The literary theorist Terry Eagleton reviewed British historian Eric Hobsbawm’s new book How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 for “The London Review of Books.” Eagleton notes that the book is “… the work of a man [Hobsbawm] who has reached an age at which most of us would be happy to be able to raise ourselves from our armchairs without the aid of three nurses and a hoist, let alone carry out historical research.”
Hobsbawn was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1917.
Eagleton at least disagreed with Hobsbawn’s assertion that Gramsci is the most original thinker produced by the West since 1917: “Hobsbawm also thinks that Gramsci is the most original thinker produced by the West since 1917. Perhaps he means the most original Marxist thinker, but even that is dubious. Walter Benjamin is surely a better qualified candidate for that title.”
But back to Marx. Here’s Eagleton again:
‘If one thinker left a major indelible mark on the 20th century,’ Hobsbawm remarks, ‘it was he.’ Seventy years after Marx’s death, for better or for worse, one third of humanity lived under political regimes inspired by his thought. Well over 20 per cent still do. Socialism has been described as the greatest reform movement in human history. Few intellectuals have changed the world in such practical ways. That is usually the preserve of statesmen, scientists and generals, not of philosophers and political theorists. Freud may have changed lives, but hardly governments. ‘The only individually identifiable thinkers who have achieved comparable status,’ Hobsbawm writes, ‘are the founders of the great religions in the past, and with the possible exception of Muhammad none has triumphed on a comparable scale with such rapidity.’
Read the rest of the review here.