This is remarkable article. I think it rewards a full and careful read, despite my obvious quarrels with its writer and subject. I am impressed by the lengths to which Eagleton has gone to prove Marx innocent of determinism. Conceivably it is phantom of recent debates here, but I am also struck by how spiritual, even mystical, is the portrayal of historical materialism. The essay shines with a palpable warmth; Eagleton has given us a kind of romance of the 20th century Marxist historian.
Marinate on this extraordinary passage: “Marxism is about leisure, not labour. It is a project that should be eagerly supported by all those who dislike having to work. It holds that the most precious activities are those done simply for the hell of it, and that art is in this sense the paradigm of authentic human activity.”
In other words, Marxism is for hippies too.
Romance is fine for intellectuals; for the rest of us, the Bible is more realistic about things: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
I happen to agree with Eagleton that “Marxism been back on the agenda, placed there, ironically enough, by an ailing capitalism.” The idea fills me with dread, but I simply cannot shake the strong presentiment that defenders of capitalism have not properly absorbed the black secrets exposed by the financial crisis of 2007-09.
But what role a new Marxism might play “on the agenda” is not question I’m prepared to conjecture about at the moment.
The specific subject of Eagleton’s essay is the Communist Eric Hobsbawm, about whom Eagleton reserves fulsome and sundry praise. Here is a man who has well and truly prostrated everything at the feet of the Communist ideal. The end of Communism could, for him, justify all means. He once answered a television intereviewer’s question: “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?” Hobsbawm: “Yes.”
Whatever we might say about Marx (and Eagleton, I think, says some interesting things about him) we can certainly say that this particular historian has dedicated his life defending one of the most gruesome tyrannies ever devised by men.
There is no political cause comparable to Communism in at least this respect — it allows respectable men to endorse mass butchery, connive at sedition, falsify scholarship, and still live to be revered by the very sort of men and women who would surely perish, had that “radiant tomorrow actually been created.”
[Hat tip on these links to Pejman Yousefzadeh.]