Christopher Hill

Peter Chiltern ozleft at optushome.com.au
Wed Feb 26 19:56:27 MST 2003


By Bob Gould

The death of Christopher Hill is a turning point for those, like me, whose
initial political experience was during the upheaval in the Stalinist
movement in 1956. In fact, only those who were, like me, very young at the
time, are by and large still left of the generation affected by those
events.

The Communist Party Historians' Group in the UK, of which Christopher Hill,
E.P. Thompson, Brian Pearce and others were important members, spearheaded
the struggle for an accounting with Stalinism in Britain. The three I've
named, and almost all the other members of the CP Historians' Group, left
the Stalinist movement at that time. The only one of significance who
remained in the CP was Eric Hobsbawm, who is now treated with reverence by
the British bourgeoisie because he went on to vigorously support the shift
to the right in the British labour movement, combining a nostalgia for
Stalinism with support for right-wing politics in the workers' movement.

E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill were a different kettle of fish to
Hobsbawm. They both participated vigorously in the early discussions of the
New Left, and their major Marxist historical work took place after their
break with Stalinism.

Personally, many Marxists with an interest in history, I feel I owe an
enormous debt to Christopher Hill, and his books are both informative and
pleasurable.

Gerry Healy, who despite his bad political features in a number of respects
was nobody's fool in some others, used to use Christopher Hill's book about
Cromwell, God's Englishman, as a kind of textbook about the idea of a
fighting political organisation.

Thompson and Christopher Hill had in common an omnivorous interest in the
social, religious and political sects, groupings and currents that were part
of the English revolution of the 17th century, which produced the fertile
intellectual environment that prefigured the development of the modern
labour movement in Britain.

Both E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill were fascinated by the traces they f
ound of the Muggletonians, the mystical dissenting sect of which the artist
and poet William Blake was an adherent, that had so many common features
with many small modern Marxist groups. Christopher Hill's book, The
Muggletonians, is of enormous interest.

Reading anything written by E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill is never a
waste of time, and quite often a source of excitement and pleasure. They
were two of ours, so to speak, unlike the keeper of the Stalinist secrets,
Hobsbawm, who became a latter-day right-winger in the British workers'
movement.


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