He never changed his tune: Eric Hobsbawm remained steadfastly committed to Communism until his death last month.
On the morning of Wednesday October 10, 2012, around the time the Prime Minister was addressing the Conservative Party conference, a party of mourners left the chapel at Golders Green crematorium with the words of the "Internationale" ringing in their ears. The Communist anthem sounds more rousing in the original French, so that was the version used. In death as in life, Eric Hobsbawm was proclaiming his loyalty to the cause he had first espoused as a boy in Berlin in the years 1931-33.
Hobsbawm got a good send-off. Tributes were paid to him by Roy Foster, Professor of Irish History at Oxford, who knew him from his days at Birkbeck College, London; by Lady Kennedy, a Labour peer, better known as Helena Kennedy QC; and by his son, Andy. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, attended the service, as did Jon Snow, Simon Schama, Tariq Ali and Jonathan Miller. Recordings of Beethoven's Archduke Trio and of some jazz were also played.
In the days after his death at the grand old age of 95, Hobsbawm's historical works, especially The Age of Revolution 1789-1848, The Age of Capital 1848-1875 and The Age of Empire 1874-1914, were newly acclaimed. Nor did all the praise come from the Left. Niall Ferguson described these books, together with The Age of Extremes 1914-1991, as "the best introduction to modern world history in the English language", and added: "With his extraordinary erudition and quick wit, Hobsbawm was one of the greatest historical conversationalists I have ever known."
If Hobsbawm had been an unrepentant fascist, instead of an unrepentant Communist, he would not have received such favourable coverage. Nor would Miliband and other members of the intelligentsia have made Hobsbawm's funeral so crowded that there was standing room only. Nor, we can be sure, would Tony Blair have recommended that the great man be made a Companion of Honour: a distinction Hobsbawm accepted in 1998 (he justified doing so by saying how much it would have pleased his mother, who died in 1931).
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