From The Independent:
When I worked at the Foreign Office many moons ago, one of the more venerated research analysts explained to me why his job was impossible. “It is not the job of political science to predict the future,” he said. “The job of political science is to explain, once the future has become the past, why it was inevitable that History should have transpired thus.” This is one half of Karl Marx's interminable beef with the march of civilisation. Too many people read him as a political scientist, and in its fullest form, his Forecast for Man shows no sign of materialising. Once his utopian vision has become an everyday reality for a vast number of people, perhaps he will be supremely right. Until then, he's mainly just usefully wrong. The other half of Marx's beef with civilisation is the 20th century. Though he doesn't admit it, Eric Hobsbawm, the most eminent Marxist historian writing in English today, must be at least a little annoyed that a chunky portion of the horrors of modernity were perpetrated in his hero's name. Of course, the likes of Stalin and Mao were Stalinist and Maoist long before they were Marxist, but Hobsbawm's ongoing refusal to confront this basic truth depletes his contribution to political thought. It is a great shame, because as this collection shows, he is a brilliant writer, erudite critic and, as he approaches his 94th birthday, a joyfully unrepentant communist.
In just over 400 pages of essays and lectures written between 1957 and 2010, Hobsbawm's Marx emerges as a man burdened by History. It is ironic that silly conservatives accuse leftists of being uninterested in the authority of custom, experience and tradition – all ciphers of past practices – when the doyen of the left was obsessed with the past. Not just that: in German, there is a distinction between Historie, which refers to the past, and Geschichte, which refers to a process relating past and present with future. Marx's intellectual life, as presented by Hobsbawm, was based on his incorporation of the latter into politics.