Were the British Marxist historians a coherent lot, congealed in the sameness of their affiliation to historical materialism? How like-minded were Eric Hobsbawm, E. P. Thompson, Dorothy Thompson, Rodney Hilton, Maurice Dobb, George Rudé, John Saville, Christopher Hill, Victor Kiernan, Dona Torr, and Margot Heinemann? Conventional wisdom tends to lump these figures together; recent discussion gestures lightly toward differentiation.1

There was, of course, mutual regard among these dissident historians. All shared a certain outlaw status during the Cold War years in which their research and writing largely first appeared. Commonality registered in their project of injecting a strong dose of class inequality into the weak tea of High Table histories preoccupied with the bland fare of one-class societies and their longue durée continuities. But to assume that the British Marxist historians produced histories out of some common template obscures important distinctions relating to research methods, stylistic sensibilities, and analytic orientations. The Marxisms of these distinguished practitioners of historical materialism parted ways intellectually and, over time, politically. Many left the Communist Party in 1956; some did not. Contentions simmered below the surface of an apparent, always uneasy, consensus.2

First among equals in this extraordinary Marxist contingent was Eric J. Hobsbawm. Widely recognized as the world’s premier Marxist historian, Hobsbawm’s intellectual range was unrivaled. Never one to pander to prevailing considerations, he was often a brave voice of dissent challenging convention. Well received throughout the Global South, where his writings were eagerly translated and sold exceedingly well, Hobsbawm’s influence and regard was resolutely international. There were few Marxists accorded the respect Hobsbawm garnered in distinct layers of the literary marketplace; his histories were embraced by disparate publics, among whom were many not especially committed to a radical reconstruction of the status quo.3

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