Eric Hobsbawm, the distinguished British Marxist historian who had a profound influence on the Indian Left and famously said that he wanted to be remembered as an unrepentant flag-bearer for communism, has died at the age of 95.
His daughter Julia said that he died early on Monday in a London hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia. He is survived by his wife Marlene, three children, seven grandchildren and a great grandchild.
As tributes poured in, his family said he would be remembered by “his many thousands of readers and students around the world.”
A prolific writer, Hobsbawm wrote more than 300 books and was best known for his trilogy The Age of Revolution, The Age of Capital and The Age of Empire. He followed it up with The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991 published soon after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and translated into 40 languages.
Hobsbawm was part of a group of Cambridge historians who were more than just observers of India’s anti-colonial struggle and keenly watched the country’s post-independence trajectory. He had a huge following in India — and not just on the Left.
“Every undergraduate history student read and discussed him,” said Ravi Vyas, a former academic publisher.
To generations of Indian students at Cambridge, Hobsbawm was a mentor, guide and philosopher. With his eclectic interests and a ready wit, Hobsbawm could not have been farther from the stereotype of a dry academic. He was one of the finest critics of jazz and wrote a widely acclaimed book The Jazz Scene under the pseudonym Francis Newton, besides penning a column on jazz for the New Statesman.
While acknowledging the failure of 20th Century communism, Hobsbawm never abandoned Marxist ideals describing himself as “somebody who not only kept the flag flying, but who showed that by waving it you can actually achieve something, if only good and readable books.”
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