Laurie Penny and the Cologne rapes

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Laurie Penny

This week we’re studying the oeuvre of Laurie Penny, a young firebrand who, despite being a benificiary of British upper-class privilege, has made a successful career of standing at lecterns and scolding Western society – and, especially, Western men – for oppressing her as a woman.

When it comes to genuine sexual oppression in non-Western societies, however, Penny does the usual far-left shuffle. In other words, while she’s quick to condemn Western men as oppressive patriarchs, she refuses to criticize honest-to-goodness Muslim patriarchs – the guys who beat and rape their wives, who subject their daughters to FGM and deny them an education, and who make sure that none of the women in their lives enjoy the kind of freedom that Penny has enjoyed every day since she was born.

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Cologne, New Year’s Eve

Take Penny’s response, back in January, to the mass rapes in Cologne, Germany. Her angle, as articulated in her article’s subhead, was as follows: “Why can’t we always take sexual assault as seriously as we do when migrants and Muslims are involved as perpetrators?” Which is a slick way of instantly turning from a very real problem, rooted in dramatic cultural differences, to a B.S. issue. The fact, of course, is that in the West, rape is taken very seriously indeed: it is reported by women, prosecuted in courts, punished by imprisonment, and looked upon with repulsion by all decent citizens. Under sharia, however, rape is not only permitted but, under certain circumstances, required; in most Muslim countries, rapists enjoy a degree of legal impunity and social acceptance unthinkable in the West.

koln3But Penny doesn’t want to go there. Instead she pretends that Western authorities always treat rape with indifference. For her, the government of Cologne’s suggestion that women should dress more modestly is not a sign of irresponsible cultural relativism and of a cowardly refusal to stand up for Western values, but just another example of what she describes as a Western habit of blaming women for rape. An then she offers this:

The attacks in Cologne were horrific. The responses – both by officials and by the armies of Islamophobes and xenophobes who have jumped at the chance to condemn Muslim and migrant men as savages – have also been horrific.

koln4For, you see, conservatives (meaning, apparently, anyone to her right – i.e. pretty much everybody) never care about rape except when the perpetrators are Muslims. Only then do they get worked up, using rape as an excuse to bash Islam. She neglects one minor detail: there is no case in modern history of hundreds of Western men committing mass rape in the center of a major city. This, whether Penny likes it or not, is an imported phenomenon – imported from a society where women really are oppressed, and where there really is something deserving of the name of rape culture.

But no, she’d rather serve up inane statements like this:

You know what has never yet prevented sexual violence? Unbridled racism.

More tomorrow.

The oppressed princess

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Laurie Penny

Yesterday we met Laurie Penny, a very young British woman who has made a very big impact with her very left-wing views.

In particular, we saw a few minutes of her parrying with historian David Starkey. She evinced the usual far-left attitude toward such exchanges: free speech for me, but not for thee. I can hurl personal accusations because I’m on the side of the angels; for you to do it, however, is beyond the pale. If I speak, that’s my right; if you disagree, you’re being uncivil and trying to silence me – and therefore deserve to be silenced.

In short: I’m the hero here – and the victim.

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David Starkey

As we saw, Penny can give it but she can’t take it.

Let’s take a look at another video. This one has been “fisked” by a popular blogger who calls himself Sargon of Akkad. (Definition of “fisking,” from the Free Dictionary: “To criticize and refute…especially in point-by-point or line-by-line fashion.”)

This video (see below) finds our upper-class heroine onstage at the Sydney Opera House, in front of a packed audience of admirers, explaining why she – by virtue of being a woman – is oppressed.

Note the way in which Penny recycles familiar far-left rhetoric about colonialism, imperialism, patriarchy, and capitalism, serving every bit of it up as if she’d invented it. Note, as Sargon puts it, that she talks about the oppression of women as if it were the 1950s, as if women were still confined to the home, “as if women’s liberation never happened.” Note the glibness and ignorance with which this young woman, who has benefited immensely from modern capitalism (how do women live in non-capitalist societies? How did they live before the modern era?), savages the modern world and the capitalist system for creating “losers.” In fact, as Sargon quite properly observes, modern capitalism has made more people “winners” – that is, improved their material conditions – than any system in human history.

pennybookAnd how about Penny’s absurd and audacious contention that she knows how today’s men feel and think? They feel like “losers,” she maintains, because of the ways in which the economic system has oppressed them, and they respond to this feeling of oppression by, in turn, oppressing women. She pretends to have sympathy for these men; but instead she batters them brutally. “We are not saying that all men hate women,” she offers generously. “But culture hates women.” And, later: “Men as a group, men as a structure, hate women.” (Check out this savvy reply by one You Tube commenter: “Culture hates women. What, you mean that culture that’s 53% women? The culture where it’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to stand on any stage and blurt out the most disgusting rhetoric against an entire half of society, whereas if a man were to do the same thing the other way around, the event would be bullied into cancellation.”)

pennybook2Penny, though awash in privilege her entire life, truly does appear to regard herself as being oppressed. (One sentence in the introduction to her book Unspeakable Things begins: “Women, like any oppressed class…”) And she sees every man as an oppressor. One can’t help thinking here of Professor Starkey, who not only knows a hundred times as much as Penny does about how society works and how it has come to work that way, but also – as a son of working-class parents who was openly gay in mid twentieth century Britain – understands prejudice and oppression in a way Penny never could.

Sargon provides a perfect summing-up of Penny’s stubborn, counterfactual conviction that she’s oppressed: “That is what privilege looks like.” Bingo.

Tomorrow: on to Penny’s written work.

The girl who cries “racist”

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Ben Norton

In recent weeks we’ve been discussing a couple of ambitious lads who, despite their very tender ages, have already made a big name for themselves by parroting – in print, online, and on TV – the familiar grab-bag of far-left talking points about America, Israel, “neoliberalism,” Kirchnerism, chavismo, Islam, Islamophobia, and so on.

One of these kids is Ben Norton, an American writer who contributes regularly to Salon and pops up frequently at Mondoweiss, AlterNet, and the Electronic Intifada. The other is Owen Jones, a British Guardian columnist who also turns up occasionally in The Independent, The Mirror, and New Statesman.

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Owen Jones

Both of these boys are as callow as they are predictable, but that hasn’t hindered them – on the contrary, it’s almost certainly helped them – on their very fast climb up the ladder of the transatlantic commentariat.

It’s only fair to give the other sex equal time, so this week we’re going to meet a young woman who’s every bit as spectacularly successful a far-left ideologue as Ben and Owen. Her name is Laurie Penny.

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Laurie Penny

Just short of thirty years old, she comes from a very privileged background. The daughter of two successful lawyers, she went to a “posh” (her word) public school – which, of course, is what the British call their fancy private schools – and studied English at Wadham College, Oxford. Like Owen, she’s been a columnist at both The Independent and New Statesman, and currently writes for the latter. She’s also published several books: Meat Market: Female Flesh Under Capitalism (2011), Penny Red: Notes from a New Age of Dissent (2011), Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens (2012), Cybersexism: Sex, Gender and Power on the Internet (2013), and Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (2014). Yet another book, Everything Belongs to the Future, is forthcoming in October.

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David Starkey

We’ll get around to some of her writings shortly; first, though, by way of introduction, let’s take a look at an excerpt from a June 2012 panel about English identity on which Penny, then age 25, appeared with Professor David Starkey, C.B.E., F.S.A., R.Hist.S., who at the time was 67. A couple of words about Starkey, which (for reasons that will become obvious) are relevant here: the son of a factory foreman and cotton weaver, he suffered as a child with club feet and polio, had a nervous breakdown at age 13, and attended Cambridge on a scholarship before going on to create a splendid and substantial career for himself as a serious historian of England and a presenter of well-received television documentaries about English history. He is also openly gay, and was an outspoken champion of gay rights at a time when that was a brave and dangerous path to take.

On, then, to the June 2012 panel. As can be observed in a video (see below), Penny stood at the lectern and accused Starkey, who is not a bigot of any kind, of “xenophobia and racial prejudice” and asked him where he was “domiciled for tax purposes.” Starkey stood up and took her place at the lectern. “As you have chosen to be personal and invidious,” he said, “let me tell you a little story.” He told the audience that he and Penny had recently been invited by an underfunded institution to debate the topic of republic vs. monarchy. (Starkey is a monarchist.)

“I was prepared to do it for free,” Starkey recalled, but Penny “insisted on trying to charge such large fee that the event had to be cancelled.” Calling her action “mean and grasping,” Starkey said, “I will not be lectured to by a jumped-up public-school girl like you. I came up from the bottom and I will not have it!” (“Jumped-up,” by the way, is perfect here: it means someone who considers herself more important than she really is, or who has “suddenly and undeservedly risen in status.”)

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When she’s not fighting for the oppressed, Penny is a world-class clotheshorse

He would not have it – and she could not take it. The rest of the video is almost painful to watch. Penny, obviously unsettled, says at first that she wants to reply to Starkey’s charge. She then bumbles through an incoherent explanation of her fee demands, citing her financial needs and plane schedules and problems involving other invited speakers. She then says she’s changed her mind – she doesn’t want to reply to Starkey. She then changes her mind again, and says that her request for a high fee for the republic vs. monarchy debate wasn’t really about money at all but about her fear that she would be personally attacked on that panel in the way, she says, that Starkey has attacked her just now. “There’s a violence inherent in this discussion,” she maintains, and again accuses Starkey of going personal and failing to maintain civility.

“You started it!” an audience member shouts. “You called him a racist!” Penny looks out at the crowd, uncomprehending. “He is a racist,” she says.

But of course this brief glimpse of Laurie isn’t enough to get the full picture. Tune in tomorrow, when we’ll look at a longer, more revealing video of her in action.

Cheering Mao down under

In recent years, thanks to steady increases in immigration, tourism, and trade, Communist Chinese political influence in Australia has risen dramatically. As Philip Wen noted on August 22 in the Sydney Morning Herald, Oz-based supporters of the regime in Beijing have organized rallies in Sydney and Melbourne, mobilized crowds “to drown out Free Tibet and Falun Gong demonstrators during President Xi Jinping’s visit in 2014,” and staged various “cultural events” down under to promote Red Chinese interests and ideology.

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An ad promoting the Mao tribute concerts

But the newest chapter in this history may be a bridge too far. September 9 will be the fortieth anniversary of the death of Mao Zedong. On September 6, a concert of “Maoist songs and dances” will be held at Sydney’s town hall with the goal of “glorifying the life” of Mao; three days later, an identical concert will take place at Melbourne’s town hall.

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Peter Zhu

These two events, which are entitled “Glory and Dream: In Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of the Death of Chairman Mao,” have a long and formidable list of sponsors, including the International Cultural Exchange Association (headed by Chinese-Australian musician Yuan Ye), a major construction firm called LB Homes Group (owned by Chinese-Australian developer Peter Zhu), two outfits called Australia Oriental Media Group and Australia China Media Group (both of which are paid handsomely by the Chinese government to churn out pro-Red Chinese propaganda), the fiercely pro-Beijing Federation of Australian Chinese Associations, and an assortment of other businesses, including Sankofa Funds Management, Shanghai Tiantong Group, and the Native Place Association of North-East China.

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“Charming personality”?

The promotional materials for these two concerts include the most eye-popping kind of pro-Mao rhetoric. Praising his “humanitarian personality,” they boast that Mao “led China’s democratic revolution which ended the 109 years of chaos in China from 1840 to 1949, and brought 76 years of peace and development to China, until it recovered its international status as a great country.” According to the concert sponsors, Mao is “a national leader forever in the hearts of Chinese people and a hero in the eyes of people all over the world,” and the concert “will interpret the charming personality and heroism of Mao Zedong from a variety of angles.”

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Chongyi Feng

Gratifyingly, there has been blowback – largely from Chinese-Australians, “many of whose families,” according to Wen, “suffered under the leader’s brutal legacy, the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward contributing directly to the deaths of tens of millions of people.” Chongyi Feng, who teaches China Studies at a university in Sydney, told Wen that for many Chinese-Australians, Mao “is just like Stalin to Russians or Hitler to Germans – he’s a mass murderer in their judgment so they’re very angry.”

“In their judgment”?

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Shangxiao Han

Not long ago, explained Wen, the Chinese community in Australia consisted mainly of people who’d fled – and despised – Communism. Now, the newer members of that community tend to be people who’ve profited from Red Chinese prosperity and who are, to various degrees, outright fans (and, in many cases, employees or contractors) of the Beijing regime. One member of the older, anti-Maoist faction, Shangxiao Han, is a businessman who’d “kept a low profile for more than 20 years” but felt moved to speak out against the Mao concerts and other such events. He and fellow Chinese-Australian anti-Maoists, who feel that they’ve become a minority in their community, have formed something called the Embrace Australian Values Alliance, which is petitioning to have the concerts canceled.

In a petition addressed to the local authorities in Sydney, the group expressed its “deeply concerned” about the September 6 concert and asked that they not allow it to be held at the town hall. Calling Mao “the biggest mass murderer in history,” they added that he

was personally responsible for massive tortures and persecutions resulting in the unnatural deaths of over 70 million Chinese people. He destroyed Chinese people’s traditional culture; he persecuted all religious believers; he torn down temples and monasteries; he banned all forms of democracy and social freedom. Maoism instigates violence and hate against Western laws and society. Mao and his crimes against humanity contravenes [sic] everything that Australian Values stand for.

So far, the petition has borne no results. Both cities – which aren’t involved in organizing the concerts – say they’ve rented out their town halls to the sponsors and can’t go back on those deals. But stay tuned. This could get interesting. 

Was Hobsbawm a spy?

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E. J. Hobsbawm

This week we’re remembering British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, who spent his life applauding Stalin – and being applauded, in turn, by the cultural elite in both Britain and America. On Monday and Tuesday, we relived the brilliance with which Hobsbawm’s admirers managed, in the obituaries that followed his death on October 1, 2012, to minimize or explain away – or even valorize – his Communism. As we saw yesterday, it took writer A. N. Wilson to dispel all this nonsense and spell out the hard facts about Hobsbawm, whom he truthfully described as a “fashionable Hampstead Marxist.”

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A. N. Wilson

But isn’t it possible that Hobsbawm, despite his noxious politics, actually was a good, or perhaps even great, historian? Nope. His books, Wilson explained, “are little better than propaganda, and, in spite of the slavish language in the obituaries, are badly written.” What’s worse, Hobsbawm, like all Communists, could not be relied on to tell the truth about matters close to his heart. In other words, he committed what, for any historian, is the ultimate crime: he lied.

Wilson spelled it out: in his 1994 book The Age Of Extremes, Hobsbawm “quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union’s attack on Finland in 1939-40, saying it was merely an attempt to push the Russian border a little further away from Leningrad.” Hobsbawm was also silent on the infamous Katyn massacre, in which the Soviet secret police murdered 20,000 Polish soldiers in cold blood. And he blithely dismissed the Soviet Army’s refusal to intervene when the Nazis crushed the 1944 Warsaw uprising.

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Josef Stalin

There’s more. In On History (1997), Hobsbawm claimed that “only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain” the Communist system “from 1957 until 1989.” As Wilson charged, this was nothing less than “a blatant lie”:

Ask the inhabitants of Prague, where Soviet tanks rolled into the streets in 1968, if they agreed with Hobsbawm that this was “minimal use of force.” Ask the millions of people who were taken from their homes by KGB thugs and forced to live, often for decades, in prison-camps throughout the Gulag, whether force had been “minimal.”

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Guy Burgess

Finally, Wilson raised a question that none of the laudatory eulogies had dared to go near: had Hobsbawm – who, at Cambridge in the 1930s, had chummed around with Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and others who later turned out to be Soviet spies – been a spy himself? Late in life, Hobsbawm had tried to get his hands on his MI5 file – to find out, he said, who’d “snitched on him.” Why, Wilson asked, had Hobsbawm used the word snitched? The very word, after all, “implied that he had done something…criminal.”

Wilson was almost alone in posthumously reprehending “the Hampstead Marxist,” but not entirely. In the Telegraph, historian Michael Burleigh also pulled back the curtain on the real Hobsbawm, attributing the postmortem cheers to the leftist hegemony in British humanities and social science departments and calling Hobsbawm’s books “synthetic,” ill-informed, and – above all – shot through with “a dogmatic refusal to accept that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a murderous failure.” Here’s Burleigh:

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Anthony Blunt

Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin’s stooges…..

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Michael Burleigh

But then again, how could Hobsbawm possibly have understood or respected or cared about courageous people who resisted Stalin’s stooges, given that he himself was one of the most prominent of those stooges – a lifelong stooge, a shameless stooge, and, alas, a stooge whose stubborn stoogery was rewarded with glittering prizes by a fatuous, craven, and morally bankrupt cultural elite?

The “Hampstead Marxist”

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E. J. Hobsbawm

During the last couple of days we’ve been looking at the worshipful tributes that issued forth in the mainstream media after the death of Stalinist historian E. J. Hobsbawm. The Guardian called him “arguably Britain’s most respected historian of any kind.” A writer for the New Yorker praised the Kremlin apologist’s fierce determination “to save the world.”

It took the prolific British novelist and biographer A.N. Wilson to say what needed to be said about Hobsbawm. Noting the “fawning” panegyrics by the BBC, the Guardian, and other media, Wilson said: “You might imagine…that the nation was in mourning.” But, he added, “I do not believe that more than one in 10,000 people in this country had so much as heard of Eric Hobsbawm, the fashionable Hampstead Marxist.” (Hampstead is an upscale, artsy neighborhood in London.)

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A. N. Wilson

Unlike Hobsbawm’s admirers, Wilson recalled the historian’s “open…disdain for ordinary mortals,” his determination to mix “only…with intellectuals” and to avoid, in Hobsbawm’s own words, “the suburban petit bourgeoisie which I naturally regarded with contempt.” Wilson also foregrounded the 1994 TV interview in which Hobsbawm admitted his support for Stalin’s murder of millions of Soviet citizens. “Just imagine what would happen,” suggested Wilson,

if some crazed Right-winger were to appear on BBC and say that the Nazis had been justified in killing six million Jews in order to achieve their aims. We should be horrified, and consider that such a person should never be allowed to speak in public again – or at least until he retracted his repellent views and admitted that he had been culpably, basely, wrong.

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Tony Blair

But what really happened to Hobsbawm after that interview? The opposite. His career soared. He was offered (but rejected) a knighthood. Later he accepted from Tony Blair the title Companion of Honour. Oxford gave him a prize worth half a million pounds. As Hobsbawm got older, the media increasingly described him as the country’s greatest living historian. All this despite the fact, as Wilson pointed out, that Hobsbawm never learned the lessons of the century he had lived through. On this subject, Wilson was nothing less than eloquent:

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Josef Stalin

The tens of millions dead, the hundreds of millions enslaved, the sheer evil falsity of the ideology which bore down with such horror on the peoples of Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany, never occurred to this man. He went on believing that a few mistakes had been made, and that Stalinism was “disillusioning” – but that, in general, it would have been wonderful if Stalin had succeeded.

Any barmy old fool is, thank goodness, entitled to their point of view in our country. Unlike Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany, Britain is a country where you can more or less say or think what you like. What is disgraceful about the life of Hobsbawm is not so much that he believed this poisonous codswallop, and propagated it in his lousy books, but that such a huge swathe of our country’s intelligentsia – the supposedly respectable media and chattering classes – bowed down before him and made him their guru.

More tomorrow.

Making Hobsbawm a hero

Yesterday we started exploring the legacy of the late British historian E. J. Hobsbawm, a hero of the British and American cultural elite – and a lifelong Stalinist.

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E. J. Hobsbawm

As we’ve already begun to see, most of the eulogies in “respectable” media touched on Hobsbawm’s Communism, but offered little in the way of judgment of this detail. New York Times writer William Grimes, for instance, admitted that Hobsbawm, unlike many others, “stuck with the Communist Party after the Soviet Union crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956 and the Czech reform movement in 1968.” But Grimes then put a benign spin on this fact, quoting Hobsbamw’s 2003 statement, in an interview with the Times, that Communism “was a great cause, the emancipation of humanity. Maybe we got into it the wrong way, maybe we backed the wrong horse, but you have to be in that race, or else human life isn’t worth living.”

Not until the very end of Grimes’s very long necrology did he – briefly – address Hobsbawm’s refusal “to recant or, many critics complained, to face up to the human misery it had created.” (Note, indeed, how Grimes makes the objective fact of the mass human suffering caused by Communism to an opinion held by “many critics” that the ideology had caused “misery.”) Grimes mentioned a notorious 1994 television interview on the BBC (see clip below) in which Hobsbawm, in Grimes’s words, “said that the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens under Stalin would have been worth it if a genuine Communist society had been the result.” (Note, again, that Grimes turns the murder of millions by Stalin into deaths occurring under Stalin.)

Even here, Grimes cast Hobsbawm not as an unrepentant admirer of totalitarian genocide but as a victim of history. It was Tony Judt, another historian, who provided Grimes with the perfect quote with which to conclude the obit: “The greatest price he will pay is to be remembered not as Eric J. Hobsbawm the historian but as Eric J. Hobsbawm the unrepentant Communist historian,” Judt said. “It’s unfair and it’s a pity, but that is the cross he will bear.” Yes, that’s right: Hobsbawm supported the murder of millions, but in the end he was the victim.

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Professor Sir Roderick Floud

In a lengthy testimonial for the British daily The Independent, Professor Sir (yes, “Professor Sir”) Roderick Floud called Hobsbawm “one of the greatest British historians of the 20th century.” Floud, too, took the “yes, but” approach to Hobsbawm’s Communism: yes, he was a lifelong Marxist, longtime Communist Party member, and inveterate apologist for Stalin, “but his influence as an historian and political thinker far transcended those allegiances.” After several detailed paragraphs about Hobsbawm’s career, Floud returned to the subject, writing as follows:

It would be overly cynical to suggest that Hobsbawm’s success as an historian stimulated jealousy. But the esteem in which he was held evoked hostility from those who could not forgive his Communism. An intellectual adherence to Marxism can, some argue, be explained in terms of the times in which he grew up; but to continue to defend the Communist Party long after the evidence of atrocities became known, is to some inexcusable.

Check out Floud’s wording there. First, see his reference to “those who could not forgive his Communism.” One might have been prepared to forgive Hobsbawm’s Communism if he had ever repented of it; but he never did. And, again, as with Higham’s reference to “Marxist ideology,” imagine The Independent running an article containing the phrase “those who could not forgive his Nazism.” Note also Floud’s words “to some.”

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Josef Stalin

But Floud isn’t done trying to relativize and contextualize Hobsbawm’s Communism: “Hobsbawm’s adherence to the Communist cause stems from the circumstances in which, as a Jew, he was recruited in Berlin in 1932….Living in different times, the extremity of that passion sometimes seems hard to understand.” Yet millions of European Jews chose not to respond to Nazi totalitarianism by embracing Soviet totalitarianism.

Floud even found a way to make Hobsbawm’s tenacious Stalinism look potentially praiseworthy: is it possible, he asked, “that some part of his reluctance to disavow Communism even when it was failing stemmed from a wish not to betray the memory of former comrades”? Again, would anyone try to defend a stalwart Nazi in this fashion?

More tomorrow.