Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) died this morning

One of my many regrets is my failure to take a course with Eric Hobsbawm when I had the chance to do so. It is not just that he was a preeminent historian of the modern era, which he clearly was. His “Ages” quartet — The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital, The Age of Empire and The Age of Extremes — will be read for generations. That was just one component of my wish. What cinched it was having learned from friends that Hobsbawm was a generous, decent man with respect to his students — a teacher, to briefly state the matter.

But circumstances thwarted me.

That said, Hobsbawm was a political being, and his life was marked by his commitment to the Soviet Union and to the Stalinist Party. He, like many, eventually and inexorably reached a fork in the road traveled by many left radicals. The fork: The radical had to affirm in some way Soviet Communism or abandon the Soviet Union as a path that was not worth taking. Although critical of what the Soviet Union had become, Hobsbawm could not abandon The Revolution until the bitter end neared. Sadly or not, the October Revolution did and could not prefigure The Revolution. It quickly became a national revolution and, subsequently, a source of reactionary crime. This commitment, tempered by his criticism of the USSR, will always diminish his legacy, as also will the misjudgments motivated by his choice.

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