E. J. Hobsbawm (1917–2012) was a British historian. Born in Egypt, he was educated at Cambridge; he taught at Birkbeck College and The New School. His works include The Age of Extremes; Globalisation, Democracy and Terrorism; and On Empire.

The New Threat to History

The following lecture was given at the beginning of the academic year at the Central European University, which recently opened in Budapset. It is an honor to be asked to open this academic year of the Central European University. It is also a curious sensation to do so, since, though …

Escaped Slaves of the Forest

Shortly after settling in the conquered New World, Spaniards began to use the word cimarrón, of debated etymology, to describe imported European domestic animals that had escaped from control and reverted to natural freedom. For obvious reasons the term was also applied in slave societies to escaped slaves living in …

Some Like It Hot

“It seems quite clear today in retrospect,” writes Gunther Schuller, who was at the time entering his teens, “that the Depression years and their aftermath were culturally and artistically the richest this nation has experienced in this century.” Probably many more people would today agree with this proposition than would …

The Caruso of Jazz

He was the first among the players of the barely baptized “jazz” to be identified as “an artist of genius.” Very few jazz musicians are as well known as Sidney Bechet, especially among people not particularly familiar with the music. No one has a voice more easily and immediately recognizable.

Slyest of the Foxes

Of the great figures in twentieth-century culture, Edward Kennedy Ellington is one of the most mysterious. On the evidence of James Lincoln Collier’s excellent book, he must also be one of the least likable—cold to his son, ruthless in his dealings with women, and unscrupulous in his use of the …

The Jazz Comeback

Until recently jazz has occupied a curiously marginal position in the official culture of its native country, and even within the black community. The public for it has been tiny: far smaller than the public for classical music. Record producers, who probably contain a much higher proportion of jazz buffs …

Murderous Colombia

About the only thing that most non-Colombians know about the third largest country in Latin America, and virtually the least known, is that it supplies cocaine and the novels of Gabriel García Márquez. García Márquez is indeed a marvelous guide to his extraordinary country, but not a good introduction to …

‘Playing for Ourselves’

Sometime in the 1950s American popular music committed parricide. Rock murdered jazz. Count Basie describes a moment of the murder in his autobiography. There was a heck of a thing going on at a theater down on Fourteenth Street somewhere, and we used to get down there at around eleven …

Robin Hoodo

With the publication of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather in 1969, the long-lasting passion of the American public for the Mafia finally came out of the closet. In practice it had long been an accepted but minor part of American city life and business about which nobody got very excited, but …

On the Watch

Probably only two mechanical inventions have been fully assimilated by creative literature. One is the railroad train, familiar as image and metaphor to every lover of the blues. The other, one learns from David Landes, is the clock, which first enters poetry in the days of the Roman de la …

The Lowest Depths

The tourist industry makes its living from the fact that Florence is unlike Milwaukee (except in the provision of hotels and services which visitors from Milwaukee will find acceptable). But how important is it for the historian of modern industrial society to bear in mind that the Japanese are unlike, …

Pact with the Devil

Two beliefs among the black peasants and laborers of Puerto Tejada in Colombia form the starting point of Michael Taussig’s extremely original book: the devil contract and the baptized banknote. The devil contract is said to be made by male laborers on the cane plantations in order to increase productivity …

Publick Benefits and Private Vices

Only seven or eight generations—a short span as human history goes—separate us from the start of the first industrial revolution. The first iron bridge in the world celebrated its bicentennial in 1979. It is natural that historians should turn their attention to the first phase of the first industrial society, …

Should the Poor Organize?

Once upon a time, say from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, the movements of the left—whether they called themselves socialist, communist, or syndicalist—like everybody else who believed in progress, knew just where they wanted to go and just what, with the help of …

Dictatorship with Charm

To most people who have heard of it at all, or do not confuse it with Uruguay, the word “Paraguay” is associated with fascism: a place in the sun for fugitive Nazi leaders and the domain (since 1954) of General Alfredo Stroessner, longest-lived and most right-wing of Latin American dictators.

Vulnerable Japan

The major fact about Japan is that it is both uniquely like and spectacularly unlike the West. It is alike since, alone among all non-Western societies, it has made a transition from a feudalism remarkably similar to that of Europe to being a capitalist power of the first order. In …

The Great Gramsci

Antonio Gramsci, probably the most original communist thinker produced in the twentieth-century West, has until recently been virtually inaccessible to non-Italians, and not very accessible even to Italians.[^1] Anyone who reads only English has hitherto had to rely chiefly on some frankly inadequate textual selections, on the usual scatterings of …

Passionate Witness

With the decline of the ocean liner, transatlantic crossings by sailing boat have once again become fashionable, at any rate among the adventurous. The decline of the great organized international revolutionary movement has similarly left an empty niche in ideology and strategy, which was to be filled by adventurers and …

Peru: The Peculiar “Revolution”

While the Marxist government of Chile is cautious about what it has so far achieved, if not about its intentions, the military government of Peru has no doubt about what it is doing. It is making the Peruvian Revolution. The Peruvian government will not settle for less and resents any …

A Special Supplement: Chile: Year One

That constitutional transfer of power and a peaceful transition to socialism are possible has been theoretically admitted by Marxists ever since Marx put it on record in 1872. The prospect for this transition, however, remains shadowy. Marxist writing about it remains scarce and abstract rather than concrete, probably because practical …

Latin America as US Empire Cracks

No empire in our century has been more powerful and apparently unchallengeable than that of the US in Latin America, and no imperialists have pitched their claims higher—though for various reasons most North Americans have persistently disliked being labeled as such. The British long ago recognized the fragility, and eventual …

Is Science Evil?

Prophecy is never a comfortable activity, but sometimes, as witness the Bible, it is a popular one. Today is one of those times when there is a flourishing market for predictions of doom. It is as significant that the Book-of-the-Month Club has selected Lewis Mumford’s The Pentagon of Power as …

What’s New in Peru

For the past ten years writing about Latin America has been one of the growth industries of literature. The immediate stimulus for this growth was Fidel Castro, who transformed the traditional gringo view of what a Latin American revolution was supposed to be, and with it also the conventional European …

How to Plot Your Takeover

A coup is a game with three players (we omit the dominant foreign power or corporation which may hold an effective veto—or the trump cards). These are the armed forces which can make it, the politicians and bureaucracy whose readiness to accept it makes it possible, and the political forces, official or unofficial, which can check or checkmate it. For the success of a coup depends essentially on the passivity of the existing state apparatus and the people. If either or both resist it may still win, but not as a coup.

Birthday Party

Of all the many unexpected events during the past eighteen months, a remarkably bad period for prophets, the movement of May 1968 in France was easily the most surprising and, for left-wing intellectuals, probably the most exciting. It seemed to demonstrate what practically no radical over the age of twenty-five, …

1848 and All That

The revolutions of 1848 have been both lucky and unlucky in their historians. They were fortunate to find contemporary analysts of unusually high quality. The layman who has read Marx’s Class Struggles and Eighteenth Brumaire and Engels’s Revolution and Counterrevolution can still hold his own reasonably well even among the …

Alive and Kicking

In the days when ex-Radicals in the US and elsewhere hailed the “end of ideology” (by which they meant the end of socialist ideology) there always remained one difficult case to explain: France. That country insisted on maintaining not merely the oldest and strongest Communist Party in Europe, but also …