James D Young

Eric J Hobsbawm: ‘Communist’ Historian,
Companion of Honour and Socialism’s Ghosts

Source: From New Interventions, Volume 10, no 3 (Spring 2001) and Volume 10, no 4 (Autumn 2001).
Prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

What is the spirit of the Times you name,
That, at bottom, is the spirit of the Master Class,
In which the Times reflect themselves. – Goethe

They [the poor] are ungrateful, disobedient and rebellious. They are quite right to be so. Disobedience in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue. – Oscar Wilde

National Identity and a Rootless Cosmopolitan

Unlike Tom Nairn, Eric J Hobsbawm has given a great deal of autobiographical information about his unusual life and times. Indeed, no historian in Britain has peppered his books on world history with more personal details and allusions than Hobsbawm. In one of the most revealing accounts of his parents at the beginning of one of his quite recent books, he described ‘a young lady graduated from secondary school in Vienna, capital of the empire of Austria-Hungary’. This was in 1913, and she was his future mother. Though Hobsbawm’s paternal family ‘had migrated to Britain from Russian Poland’, the future historian’s father and his father’s brothers had been ‘passionate in the pursuit of the English language and culture’ before anglicising ‘themselves with enthusiasm’. [1] Though he joked at the 1983 conference of the International Historians of the Labour Movement that he was ‘what Stalin called “a rootless cosmopolitan"’, he was really much less rootless than his ‘joke’ might have suggested. Yet, with a growing awareness of his Jewish origins, the older Hobsbawm sustained his hostility to all nationalism – except the Great Russian nationalism within the Russian Empire between 1917 and 1989.

Moreover, his apparently effortless ability as a wordsmith has helped to conceal both his decades-old conventional ‘conservatism’ as an historian of popular struggles and – from the 1930s – his disdain for disaffected working people outside of movements controlled by the Stalinist ‘communists’. Far from being a man of the people, he was the product of a privileged background at a unique moment in the 1930s when career opportunities for individuals of Jewish origin were often closed off within ‘civilised’ Europe. Unlike CLR James, Hobsbawm and Nairn did not come from ‘the outside’.

In Hobsbawm’s outstanding quartet of books on the history of the modern world – The Age of Revolution, 1789-1849 (1962), The Age of Capital, 1848-1875 (1975), The Age of Empire, 1875-1914 (1987) and Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991 (1994) – he has really obscured the complex origins of socialism in the eighteenth century Enlightenment’s ideological justification of the advent of the inequality of man. By fostering Stalinist obscurantism, he has created confusion about the spectre of Stalin’s totalitarian ghosts and other forms of totalitarian ‘socialism’. Besides, in the latter two books, he has abandoned all hope of libertarian socialism being able to emancipate the whole of humanity from class oppression, sexism, racism, unemployment, poverty and starvation. In chronicling the history of the world between 1789 and 1991, he revealed himself as someone who was irredeemably convinced of the correctness of the eighteenth century’s Eurocentric view of world history.

Eric J Hobsbawm, Élitist Education and History’s ‘Inexorable Laws’

Eric Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria in 1917 – the year of the world-shaking Bolshevik revolution. Richard Gott might argue that Hobsbawm ‘remains something of an outsider [in the 1980s], a man who writes beautiful English but still speaks with the trace of a foreign accent, a Jewish refugee who still retains an affection for the European culture from which he springs’, though a partisan English ‘patriot who has never been properly used by his adopted countrymen'; but Gott’s ‘history man’ was not a person who could be understood by a partisan journalist standing in the authoritarian tradition of socialism from above. [2] In an anonymous profile in The Observer newspaper, the origins of Hobsbawm’s support for Stalin’s ‘Popular Front’ was sketched in:

At 14 [in 1931], Hobsbawm joined the youth section of the German Communist Party. His boyhood memories of the divisions on the left during the Weimar years, which eventually led the Nazis to power in 1933, lie close to his present anxieties. ‘I grew up at the most sectarian point of the socialist-communist split’, he says. ‘It’s now clear to everyone that that was a disaster. It was my most formative political experience.’ [3]

As a consistent supporter of the ‘Popular Front’ for decades afterwards, he belonged to the international ‘communist’ movement. When he won a scholarship to the University of Cambridge in 1939, he joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), and in 1956 he supported the suppression of the Hungarian revolution, though falsely claiming, in 1987 and 1990, to have protested against it. [4]

In a perceptive and revealing interview with Hobsbawm entitled ‘The History Man: Reform or Revolution?’, Gott wrote about the origins of Hobsbawm’s continuing themes and interests. As he put it:

Until he was a teenager, Hobsbawm lived in Vienna, where his mother’s family came from. Somewhere he has written that if you came from a well-off Jewish household in Central Europe between the wars you did not have much choice in life except to be a Zionist or a communist. So before becoming a communist, had he considered the Zionist youth movements of Central Europe? ‘One knew about them, of course, but my Viennese family was completely emancipated – and therefore an areligious [sic!] family...’ So the alternative was communism? ‘Yes, but of course if I'd stayed in Austria it would not have been to become a communist... in a sense, though, the choice was to be left or a communist.’ [5]

Hobsbawm’s deep predilection for ‘the laws’ of history gave a fatalistic inevitability to his ‘conversion’ to Stalinism, and there was little scope for real political choice in the development of his own political outlook. Before being conscripted into the British army in 1940, he was a passionate supporter of the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact.

He came to England in 1933 with a great deal of what some leftists now call ‘cultural capital'; and from the beginning of his days as an ‘English communist’ he has been aware of his own class differences and ‘superiority’. In another interview in the prestigious Time and Tide, he told Miriam Gross:

As far as I could see Britain was in every respect behind Germany. The kind of conversations which were familiar to 15-year-old schoolboys in Berlin – about politics, about literature, about sex – did not take place in English schools. I was a bit bored and I spent a great deal of my time reading. [6]

In his historical writings, he has repeatedly alluded to his own personal experiences, though he was almost always uncritical – or not even curious – about how his own class origins helped to shape his life.

Touching on the wrenching, traumatic experience of being forced into the British army during the Hitler-Stalin pact, he said in Industry and Empire: ‘I recall as late as 1940 making the transition from one to the other [the two nations] over a distance of barely one mile in Cambridge: called up from college, billeted in a working-class street.’ [7] Though Hobsbawm very quickly acquired the identity of an Englishman, decades were to pass before he worried over his Jewishness in his public writings. The elderly historian told Gott that:

I do remember as a schoolboy, understanding how my non-Jewish mates, so to speak, could be attracted by Nazism, and thinking, well, of course, ‘I can’t, I am not a bloody German’, but one could see how they could be attracted by this hope of theirs. [8]

In his book Revolutionaries (1973), he rather admitted to his highly privileged status and ethnic insecurity with surprising candour: he belonged to a people ‘whose experience has been such as to make me still vaguely uneasy if I don’t possess a valid passport and enough cash to transport me to the nearest suitable country at short notice’.

Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the impact of growing old on Hobsbawm’s political attitudes in general, and his attitude towards education in particular, can be seen by comparing his vague account of comprehensive education after the Second World War and his later statements. In Industry and Empire, without showing any enthusiasm for comprehensive education, he wrote:

Some time in the prosperous 1950s the conviction developed among a mass of citizens in the working class that their inferiority was officially ratified at the age of 11, when they were excluded from further education; perhaps even that this reflected their own inferiority. [9]

At a brief moment when he thought a socialist revolution in Europe was possible, he ascribed the working-class ‘non-political’ demand for comprehensive education to what he now called ‘bottom-dog consciousness’. This was a strange expression for any socialist to use to describe workers’ demands for a better education.

Sharing such qualities as that of an inventive memory with the common ruck of humankind, as well as other traits, when interviewed at different times about the formative influences on his education, Hobsbawm has said contradictory things about his own time at St Marylebone Grammar School. Before he later told Miriam Gross about his previous avant-garde European education and boredom in 1930s London helping to turn him towards labour history, he told Pat Thane in 1978:

Because when I got to an English secondary school I discovered that I was good at it [history]. Before I came to England, I could not discover this because most of the history I was taught by an old gentleman concentrated on getting the dates of medieval German emperors into our heads, and he made us memorise them. And we all memorised them, and I have totally forgotten them. I don’t blame him because, as I have since found out, he was an eminent classical scholar, who was probably as bored by medieval history as we were. [10]

But, with the passage of time, Gott’s English ‘history man’ has become much more critical of comprehensive education and defensive about any criticisms of the untouchable grammar schools of the past. Since an historian’s attitudes to conventional state education had always been a touchstone for judging his or her conservative views on the outcome of historical processes, Hobsbawm’s real views ought to be much better known.

By the later l980s, he felt much less inhibited about expressing some of his real attitudes towards the left’s ‘comprehensive’ education. In a courteous reply to a letter that I sent to him in 1988, he said:

I can’t compare secondary schools today and in the 1930s since I have not taught in such schools, and while my children have gone to them, they are not a representative sample. I can perhaps compare teachers, and on the whole these are less qualified today than they were in the 1930s, because then school-teaching was one of the few outlets for graduates, which it is not today. I myself expected to go into it when I graduated, if I was not bright or lucky enough to pass the competitive Civil Service exam or to get one of the rare research student grants (which I did). St Marylebone Grammar School, a London County Council school, was an excellent school to which I owe a great deal, not least becoming an historian. (Actually my history master, the late HW Llewellyn Smith – son of the Board of Trade LL Smith – encouraged me to work in labour history by lending me his books and, I understand, showing some of my essays to the Webbs, who were family friends.) The only thing wrong with it, as usual at the time, was a tendency to try and make it look as much like an imitation public school as possible, but since neither its situation nor its pupils’ background encouraged these pretensions, it did not do much harm. So far as I can see it was only just beginning to think that boys might be going to university. I was the first to win a Cambridge scholarship, and even London was not yet usual. From a democratic point of view I can see no advantage in abolishing schools of this kind, where they exist. I am and was in favour of comprehensive education – obviously – but its justification is to provide a better education for kids previously confined to lower-grade schools, not a sink school, and was therefore shut down. [11]

I then wrote back to ask him for his definition of ‘a sink school’, and he replied thus:

In London a ‘sink school’ is a local school of low quality, probably with a demoralised staff teaching children from a difficult inner-city background. I learned the phrase from my wife, who taught for years in one. It seems to be used among teachers. [12]

Perhaps the ‘bottom dog consciousness’ of workers’ children made them unsuitable for higher education, though Hobsbawm ignores such questions as minority languages in inner-city schools and the lack of adequate resources. The critical point was that he was now joining with the reactionary elements in rejecting comprehensive education without apparently knowing what he was up to or saying in private correspondence. But he was at least still sensitive to criticism from the left.

At the end of the Second World War, Hobsbawm returned to the University of Cambridge, where he was a Fellow before becoming a lecturer in history at Birkbeck College, University of London, in 1951. He was not given a personal chair there until 1970. In 1948, he had presented his doctoral thesis entitled Fabianism and the Fabians, 1884-1914 to his examiners at Cambridge. He depicted Fabianism, according to Arthur Lipow, ‘as a peculiarly anti-working-class collectivist ideology’ within the British labour movement. Then Hobsbawm, in Lipow’s well-argued book, really backed away ‘considerably from his earlier and more accurate perception’ of the anti-working-class nature of British Fabianism ‘than anything he said on the subject in Labouring Men’ (1964). [13] Old Fabianism was now, in fact, a new variant of Russian Stalinism as a progressive ideology of modernism aimed at getting rid of class struggles and working people by introducing totalitarian reform from above.

In his first book, consisting of a collection of documents with a long introduction, entitled Labour’s Turning Point, 1880-1900 (1948), Hobsbawm’s great emphasis on essentially fatalist historical ‘laws’ foreshadowed what was to come. British ‘imperialist prosperity’ had been responsible for inhibiting the growth of the Independent Labour Party as ‘a potential socialist mass party of the working class’. Within the restrictions imposed on the labour movement by British imperialism, he could as an historian in the CPGB keep the socialists’ role relevant by concluding: ‘Yet the movement in Britain did advance towards socialism, though perhaps more slowly and very much more incompletely than some historians have assumed.’ [14]

Having his historical cake and eating it, and conscious of his career ambitions as an historian of socialism, he was already separating himself from historians further to the left than himself, and was also, without any noise or fanfare, rejecting their focus on the socialists’ real class-struggle forerunners.

This academic caution about socialist movements in the distant past did not gainsay Hobsbawm’s brief period of radicalism after the war. When he contributed his article ‘The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy in Britain’ to the CPGB’s theoretical magazine The Modern Quarterly in 1951, the same passion for the inexorable ‘laws’ of history shone through his disaffection from world capitalism.

Though spiritually distant from the ‘history man’ who subsequently pioneered right-wing Eurocommunism in the 1980s, he still saw British working people as the playthings and pawns of blind economic forces over which they had little control. He was no doubt feeling embattled; and, illustrating how after 1867 the ruling classes had barricaded themselves against potential militant labour by building in safeguards against the encroachments of democracy, he raged against so-called democratic capitalism. So, in 1951, he argued that:

British capitalism thus finds it increasingly hard to maintain its old techniques of government in smooth working order, for it is increasingly difficult to pay a section of its workers the necessary hush-money today... The policy of reformism and propaganda thus yields diminishing returns. The general tendency toward sharpened class antagonism, and a growth of socialist consciousness in the labour movement, cannot be permanently reversed, though it can for periods, be slowed down. [15]

But although Hobsbawm’s statement from 1951 was the most optimistic he ever made about the potential for socialist growth in Britain, though he saw such growth as triggered and propelled by blind economic forces rather than by human agency, he had yet to come to grips with his study of labour and socialist history. Decades later, when Miriam Gross asked him whether he ‘had ever believed in proletarian revolution’, he replied: ‘I certainly did, though since becoming an historian – and an historian who has studied Lenin – I have come to the conclusion that revolution is certainly a thing you cannot make.’ [16]

But even in 1951, when he was at his most radical, he still believed in the Popular Front. In concluding ‘The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy in Britain’, Hobsbawm set out the major themes of his later historical research when he said: ‘The moment when the working class stands fully exposed to the winds which blow around the British capitalist economy in its desperate crisis, draws nearer; and with it, the crisis of social democracy.’ Consequently, the ‘present methods’ by which the ruling class maintained control would no longer be appropriate; and the ‘economic conditions for a politically conscious movement of the British people’, under the leadership of a populist ‘socialist labour movement’, were coming into being. [17]

Hobsbawm was soon the most English of all the Marx-'ist’ historians in the CPGB’s Historians Group, and he had ‘a large and vulgar patriotism for England’. He was swayed by both Stalinist Popular Frontism and the milieu of Cambridge University, and he later wrote: ‘Our work as historians [between 1946 and 1956] was embedded in our work as Marxists, which we believed to imply membership of the Communist Party. It was inseparable from our political commitment and activity.’ [18]

Focusing on ‘the positive achievements’ of the Stalinists’ Third International, he argued that the practical results of the Popular Front were ‘much less discouraging’ for the communists than were the failures of the socialists of the Second International. [19] While stressing that it was not the historian’s job to ‘praise or blame but to analyse’, he wrote thus:

The creation of effective revolutionary parties, which was the great achievement of the Comintern, had strikingly positive results, as was proved in the 1930s and 1940s, and especially in the resistance movements against fascism, which owed far more to the Communist Parties than these were willing to admit at the time or their enemies to admit subsequently. [20]

This was, of course, nonsense, and Hobsbawm did not acknowledge the role of the Stalinists and the Nazis in murdering countless European socialists, especially towards the end of the 1939-45 war.

Imperialism, Cultural Imperialism, ‘History’, and Untidy Revolt from Below

The multi-dimensional crises of global socialism towards the end of the twentieth century should have forced historians to look more critically at the role of working people’s disaffection and rebellion from below in forcing the pace of ‘progress’. No historian of the left could have been more misunderstood than Hobsbawm. Though the anti-Stalinist socialist historians ought to have been sensitive to the ideological reasons for his dismissal of all revolts and rebellions in the world at large before the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, they were scuppered by their refusal to grasp that Hobsbawm’s defence of totalitarian Stalinist Russia against bandits, rebels, Left Oppositionists, anarchists and other socialists had to force him to condemn – or distance himself from – similar struggles in the West from 1789.

Though Raphael Samuel’s useful essay ‘Sources of Marxist History’ was an important contribution to labour and socialist history, he obscured more than he illuminated when singling out Hobsbawm for special praise as an historian of primitive rebellion and banditry. Because he was impervious to the importance of rebels, bandits and anti-Establishment convictions, Hobsbawm could only see such individuals and groups as marginal and historically ‘doomed’ men and women. Attributing some of Hobsbawm’s basic attitudes towards such rebels as the outcome of progressivism, Samuel traced the rise of the Stalinists’ notion of progressivism, in which all pre-1917 socialist ideas, attitudes and traditions were turned upside down:

The progressivism which emerged in the 1930s was of an entirely different order. It was determinedly forward-looking, and rather contemptuous of tormenting regrets about the vanished communities of the past. It was impatient of medieval ‘sentimentalism’ and intoxicated rather than repelled by machine technologies. The First World War, the October Revolution, and most of all, perhaps, so far as British Marxists were concerned, the mass unemployment of the 1930s, had radically altered the conspectus. Capitalism, in an age of world crisis and fascism, appeared as a morbid social order, economically bankrupt, culturally decadent, politically bankrupt. [21]

Arguing that this outlook of progressivism was all-powerful in the world Stalinist movement and that it coloured the thinking of ‘communist’ intellectuals until the mid-1950s, Samuel understood Hobsbawm’s position until – and even after – the 1956 Hungarian revolution, except in relation to undefined struggles between inherently antagonistic social classes.

The collapse of Stalinism in 1989 had removed barriers inhibiting even anti-Stalinist socialist historians from understanding the thought-world that Hobsbawm occupied for so long after the 1930s. It was left to Samuel to outline what the results of the Stalinists’ progressivism culminated in as a contribution to rubbishing the socialist culture of the First and Second Internationals. As he put it:

‘Progressivism’ was the product of a specific historical conjuncture, in which the success of the ‘Russian experiment’ on the one hand, and the apparent collapse of liberal capitalism on the other, seemed to place socialism at the very top of the historical agenda. [22]

But although Samuel did not consider the question of the fierce class struggles in totalitarian Stalinist Russia between the 1930s and 1989, he was apparently unaware of Hobsbawm’s indifference, if not outright hostility, to all forms of the world-wide anti-Stalinist resistance to what was really a reactionary phenomenon – ‘progressivism’ as an ideological mask for capital’s totalitarian industrialisation, in the Marxist sense of a predetermined false consciousness. Turning against classical Marxist ideas about aesthetics, the intellectuals in the CPGB before 1956 condemned Modernism as, in Samuel’s words, ‘reactionary and decadent’. Such judgements, in which reaction was equated with failure, and progressivism with success, were ‘applied in no less decisive a tone to the literature and art of the past’. [23] In the eyes of the Stalinist ‘communists’, jazz was, of course, ‘decadent’.

Yet, in spite of Samuel’s brilliant reconstruction of the lost world of Stalinist ‘communism’, he applied none of his insights about progressivism to the ways in which Hobsbawm conceived of class struggles in history. In his books Primitive Rebels (1959), Labouring Men (1964) and Bandits (1969), Hobsbawm could not empathise with the spontaneous militancy of primitive rebels, bandits and, later on, working-class militants. ‘Explosions’ of labour militancy were, in Richard Johnson’s uncritical assessment of Hobsbawm’s historical essays, ‘traced mainly to economic variables plus “the part played by bodies of agitators, propagandists and organisers"’. [24]

Hobsbawm could never empathise with the anti-establishment convictions of primitive rebels, bandits and non-intellectual dissidents (except for those who were, according to him, controlled by the Bolshevik Stalin before 1917); and if he have done so he would have been forced as an historian to oppose class struggles in Stalin’s Russia. Samuel was thus far from the mark when he suggested that Hobsbawm’s ‘deeply moving portrait of Sabate, the Spanish anarchist, in Bandits, or of the German Communist Party in Revolutionaries’ constituted a hangover ‘from his schoolboy communist days in eve-of-Hitler Berlin and an exalted notion of revolutionary bravery’. This was why, in Samuel’s romantic and ahistorical view, Hobsbawm’s ‘main line of research has been the historical reconstitution of doomed revolt’. [25]

Bandits was a revealing book in which Hobsbawm expressed his antipathy towards all untidy and hard-to-define class struggles before the British Industrial Revolution. The protests of bandits and primitive rebels were quite irrelevant to the class struggles opened up by industrial capitalism – except in pre-Bolshevik Russia. In the only defence that he offered of banditry anywhere, he wrote:

Lenin did his best to fence off ‘expropriations’ from ordinary crime and freebooting with an elaborate system of defences; they were to be conducted only under organised party auspices, and in a framework of socialist ideology and education, in order not to degenerate into crime against state property, etc. Stalin, though no doubt he went into those activities with his usual lack of humanitarian scruple, was doing no more than applying party policy. [26]

However, when he discussed another Bolshevik ‘bandit’ by the name of Semeno Arzhakovich Ter-Petrossian (1882-1922), Hobsbawm asserted that his death in a bicycle accident was ‘probably lucky’. Moreover, the 40-year-old Bolshevik’s age and ‘the atmosphere in the Soviet Union in subsequent years’ would not ‘have been congenial to his type of Old Bolshevism’. [27]

But, although Hobsbawm wrote quite enthusiastically about EH Carr’s What is History?, he was far removed from Carr’s sympathy for untidy class struggles in history. In welcoming Carr’s book in Marxism Today in 1962, Hobsbawm asserted:

The historian stands for reason, science and progress in history – or, more briefly, for good history, must also stand for reason, science and progress at large. It is the great merit of Carr that he is fully aware of this. Humanity is progressing, and this is to be welcomed. [28]

As an historian, Hobsbawm asked and answered the question ‘progress towards what?’ in the one word: socialism – that is to say, Stalinist ‘communism’. But he was not at all simplistic, though socialists might have been less confused theoretically if he had been. At that stage of his evolution as a Marxist historian, he welcomed the progress towards decolonisation in the Third World. Anticipating problems in the former colonial world, he explained that ‘what disturbs and alarms me is not the march of progress in Asia and Africa, but the tendency of dominant groups in this country to turn a blind or uncomprehending eye on these developments and to sink back into paralysing nostalgia’. [29]

On top of his inheriting the complacent acquiescence of the British working-class movement and the CPGB in the crimes against the colonial peoples from the late nineteenth century onwards, the struggles of the Africans and African Americans documented by CLR James in his History of Negro Revolt did not allow Hobsbawm – an historian whose imagination was limited by anti-democratic Stalinist assumptions – to be gripped by such critical historical realities. Throughout a long lifetime, Hobsbawm said almost nothing about the links between slavery, capitalism and labour history. The names left out of his major books on world history suggest a sort of hidden index to his essentially conservative historical account of the history of modern capitalism. The omissions include John Brown, Nat Turner, William Davidson, Robert Webberburn, William Cuffay, WEB Du Bois, George Padmore and CLR James. [30]

It has been left to the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o to depict the links between labour history, slavery and imperialism in Moving the Centre: The Struggle For Cultural Freedoms (1993). Arguing that racism had been an integral part of the growth of capitalism from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, he characterised the ‘slave trade, plantation slavery and the Industrial Revolution’ as the origin of capitalism’s emergence into the modern world ‘dripping with blood’ from head to foot. [31] Estranged from Hobsbawm’s understanding of the role of slavery in the origins and development of Western capitalism Ngugi wa Thiong'o, though a Marxist, novelist and cultural critic rather than an historian, observed:

Western Europe and North America accumulated capital through the slave trade, slave labour and colonial labour... Neo-colonialism adds considerable stains of blood to those that Western capital already acquired through the slave trade, slavery and colonialism. [32]

Besides, in contrast to the nationalistic ‘English’ history man and author of many scholarly and impressive books on world history since 1789, the black Kenyan socialist writer spent much time in exposing a problem always facing the anti-imperialist left, though a critical problem ignored by Hobsbawm and the CPGB’s Historians Group – the problem of Western imperialism, including cultural imperialism. Unaware of cultural imperialism, Hobsbawm could not see workers’ and peasants’ resistance to the suppression of minority languages as an aspect of class conflict.

In a passionate defence of his book The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, Peter Linebaugh criticised Ellen Meiksins Wood for writing untidy revolts out of history. Though he did not mention that Hobsbawm conceptualised history in a similar way, Linebaugh complained that Wood saw academic history producing an inescapable separation of ‘labour history from slave history, despite the [contrary] efforts of WEB Du Bois’, without being interested in a corrective. So Linebaugh insisted on the importance of seeing ‘the plantation system in the Caribbean and the migration across the Atlantic from Africa’, and he chastised Wood for ignoring the ‘economic and ecological boundaries’ created by modern capitalism. However, Linebaugh’s historical views were alien to the shared common culture of the anti-democratic and the democratic left from at least 1848.

But in his intelligent defence of the historical untidiness of revolts and class struggles, and without even mentioning Hobsbawm’s name, Linebaugh gave his readers guidelines and insights that allowed them to see the relationship between the way Hobsbawm depicted and dismissed ‘primitive’ struggles in the West after 1789 at the same time as he passed over anti-Stalinist class struggles in Russia and elsewhere. When he suggested similarities between the defeat of the seventeenth-century English revolution and the Bolshevik revolution in 1930s Russia, Linebaugh wrote:

The London Hanged presented a different argument in its chapter on ‘Old Mr Gory’. It noticed that with the defeat of the English Revolution the English entered on a massive scale the African slave trade, the expropriation of land in Scotland, Ireland and England commenced rapidly, and urbanisation threw forth a propertyless proletariat. Might we not identify three such similar themes in the USSR under Stalin: the expropriation of millions from the land, the appropriation through wage labour of the social wealth created by an urban proletariat, and the development, if not of plantations, then of prisons and labour camps which organised slavery? [33]

As an advocate of totalitarian Stalinism as an agency of progressivism, Hobsbawm could not even raise or acknowledge the critical importance of the questions raised by Linebaugh when Hobsbawm discussed the so-called ‘progress’ of socialism before he produced his Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991.

With the collapse of ‘actually existing socialism’ and the arguably death agony of socialism, other historians of the libertarian left, including Linebaugh and Jesse Lemisch, are now beginning to question the élitist and fundamentally anti-class struggle nature of academic ‘Marxist’ historiography. In his superb article ‘"Mob” versus “Crowd”: British Marxists and Early American History; and a Word about “Empiricism and Theory"’, Jesse Lemisch shows how by changing the traditional word ‘mob’ into the word ‘crowd’, George Rude and Hobsbawm tried to make the untidy class revolts of the ‘crowd’ acceptable, if not respectable. In the eighteenth century before ‘the people’ had parliamentary representation anywhere, ‘revolts, mobs, crowds and rabbles’ were the means by which the officially voiceless expressed themselves.

Few historians have criticised the work of the ‘history man’ on bandits, rebels, outsiders and pre-industrial practitioners of class struggles. But in a rare critique of Hobsbawm’s book Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movements in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1959), Lemisch did not miss his target. As he put it:

But Hobsbawm’s chapter ‘The City Mob’ (as well as other chapters) reflects a tendency to distribute honorifics on a political basis. Looking backward, Hobsbawm says that, ‘for the labour movement’, the mob has ‘on balance been a force delaying its conquest of great non-industrial cities... Few will regret its passing...’ The mob lacks discipline, is given to ‘relapse’, and ‘riots for limited or short-range objectives’. [34]

Since Lemisch is still, after 35 years of fine historical work, concerned with the role of ‘the mob’ or ‘crowd’ in history, he could not see through to Hobsbawm’s anti-class-struggle prejudices at the heart of all his written work as a labour historian.

Touching on Hobsbawm’s preference for the role of labour movements over that of the ‘mob’, Lemisch’s extended critique of the chief ideological writer for the defunct Marxism Today ought to be better known among those interested in the fate of socialism. As Lemisch continued:

‘Almost every socialist or communist movement [says Hobsbawm] would take the disciplined stolidness of any small coalfield for the ebullience of three cities like Palermo, if it could.’ Such claims bury historical understanding of the mob and its thought and goals under a modern organiser’s political agenda. A failure of sympathy and a kind of contempt, probably reflecting a long tradition of Marxist antagonism to the lumpen-proletariat (to Marx and Engels ‘social scum’, ‘scum of depraved elements’, ‘passive putrefaction'...) is evident in the extreme language that we often find in Primitive Rebels: ‘the ‘mob’ consisted of the ordinary urban poor, and not simply of the ‘scum'; or, Alejandro Lerroux... ‘brought out his men from the Barrio Chino, the purulent quarter of the slums and brothels in the centre of Barcelona, for the Tragic Week of anarchic mob-rule in 1909'; or, ‘Whoever has seen the horrifying spectacle of the Neapolitan sub-proletariat, will treat even Stoke-on-Trent with indulgence... The historian must make the attempt to understand how... [the mob] worked, even though it can rarely rouse his sympathy.’ One does not have to idealise the mob to see that such attitudes might block historical analysis. Both Rude and Hobsbawm are anxious to reassure us that their crowds are not mere lumpen, with the implication that it would somehow be awful if they were. ‘Purulent’, indeed! [35]

In contrast to EP Thompson, Hobsbawm has never been interested in ‘the less articulate majority’, and especially the outcasts, or in the robust anti-constitutional ancestry of socialist movements. To add weight to Lemisch’s critique of Hobsbawm’s assumptions that organised socialists were in the ‘vanguard’ of class struggles everywhere, there ought to be some acknowledgement of the conservative (with a small ‘c’) role of socialist movements. Indeed, Peter Stearns, the American historian, has shown how European socialists between 1890 and 1914 often ‘curtailed the revolutionary fervour of potentially radical workers’. As Stearns summed up: ‘Busy in his separate socialist society, the worker could to an extent ignore the larger environment. In fact, the socialist society helped integrate many workers into the industrial workers in a variety of ways.’ [36]

The keys to Hobsbawm’s conservative ‘Marxism’ and Stalinism – a Marxism obsessed with planning and control from the top down – are to be found in his insistence on seeing consciousness or its absence from one’s place in the social structure. His historiography has been full of antagonism to revolt from below, including his indifference to or sometimes dismissal of the American abolitionists in the nineteenth century, and what was hidden for so long because men and women on the libertarian left did not question the common socialist culture they had shared with Stalinists and other authoritarians.

Unlike the class-struggle anti-Stalinist Marxists, Hobsbawm never thought about those marginal and ‘doomed’ people in the prisons and labour camps – primitive rebels, bandits, and opponents of Russian ‘state socialism’. In spite of his defence of Carr, in almost all of his historical writings Hobsbawm refused to see any historical continuity between rebels in the past and the continuing struggles in the here and now of those committed to socialism from below. Nor was he ever in sympathy with Carr’s notion of ‘delayed achievements’. In What Is History?, Carr had asserted:

Pregnant failures are not unknown in history. History recognises what I may call ‘delayed achievement'; the apparent failures of today may turn out to have made a vital contribution to the achievements of tomorrow – prophets born before their time. [37]

In not one of Hobsbawm’s books on historical themes has he ever depicted rebels, bandits or Western socialists as prophets born before their time. Moreover, in his so-called sympathetic portrait of Sabate, Hobsbawm dismissed the Spanish anarchist by asserting: ‘In the early 1850s all parties abandoned guerrilla warfare for more realistic tactics. The militants were therefore left alone.’ Sabate’s only ‘possible reward could be heroic legend’, and he ‘never looked like achieving anything except a death-sentence for anyone known to be associated with him’. [38] Besides, ‘the oppressor acts within a framework of accepted wealth, power and social superiority which the victim cannot use, unless there has been a social revolution which unseats the mighty as a class and elevates the humble’. [39]

Unfortunately, those who set themselves up as authorities on complex class struggles laboured under the illusion that Hobsbawm’s primitive rebels had been seen as precursors of subsequent struggles and revolts. Thus, after 1945, in his discussion of the complicated class struggles in Britain, John Clarke wrote:

What we are faced with here is not the simple unfolding of some unidirectional historical logic... It is a permanently contradictory process of class struggle, which may not always take the traditionally recognised correct or ‘modern’ forms but involves a variety of hidden and informal dimensions which may more closely resemble, in fact, the protests of Hobsbawm’s ‘primitive rebels’. [40]

From Hobsbawm’s historical perspective, the role of the communist parties had been of critical importance in defining the essence of class struggle. And he would not have thanked Clarke for trying to enlist his aid in conceptualising the nature of theoretically untidy revolts or people’s struggles.

In the 1930s, Hobsbawm had already been committed to and shaped by the collective Stalinist outlook of imposing Stalinism as ‘a class dictatorship’ on recalcitrant peasants and workers. This dictated his attitude to the French Revolution of 1789. So his vision of the historical process – and his notion of socialist revolution – developed within the Stalinist leftist intellectuals’ own mental prisons. Unlike James, George Padmore and Grace Lee, later known as Grace Lee Boggs, Hobsbawm was drawn like a magnet to the Jacobins and the left-wing Gods in power rather than to the disaffected sansculottes. What separated James and his American Marxist group in the 1940s from Stalinist historians like Hobsbawm was their belief in the ability of the forces of socialism from below. By contrast with the Hobsbawm who has always conceived of ‘socialist’ revolution as the minority Party’s imposition of socialism on the people, James and Lee had seen the continuity of struggle from below. As Grace Lee Boggs explained:

In the French revolution we identified not with Robespierre and the Jacobins but with Jacques Roux, Theophule, and Jean Varlet, who lived among the sansculottes and helped them to organise to fight for price controls and other concrete needs of the masses. In mid-nineteenth-century America, we identified with the slaves, whose revolts and escapes made a compromise impossible between the rising capitalists in the North and the southern plutocracy, thus making Civil War and their own emancipation inevitable. [41]

Far from assuming that the American Civil War was ‘inevitable’, Hobsbawm argued: ‘Northern capitalism might well have found it as possible and convenient to come to terms with and exploit a slave South as international business has found with the “apartheid” of South Africa.’ So the abolitionists and other disaffected individuals and movements were not regarded as counting for much by England’s own history man. But in clarifying his attitudes towards ‘peasant unrest’, workers’ discontent, and so on, the Marxist historian whose work was often recommended by some of the far left insisted that ‘slave rebellion’ was especially uncommon in America. Then, without offering any convincing arguments, he asserted that ‘the pressure’ to abolish black slavery in America – and serfdom elsewhere – was ‘to some extent economic’. [42]

Hobsbawm’s deeply entrenched subjective Stalinist sympathies and political attitudes thwarted any potential empathy for revolutionary movements, disaffected workers or peasants, whether bandits or sansculottes, anywhere. He has almost always worshipped the left’s own gods of power, and from his historical perspective the only bandits he has chosen to approve of have been those marginalised by victorious ruling classes. Faced with the historiographical problem of Bolshevik ‘bandits’, he was forced into special pleading.

Hobsbawm’s attraction to ‘communism’ in 1930s Russia was very much influenced by his own interpretation of Marxism. He pinned his hopes on a sort of unique historical determinism that had been alien to Karl Marx, and Hobsbawm shared the American ‘communist’ Joseph Freeman’s sympathy for the role of great men like Stalin. In Freeman’s Stalinist view, socialist history had to be made by ‘great’ men.

In contrast to Hobsbawm’s predilection for using his books on history to foster the ‘historical laws’ allegedly responsible for forcing the pace of economic and social change at different periods of history, the early Marx – a Marx who again expressed his hostility towards the notion of fatalism during the last decade of his life – had rejected ‘inevitable’ laws of historical determinism. In setting out his view of the historical process in The Holy Family (1844), Marx wrote:

History does nothing, it ‘possesses no immense wealth’, it ‘wages no battles’. It is man, real, living man, who does all that, who possesses and fights; ‘history’ is not, as it were, a person apart, using man as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of man pursuing his aims. [43]

And the older Marx – the Marx who insisted that ‘struggle’ was the real secret of all human life – did not repudiate what he wrote in The Holy Family.

The continuation or ‘progress’ of Hobsbawm’s ‘socialism’ was always predicated on the collapse of liberal capitalism as a result of insoluble economic crises. Yet, in spite of recognised elements of discontinuity that can be teased out of all of them, his brilliant quartet of books on the modern world represents a continuing – and hitherto neglected – antipathy to ‘untidy’ class struggles as well as his predilection for authoritarian movements and individuals of the left. He remained convinced of the correctness of a white Eurocentric view of world history.

Hobsbawm’s Obscurantist History in his Quartet of Books on the Modern World

In the Queen’s Honours List for January 1998, Gott’s very English ‘history man’ was made a Companion of Honour. Now, the ‘English’ historian was often a modest man, and if he has been seduced by the British Establishment in the wake of the collapse of that other Establishment in the former USSR, he has been a victim of too much adulation rather than a representative of the ‘treason of the intellectuals’ of the left.

However, Hobsbawm will be remembered by posterity as an historian of a socialism shaped by certain carefully defined agitators, organisers, ‘influential’ political leaders of the left and workers’ organisers. But since part of his legacy will be his role in concealing socialism’s totalitarian monsters, ‘living ghosts’, demons and spectres, his hidden political-cum-historical attitudes in his books on modern history now require to be studied critically and objectively. And, in the spirit of Marxist critical criticism, it will be a useful and instructive guide into his ideas on socialism and labour movements to discuss his quartet of major books depicting and analysing the history of the modern world between 1789 and 1991.

In The Age of Revolution, he identified with the Jacobin and pre-industrial workers. [44] He was impressed by their literary culture, Jacobin puritanism and ‘Swedenborgian heresies’, though as an activist in the CPGB he was never guilty of any heresy. He expressed regret that they did not ‘survive the advance of the factory and the machine’. The first of these four stunning books was the most original, in some ways the most radical, and, though limited by his Stalinist preconceptions, was full of interesting insights.

Although The Age of Revolution was his most critical book on the origins of modern capitalism, it allowed Hobsbawm to play down the role of the slave trade and racist slavery – a slavery born out of capitalism’s sustained assaults on the original equality of man – as the major source of the inequality of man. By focusing on ‘the dual revolution’ – that is, the Revolution of 1789 in France and the Industrial Revolution in Britain – he admitted that he could not make up his mind whether the American revolution of 1776 was of ‘equal significance to the Anglo-French ones’, or ‘merely as their most important immediate stimulator’. [45]

Avoiding any attempt to depict or analyse the role of class struggles in the American revolution, he was indifferent to the arguments of the gifted anti-imperialist and anti-Stalinist historian JF Horrabin, who by making use of WE Woodward’s biography Washington: The Image and the Man (1930), saw the forces of revolt from below. So Horrabin wrote:

There were, as a recent biographer of Washington has pointed out, ‘two streams of revolutionary impulse’ in the Colonies during the years preceding and following the Declaration of Independence. There was ‘a revolt of the proprietary class – merchants, planters, lawyers, ship-owners and distillers – against the economic and political domination of the English’. There was also ‘the muscular, inarticulate rebellion of working people – small farmers and mechanics – against the growing power of wealth, British or Colonial’. It was the first of these that ‘won’ in the Revolution. [46]

In the first of Hobsbawm’s four books, neither the slave trade not slavery appear in his in some ways sharp analysis, though they were an index to the brutality implicit in the growth of capitalism. In contrast to EP Thompson, too, he rejected the idea of ‘class struggle without class’.

Unlike Horrabin and the genuinely anti-imperialist left in the National Council of Labour Colleges, Hobsbawm was indifferent to Horrabin’s observation that historians assure us that without Negro slavery the tropical regions of America could not have produced either ‘the coffee, sugar, nor cotton which the rest of the world wanted, nor profits for the English planters and merchants’. [47] Hobsbawm was probably unaware of the rich anti-imperialist socialist history produced by Horrabin between the two world wars, and he certainly did not know – nor did he make the effort to find out by reading the anti-Stalinist historians – that ‘the first draft of the American Declaration of Independence contained a vigorous condemnation of King George for his sanction of the “execrable slave trade,” though it was soon removed’. [48]

In The Age of Revolution, Hobsbawm was most emphatically not interested in the American workers’ ‘muscular, inarticulate rebellion’ of the 1770s. Nor did he grasp the point made by James that ‘the American blacks were far more indebted to the political conflicts between North and South America for their freedom than the San Domingo blacks had been to the French revolution’. [49]

Hobsbawm was not interested in the African Americans’ struggles against their enslavement, and he did not recognise plebeian or ‘working-class’ struggles within the international bourgeois-democratic revolution during the last three decades of the eighteenth century. Then, when Hobsbawm surveyed the revolutions of 1848, he asserted that the ‘awaited European revolution came and failed’. [50]

There was, in the view of the ‘history man’, no link between the failed revolutions of 1848 and the growth of the thought, the arts, socialism or later historical developments. The academic historian ensconced in Birkbeck College never asked whether any of the class struggles of the ‘lower orders’ were precursors of future struggles. It simply did not occur to him. With such élitist Stalinist attitudes towards popular struggles, he could not have been sympathetic to the idea of socialism from below. In contrast to the old and the new Hobsbawm, François Fejtö saw the failed revolutions of 1848 as the prelude of the better world to come. As he put it:

The failure of the revolutions had a profound influence on European thought, and gave a fresh impulse to the study of historical philosophy and economics. This renascence alone made the 1848 Revolution a period of fertile experience. It seems as though history decided that the tragic themes of the dramas to be enacted in the centuries to come should be summed up by one great prologue. The hero of the drama was to be, in the words of Baudelaire, ‘mankind in search of happiness’. [51]

Nevertheless, in The Age of Capital, Hobsbawm admitted that he could not conceal ‘a certain distaste’ and perhaps ‘a certain contempt’ for what he characterised as the age when capitalism was actually omnipotent. [52] Moreover, it never occurred to Hobsbawm that his use of so-called historical ‘laws’ in depicting historical developments in, for example, the American Civil War was at odds with Marx’s own attitudes. Hobsbawm argued that the Southern states did not constitute a ‘slave society’ at all, ‘given that the Negroes were always in a minority’. To underline his point, Hobsbawm then asserted: ‘After all, though no doubt most people in the North detested slavery, militant abolitionism alone was never strong enough to determine the Union’s policy.’ [53] The power to impose revolution from above – if, and only if, unforeseeable and unique circumstances and conditions existed alongside a determined ‘vanguard’ party – was the key to the thinking of the ‘English history man’.

Hobsbawm’s The Age of Capital buried the African Americans’ struggles from the pages of history underneath so-called ‘inevitable’ and predetermined ‘laws’ of historical development. In this specific way leftist workers were encouraged to place their hopes for change in revolution from above. Thus class struggles were obliterated, though this was probably not a conscious activity on his part. He was simply reflecting the common culture of the socialists and radicals. Indifferent to the abolitionists and American radicals, he dismissed the United States of America thus:

The image of the New World as a revolutionary political alternative to the Old World of monarchy, aristocracy and subjection was perhaps no longer as vivid as it had once been, at least outside its borders. The image of America as a place of escape from poverty, of personal hope through personal enrichment, replaced it. The New World increasingly confronted Europe not as the new society, but as the society of the newly rich. [54]

Characterising the 1860s as ‘economically relatively stable’ in spite of the Civil War, Hobsbawm asserted that ‘politics revived in a period of expansion but it was no longer the politics of revolution’. [55] Besides, his historical writings were always characterised by a very crude ‘economism’, and labour militancy was much less dependent on working people’s consciousness of injustice than on the economic distress exploited by leftist agitators, propagandists and organisers. [56] Unlike James, Hobsbawm had no faith in ordinary people’s spontaneous creativity; and he had always ridiculed working folk’s ability to change the world from below.

Though many of the Trotskyist sects were nominally sympathetic to socialism from below, it was strange that they should have ignored both Hobsbawm’s sense of almost immovable historical fatalism and his marginalisation of the disaffected in history from 1789 onwards. Nor were they interested in trying to probe into at least some of the reasons for his great popularity within some sectors of the Establishment long before 1998. By pinning their emotional convictions to an ‘egalitarian’ Russia shaped by nationalised factories and land, most leftist historians shared Hobsbawm’s genuine inhibitions about recognising the naked reality of class struggles within the countries of the ‘actually existing socialism’.

The multi-dimensional crises of global capitalism were deepening in circumstances where the ruling classes seemed to be winning the ideological war for the first time in 200 years. Before 1989, the very idea of socialism as the agency for human emancipation was rubbished by a powerful world composed of unregulated capitalism, state capitalism and ‘communism’ or ‘actually existing socialism'; and totalitarian anti-socialism under the guise of ‘communism’ was the outcome of complex class struggles in the twentieth century. And the communists’ ‘socialism’ had to be ‘socialism in one country’ – a ‘socialism’ with no roots in nineteenth-century socialism. For example, in spite of their bitter disputes about the role of nationalism in the twentieth century, both Hobsbawm and Nairn have always dismissed traditional ideas of socialist internationalism and the First, Second and early Third Internationals. So, in The Age of Capital, Hobsbawm did not portray the First International as a precursor of its successor, the Second International. Arguing that ‘ideological battles’ in the First International actually ‘ruined it’, he said ‘they need not detain us long here’. Moreover, the original International ‘did not yet inspire working-class parties of any significance’. [57] In an age of savage counter-revolution such as our own, when Marxist historians still refuse to confront and analyse socialism’s frightening ghosts and the spectres obstructing ‘progress’ towards socialism, it was inevitable that Tom Nairn would ultimately in Faces of Nationalism (1998) rubbish the idea of socialist internationalism and the project for creating an egalitarian society. Like Hobsbawm, he was an ‘authoritarian of the “left"’.

Foreshadowing the ultra-pessimism expressed in Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, Hobsbawm’s The Age of Empire saw the emergence of new elements of discontinuity in his political outlook and in his way of seeing world history. The opening section of The Age of Empire was, moreover, coloured by the image of ‘the twilight zone’ – that is, ‘an incoherent, incompletely perceived image of the past’. [58] When he reviewed The Age of Empire in the New York Review of Books, James Joll did not see the changed political outlook behind Hobsbawm’s new political attitudes towards the workers’ past. As Joll explained:

In fact, as Hobsbawm points out in a chapter called ‘Workers of the World’, the revolution, however much dreaded by governments, was no longer a possibility in the advanced industrial counties of the West. Capitalism, so far from being about to collapse from its own contradictions, seemed stronger than ever. [59]

However, Joll realised that Hobsbawm had developed a new enthusiasm for Nietzsche and other prophets of the cult of the irrational in world history.

Signposting the ultimate and nightmarish coming of the ultra-pessimism that was to be expressed in Age of Extremes, Hobsbawm said:

Since August 1914 we have lived in a world of monstrous wars, upheavals and explosions, which Nietzsche prophetically announced. That is what has surrounded the era before 1914 with the retrospective haze of nostalgia, a faintly golden age of order and peace, of unproblematic prospects. [60]

Hobsbawm did not try to hide his preference for social order rather than the chaos and creativity of upheaval or revolution; and, ignoring the mass murders committed by Western imperialists in Africa and Asia during the ‘Age of Empire’, he praised Stalin’s (totalitarian) role in allegedly thwarting potential ethnic conflict in the former Soviet Empire.

Far from developing ‘a new kind’ of internationalism before and after the Second World War, as Hobsbawm argued in Nations and Nationalism since 1870 (1990), the so-called ‘actually existing socialism’ had fostered racism, chauvinism and fratricide within workers’ movements everywhere. By acquiescing in Stalinism’s crimes, he had to play down Western imperialism’s crimes against the colonial peoples and the African Americans, in case socialists made undesirable links between Stalin’s Russia and the democratic West – or between then and now, and between here and there. Though much of Hobsbawm’s suppression of Western imperialism’s crimes was subconscious, he did not question the assumptions of his own dual milieu in the bourgeois academy and the Stalinist political world. So he was forced to restrict himself to the comment:

However, in such countries outside Europe political democracy assumed the elimination of the former indigenous populations – Indians, Aborigines, etc. Where they could not be eliminated by expulsion into ‘reservations’ or by genocide, they were not part of the political community. [61]

Karl Marx – the Marx who spent the last decade of his life revising his opinions about the revolts and resistance of ‘primitive’ and ‘primal’ peoples in the modern world – had to be ignored.

In Hobsbawm’s view, the era of the Empire – or ‘the long nineteenth century’ down to 1914 – was, above all, a century of ‘peace’, ‘progress’, ‘prosperity’, ‘hope’ and ‘optimism.’ [62] Again, it was an eloquent, if unspoken, testimony to the CPGB’s laissez-faire approach to the study of history that neither they nor their sectarian successors challenged Hobsbawm’s quartet of books on the history of the modern world. But if Hobsbawm kept his political-cum-historical options open when he published The Age of Empire, he would soon abandon his customary caution as an historian of political economy-cum-socialism.

Hobsbawm Versus Nationalism and ‘Primitive’ Revolts and Socialism

If Hobsbawm did read the arguments in Spengler’s The Decline of the West, or the arguments in WEB Du Bois’ books about the ‘double consciousness’ of African Americans or the ‘problem of the colour line’ being the problem of the twentieth century, he most certainly passed them over in complete silence. And it was not at all surprising that he should be so dismissive of Western socialist and working-class movements down to 1914. [63] However, though heresy-hunters will have no difficulty in seeing inconsistencies in his quartet of books on world history, there is a consistency throughout his life’s work.

Like Tom Nairn, Hobsbawm was helping to marginalise socialist ideas long before he wrote the ultra-pessimistic Age of Extremes. Thus, in The Age of Empire, he could write with great Olympian objectivity about how ‘the heterogeneous structure of the industrial economy itself’ was a formidable barrier thwarting ‘labour class consciousness’ and organisation. And the Second International got no more than a single mention. [64] However, as early as 1971 he explained without ambiguity why he could not believe in socialism from below, in the alleged creativity behind spontaneous workers’ revolts, or in proletarian revolution as Marx and Engels had conceived of its clumsy, untidy and unpredictable advent. As Hobsbawm put it: ‘It is not the working class itself which takes power and exercises hegemony, but the working-class movement or party, and (short of taking an anarchist view) it is difficult to see how it could be otherwise.’ [65] So socialist revolution would inevitably be totalitarian in its basic character, and the explosive role of the creativity behind many spontaneous workers’ revolts and resentments against inequality will remain, in his view, irrelevant in this new century. So whilst Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes acknowledged the fall of ‘the actually existing socialism’, it also represented the culmination of his decades-old élitist hostility to the many centuries of people’s culture.

Nevertheless, just as Hobsbawm boasted that he had never read socialists like Karl Kautsky, so he could not bring himself to read CLR James, Ignazio Silone or Victor Serge. Hobsbawm assumed that totalitarianism was a precondition for ‘socialism’ in Russia after 1917, though it was left to Serge to observe:

Capitalist industrial society tends to encompass the whole of the world, fashioning all aspects of life to its design. Consequently, ever since the beginning of the twentieth century, Marxism has aimed to renew and transform everything: the property system, the organisation of work, the map of the world (through the abolition of frontiers), and even the inner life of man (through the extinction of the religious mode of thought). Aspiring to total transformation, it has consequently been, in the etymological sense of the word, totalitarian. It presents two faces of the ascendant society, simultaneously democratic and authoritarian. [66]

In the last of his quartet of books on the history of the modern world, Hobsbawm touched on his lack of empathy with the Second International when he said: ‘Like the early Christians, most pre-1914 socialists were believers in the great apocalyptic change which would abolish all that was evil and bring about a society without unhappiness, inequality and injustice.’ [67] Equating socialism with the power exercised from the top downwards, he explained why, in his view, the real history of socialism did not begin until 1917. Radical or working-class movements lacking effective state power had never counted for much, and he was also indifferent to the provocative portrayal of pre-1914 Western socialism by right-wing labour historians. He was out of sympathy with Peter Stearns’s argument that European socialism ‘encouraged literacy and acquaintance not just with socialist work, but with traditional work as well’. [68] And the suggestion that socialist parties might have blunted workers’ revolutionary disaffection was of no interest to Hobsbawm. He was interested in the actual and the potential Gods of Power rather than in getting rid of them – except, perhaps, as an ultimate goal generations long after he had shuffled off his mortal coil.

So, when he ascribed socialism’s ultimate ‘success’ (sic!) in 1917 to ‘the Leninist “party of a new type” of professional revolutionaries’, he thought little of pre-1914 Western socialist movements anyway. And since imposing socialism from above was an unavoidably anti-democratic activity, ‘the total number of these “Leninist” soldiers in the necessarily ruthless and disciplined army of human emancipation was perhaps no larger than a few tens of thousands’. Even in Age of Extremes, Stalinism was defended retrospectively with a nostalgic and scarcely suppressed passion when Hobsbawm wrote:

What their new faith, and their unqualified loyalty to the headquarters of world revolution in Moscow, gave communists was the ability to see themselves (sociologically speaking) as parts of a universal church, not a sect. Moscow-oriented communist parties lost leaders by secession and purge, but until the heart had gone out of the movement after 1956 they did not split, unlike the fragmenting groups of the Marxist dissidents who followed Trotsky and the even more fissiparous Marxist-Leninist convecticles of post-1960 Maoism. [69]

In Grey Granite (1934), Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the anti-Stalinist Scottish socialist who attacked the Stalinists everywhere for depicting the working class as expendable ‘instruments’ of history whose chief progressive function in life was to be manipulated by ‘the Party’, portrayed the continuity of the struggles of the so-called ‘lower orders’ in a way that has always been alien to Hobsbawm. As Gibbon explained through his unusual 1930s leftist literary characters in Grey Granite – the third of his trilogy of novels later titled A Scots Quair:

There was a cast of Trajan: good head; Caesar – the Caesar they said was not Caesar. Why not a head of Spartacus? Or a plaque of the dripping line of crosses that manned the Appian Way with slaves – dripping and falling to bits through long months, they took days to die, torn by wild beasts. Or a statuary group of Roman slaves being fed to the fishes, alive in a pool... [70]

Then he depicted ‘the men who built Munster’s City of God and were hanged and burned in scores by the Church’, the Spartacus, the blacks of Toussaint L'Ouverture, Parker’s sailors who were hanged at the Nore, the ‘Broo men manhandled in the Royal Mile’ in Edinburgh. In his peculiarly Scottish anti-Stalinist socialist internationalism that was light-years away from the Stalinists’ usual depictions of chronicles of historical struggles written in the 1930s, Gibbon, whose real name was James Leslie Mitchell, identified with the opponents of international capitalism in a way that was foreign to Hobsbawm.

So when Gibbon described the ‘lost and be-bloodied in a hundred broken and tortured bodies all over the world, in Scotland, in England, in the torture-dens of the Nazis in Germany, in the torment-pits of the Polish Ukraine, a livid, twisted thing in the prisons where they tortured the Nanking communists, a Negro boy in an Alabama cell while they thrust the razors into his flesh, castrating with a lingering cruelty and care’, he was no Stalinist. [71] Unlike James, the ‘Black Jacobin’, neither Nairn nor Hobsbawm was ever sympathetic to socialist revolt from below, or even interested in the portrayal of the struggles of black peasants and workers in Padmore’s The Life and Struggles of the Negro Toilers of 1931. [72] Padmore had been expelled from the Third International in 1933, and his pioneering historical work had therefore to be buried in the Communist Party of Great Britain’s warehouses in London until they were disposed of in 1990. [73]

Although he casts his rich historian’s mind forwards and backwards in music, politics and historiography, Hobsbawm is indifferent to all unlicensed voices of disaffection unless they lead to ethnic tensions. But since murderous ethnic terrorism in today’s Balkans – words our ‘history man’ avoids using – has become a dominant feature of today, it was rather surprising to read in Age of Extremes that the means by which the American President Thomas Woodrow Wilson just after the end of the ‘Great War’ attempted to solve the ‘national conflicts tearing the continent apart’ at that juncture, could ‘still be seen in the Europe of the 1990s’. Indeed, he insists that ethnic cleansing in the Balkans ‘did not exist’ before 1914. [74]

Despite his decades-old struggles as an historian to confront nationalism in the modern world, Hobsbawm shares Nairn’s insensitivity to ethnic cleansing. By rejecting the undying, though increasingly uncertain, promise of democratic socialism in the 1990s world of exploitation, oppression, racism, mass unemployment and mass deaths by starvation, Hobsbawm’s ‘new’ history of nationalism and ethnic conflict in the former Soviet Empire is as dubious as is his failure to offer any account of the Stalinists’ brutal obliteration of socialists, anarchists, dissident workers and Left Oppositionists from the 1920s to the 1950s. However, as Mladen Grbin has pointed out in a newspaper article entitled ‘Blood and Tears of a Ghetto Land’, the oppression of ethnic minorities existed before the Treaty of Versailles:

The history of their [the Kosovan Albanians'] persecution is substantial throughout the existence of the Yugoslav state, and even earlier, with the forcible annexation of those lands by Serbia during the Balkan wars of 1912-13. The Albanian population has been and continues to be subject to racism, chauvinism and severe prejudice. During Tito’s time, there were rumours and reports of gross maltreatment of these people who were classed as second-class citizens, backward and primitive. [75]

The Marxist ideas on ‘backwardness’ and ‘primitive peoples’ were used to shore up ethnic oppression long before 1989. Besides, as a consistent supporter and historian of Stalinism in Russia, Hobsbawm cannot even glance at what happened to oppressed national minorities in the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’ without opening up questions about his own moral complicity in such crimes. Elderly conservative attitudes towards the past have not apparently stimulated searching or heretical questions or even historical curiosity about the origins of ethnic terrorism in the Russian Empire before and after the Soviets were formed.

But Hobsbawm’s very belated admission that the Kosovan Albanians were mistreated in the former Yugoslavia was of great importance. The existence of a common socialist culture shared by most leftists, whether Stalinists, anti-Stalinists, Trotskyists or democratic socialists, led to a common belief that in the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’ racism, ethnic antagonisms and national hatreds were things of the past.

If intellectuals like our ‘history man’ had been more critical about those questions before 1989-90, the later ‘discovery’ of ethnic and nationalistic hatreds in those countries could not have been utilised by the right to rubbish the anti-racist projects of the left. By the 1990s, the widespread knowledge of racism in the former so-called ‘socialist’ countries led many genuine socialists into moods of despair. Until we grasp the role of the leftist historiography of Nairn and Hobsbawm in creating illusions about the disappearance of racism and ethnic hatreds in the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’, some of the major barriers in the way of a democratic socialist revival will not be removed from present-day consciousness.

The question of nationalism as a serious theoretical problem for the left was largely passed over in silence by Hobsbawm until the time when the increasing disintegration of the Soviet Empire could no longer be denied. And the scarcely concealed intellectual origins of his own English nationalism existed long before the advent of the CPGB, the Popular Front, or Nairn’s conversion to Scottish nationalism in 1977. Reflecting the inherited English cultural and political imperialism of the traditional left, Raphael Samuel discussed it with brilliance when he wrote:

One of the more ambiguous legacies of radical democratic history is that of English nationalism – the notion that the English people have been somehow singled out for a special place in history, that the English language is superior to others, and that the liberty of the individual is more secure in England than it is abroad. [76]

Far from ever confronting the implications of English cultural imperialism for labour and socialist movements in the Celtic fringe, Hobsbawm’s books on world history contained serious omissions on this subject.

Hobsbawm restricted himself to one remark on James Connolly in his quartet of historical books. In the only reference, he wrote in The Age of Empire: ‘In our period it was perfectly possible to become simultaneously a class-conscious revolutionary and an Irish patriot, like James Connolly, who was to be executed in 1916 for leading the Easter Rising in Dublin.’ [77] This was utter nonsense – a factually inaccurate nonsense underlining how little Hobsbawm knew about the history of British socialism and the Celtic fringe. Generally speaking, socialists simply did not accept Connolly’s right to be ‘a class-conscious revolutionary’ socialist and a bourgeois nationalist before 1914, and in 1916 most socialists dismissed him as a bourgeois nationalist. [78] And Hobsbawm was hostile to the Easter Rising, not to mention Garveyism and Pan-Africanism, though he seldom acknowledged this in print. [79]

By 1968, when his Industry and Empire was published, he did not create any space to discuss James Connolly, John Maclean, the Clydeside socialist, or ‘Big’ Jim Larkin. [80] For the ‘history man’, the latter two members of the first, early-1920s, Fourth International – dissidents who wanted to break up the British Empire and replace it with democratic socialism – did not exist. Unlike Nairn, however, Hobsbawm understood the particular weaknesses of Scottish Labour representation at Westminster before 1914, though neither of them understood Patrick Renshaw’s argument that the support in Britain for the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World) was restricted to the culturally alienated Celtic fringe.

When in 1988 I wrote to ask Hobsbawm about the reason for such omissions, he did not mention John Maclean at all. However, he criticised ‘Marxists for accepting the Fenian version of Irish history (James Connolly) which is why little valuable work was done, except by unofficial ones – and even they (Strauss) were too Fenian’, before adding some extraordinarily interesting remarks:

I remain in the curious position of disliking, distrusting, disapproving and fearing nationalism wherever it exists, perhaps even more than in the 1970s, but recognising its enormous force, which must be harnessed for progress if possible. And sometimes it is possible. We cannot let the right have the monopoly of the flag. Some things can be achieved by mobilising nationalist feelings. Some great triumphs of the left – notably during the anti-fascist period [in the 1930s], and in China, Vietnam, would have been impossible if we had not managed to mobilise national feeling for progress. I also happen to like some peoples and sympathise with their national feelings, but that’s a matter of personal taste: there is something I find pleasant about small nations and their attempt to build or maintain a separate culture, for example, the Estonians or Finns. However, I cannot be a nationalist and neither, in theory, can any Marxist. When they try to be, look what happens: Israel, which was built by people who firmly believed in Marxist orthodoxy plus nationalism. As with James Connolly, what remains is the nationalism, not the Marxism. [81]

Before examining Hobsbawm’s very complex attitudes towards nations and nationalism in his Age of Extremes, it will be useful to consider what he said about the Popular Front in Nations and Nationalism since 1870. Arguing that the communists’ greatest achievement in the 1930s was the mobilisation of ‘anti-fascist nationalism’, he asserted that ‘support for Spain was not a simple act of international solidarity, like the anti-imperialist campaigns for India or Morocco, which had a more restricted appeal’. Then when he praised the role of the ‘communists’ in the Spanish Civil War, he wrote:

Moreover, inasmuch as fascism and war were identified with particular foreign states, Germany and Italy, what was at stake in this struggle was not only the domestic future of Britain or France, or war and peace in general, but the defence of the British or French nations against the Germans. [82]

When his Age of Extremes was published a mere four years later, he dismissed all his previous arguments for the achievements of the Popular Front. The chastised, tamed and disillusioned ‘communist’ historian now explained – though he did not say what had led him to a legitimate change of mind – that:

In fact, and contrary to the beliefs of this author’s generation, the Spanish Civil War was not the first phase of the Second World War, and the victory of General Franco who, as we have seen, cannot even be described as a fascist, had no significant global consequences. It merely kept Spain (and Portugal) isolated from the rest of the world for another 30 years. [83]

In any case, he had always exaggerated the presence of the early communists’ anti-colonialism in Britain, and in The Age of Empire he had gone on to insist ahistorically that ‘Western socialists did little actually to organise the resistance of colonial peoples to their rulers, until the era of the Communist International’. [84] In fact, the early members of the CPGB told Lenin that they could not support black revolts against the British Empire.

Hobsbawm, Jazz and the Blues: A Culture of Quiescence and Apathy?

In Music of the World: A History (1949), Kurt Pahlen insisted that ‘the real jazz’ was ‘of black origin’. Describing the role of American soldiers in introducing jazz to Europeans during the First World War, he said:

A frenzied will to live was the consequence of so much blood and misery. Jazz became the expression of an unfettered epoch, always looking for new sensations, for sensuous stimulations, and for the means of stupefaction. Jazz spread like wildfire. From Paris to Shanghai, from San Francisco to Rio de Janeiro it dominated dancing and musical entertainment. The vital expression of a naďve, childlike race had become a gigantic international business. [85]

This racist nonsense was still accepted by most people in the West during the late 1940s.

Circumscribed by the absence of left-wing ‘vanguard’ organisations, ‘black jazz’ was, in Hobsbawm’s opinion, irrelevant to black alienation and the frustrations. In Age of Extremes, he was both insensitive and remarkably conservative (with a small ‘c’) when he wrote about jazz. From Hobsbawm’s late twentieth-century perspective, jazz was ‘yet another symbol of modernity, the machine age, a break with the past – in short, another manifesto of cultural revolution’. Furthermore, the ‘triumphant Broadway “musical” of the interwar years, and the dance tunes and ballads which studded it, were a bourgeois genre, though one unthinkable without the influence of jazz’. [86]

Hobsbawm gave no indication that jazz was born out of the legacy of ‘Negro’ slavery in the USA. There was no hint that it expressed both alienation and revolt; and he seems ignorant of the fact that as late as the 1950s New Orleans clubs offering ‘authentic Voodoo Dancing and Drumming’ were raided by the police. [87] Just as untidy class struggles were irrelevant to his portrayal of ‘primitive rebels’, ‘bandits’ and anarchists throughout the twentieth century, so the rhythms of revolt and resistance and music of ‘the non-white races’ could not be integrated into the symbols of modernity and alleged acceptance of ‘the machine age’. Against Hobsbawm’s interpretation of twentieth-century cultural history, Hal Rammel has argued that African-American and Afro-Caribbean music are examples of ‘an autonomous life-sustaining creativity against the grain of the dominant white industrial culture’. [88] At the heart of Hobsbawm’s intellectual thought-world, revolt of any importance had to be institutionalised.

When he denied that jazz and by implication ‘the blues’ were not expressions of African-Americans’ opposition to ‘the dominant white industrial culture’, Hobsbawm was rejecting the sophisticated Marxist analyses of the history of blacks in America. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, when ‘the first sounds of jazz were emerging’ in New Orleans, WEB Du Bois began the African-Americans’ sustained ideological fight against racism. As Paul Oliver, an authority on the blues, summed up: ‘Among the black folk themselves something of the new spirit was reflected in the emergence of new arts.’ [89] From Hobsbawm’s standpoint, jazz and the blues were apolitical and lacking the ‘rhythms of resistance’ because their practitioners were not conscious leftists with a political programme.

In Roll, Jordan Roll: The World The Slaves Made (1974), Eugene D Genovese offered a subtle account of black music. When he commented on ‘soul music’, he said: ‘Underlying black resistance to prevailing white values, then, has been a set of particular ideas concerning individual and community responsibility.’ [90] Moreover, Genovese wrote of the African-Americans’ slavery before the Civil War and the few surviving songs in which they expressed ‘their satirical thrusts at the whites’. [91] All the same, in a recent letter to me, Hobsbawm most emphatically denied that jazz culture challenged the values of ‘white industrial capitalism’, humane values, or racism.

Though the First World War was a turning-point in introducing jazz to other countries, including European ones, it was not until the 1930s that Stalinist ‘communism’ denounced ‘the culture’ of ‘the Negroes’. In the early 1930s, the CPGB denounced both the ‘decadent jazz culture’ of the ‘Negroes’, and the Gaelic language and culture of the Scottish Gaels were regarded as reactionary expressions of right-wing romantics. [92] And Martin Bauml Doberman revealed that in the 1930s, Paul Robeson, the great black singer, also ‘scorned jazz as “decadent"’. [93] But by the end of the Second World War, the socialists around the New York newspaper the New Leader were complaining that ‘the Stalinists had cornered the jazz market’.

When I wrote to Hobsbawm in March 1999 and raised questions about jazz, he denied that there was any hostility to jazz in British or American communist circles in the 1930s. Furthermore, American communists supported ‘jazz as both a folk art and an expression of Negro exclusiveness’. [94] Nonetheless, in the early 1930s, the British Stalinists’ Communist Review railed against jazz and Scottish Gaelic culture.

In Hobsbawm’s evaluation of jazz in his Age of Extremes, there was no account of white Americans’ hostility to jazz or the role of jazz in, for example, the 1940s. When he wrote to me recently, he argued that: ‘(A) Jazz was not all black; (B) Black jazz was independent of [the] dominant culture, but not consciously against it. New Orleans jazz was not actually very interested in race, although it took racism (sadly) for granted.’ [95] There were no cultural – or any other – struggles revolving around jazz. For a Marxist of his international stature, Hobsbawm’s views on jazz are weird, conventionally conservative with a small ‘c’, and, above all, ahistorical.

Though CLR James made no specific comments about jazz, he frequented cafés in New York where he heard jazz musicians. And he was aware of the links between American working-class insurgency and the popular arts. In his ‘Literary Executor’s Afterword’ to James’s book American Civilisation, Robert Hill made the often hidden connections between the workers’ new class struggles and jazz:

This popular attitude of resistance so characteristic of the 1940s was perhaps best expressed in the dissonant musical phenomenon of be-bop – ‘the intense, high-speed revolution that has become jazz’s most enduring style'... The zoot-suit phenomenon, which became the dress of choice of African-American and Hispanic hipsters in the forties, was emblematic of the new defiant mood. [96]

Far from jazz being a symbol of predominantly white capitalist culture, jazz and the blues often expressed an independent, autonomous culture – a culture of resistance and protest – which was often at odds with the values of the Henry Ford who at first ‘supported’ and then rubbished the murals of Diego Rivera.

In 1968, Eugene Genovese wrote: ‘Black musicians have had to fight a lonely and bitter battle to convince whites that jazz is a serious art form and not an entertainment.’ As if he were anticipating Hobsbawm’s arguments in Age of Extremes, Genovese said that ‘black jazz and white jazz are not, and could not be, quite the same’. Then he attributed the arguments of those who insisted on the black-and-white distinction in respect of intellects and sensibilities ‘formed in a liberal bourgeois milieu’ – a milieu in which it was assumed that the ‘Negro’ insistence on the fundamental differences of two forms of jazz was rooted in ‘obscurantist black racism’. [97]

Moreover, Genovese already lived in a world on the edge of the chalk-face of the lives of blacks, and he was not in those years a Hobsbawm. Challenging American racism and the dominant culture’s ‘long history of white crimes against black culture and the black intelligentsia’, Genovese made an important distinction between black ‘radical nationalists and black cultural nationalists’. [98] In contrast to Hobsbawm, who was, and is, against both the ‘radical nationalists’ and the ‘cultural nationalists’, Genovese made plain his support for the advocates of an independent black culture strongly antagonistic towards white capitalism. Summing up, Genovese said: ‘The argument over culture versus subculture is rapidly losing its force, for blacks are now consciously molding a national Afro-American culture of their own.’ [99] In Hobsbawm’s thought-world, there has never been any space for any independent and, especially, anti-capitalist culture, whether the cultural products came out of the experiences of black peasants and workers or the white working classes.

Hobsbawm’s White Eurocentric Stalinism

The omissions in Nations and Nationalism since 1870 and in Age of Extremes are simply staggering. Unable to grasp Edward Said’s subtle discussion of the links between imperialism, cultural imperialism and nationalism, Hobsbawm made the extraordinary comment that:

Negritude is a feeling which really exists, not only among black intellectuals and élites, but whenever an assembly of the more dark-skinned confront those of lighter skin. It may be a political factor, but mere colour-consciousness has not produced a single African state, not even Ghana and Senegal, whose founders were inspired by Pan-African ideas. [100]

He did not know that Pan-Africanism with black consciousness at its core was what brought about the collapse of European imperialism after the Second World War. This self-censorship allowed him to add the new description of ‘colour-consciousness’ to that of English workers’ ‘bottom-dog consciousness’ – an extraordinarily élitist idea for a socialist. Hobsbawm avoided the serious historical question of probing into what alienated English workers, African Americans and African peasants and workers from the established world order after the Second World War.

What Hobsbawm has always seemed incapable of grasping is Said’s argument that the consciousness of an individual was made up of complicated strands of inheritance and collective experience. In his brilliant and perceptive Culture and Imperialism (1993), Said said:

No one today is purely one thing. Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are no more than starting-points, which if followed into actual experience for only a moment are quickly left behind. Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale. But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or black, or Western, or oriental. Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their cultures and ethnic identities. [101]

So descriptions of men and women as vehicles of ‘colour-consciousness’ or ‘bottom-dog consciousness’ were neither helpful nor useful.

Moreover, when Said reviewed Age of Extremes, he ridiculed what Hobsbawm had said in Nations and Nationalism since 1870: ‘I recall with some amusement his characterisation there of Arabian anti-imperialist nationalism as the natural high spirits of martial tribes.’ [102] Hobsbawm was always a prisoner of the Stalinist notion of twentieth-century global nationalism as ‘a new kind of internationalism’, and he simply did not read writers like Du Bois or James. Certainly, what Du Bois said in 1902 in The Souls of Black Folk about anti-imperialist nationalism was beyond Hobsbawm’s understanding. Explaining the subjective reality behind the infant movement of Pan-Africanists, Du Bois said:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels this two-ness – an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. [103]

And Said might well have had Hobsbawm within his critical sights when he argued that ‘one cannot postpone discussions of slavery, colonialism, racism in any serious investigations of modern Indian, African, Latin and North American, Arabic, Caribbean, and Commonwealth literature’. [104] Yet this was what Hobsbawm avoided in Age of Extremes. Individuals have always had many identities; and a major ingredient underlying Hobsbawm’s so-called ‘colour-consciousness’ was the Pan-Africanists’ hostility to the ‘colour bar’, racist prejudice against African Americans, Asians, Africans, and the political demand of ‘Africa for the [Black] Africans’. Ignoring the fact that Padmore was expelled from the Third International in 1934 for his so-called black nationalism and ‘black chauvinism’, Hobsbawm could not make space to discuss Padmore or James in any of his many books and countless articles on labour and socialist history.

Moreover, in 1905, announcing what was to become the agenda of the small Pan-Africanist movement, when he was already a member of the editorial board of the New York-based socialist magazine the New Review, Du Bois asserted: ‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour-line – the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and in the islands of the sea.’ [105] Unlike Edward Said, Hobsbawm has never regarded ‘anti-imperialist nationalism’ as an influential political movement: a movement engendered by the results of slavery, the slave trade and Empire domination.

Unfortunately, Hobsbawm was unaware of the black dimension of the history of the Atlantic ‘working class’, and so he had to ignore Claude McKay, Du Bois and James in that history. In responding to my question about why he kept major Pan-Africans out of Age of Extremes, he gave a rather evasive reply: ‘The only reason why I did not mention CLR James, whom I admire, is that one cannot mention everyone – for example, Gramsci is absent from my book.’ But so were all the black anti-racist and anti-imperialist thinkers – Du Bois, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and many others besides – and acknowledging any of them would have forced the ‘history man’ into facing arguments that are incompatible with his portrayal of the short twentieth century in Age of Extremes. [106]

The enormous role played by nationalism within Hobsbawm’s historical perspective had to colour almost all of his books. Again, the CPGB Historians Group was decisive in shaping his pre-1970s political attitudes to nationalism in general and English – not British – nationalism in particular. Bill Schwarz argued that the period between 1946 and 1956 allowed the historians in that group to develop ‘a profound sense of Englishness’ before they ‘called for a major reassessment of English culture and political history from the seventeenth century onwards’. [107] But just as the prolific CPGB Historians Group kept silent about the early denunciation of racist British imperialism by Claude McKay and George Padmore soon after the First World War, so the party’s tolerance of a corrupt pro-imperialist racism in the British socialist movement helped to suppress studies of Scottish history, including labour history, from a socialist perspective, by refusing to recognise any of the historical ‘peculiarities of the Scots’ from the seventeenth century onwards.

No one was more aware of the weaknesses of the CPGB Historians Group than Hobsbawm. As he explained later: ‘We were particularly weak on the history of the Empire and colonial exploitation, Scottish, Welsh and Irish history, and the role of women in economic life.’ [108] Yet in his quartet of books on the history of the modern world after 1789, he did nothing to rectify his known shortcomings as a professional historian.

When he first published The Break-Up of Britain in 1977, Nairn had no more knowledge of Scottish history than Hobsbawm. With an ‘innocent’ forgetfulness that inhibited him from realising how recent his own conversion to Scottish nationalism really was, Nairn tried to occupy the moral high-ground of the ‘socialists’ – ghosts, spectres and all – by asserting: ‘The Time and Tide interview illustrated what happens to the Leninism of a Viennese Professor under tension: the United Kingdom equivalent of the Habsburg old days.’ Furthermore, in Nairn’s view, ‘the old gent was also much affected by visits to Catalonia and elsewhere’ after 1979; and Hobsbawm’s painful discovery that ‘workers cared about which nation they belonged to’ gave Nairn great polemical satisfaction.

But Nairn’s own very belated adhesion to Scottish – and other – nationalism was, as he admitted, the outcome of his own deep pessimism about the prospects for socialism. Like Hobsbawm, he had to ignore the role of the totalitarian demons and spectres of pre-1989 ‘socialism’ in allowing the world’s ruling classes to rubbish the dream of democratic socialism from below.

Hobsbawm emphasised the cruelty and unimaginable barbarism of the Nazi Holocaust at the same time as the massive crimes of Stalinism were being disregarded or played down, and historians of the right and the authoritarian left have failed to portray the hidden reality of Russian totalitarianism both before and after the Second World War. In spite of Hobsbawm’s ‘dumbing-down’ of the significance of the Spanish Civil War, it was left to the old dissident socialist Boris Souvarine to reveal other truths. In documenting Stalin’s role in deporting whole ethnic groups to other parts of Russia during the Second World War, he also exposed Stalin’s racist practices. He focused, too, on the neglected fact: ‘Just as Soviet racism hides behind a constitutional façade of ethnic equality and religious freedom, most communist realities hide behind theoretical and propaganda fictions.’ [109] Besides, as the historical truth of the similarities between Stalinism and Nazism broke through the West’s curtain of silence, Marx’s ‘spectre of communism’ of 1848 had been replaced in countless frightened and haunted working-class heads by the new spectre of totalitarian ‘1984-ism’.

In spite of Said’s critical work, Hobsbawm’s admission of the profound theoretical and historical weaknesses of the CPGB Historians Group has not led him to any re-evaluation of the slave trade, slavery, racist imperialism and cultural imperialism in relation to labour history in the making of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Nations and Nationalism since 1870, Hobsbawm criticised those in the USA who wanted ‘to declare English the only official language of the US’. He argued with a belated common sense that ‘hispanophone immigration’ is ‘sufficiently massive in some parts of the USA to make it desirable, and sometimes necessary, to address the public in its own language’. Yet in employing the ‘cultural capital’ of his ‘communist’ past, he was careful not to question the superiority of the English language in the US or in other parts of the world. [110]

However, even if Hobsbawm and many other authoritarians of the left had started to adopt more supportive attitudes towards oppressed minorities than in the past, and especially those in the former USSR and similar countries, the prospects for socialism from below were no better at the end of the twentieth century. To recognise, expose and exorcise the ghosts and demons of the Stalinist past is an inescapable precondition for the resurrection of socialism from below as a viable alternative to the capitalists’ New World Order.

In Beyond Capital (1995), István Mészáros revealed that he had been forced by history and circumstances to abandon the sort of general attitude to class struggle represented by historians like Hobsbawm. Recognising the contradictions in his own work as a Marxist thinker, he said:

However, in the light of disheartening historical and personal experience, it was necessary to acknowledge that one could only remain a socialist despite and not because of the Soviet Union, in contrast to the way in which many people in the West tried to preserve their left-wing convictions by proxy, abstracting from the conditions of their own countries and fictionalising at the same time the reality of their proclaimed model. [111]

Unlike the elderly Hobsbawm, Mészáros argued for ‘a truthful historical perspective’ freed from ‘the self-interested mythologies of the Stalinist past’. [112] But in the pages of Bandits and Age of Extremes, Hobsbawm refused to distance himself from Stalinism. And it was this which was responsible for his disdain for untidy or ‘illegitimate’ class struggles at any time or in any place in the past.

When he chronicled the Western world during the age of capital, Hobsbawm described ‘the drama of progress, that key word of the age: massive, enlightened, sure of itself, self-satisfied but above all inevitable’. Admitting to a (white) Eurocentric male bias in his historical work, he argued that ‘for the peoples of the world outside capitalism’, Western imperialism resulted in ‘the choice between a doomed resistance in terms of their ancient traditions and ways’, or understanding, exploiting and ‘manipulating [capitalist] “progress"’. [113] So the same drama of progress was seen in the societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ until their collapse. Unlike Mészáros, however, Hobsbawm refuses to re-examine ‘the mythologies’ reinforced by his own life’s work.

Though he never made an outright admission of his original sin as an historian, Hobsbawm had been a practitioner of what the one-time Trotskyist Michael Kidron called ‘operational history’. However, in the 1980s, when the drama of progress was replaced by a counter-revolution of staggering retrogression, Hobsbawm gave up the ghost without seeing that he could still have contributed to a valuable critique of the real brutality of the New World Order alongside the unmasking of ‘actually existing socialism’ as totalitarian state anti-socialism.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Hobsbawm’s work as an historian was his refusal to discuss, still less to document, the role of the totalitarian Russian state in obliterating socialists and anarchists from the early 1920s onwards. Furthermore, since his thinking as an historian-cum-political activist was always dominated by his over-optimistic ‘economistic’ assessment of the ‘success’ of ‘actually existing socialism’, by 1993 he was forced to express ultra-pessimistic views about the outcome of the history of the twentieth century from a ‘communist’ viewpoint. Nevertheless, unlike Nairn’s acceptance of the fashionable arguments about ‘the end of history’, Hobsbawm was too good an historian to fall into such an absurd trap.

By 1975, Hobsbawm had already become a saddened and disillusioned man. The USSR had always been his main index to the growth of socialism in the world of the twentieth century. So he wrote:

We thought declining capitalism would be unable to compete successfully with the rival socialist economy, especially one so much larger than before. But the opposite happened. Capitalism outproduced socialism and even began to reinfiltrate and reintegrate the socialist economy by virtue of its technological superiority and greater wealth. [114]

Towards the end of the 1970s, Hobsbawm voiced a genuine detestation for Thatcherism when he wrote: ‘Right now I particularly fear repression and intolerance and the revival of jingo demagogy and know-nothingism and intellectual barbarism from Thatcher and her followers.’ Furthermore, he asserted that ‘the Polish regime was not nearly so repressive as the regimes in Chile and Argentina’. By then Hobsbawm’s ‘internationalism’ had become, in a phrase coined by the pre-1914 Scottish socialist John Carstairs Matheson, ‘a sort of international jingoism’.

By the mid-1980s, Hobsbawm used Marxism Today to rubbish any traditional ideas of how to foster the project of socialist internationalism. And just as he gave away the extent of his gallop to the right by writing about comprehensive schools as ‘sink schools’, so the British miners’ strike in 1984-85 had unleashed his contempt for left-wing workers’ leaders. When I was comparing notes with the labour historian Royden Harrison on an essay that I was planning on Hobsbawm in 1988, Harrison wrote:

His [Hobsbawm’s] contempt for the Labour Left is continuous – half-educated plebeians. I am told that his views on Arthur Scargill have to be heard to be believed. Nostalgia for the Popular Front – not the united front. We who are nothing will not be all, but we can count for a lot more if we get the ears of leaders and a pivotal position. And Kinnock encourages him. [115]

Throughout all of his major books on the history of labour, Hobsbawm had always attached an inordinate importance to the role of ‘cadres’ – or officers of the revolution – in the struggle for the onward march of ‘progress’.

Ghosts, ‘Bottom-Dog’ and Socialist Consciousness and the House of Labour

At the end of Age of Extremes, Hobsbawm said: ‘And if we try to build the third millennium on that basis [of prolonging the past or the present], we shall fail. And the price of failure, that is to say the alternative to a changed society, is darkness.’ [116] Unfortunately, he undermined the case for profound egalitarian change when he asked a question about an alternative to ‘the ruthless, brutal, command socialism’ of ‘the October revolution’ by concluding very pessimistically:

To demonstrate the feasibility of such a socialist economy is not, of course, to demonstrate its necessary superiority to, say, some socially juster version of the Golden Age mixed economy, still less that people would prefer it. It is merely to separate the question of socialism in general from that of the specific experience of ‘really existing socialism’. [117]

The resurrection of a mass subjective conviction of the relevance of socialism from below in the new millennium – the precondition of any democratic socialism – will increasingly force historians of the left to confront the ghosts, demons and spectres of Russian, East European, Chinese and other totalitarian state ‘socialism’ masquerading as the socialism of the First, Second and early Third Internationals. And since authentic egalitarian socialism will not be imposed on millions of people in the future, the priority for leftist historians must be to look afresh at the disaffected forces of revolt from below – and their rich oppositional culture (as distinct from ‘bottom-dog’ and ‘colour consciousness’) – instead of seeking ‘salvation’ in history’s so-called and fatalistic laws governing ‘progress’.

Hobsbawm always disapproved of the adversaries in the House of Labour – for example, anarchists, independent socialists and anti-Stalinists – without understanding that the conflicting forces inside that house had kept socialists’ hopes alive. Moreover, although he did not accept the idea that an individual’s biography was ‘the impersonal biography of an idea’, he gave excessive weight to the economic ‘laws’ of history at the expense of individuals and collective struggles before 1989. But, although he always offered a more subtle social picture of the interplay between economics and politics than Nairn had done at his best in the 1960s, Hobsbawm used economic forces to obliterate human personality.

From Hobsbawm’s perspective, James was one of his major adversaries amongst the anti-Stalinist socialists and Pan-Africans in the international House of Labour. Unlike Nairn and Hobsbawm, James kept his faith in socialism as the only alternative to barbarism; and, when we turn to look at the critical question of whether socialism might have a future or not, some of the questions asked by the ‘Black Jacobin’ will remain valid well into the twenty-first century. Perhaps those socialist scholars who have been anti-Establishment outsiders (as Marx was) have always been the best equipped to ask the difficult questions about their own values and traditions.


1. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, pp 2-3.

2. R Gott, ‘The History Man: Reform or Revolution?’, Guardian, 26 February 1988.

3. The Guru Who Retains Neil Kinnock’s Ear’, Observer, 9 September 1985.

4. See Peter Fryer, ‘A Workers’ Paper and an Evasive Historian: Three Personal Columns’, Workers International, Volume 2, nos 1-2, 1997-98.

5. R Gott, ‘The History Man: Reform or Revolution?’, Guardian, 26 February 1988.

6. M Gross, ‘An Interview with Eric Hobsbawm’, Time and Tide, Autumn 1985.

7. EJ Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: An Economic History of Britain since 1750, London, 1968, p 241.

8. R Gott, ‘The History Man: Reform or Revolution?’, Guardian, 26 February 1988.

9. EJ Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: An Economic History of Britain since 1750, London, 1968, p 249.

10. H Abelove, B Blackmar and P Dimock, Visions of History, New York, 1983, p 30.

11. Letter from EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 13 May 1988.

12. Letter from EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 23 May 1988.

13. A Lipow, Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement, Berkeley, 1982, p 8.

14. EJ Hobsbawm, Labour’s Turning Point, London, 1948, p xxiv.

15. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy in Britain’, The Modern Quarterly, no 6, 1951, p 337. By 1993, socialism could not, in his considered view, be resurrected in the foreseeable future.

16. M Gross, ‘An Interview with Eric Hobsbawm’, Time and Tide, Autumn 1985.

17. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘The Taming of Parliamentary Democracy in Britain’, The Modern Quarterly, no 6, 1951, p 337.

18. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘The Historians Group of the Communist Party’, in M Cornforth (ed), Rebels and Their Causes, Atlantic Highlands, 1978, p 31.

19. EJ Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries, London, 1973, p 74.

20. EJ Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries, London, 1973, p 69.

21. R Samuel, ‘Sources of Marxist History’, New Left Review, no 120, 1980, p 85.

22. R Samuel, ‘Sources of Marxist History’, New Left Review, no 120, 1980, p 90.

23. R Samuel, ‘Sources of Marxist History’, New Left Review, no 120, 1980, p 89.

24. R Johnson, ‘Culture and Historians’, in J Clarke, C Critcher and R Johnson (eds), Working Class Culture, London, 1979, p 259.

25. R Samuel, ‘Sources of Marxist History’, New Left Review, no 120, 1980, p 94.

26. EJ Hobsbawm, Bandits, New York, 1969, p 95.

27. EJ Hobsbawm, Bandits, New York, 1969, p 96.

28. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘Progress in History’, Marxism Today, February 1962, p 47.

29. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘Progress in History’, Marxism Today, February 1962, p 48.

30. See Peter Fryer, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain, 1984, pp 214-72.

31. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Moving the Centre: The Struggle For Cultural Freedoms, London, 1993, p 143.

32. Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Moving the Centre: The Struggle For Cultural Freedoms, London, 1993, p 118.

33. Peter Linebaugh, ‘Days of Villainy: A Reply to Two Critics’, International Socialism, no 63, 1994, pp 114-16.

34. Jesse Lemisch, ‘"Mob” Versus the “Crowd”: The British Marxists and Early American History; and a Word about “Empiricism” and “Theory"’, William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, no 56, January 1999, pp 231-32.

35. Jesse Lemisch, ‘"Mob” Versus the “Crowd”: The British Marxists and Early American History; and a Word about “Empiricism” and “Theory"’, William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, no 56, January 1999, pp 231-32.

36. Harvey Mitchell and Peter Stearns, The European Labor Movement, the Working Classes and the Origins of Social Democracy, Itasea, Illinois, 1971, p 207.

37. EH Carr, What Is History?, London, 1972, p 213.

38. EJ Hobsbawm, Bandits, New York, 1969, pp 104, 107.

39. EJ Hobsbawm, Bandits, New York, 1969, p 55.

40. J Clarke, ‘Capital and Culture: The Postwar Working Class Revisited’, in J Clarke, C Critcher and R Johnson (eds), Working Class Culture, London, 1979, p 249.

41. Grace Lee Boggs, Living for Change: An Autobiography, Minneapolis, 1998, p 58.

42. EJ Hobsbawm, Bandits, New York, 1969, p 217.

43. K Marx, The Holy Family, Moscow, 1969, p 89.

44. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, New York, 1964, p 20.

45. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, New York, 1964, p 18.

46. JF Horrabin, A Short History of the British Empire, London, nd, p 51.

47. JF Horrabin, A Short History of the British Empire, London, nd, p 38.

48. Louis C Fraina, ‘Lincoln and his Times’, Plebs, April 1911.

49. See James D Young, The World of CLR James: The Unfragmented Vision, Glasgow, 1999.

50. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, pp 14-15; EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, New York, 1964, p 162.

51. F Fejtö (ed), The Opening Of An Era, 1848: An Historical Symposium, London, 1953, p 427.

52. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 11.

53. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 171.

54. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 166.

55. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 47.

56. See Richard Johnson, ‘Culture and the Historians’, in J Clarke, C Critcher and R Johnson (eds), Working Class Culture, London, 1979, p 239.

57. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 136.

58. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 3.

59. New York Review of Books, 14 April 1988. Here again this cumulative impact on general thinking about the potential for socialist internationalism and the alleged ‘insignificance’ of the traditional internationalism of the first three Internationals stands out as a strong factor in ‘leftist’ intellectuals’ retreats before a triumphant global imperialism.

60. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 326.

61. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 326.

62. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 327.

63. H Stuart Hughes, Oswald Spengler, New York, 1952; K Rexroth, An Autobiographical Novel, New York, 1964, p 138.

64. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 130.

65. EJ Hobsbawm, ‘Class Consciousness in History’, in I Mészáros (ed), Aspects of History and Class Consciousness, London, 1971, p 17.

66. V Serge, Memoirs of a Revolutionary, Oxford, 1963, p 323.

67. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 265.

68. Harvey Mitchell and Peter Stearns, The European Labor Movement, the Working Classes and the Origins of Social Democracy, Itasea, Illinois, 1971, p 207.

69. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, pp 72-73.

70. Lewis Grassic Gibbon, A Scots Quair, Harmondsworth, 1992, p 407.

71. Lewis Grassic Gibbon, A Scots Quair, Harmondsworth, 1992, p 451.

72. G Padmore, The Life and Struggles of the Negro Toilers, London, 1931.

73. I owe this information to my friend Dr Raymond Challinor.

74. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, p 31.

75. Mladen Grbin, ‘Blood and Tears of a Ghetto Land’, The Herald, 3 August 1998.

76. Raphael Samuel, ‘Sources of Marxist History’, New Left Review, no 120, 1980, p 41.

77. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 142.

78. See James D Young, ‘John Maclean, Socialism and the Easter Rising’, Saothar, no 16, 1991, pp 23-34.

79. See James D Young, ‘John Leslie, 1856-1921: A Scottish- Irishman as Internationalist’, Saothar, no 18, 1993, pp 55-62.

80. EJ Hobsbawm, Industry and Empire: An Economic History of Britain since 1750, London, 1968, pp 263-65.

81. EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 13 May 1988.

82. EJ Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870, Cambridge, 1990, p 147.

83. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, p 156.

84. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Empire, 1875-1914, London, 1994, p 72.

85. Kurt Pahlen, Music of the World: A History, London, 1949, pp 368, 370.

86. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, pp 183-84, 331. In the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, the word jazz was defined as ‘a kind of music in syncopated time, as played by Negro bands in the United States’.

87. Paul Garon, ‘The Midnight Revolution: Surrealism and Jazz in New Orleans in the 1950s’, in F Rosemont (ed), Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion, Chicago, 1985, pp 145-46.

88. H Rammel, ‘Musicking of the Spheres’, in F Rosemont (ed), Arsenal: Surrealist Subversion, Chicago, 1985, p 98.

89. P Oliver, The Story of the Blues, London, 1997, p 14.

90. ED Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made, New York, 1974, p 315.

91. ED Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World The Slaves Made, New York, 1974, p 581.

92. R Maclennan, ‘The National Question in Scotland’, Communist Review, October 1932.

93. MB Doberman, Paul Robeson, London, 1989, p 177.

94. EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 16 March 1999.

95. EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 16 March 1999.

96. RA Hill, ‘Literary Executor’s Afterword’, in CLR James, American Civilisation, Oxford, 1993, p 328.

97. ED Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History, New York, 1971, p 180.

98. ED Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History, New York, 1971, pp 184-85.

99. ED Genovese, In Red and Black: Marxian Explorations in Southern and Afro-American History, New York, 1971, p 180.

100. EJ Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870, Cambridge, 1990, p 67.

101. E Said, Culture and Imperialism, London, 1993, pp 407-08.

102. E Said, ‘Contra Mundun’, London Review of Books, 9 March 1995.

103. WEB Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, New York, 1994, p 2.

104. E Said, Culture and Imperialism, London, 1993, p 383.

105. WEB Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, New York, 1994, p 3.

106. EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 4 September 1996.

107. Bill Schwarz, ‘"The People” in History: The Communist Party Historians Group’, in R Johnson (ed), Making Histories, London, 1982, p 54.

108. Hobsbawm, ‘The Historians Group of the Communist Party’, in R Johnson (ed), Making Histories, London, 1982, p 31.

109. B Souvarine, ‘Stalinism’, in M Drachkovitch (ed), Marxism in the Modern World, Stanford, 1965, pp 90-104.

110. EJ Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1870, Cambridge, 1990, p 165

111. I Mészáros, Beyond Capital, London, 1995, p xx.

112. I Mészáros, Beyond Capital, London, 1995, p 969.

113. EJ Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital, 1848-1875, London, 1977, p 16.

114. EJ Hobsbawm to JD Young, 10 October 1996.

115. R Harrison to JD Young, 10 October 1988.

116. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, p 585.

117. EJ Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, London, 1994, p 498.