My relations with Tony Judt date back a long time but they were curiously contradictory. We were friends, though not intimate ones, and while both of us were politically committed historians, and both preferred wearing informal gear as historians rather than regimental uniform, we marched to different drummers. Nevertheless our intellectual interests had something in common. Both of us knew that the 20th century can only be understood fully by those who became historians because they lived through it and shared its basic passion: namely the belief that politics was the key to our truths as well as our myths. In spite of our differences, both Tony’s Marxism and the French Left and my own recent How to Change the World are dedicated to the memory of the same independent thinker, the late George Lichtheim. We got on well in personal terms – but then Tony was easy to like, and generous. He thought very well of my own work and said so in his last book. At the same time he launched one of the most implacable attacks on me in a passage which has become widely quoted, especially by the ultras of the right-wing American press. It amounted to: make a public confession that your god has failed, beat your breast and you may win the right to be taken seriously. No man who doesn’t think socialism equals Gulag should be listened to. It was no doubt a sincerely felt rhetorical figure in an anti-red polemic. Fortunately practice differed from theory.
LRB 26 April 2012 | PDF Download