Eric Hobsbawn, dead this week at 95, might be “the most celebrated British historian of the 20th century,” but he was also an apologist for Stalin to the very end, as British historian Michael Burleigh reminds us:
Asked by the Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff on television whether the deaths of 20 million people in the USSR – not to mention the 55 to 65 million victims of Mao’s Great Leap Forward – might have been justified if this Red utopia had been realised, Hobsbawm muttered in the affirmative.
Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in
Spainin the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europeafter 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin’s stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europesince 1989-90. That the secret police – the Sword and Shield of the Revolution – would end up running Vladimir Putin’s FSB-mafia state was literally inexplicable to him.
Hobsbawm’s implacable refusal to recant his views when faced with their grotesque consequences tells us something about the belligerent mindset of the wider British Left. But the eminence that he and his fellow travellers have enjoyed also speaks to the bovine complacency with which, since Mrs Thatcher, the Conservatives have allowed such dubious figures licence to dominate the soft culture of the BBC and our universities. [The Telegraph, October 1]