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Eric Hobsbawm
Born Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm
9 June 1917 (1917-06-09) (age 92)
Alexandria, Egypt
Occupation historian
Citizenship British
Genres World History, Western History
Spouse(s) Muriel Seaman (1943-1951)
Marlene Schwartz
Children Julia Hobsbawm and Andy Hobsbawm

Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm (usually known as "Eric Hobsbawm" or "E. J. Hobsbawm"), CH, FBA, (born 9 June 1917) is a British Marxist historian and author. He had a profound influence on the understanding of European and particularly British history through his books and other writings.



Hobsbawm was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Leopold Percy Obstbaum and Nelly Grün, both Jewish, and he grew up in Vienna and Berlin. A clerical error at birth altered his surname from Obstbaum to Hobsbawm.[1] Although the family lived in German-speaking countries, his parents spoke to him and his younger sister Nancy in English. His father died in 1929, and he started working as an au pair and English tutor. He became an orphan at age 14 upon the death of his mother. Subsequently, he and Nancy were adopted by his maternal aunt, Gretl, and paternal uncle, Sidney, who married and had a son, also named Eric. They all moved to London in 1933.

Hobsbawm married twice. His first wife was Muriel Seaman, whom he married in 1943 and divorced in 1951. His second marriage was to Marlene Schwartz, with whom he has two children, Julia Hobsbawm and Andy Hobsbawm. Julia is chief executive of Hobsbawm Media and Marketing and a visiting professor of public relations at the College of Communication, University of the Arts London.[2][3] He also has a son, Joshua, from a previous relationship.

He is a Marxist and was a long-standing member of the now defunct Communist Party of Great Britain and the associated Communist Party Historians Group. He is president of Birkbeck, University of London. He was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1998. In 2003 he was awarded the Balzan Prize for European History since 1900 "For his brilliant analysis of the troubled history of twentieth-century Europe and for his ability to combine in-depth historical research with great literary talent."


Hobsbawm joined the Sozialistischer Schülerbund (Association of Socialist Pupils), an offspring of the German Communist Youth KJVD, in Berlin in 1931 and the Communist party in 1936, supporting both the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact and the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939.[4] He was a member of the Communist Party Historians Group from 1946 to 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 marked the end of the Communist Party Historian's Group and led most of its members to remove themselves from the British Communist Party. Hobsbawm, uniquely among his colleagues, remained in the Party. Yet he denounced the USSR's crimes and abuses as early as 1956 (Daily Worker, November 18, 1956). In the same article he characterized the Polish and the Hungarian uprisings as "revolts of workers and intellectuals against bureaucracies and pseudo-communist political systems". Writing in the Daily Worker in late 1956, Hobsbawm argued that "Whilst approving, with a heavy heart, of what is now happening in Hungary, we should therefore also say frankly that we think the USSR should withdraw its troops from the country as soon as this is possible."[5]

Later he came to support the Eurocommunist faction in the CPGB. In "The Forward March of Labour Halted?", originally a Marxism Today article published in September 1978, he argued that the working class was inevitably losing its central role in society, and that Left parties could no longer appeal only to this class; a controversial viewpoint in a period of trade union militancy. Hobsbawm supported Neil Kinnock's transformation of the British Labour Party from 1983. Until the cessation of publication in 1991, he contributed to the magazine Marxism Today. Since the 1960s his politics have taken a more moderate turn, as Hobsbawm came to recognize that his hopes were unlikely to be realized, and no longer advocates "socialist systems of the Soviet type".[6] Yet, he remains firmly entrenched on the left, and thinks the long-term outlooks for humanity are 'bleak'.[7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

Academic life

He was educated at Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium Berlin (today Friedrich-List-School), St Marylebone Grammar School (now defunct) and King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in history on the Fabian Society. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles. During World War II, he served in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps.

In 1947, he became a lecturer in history at Birkbeck College, University of London He became reader in 1959, professor between 1970-1982 and an Emeritus professor of history 1982. He was a fellow between 1949-1955 at King's College, Cambridge.[17]

He was a visiting professor at Stanford in the 1960s. In 1970, he was appointed professor and in 1978 he became a Fellow of the British Academy. He is an honorary Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He retired in 1982 but stayed as visiting professor at The New School for Social Research in Manhattan between 1984-1997. He is currently President of Birkbeck, University of London and Professor Emeritus in The New School for Social Research in the Political Science department. It is said that he speaks English, German, French, Spanish and Italian, and that he reads Dutch, Portuguese and even Catalan. One of Hobsbawm's interests is the development of traditions. His work is a study of their social construction in the context of the nation state. He argues that many traditions are invented by national elites to justify the existence and importance of their respective nation states.[citation needed]


Hobsbawm has written extensively on many subjects as one of Britain's most prominent historians. As a Marxist historiographer he has focused on analysis of the "dual revolution" (the political French revolution and the industrial British revolution). He sees their effect as a driving force behind the predominant trend towards liberal capitalism today. Another recurring theme in his work has been social banditry, a phenomenon that Hobsbawm has tried to place within the confines of relevant societal and historical context thus countering the traditional view of it being a spontaneous and unpredictable form of primitive rebellion.[1][18][19][20][21][22][23][24]

Outside of his academic historical writing, Hobsbawm has written a regular column (under the pseudonym 'Francis Newton' – taken from the name of Billie Holiday's communist trumpet player, Frankie Newton) for the New Statesman as a jazz critic, and time to time over popular music such as with his "Beatles and before" article.[25] He has published numerous essays in various intellectual journals, dealing with subjects like barbarity in the modern age to the troubles of labour movements and the conflict between anarchism and communism. His most recent publications are the autobiography, Interesting Times (2002), Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007) and On Empire (2008).


Thirty years ago Hobsbawm was blurbed as "arguably our greatest living historian — not only Britain's, but the world's."[26] James Joll wrote in The New York Review of Books that "Eric Hobsbawm's nineteenth century trilogy is one of the great achievements of historical writing in recent decades."[27] Tony Judt, director of the Erich Maria Remarque Institute at New York University, believes that Hobsbawm's tendency to disparage any nationalist movement as passing and irrational weakens his grasp of parts of the 20th century. Judt however, also wrote that "Hobsbawm is a cultural folk hero. His fame is well deserved. Hobsbawm doesn't just know more than other historians, he writes better, too."[28] In Neal Ascherson's view "Eric's Jewishness increased his sensitivity about nationalism. He's the original happy cosmopolitan, who's benefited from being able to move freely."[1]



Public criticism

Hobsbawm has attracted criticism for his support for communism, even after the Hungarian and Czechoslovak rebellions against Soviet rule that were put down with such force. Oliver Kamm wrote: "Hobsbawm has rarely missed an opportunity even after communism’s demise to obfuscate its record".[29] Also, Robert Conquest has claimed that in an interview with Canadian author and politician Michael Ignatieff on British television in 1994, Hobsbawm responded to the question of whether 20 million deaths may have been justified if the proposed communist utopia had been created as a consequence by saying "yes".[30] More specifically, Hobsbawm reportedly said that "in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing".[31] He stressed that since the utopia had not been created, the sacrifices were in fact not justified--a point that he also emphasized in his own 1994 book, Age of Extremes:

Still, whatever assumptions are made, the number of direct and indirect victims must be measured in eight rather than seven digits. In these circumstances it does not much matter whether we opt for a "conservative" estimate nearer to ten than to twenty million or a larger figure: none can be anything but shameful and beyond palliation, let alone justification.[32]

J. Bradford DeLong strongly criticized Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes, writing :

The remains of Hobsbawm's commitment to the religion of World Communism get in the way of his judgment, and twist his vision. On planet Hobsbawm, for example, the fall of the Soviet Union was a disaster, and the Revolutions of 1989 a defeat for humanity. On planet Hobsbawm, Stalin planned multi-party democracies and mixed economies for Eastern Europe after World War II, and reconsidered only after the United States launched the Cold War. (...) Hobsbawm's book contains some eloquent passages describing the tyrannies of Stalin and Mao. But they are oddly disconnected from the narrative of the Age of Catastrophe that was the first half of this century. For Hobsbawm, this disconnectedness serves a purpose: it allows him to write as if Stalin's Soviet Union was part of the solution in the struggle against tyranny in the twentieth century, rather than a large part of the problem[33].

David Evanier has called Hobsbawm "Stalin's cheerleader" in an article published by American neo-conservative newspaperThe Weekly Standard, writing :

One can learn almost nothing about the history of communism from Hobsbawm's "Interesting Times"--nothing about the show trials, the torture and execution of millions, the Communist betrayal of Spain. Hobsbawm's stunted, euphemistic language reveals more than he intends. Communists are always good, and anti-Communists are "dreadful," "hysterical," "ill-tempered." Opposition to communism is, in Hobsbawm's words, "espionage mania" (though he acknowledges Soviet espionage existed, he seems not to disapprove of it). He admits that the Soviet Union "was a monstrous all-embracing bureaucracy"--only to add immediately: "The new society they were building was not a bad society ... good people doing an honest day's work ... no class distinctions."[34]

Partial publication list

Number Book Date Publisher ISBN Notes References
1 Labour's Turning Point: Extracts from Contemporary Sources 1948
2 Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries 1959, 1963, 1971 Manchester University Press ISBN 0-7190-0493-4 Bandits and Primitive Rebels in US 1960 [35][36]
3 The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848 1962 Abacus (UK)
Vintage Books (U.S.)
ISBN 0-679-77253-7
4 Labouring Men: studies in the history of labour 1964 [36]
5 Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations 1965 editor; essays by Karl Marx
6 Industry and Empire: From 1750 to the Present Day 1968
7 Bandits 1969
8 Captain Swing 1968 with George Rude
9 Revolutionaries: Contemporary Essays' 1973
10 The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 1975 [36]
11 The Invention of Tradition 1983 ISBN 0-521-43773-3 editor, with Terence Ranger [36]
12 Worlds of Labour: further studies in the history of labour 1984 London in US Workers: Worlds of Labour, 1984 The collection first published in 1964 under the title Labouring men: Studies in the History of Labour" [36]
13 The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 1987 Weidenfeld & Nicolson (First Edition) ISBN 0-521-43773-3 [36]
14 The Jazz Scene 1989 as Francis Newton
15 Echoes of the Marseillaise: two centuries look back on the French Revolution 1990
16 Nations and Nationalism Since 1780: programme, myth, reality 1991 Cambridge University Press ISBN 0-521-43961-2 [36]
17 The Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century, 1914-1991 1994 Michael Joseph (UK)
Vintage Books (U.S.)
ISBN 0-679-73005-2
18 On History 1997 [36]
19 Uncommon People: resistance, rebellion and jazz 1998
20 On the Edge of the New Century 2000
21 Interesting Times: a twentieth-Century life 2002 autobiography
22 Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism 2007
23 On Empire: America, war, and global supremacy 2008
  • The New Century: in Conversation with Antonio Polito
  • Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels The Communist Manifesto: a modern edition by E. J. Hobsbawm
  • Twilight of the Nation State: globalisation, chaos and war; by Prem Shankar Jha, E. J. Hobsbawm
  • J. D. Bernal: a life in science and politics; by Brenda Swann, Francis Aprahamian, E. J. Hobsbawm
  • Behind the Times: decline and fall of the twentieth-century avant-gardes
  • Art and Power; by Dawn Ades, David Elliott, E. J. Hobsbawm, Boyd Whyte Iain, Tim Benton
  • Politics for a Rational Left: political writing, 1977-1988
  • The History of Marxism: Marxism in Marx's day 1978
  • 1968 Magnum Throughout the World
  • Italian Road to Socialism: An Interview by Eric Hobsbawm with Giorgio ...
  • Culture, ideology, and politics : essays for Eric Hobsbawm (History Workshop Series) [37]

See also


  • Campbell, J. "Towards the Great Decision: review of the The Age of Empire" from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4428, February 12, 1988, p. 153.
  • Carlin, Norah & Birchall, Ian, "Eric Hobsbawm and the working class", from International Socialism, No.2:21, Autumn 1983.
  • Cronin, J. "Creating a Marxist Historiography: the contribution of Hobsbawm" from Radical History Review, Volume 19, 1979, pp. 87-109.
  • Genovese, Eugene "The Squandered Century: review of The Age of Extremes" from The New Republic, Volume 212, April 17, 1995, pp. 38–43
  • Hampson, Norman. "All for the Better? review of Echoes of the Marseillaise" from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4550, June 15, 1990, p. 637.
  • Judt, Tony. "Downhill All the Way: review of The Age of Extremes" from New York Review of Books, May 25, 1995, Volume 49, Issue # 9, pp. 20–25.
  • Landes, David "The Ubiquitous Bourgeoisie: review of The Age of Capital" from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 3873, June 4, 1976, pp. 662-664.
  • McKibblin, R. "Capitalism out of Control: review of The Age of Extremes"from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4778, October 28, 1994, p. 406.
  • Mingay, G. E. "Review of Captain Swing" from English Historical Review, Volume 85 (337), 1970, p. 810.
  • Samuel, Raphael & Jones, Gareth Stedman (editors) Culture, Ideology and Politics: essays for Eric Hobsbawm, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
  • Seton-Watson, H. "Manufactured Mythologies: review of The Invention of Tradition" from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4207, November 18, 1983, p. 1270.
  • Smith, P. "No Vulgar Marxist: review of On History"from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4917, June 27, 1997, p. 31.
  • Snowman, Daniel. "Eric Hobsbawm" from History Today, Volume 49, Issue 1, January 1999, page 16–18.
  • Thane, P.; Crossick, G. & Floud, R. (editors) The Power of the Past: essays for Eric Hobsbawm, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Thane, P. & Lunbeck, E. "Interview with Eric Hobsbawm", in: Visions of History, edited by H. Abelove, et al., Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983; pp. 29–46.
  • Weber, Eugen. "What Rough Beast?" from Critical Review, Volume 10, Issue # 2, 1996, pp. 285-298.
  • Wrigley, Chris. "Eric Hobsbawm: an appreciation" from Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Volume 38, Issue #1, 1984, p. 2.


  1. ^ a b c Maya Jaggi. "A question of faith," The Guardian, 14 September 2002
  2. ^ "My Life In Media: Julia Hobsbawm". The Independent. 2005-04-04. Retrieved 2009-02-14. 
  3. ^ "Julia Hobsbawm". Atlantic Books. Retrieved 2009-02-15. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Daily Worker, 9 November 1956
  6. ^ Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?
  7. ^ Interview with Eric Hobsbawm on his 90th birthday
  8. ^ Eric Hobsbawm: Observer special
  9. ^ Article in
  10. ^ Eric Hobsbawm Marxist historian
  11. ^ 'The Forward March of Labour Halted?', Marxism Today, September 1978
  12. ^ Eric Hobsbawm and the working class by Norah Carlin and Ian Birchall (1983)
  13. ^ The lion of the Left 21 January 2001
  14. ^ Birkbeck magazine, Living History Interview with John Crave to mark Hobsbawm's 90th Birthday, September 2007
  15. ^ Eric Hobsbawm, unrepentant communist 2007
  16. ^ Diary, Eric Hobsbawm 24 January 2008
  17. ^
  18. ^ Review of Eric Hobsbawm's memoirs by Perry Anderson, London Review of Books, 3 October 2002
  19. ^ Eric Hobsbawm: lying to the credulous by David Pryce-Jones, January 2003
  20. ^ "Eric Hobsbawm Speaks on His New Memoir", 5 February 2004
  21. ^ Eric Hobsbawm Nations and Nationalism since 1780 1990
  22. ^ Eric Hobsbawm, Book Reviews 2001
  23. ^ Low Marx: A Review of Eric Hobsbawm's Age of Extremes
  24. ^ Radom House author spotlight
  25. ^
  26. ^ The Spectator, quoted on the dust jacket of The Age of Capital.
  27. ^ Quoted on the dust jacket of The Age of Extremes.
  28. ^ "Eric Hobsbawm Speaks on His New Memoir", UCLA International Institute, 2004
  29. ^ It takes an intellectual to find excuses for Stalinism, July 23, 2004
  30. ^ Oliver Kamm, "It takes an intellectual to find excuses for Stalinism", The Times July 23, 2004
  31. ^ Beichman, Arnold. 2003. "The Invitational at Columbia". The Washington Times. Monday, March 31, 2003
  32. ^ Hobsbawm, Eric Age of Extremes. 1994 ISBN 0-349-10671-1; p. 393)
  33. ^ Planet Hobsbawm
  34. ^ Stalin's cheerleader, "The Weekly Standard", 05/19/2003
  35. ^ Primitive rebels; studies in archaic forms of social movement in the 19th and 20th centuries
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h Encyclopedia of historians and historical writing, Volume 14, Issue 1 page 547 by Kelly Boyd
  37. ^ Culture, ideology, and politics : essays for Eric Hobsbawm (History Workshop Series) 1982 by Eric J. Hobsbawm, Raphael Samuel, Gareth Stedman Jones

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dr Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm, CH (born June 9, 1917) is a British Marxist historian and author, once the leading theorist of the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain, and current president of Birkbeck College, University of London.


  • Human beings are not efficiently designed for a capitalist system of production.
    • The Age of Extremes, Abacus Publishing, London, p. 414 (2004)
  • The paradox of communism in power was that it was conservative.
    • The Age of Extremes, p. 422

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