UK

Stuart Hall

Stuart Hall was an utterly unique figure. Although he arrived at the age of 19 from Jamaica and spent the rest of his life here, he never felt at home in Britain. This juxtaposition was a crucial source of his strength and originality. Because of his colour and origin, he saw the country differently, not as a native but as an outsider. He observed this island through a different viewfinder and it enabled him to see things that those shaped and formatted by the culture could not. It took an outsider, a black person from a former colony, to understand what was happening to a post-imperial country seemingly locked in endless decline.

His impact was to be felt across many different fields. Perhaps best known is his pioneering work in cultural studies, but his influence was to be felt in many diverse fields. By the end of the 1970s, it was the connections that he started to make between culture and politics that was to redefine how we thought about politics.

This was how my own relationship with Stuart began in 1978. Soon after I became editor of Marxism Today, I commissioned an article from him on Thatcher. The result was one of the most important pieces of political writing of the past 40 years. Stuart, drawing on his cultural insights and the work of Antonio Gramsci, proceeded to rewrite the way in which we make sense of politics; and in the process, incidentally, he invented the term Thatcherism. For the next decade, it felt as if we lived in each other’s pockets. The way in which Stuart wrote was fascinating. Some, like Eric Hobsbawm, the other Marxism Today great, produced a perfect text first time out. Stuart’s first draft, in contrast, would arrive in an extremely incoherent and rambling form, as if trying to clear his throat. Over the next 10 days, one draft would follow another, in quick succession, like a game of ping-pong. His was a restless, inventive intellect, always pushing the envelope, at his best when working in some form of collaboration with others. His end result was always worth savouring, his articles hugely influential.

Tragically, Stuart’s ill health slowly but remorselessly curtailed and undermined his ferocious energy. But his mind remained as alert and involved as ever. The response to his death has served to demonstrate how much his work has influenced so many people in so many different ways: cultural studies, race and ethnicity, politics, the arts, the media, academe. Little has been left untouched by his intellectual power and insight.

Stuart’s extraordinary impact was not because he happened to be black and from Jamaica. It was because he was black and from Jamaica. It took an outsider, a black Jamaican, to help us understand and make sense of Britain’s continuing decline. He was in so many ways well ahead of his time. It is difficult to think of anyone else that has offered such a powerful insight into what has been happening to us over the past 70 years.

24/04/13 — Beveridge Hall, Senate House, London University

Eric was a deeply political person. He was shaped, above all, by, in his own words, ‘the two most decisive years of my life,’ those in Berlin between 1931 and 1933, during which, as a young teenager, he witnessed the rise of Hitler and the parallel rise of the KPD. In 1932 he joined the SSB, a young communist organisation. ‘As I entered the school year 1932-3′, he wrote, ‘the sense that we were living in some kind of final crisis, or at least a crisis destined for some cataclysmic resolution, became overpowering.’

His experiences in central Europe gave Eric his near-lifelong commitment to communism. He grew up in a period of volcanic change, he lived with a foreboding of catastrophe. His political co-ordinates were profoundly different from what they would have been had he spent these years in Britain. At the same time, growing up in central Europe before moving to Britain at the age of 15, imbued him with a highly cosmopolitan outlook, including a facility with so many languages, that, certainly in a British context, was most unusual and was to shape his subsequent political and intellectual development.

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06/10/12 – The Guardian

Eric Hobsbawm

The first time I met Eric Hobsbawm was at an annual gathering of the Economic History Society. As a fellow historian I had long admired his historical writing. But it was not until a couple of years later that I was to actually get to know him. By this time I had changed my clothes and become editor of Marxism Today. Having read Eric’s articles in the now-defunct New Society, I was aware he had much of great interest to say about contemporary politics. I phoned him in autumn 1978 soon after commencing my editorial duties and we had lunch at Birkbeck College. I wanted to run a special issue on the tenth anniversary of 1968 and it was patently obvious that there was no better author than Eric to write the overview. He did not disappoint. The grand sweep of the piece was breath taking. It was typical Eric.

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Martin Jacques defied the odds to expose racial prejudice and medical negligence in a Hong Kong hospital. Here he tells of his feelings on learning that his 10-year struggle was over

The settlement approved by the Hong Kong high court last Wednesday in the legal action brought by me and my 11-year-old son, Ravi, against the Hospital Authority over the death of Harinder Veriah, my wife and Ravi’s mother, represents a major victory. It has taken 10 years and a huge commitment of emotion, time and resources. We have faced monumental obstacles. From the outset the Hospital Authority denied any responsibility and it has used its limitless funds to try to bludgeon us into submission.

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History will judge New Labour harshly. Unlike the 1945 government, it lacked a reforming vision – but the financial crisis provides an unprecedented chance for renewal 

We can already see New Labour in some kind of historical perspective; and the judgement of history will not be kind. At the next election the voters will consign it to opposition and probably desert it in huge numbers, possibly on the scale of the Conservative defeat of 1997. Of course, in our electoral system, even a government that lasts three terms eventually returns to the opposition benches: there is not necessarily any ignominy in that. It depends on its legacy. I vividly recall a discussion at a seminar in 1998, organised as part of the preparation for a special issue of Marxism Today on New Labour. Most of the participants were to varying degrees inimical to New Labour and sceptical about its agenda. The few who were supportive argued that the key task was to secure two or more terms.

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In Britain, black people are excluded from decision-making in top-flight football. It will take more than one club appointment to change that

If you are white, you might think that English football is gloriously multiracial. After all, over a quarter of the players in the Premiership are black and much the same is true of the lower leagues. Alas, you would be wrong. Many players are black and, predictably, so are many who do football’s menial jobs such as catering, parking and security; but after that you enter an overwhelmingly white world. Virtually all the club chairmen and directors are white. Most outrageously of all, virtually every manager, even though they are almost always former players, is white.

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Obama has exposed the timidity of Blair and Brown – whose disastrous legacy is a Britain with no strong, credible left-of-centre voice

For those brought up on the modus operandi of the past 30 years, it is difficult to adjust to the monumental shift in US politics. The idea that General Motors – for so long the jewel in the crown of American manufacturing – will now be reshaped by the federal government is remarkable.

From finance to industry, the US government is now more involved in the economy than at any time since the 1930s. Furthermore, while the Republicans stand on the sidelines, warning of creeping socialism – itself an amazing charge – most of society seems to believe that there is little alternative other than a huge dose of state intervention to rescue the economy.

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The Labour Party that capitulated so completely to neoliberalism is exhausted. If it is to be reinvigorated, it will have to embrace bold ideas

The end of the neoliberal era is surely cause for some celebration. It marked a decisive shift in the centre of gravity of power in society: from the state to the market, from society to the individual, from relatively egalitarian values to the embrace of inequality. In the past 30 years, there has been a formidable redistribution of power and wealth in favour of the rich.

It can be argued that it is premature to announce the end of neoliberalism, and of course, in a sense, this is true. An ideology that has acquired such dominance at all levels of society, from the person in the street to the man at No 10 – to the point where it has acquired the force of common sense – does not and cannot disappear overnight.

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The longer the Prime Minister remains silent about the mistakes of the past, the less convincing he is as a leader for the present, let alone the future

Mr Brown is not going to apologise. He has made that perfectly clear by his silence, if nothing else. Alas, he is wrong. There was a moment last October when we glimpsed a different Gordon Brown as, seemingly energised by the financial calamity, he showed a boldness of action that suggested he might not be a prisoner of his past. But since then he has been the dour and defensive Prime Minister that we have grown accustomed to. There are three reasons why he should say mea culpa.

First, we need to try to understand the causes of the financial crash. We have proximate explanations but it will take a long time for us to arrive at any deeper conclusions. If the Prime Minister admitted to his own responsibility in the financial meltdown, that would set the tone for British society to enter into a more meaningful debate about the debacle. If the Prime Minister shows contrition, it encourages everyone else to do likewise. That is what leadership is about. And after a decade of gross excess, contrition is surely an attitude that should be encouraged.

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In the face of Thatcher’s iron will, Scargill’s decision to lead the strike without a ballot was an error that sealed the miners’ fate

The miners’ strike, which began 25 years ago this month, marked a decisive moment in the period of the Thatcher government. More than that, it was also a watershed in postwar history. The labour movement emerged from the second world war far stronger than previously. The long postwar boom which lasted until the early 1970s further bolstered the unions; this new-found strength was tested during the Heath government when the unions successfully resisted its various attempts to weaken them.

At the heart of this militancy were the miners. When Margaret Thatcher took office in 1979, she was determined not to be thwarted in the way that the Heath government had been and her government prepared its ground for a future confrontation with the unions with a carefully-conceived political strategy and meticulous preparation.

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