Eric Hobsbawm: Bourgeois Intellectual


(This article first appeared in the New Worker Newspaper of the New Communist Party of Britain (NCPB), No: 1770, dated 11.4.14, Page 11)

The British ‘Marxist’ historian, Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) died in his 95th year in London. This Cambridge educated former Communist had a thoroughly bourgeois background, which saw him born to a British father and German-Jewish mother, in the British colony of Alexandria, Egypt. He spent much of his youth being educated in Germany, and only left for the UK with the rise of Adolf Hitler. His privileged background enabled him to attend the best schools, and enter Cambridge with little fuss in the mid-1930’s. He claims to have been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain for around 50 years, from 1936 onwards. In his 2002 autobiography entitled ‘Interesting Times – a Twentieth-Century Life’, Hobsbawm, under the guise of literary honesty, reveals the true nature of his bourgeois upbringing and conditioning through a single paragraph, the revisionist content of which, re-appears throughout the 418 pages in ever expanded form, so that the reader is left with no doubt that although Hobsbawm made a living out of the intellectual output of Karl Marx, in the final analysis, Hobsbawm was not a ‘Marxist’, but instead specialised in turning Marx into a ‘fetish’:

The months in Berlin made me a lifelong communist, or at least a man whose life would lose its nature and its significance without the political project to which he committed himself as a schoolboy, even though that project has demonstrably failed, and as I now known was bound to fail. The dream of the October Revolution is still there somewhere inside me, as deleted texts are still waiting to be recovered by experts, somewhere on the hard disks of computers. I have abandoned, nay, rejected it, but it has not been obliterated. To this day I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness which I do not feel towards Communist China, because I belong to the generation for whom the October Revolution represented the hope of the world, as China never did. The Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle symbolized it.’ (Eric Hobsbawm: Interesting Times – A Twentieth Century Life – Pages 55-56)

Eric Hobsbawm, despite claiming to be a Marxist academic, was very popular, and his work respected throughout the bourgeois academic world – his work also appears extensively in Chinese translation in the People’s Republic. Why would an openly Marxist academic be so popular amongst his ideological enemies? The answer is that despite Hobsbawm cursory nod toward the philosophical work of Marx, that is the defining and use of the theory of historical materialism, he was essentially a bourgeois revisionist at heart, which applied a misty-eyed vision, similar to a religious attitude, when interpreting historical events. When viewed in this way, a doubt must be assumed when assessing the Marxist validity of all of his historical analysis. His ‘age of’ historical analysis series contain a vital flaw running through their centre – namely the flaw of bourgeois intellectualism masquerading as ‘Marxism’. Applying Marx correctly to Hobsbawm, it is clear that Hobsbawm was popular amongst the bourgeois educational establishment not because of his supposed and professed adherence to Marxism, but because in reality he was actually presenting a distorted Marxism shot-through with bourgeois sentiment and class bias, for whatever else Hobsbawm may, or may not have been, he remained a bourgeois throughout his life.

His autobiography is nothing more than an apology to his bourgeois class, for his indulgence with Marxism. It also serves a far more sinister function of warning-off any young people interested in pursuing a Marxist path in contemporary Britain, as a means to combat the injustices current within UK society. Hobsbawm’s work, although carefully camouflaged in places, nevertheless, reaches precariously beyond and around the Marxist narrative, and introduces an idiosyncratic interpretation that says more about the psychological conditioning of Hobsbawm than it does about the historical subject he is assessing. This explains why the distorted work of Hobsbawm – as bourgeois revisionist and apologist – is dangerous to the progressive Communist cause. If people are taken in with Hobsbawm’s scattering of sayings of Marx throughout his work, and fail to understand the great bourgeois project he is undertaking, Hobsbawm will succeed in stamping-out the revolutionary heart that beats at the centre of correct Marxist thinking.

Criticism of three of his major works can be easily summed-up using Marxist analysis:

The Age of Revolution 1789-1848

Most years between the French Revolution (1789) and the 1848 revolutionary movement across Europe, when taken as a world perspective, (rather than following Hobsbawm’s scheme of limiting his analysis to Western Europe), had no more, or no less ‘revolutionary’ movements than any other historical period. Hobsbawm’s ‘Age of Revolution’ is an arbitrary sham, masquerading as historical and dialectical materialist analysis.

The Age of Capital (1849-1875)

This is perhaps the easiest of Hobsbawm’s work to see through, as he obviously is using the productive period of Karl Marx – particularly from his move to London – where Marx wrote many (but not all) of his most influential works, including Das Kapital, his superb and often meandering analysis of the Capitalist mode of production; its origination, perpetuation, theory of labour and surplus value amongst many other important issues. Three more volumes were published after his death in 1882. This time period, regardless of any assessment made by Hobsbawm, (which is, in any case, an analysis made after the event), is only the ‘age of capital’ because the genius of Karl Marx made it so through his assessment. There is no originality in Hobsbawm simply taking the subject of Marx’s analysis and distorting it into an ‘epoch’

The Age of Empire (1875-1914)

Hobsbawm, brought-up as a secular Jew in Germany heading toward Hitlerism, makes much of his ‘Britishness’ and refuses to accept in his biography, that his move to Britain was inspired by the excesses of early Nazism. He would have the reader believe that his ‘Jewish’ family moved on the cusp of Nazi persecution, not because it made sense to do so, particularly as he possessed a British passport, but rather that such a move was purely coincidental and linked entirely to his uncle’s migrating business interests. Hobsbawm has written that he, and his family were not German-Jewish refugees escaping Nazism, but gives the impression of holidaying bourgeois, who casually float from one country to the next. Hobsbawm’s Eurocentricism is palpable. His ‘age of empire’ is actually the age of the British Empire, the establishment of which he firmly joined in the 1930’s. A ‘floating’ member of the international bourgeois, who swapped the German Empire for that of the British Empire.

Hobsbawm’s work is popular throughout the bourgeois system because it undermines the very Marxism it claims to represent, through the careful and clever presentation of many small, but important misrepresentations of Marxist philosophy and its application. The over-all effect of this policy is a movement away from a correct Marxist analysis and toward a thoroughly (and for Hobsbawm a comfortable) bourgeois interpretation. His deliberate and illogical separation of the Russian Communist Revolution from that of the Chinese Revolution is bizarre in its certainty, and smirks of Eurocentric bias bordering on the racist. Whatever Hobsbawm motivation for this flawed analysis, it is obvious that he does not adhere to the Marxist principle of ‘internationalism’. What Hobsbawm fails to acknowledge is that Marx eulogised the Paris Commune of 1871, and that the hammer and sickle flags flies just as equally over China, as it does over North Korea, and many other former Soviet Republics, and is not limited in its meaning to the ethnocentric bias Hobsbawm appears to be exhibiting. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, it is exactly this Asian Communism that is giving hope to many who hold leftwing views in the West. After-all, it is in these countries that a ‘living’ Communist regime continues to exist. Communists are internationalists and derisive historians such as Hobsbawm should not be allowed to drive a wedge in the sense of collective, unfolding history. Marxists must acknowledge this weakness in Hobsbawm’s work, as well as any strengths, but must not allow correct historical interpretation to be clouded by the smoke and mirrors used by the bourgeois establishment to peddle its sub-standard wares.


Financial Ombudsman Service and the Protection of Capitalism


(This article originally appeared in the New Worker Newspaper of the New Communist Party of Britain (NCP), dated the 4.4.14, No: 1769 – Page 7)

The pivotal fallacy of the bourgeois capitalist state is that the institution of the ‘law’ is fair, equal, and accessible to all. This is an obvious and blatant untruth. The institution of law is a historical expression of class domination, whereby the working masses are excluded from the supposed ‘equality’ the law offers by the sheer expense of accessing its guidance and support. Furthermore, the institute of law is represented in society by solicitors, lawyers, and barristers, etc, that form a distinct middle class entity whose primary purpose is to maintain the class privilege that they enjoy at the expense of the oppressed working class. The working class are excluded from the ‘equality’ that bourgeois law offers by the deliberate hurdles of education, and finance. If the bourgeois law is not understood, then the working masses do not know that in theory they may have recourse to the law; but even if this is known, the next barrier is the cost of legal assistance. The legal system is excessively priced so that only the wealthiest may gain effective access to its guidance. It is a middle class legal system designed to only serve the middle class that has created it. The Socialist principles embedded in the 1948 Welfare State sought to rectify this imbalance to a certain extent through the introduction of the principle of Legal Aid. Under the current extreme rightwing governmental alliance of the Conservative and Liberal Democratic Parties, this access to legal services has been cut to such a debilitating level that it has ceased to exist as a viable method of acquiring legal advice, but even when the principle of Legal Aid was functioning, it was apparent that a two-tier legal service was in operation. The middle class solicitors and lawyers, whilst happy to take the government subsidy, were not willing to offer a true ‘equality’ of access to the legal system, to the working class that relied upon Legal Aid. Instead, a form of institutional discrimination was allowed to run rampant throughout the legal system. People reliant upon Legal Aid were given the minimum of assistance, whilst those paying from personal wealth, received the fullest assistance to the letter of the law. In legal cases involving Legal Aid against private funding – the bias in the legal system toward those paying from private funds has been continuous and obvious. The ‘equality’ that the principle of Legal Aid offered was only granted in practice in a begrudging manner by the legal representatives of the bourgeois state. The very same representatives (in the form of magistrates and judges) who let off middle class assailants (and their working class allies such as police officers and military personnel, for instance), for crimes involving murder, assault, rape, fraud, animal cruelty, and theft, etc.

However, every so often, when a capitalist excess affects a sizable proportion of the middle class adversely, the middle class system is forced to act to protect its own interests. If the inequalities the bourgeois system projects through society fall primarily upon the working masses, this is considered ‘correct’ and ‘normal’, but if those inequalities permeate into the very middle class they are supposed to privilege, then legal action is initiated. The bourgeois legal system passes (or repeals) laws; an action that is designed to ensure its continuous and privileged status within society. As bourgeois law is predicated upon the pretence of ‘equal access to all’, it must coach its terms within a ‘universalist’ context which presents the false impression that the law in question is of equal relevance to the working masses, as it is obviously the middle class that has created it. Thus the fallacy of a universal law is created. Within the UK banking system in recent years, it has been legally decided that too many middle class people have been unduly and adversely affected by the unscrupulous and dishonest capitalist money-lenders through the ‘mis-selling’ of ‘Payment Protection Insurance’ (PPI). It was legally found that the greedy UK banking system had unlawfully sold PPI to unsuspecting customers, and was advised to ‘repay’ the amounts. Automatically the exploitative capitalist system sprang to its own defence. The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) was given the lucrative task of processing customer’s complaints regarding banks that refused to repay the mis-sold PPI amounts for various and spurious reasons. The banks can do this because like any other institute that personifies and protects the bourgeois state, (such as the police, military, government departments, and the legal system, etc) the law is not applied to them in the manner to which it is applied to individual members of the working class. A working class individual found guilty of theft or fraud to the extent perpetuated by the UK banking system would be imprisoned for many years, and his life ruined through media attention. The UK banking system, however, pays no legal price for the legally proven fraud it has committed as an institution. Instead it can pick and choose who it re-reimburses. When an individual’s PPI claim is rejected by the bank, the individual can refer the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The FOS, since the emergence of the PPI matter, has invested millions of pounds in media campaigns on TV and radio, advertising their ‘mediating’ service to the general public. This has led to so much work that the FOS has a back-log that keeps clients on waiting lists that can last for years with no facility of appeal. Once a PPI referral claim is in the FOS system, the client is powerless to affect the process in any way until the FOS decides to act upon the complaint. However, what many do not realise is that every time a PPI complaint is referred to the FOS, the FOS automatically receives a £800 fee from the bank concerned. The greedy banks would rather pay the FOS £800 than re-imburse the individual client concerned, but even when the FOS is investigating individual complaints, their procedure is actually seeking to absolve the bank from any guilt through various legal sophistries. Obvious illegal behaviour or acts of blatant discrimination are explained away through ‘lack of evidence’, or as ‘matters outside the remit of the FOS’, etc. In reality, the bourgeois FOS is acting in consort with the banking system. The purpose of this cooperation is to limit the extent to which the UK (and international) financial sector is inconvenienced (or damaged) by the legislation finding the banks guilty of fraud.

The FOS, whilst insisting upon the fiction that it is a mediator of justice, is in reality a thoroughly corrupt institution. This is not surprising, as the FOS is merely an extension of the greedy banking system. Like the corrupt institution of the national lottery that misuses working class money as an excuse to cut welfare by offering a false fairy-tale like-hope of a better tomorrow, the FOS is performing exactly the same function in contemporary UK society. The FOS, far from offering justice within a capitalist society, is in reality supporting the very system it pretends to be regulating. The FOS ‘regulates’ the financial sector by removing any barriers to its outright exploitation of the working class. The middle class, with its appropriate education and wealth, possesses access to knowledge of legal procedures that help it navigate the banking system and the FOS. Like a jack-pot win from the national lottery, a payout by the FOS is purely coincidental and designed always to favour the middle class. Make no mistake about this matter – the FOS ruthlessly represents the interests of the international bourgeoisie and their greedy banking system. The only social institution that the FOS effectively regulates is that of preventing the working class securing justice through its remit.

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