The late Alexander Cockburn noted that he was often "savaged as little better than an epigone of Beria" for settling on the figure of five or six million deaths in Stalin's Russia. It shouldn't have to be said that looking for an accurate picture of a monstrous series of crimes is not an act of exoneration. But in this society it would seem that the higher you go the better. Only the maximal estimates of Stalin's victims guarantee credibility. Expect nothing less from the enemies of the people!
Since the passing of Eric Hobsbawm in early October the BBC has made available the widely misquoted interview of Hobsbawm by Michael Ignatieff. It's around 11 minutes in that Ignatieff raises the matter of Stalin's liquidation of huge swathes of kulaks and dooming of millions of peasants in the 30s. The question asked is "If you had known that, would it have made a difference to you at that time?" Hobsbawm responds first by stating that it is an unanswerable academic question. In a retrospective answer, not a historical answer, Hobsbawm said "Probably not". He went on to explain his reasoning, that in a period of universalised mass-murder and mass-suffering the chance of a future at all would be worth supporting. The sacrifices in Russia were unnecessarily great and excessive by any measure and, in his eyes, only marginally worthwhile. The Soviet Union was not the beginning of the world revolution, but if it had been Hobsbawm says he isn't sure if the sacrifices would have been worthwhile.
In the next breathe Eric Hobsbawm asks "Do people now say we shouldn't have had WW2 because more people died in WW2 than in Stalin's terror?" At this point interviewer Ignatieff attempts a summary "So what that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified." It was not posed as a question and Hobsbawn responds in the affirmative, to indicate that this is the view that could be taken. Yet the old man had made it clear, moments before, that he isn't sure if the terror would have been worth it with the advent of communism. He goes on to qualify his emphatic 'Yes' by explaining that this is what people thought about the World Wars. Even though in the end many would say that the First World War was an unnecessary bloodbath, the Second World War was worth fighting. Yet this is not how the Right likes to portray this conversation, as I quote in my last article on this:
According to Robert Conquest, Hobsbawm was asked by Ignatieff in 1994 "What (your view) comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of 15, 20 million people might have been justified?" Apparently Hobsbawm's only response was "Yes."
We have good reason to suspect the right-wing historian Conquest - a former British intelligence officer and virulent cold warrior - is out to push the worst line possible about the Marxist Left and not just the Soviet Union. It's a sure thing that Conquest wouldn't rebuke in phony moral outrage at someone who sees the slaughter of the Second World War as necessary to bring down the Third Reich. As Hobsbawm emphasises, it was not about the construction of a utopia - it was a case of "a world rather than no world" - at that time for the Communists who saw the world as crumbling at that time. Really it's because Conquest disagrees fundamentally with the ultimate aim, whereas the defeat of National Socialism merely means a return to liberal democratic capitalism. The notion of a "radiant tomorrow" was rhetoric in Hobsbawm's thinking, it was more about a better, more perfect and new world. It was a more upbeat view of the future tempered with the stark realism of the dire situation in the world.
At around 24 minutes in Eric Hobsbawm goes over his view of the estimates of deaths in the Soviet Union under Stalin. He insists that the people involved in the Communist International, in the 1930s, had no substantial knowledge of what was going on under Stalin with regard to human suffering. Hobsbawm makes the same statement about what the anti-Communist intellectuals claim to know about the Soviet Union. Hobsbawm goes on to add that the estimates - ranging from 3 to 14 million in the gulags alone - are speculative and indefensible because of the range of the figures alone. The blunt tool Ignatieff quickly inquired if the old man of British Communism was saying Stalin's crimes have been "exaggerated" and, without hesitation, the old man responded "No... I'm merely saying that nobody knows!" Hobsbawm concludes that the situation in the Soviet Union under Stalin was indefensible and inhuman. And yet the man is still lambasted by the Right as a lifelong apologist for Joseph Stalin's abattoir socialism.