Marxism Today published Hobsbawm's lecture in September 1978, under the title "The Forward March of Labour Halted?" By making the Left face the need to win support from beyond the rapidly diminishing ranks of the trade unions, Hobsbawm performed a notable service for those who understood that the party must also appeal to the middle classes or it would die. No wonder he was soon being described as Neil Kinnock's "favourite Marxist". This cannot be regarded as an intellectual distinction, but it did show how useful Hobsbawm had become to the Labour leadership. When one looks at this aspect of his activities, it is possible to argue that far from being dangerous, he had allowed himself to be coddled into becoming a minor pillar of the Establishment. Marxism Today ceased to be a Marxist publication and instead began to prepare the way for Blair, whose advisers later included at least two of the magazine's contributors, Geoff Mulgan and Charlie Leadbetter.
And yet there remain Hobsbawm's repulsive views about the Soviet Union. He was challenged over and over again to explain how he could have stayed in the Communist Party after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Miriam Gross challenges him with quiet persistence in the interview which accompanies this piece. But Hobsbawm maintained to his dying day that despite the millions of murders to which it led, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a great cause to which he was right to remain loyal. 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." In 1995, when Sue Lawley put it to him on Desert Island Discs that "Marxist Leninism is a dead duck", he replied: "I don't think the cause has been defeated, but at least it will not be realised if at all in the way we thought it was going to be realised."
Since Hobsbawm's death, Nick Cohen has reminded us in his Spectator blog that at the start of the Second World War, Hobsbawm and his fellow Cambridge Communist Raymond Williams 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". Oliver Kamm, in The Times, has described this as "an extraordinary failure of imagination" and an "act of intellectual prostitution in the service of totalitarianism".
Robert Conquest, who has done more than any other Western writer to catalogue Soviet crimes, observed after reading Age of Extremes that Hobsbawm suffered from a "massive reality denial" as far as the Soviet Union was concerned. Michael Gove, now the Education Secretary, assured the 2008 Conservative conference that "only when Hobsbawm weeps hot tears for a life spent serving an ideology of wickedness will he ever be worth listening to".
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