Eric Hobsbawm died on October 1. He was a hack. In researching my book on Marx in the mid-1960s, I came across his writings repeatedly. He was so obviously a hack that I was amazed at how much favorable attention he got from academia.
There have been first-rate Marxist historians. Christopher Hill was gifted, an expert in the English Civil War. E. P. Thompson was another. (Thompson quit the Communist Party in 1956 as a protest to the Soviet invasion of Hungary.) But Hobsbawm was far more widely known in intellectual circles.
The British Daily Mail did a rip-roaring obituary of Hobsbawm. There was none of the fawning that the major papers displayed.
One of the marks of a third-rate intellectual class is its inability to distinguish solid academic work from propaganda, and even third-rate propaganda. The cheers for Hobsbawm in the obituaries indicate that the British Establishment has no judgment. It is therefore much less of a threat than conservatives think.
On Monday evening, the BBC altered its programme schedule to broadcast an hour-long tribute to an old man who had died aged 95, with fawning contributions from the likes of historian Simon Schama and Labour peer Melvyn Bragg.
The next day, the Left-leaning Guardian filled not only the front page and the whole of an inside page but also devoted almost its entire G2 Supplement to the news. The Times devoted a leading article to the death, and a two-page obituary.
You might imagine, given all this coverage and the fact that Tony Blair and Ed Miliband also went out of their way to pay tribute, that the nation was in mourning. . . .
Hobsbawm came to Britain as a refugee from Hitler’s Europe before the war, but, as he said himself, he wished only to mix with intellectuals. ‘I refused all contact with the suburban petit bourgeoisie which I naturally regarded with contempt.’ Naturally.. . .
Eric Hobsbawm took part in one of the most extraordinary conversations ever on British television. Speaking in 1994 to the author Michael Ignatieff about the fall of the Berlin Wall five years earlier, the historian was asked how he felt about his earlier support for the Soviet Union.
If Communism had achieved its aims, but at the cost of, say, 15 to 20 million people – as opposed to the 100million it actually killed in Russia and China – would Hobsbawm have supported it? His answer was a single word: ‘Yes’. . . .
Just imagine what would happen if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews in order to achieve their aims. We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public again – or at least until he retracted his repellent views and admitted that he had been culpably, basely, wrong.
Yet the awful thing about the phenomenon of Eric Hobsbawm is that the exact opposite to this is what happened.
He was awarded a Companion of Honour by Tony Blair – one of the highest accolades it is possible to bestow upon a British intellectual. A professor of history, he was regularly lionised on the BBC and in the liberal newspapers as our ‘greatest’ historian.
It is true he modified his hard-line support for Stalin and his death-camps as the years went by. The elderly Hobsbawm was not the same person who, in 1939, co-wrote a pamphlet defending not only Stalin but Hitler, too – and justifying the Nazi-Soviet pact to carve up Poland and dominate Eastern Europe. . . .
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’.
Read the entire obituary. This is the kind of obituary that defenders of totalitarianism deserve.