Eric Hobsbawm finally died two years ago today. He was a Marxist writer, apologist for Stalin, Communist propagandist, and professional liar, who plied his trade as an academic historian. Profusely eulogised by Britain's Left-leaning intellectuals, media, and political class, and obscenely rewarded for his labours, he was described in the British media as 'our greatest historian'.
Eric Hobsbawm was born in Alexandria, Egypt. His father, Leopold Percy Obstbaum, was an East London merchant of Polish Jewish descent. His mother, Nelly Grün, came from an middle class Austrian Jewish background. Leopold had already altered his surname to Hobsbaum when Eric was born, but a clerical error resulted in a futher alteration to Hobsbawm.
In 1919, the family, who were poor, moved to Vienna, Austria, and later they moved to Berlin, Germany. Throughout this time his parents spoke to him in English.
His father died in 1929, and his mother in 1931, at which point he and his younger sister, Nancy, were adopted by their maternal aunt, Gretl. It was during this period, while living in Berlin, that he became a communist, mainly out of having a 'sense of living in some sort of final crisis'.
When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, they found asylum in Britain, where Eric was enrolled in St Marylebone Grammar School. Britain's generosity even extended to his being awared a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge. Rather than grateful, however, the gormless young Eric felt superior, and wished to mix only with intellectuals. ‘I refused all contact with the suburban petit bourgeoisie which I naturally regarded with contempt.’  Of course.
In fact, his contempt extended his own family. David Pryce-Jones, reviewing Hobsbawm's long autobiography, remarks on the latter's 'remoteness from normal emotions'.
His parents and their sad lives leave him unmoved. His aunts and uncles are described here with a chilling one-dimensional detachment free from any gratitude for what they did. He also had one sister, younger than he, of whom he says baldly, "She did not share my interests or my life, increasingly dominated by politics." Elsewhere in the book, this sister is written off as "a demonstratively conventional Anglican country matron and Conservative Party activist".
From the University of Cambridge he obtained a PhD in history. Unfortunately, but predictably, he also kept bad company: as a member of the Cambridge Apostles, an intellectual secret society within the university that was, at the time, dominated by Marxists. Just ahead of him members had included communists Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, who were also homosexual lovers, as well as Leonard Long and John Peter Astbury, all traitors to their country who spied for the Soviet Union. Other members of the Cambridge spy ring in the 1930s, and friends with the above, were Kim Philby and Donald McLean. When the traitors were unmasked many years later, Hobsbawm's pals exonerated him, except that he subsequently cast their denials into doubt when, in his old age, he used the Data Protection Act to read the MI5 files on him, wanting to know who had 'snitched on him'. A telling phrase, if there was any.
During World War II, he fought Hitler, risking life and limb at the Royal Engineers and the Royal Army Educational Corps. Or rather—he helped train young British men destined for the front, while he remained safely on the island. Not that it would have been much different if he'd really wanted it: as a declared and active Communist, the army had limited use for him.
In 1946, along with E. P. Thompson, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Dona Torr, George Rudé, and others, he formed the Communist Party's Historians Group. Thompson I've already written about. Hill had spent ten months in Stalin's Soviet Union in 1935, and his application to be the Chair of History at Keele University had been turned down due to his Communist Party affiliations. Hilton forced the Mediæval peasant through the grinder of Marxian theory. Dona Torr, a founding member of the CPGB, had been involved the latter's propaganda mill. Rudé came from a conservative background, but had fallen in love with Stalin's USSR and returned an ardent Communist, which would soon ensure he was excluded from British universities. With Thompson, Hobsbawm helped launched a journal, Past and Present, which engaged in revisionist history, Marxian style.
In 1947 he was allowed to lecture history at Birkbeck College, 'a fortress of the [L]eft'. And from 1949 until 1955 he was awarded a Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge; to get this all he had to do was ring his chum at the university. At Birkbeck, he then became reader in 1959, professor in 1970, emeritus professor in 1982, and finally president in 2002. In the intervening time he was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1971), and secured a Fellowship at the British Academy (1978). On top of all this, the United States granted him a visa without any problems, and from the 1960s this avowed Communist was permitted to teach regularly at Stanford University in California. Even after he retired, between 1984 until 1997 he stayed put, acting as visiting professor at the New School for Social Research, a New York university strongly influenced by the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. In 1998, Tony Blair awarded him the Companion of Honour, 'one of the highest accolades it is possible to bestow upon a British intellectual'  (this says a lot about Blair). In 2003 he was even awared the Balzan prize for European literature, worth half a million pounds Sterling at the time. And third Fellowship was granted to him by the Royal Society of Literature in 2006. By the end of his life, he had accumulated no less than twenty honorary degrees. But, it goes without saying, this arrogant man was not satisfied, and insisted that he had been denied promotions rightfully due to him, spinning a conspiracy theory according to which sinister forces of bourgeois conservatism had plotted to thwart his career because of his politics.
Amazingly, though not exactly an oil painting, Hobsbawn convinced Muriel Seaman to marry him in 1943. Less amazingly, they divorced after only eight years. He subsequently remarried, and his second wife, Marlene Schwartz, bore him two children: Julia, who became Tony Blair's spin doctor; and Andy, who became a capitalist and columnist for the Financial Times.
In 1956, when most of his friends left the Communist Party—and, by the way, all of his friends were Communists—in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he stayed on proudly, and wrote approvingly of Soviet repression in a letter dated 9 November 1956 and published in the Communist Daily Worker. This letter, written when he was a fully grown adult of 39 years of age, he subsequently suppressed, pretending it never existed.
In his long and yet obscure career—because, until the dithyrambic obituaries printed in British newspapers following his death, practically no one, except 'Lefty academics and silly chatterers at London dinners', had ever heard of him—Hobsbawm produced a slew of books, which he passed off as Marxist 'history'. The fact is that these badly written tomes are but a catalogue of lies, intended to exculpate Stalin and the Soviet Communist régime.
In his book The Age Of Extreme, published in 1994, he quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40, saying it was merely an attempt to push the Russian border a little further away from Leningrad. He also omits any mention of the massacre of 20,000 Polish soldiers by Russian Secret Police at Katyn.
And in his 1997 book, On History, he wrote:
Fragile as the communist systems turned out to be, only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain them from 1957 until 1989.
One imagines that the inhabitants of Prague, where Soviet tanks rolled into the streets in 1968, would hold a different opinion concerning this 'minimal' use of force. So would, presumably, the millions of artists, writers, poets, intellectuals, and suffering ordinary folk who were snatched from their homes and sent to the Gulags in Siberia, where they lost their youth and their health or disappeared altogether.
In his autobiography,
he has a passage attacking as "literally senseless" the familiar western Cold War slogan "Better dead than red" Needless to say, this is an inversion of the words, a pure fabrication. Pacifists and Soviet apologists coined the slogan "Better red than dead" in order to persuade the West not to defend itself with nuclear weapons.
In that same tome, he
multiplie[d] euphemistic observations such as that the odious dictatorship of East Germany was a "firmly structured community" and deserving credit because it held show trials which did not end in executions.
And not only was Hobsbawm an apologist for Stalin, but he was one in full knowledge of Stalin's criminality.
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.
His interviewer asked,
"What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?" Without hesitation Hobsbawm replied, "Yes."
Of course, it is easy to be a hardline Communist when you live in a prosperous, wealthy, tolerant nation, like the United Kingdom, surounded by
Communist intellectuals like himself, a good many of them privileged people with private incomes. For many years he had a cottage in Wales on the estate of Clough Williams-Ellis, a rich landowner and baroque architect whose wife Amabel, born into the Strachey family of Bloomsbury fame, was a salon Communist.
He even gave himself the luxury of sneering at other authors, describing George Orwell, for example, as 'an upper-class Englishman called Eric Blair'.
It goes without saying that, in spite of all the accolades, raptuous eulogy, and sycophantic obituaries, Hobsbawm will sink into the plughole of history, never to be read. For his tomes are not history, but propaganda in service of a murderous ideology; therefore, he was merely a writer— and a corrupt one at that—not a historian.
In his old age, his visage was like the picture of Dorian Gray: ever more disfigured by his nasty character and dishonesty as the years wore on. Thanks to capitalist medicine, by the end it was clear that his frame had sustained him for far too long. His evil ideology accompanied him beyond the grave: at his funeral they played 'The Internationale'. His remains were then incinerated and buried in Highgate Cemetery, where Marx's tomb also stands.
Eric Hobsbawm will spend eternity in the ninth circle of hell.
1. A. N. Wilson, "He hated Britain and excused Stalin's genocide. But was hero of the BBC and the Guardian, Eric Hobsbawm a TRAITOR too?" Daily Mail. 2 October 2012.
2. David Pryce-Jones. "Eric Hobsbawm: lying to the credulous". The New Criterion 21.5 (2003).
3. See Jonathan Bowden's commentary on the Cambridge spy ring here.
4. Pryce-Jones, op cit .
6. Wilson, op cit .
10. Pryce-Jones, op cit .
12. Wilson, op cit.
13. Pryce-Jones, op cit.