Eric Hobsbawm

Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm CH, FBA, (born June 9, 1917) is a British Marxist historian and author.


He was born in 1917 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Leopold Percy Obstbaum and Nelly Grün, both Jewish, and he grew up in Vienna and Berlin. A clerical error at birth altered his surname from Hobsbaum to Hobsbawm, and the name stuck. Although the family lived in German-speaking countries, his parents spoke to him and his younger sister Nancy in English.

His father died in 1929, and he started working as an au pair and English tutor. He became an orphan at age 14 upon the death of his mother. Subsequently, he and Nancy were adopted by his maternal aunt, Gretl, and paternal uncle, Sidney, who married and had a son, also named Eric. They all moved to London in 1933.

Hobsbawm is twice married. His first wife was Muriel Seaman, whom he married in 1943 (divorced in 1951). His second marriage was to Marlene Schwarz, with whom he has two children, Julia Hobsbawm and Andy Hobsbawm. He also has a son, Joshua, from a previous relationship.

Hobsbawm is a Marxist and was a long-standing member of the now defunct Communist Party of Great Britain and the associated Communist Party Historians Group. He is president of Birkbeck College, University of London. He was appointed a Companion of Honour in 1998.


He joined the Socialist Schoolboys in 1931 and the Communist party in 1936. He was member of the Communist Party Historians Group from 1946 to 1956. The Soviet Invasion of Hungary in 1956 marked the end of the Communist Party Historian's Group and led most of its members to remove themselves from the British Communist Party. Hobsbawm, uniquely among his colleagues, remained in the Party, however, going so far as to defend the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Writing in the Daily Worker in late 1956, Hobsbawm argued that "Whilst approving, with a heavy heart, of what is now happening in Hungary, we should therefore also say frankly that we think the USSR should withdraw its troops from the country as soon as this is possible."

Later he came to support the Eurocommunist faction in the CPGB. In 'The Forward March of Labour Halted?', originally a Marxism Today article published in September 1978, he argued that the working class was inevitably losing its central role in society, and that Left parties could no longer appeal only to this class; a controversial viewpoint in a period of trade union militancy. Hobsbawm supported Neil Kinnock's transformation of the British Labour Party from 1983. Until the cessation of publication in 1991, he contributed to the magazine Marxism Today.

Since the 1960s his politics have taken a more moderate turn, as Hobsbawm came to recognize that his hopes were unlikely to be realized. Yet, he remains firmly entrenched on the left, and thinks the long-term outlooks for humanity are 'bleak'.

Academic life

He was educated at Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium Berlin, St Marylebone Grammar School (now defunct) and King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a Ph.D. in history on the Fabian Society. He was a member of the Cambridge Apostles.

During World War II, he served in the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps. In 1947, he became a lecturer in history at Birkbeck College, University of London. He was a visiting professor at Stanford in the 1960s. In 1970, he was appointed professor and in 1978 he became a Fellow of the British Academy.

He retired in 1982 but stayed as visiting professor at The New School for Social Research in Manhattan until 1997. He is currently President of Birkbeck College, University of London and Professor Emeritus in The New School for Social Research in the Political Science department. He speaks English, German, French, Spanish and Italian, and reads Dutch, Portuguese and Catalan. One of Hobsbawm's interests is the development of traditions. His work is a study of their construction in the context of the nation state. He argues that many traditions are invented by national elites to justify the existence and importance of their respective nation states.


Hobsbawm has written extensively on many subjects as one of Britain's most prominent historians. As a Marxist historiographer he has focused on analysis of the "dual revolution" (the political French revolution and the industrial British revolution). He sees their effect as a driving force behind the predominant trend towards liberal capitalism today. Another recurring theme in his work has been social banditry, a phenomenon that Hobsbawm has tried to place within the confines of relevant societal and historical context thus countering the traditional view of it being a spontaneous and unpredictable form of primitive rebellion.

Outside of his academic historical writing, Hobsbawm has written (under the pseudonym 'Francis Newton' – taken from the name of Billie Holiday's communist trumpet player, Frankie Newton) for the New Statesman as a jazz critic. He has numerous essays published in various intellectual journals, dealing with anything from barbarity in the modern age to the troubles of labour movements and the conflict between anarchism and communism. His most recent publications are the autobiography, Interesting Times (2002), Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007) and On Empire (2008).


Hobsbawm has attracted criticism for his support for communism. According to Robert Conquest, in an interview with Canadian author and politician Michael Ignatieff on British television in 1994, Hobsbawm responded to the question of whether 20 million deaths may have been justified if the proposed communist utopia had been created as a consequence by saying "yes" . In his own 1994 book, The Age of Extremes he wrote that the deaths were beyond justification as this utopia was not created:- This book also revealed a highly critical attitude both to the Russia of Stalin and Khrushchev, and to the West in the era of the Korean and Vietnam wars.


Hobsbawm has been described as "arguably our greatest living historian — not only Britain's, but the world's. James Joll wrote in The New York Review of Books that "Eric Hobsbawm's nineteenth century trilogy is one of the great achievements of historical writing in recent decades. Tony Judt, director of the Erich Maria Remarque Institute at New York University believes that Hobsbawm's tendency to disparage any nationalist movement as passing and irrational weakens his grasp of parts of the 20th century. Judt however, also wrote that "Hobsbawm is a cultural folk hero. His fame is well deserved. Hobsbawm doesn't just know more than other historians, he writes better, too. In Neal Ascherson's view "Eric's Jewishness increased his sensitivity about nationalism. He's the original happy cosmopolitan, who's benefited from being able to move freely."

Partial Publication list

  • Labour's Turning Point: extracts from contemporary sources (1948)
  • Primitive Rebels: studies in archaic forms of social movement in the 19th and 20th centuries (1959)
  • The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848 (1962) ISBN 0679772537
  • Labouring Men: studies in the history of labour (1964)
  • Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (1965; editor; essays by Karl Marx)
  • Industry and Empire (1968)
  • Bandits (1969)
  • Captain Swing (1968; with George Rude)
  • Revolutionaries: contemporary essays (1973)
  • The Age of Capital: 1848-1875 (1975)
  • The Invention of Tradition (1983; editor, with Terence Ranger) ISBN 0521437733
  • Workers: worlds of labor (1985)

  • The Age of Empire: 1875-1914 (1987) ISBN 0521437733
  • The Jazz Scene (1989)
  • Echoes of the Marseillaise: Two Centuries Look Back on the French Revolution (1990)
  • Nations and Nationalism since 1780: programme, myth, reality (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990) ISBN 0-521-43961-2
  • The Age of Extremes: the short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991, 1914-1991 (1994) ISBN 0679730052
  • On History (1997)
  • Uncommon People: resistance, rebellion and jazz (1998)
  • On the Edge of the New Century (2000)
  • Interesting Times: a twentieth-century life (2002; autobiography)
  • Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism (2007)
  • On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy (2008)


  • Campbell, J. "Towards the Great Decision: Review of the The Age of Empire" page 153 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4428, February 12 1988.
  • Norah Carlin and Ian Birchall, "Eric Hobsbawm and the working class", from International Socialism, No.2:21, Autumn 1983.
  • Cronin, J. "Creating a Marxist Historiography: the Contribution of Hobsbawm" pages 87-109 from Radical History Review, Volume 19, 1979.
  • Genovese, Eugene "The Squandered Century: Review of The Age of Extremes" pages 38-43 from The New Republic, Volume 212, April 17 1995.
  • Hampson, N. "All for the Better? Review of Echoes of the Marseillaise" page 637 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4550, June 15 1990.
  • Judt, Tony "Downhill All the Way: Review of The Age of Extremes" pages 20-25 from New York Review of Books, May 25 1995, Volume 49, Issue # 9.
  • Landes, David "The Ubiquitous Bourgeoisie: Review of The Age of Capital" pages 662-664 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 3873, June 4 1976.
  • McKibblin, R. "Capitalism out of Control: Review of The Age of Extremes" pages 406 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4778, October 28 1994.
  • Mingay, G.E. "Review of Captain Swing" page 810 from English Historical Review, Volume 85 (337), 1970.
  • Samuel, R. and Stedman Jones, Gareth (editors) Culture, Ideology and Politics: Essays for Eric Hobsbawm, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982.
  • Seton-Watson, H. "Manufactured Mythologies: Review of The Invention of Tradition" page 1270 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4207, November 18 1983.
  • Smith, P. "No Vulgar Marxist: Review of On History" page 31 from Times Literary Supplement, Volume 4917, June 27 1997.
  • Snowman, Daniel "Eric Hobsbawm" page 16– 18 from History Today, Volume 49, Issue 1, January 1999.
  • Thane, P.; Crossick, G. & Floud, R. (editors) The Power of the Past: Essays for Eric Hobsbawm, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
  • Thane, P. & Lunbeck, E. "Interview with Eric Hobsbawm" pages 29-46 from Visions of History, edited by H. Abelove; B. Blackmar; P. Dimock & J. Schneer, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983.
  • Weber, Eugen "What Rough Beast?" pages 285-298 from Critical Review, Volume 10, Issue # 2, 1996.
  • Wrigley, Chris "Eric Hobsbawm: an Appreciation" page 2 from Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, Volume 38, Issue #1, 1984.


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