To the Editor:
Richard Pipes’s discussion of Eric Hobsbawm and his Stalinist record could be extended in one regard [Books in Review, April]. That Hobsbawm still believes he was right in his devotion to Communism may be seen in an interview (reported in the Times Literary Supplement, October 28, 1994) with Michael Ignatieff, who asked Hobsbawm how he justified his longtime membership in the Communist party.
Hobsbawm: “You didn’t have the option. You see, either there was going to be a future or there wasn’t going to be a future and this [the Communist party] was the only thing that offered an acceptable future.”
Ignatieff: “In 1934, millions of people are dying in the Soviet experiment. If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time? To your commitment? To being a Communist?”
Hobsbawm: “This is the sort of academic question to which an answer is simply not possible. . . . If I were to give you a retrospective answer which is not the answer of a historian, I would have said, ‘probably not.’ ”
Hobsbawm: “Because in a period in which, as you might imagine, mass murder and mass suffering are absolutely universal, the chance of a new world being born in great suffering would still have been worth backing. Now the point is, looking back as an historian, I would say that the sacrifices made by the Russian people were probably only marginally worthwhile. The sacrifices were enormous; they were excessive by almost any standard and excessively great. But I’m looking back at it now, and I’m saying that because it turns out that the Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution. Had it been, I’m not sure.”
Ignatieff: “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?”
The topper is that Prime Minister Tony Blair authorized Queen Elizabeth to name Hobsbawm a Companion of Honor, one of the highest awards in the realm, given for “services of special importance to the nation.”
In “The New Gloomsayers” by Joshua Muravchik (June), the first name of the historian Charles Beard was wrongly given as James (page 25). We regret the error—Ed.