The Left

Release Hobsbawm’s File!

The aged Communist, Eric Hobsbawm, is agitating for the release of his MI5 file. MI5 will not make it public.

But they should. 

Nick Cohen has posted a section of What’s Left that deals with Hobsbawm’s activities as a party member in the 1930s:

On 23 August 1939, Nazi Germany and the communist Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact. This shocking fact was the greatest trauma socialists of my grandfather’s generation had to confront. The communists had been the most ferocious enemies of fascism. They had formed popular fronts and organized volunteers to fight against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Their record as Nazi Germany’s most implacable enemy allowed anti-fascist leftists to ignore Stalin’s crimes and excoriate Britain and France for failing to stand beside him in the struggle against Hitler.

The idea of the far left and the far right cooperating was unthinkable to the bulk of the Left in Britain and around the world. Whatever else they said about the communists, they were sure that they were the fascists’ staunchest opponents and the doughtiest fighters in the struggle against Hitler and Mussolini. So the communists appeared, until on 23 August Stalin stood on his head and the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany agreed to leave each other in peace and carve up Poland, Finland and the Baltic states between them.

As a loyal party member, this is how Prof Hobsbawm reacted to the Nazi-Soviet Pact:

Eric Hobsbawm and Raymond Williams, the two most respected left-wing intellectuals of my youth, accepted the accommodation with Nazism and produced a pamphlet that defended the Soviet invasion of Finland which the Hitler–Stalin pact had authorized. Hobsbawm and Williams claimed that far from engaging in an imperial land grab, Stalin was protecting Russia from an invasion by British imperialists. I’ve read it twice to be sure, but nowhere do Hobsbawm and Williams explain how a Britain which was on her knees and couldn’t defend her cities was in a position to march on Moscow. Williams blithely admitted later that he and Hobsbawm were just obeying the party’s orders. ‘We were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words.’

Now, there are some people who might say that Eric Hobsbawm is a very old man, who shouldn’t be pilloried publicly on account of his conduct, seventy years ago. 

However, the betrayal of the anti-fascist movement by Communist Party members in the 1930s was a treachery so grand that, like Gunpowder Treason, it should never be forgot.

So, let’s see Hobsbawm’s MI5 file.


Graham reminds me of Johann’s take on the man.