A People’s History of the World

Chris Harman (http://www.marxists.org/archive/harman/index.htm, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Harman) offers us this magisterial volume on the history of humans from the Stone Age to the present day. Originally published in 1999, Harman has had the¬†heroic ambition to tackle the entire sweep of our past. Bombarded with daily news of international events as we are, it might be understandable that those living in less esoteric circumstances and with memories limited to the result of the last TV football match could well believe that history is simply one damn thing after another, lacking all understandable coherence. But a self-professed Marxist, as Harman is,¬†sees the world in a longer perspective than that of celebrity tittle tattle. In this book he demonstrates a breadth of scholarship coupled to a lucid style and a clear understanding of the unfolding patterns of human experience. Moving from the hunter-gatherer societies of pre-history ‚Äď increasingly a misnomer as we learn more about our early forebears, who seemed to have shared none of the exploitative gender and racial values that inform our brave new world ‚Äď Harman charts a course through the emerging civilizations which increasingly failed to reconcile internal conflicting social forces. Throughout, he points his argument with needle-sharp examples. Slavery, which underpinned empires such as Rome, resulted in a lack of technological progress. With a limitless slave workforce, society has nothing to gain from investing in new methodologies of production, consequently providing easy prey for more dynamic predators. The greater part of Harman’s history is devoted to the world that emerged from medieval feudalism and the rise of capitalism. Here, he takes on the labyrinthine complications of world power politics with deceptive ease. In his analyses of the revolutions that have punctuated the modern period, he demonstrates how the leaders of these movements ‚Äď Cromwell, Robespierre, Lenin ‚Äď were circumscribed by the social conditions of their times. As Marx knew, ‘human beings make history, but not under conditions of their own choosing.’ Harman believes that there is an essential logic to the apparently bewildering confusion of history. For instance, he answers¬†the following¬†question. Was it simply a psychopathic Hitler-imposed decision to continue with¬†the Holocaust¬† even when, facing defeat, German communications and vital war resources would be overtaxed? Harman suggests that, by then, anti-Semitism provided the only binding ideological element for the corrupt Nazi hierarchy. Acknowledging that ‘capitalism is a more dynamic form of class society than any before in history,’ Harman nevertheless demolishes the parroted post-modernist claim of the end of ideology and class conflict. The industrial workers may have virtually disappeared from the Western imperialist world, but, characteristically using statistics, Harman points out that, ‘by the 1980s, South Korea alone contained more industrial workers than the whole world had when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto.’ Our own teachers, nurses, local authority and Post Office workers know that overalls are not an essential qualification for membership of an exploited class.

This is a provocative work which eschews the standard histories of “Great Men,” of dates and Kings. I think it’s all the better for that. This is a wonderfully informative and challenging read. Rise to the challenge.

Enquire at your local library or consult  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Peoples-History-World-Stone-Millennium/dp/1844672387/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1471975485&sr=8-1&keywords=people%27s+history+world+harman for further bibliographic detail.

760 pages in Verso Books paperback edition

ISBN 978-1844672387

Chris Harman

 

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