Monday, April 06, 2015

History of historians: Eric Hobsbawm

In The London Review of Books, Frances Stonor Saunders examines what's available of the secret security files on historian Eric Hobsbawm, which were never made available in his lifetime and therefore lack his own assessment of it. MI5's surveillance was so comprehensive (though not at all insightful) that it even knew what some of his fellow members of the Communist Party of Great Britain thought of him in the 1950s:
‘a dangerous character … an opportunist’, ‘a slippery customer’, ‘behaving very badly’, ‘two-faced’, ‘a swine’, ‘a very queer fish’, a ‘nasty piece of work’. He is accused of ‘taking a bellicose attitude’ towards the party leadership;
Being a member of the party seems to have been a psychological necessity for him (‘We belonged together’) and when the party threatened him with expulsion, according to one telephone intercept, he became ‘frightfully upset, swearing that he never wanted to leave’. Hobsbawm glosses over this crisis in his autobiography: he stayed in, he says, because he didn’t want to join the score-settling cadre of ex-communists. Unappealing as this richly remunerated truth squad was, this is frustratingly insufficient; why couldn’t he have recycled himself as a sympathiser, a non-party independent communist?
I once interviewed him for a radio program. I wonder if there would be an RCMP file as a result?

Update, April 10:  At LGM, Eric Loomis goes after the next generation, business professor (!) Julia Hobsbawm.
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