« A new account of Mao’s great famine reveals the dark heart of socialism | Main | Proof that free schools raise standards for everybody »

Culture and technology
21 November 2012

Eric Hobsbawm: The reddest stain on Red Ed’s record

Earlier this year, the historian and public intellectual, Arthur Attarian, died aged 95. A dedicated anti-communist, he never properly renounced his support for the fascist regimes of pre- and post-war Europe – though he did distance himself from their worst excesses. Despite the controversy surrounding his political beliefs, Attarian's great historical works were praised by critics on the left as well as by his sympathisers on the right. His funeral, which took place last month, was attended by leading figures from the media, academia and politics. The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, paid tribute to him as "an extraordinary historian, a man passionate about his politics and a great friend of my family".

As you may have guessed, almost all of the above is fiction. There never was an academic old fascist called Arthur Attarian. There was, however, an academic old Communist called Eric Hobsbawm. Furthermore, the words fictionally attributed above to David Cameron, fell in reality from the lips of Ed Miliband (in tribute to the old Communist).

In a superb piece for Standpoint, Andrew Gimson says what needs to be said: 

  • "If Hobsbawm had been an unrepentant fascist, instead of an unrepentant Communist, he would not have received such favourable coverage. Nor would Miliband and other members of the intelligentsia have made Hobsbawm's funeral so crowded that there was standing room only. Nor, we can be sure, would Tony Blair have recommended that the great man be made a Companion of Honour: a distinction Hobsbawm accepted in 1998 (he justified doing so by saying how much it would have pleased his mother, who died in 1931)." 

Moreover, an unrepentant fascist, no matter how brilliant, would not have enjoyed the academic success that Hobsbawm did – the political views of the former, once expressed, would have amounted to career suicide. And even if academia had not shunned him, then the Conservative Party certainly would have done – and not just for the lack of an ideological continuum between conservatism and fascism. It is simply inconceivable that David Cameron could describe such an individual as a "great friend of the family".

Here are just some of the things that Ed Miliband’s "great friend" actually stood for: 

  • "In 1994, when Michael Ignatieff asked him whether, if ‘the radiant tomorrow’ had actually been created in the Soviet Union, the death of 15 or 20 million people would have been justified, Hobsbawm replied: ‘Yes.’ 
  • "…Nick Cohen has reminded us in his Spectator blog that at the start of the Second World War, Hobsbawm… not only accepted the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, but actually wrote a pamphlet defending the Soviet invasion of Finland, in which they claimed that ‘Stalin was protecting Finland from an invasion by British imperialists’.  

And to quote Hobsbawm again: 

  • "To this day, I notice myself treating the memory and tradition of the USSR with indulgence and tenderness." 

But, you know, all of that’s just fine, because, as Ed Miliband said, he was a "man passionate about his politics." As, indeed, were Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Nicolae Ceausescu and Pol Pot.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.

Register to get The Deep End delivered to your inbox.