A year or so ago, the journalist Nick Cohen, reviewing a book by the English Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm, made the mistake of guessing what Hobsbawm's obituaries would look like. Those who shared Hobsbawm's political commitments would laud his work, Mr Cohen predicted. Those who did not would say "his loyalty to totalitarianism disfigured his writing". There would be little agreement between the two camps.
大约一年前，在点评英国马克思主义史学家埃里克•霍布斯鲍姆(Eric Hobsbawm)写的一本书时，记者尼克•科恩(Nick Cohen)曾猜测霍布斯鲍姆的讣告会是什么样子。科恩预言道，政治信仰与霍布斯鲍姆相同的人士会在讣告中赞美他的工作，而与霍布斯鲍姆持不同政见的人士可能会说，"他对极权主义的忠诚使他的作品变得丑陋"——这两个阵营对他的评价会非常不同。
Hobsbawm died last week at the age of 95 and Mr Cohen turns out to have been wrong. Whatever the view in recent years, there is today a remarkable consensus about Hobsbawm. Almost no one makes big claims for the communism that he professed, but almost no one dissents, either, from the view that places him among the great historians of his time.
No matter how loudly Hobsbawm proclaimed the communist dogma, his cast of mind was independent. It was too independent for the Soviet Union, which translated none of his sweeping narratives on nationalism, industrialism, imperialism and globalism. Whether or not Hobsbawm is considered a radical communist, he was an impenitent communist. He clung to his party card through the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary, and past the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was sometimes biased. He blamed the liberal democracies for Stalin's decision to ally himself with Hitler.
That Hobsbawm "whitewashed" the crimes of communism is largely a canard. In The Age of Extremes, he suggested that the deaths due to Stalinist terror are more likely "measured in eight rather than seven digits. In these circumstances it does not much matter whether we opt for a ‘conservative' estimate nearer to 10 than to 20 millions or a larger figure: none can be anything but shameful and beyond palliation, let alone justification". Short of abandoning history for autobiography, he could hardly go further.
有人说霍布斯鲍姆试图掩饰共产主义的罪行，这种说法在很大程度上是谣言。他在《极端的年代》(The Age of Extremes)一书中指出，斯大林主义恐怖导致的死亡人数更有可能"是8位数，而不是7位数。在这种情况下，我们是选择一个接近于1000万人、而不是接近于2000万人的‘保守'估计数字，还是选择一个更大的数字，实际上并无太大区别：它无论如何都是一个不光彩的数字，不可能让人感到宽慰、更别说成为谁的辩护理由了。"
People can differ on whether Hobsbawm's Marxism should matter to his reputation. He thought it should. "Without Marx I would not have developed any special interest in history," Hobsbawm wrote in 1997. He refused to apologise for his politics or to couch them in any kind of soft-minded evasion about "good intentions". That he defended a cruel and misguided project did not mean he was misguided about everything.
Hobsbawm's assertion in Nations and Nationalism (1990) that traditional nationalism was losing its hold on the loyalty of citizens was much ridiculed when the war in Yugoslavia began months later. But today he looks more right than wrong.