Eric Hobsbawm, who died on Monday aged 95, stood unchallenged as the foremost historian in the Marxist tradition not just in Britain but internationally.
He was also an active Communist for most of his life and closely involved in the key debates which defined the history of the left in Britain during the 20th century.
Born in Alexandria to Jewish parents of British-Austrian nationality in 1917, he was orphaned as a child and then brought up by an uncle in Berlin.
There he witnessed the nazi rise to power at first hand and participated in resistance activities as a member of a communist youth organisation.
Moving to school in Britain in 1934, he secured a scholarship to King's College, Cambridge, in 1935 and quickly became involved in the wider intellectual and organisational activities of the university's Communist Party branch. He served during the second world war in the engineers and army educational corps.
After the war he lectured at Birkbeck College in London from 1947 until his retirement in 1982 and held a fellowship at King's College, Cambridge, between 1949 and 1955.
He held visiting chairs in the United States from the 1960s and became president of Birkbeck College in 2002.
As a historian Hobsbawm was a central figure among those who transformed British history writing in the 1940s and '50s and for at least three decades broke the dominance of those who had hitherto made history speak for the existing order.
Along with Christopher Hill, Donna Torr, George Thomson, Rodney Hilton, Victor Kiernan, EP Thompson and other members of the Communist Party Historians Group, Hobsbawm laid out a new agenda.
This was interdisciplinary, insisted that society had to analysed as a whole and drew on the approach of the French historians of the Annales school, Georges Lefebre and Marc Bloch, both deeply influenced by Marx.
In 1952 Hobsbawm with other members of the Historians Group founded the journal Past and Present and a little later the Society for the Study of Labour History. The sophistication of their analysis forced mainstream historical journals to engage on fields of battle defined in Marxist terms.
Hobsbawm himself did so particularly in three areas.
He redefined the European crisis of the 17th century in economic, demographic and political terms as a clash between feudalism and capitalism.
He provided statistical support for Marx's view that the initial phase of industrial growth was at the expense of working-class living standards and hence challenged the dominant academic orthodoxy which insisted that industrialisation improved living standards.
Hobsbawm also produced detailed studies which vindicated Lenin's explanation of the reformism of Britain's labour movement in terms of a labour aristocracy sustained on the profits of empire.
Regis professors were lured out of their ivory towers - often returning battered and discredited.
These debates took Marxist assumptions on the class-driven character of social change to the heart of history teaching in schools and universities.
Hobsbawm followed this up in the 1960s and '70s with brilliantly accessible histories of Britain, Europe and the world over the past three centuries that defined the historical understanding of a generation.
It is rare for a scholar of Hosbawm's stature to be so accessible in their writing and teaching. Many of us will remember this for many years to come.
At the same time Hobsbawm was closely involved in the politics of the Communist Party. Along with EP Thompson and John Saville, he was among those who demanded changes in inner-party democracy and a departure from democratic centralism in the wake of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party and its denunciation of Stalin. He did not, however, leave the Communist Party.
In the '60s and '70s he developed links with those in the Italian Communist Party who saw themselves as developing a strategy for socialism that was quite distinct from - and to a large extent posed against - that of the Soviet Union.
In 1977 he published The Italian Road to Socialism based on a long interview with Giorgio Napolitano, then international secretary of the Italian party and today president of Italy.
In 1978 he gave a lecture at Marx House in London that was subsequently published in the Communist Party monthly Marxism Today as The Forward March of Labour Halted.
Writing at the time when the trade union movement was at the peak of its strength - and the left highly influential within it - Hobsbawm argued that the manual working class was in numerical decline and that the character of its politics was inherently economistic, trapped within the bounds of self-interested wage bargaining, and that consequently the left had to look in future to broader alliances and social movements.
This lecture became an iconic text for that wing within the Communist Party that sought to steer it away from class politics and to challenge key elements of Marxism.
While Hobsbawm never fully endorsed this endeavour, he actively supported the transformation of Marxism Today into its flagship journal and was a very frequent contributor. He continued to be so until 1991, by which time the Communist Party of Great Britain under the control of this wing had expelled virtually all opponents and then voted itself out of existence.
The same tendency subsequently provided important ideological support for those within the Labour Party calling for a realignment away from the trade union movement and the creation of new Labour.
Although Hobsbawm supported Neil Kinnock's remoulding of the Labour Party and was honoured by Tony Blair he subsequently spoke out against new Labour, its alignment with US policies and, very firmly, against the invasion of Iraq.
In his final years Hobsbawm continued his role - to use his own phrase - as a "public intellectual."
He refused all invitations to unilaterally condemn the Soviet Union and instead asserted its historic role in the defeat of fascism.
He indicated his concern at the manipulation of "identity politics" and in particular the divisive use of nationalism and national mythology. He showed his exasperation at the abandonment by most contemporary historians of any attempt to understand overall processes of social change.
Internationally, his writings have become an intellectual beacon for those seeking an understanding of human development in Marxist terms, particularly in Latin America and the Indian subcontinent.
While in Britain his death marks the end of that generation of communist historians who transformed history-writing, his continuing influence as a humanist and historian is assured.
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