Tuesday 2 October 2012

Eric Hobsbawm, enemy of the people


So the unrepentant Communist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, C.H., has died aged 95, loaded with honours by the British state which it was his life's ambition to destroy. The BBC report of his death contented itself with noting that his works were “shaped by his commitment to radical socialism”. The Daily Telegraph was less polite but more informatative. Its characteristically masterful and mordant obituary is here“Biography adds a new fear to death,” said Oscar Wilde and so does the Telegraph. 

Eric Hobsbawm in 1976 (Photo by Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images)

Silly, silly, silly man and worse than silly British state. In his lifetime the British and Western European working classes benefited from unprecedented prosperity and opportunities, thanks to capitalism not socialism, and yet he persisted in believing that the Communist Manifesto foretold the future. He wrote justifying the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1940 and of Hungary in 1956, worked very hard for Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev and achieved a very great deal of influence for the far left in UK universities. I was shocked when I read history at Cambridge at the respect that he was shown but knew it would be unacceptable to voice my opinion with my peers.  

But the patience of the British has its limits. Had Eric Hobsbawm adopted the theories of Gobineau and H.S. Chamberlain, rather than those of Marx and Engels, he would have been left to theorise in pubs, not given tenure at Birkbeck. Had he thought race not class was the driver in human history the Guardian would probably have refused to publish him. (I presume this because The Guardian sacked a football manager who wrote a column for them, a few years back, for making a racist remark, while continuing to employ several communists.)

Nick Cohen pointed out last year on a piece on Hobsbawm the Stalinist:

When he first visited the Soviet Union in 1954, Eric Hobsbawm discovered that the theory of a workers’ state and the practice of a Moscow still bleeding from Stalin’s last purge did not quite gel. “It was an interesting but also a dispiriting trip for foreign communist intellectuals,” he recalled in his autobiography, “for we met hardly anyone there like ourselves.” 

Hee, hee. Cohen continues: 

If he had gone to Siberia ....Hobsbawm would have found the bodies of communist intellectuals – just like him. If Hobsbawm had followed the logic of his convictions and moved from Nazi Germany to seek a home in the Soviet Union rather than Britain, his chances of surviving would have been slim. Either the party would have shot him in the great purge for being foreigner and a Jew to boot, or he would have been forced to denounce innocent comrades to save his skin. After concluding the Nazi-Soviet pact, Stalin handed German communists over to Hitler as a gesture of goodwill. If the purge of 1936-38 had not killed Hobsbawm, the pact of 1939 probably would have done for him instead.’

In 9 November 1956 Hobsbawm, future Companion of Honour, wrote in The Daily Worker:

"While approving, with a heavy heart, of what is now happening in Hungary, we should therefore also say frankly that we think the USSR should withdraw its troops from the country as soon as this is possible."
He said in one of The Age of Extremes which came out in the late 1990s that
'The Second World War led communist parties to power' in Eastern Europe and he referred in it to the 'revolution' in Eastern Europe after 1945. These are not slips or, if they are, they are Freudian ones. 

Hobsbawm (like Ralph Miliband) did not repay the UK very well for sheltering and naturalising him, it seems to me, although Miliband grew out of his Leninist phase in his teens and was a classical Marxist. There is not as much gratitude in immigrants as you might expect. Other instances of ingratitude are legion but include the Archbishop of York and Miss Yasmin Alibhai-Brown banging on about British racism, despite the fact that Britain gave them refuge from Idi Amin. But I suppose Hobsbawm, a convinced Marxist-Leninist, was obeying his ill-educated conscience, as were the Nazis. 

Still I owe Eric Hobsbawm something. I had my first inkling Christianity might be true reading him saying that the Catholic Church opposed everything the 18th and 19th centuries believed in. That sounded like divine guidance and a Divinity in Whom I could believe. (Writing this, I see that the reactionary Catholicism of Pius IX is the opposite of the Marxist doctrine that the historical process is a sort of secular god. Personally, I prefer the Syllabus of Errors to the Communist Manifesto.)

Michael Moynihan has written:
In a now infamous 1994 interview with journalist Michael Ignatieff, the historian was asked if the murder of “15, 20 million people might have been justified” in establishing a Marxist paradise. “Yes,” Mr. Hobsbawm replied. Asked the same question the following year, he reiterated his support for the “sacrifice of millions of lives” in pursuit of a vague egalitarianism. That such comments caused surprise is itself surprising; Mr. Hobsbawm’s lifelong commitment to the Party testified to his approval of the Soviet experience, whatever its crimes. It’s not that he didn’t know what was going on in the dank basements of the Lubyanka and on the frozen steppes of Siberia. It’s that he didn't much care.
Readers of How to Change the World will be treated to explications of synarchism, a dozen mentions of the Russian Narodniks, and countless digressions on justly forgotten Marxist thinkers and politicians. But there is remarkably little discussion of the way communist regimes actually governed. There is virtually nothing on the vast Soviet concentration-camp system, unless one counts a complaint that “Marx was typecast as the inspirer of terror and gulag, and communists as essentially defenders of, if not participators in, terror and the KGB.” Also missing is any mention of the more than 40 million Chinese murdered in Mao’s Great Leap Forward or the almost two million Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.
I also recommend this excellent piece by John Phelan.

Political commentary by fine historians of the recent past is, surprisingly enough, almost never of any value or interest - certainly not that of Tony Judt, Norman Davies, Eric Foner, Niall Ferguson, Mark Marzower or A.J.P. Taylor. Even my old friend, Andrew Roberts, did not convince me to admire George W. Bush. Certainly Eric Hobsbawm had nothing interesting to say about current politics.

An example is Hobsbawm asking, in 2009, in The Guardian, last home of Communist intellectuals:

‎"Socialism has failed. Now capitalism is bankrupt. So what comes next?" 

He was completely wrong, as always when he wrote about politics. Capitalism had not failed but socialism had won, though not Leninism. The collapse of the USSR liberated the Left in Britain and around the war from defending the economically indefensible. The new Marxism would not try to take over the economy but society and culture, via the universities and the left of centre media. A rather similar decision that had been taken at about the same time by the Labour modernisers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The result is political correctness and the ideology of equal opportunities, which seems reasonable and charitable and concerned only with justice but smuggles left-socialist hidden premises into its arguments. As Frank Johnson said of the Left: 

They have given up trying to nationalise companies and want to nationalise people instead.

In any case, at least seen from the viewpoint of an imaginary time traveller from 1900 or even 1935 the developed world nowadays is socialist. I, like most people, could not accept or have the courage to imagine a return to the small state of 1900 or of 1935 but our very big state, equality considered as a public goal, plus anti-discrimination laws, excessive health and safety laws and innumerable other laws seem to me to be socialism, a.k.a. social democracy, even if it is called Christian democracy or modernisation. What would have been surprising thirty years ago is the concomitant lack of freedom of speech and the left wing consensus in university arts faculties.

I suppose it is about defining terms and I always prefer to look back several generations before defining them. Socialism does not mean Old Labour, much less communism. Herbert Spencer thought free school dinners meant socialism. Edward VII said we are all socialists now. I remember Michael Parkinson asking the left-wing trade unionist Arthur Scargill (in the late 1970s?) where socialism had worked and his replying, 'Cuba.' Socialism has worked, rather well in some ways, up to now, but certainly not in Cuba. It has worked in Sweden, Norway and Denmark and in Western Europe generally, not in the Soviet bloc. In the UK it worked less well than on the Continent, though I am not sure why.

I cannot forbear to add that it was not economic problems or lack of freedom that brought down the USSR but the discovery of nationalism on the part of the communists in charge of the fifteen union republics. Nationalism is not 'false consciousness', however much peace studies lecturers 
disapprove of it, and may yet pose great questions for the Nordic countries and all the Western European social democracies.


  1. Exactly.

    1. A person with the extreme communist (death to the bourgeoisie) views of Tariq Ali is invited to talk at BBC while people like Roger Scruton and Kevin MacDonald barely managed to keep their academic job.
    When Tariq Ali is invited to lecture at an American, Canadian or British university nobody cares while when a person like J. Philippe Rushton is invited a news event is created.

    It is your country and civilization (Anglo-Saxon) Paul, not modernity. Romania is a modern country. But it is at the periphery of the Western big cultures/civilizations (Spengler). Is Spain a modern country? I bet it is. Then why Spanish people do not care about Eric Hobsbawm, BBC, The Guardian, Roger Scruton, Kevin Mac Donald, Rushton, racism, the New Left, political correctness, feminism, etc etc.

    Because all these are features of the Anglo-Saxon civilization. Your civilization not ours. It is not about modernity!

    2. Even if Eric Hobsbawm professed communist political views (he was an unrepeated communist, as I understand), he wrote unbiased and good quality history books. I have read some of them. Probably he wanted to give to his books as log a life as possible. He realized that posterity will judge him by the quality of his books. So basically his political stance was buffoonish.

    3. What you allude in the last part of your piece is called in the Anglo-Saxon countries “the New Left” as far as I know.

    Why do you like Nick Cohen? Just because he is anti-Muslim? He is a left-winger. All right, of a neo-conservative (“When Jews turn right”) kind.

  2. Paul, interesting piece thanks for penning it.

    Bogdan, while us Anglos certainly have much to repent regarding how our liberal inheritance has degraded into something fearful that now threatens our being itself, to infer as you do that very similar problems are not also being felt by the French, Spanish, Italians, Germans and others in central and eastern Europe into Russia and beyond really just sounds like axe grinding towards us once happy breed of men.

    You could also use a similar tactic to blame the Germans - if you desired - both due to the playing out of the National Socialist era as well as how those from the Frankfurt school helped to draw the post-war intellectual climate in their favour.

    I think neither explanation is by itself satisfactory.

    1. Mea culpa. You are right. I have exaggerated.

      Leftist intellectuals (of the New Left type) exist also in France (especially), Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden etc. The Frankfurt School is not a good example because it was overwhelmingly dominated by Jewish intellectuals of the kind represented by Eric Hobsbawm. However, Germany has “pure blood” leftist intellectuals of its own.

      This pan-European leftist ideology can be likened to a universalist religion like Catholicism. And the motives why one is or becomes a Catholic can be very subjective. Similarly, the motivation why one embraces this leftist ideology (multiculturalism, positive discrimination, anti-racism, feminism, anti-capitalism, etc.) can be very idiosyncratic. All these people in a sense are fellow travelers. They are bound to disagree on many other issues. I am pretty sure that all of them retain their ethnocentrism (“our country/nation is the better than yours”).

      However, I am still of the opinion that the overall positive attitude to immigration and immigrants (especially from the Empire) that existed (and still exists) in Britain stems from the hubris of the Brits (English). It resembles a sandbagging strategy. Your self-esteem is boosted when you see how desperate are some foreigners to enter and live in Britain. And I am pretty sure that you regard the overwhelmingly white Eastern Europe with disdain because it lacks its fair share of colored people.

    2. Bogdan, I think the left filled the vacuum when the traditional right lost its footing after after WW2. As I implied above the tendency to lay down the ISR card as the fount of all evil is misguided and there were others of similar tendencies elsewhere (such as Sartre)even if many of these were rehashing old Karl.

      The 'positive attitude' to immigration is misguided. Especially when paired with a belief in some sort of patriarchal vanity. Those who are young and recently put through the spin cycle of our education system are the most likely to make positive noises about immigration, but that declines sharply as they meet the working adult world. Otherwise the only assent towards immigration comes from those who have been offered no argument except that our economy would fail without them and therefore see no realistic option within their limited worlds.

      I also have not witnessed any disdain towards Eastern Europeans either within our border or without, the only thing that I think may make it seem this way is that of a light ethnocism perhaps.

      Where it occurs, this has two roots - firstly Brits do not want to seem like strangers in their homeland or places of birth. Large numbers of any non-natives unsettles. In some areas, East Euros, including many Polish can settle and open niche shops and restaurants and lead a parallel existence. Secondly water from any leak will keep moving until it finds a gap in which to drip out of. There are strong social and therefore psychological pressures in the UK from vocalising dissent regarding our usurpation. That directed towards fellows Europeans has a much lesser social cost than a similar sentiment directed towards non-Europeans. I have not witnessed much of this but it does exist. Of course in some vocational areas it is felt more keenly too.

    3. Take the quote from Hitler: "Those who want to live let them fight, and those who do not want to fight, in this world of eternal struggle, do not deserve to live."

      The same has been said by the cynic (realist) thinkers throughout the ages, from the sophist Thrasymachus trough Machiavelli, Hobbes, Baltasar Gracian, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche to Freud.

      Our fight in life for success and happiness is with three opponents: Nature (birth defects, disease, defective personality, accidents), ourselves (defective personality) and people.

      Because the first two opponents are indomitable, we turn our aggressiveness toward people as in turn people do the same with us.

      So the cynics and misanthropes are right after all...
      Therefore, there will always be conflicts between people and nations and the multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial society is a time bomb (“rivers of blood”).

    4. "the multicultural, multiethnic and multiracial society is a time bomb"

      That it is, but modern day Europeans have not shown that they have the stomach for defending themselves. They are in most cases (Northern Euros especially) too prone to look to themselves or the family unit and draw a line around that rather than the wider group from which they hail - unless a campaign by their leaders precedes it.

      So when low level skirmishes (such as what is happening in the north of England at present in towns with high Muslim presences) become more pronounced, most will look to find some form of accommodation with it.

    5. DOINA by Mihai Eminescu

      From the Dniester to the Theiss
      Foreigners have spread like lice;
      All Romanians complain:
      Breathing’s pain and life’s a bane.
      From Khotin down to the sea
      Muscovites make all folk flee;
      From the seashore to Khotin
      They waylay us with a grin;
      From the Danube to the North
      Creepy vermin have come fort;
      For your lives they lie in wait
      Twisting your love into hate.
      Up on hilltops, in the valley,
      Aliens forever rally;
      Safely through a mountain pass.
      Poor Romanians have no chance,
      Like to crawfish they advance!
      They toil hard, but nothing earn,
      Autumns bring them no return;
      Summers, springs are scarcely theirs,
      To their land they are not heirs.
      From Suceava to the South
      Foes pour from a dragon’s mouth-
      Hordes that nest, bring ills and drought;
      As they come by road and rail
      Even songs die in the dale;
      All the songsters fly afar:
      Alien corn is black as tar.
      Shadows of the thorns alone
      Now adorn the Christians’ home!
      Homeland suckles us like mothers,
      Woods are the Romanians’ brothers.
      But they bend, felled by the axe;
      Springs dry up, and waters lacks-
      Woods are poor, the country’s poor!
      He who fawns on foreigners
      May his heart be torn by curs;
      Waste and ruin strike his house,
      People crush him for a louse.

      Mighty Stephen, princely bloom,
      Lie no longer in your tomb!
      Leave the liturgy and prayer
      To the abbot’s pious care;
      Leave the priests and monks to look
      After relics, saints, the Book.
      Have them ring th’alarum bell
      Day and night – an endless knell –
      So the Lord may grant your dream
      That your folk you may redeem.
      Come and stand up from your mound!
      When we hear your bugle sound
      All Romanians rally round;
      If you blow your battle trump
      To a man Moldavia’ll jump;
      If you give a second call
      Woods shall help you, raise a wall!
      If you sound it once again
      Aliens shall die in pain
      In the mountains, hills and plain –
      May they be endeared by crows
      And by gallows in thick rows!

    6. This poem was forbidden during the communist regime (it was taken out of all anthologies of Eminescu’s poems). Presumably because it was considered an irredentist text by the government of USSR.

      Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen opposed in 1980 the publication of Eminescu’s journalism (which comprised anti-Semitic articles) as part of the complete works series published by the Romanian Academy.


      “In the 1980s in his opposition to antisemitism and xenophobic trends which were sometimes encouraged by Ceauşescu himself, dr Rosen dared to rise his voice even against some protégés of the regime as the poet Corneliu Vadim Tudor. the writer Eugen Barbu and the literary historian Dumitru Vatamaniuc who edited posthumously, and without adequate critic notes, the antisemitic articles of the Romanian national great poet, Mihai Eminescu.”

      Now anybody can buy a book with comprising Eminescu’s articles on the “Jewish question” in Romania
      Mihai Eminescu : Chestiunea evreiasca Ed. Vestala


      A big fuss about nothing!

  3. " I recommend this excellent piece by John Phelan."

    Paul, thanks for the article suggestion but I preferred your piece over John Phelan's.

    While David Irving has faults.. for John Phelan to associate Hobsbawn to Irving was thoroughly unfair.

    Whatever David Irving has done in mitigating the National Socialist regime (and I'd suggest little, although he did some pretty convincing demolition work on Churchill) he has never avowed any sort of desire for Nazism to succeed in any shape or form.

    If anyone disagrees they can read all his books in PDF format for free via his website and make their own minds up.

  4. Tuesday I was in a waiting room in a hospital in Costa Rica. I watched a stand-alone news scroll endlessly repeat the same four or five items. The only non-Latin American news event shown was the death of "Marxist historian" Hobsbawm. I guess some underemployed liberal arts graduate is responsible for selecting and entering the news.

  5. A bit vehement, perhaps, but interesting nonetheless. I have seven of his books on my shelves, all read at least once, but am thinking of re-reading some of them. An old Kingsman, of course.

  6. "In any case, at least seen from the viewpoint of an imaginary time traveller from 1900 or even 1935 the developed world nowadays is socialist." I remember the amazement of a refugee from the DDR when visiting the Netherlands: "This land, this society, is what we in the DDR tried to achieve for decades, and failed."

  7. A trip to Stalin's USSR saved Malcolm Muggeridge from traveling the road of radical leftist pretentions Hobshawn et al seemed to happily travel down.

  8. Yes but it didn't work for G B Shaw or the horrible Webbs. I am sure Hobsbawm did not get much chance to see things for himself nor had he eyes to see the truth.

  9. Eric Hobsbawn was an unreconstructed Marxist with seemingly no redeeming qualities. Why did anyone from the mainstream media take any interest in this utter fool who refused to learn anything from 20th century history? Even more pertinently, why has anyone taken any notice of his irrelevant death? The world is undoubtedly a better place without him and his sickening views.

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. "...nor had he eyes to see the truth"

    I wonder what his truth was made of - if he expected to be proven wrong by consensus, then he has been proven right.

  12. "The greatest scientist of all times" A. Einstein was also a pacifist, anti-fascist, anti-German (he was a German speaking Jew), Zionist, A-bomb advocate turned A-Bomb opponent, free thinker (Jew only in the racist sense of the word), etc. A great spirit who will be remembered by humanity forever.

    Hobsbawm (un)fortunately will be forgotten entirely in lets say fifty years time. (I am generous).

    Moral: Physics beats history.

  13. After reading the article in the Telegraph, Hobsbawm rather reminds me of the character of Rubin in Solzhenitsyn's _In the First Circle_. As I have said before, however, Hobsbawm was an ideologue, not an historian.

  14. I do not know how it was in cold war Britain, but certainly here the people were not Marxists (when they dared to acknowledge what they were). With communism presure and everything romania could not even produce a marxist of two levels below that of Lakatos in Hungary. Interesting enough this may change in the future...

    As he died earlier this months he deserves a word or two, especially as he wrote so well on long term (history & economics) perspectives. My take on what it appeared following his death is the article of Mark Marzower in Guardian.


  15. I love Marzower but cannot find an article by him on Hobsbawm on the net.

  16. this is the link:

    and the final, which I like it very much:
    To anyone who loves history his death is very sad news. May his books be read for many years to come.
    I believe that this is the best homage which could be brought to a writer.

  17. Well said! I'll be posting my own demolition of this dreadful hack tomorrow evening. :-)

  18. You might like this piece also about the Cold War. http://pvewood.blogspot.ro/2011/06/cold-war-within-cold-war-romanian.html

  19. One hopes now that Marxist historiography will end up up on the scrap heap of history alongside Soviet Communism. Hobsbawm was a classic example of how not to write history.

  20. One hopes now that Marxist history will join Soviet Communism on the scrap heap of history. Hobsbawm was a classic example of how NOT to write history.

  21. I am posting Anastasia's piece since she did not: http://anatheimp.blogspot.ro/2012/10/eric-hobsbawm-smelly-and-orthodox.html

  22. I shall merely say that denial of Communist crimes brings you honour and a CH whereas denial of the Holocaust rightly brings you disgrace.