Vladimir: Suppose we repented.
Estragon: Repented what? [...] Our being born?
Any man's death diminishes me; some men's deaths expand my sense of the rightness of it all. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger died two days ago; Eric Hobsbawm died yesterday. Sulzberger was the former publisher of the New York Times; Hobsbawm, the preeminent British historian, was characterized in the New York Times as an unrepentant Marxist. Unrepentant Marxist: that's hokey as hellfire, as if a bunch of black-clad capitalists were hovering at Eric's deathbed, hoping for a last-minute conversion. Hobsbawm was unrepentant only in the dialectical sense, that he was not one of those Marxists who ran for cover when the system that had sustained them collapsed: Fall of Communism? Oh no! There goes my career! Whether Sulzberger repented his own sins is moot, since by Max Weber's definition the only deathbed sin a capitalist can commit, is to have failed. We all fail: Death is the Great Leveler, the Great Digger: the Great Commie. Mais qui, de ces coeurs mortels, entend la raillerie? Les charmes de l'horreur n'enivrent que les forts!
The Times, as usual, is full of Death-baiting: [Sulzberger] saw that expanding the paper's profits was the the only way to protect its integrity and independence, writes a reader, which is meant to prove he wasn't in it for the money; all it proves is that he wanted to prove he wasn't in it for the money, after all. The only salvation from sin comes, not from profits but from expanding profits, and the Times today is full of apologetics passing for panegyrics. The family fortunes built up by Sulzberger have collapsed; the whole, vicious system of Timesspeak and Timesthought is as irrelevant today as Look and Life in the late 'sixties. Nobody needs to have Sulzberger tell them what to think, or Judy Miller: they get their lies off the internet. No longer can the Times prolong a war in Vietnam, or start one in Iraq, or bring Mitt Romney back to life. Was Sulzberger, who lived long enough to see all this, repentant of his failures in the capitalist sense of the word? So far as I know he didn't call for a commissar on his deathbed...
I was flabbergasted to learn, only today, that Hobsbawm was not of the Oxbridge elite, he was a Jew who grew up in Vienna and Berlin during one of the most exhilirating, tragic experiments in Socialism. I'm curious to know where he was, on July 15 1927, when unarmed workers were gunned down on the streets: it's an event that traumatized and radicalized many witnesses. I'm wondering how he felt about Otto Bauer, the leader of the Austrian Socialists, who desperately tried to avoid conflict and death, both for himself and the workers he meant to lead: none of this is mentioned in Eric's autobiography. Eric reminded me of one of those British officers who cheer on and lead the boys, not out of any particular love for them, let alone with any expectation of victory, but because that's the role you play: to be gracious with those whose fate you share, even if our fate does'nt meet the capitalist criterion of Victory. In the seminar I took with him Eric was unfailingly polite, uncompetitive, even when some young radical used his presentation time to play redder-than-thou; and unfailingly ruthless. One day we students turned up for class to find the elevator out of order. We were milling around in the lobby when Eric came in, just on time. With barely a glance at the situation he ran—I said ran—up the five flights of steps, with a gaggle of graduate students puffing along behind him; he must have been close to eighty. He once remarked, with genuine puzzlement, that many workers were no happier working long hours for low pay, even when they were building a Socialist Paradise. His job was not to empathize or to be empathized with. A few years back my partner and I were coming from a flea-market with a chair we'd bought, and we ran into Eric on the street. Naturally I wanted my partner to have met him, so I introduced them. I was hoping they'd talk about Marxism: Eric only wanted to talk about the chair.
My friend Anita, a calligrapher and a vegan, was once asked to deliver a design to the inner sanctum of the New York Times. As she waited, a stiffness of white males walked by, and she overheard something like: Our nuclear policy must include.... Our? Hobsbawm liked to make you feel he was expendable, he'd witnessed too much death and failure to think his own mattered much. Sulzberger, a rich boy humiliated early on, was desperate to have you feel that he, and only he, and only the New York Times his baby, held the world without end. Either of these deaths brings on the same satisfaction: With Sulzberger it's knowing, as he knew, that everything he built has died already. With Hobsbawm it's the certainty that the fight will go on.
[10/2/2012; last revised 10/28/2012]
- Hoipolloi Cassidy
Death is the Great Commie