically to an economic policy because you care more about ideology than people’s lives.

But my main point is orders of magnitude and I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the 19th century didn’t see cataclysms and/or atrocities involving millions of unnecessary deaths. It clearly did. Hobsbawm’s point is more one I’d expect to see from someone on the right, glorifying the good old days when 19th century white liberals ran the world and then it all went downhill because of Nazis, communists, and anti-colonialism.

32

Donald Johnson 10.01.12 at 7:14 pm

BTW, I don’t mean to imply that Hobsbawm was trying to make a right wing point, just that he said something false that I’d normally expect from someone whose ideology was the opposite of his. The long 19th century was arguably as bloody per capita as Hobsbawm’s short 20th century or in the same range. But the megadeaths were all outside Europe (with the exception of about 1 million in Ireland).

Here is a link that says the Taiping rebellion cost 30 million lives.

link

33

Hemmo 10.01.12 at 8:08 pm

As a Finn, I find it exceedingly difficult to think highly of a person rooting for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact in general, and the Soviet attack against Finland in 1939, specifically. I’ll give credit to him as a historian, sure, but as a person, this lifelong Party member was without a doubt deeply morally corrupt.

34

Mise 10.01.12 at 9:06 pm

Twitter furore has broken out in Ireland, where a Senator tweeted, “Calling yourself a marxist historian is akin to calling yourself a creationist palaeontologist.” The Royal Irish Academy then retweeted it.

Chaos on the (twitter) left ensued.

35

CharlieMcMenamin 10.01.12 at 9:15 pm

The de Long article is basically Cold War boilerplate with no redeeming features. He just doesn’t like the fact Hobsbawm sees the central question of the century as being a challenge to capitalism which went horribly wrong and couldn’t reform itself.

But even if de Long doesn’t agree the idea still has the air of a plausible proposition, worthy of serious argument.

36

Leinad 10.01.12 at 11:31 pm

Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Brad DeLong’s Cold Warrior Cosplay!

37

Martin Bento 10.02.12 at 1:34 am

I read his four-volume “Age of” series. It was some of the best history I ever read. He showed clearly what you can achieve with Marxist analysis. I think I’ve made clear around here that I have some basic disagreements with Marxism, but, within certain parameters it’s close enough – like Newtonian physics. With The Age of Extremes, the overall project began to fall apart though (the book series, not Marxism). He caught the actual history well enough,and it’s still a great book, but he couldn’t fit it into a unifying paradigm as he did with the other periods. “Extremes”? To me, he didn’t really make the case that 1917-1990 was any more extreme than many other periods, especially after 1945, which was most of the period. And “extreme” in itself is just a relative judgment; it has no intrinsic content – unlike Revolution, Capital, and Empire. The Marxist analysis seemed to hit its limits as soon as Marxist philosophy itself became an important historical force.

38

john c. halasz 10.02.12 at 2:04 am

In further news, Barry Commoner also just died.

http://www.thenation.com/article/170251/remembering-barry-commoner

39

Down and Out of Sài Gòn 10.02.12 at 2:04 am

“Morally corrupt” is a little too strong; writing a pamphlet defending the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939 seems like extreme silliness in retrospect. He was 22, after all.

I would be more curious about what Hobsbawm’s reaction was to the failure of the Soviet invasion. Losing Petsamo (Finland’s only ice-free port) and Viipuri (its second biggest city) would have been tough on the country, but at least the country remained independent. That was not Stalin’s intention; it should have been a walkover, considering the disparities in population between Finland and the Soviet Union. Perhaps purging his generals may have something to do with it.

It sounds like Hobsbawn became more grounded and adult when he was a sapper in WWII. Mixing with actual proletariat would have been good for him.

40

LFC 10.02.12 at 2:54 am

I read H’s ‘The Age of Revolution’ a very long time ago and ‘The Age of Extremes’ (or most of it) more recently, though still a while back. My recollection, which I wouldn’t want to defend as anything other than a retrospective impression, is that a lot of ‘Age of Extremes’ is not very Marxist. A lot of the judgments and statements are pretty conventional in the sense that they rely on available statistics about economic and social trends. E.g., the chapter on capitalism’s ‘golden age’ is really not very Marxist at all. And it’s worth noting that Stanley Hoffmann, who is most definitely not a Marxist or anything near it, gave ‘The Age of Extremes’ a glowing review in the NYTBkRev (iirc).

I couldn’t bring myself to read beyond the opening paragraph of the DeLong piece — maybe I will try to read it some other time. (DeLong starts by picking on H’s description of the Korean War, which is kind of a minor point in the scheme of the book, which is stronger on broad trends than specific events. Indeed, the early chapter in which H. covers World War I and WW II is probably one of the weakest in the book.)

41

LFC 10.02.12 at 2:58 am

I also have on the shelf H’s ‘Industry and Empire’ and his edited (with T. Ranger) ‘The Invention of Tradition’, though have not properly read them. (There is some v. good cultural history in the latter.)

42

Anderson 10.02.12 at 3:40 am

“Extremes” has some good analysis, but no one could be bothered to catch the author’s silly errors. First A-bomb Aug 10? 60,000 dead at the first day of the Somme? Only 1M battle dead in the world wars, Japan v China, and Korea combined? US troops in action a year and a half in WW1? And that’s not even all the way thru the 1st chapter. Does the UK not have grad assistants?

43

js. 10.02.12 at 3:54 am

With The Age of Extremes, the overall project began to fall apart though

Fair enough. But the analysis of the break-up of the USSR is super insightful from what I remember. That’s also all that made a really serious impression from the book though.

On the other hand, I think the 2nd 19th century volume is a really underrated classic. Wait, no, I don’t actually know if it’s underrated, but it is really great.

44

Hidari 10.02.12 at 4:04 am

“Twitter furore has broken out in Ireland, where a Senator tweeted, “Calling yourself a marxist historian is akin to calling yourself a creationist palaeontologist.” .”

FWIW I thınk that ıs to get thıngs precısely the wrong way round. Dobzhansky once wrote a pıece entıtled “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”. For me you can ditch almost everything ın Marxism ıf you want but what remaıns ıs that classes ‘exist’ ın some form and that they have dıfferent interests whıch (at least occasionally) come ınto conflict. To me nothıng ın history makes any sense unless you accept this ın some shape or form.

Certainly questıons about the current economic policies of the EU and the Government of the UK and (say) Spain Portugal and Greece can’t be understood wıthout thıs insight as the ‘alleged’ ‘ real’ reasons for the policies pursued make absolutely no sense.

The other great insight, not so much of Marx himself but of the Marxist tradition, ıs of the importance of ımperialism ın terms of understanding the modern (and ancient) world. Again I simply can’t get my head round people who try and explain the 19th and 20th centuries wıthout using thıs concept.

45

rootless_e 10.02.12 at 4:10 am

Now as for myself, I do not claim to have discovered either the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me, bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this struggle between the classes, as had bourgeois economists their economic anatomy. My own contribution was 1. to show that the existence of classes is merely bound up with certain historical phases in the development of production; 2. that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat; 3. that this dictatorship itself constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society.

Marx – Letter to Weydemeyer.

1 as the idea that class relations are not immutable but develop historically was big.
Sadly, 2&3 seem wrong.

46

LFC 10.02.12 at 4:12 am

@42
The book is based on a course of lectures at the New School, I believe H. says in the preface. He thanks a couple of research assistants. Discussion of casualty figures pp.43-4 seems reasonable and suggests the 1M remark you noticed may be a typo (?).

47

Linnaeus 10.02.12 at 4:15 am

Does the UK not have grad assistants?

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Hobsbawn didn’t have graduate assistants. It’s actually not that common for academic historians to have graduate students helping them with their books.

48

LFC 10.02.12 at 4:27 am

@46
From the end of the preface/acknowledgments of ‘Age of Extremes':

My special thanks go to those who have actually helped me to prepare this book. They are, first, my research assistants Joanna Bedford in London and Lisa Grande in New York. I would particularly like to express my debt to the exceptional Ms. Grande…. I have already indicated my debt to the students of the New School [in New York], who listened to the lectures in which I tried to formulate my ideas and interpretations.

I have no idea whether these research assistants were grad students. He may not have used any research assistants on his other books, but for this particular one he did.

49

LFC 10.02.12 at 4:29 am

Correction: shd be “stress my debt” not “express my debt”. It’s late here and I mis-typed.

50

nick s 10.02.12 at 4:47 am

It’s actually not that common for academic historians to have graduate students helping them with their books.

Indeed. Niall Ferguson’s commandeered them all for his.

51

rootless_e 10.02.12 at 4:50 am

Marc Mulholland calls Hobsbawm the 20th century’s greatest historian. Braudel, please. And then EP Thompson.

52

Marc Mulholland 10.02.12 at 6:39 am

“Marc Mulholland calls Hobsbawm the 20th century’s greatest historian.”

The headline is editorial, rather than my own. Hobsbawm was certainly amongst the greatest.

53

Jonathan 10.02.12 at 8:19 am

‘Age of Extremes’, leaving aside sloppy errors, was almost bound to read as less considered than the 3 previous ‘Ages’ given that it was written fairly soon after events he’d lived through. Further (and I thought this would be an obvious point someone who have made), Marxism from the man himself developed primarily as a means of analysing the development of capitalism – it’s hardly surprising then that the great strengths of H’s writing tended to be on that subject.
(On wars etc, Steven Pinker made an attempt to normalise these for global population at the time. CT posters weren’t terribly sold on his analysis – at the risk of being accused of trolling here I found his analysis quite persuasive and the fact that it riled John Gray is not just amusing but tends to indicate that there’s something in it)

54

ajay 10.02.12 at 9:03 am

On wars etc, Steven Pinker made an attempt to normalise these for global population at the time. CT posters weren’t terribly sold on his analysis

Yes, I was just thinking that… CT is condemning Pinker for overestimating how nasty the 19th century was, and Hobsbawm for doing the exact opposite!

55

Chris Bertram 10.02.12 at 10:08 am

Jonathan, ajay …

Annoying as our commenters often are, I’m not persuaded that it would less bad to murder them if there were more people around.

56

Anderson 10.02.12 at 11:42 am

I was being snarky about the grad assistants of course. H surely tossed off many dates and figures from memory; it says something about his reputation, or perhaps about capitalist publishing, that no one could or cared to correct his errors.

57

Malcolm 10.02.12 at 1:07 pm

Chris @55

As elegant as your snark may be, your comment baffles me. Are you suggesting that murder rates shouldn’t be calculated on a per capita basis? Doesn’t it seem that there is some information to be learned by doing so that might be useful if you were trying to get a feel for what it is or was like to live in a certain place at a certain time?

58

Sumana Harihareswara 10.02.12 at 1:25 pm

I’d welcome any help you all could provide on the matter of his last name.

“Eric John Hobsbawm was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt, where a confused clerk at the British consulate misspelled the last name of his father, Leopold Percy Hobsbaum…”

The various obituaries and articles seem to agree with what’s in the Wikipedia article; does “Jack of Oz”‘s suspicion have any basis?

59

Chris Bertram 10.02.12 at 1:25 pm

Malcolm, next time you comment, don’t forget to bring your sense of humour.

60

JW Mason 10.02.12 at 1:46 pm

Just for the record, the 19th century trilogy is magnificent — near the top of the list of history books I would recommend to anyone — and the Age of Extremes is useful, though weaker for the reasons mentioned by Jonathan. Industry and Empire is also very good. So is the book on Nationalism, which I just happened to read this summer. Unlike Matt upthread, what struck me about that one was the relatively positive & progressive picture it painted of nationalism. The most important point, I thought, was that the concept was originally specifically political — a nation was a people engaged in collective self-government. The idea that a nation necessarily had an ethnic-liguistic or historical unity only came considerably later. In its origins nationalism was just a corollary of popular sovereignty.

One thing that struck me in Marc Mulholland’s generally solid Jacobin piece was this, from the summing-up at the end: “Capitalism, in the long run, he believed, remained unstable.” Doesn’t this soft-peddle it quite a bit, and make it sound like he turned into a Keynesian, which he did not? It seems to me that he continued to think that capitalism was not just unstable, but fundamentally incompatible with human flourishing, if not human survival. But maybe Mulholland or someone else has some evidence that his late criticism of capitalism was limited to its instability?

61

JW Mason 10.02.12 at 2:45 pm

Also, DeLong’s new post on Hobsbawm is much more generous than his earlier one. He is now willing to amend Tony Judt’s

If he had not been a lifelong Communist, [Eric Hobsbawm] would be remembered simply as one of the great historians of the 20th century.

to

Even though he was a lifetime Communist, Eric Hobsbawm was one of the greatest historians of the 20th century.

Now he just needs to take the next step, and change “Even though” to “because.” There is no way the 19th century trilogy would have worked without, not just Marxism, but the vision of history building to the October revolution.

62

LFC 10.02.12 at 2:47 pm

ajay:
CT is condemning Pinker for overestimating how nasty the 19th century was, and Hobsbawm for doing the exact opposite
Go back and take a look at the comment thread that followed Chris Bertram’s post “Violence is Down, Says Pinker the Thinker.” There was an extended debate about Pinker and also about somewhat similar though not identical analyses, e.g. J.S. Goldstein ‘Winning the War on War’. (I didn’t read Pinker so my participation in that thread was on the decline-of-war argument but not Pinker’s bk.)

Jonathan:
On wars etc, Steven Pinker made an attempt to normalise these for global population at the time
The “etc” is v important, since Pinker’s argument is not limited to war. You can therefore buy a decline-of-war argument w/o necessarily buying Pinker.

Sorry; back to Hobsbawm.

63

Malcolm 10.02.12 at 3:05 pm

@59

Who doesn’t relish the hilarity in idle musing about killing strangers on the internet? No, I didn’t miss the humour, and pride myself on bringing my sense thereof wherever I go. But in this instance I supposed that there was some kind of point being made. If this was in error, I apologize. In any case, I’ll stop as I hardly intend to hijack this thread thusly.

64

Matt 10.02.12 at 3:06 pm

The idea that a nation necessarily had an ethnic-liguistic or historical unity only came considerably later. In its origins nationalism was just a corollary of popular sovereignty. Yes, this was a big part of what I liked about the book. If you contrast it to, say, Rogers Smith’s _Stories of Peoplehood_ you’ll see that the more common view now is that the idea of a nation as an essentially political entity is rejected and it’s argued that it’s essential that the common mass be filled with mythical stories about imagined beginnings, common essences, and the like. The elite, of course, know that such stores are garbage- they don’t have to believe them- but the idea is that this is necessary to keep the masses unified. A deeply undemocratic and pessimistic view, and I thought Hobsbawm did a lot to show what was wrong with it.

65

Malcolm 10.02.12 at 3:07 pm

PS please don’t murder me for being an annoying commenter!

66

ajay 10.02.12 at 3:28 pm

“Annoying as our commenters often are, I’m not persuaded that it would less bad to murder them if there were more people around.”

But it would be less bad to be a commenter among thousands than a commenter among tens, if the same number of commenters were to be murdered in each case. I’m surprised that you don’t see that – you seem to be confusing the morality of a murder with its impact.

67

MPAVictoria 10.02.12 at 3:41 pm

“PS please don’t murder me for being an annoying commenter!”
I think you are safe. If Crooked Timber contributors were in the habit of killing annoying commenters I would have been dead long ago.

68

William Timberman 10.02.12 at 3:48 pm

One of the juiciest ironies of history at the moment, it seems to me, is that Hobsbawm’s ghost is being taken to the woodshed for not renouncing Stalin soon enough, while many of the same people doing the chastising are taking great pains to excuse current U.S. economic and foreign policy as a momentary derangement of right-wing yahoos in the Republican Party, and telling us that things’ll be better bye-and-bye. Even if you add up all the Afghan wedding parties obliterated, Honduran reporters shot down in the streets, anti-suicide nets around the roofs of Foxconn factories, and Spaniards and Greeks digging through garbage cans, capitalism — well late capitalism, anyway — never had a Stalin.

True, but in a very real sense, irrelevant. Under the circumstances, a little more humility might be in order from the Judts, DeLongs and suchlike, not that I expect any, of course. In any event, if a little Marxism leavens the impulse for letter-day capitalist apologists to crow like a bantam rooster on a dunghill over its supposed superiorities, I’d say its historical worth is of at least some consequence.

69

Phil 10.02.12 at 3:52 pm

a little more humility might be in order from the Judts, DeLongs and suchlike

Are there Judts plural? If not, you could be in for a bit of a wait.

70

Harold 10.02.12 at 4:03 pm

Don’t forget 5 million Vietnamese and Indian famine.

71

William Timberman 10.02.12 at 4:08 pm

Undoubtedly. Take a look back at the comments on Daniel’s latest thread, though, and I think you might be willing to concede that while there was only one real Judt, there are a lot of folks left on the scene eager to take their places in the ranks as honorary Judts. Tony Judt defended his own positions ably, and with a conviction that was hard to argue with, even if his reasoning occasionally rubbed me the wrong way. Still, there was an argument to be made, and the supposed superiority of Judt’s over Hobsbawm’s is not as obvious as capitalist partisans are willing to admit. In fact, it often leads them into the same sort of ideological braying that was so annoying about the CP apparatchiks that none of us presumably misses.

72

Brad DeLong 10.02.12 at 4:10 pm

IMHO, Hobsbawm’s “dance with the one that brung ya” lifelong attachment to Stalinism as a mode of political practice certainly befogged his analyses of the political-economy of his time and significantly hobbled his “Age of Extremes” and other works on the 20th century…

The question about whether Hobsbawm’s Marxism made “The Age of Revolution” and “The Age of Capital” stronger books or weaker books is one that I oscillate on week-by-week if not hour-by-hour…

73

Anderson 10.02.12 at 4:11 pm

There is no way the 19th century trilogy would have worked without, not just Marxism, but the vision of history building to the October revolution.

Uh, I’d been about to read that trilogy based on the glowing praises for it, but you’ve just turned down the glow, big-time.

74

Brad DeLong 10.02.12 at 4:18 pm

Re: “I’d been about to read that trilogy based on the glowing praises for it, but you’ve just turned down the glow, big-time.” You certainly should read “The Age of Revolution” and “The Age of Capital”–the structure is slightly warped by the fact that Hobsbawm is looking forward to the Coming of the Basilea with the storming of the Winter Palace on October 25, 1917 (J), but only slightly…

They are great books.

75

Harold 10.02.12 at 4:21 pm

The New York Times obituary quotes Judt as saying:
If he had not been a lifelong Communist, [Eric Hobsbawm] would be remembered simply as one of the great historians of the 20th century.

Supposedly written in an e-mail in 2008.

On what basis is Brad DeLong amending this?

76

Anderson 10.02.12 at 4:28 pm

Thanks, 74!

I’m seeing an omission of comparable praise for The Age of Empire … I take it “omissions are not accidents”? (Marianne Moore)

77

JW Mason 10.02.12 at 4:37 pm

On what basis is Brad DeLong amending this?

On the basis that he doesn’t agree with it, obvs.

78

rootless_e 10.02.12 at 4:48 pm

One of EP Thompson’s advantages as a historian is that he did not claim to own an orrery.

79

Harold 10.02.12 at 4:54 pm

If he had not subscribed to Enlightenment ideals, Gibbon would have been one of the greatest historians of the eighteenth century.

vs.

Although he subscribed to the ideals of the Enlightenment, Gibbon was one of the greatest historians of the eighteenth century.

I don’t know if either of these is really the right way to put it.

80

Donald Johnson 10.02.12 at 4:59 pm

“CT is condemning Pinker for overestimating how nasty the 19th century was, and Hobsbawm for doing the exact opposite!”

I condemned Hobsbawm–did the entire blog? Also, what’s your point? Hobsbawm clearly isn’t talking about a factor of two or so as I already said–he writes as though atrocities and wars killing millions were unknown in his long 19th century and he is simply wrong to have implied that, whether or not it is appropriate to bring in per capita death rates (as I did–the Taiping Rebellion looks even more cataclysmic when you consider how many fewer people there were to kill.)

I stayed out of the Pinker discussion, I think. I had mixed intuitions on that, but nothing factual to say. (Which doesn’t always stop me.)

.

81

Scott Martens 10.02.12 at 5:08 pm

“CT is condemning Pinker for overestimating how nasty the 19th century was, and Hobsbawm for doing the exact opposite!”

Perhaps I’m just dumb today, but I’m kinda missing the problem there. Pinker’s point: the 19th century was brutal and violent and it’s a good thing civilized modern people aren’t like that anymore. Hobsbawm’s point: the 19th century was peaceful, at least in terms of state-on-state and state-on-helpless masses violence, and the 20th century was an outlier among historical ages for its mass brutality. Both can be wrong: The present era can very well be a lot like the past era, and vice-versa.

82

tomslee 10.02.12 at 5:35 pm

ajay CT is condemning Pinker for overestimating how nasty the 19th century was, and Hobsbawm for doing the exact opposite!

Admission to the CT Office of Condemnation (OfCon) is always available. Send a cheque or Paypal donation to my account and you’re in. The annual summer barbecue and Will-You-Condemnathon is one of the highlights of the year.

83

Stuart 10.02.12 at 6:09 pm

“The question about whether Hobsbawm’s Marxism made “The Age of Revolution” and “The Age of Capital” stronger books or weaker books is one that I oscillate on week-by-week if not hour-by-hour…”

That is a nonsense question if ever I saw one. Without being the product of historical materialism they’d be different books. Different methods, different conclusions, different points of emphasis etc.

Its like asking if the Mona Lisa would have been a better piece of art had Da Vinci not used paints.

84

Anderson 10.02.12 at 6:26 pm

Its like asking if the Mona Lisa would have been a better piece of art had Da Vinci not used paints.

I guess one difference is that no one’s really concerned whether the Mona Lisa is an accurate representation of its sitter or not.

85

Walt 10.02.12 at 6:41 pm

Anderson, they’re excellent books. In some sense of course if Hobsbawn weren’t a Marxist they would be radically different books, but they don’t read like Marxist apologia, or Whig views of history with the October Revolution playing the role of the Glorious Revolution. The books begin with the French Revolution and end with World War 1 and the October Revolution, and he has a historical argument on why this is a natural periodization (his “long 19th century”), but the point of the books is not to lead to the conclusion that Lenin was right about everything. The books are historical materialist in that they histories of ideas, and broad social movements, as opposed to Great Men in History.

86

Stuart 10.02.12 at 7:10 pm

“The books are historical materialist in that they histories of ideas, and broad social movements, as opposed to Great Men in History.”

I’m not sure if you are but I detect you are trying to play down the importance of historical materialism to Hobsbawm. I think that is a mistake.

Social and political forms are assumed to be determinations of economic forces. Great events in history are treated as contradictions either between these forms and forces or in the forces themselves. Skeptical empirical research is conducted using this framework to produce testable hypothesis. It’s the method of historical materialism as practiced by good Marxist Historians; we can recognize it as ‘an occasionally useful way of going about the business of understanding movements in history’ without thinking the workers revolution is inevitable or that Stalin’s sort of misunderstood.

87

Anderson 10.02.12 at 7:38 pm

Thanks, Walt! Looking forward to them.

88

rootless_e 10.02.12 at 7:46 pm

It may surprise readers of the Guardian to know that Eric Hobsbawm and I were friends.
– Nial Ferguson

89

bob mcmanus 10.02.12 at 8:05 pm

85: The books begin with the French Revolution Industrial Revolution and end with World War 1 and the October Revolution

Just starting the books.

90

js. 10.02.12 at 8:40 pm

The books actually begin with the twin revolutions—the French revolution and the industrial revolution—and this conjunction is pretty central to his conception of the “long 19th century”. (But if you mean that the first chapter is about the industrial revolution, then yes, in that sense the book “begins” with the industrial revolution.)

Anyway, great books all three. Everyone should read them!

91

J. Otto Pohl 10.02.12 at 8:44 pm

No. 35

It is definitely true that for a few short decades in the 20th century that the USSR did appear to present an attractive alternative to capitalism in providing a rapid increase in living standards, literacy, public health, and other indicators of modernism. But, the Soviet Union had two major problems. First, a tremendous amount of violent repression accompanied these improvements. Second, the system was ultimately unsustainable. In retrospect it is amazing that the system lasted as long as it did and was able to accomplish as much as it did. Its collapse which was preceded by economic and social stagnation and decline, however, definitely made it a much less attractive model than it had been at its most successful. Even if it had been able to last it is hard to justify the violent repression under Stalin. One would have to be an extreme utilitarian who really did believe that the ends justifies the means and that the pile of broken eggs was morally insignificant compared to the success of the omelet.

92

Matt 10.02.12 at 9:16 pm

Its collapse which was preceded by economic and social stagnation and decline, however, definitely made it a much less attractive model than it had been at its most successful. Even if it had been able to last it is hard to justify the violent repression under Stalin. One would have to be an extreme utilitarian who really did believe that the ends justifies the means and that the pile of broken eggs was morally insignificant compared to the success of the omelet.

Just consider all the ordinary people who consider historical crimes against the natives, or enslaved Africans, as mere footnotes of regret to the essentially good and admirable American project. Success seems to excuse many a megadeath, and there’s nothing so logical as utilitarianism behind it.

93

Hemmo 10.02.12 at 9:34 pm

@39 (Down and Out of Sài Gòn)
By “morally corrupt” I was referring to his CP affiliation, as well. Anyway, not much to add to Judt’s Hobsbawm piece in Reappraisals, here.

94

Charlie McMenamin 10.02.12 at 10:36 pm

Here’s a thing: 25 years ago it would have been a controversial claim to suggest that membership of a Western European Communist Party automatically made one a Stalinist. They were full of folk who rejected the label.

So quite a lot of the rubbishing of Hobsbawm for staying in the CP is really about rejecting his (effectively) left social democratic/Eurocomminist politics as somehow totalitarian when it so clearly wasn’t.

95

PaulB 10.02.12 at 11:49 pm

Why is it very sad that he died? He was 95. Man is mortal.

96

GiT 10.03.12 at 12:33 am

Of course it’s sad. How can you argue with their pain:

“THOUSANDS of inconsolable teenage girls have gathered at the home of deceased historian Eric Hobsbawm.”

http://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/celebrity/teen-vigil-at-hobsbawm-house-2012100243294

97

purple 10.03.12 at 1:30 am

I hope Pinker is right, though the absence of a World War 3 is probably because of nuclear weapons.

Anyhow , his hypothesis is nothing be upset about. Slavery has nearly been eradicated and that is a good thing.

98

LFC 10.03.12 at 2:08 am

though the absence of a World War 3 is probably because of nuclear weapons
Since this is a controversial assertion and since there are good arguments to be made that nuclear weapons have played only a secondary role (if that) in preventing WW3, why mention it in a thread that’s basically about something else? I sort of wish ajay had not mentioned Pinker. We’ve been there, done that, enough.

Why is it very sad that he died?
“Very sad” is a conventional, accepted expression of regret at someone’s passing, regardless of age, esp if you hold the person in some regard. He conceivably cd have lived say 5 more yrs. People do live to 100 and more. Kennan lived to be 102, iirc, just to take one recent example.

99

Hidari 10.03.12 at 3:51 am

More accurate quote:

“It may surprise readers of the Guardian to know that I have friends.”
– Nial Ferguson

100

Neville Morley 10.03.12 at 8:29 am

“I do occasionally talk to people without them paying me $10,000 first.”

101

Hidari 10.03.12 at 10:11 am

‘Slavery has nearly been eradicated and that is a good thing.’

Slavery eradicated? Oh I don’t think so.

http://www.slaveryfootprint.org/

102

Random Lurker 10.03.12 at 10:13 am

@83 & 84
Irrelevant italian grammar nazi (fascist?):
It’s moNNa Lisa, not moNa Lisa.

Monna Lisa -> Lady Lisa (in renaissance Italian)

Mona Lisa -> Pussy Lisa (in venetian dialect).

I realize that in english the painting is usually known as “mona” Lisa (see english wikipedia), but the correct spelling has 2 Ns (see italian wikipedia, http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gioconda).

103

tomslee 10.03.12 at 11:58 am

Why is it very sad that he died? He was 95. Man is mortal.

Events can be both inevitable and sad. Personally, I’ve found inevitability tends to reinforce sadness rather than mitigate it.

104

J. Otto Pohl 10.03.12 at 12:05 pm

92

I do not think there are a lot of American intellectuals and academic historians justifying the treatment of the indigenous population or slavery anymore. In contrast in Russia people like Aleksandr Djukov who justifies the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and the Baltic Deportations, and denies the Holodomor are considered mainstream academics and are backed by the Putin government. I don’t think there is anything today regarding the justification of colonial crimes that is comparable to the rehabilitation of Stalin.

105

g6h7j8k904 10.03.12 at 12:09 pm

106

Watson Ladd 10.03.12 at 12:18 pm

J. Otto Pohl: You do realize that the Baltic Countries celebrate the careers of SS members whose crimes are far worse than anything Stalin did. Today Eastern European nationalism begins with the absence of religious minorities, something only possible thanks to Hitler. Hitler isn’t rehabilitated because he doesn’t need to be: the racist nationalism he created is alive and well without him.

107

Chris Bertram 10.03.12 at 12:23 pm

That Daily Mail piece is truly marvellous. One of the upsides of the death of someone like Hobsbawm is that all the real arseholes are given an opportunity to remind us all what arseholes they are, and A.N. Wilson is no exception. The DM, of course, was rather partial to the Third Reich.

108

Chris Bertram 10.03.12 at 12:41 pm

Incidentally, Richard Evans’s review of A.N.Wilson’s Hitler bio is worth a read:

http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2012/03/hitler-wilson-german-british

109

Anderson 10.03.12 at 1:11 pm

Wow, that Evans takedown is something. I thought Wilson’s book on Paul was interesting, if a bit dogmatic. Don’t recall Paul’s having a position on dogs.

110

ajay 10.03.12 at 3:41 pm

The Evans review trips over its own shoelaces on things like this:

“Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen, author of the compelling Diary of a Man in Despair, was not “aristocratic” but the son of an innkeeper. “

Evans is wrong and Wilson is right: as you might expect from his name, Reck-Malleczewen was a Prussian Junker whose father – a former dragoon officer and German Conservative Party politician – owned the Malleczewen estate in what’s now Poland.

111

Chris Bertram 10.03.12 at 3:47 pm

Yes that’s somewhat odd, given that Evans introduces Reck for the NYRB ….

http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/classics/the-diary-of-a-man-in-despair/

112

Chris Bertram 10.03.12 at 3:55 pm

Ah, ajay, _also sprach Evans_:

“He would not have swallowed the fantasist Fritz Reck’s claim to aristocratic or “high-born” or landowning origins if he had read Alphons Kappeler’s book Ein Fall von “Pseudologia phantastica” in der deutschen Literatur: Fritz Reck-Malleczewen (2 vols. Göppingen, 1975). “

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/cultural-capital/2012/04/hitler-wars

113

Anderson 10.03.12 at 4:42 pm

Evans, The Third Reich in Power, at 416:

“He was, in truth, just plain Fritz Reck. His grandfather had been an innkeeper, and though his father had acquired enough wealth and standing to get himself elected to the Prussian Chamber of Deputies in 1900, it was in the lower house that he sat, as befitted a commoner, not in the upper house, where the hereditary nobility belonged.”

But Beck’s vehemence about aristocracy, and his personal arrogance, seem to have convinced people he was the real thing.

114

ajay 10.03.12 at 5:04 pm

How odd – Evans didn’t check his own book before reviewing Wilson’s then…

115

Alun 10.03.12 at 5:48 pm

An especially wonderful extract from Age of Capital…

‘The historian cannot be objective about the period which is his subject. In this he differs (to his intellectual advantage) from its most typical ideologists, who believed that the progress of technology, ‘positive science’ and society made it possible to view their present with the unanswerable impartiality of the natural scientist, whose methods they believed themselves (mistakenly) to understand. The author of this book cannot conceal a certain distaste, perhaps a certain contempt, for the age with which it deals, though one mitigated by admiration for its titanic material achievements and by the effort to understand even what he does not like.’

116

Anderson 10.03.12 at 7:14 pm

Son v. grandson is pretty weak tea, Ajay.

117

dsquared 10.03.12 at 7:27 pm

You certainly should read “The Age of Revolution” and “The Age of Capital”–the structure is slightly warped by the fact that Hobsbawm is looking forward to the Coming of the Basilea with the storming of the Winter Palace on October 25, 1917 (J), but only slightly…

AAAAAARGH! does nobody do “spoiler alerts” round here?

118

Anderson 10.03.12 at 7:36 pm

Ah, but stormed by whom? No peeking at the last page of the book!

119

PaulB 10.04.12 at 12:13 am

I’m struggling to follow this blog. First I read that one ought not to vote for Obama, because whereas he’d unarguably be a vastly better president than his opponent, he has quite wrongly conducted drone warfare, killing hundreds of civilians. Then I read that one ought not to speak harshly of Hobsbawm, because whereas he acquiesced to the wrongful killing of many millions, he was an outstanding historian.

Please explain.

120

Neil 10.04.12 at 1:39 am

PaulB: you caught this blog in a clear inconsistency, what with its advocacy of vote for Hobsbawm in the US elections.

121

Harold 10.04.12 at 2:04 am

Um, there is a significant difference between a head of state ordering or even voting for drone warfare and, say, napalm or torture, and merely writing about (positively or negatively as the case may be) it after it has happened.

122

Hidari 10.04.12 at 4:40 am

If one wants to talk about political crimes, I mean real ones as opposed to rıght-wıng point-scoring, then we might want to talk about Hobsbawm’s partial responsibility for New Labour. But I believe his personal influence over the domestic policies of Joseph Stalin was somewhat limited.

123

Chris Bertram 10.04.12 at 6:25 am

Paul B: even if there were an inconsistency, which there isn’t, your remarks seem to be premised on the assumption that we have a common line here at CT. We don’t, on anything.

124

ajay 10.04.12 at 8:47 am

Son v. grandson is pretty weak tea, Ajay.

You’d make a fantastic editor, Anderson.

125

PaulB 10.04.12 at 9:49 am

I’m against drone strikes because I’m against killing people unless there’s a clear benefit to it that outweighs the harm. I was against the Iraq war for the same reason, even though I wanted to see Saddam deposed. I would have been in favour of fighting the second world war, because the good of stopping Hitler was overwhelming.

Hobsbawm, it seems to me, did not share that fundamental aversion to killing. If he had, he would have found out some of the truth about Stalin, as others did, and abandoned the Communist Party.

I suggest that it’s inconsistent to see Obama’s drone warfare as debarringly evil, but Hobsbawm’s near indifference to mass killings as unworthy of comment in a post on his life.

126

J. Otto Pohl 10.04.12 at 10:29 am

Watson Ladd:

The Latvian and Estonian Legions were mainly combat units and were cleared of any war crimes by both the US and UK before the Nuremburg Trials. Now there were Latvian police units involved in the Holocaust, but they were separate from the Latvian Legion under the Waffen SS. Like all countries occupied by the Germans local collaboration was important, but I fail to see how Latvia or Estonia is any worse than the Netherlands, Belgium, or France in this regard. To say that Latvians and Estonians defending their homelands against Soviet colonialism, however, was far worse than anything Stalin did is just ludicrous. First the Baltic states were not independent and responsibility for atrocities by the occupation authorities ultimately rested with the Nazis. Second the number of collaborators in actual atrocities were a small minority of the population, much, much smaller than the hundreds of thousands of Baltic men, women, and children deported to Siberia starting on 14 June 1941, before the Holocaust started. Just how did these children deported eight days before the Nazi attack on the USSR responsible for the Holocaust? Finally, Stalin murdered almost more people in 1932-1933 alone in the Holodomor than lived total in all three Baltic countries during WWII. Some five to seven million people deliberately starved to death. In 1937-38 he oversaw the shooting of more people than died in all three Baltic States of all causes during WWII. In less than a year and a half his regime shot over 680,000 unarmed civilians for political reasons. Nothing on that scale happened in the Baltic States under the Germans. The total number of Holocaust deaths in the Baltic three countries was only about a third of Stalin’s victims during the 17 months from July 1937 to November 1938. Even if we only take the number of people shot by Stalin during the national operations in 1937-1938, that is largely those people targeted for being racially German, Polish, Latvian, Estonian, Finnish, or Greek the number is roughly equal to the total number of Jews to die during WWII in all three Baltic States, about 250,000 people. So I fail to see how any Latvian or Estonian not to mention Lithuanian, a country that had no local SS units, is “far worse” than Stalin. But, then again I am not a Marxist so I don’t think that all Latvian and Estonian children should be deported to Siberia to die because some adults later picked up German arms to fight against Stalin.

127

ajay 10.04.12 at 11:43 am

Hobsbawm, it seems to me, did not share that fundamental aversion to killing. If he had, he would have found out some of the truth about Stalin, as others did, and abandoned the Communist Party.

Noted elsewhere that even after he found out the truth about Stalin, he still thought it would have been worthwhile to kill all those millions of people as long as it brought about a workers’ state.
http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2012/10/why-was-hobsbawm-wrong.html#comments

Hobsbawm is looking forward to the Coming of the Basilea with the storming of the Winter Palace

This is one of those QI-type questions. “Who stormed the Winter Palace in 1917?” Answer: nobody.

128

Watson Ladd 10.04.12 at 12:25 pm

J Otto Pohl: If economic mismanagement is equivalent to deliberate mass murder, then just about every leader in Africa deserves death. There are huge differences between Stalin’s (unjustified, but do I really have to say that) reign of terror, and Hitler’s wholesale plan for the extermination of everyone between the Oder and the Volga. In particular, if you have my family heritage, you don’t really have a choice in the matter.

Ultimately Stalin represented the flip side of Hitler: the failure of the worker’s movement. But if Stalin was self-liquidation, preserving the possibility of a worker’s movement, Hitler was nothing less then the regressive possibility of the moment made flesh.

As for the question about the Baltics, who is served by your whitewashing? Let me just point out that within days of the invasion, Jews were being killed, with no orders from the invaders. This does not happen in a vacuum. Today’s Baltic nationalism is Holocaust approval.

129

ajay 10.04.12 at 12:30 pm

If economic mismanagement is equivalent to deliberate mass murder, then just about every leader in Africa deserves death.

Talking about the Holodomor as “economic mismanagement” is pretty hideous, Watson. I think it actually qualifies as holocaust denial – along the lines of those charmers who say that the deaths in Auschwitz were all the result of a regrettable outbreak of typhus.

130

Chris Bertram 10.04.12 at 12:32 pm

Right, I’m not about to referee a bunfight between Watson Ladd and J. Otto Pohl. No more comments from you two please (or responses to them from others).

131

Rafael 10.05.12 at 1:03 am

When I was a graduate student in the late 80s Hobsbawn was invited to my university to give a public lecture. But it had to be cancelled because he was refused a visa to enter the United States. Sure, he had a long communist history, but this was at the height of the Gorby mania. It was very strange.

132

John Milton XIV 10.05.12 at 11:48 am

“The beginning is not the end. The workers’ movements of the last quarter of the 20th century, deflected though they were, were also a foretaste of what we should expect from the larger than ever, more universal than ever working class which enters the new millennium. The most literate, the most cultured, the most homogenous exploited class the world has ever known faces a period every bit as dangerous as Hobsbawm suggests. Where he is wrong in his forecasts is where he is wrong in his history. He does not see that the dynamics of the system itself will force workers to struggle, and that when they struggle they will have the potential to adopt the new world view necessary to lead humanity as whole away from barbarism and towards socialism. Whether this potential is realised cannot be foretold in advance. That depends upon the degree to which the minority of workers and intellectuals who are already won to the new world view are successful in agitating, organising and educating their fellows.”

http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/1999/xx/20thcentury.htm

133

Stephen 10.05.12 at 6:53 pm

Chris Bertram @132
Good to see you accept a diversity of opinion on CF.
If you will consider a differing opinion re Hobsbawm:

Some US historians may have argued that the deaths, sufferings, exile of many native Americans and, in the territories annexed by the US, Mexicans were ultimately justified by the glorious success of modern America, but for which the Nazis would have conquered the Soviet Union.

But consider the condition of a Mexican historian, of undoubted talent, who in the 1930s and 40s used his talent as far as he could to argue for the further annexation of as much Mexican territory as possible by the US, knowing that millions of his fellow-Mexicans would suffer bitterly for it : and who never repented of his arguments.

Do you see the parallel?

134

Martin Bento 10.08.12 at 10:20 am

Maybe it’s too late to revive this thread, but regarding the shortcomings of Age of Extremes, I think there is more to it than lack of historical distance. It is not just a problem of historians: has there been an in-depth Marxist analysis of the USSR? Most of what I’ve encountered is either Stalin-ruined-it (the Distinctly Ungreat Man Model of History), or the Bolsheviks didn’t understand Marx correctly, which has two basic problems. One is that if things like actual democratic worker control were so central to Marxism, why did brilliant Marxists, like, well, Hobspawn find it expendable for most of the 20th century. More fundamentally, though, if the Soviet Union went the way it did because of how its leadership interpreted Marx, then ideas, not material forces, are in the historical drivers’ seat. Fine with me, but not with Marx.

Was it that the USSR was state capitalism? Some thought so all along, but most Marxists did not. In any case, why did it so develop? What class interests did the Bolsheviks represent? Why was it ultimately a (state) capitalist interest? If the Soviet Union was state capitalism, why did it not behave like other forms of capitalism by maximizing the exploitation of labor (if one buys the whole Marxist shebang, then the CP elite, like every other historical elite, was appropriating surplus value from labor. Fine. But they could have done so much more than they did. Why didn’t they? Because they were good Marxists at heart? Ideas in the drivers’ seat again. Flipping Hegel right back on his head. And why did state capitalism not progress to state socialism as Engels thought it would?

Where is the Marxist analysis of Marxism, as applied?

135

Martin Bento 10.08.12 at 10:51 am

PS. Kudos to Halasz for bringing up Barry Commoner. I hadn’t realized he originated the concept of environmental sustainability – a concept that is becoming very key to the survival or our civilization.

136

LFC 10.09.12 at 3:12 am

Apparently A.N. Wilson overlooked this in ‘The Age of Extremes’, p.380:

Stalin…was an autocrat of exceptional, some might say unique, ferocity, ruthlessness and lack of scruple. Few men have manipulated terror on a more universal scale.

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