By Chris Harman
Richard Seymour, New Statesman wrote:
A People's background of the area is the 1st try to supply a unmarried, available, grass-roots account of the improvement of human civilisation. The tales of civilisation that experience develop into renowned within the period of the "war on terror" frequently 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" within which the peerless west defeats all-comers via advantage of yes "values" that frequently turn out to be the credenda of neocon servatism. The counterpart to such Spenglerian mysticism is the strident social gathering of capitalism and the colonial approach in which it unfold. Niall Ferguson is an avatar of this tendency. Chris Harman's well known heritage is a crucial antidote to those trends.
From the Neolithic revolution to Y2K, A People's background is a dizzying story of switch "from below", with political, fiscal and cultural narratives interwoven, and coffee pauses to indicate fascinating theoretical vistas. Taking pains to disenchanted obtained opinion, Harman asserts that classification societies are neither typical nor a long term characteristic of human historical past. the 1st such, he argues, emerged after lengthy fight, after the rural revolution that happened within the Fertile Crescent 10,000 years in the past. Describing the increase of the traditional global, Harman resists regular Eurocentrism, displaying how related environmental and technological pressures have been at paintings in developing precocious civilisations in India, China, Greece and Rome. If the latter have been novel, it used to be partially due to their strange dependence on slave labour. He resists the trendy temptation to exalt Roman civilisation, which he argues used to be 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 accurately highlights the social pursuits embodied in it instead of decreasing it to a conflict of principles. And the Islamic contribution to Enlightenment proposal 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 means of historians resembling Simon Schama and François Furet. And, rebutting colonial triumphalism, he notes that African societies have been, sooner than the locust years of slavery and colonies, not less than on a par with ecu societies in literacy and social improvement. equally, Indian society used to be faraway from the stagnant behemoth meant whilst 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 historical past has a virtually telescopic constitution, devoting larger area to more moderen sessions because the velocity of swap raises. The previous one hundred fifty years of human lifestyles, from Marx to the millennium, take in nearly half the booklet, and it really is through a ways the main provocative half. From the hopeful experiments of early working-class socialism to the terrible Götterdämmerung of the second one international warfare and the chilling nuclear stasis of the chilly struggle, there's a lot to subvert traditional expectancies. Scathing in regards to the results of capitalism and colonialism, Harman holds no short for the Stalinist dictatorship.
He exhibits that the USSR, faraway from caring with emancipatory politics, followed a manipulative stance in the direction of left-wing hobbies, encouraging unswerving events to restrict their radicalism and to connive in pro-colonial rules. in truth, his valuable analysis here's 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" pursuits of the Nineteen Sixties. hence, if the postwar power of the USSR didn't ensure the socialist case, Harman keeps, its cave in didn't disprove it.
There are a couple of issues the place engagement with fresh scholarship may have altered Harman's account. with reference to the 1st global conflict, for instance, he partially accepts the concept that the German lots greeted the struggle enthusiastically, a view that has in recent years been demolished via the historian Jeffrey Verhey. And you'll be able to break up hairs over many of the formulations. it really is incredible to determine Harman guard a model of Marx's notion of an "Asiatic Mode of Production". it's also marvelous that he doesn't talk about the controversies over the origins of capitalism. Given the calls for of concision, it's an comprehensible omission. however, it will probably were worthwhile to offer the overall reader at the very least a few indication that they exist.
These are minor quibbles, although, approximately such an bold and marvellously readable heritage. Harman has, with remarkable narrative sweep, added a worldly assault on many winning assumptions, now not least of that is the complacent religion in capitalism's longevity.
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Decline of trade, towns, use of money and Buddhist religion. Agriculture and artisan trades carried out in virtually self contained villages for benefit of feudal rulers. Ideological domination by Brahman priests. Full establishment of elaborate hierarchy of many castes. Decline in literature, art and science. Continued fragmentation of China until rise of Sui Dynasty (581) and then T’ang Dynasty (618) see revival of economy and trade. 44 Chapter 1 Iron and empires The second great phase in the history of civilisation began among the peasants and pastoralists who lived in the lands around the great empires, not in the states dominated by the priests and pharaohs.
These were stuck with the body of knowledge developed early in the urban revolution, treating it with almost religious reverence, copying texts and transmitting established ideas, but no longer attempting new lines of enquiry. 85 The literate elite ended up holding back rather than advancing humanity’s control over nature. A ruling class that had arisen out of advances in human productive powers now prevented further advances. But without such advances its own rapaciousness was bound to exhaust society’s resources, until the means of livelihood became insufficient to provide for the mass of the population.
There were many cases in which the growth in food output did little more 17 A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE WORLD than keep abreast with the rise in population. 47 There were only two options if such groups were to maintain their settled way of life. One was to resort to raiding other agriculturists for food, so that warfare became a growing feature of such societies. Stone battle axes and flint daggers became increasingly common, for instance, in the later stages of the neolithic revolution in Europe.
A People's History of the World by Chris Harman