Hobsbawm’s Choice

Hobsbawm’s Choice
Profile photo of Nicholas Farrell

Reprinted from Taki’s Magazine

They played “The Internationale” at Wednesday’s funeral of Eric Hobsbawm, Britain’s “greatest historian.” No one took offense. Indeed, all felt uplifted. The mourners at the crematorium in Golders Green, London’s Jewish heartland, included Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who proclaimed Hobsbawm “an extraordinary historian” who “brought history out of the ivory tower and into people’s lives.”

Until his death at age 95 on October 1, Hobsbawm had remained a wide-eyed, barely repentant believer in the religion of world communism. Naturally, Britain and Europe’s most influential journalists and academics revered him. So on the day of his death, Britain’s BBC—the state broadcaster whose remit is to tell us the truth—interrupted everything to pay sickly sweet homage to the nation’s greatest communist.

Hobsbawm’s golden reputation is proof that communism did not die with the Soviet Union. It is also proof that if you defend communism, far from it being shameful, it remains laudable and even necessary—especially if you are a journalist or an academic keen to get ahead.

It’s indicative of who really calls the shots in Britain and Europe that to brand someone “a fascist” or “a Nazi” is an insult, but to call someone a “communist” is not, and that to deny the communist holocaust is allowed, but to deny the Nazi holocaust is not.

Can we imagine what the PC (post-communist/politically correct) people who command European culture would have had to say if at the funeral of an academic who was an unrepentant apologist of National Socialism they played the “Horst Wessel Song” as the flames devoured his corpse and the mourners felt uplifted? No politician would dare to attend. Arrests would be made.

How can killing six million Jews be more evil than killing 94 million people (including 65 million in China and 20 million in Soviet Russia)? If it is unacceptable to kill your racial enemy then surely it is also unacceptable to kill your class enemy, right?

Wrong, say the hordes of communist fellow travelers in the non-communist world, for this reason: Unlike the Nazi cause, the communist cause was justified because a property owner deserves to be eliminated, whereas a Jew does not.

But no decent human being can justify what was done during the 20th century in communism’s name.

Yet despite it all—despite the belated admissions about Soviet genocide after Stalin’s death in 1953, despite the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968, despite the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, et tout ça—despite all that and so much more, Britain’s greatest historian could see no evil.

The genocides were either mistakes, you see, or mistakes that occurred behind his back. However regrettable, such mistakes did not matter because the end justified the means.

It is one thing to kill people in a war of survival as the Allies did; it’s quite another to kill them in cold blood as the communists did.

Unlike nearly everyone else, Britain’s “greatest” historian did not care because those genocides did not matter.

Hobsbawm came to London at age 15 from Berlin in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. He soon joined the British Communist Party. At Cambridge University, he was a member of the notorious Apostles, a secret club whose membership in the 1930s was mainly communist. Several members at this time who later had jobs with access to British government secrets were eventually revealed to have been Soviet spies during the Cold War. These included Michael Straight, American speechwriter to Franklin D. Roosevelt and later publisher of The New Republic, who admitted spying for the Soviets to the American government in 1963.

Was Hobsbawm a communist spy as well? In 2007, he applied to see the files that MI5 kept on him. His request was rejected in 2009. To the press, he denied being a spy but mysteriously said that his request must have been turned down to protect the identities of those who had “snitched on me to the authorities.”

Either way, he did much more damage to the cause of liberty and democracy as a communist propagandist. In 1947, he was appointed a history lecturer at Birkbeck College in London, where he eventually became president.

Countless other members of the European intelligentsia who had fallen for communism abandoned the faith back in the 1930s as the murderous and miserable reality of what it entailed began to emerge.

ut Hobsbawm was unable or unwilling to accept the brutal and clinical repression of all left-wing groups in the Spanish Civil War which tried to remain free of Stalinist control, as had George Orwell who saw it firsthand as a volunteer and wrote about it in his 1938 book, Homage to Catalonia.

After World War II, Hobsbawm minimized the horrors that communist regimes perpetrated everywhere. He distorted and corrupted the facts. In his 1997 book On History, he wrote:

Fragile as the communist systems turned out to be, only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain them from 1957 until 1989.

Perhaps he meant that such systems were wanted by and not imposed on the public in those countries, which is untrue.

He simply could not get enough of the Italian Communist Party, which nearly made Italy become Western Europe’s first domino to fall in the 1970s.

In his review of Hobsbawm’s 2002 memoir Interesting Times, British historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson cites this passage from Hobsbawm:

The Party…had the first, or more precisely the only real claim on our lives. Its demands had absolute priority. We accepted its discipline and hierarchy. We accepted the absolute obligation to follow ‘the lines’ it proposed to us, even when we disagreed with it….We did what it ordered us to do….Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed….If the Party ordered you to abandon your lover or spouse, you did so.

Yet this man was made a fellow of the British Academy in 1978, and in 1998 New Labour’s Tony Blair appointed Hobsbawm a Companion of Honour—one of the highest accolades for a British intellectual.

It is deeply disturbing that so many other influential people still not only take such a man seriously, they shower him with adulation. It makes me feel that there is one class war that really must be fought: The one to eliminate the chattering classes.

Profile photo of Nicholas Farrell

Nicholas Farrell, a graduate of Cambridge University, lives in Italy where he is a columnist for Libero and La Voce di Romagna. He was a staff reporter on the Sunday Telegraph in London before moving to Paris in 1997 to write a book on the death of Princess Diana and to Italy in 1998 to write a biography of Benito Mussolini and has contributed often to the British Spectator.

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