The death on October 1 of Eric Hobsbawm at the age of 95 marks the end of an era. Indeed, Marc Mulholland calls him “the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Historian.” (The Guardian‘s obituary is here; more comments here).
For those who fear that his passing also heralds the demise of Marxist history, there is comforting news from England, where reports of a young generation enthralled by Hobsbawm will certainly make many a (male) historian’s heart beat faster.
It’s not just that he was a Marxist historian, he was a Marxist, full stop.
Hobsbawm [was] a card-carrying member of the Communist Party from his teens until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Long after it was evident to even true believers that the Bolshevik Revolution had unleashed a nightmare of blood, Hobsbawm went on defending, minimizing, and excusing the crimes of communism.
Interviewed on the BBC in 1994, he was asked whether he would have shunned the Communist Party had he known in 1934 that Stalin was butchering innocent human beings by the millions. “Probably not,” he answered — after all, at the time he believed he was signing up for world revolution. Taken aback by such indifference to carnage, the interviewer pressed the point. Was Hobsbawm saying that if a communist paradise had actually been created, “the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?” Hobsbawm’s answer: “Yes.”