Download e-book for kindle: A People's History of the World by Chris Harman

By Chris Harman

Richard Seymour, New Statesman wrote:

A People's heritage of the realm is the 1st try and offer a unmarried, obtainable, grass-roots account of the advance of human civilisation. The tales of civilisation that experience develop into renowned within the period of the "war on terror" often include an arid essentialism. we're instructed there's a discrete entity referred to as "the west", whose ascent is, because the historian Eric Wolf sardonically positioned it, a "moral luck story" during which the peerless west defeats all-comers via advantage of convinced "values" that frequently turn out to be the credenda of neocon servatism. The counterpart to such Spenglerian mysticism is the strident party of capitalism and the colonial procedure by which it unfold. Niall Ferguson is an avatar of this tendency. Chris Harman's renowned heritage is a crucial antidote to those trends.

From the Neolithic revolution to Y2K, A People's background is a dizzying story of swap "from below", with political, fiscal and cultural narratives interwoven, and low pauses to show fascinating theoretical vistas. Taking pains to disillusioned bought opinion, Harman asserts that category societies are neither common nor a long term function of human background. the 1st such, he argues, emerged after lengthy fight, after the rural revolution that came about within the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years in the past. Describing the increase of the traditional global, Harman resists ordinary Eurocentrism, displaying how comparable environmental and technological pressures have been at paintings in growing precocious civilisations in India, China, Greece and Rome. If the latter have been novel, it used to be in part due to their strange dependence on slave labour. He resists the trendy temptation to exalt Roman civilisation, which he argues was once mostly parasitic on Greek expertise and tradition, and whose wealth and gear derived from barbaric overland expansion.

Against the view that the feudal interval used to be one among stasis, Harman emphasises its dynamism. at the Reformation, he effectively highlights the social pursuits embodied in it instead of decreasing it to a conflict of principles. And the Islamic contribution to Enlightenment inspiration is duly registered in a fashion that frustrates makes an attempt to assert the Enlightenment for "the west". With the French Revolution, Harman assails the myths approximately its bloodthirstiness progenerated by way of historians equivalent to Simon Schama and François Furet. And, rebutting colonial triumphalism, he notes that African societies have been, ahead of the locust years of slavery and colonies, a minimum of on a par with ecu societies in literacy and social improvement. equally, Indian society was once faraway from the stagnant behemoth meant while it used to be colonised by means of Britain, whose early luck owed extra to its skill to win over neighborhood rulers than to monetary or army superiority.

A People's background has a virtually telescopic constitution, devoting larger house to more moderen sessions because the speed of swap raises. The previous a hundred and fifty years of human lifestyles, from Marx to the millennium, take in nearly 1/2 the publication, and it's by means of a ways the main provocative half. From the hopeful experiments of early working-class socialism to the bad Götterdämmerung of the second one global struggle and the chilling nuclear stasis of the chilly battle, there's a lot to subvert traditional expectancies. Scathing concerning the results of capitalism and colonialism, Harman holds no short for the Stalinist dictatorship.

He exhibits that the USSR, faraway from worrying with emancipatory politics, followed a manipulative stance in the direction of left-wing pursuits, encouraging unswerving events to restrict their radicalism and to connive in pro-colonial regulations. in truth, his relevant prognosis this is that the dual pincers of Stalinism and fascism overwhelmed the culture of "socialism from below" mid-century, and that this practice used to be partly revived within the "New Left" routine of the Nineteen Sixties. hence, if the postwar power of the USSR didn't ascertain the socialist case, Harman keeps, its cave in didn't disprove it.

There are a couple of issues the place engagement with contemporary scholarship may have altered Harman's account. with regards to the 1st international warfare, for instance, he partly accepts the concept the German lots greeted the struggle enthusiastically, a view that has in recent years been demolished by means of the historian Jeffrey Verhey. And one can break up hairs over a number of the formulations. it truly is fabulous to work out Harman safeguard a model of Marx's belief of an "Asiatic Mode of Production". it's also striking that he doesn't speak about the controversies over the origins of capitalism. Given the calls for of concision, it truly is an comprehensible omission. however, it can were precious to provide the overall reader at the least a few indication that they exist.

These are minor quibbles, besides the fact that, approximately such an bold and marvellously readable heritage. Harman has, with notable narrative sweep, added a cosmopolitan assault on many triumphing assumptions, now not least of that's the complacent religion in capitalism's longevity.

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But private property is not a feature of all societies divided into classes. Karl Marx referred to an ‘Asiatic’ form of class society in which private property did not exist at all. Instead, he argued, the rulers were able, through their collective control of the state machine, to exploit entire peasant communities which farmed the land jointly without private ownership. He believed this picture applied to Indian society at the time of the British conquest in the 18th century. 69 But the early history of the Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Meso-American and South American civilisations does seem to fit his model.

The growing exactions of the rulers must have caused clashes between the two. But, to be honest, we know little about these. In so far as tomb paintings or temple inscriptions depict the mass of people, it is as people bowing down to and waiting on their ‘superiors’. This is hardly surprising— it has been the preferred way of depicting the masses for ruling classes throughout history. 88 But the tensions that arose were not just between the rulers and the exploited peasants. The evidence from all the early civilisations points to growing fissures within the ruling class.

Conquest of Middle East by Macedonian armies of Alexander and of most of Indian subcontinent by Mauryan Empire of Ashoka. Struggles between Plebeians and Patricians in Rome. City conquers most of Italy. 300 to 1 BC Disintegration of Mauryan Empire in India, but continued growth of trade and handicraft industry. Hindu Brahmans turn against cow slaughter. First Ch’in emperor unifies north China. Massive growth of iron working, handicraft industries and trade. Building of Great Wall and of canal and road systems.

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A People's History of the World by Chris Harman


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