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
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."
ILLUSTRATION BY JOSH BROWN,
FROM VISIONS OF HISTORY
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.