Monday, 12 November 2012

Mao, Stalin, Hitler and Hobsbawm

This is from Simon Gray's 'The Last Cigarette', and it put me at once in mind of Eric Hobsbawm, the unrepentant communist historian who died recently, amid praise from all quarters, from Niall Ferguson to Ed Milliband

Let me resist lighting a cigarette by thinking about Mao, Stalin and Hitler.  The other day, on a radio phone-in, I heard the old argument repeated - Hitler was the most wicked because he murdered millions in the name of fascism and racial superiority.  Mao and Stalin were less wicked because they murdered millions in the name of communism, a noble if possibly imbecilic ideal.  Therefore people who supported fascism and Hitler are much more wicked than people who supported communism - in fact, people who supported the USSR, those of them in this country who are still alive, are to be considered rather endearing, to be cherished and even honoured.  Their hearts were in the right place when they argued, with decent regret, that you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs - which actually is only a domestically pleasant way of saying that Lenin and Stalin couldn't make a communist state without breaking heads, legs, lives, families, spirits - without maiming, torturing, starving, killing - all the things that Hitler did but in one respect more terrifyingly because more arbitrarily.  If you were Aryan and an indifferent servant of Hitler's state you were safe, and knew what to do to remain safe, at least until the war came.  If you were a good servant in Mao's or Stalin's state you were in danger every minute of your life, and if it decided to extinguish you because, say, of a joke you were rumoured to have told, or to have laughed at, you went to your end knowing that your legacy to your parents and your children, your friends, colleagues, even your neighbours, was likely to be torture or death, or a labour camp, certainly ostracism and penury - their crime, of course, being you, knowing you and perhaps loving you.

from The Last Cigarette by Simon Gray (Granta Books, 2008)

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