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The Case of Eric Hobsbawm: Can a Stalinist Be a Good Historian?

So I must agree with Harris’s closing remarks, that what Hobsbawm’s long life shows is that “even men of great intelligence and vast erudition can deceive themselves into believing that crimes of the most unimaginable horror are a small price to pay for the fulfillment of their no doubt deeply humanitarian dreams.”

So let me end with citationa from two of Hobsbawm’s most severe critics. In Britain, the literary scholar A.N. Wilson suggested that not only was he a liar and a fool, but he might even have been a traitor as well. Because Wilson’s suggestion departed so greatly from the general honors given to Hobsbawm after his death, it is worth quoting from at length:

But as far as the history of the 20th century was concerned, he never learned its lessons. The tens of millions dead, the hundreds of millions enslaved, the sheer evil falsity of the ideology which bore down with such horror on the peoples of Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany, never occurred to this man.

He went on believing that a few mistakes had been made, and that Stalinism was 'disillusioning' - but that, in general, it would have been wonderful if Stalin had succeeded.

Any barmy old fool is, thank goodness, entitled to their point of view in our country. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany, Britain is a country where you can more or less say or think what you like.

What is disgraceful about the life of Hobsbawm is not so much that he believed this poisonous codswallop, and propagated it in his lousy books, but that such a huge swathe of our country’s intelligentsia - the supposedly respectable media and chattering classes - bowed down before him and made him their guru. Made him our ‘greatest historian’….The truth is that, far from being a great historian who sometimes made mistakes, Hobsbawm deliberately falsified history.”

Read the entire article to find out the specifics of what Wilson terms were Hobsbawm’s blatant “lies.”

Wilson also raises the question of whether or not, when he was at Cambridge in the 1930s with Guy Burgess, Donald MacLean, and Anthony Blunt, Hobsbawm too was a Soviet agent. Hobsbawm tried unsuccessfully to gain access to MI-5 files held on him, so he could find out who “snitched” on him. Why, Wilson asks, did Hobsbawm use that term, rather than simply attack the spy agency for even having a file on him? The term “snitched,” he thinks, may imply that Hobsbawm may have been a bit more than a simple Marxist academic in those years. So here is Wilson’s scathing conclusion about Hobsbawm:

Hobsbawm himself will sink without trace. His books will not be read in the future. They are little better than propaganda, and, in spite of the slavish language in the obituaries, are badly written.

What his death tells us, however, is that the liberal establishment that really runs this country has learned no lessons from history. It is still prepared to bow down and worship a man who openly hated Britain - and who knowingly wrote lies.

In our own country, writing in National Review, David Pryce-Jones writes his own chilling article about Hobsbawm. Calling him “The Tyrant’s Historian,” Pryce-Jones writes that “the enigma remains that a man with such an inhuman and mendacious record had an international reputation as a historian, garlanded with honorary degrees and awards.” Like Niall Ferguson, Pryce-Jones also knew Hobsbawm, and indeed was a neighbor of his at his country house in Wales.