Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering the Other Companions of Honour Whom Stalin Murdered

Magazine article The Spectator

Remembering the Other Companions of Honour Whom Stalin Murdered

Article excerpt

It is already horribly clear that, in important moral respects, the new Labour government is no improvement on its lamentable predecessor. As the Formula One and Robinson cases show, it can neither avoid sleaze nor, when it is exposed, deal with it promptly. There are, I predict, much bigger scandals ahead. It is obviously preferable for the Labour party to finance itself from individual contributions rather than be dependent on the union barons, but greed for money and lack of scruple in getting it are taking it deep into oily waters. The new government has not been in office nine months but it has already awarded five peerages in return for contributions. Even by the standards of the outgoing Tory regime, which was notoriously ready to sell honours, that is going it.

A Labour government, exposed to all kinds of hidden pressures from the Left including the Far Left - is also capable of moral errors of a different kind, and this lot has already committed a major one. I refer, of course, to the award in the New Year's list of the Companionate of Honour to Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian. Hobsbawm, like his equivalent at the other end of the totalitarian spectrum, David Irving, is not without a certain brutal honesty. Just as Irving defends, excuses, exonerates or, when it comes to the pinch, minimises the guilt of Hitler, so Hobsbawm legitimises Stalin. He was at it again last year on Start the Week. I wish the BBC would publish a transcript of his remarks. So far as I can remember, he said, among other things, that without Stalin the British would not have the welfare state. Ah, so that was how we got it. Like most people, I had always assumed that state welfare was invented by Bismarck to appease the German socialists, was introduced here before the first world war by Lloyd George and Churchill, and amplified after 1945 by Attlee, Nye Bevan et al. But Hobsbawm tells us we owe it to 'Uncle Joe', as the Left taught us to call him in the second word war. Yet while Irving is excluded from academia and, quite rightly, from the civilised community generally, Hobsbawm gets the gong which, next to the OM, now safely in the hands of the Queen and so immune from political lobbying, is regarded as our highest award for distinction. How come?

In an important article in the current issue of the American monthly Commentary, the French historian Alain Besancon advances six reasons for the double standards educated people in the West apply to Nazism and communism. I won't rehearse his arguments, originally put forward in his inaugural address to the Academie Francaise, to which he was inducted in December 1996, and now updated. His essay should certainly be published in London. But in brief he points out that the distinction we still make is the result of historical accident rather than of any real doubt about the moral equivalence of these two appalling systems of state crime. It is not as though there is any lack of knowledge about the depravity of communist regimes, particularly Stalin's Russia.

Over here, the basic facts, in all their enormity, were revealed in a series of brilliant investigations by our greatest living modern historian, Robert Conquest. So far as I know, Conquest has never been offered an honour of any kind, though the only vindication he sought has been provided in full: the substantiation of all his conclusions, and most of his detailed work, by the opening of the Russian archives. …

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