Why Hobsbawm's loyalty to Marxism never wavered

Historians in the News

Eric Hobsbawm, seen by many peers as the greatest post-war historian of European ideas, has died aged 95. Here, Timothy Snyder, Housum Professor of History at Yale University, explains why Hobsbawm's determination to stick with Marxism long after it went out of fashion made his message so special to historians and readers around the world. The paperback of Snyder's most recent book, "Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin," was released on Monday.

...To be a man of Hobsbawm's generation was to have experienced the collapse of capitalism in the Great Depression, to be a Jew of Hobsbawm's generation was to have seen the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. In those years of the 1930s, the years when Hobsbawm was a brilliant youth, was to face what seemed to be a binary choice, to be with the Nazis or against them. And no one seemed to be more against the Nazis than the communists. Hobsbawm joined the Communist Party as a very young man, and was loyal, in his way, to the end.

Communism also offered, as perhaps no non-religious ideas do today, a sense of community. To belong to the Communist Party was to have a sense of conspiracy, a loyalty to friends who had suffered and would suffer more, and a collective sense that the struggle was not in vain, for a more glorious world could and would come. Like religion for Americans, who repeat that "things happen for a reason," communism offered a logic of pain and progress. Every arrest, every sentence to a concentration camp, every execution was not just a moment of horror, but further proof of capitalism's decadence and weakness....

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