The Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm died on 1 October at the age of 95.
I will personally remember how, when I was a new undergraduate history student, Hobsbawm kindly replied to my precocious letter about the world financial crisis in 2008. That said, Hobsbawm was a political figure and deserves to be appraised politically.
I haven't read that much of Eric Hobsbawm's writing and not for years, so I can't really say whether he had a "pre-occupation with party over class". For sure he rated the existence and line of the Stalinist Communist Parties over any living working-class struggle. But to explain why Hobsbawm and other Eurocommunists backed Kinnock over the Labour left as "party over class" seems to me off-beam.
I don't think this is his view, but Liam's phrasing implies that Marxists should prioritise "class over party". While in a 'first principles' sense this has an element of truth - because we put the goal of working-class self-emancipation higher than allegiance to any organisation as such - in practical terms it is misleading.
As Trotsky put it in 'What next? Vital questions for the German proletariat' (1932):
"When... Seydewitz [leader of the SAP, a left split from the Social Democrats] assures us that so far as he is concerned, "the interests of the class come before the interests of the party," [he falls] into political sentimentalism or, what is worse, behind this sentimental phraseology... screen[s] the interests of [his] own party. This method is no good... The interests of the class cannot be formulated otherwise than in the shape of a program; the program cannot be defended otherwise than by creating the party. The class, taken by itself, is only material for exploitation. The proletariat assumes an independent role only at that moment when from a social class in itself it becomes a political class for itself. This cannot take place otherwise than through the medium of a party. The party is that historical organ by means of which the class becomes class conscious. To say that "the class stands higher than the party," is to assert that the class in the raw stands higher than the class which is on the road to class consciousness.
"The progress of a class toward class consciousness, that is, the building of a revolutionary party which leads the proletariat, is a complex and a contradictory process. The class itself is not homogeneous. Its different sections arrive at class consciousness by different paths and at different times. The bourgeoisie participates actively in this process. Within the working class, it creates its own institutions, or utilizes those already existing, in order to oppose certain strata of workers to others. Within the proletariat several parties are active at the same time. Therefore, for the greater part of its historical journey, it remains split politically."
This was not said in order to justify the bureaucratic twists and turns of the German Communist Party. In fact 'What Next?' is in large part devoted to the idea that the Communist Party is betraying the interests of the working class. But of the idea that "the interests of the class come before the interests of the party", Trotsky says: "there isn’t the slightest need for this... theory in order to establish the necessity for a [workers'] united front [against the the Nazis, which the Stalinists opposed, or in general]."
I'm not convinced there is any need for it to explain Hobsbawm's support for Kinnock either. I think that rallying must have had more to do with the Popular Front, anti-class struggle politics which - as Liam explains - Hobsbawm had grown up politically with and then developed. Building on this tradition, the Eurocommunist current around Marxism Today had concluded by the early 1980s that working-class struggle had no prospects because the Thatcherites had 'hegemonised' such a big swathe of workers, and that the only alternative was a 'broad popular alliance' stretching from the Labour right to the Liberals and even Tory 'wets'. That included opposition to left struggles, however limited, for democracy and working-class policies in the Labour Party.
I agree with the thrust of what Sacha has said. I could have been more precise with my phrasing because in the article I unintentionally conflated the debate about party and class in Marxism with Hobsbawm's support for the Labour Party machine in the 1980s.
With reference to Hobsbawm and the 1980s I meant that in his autobiography where he justifies his support for Kinnock, Hobsbawm was overly concerned with the continuing integrity of the Labour Party, as against the prospect of it splitting up in the course of left-wing struggle. Sacha is correct in saying that the deeper roots of why Hobsbawm thought this were more to do his political Popular Frontism than it does any understanding of the nature of the proletarian vanguard- not least because the right-wards moving Labour Party was clearly central to any sort of 'broad popular alliance' in the absence of a sizeable CP.