Bandits (revised edition)
By Eric Hobsbawm
The New Press
272 pages, $15.95

Vivian Gornick once compared the sorrow of the ex-Communist to that of the lover at the end of the affair, writing that the party apostate "knew a kind of exhilaration and despair that can be understood only, perhaps, by those who have loved deeply and suffered the crippling loss of that love."

Eric Hobsbawm, the famed British Marxist historian and lifelong Communist, more
closely resembles a widower than a disillusioned romantic. Hobsbawm was a member of the British Communist Party from the '30s nearly until its dissolution in 1991. Today, when he speaks of the political cause to which he devoted his life, his tone is bemused, ironic and yet still compassionate. "Do I regret it? No, I don't think so," he said in a long interview recently published as On the Edge of the New Century. "I know very well that the cause I embraced has proved not to work. Perhaps I shouldn't have chosen it. But, on the other hand, if people don't have any ideal of a better world, then they have lost something. If the only ideal for men and women is the pursuit of personal happiness through the attainment of material assets, then humanity is a diminished species."

Hobsbawm discovered Communism in the early '30s. Born in Alexandria, Egypt, of German and Austrian Jewish origins, he was 15 years old and living in Berlin when Hitler came to power; his family quickly fled to England. Communism's initial appeal for Hobsbawm was that it promised to defend "the great causes of the Enlightenment: reason, progress and the betterment of the conditions of all human beings," at a time when capitalism appeared to have led to the destruction of these ideas in the maelstrom of fascism, depression and war.