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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/7/19

Eric Hobsbawm, the Joy of History and All That Jazz

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The Best Documentary Ever - Historian Eric Hobsbawm
The Best Documentary Ever - Historian Eric Hobsbawm
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We all lose by not having Eric Hobsbawm absorb the geopolitical dementia of the early 21st century to later refine it in sharp, crisp historical analysis.

A new, exhaustive biography, "Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History," by his former student and Regius Professor of history emeritus at Cambridge, Richard Evans out now in the U.K., and in the U.S. in April, allows us to evaluate the extent of our loss.

It all starts with what else an undying love of good books: "In the end, one doesn't just read them, one lives with them. That's civilization." That's so apt coming from someone who in 1940, during the war, read "100 pages of Stendhal on the back of a lorry a gesture of civilization."

At the time "the English boy" born in Alexandria, Egypt in June 1917, was not contemplating the idea of becoming a professional historian. He'd rather write "proletarian literature." During a stressful historical juncture when Hitler announced he expected to take up residence in London within a fortnight, Hobsbawm was already determined that "I want to write so that everyone recognizes the houses and streets, smells the flowers, feels the passions." In the end, he somehow achieved his dream to be a historian.

Readers in five continents know that Hobsbawm always defined himself as a Marxist. It says a lot about British intelligence that MI5 spent a lot of time and energy tracking Hobsbawm while totally bypassing the "Cambridge Five" who were merrily passing secrets to the USSR Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross, MacLean and Philby all of them, unlike Hobsbawm, Brit establishment to the core.

The book details delightful personal vignettes, such as this of Hobsbawm in Paris in the early 1950s, "observing the passing scene from the approved cafes such as the Flore or the Rhumerie," and mingling with, among others, Lucien Goldmann, Roland Barthes and Edgar Morin, the great Henri Cartier-Bresson, going to jazz clubs, and interacting with intellectuals who were either unorthodox Marxists or drifting away from Marxism for good. He got to know Jean-Paul Sartre quite well sharing the odd mutton curry at La Coupole.

At the time both the French and the British Communist Party were hardcore Stalinist, totally unlike Hobsbawm. No wonder the party in Paris never invited him to any meetings. Hobsbawm was a consummate political pragmatist. He may have been a communist, of course, but never sectarian. His loyalty, above all, was to the broad cause of socialism. As Evans stresses, "he believed consistently in the unity of the Left, not in any kind of Marxist sectarianism."

All That Jazz

The official "Made in the U.S.S.R." party line on jazz was extremely negative during the Stalinist era. Then, rehabilitation ensued. By 1962 jazz was all the rage, for instance, in Czechoslovakia. That's when jazz and especially the blues started to be sold across the "real socialism" sphere as the music of the oppressed black working class in capitalist America.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)

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