Foner and Hobsbawm

Blogger Ron Radosh uses the matter of fawning obituaries for Eric Hobsbawm to apply a few lashes to Eric Foner's hide:
Naturally, writing in The Nation, the left-wing’s most prominent historian and Pulitzer Prize winner, Eric Foner, lauded Hobsbawm in very different terms. Playing the old Popular Front game, Foner ignored even commenting on his defense of the old Soviet Union and of Stalin’s terror. Rather, Foner simply called him a “life-long advocate of social justice.” Obviously, in Foner’s eyes, anyone supporting Stalin and the old Soviet cause was simply revealing his concern for the peoples of the world and their persistent struggles for equality. Hobsbawm never gave up his beliefs, Foner writes- although Foner never tells readers what these were- saying only that Hobsbawm stayed firm because “out of respect for the memory of comrades who had suffered persecution or death for their political beliefs.”

Not a word from Foner about the many who were persecuted or went to death in the Soviet system that Hobsbawm (and Foner) so revere. This is not surprising. In 1994, Foner attacked Eugene D. Genovese’s Dissent essay “The Question,” writing that Genovese was prone to “right-wing ideology” because he dared to acknowledge what Foner and Hobsbawm never could — that in supporting the Soviet Union, the Left was as guilty as Stalin, and that “social movements that have espoused radical egalitarianism and participatory democracy have begun with mass murder and ended in despotism.” To Foner, the great sin is anti-Communism, and he believes that supporting left-wing tyranny is excusable and understandable.

Foner concludes that “Hobsbawm’s historical writings brought to bear a sophisticated Marxist analysis that saw class conflict as a driving force of historical change but rejected narrow economic determinism and teleological frameworks. Like Marx himself, Hobsbawm saw capitalism as a total social system, which had to be analyzed in its entirety, and rejected notions of historical inevitability. He insisted that people must strive to envision a more humane social order, but that history had no predetermined trajectory.”

So we are not surprised that Eric Foner thinks Hobsbawm to be a great historian. How could he not, since he shares with the late scholar a fond remembrance for the old Soviet Union and a nostalgia for the good work engaged in by the old Communists, like Foner’s own parents and uncles.
A commenter chips in with this note:
You mention Eric Foner. He’s best known as the author of the standard (don’t ask me why) history of Reconstruction in the United States, but the book of his that I read was an essay collection titled “The Battle for History” or some such. In it, he recounted some of his early life and background. His father taught (if I remember right) history at Columbia, and lost his job during the height of the McCarthy Red “Scare” for what Foner thought were completely bogus reasons. Anyway, after telling you of this, the author recounts that he was at an awards dinner with Gabor Borritt, a reasonably well-known Civil War historian who was born in Czechoslovakia, participated in the “Prague Spring” as a teenager, and fled in the aftermath, winding up in the United States. Borritt tells Foner that he grew up in a totalitarian state where freedom of expression was brutally suppressed, and Foner responds that he was brought up in such a country, too… ‘Nuff said…
I think I could have put this whole case more simply. Anyone who applies dialectical materialism to the study of history is building paradigms, not doing history. Whether Foner is in that group, I don't know.