Robert Conquest\’s Obituary for Eric Hobsbawm

I told you so you fucking fool.

This is, of course, entirely made up by me.

But apposite.

18 thoughts on “Robert Conquest\’s Obituary for Eric Hobsbawm”

  1. It is one of the nicest things about KA that he unfailiingly attributed some of his own best comments to his friends. I seem to recall this isn’t the only point in the Memoirs where he reconciles his own esprit d’escalier by making out a chum to have been more quick-witted and acerbic than they actually were.

    Not that RC is any slouch in that department. The world is still waiting for the publication of “The Ballad Of Texan Pete”.

  2. O/T, but vaguely related:

    This morning a middle-aged, grey haired suited chap sat down on the bus in front of me. Just another commuter heading to an Edinburgh finance job, I thought.

    He then started to read a newspaper whose style/font etc I didn’t recognise. It took me a few minutes to realise that it was the Morning Star. The Morning Star! Seriously!

    I had to restrain myself from using my phone to take a picture – I’ve never actually seen a copy in person and had assumed it was some kind of in-joke or urban legend.

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    I am not sure that Amis’ comment foisted on Robert Conquest is relevant here. Hobsbawm was not naive. He was not fooled. He knew what Stalinism was and what it meant. He and Conquest would have been in basic agreement about the facts.

    Hobsbawm just thought it worth doing.

  4. Hobsbawm was essentialy fraudulent, a Stalinist shill-bidder of the worst kind. He will not be missed. His disgraceful justification of the Soviet Union should echo to the rafters, down the ages, as an accompaniment to the abject grovelling of the left. Of course, that won’t happen…

  5. Dennis The Peasant

    If his death is noted at all in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, Hobsbawm will not receive much in the way of accolades.

    Now that Hobsbawm is pushing up daisies with Howard Zinn and Edward Said, we need only the passing of Noam Chomsky before the Four Apologists of the Apocalypse pass into well deserved obscurity.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Dennis The Peasant – “Now that Hobsbawm is pushing up daisies with Howard Zinn and Edward Said, we need only the passing of Noam Chomsky before the Four Apologists of the Apocalypse pass into well deserved obscurity.”

    Obscurity will be not their fate I would guess. Western academia is too sold on their views and politics. They will be replaced by other apologists for totalitarianism while their lesser pupils tend their shrines.

    Democracy in the West is not yet dead, but it won’t be much longer. We cannot produce a ruling class with these views without these views eventually winning.

  7. Hobsbawm was (in my opinion, but I think we’re unanimous here) profoundly wrong about the desirability of communism. And he was far too ready (in my opinion, but many here disagree) to countenance killing in pursuit of political ends.

    However, he was an outstanding historian, and there was nothing fraudulent about him.

  8. So Much For Subtlety

    PaulB – “And he was far too ready (in my opinion, but many here disagree) to countenance killing in pursuit of political ends.”

    Really? Who disagrees?

    “However, he was an outstanding historian, and there was nothing fraudulent about him.”

    Except the former is not irrelevant to the latter. Historians are a polite bunch and so they tend to be nice to each others’ works. But there is no doubt that Hobsbawm’s Stalinism shaped the way he viewed and wrote history. When David Irving annoyed people, they went over his work with a fine tooth comb – and found surprisingly little actually. No one has done so with Hobsbawm’s work but you can see his larger story is so biased that his use of materials and sources is likely to be too. Yes, an intelligent man. Hard working. Prolific. In command of his sources. But in the end, he was a mouthpiece for Stalin – like a bad character from the Lord of the Rings. Which poisons every single word he said.

  9. At the end of WWII, after VE Day and before the worst of the firebombing, Japan made clear that it would be willing to negotiate a peace that involved retreat from its colonial possessions, but stepped well short of unconditional surrender.

    The Allies refused, for a strong set of reasons based around the kind of world that we would want to live in post-war and on how wicked fascists should be treated, leading directly to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths.

    That was the right decision. But it was unequivocally mass killing in the pursuit of political ends, made acceptable by the fact that the ends were the right ones.

  10. @John b: Bollocks. The moral responsibility for every single death in the Japanese sphere of conflict in WW2 lies with the Japanese who started the war. From that act every single death follows, and they are responsible. The attacked nations have every right to demand utter surrender from the aggressor, and if it is refused, to prosecute the war until it is achieved. The Japanese could have surrendered at any point if they so chose, after having started the war, and thus bear 100% responsibility for all deaths that ensued.

  11. Jim:

    No, you’re not thinking this through.

    “The attacked nations have every right to demand utter surrender from the aggressor, and if it is refused, to prosecute the war until it is achieved” is a moral principle, held totally separately from the moral principle that innocent deaths should be avoided.

    The Allies were offered a conditional Japanese surrender, which would have ended the war with several hundred thousand fewer deaths than was the eventual case. You may not like it, but that is a fact.

    I agree with you that this would have been the wrong decision. However, by doing that, we are making an explicit moral claim that it was better for several hundred thousand people to have died than for Japan to have gotten away with its prior actions.

    The fact that Japan bears legal and moral responsibility is completely irrelevant here – the Allied leaders still, unequivocally and undeniably, made a choice that consigned several hundred thousand people to die for the sake of a a better world. And they were right to do so.

  12. Dennis The Peasant

    “At the end of WWII, after VE Day and before the worst of the firebombing, Japan made clear that it would be willing to negotiate a peace that involved retreat from its colonial possessions, but stepped well short of unconditional surrender.”

    Bullshit. China, the Phillipines, Korea, etc. were not “colonial possessions”, they were occupied territories. The fact that you’d miss the distinction tells me you don’t know your ass from your elbow on the subject. And while the Japanese government tried various avenues (including the Russians) to open channels to the Allied powers, said powers had made it crystal clear that there would be no negotiated settlement… and for very good military and political reasons. Such negotiations probably would have been mute anyway, as there is no evidence that the Japanese Army would have allowed any meaningful concessions are part of the negotiations. Not even the prestige of the Emperor could keep parts of the Army from revolting…

  13. Dennis The Peasant

    “The fact that Japan bears legal and moral responsibility is completely irrelevant here – the Allied leaders still, unequivocally and undeniably, made a choice that consigned several hundred thousand people to die for the sake of a a better world.”

    Bullshit again. There is NO evidence that the Japanese government or the Emperor could have kept the Japanese Army under enough control to allow a negotiated surrender. The historical evidence actually points in the opposite direction… that those Japanese leaders (military and civilian) who attempted such negotiated would have been assassinated by the Army.

    Go back and read your history about the Japanese Army between the two world wars and then try to keep a straight face while arguing a negotiated settlement was feasible.

  14. Dennis The Peasant

    “However, he was an outstanding historian, and there was nothing fraudulent about him.”

    How about the idea that a so-called “devoted communist” could spend 90-some years living off capitalism without either moving to one of the utopias or picking up a gun to further the revolution. In the USA we call them “suburban Marxists”… very good at running their mouths and not so good about doing anything that might jeopardize their thoroghly bourgeois livestyles.

  15. So Much For Subtlety

    Dennis The Peasant – “China, the Phillipines, Korea, etc. were not “colonial possessions”, they were occupied territories. The fact that you’d miss the distinction tells me you don’t know your ass from your elbow on the subject.”

    While I don’t want to touch this argument with a ten foot barge pole, and while most of China clearly was occupied territory, Korea was not. It was a colony of Japan. Had been for some time by 1945. As was Taiwan. The Philippines was too but it was someone else’s colony so I guess that doesn’t count.

    “And while the Japanese government tried various avenues (including the Russians) to open channels to the Allied powers, said powers had made it crystal clear that there would be no negotiated settlement… and for very good military and political reasons.”

    What were the military reasons?

    “Such negotiations probably would have been mute anyway, as there is no evidence that the Japanese Army would have allowed any meaningful concessions are part of the negotiations. Not even the prestige of the Emperor could keep parts of the Army from revolting…”

    Historians of Japan are in a bind here. If they want to downplay the role the Emperor had in starting the war, they have to say it was all the Army’s doing. But that sort of misses the fact that the Emperor did order an end to the war and the Army obeyed. Not to mention that when the Army tried a coup in 1936, the Emperor ordered them to stop it – and several of the key ring leaders to kill themselves – and they did. I am not sure the case is all that clear cut here – even if most of what people say about Japan, especially in this thread, is nonsense.

  16. I have no idea why the distinction between colonial possessions and occupied territories is supposed to be some kind of massive zinger here. Obviously, any kind of deal would have involved ceding both. “But this piece of paper says China is an occupied territory not a colonial possession, so we get to keep it, right? But we’re happy to give up Korea and Manchuoko” is not something that could conceivably be said.

    And as SMFS notes, the emperor was a god-king with absolute power over the military.

  17. Dennis The Peasant

    “And as SMFS notes, the emperor was a god-king with absolute power over the military.”

    That’s public relations, not history, fellas. Absolute power over the military? Absolute nonsense.

    Neither of you know your Japanese history. Period.

    And by the way, “colonial possession” is simply a term that occupiers put a happy face on occupation. It’s a distinction without a difference. Ask a few Koreans whether they were a colonial possession or an occupied country and see what you get in the way of an answer.

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