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The Unrepentant Marxist

Today the Scotsman is running an interesting book review / interview with Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, which illuminates an important point about identity and reconciliation of past political ideology in Russia. Whether the West is aware of it or not, there are many in Russia who feel as though they are constantly being “asked” to renounce their Soviet past, or somehow feel ashamed for the legacy of communism. These misplaced interpretations of senseless guilt are shrewdly seized upon by today’s autocrats in the Kremlin, and instrumentalized to justify abuses of power. There is nothing wrong with Russia’s proud history – but it’s time for Russians to think about what they want to become in the future.

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Hobsbawm himself stuck with the Communist Party decades after the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the revelations of the gulag had party intellectuals in the West tearing up their cards in droves – an “unrepentant” loyalty that had critics savaging him after the publication of his autobiography, Interesting Times, in 2002. Since then (and, in fact, well before) he has condemned elements of the Soviet experiment, especially Stalinism. It’s a source of anger, though, what he sees as the demonisation of the philosophy that first electrified him as a Berlin schoolboy in the early 1930s. “There’s been a systematic attempt to remove communism or indeed revolutionary socialism from the political agenda and turn it into something like a political pathology or a sin. I have refused to go along with this. This was a good cause, and continues to be a good cause, even though the things they have stood for haven’t worked. As a political programme communism is no longer on the agenda, and it’s no longer possible to say I’m a communist. But it doesn’t mean I don’t think it was a perfectly legitimate and indeed admirable thing for people to be.”