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October 1: The Communist Who Couldn’t Quit

September 30, 2015

Eric HobsbawmBritish Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, author of an acclaimed trilogy about the rise of industrial capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism, died in London at 95 on this date in 2012. Born in Egypt, Hobsbawm was orphaned at 14 and went to live with relatives in Berlin. The rise of Nazism drove the family to London, and Hobsbawn earned his Ph.D at Cambridge before serving in World War II. By then, he was a committed Marxist and supporter of Bolshevism — a commitment he refused to surrender after he’d joined the British Communist Party in 1936. Although it cost him professionally — and despite his advocacy of democratic Eurocommunism and his opposition to the Soviet suppression of the Czechoslovakian liberalization, the Hungarian revolution, and other manifestations of Soviet dictatorship — Hobsbawm remained a Communist Party member until the actual implosion of the Soviet Union and its allies. “One of the worst things about the politics of the past 30 years,” he said with regret over communism’s collapse, “is that the rich have forgotten to be afraid of the poor — of most of the people in the world.” Hobsbawm taught at the University of London, Stanford, MIT, Cornell, and the New School for Social Research. He also wrote jazz criticism pseudonymously.

“I still think it was a great cause, the emancipation of humanity. Maybe we got into it the wrong way, maybe we backed the wrong horse, but you have to be in that race, or else human life isn’t worth living.” —Eric Hobsbawm