I have not been active in politics for a while now. And I have not returned to the keyboard to reflect upon our desertion of Europe, the rise of the right and seeming futility and failure of democratic socialism to be the pathfinder for a more compassionate and connected world.
Time has passed and grief at the losses of recent years have now subsided. Grief’s recession being in equal, if oppositional measure, to the continued rise of the moral vacuum in politics. Enough recession to restart this journal and to hover my thumb over the publish tab.
The study of history, for me, has always involved the pursuit of balance, dignity and the struggle to achieve some clarity of vision over complex events in the past. I would not have expressed it this way as an undergraduate, I am sure, but these are some of the key frameworks that support my thinking, now I am older.
They are the consolations of history.
Thus I have returned to my copies of the works of Eric Hobsbawm. Recently to discover that, courtesy of the London Review of Books, that the documentary film, The Consolations of History, is now freely available.
In the film, guided by Anthony Wilks of the LRB, we travel with Hobsbawm through time. The journey matched by reflection from Hobsbawm himself and others, interspersed with archive footage of events to track his eventful personal history and the turmoil of the world that the same life swept him through.
Many years ago I discovered The Marxist Historians Group, whilst a mature student labour activist at Ruskin College, Oxford – feeling that the redress of history, away from selfish elite considerations, and the stunning light shone on ordinary lives from the ‘history from below’ which the group espoused was, or should have been, the Enlightenment for the ordinary man or woman. Arguably the very mission of Ruskin Hall from the beginning of its educational activities too.
That organised Labour is in constant crisis and still rudderless, and the New Jerusalem did not materialise in my lifetime does not diminish the power of a Hobsbawmian text or the consolation that this documentary can bring.
I commend this film to the thoughtful viewer…