Eric Hobsbawm - Politics

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Politics

Hobsbawm joined the Sozialistischer Schülerbund (Association of Socialist Pupils), an offshoot of the Young Communist League of Germany, in Berlin in 1931, and the Communist Party in 1936. He was a member of the Communist Party Historians Group from 1946 until its demise and subsequently President of its successor, The Socialist History Society until his death. The Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 led most of its members to leave the British Communist Party – but Hobsbawm, unique among his notable colleagues, remained in the Party. He signed a historians' letter of protest against the Soviet invasion of Hungary and was strongly in favour of the Prague spring.

Hobsbawm was later a leading light of the Eurocommunist faction in the CPGB that began to gather strength after 1968, when the CPGB criticised the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring and the French CP failed to support the May students in Paris. In "The Forward March of Labour Halted?" (originally a Marx Memorial Lecture, "The British Working Class One Hundred Years after Marx", that was delivered to a small audience of fellow Marxists in March 1978 before being published in Marxism Today in September 1978), he argued that the working class was inevitably losing its central role in society, and that left-wing 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 (the party received just 28% of the vote in that year's elections, just 2% more than than the Social Democratic Party/Liberal Alliance), and, though not close to Kinnock, came to be referred to as "Neil Kinnock's Favourite Marxist". His interventions in Kinnock's remaking of the Labour Party helped prepare the ground for the Third Way, New Labour, and Tony Blair, whom Hobsbawm later derisively referred to as "Thatcher in trousers". Until the cessation of publication in 1991, he contributed to the magazine Marxism Today. A third of the 30 reprints of Marxism Todays feature articles that appeared in The Guardian during the 1980s were articles or interviews by or with Hobsbawm, making him by far the most popular of all contributors. From the 1960s, his politics took a more moderate turn, as Hobsbawm came to recognise that his hopes were unlikely to be realised, and no longer advocated "socialist systems of the Soviet type". Until the day of his death, however, he remained firmly entrenched on the Left, maintaining that the long-term outlooks for humanity were 'bleak'.

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