I was not going to write about Eric Hobsbawm again for some time and, in fact, this piece is not about him. I was sent a link to Peter Hitchens's column on the subject in which he quite correctly notes that young people will cheerfully wear a hammer and sickle badge (or a Che Guevara t-shirt) and not understand the question when asked whether they would wear a swastika. In fact, I was amazed at the number of people who pointed out quite seriously during the vehement discussions in the wake of Hobsbawm's death that there is a huge difference between supporting murderous Communist dictators and murderous fascist/Nazi ones as the former were motivated by a sense of decency and a desire for a better and more free world. I asked some of them whether the deliberate starvation of 13 million peasants, men, women and children, was a sign of decency. It is always fun to watch people like that squirm.
Mr Hitchens's piece does bring out a couple of other points. In the first place, he mentions one of the best books on the subject, Under Two Dictators by Margarete Buber Neumann, about which I have written before. (I still think everyone should read it.) Hitchens describes well the handing over of German Communists (those that had survived) to Hitler in 1939 but does not mention the real irony of the situation.
Not all of them were sent to camps by the Gestapo. The Jews were, as one would expect but the others, with a couple of exceptions, to their surprise were packed off home and told to report to the local police regularly. Margarte Buber Neumann was one of those who was sent to Ravensbrück and she did, indeed, have a bad time there from the Communist inmates as much as the guards because she tried to tell the truth about the Soviet Union.
The reason for her being separated from the others was that the Gestapo did not believe her protestations that she thought Heinz Neumann had been murdered (pace Peter Hitchens, she did know or, at least, heard reliable rumours from other prisoners). The Gestapo simply would not believe that Stalin would have somebody who was not just a Communist (they knew what was happening to them) but a complete Stalinist who was prepared to turn on his own colleagues at the slightest word from the Great Leader. Yet it was true.
The other amusing part of the article is the description of the way the Daily Worker twisted and turned in 1939 and 1940 when, in the wake of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland, they were on the other side of the battle. Let us not forget that while Britain did not stand alone during the Battle of Britain (there was the small matter of the Empire and the Dominions as well as individuals who had escaped from occupied countries to join the battle and other individuals who had come from supposedly neutral ones like Ireland and the United States) it most certainly did not have the Soviet Union on her side. Au contraire. Germany could not have fought in those months in the air or on sea without Soviet help. And a lot of thanks Stalin got for his assistance. About as much, in fact, as he gave to his most loyal servants.