My post immediately below, on Eric Hobsbawm, has been appended with comments that are well worth commenting on in turn.
I referred to the pamphlet Hobsbawm co-authored with Raymond Williams on Stalin's invasion of Finland, and to Hobsbawm's lamenting in his memoir that he had been unable to find a copy of this pamphlet in the intervening six decades. Unfortunately for him, the pamphlet has not been lost; Paul Anderson, a Tribune contributor, owns a copy and has posted here some extraordinary quotations from it. Paul has also very kindly sent me a scan of the pamphlet, and I have spent an incredulous hour reading it.
The quotations are representative of an argument whose evasions have to be read to be believed. Nowhere in the pamphlet - literally nowhere - is there an acknowledgement, even implicit, of the reason for war. The issue is presented entirely as one of western aggressive designs against the Soviet Union. (The notion that Stalin's aggression represented merely a border dispute was also debunked by Molotov when he insisted in this context that "the Soviet system ... shall reign everywhere". As the American historian R.C. Raack comments in Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945 (1995): "In other words, the real reason for the Finnish war ... was not simply to expand the Soviet state to former tsarist borders but to expand the Soviet system.")
Another contributor writes:
It might be worth adding as a footnote that Raymond Williams left the Communist Party during World War II, as he began to see the extent of Stalinist repression, and also objecting to the party's political screening of his fiancée. It is perfectly obvious that Williams articulated his objections to Hobsbawm, making the latter’s continued party adherence even more reprehensible.
It's certainly true that Williams gives a much more revealing account of the writing of this pamphlet than Hobsbawm does. (On my reading, however, the quotation from Williams that I give below is unintentionally revealing, and redounds to Williams's permanent discredit.) In Politics and Letters (1979), a collection of interviews he gave to New Left Review, Williams says this in answer to a question on what he did for the Communist Party while he was at Cambridge (emphasis added):
You were put into a group according to the subject you were reading: there you would discuss the intellectual problems of the subject. Ours was called the Writers' Group, because we were in the English Faculty. In that capacity we were often called to do rush jobs in propaganda. An example of the sort of task one was given was the pamphlet Eric Hobsbawm and I were assigned to write on the Russo-Finnish War, which argued that it was really a resumption of the Finnish Civil War of 1918 which had been won by Mannerheim and the Whites. We were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words. The pamphlets were issued from on top, unsigned.
Everyone is entitled to make mistakes in youthful political activity. But Professor Eric Hobsbawm, Fellow of the British Academy and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has had 64 years in which to acknowledge this one.
Finally, Observer columnist Nick Cohen sends fraternal greetings:
I can't find the exact reference, but somewhere in Interesting Times Hobsbawm says that on his first and only visit to Stalin's Soviet Union he was 'surprised' by how few intellectuals he came across in Moscow. WRONG PART OF RUSSIA, ERIC! If you wanted intellectuals, you should have gone to Siberia. Ho hum. I shouldn't be too harsh. My grandfather was his party commissar. I must therefore end with a Fraternally yours, Nick
Exactly. It's on page 199, where Hobsbawm comments:
It was an interesting but also a dispiriting trip for foreign communist intellectuals, for we met hardly anyone there like ourselves.
Admittedly, Hobsbawm does indicate an awareness that the absences of some of those he and his colleagues had asked to meet were not entirely due to health problems. But he does so at a terrible cost, for he reflects immediately afterwards, in one of the most depressing sentences I have ever read:
At all events I am certain that, standing by the Finland Station in the marvellous winter light of that miraculous city I shall never get used to calling St Petersburg, what we thought about the October Revolution was not the same as what our guides from the Leningrad branch of the Academy of Sciences thought.
Never mind the reality: we stick with the dream.