RIP Eric Hobsbawm…

Historian, marixist commentator and intellectual Eric Hobsbawm has died aged 95.

His is a name that has has stayed with me from being a student 25 years ago- someone who was prepared to look at history through the eyes of poor people. Who was prepared to analyse what have become by understanding the inequalities of power and wealth.

Emily has left school and is taking her higher/advanced higher qualifications at a Cardonald College- where she has chosen to study (much to her old dads pleasure) Sociology and Psychology. She is being exposed to all those old questions that excited me in the past (and the present.) How did we get here? Who is calling the shots? How could we be better- how could we organise ourselves so as to protect the poor and weak, and reign in the excesses of the strong and powerful?

Hobsbawm was a large part of this for me in the past. A left field calm voice who was able to speak with a quiet authority.

In praise of him, here are a few quotes (courtesy of the Guardian.)

On socialism and capitalism: “Impotence therefore faces both those who believe in what amounts to a pure, stateless, market capitalism, a sort of international bourgeois anarchism, and those who believe in a planned socialism uncontaminated by private profit-seeking. Both are bankrupt. The future, like the present and the past, belongs to mixed economies in which public and private are braided together in one way or another. But how? That is the problem for everybody today, but especially for people on the left.” 2009 Guardian article

On Tony Blair: “Labour prime ministers who glory in trying to be warlords – subordinate warlords particularly – certainly stick in my gullet.” 2002 interview

And from this essay;

…This was the way of thinking about modern industrial economies, or for that matter any economies, in terms of two mutually exclusive opposites: capitalism or socialism.

We have lived through two practical attempts to realise these in their pure form: the centrally state-planned economies of the Soviet type and the totally unrestricted and uncontrolled free-market capitalist economy. The first broke down in the 1980s, and the European communist political systems with it. The second is breaking down before our eyes in the greatest crisis of global capitalism since the 1930s. In some ways it is a greater crisis than in the 1930s, because the globalisation of the economy was not then as far advanced as it is today, and the crisis did not affect the planned economy of the Soviet Union. We don’t yet know how grave and lasting the consequences of the present world crisis will be, but they certainly mark the end of the sort of free-market capitalism that captured the world and its governments in the years since Margaret Thatcher and President Reagan…

…The test of a progressive policy is not private but public, not just rising income and consumption for individuals, but widening the opportunities and what Amartya Sen calls the “capabilities” of all through collective action. But that means, it must mean, public non-profit initiative, even if only in redistributing private accumulation. Public decisions aimed at collective social improvement from which all human lives should gain. That is the basis of progressive policy – not maximising economic growth and personal incomes. Nowhere will this be more important than in tackling the greatest problem facing us this century, the environmental crisis. Whatever ideological logo we choose for it, it will mean a major shift away from the free market and towards public action, a bigger shift than the British government has yet envisaged. And, given the acuteness of the economic crisis, probably a fairly rapid shift. Time is not on our side.

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