October 2, 2012
A BELIEVER IN THE RED UTOPIA TO THE VERY END: British historian Eric Hobsbawm died on Sunday at age 95. As Michael Moynihan wrote last year in the Wall Street Journal, “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:”
One wouldn’t know it from “How to Change the World,” but Mr. Hobsbawm wasn’t always convinced that the Soviet Union, along with its puppets and imitators, was misunderstanding the essence of Marxism. He never relinquished his membership in the Communist Party, even after Moscow’s invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Indeed, he began his writing career with a co-authored pamphlet defending the indefensible Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939. “To this day,” he writes in his memoirs, “I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with an indulgence and tenderness.” There was some ugliness in the socialist states occupied by Moscow, he admitted in 2002, but “leaving aside the victims of the Berlin Wall,” East Germany was a pleasant place to live. Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
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.
And he’s far from alone among left-wing intellectuals in preferring the comfort of intellectual abstractions, no matter how repellant they work out in real life.
(Via The Brothers Judd.)