A People's History of the World by Chris Harman - Free

700 Pages · 2008 · 2.42 MB · English

  • A People's History of the World by Chris Harman - Free

    A people’s history of

    the world A people’s

    history of the


    Chris Harman

    London, Chicago and Sydney A People’s History of the World – Chris Harman

    First published 1999

    Reprinted 2002

    Bookmarks Publications Ltd, c/o 1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE, England

    Bookmarks, POBox 16085, Chicago, Illinois 60616, USA

    Bookmarks, POBox A338, Sydney South, NSW 2000, Australia

    Copyright © Bookmarks Publications Ltd

    ISBN 1 898876 55 X

    Printed by Interprint Limited, Malta

    Cover by Sherborne Design

    Bookmarks Publications Ltd is linked to an international grouping of socialist


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    (cid:2) Austria:Linkswende, Postfach 87, 1108 Wien. linkswende@yahoo.com

    (cid:2) Britain:Socialist Workers Party, PO Box 82, London E3 3LH.


    (cid:2) Canada:International Socialists, PO Box 339, Station E, Toronto, Ontario M6H 4E3.


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    (cid:2) Italy:Comunismo dal Basso, Leeder, CP Bologna, Succ 5. dalbasso@hotmail.com

    (cid:2) New Zealand: Socialist Workers Organisation, PO Box 13-685, Auckland.


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    (cid:2) United States:Left Turn, PO Box 445, New York, NY 10159-0445.


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    (cid:2) Zimbabwe:International Socialist Organisation, PO Box 6758, Harare.

    isozim@hotmail.com Contents

    Introduction i

    Part one: The rise of class societies

    Prologue: Before class 3

    Chapter 1 The neolithic ‘revolution’ 10

    Chapter 2 The first civilisations 17

    Chapter 3 The first class divisions 22

    Chapter 4 Women’s oppression 29

    Chapter 5 The first ‘Dark Ages’ 32

    Part two: The ancient world

    Chapter 1 Iron and empires 45

    Chapter 2 Ancient India 48

    Chapter 3 The first Chinese empires 54

    Chapter 4 The Greek city states 63

    Chapter 5 Rome’s rise and fall 71

    Chapter 6 The rise of Christianity 87

    Part three: The ‘Middle Ages’

    Chapter 1 The centuries of chaos 103

    Chapter 2 China: the rebirth of the empire 106

    Chapter 3 Byzantium: the living fossil 117

    Chapter 4 The Islamic revolutions 123

    Chapter 5 The African civilisations 136

    Chapter 6 European feudalism 140 Part four: The great transformation

    Chapter 1 The conquest of the New Spain 161

    Chapter 2 Renaissance to Reformation 172

    Chapter 3 The birth pangs of a new order 194

    Chapter 4 The last flowering of Asia’s empires 219

    Part five: The spread of the new order

    Chapter 1 A time of social peace 233

    Chapter 2 From superstition to science 237

    Chapter 3 The Enlightenment 242

    Chapter 4 Slavery and wage slavery 247

    Chapter 5 Slavery and racism 249

    Chapter 6 The economics of ‘free labour’ 257

    Part six: The world turned upside down

    Chapter 1 American prologue 265

    Chapter 2 The French Revolution 277

    Chapter 3 Jacobinism outside France 303

    Chapter 4 The retreat of reason 315

    Chapter 5 The industrial revolution 318

    Chapter 6 The birth of Marxism 326

    Chapter 7 1848 335

    Chapter 8 The American Civil War 345

    Chapter 9 The conquest of the East 355

    Chapter 10 The Japanese exception 365

    Chapter 11 Storming heaven:

    The Paris Commune 368 Part seven: The century of hope and horror

    Chapter 1 The world of capital 379

    Chapter 2 World war and world revolution 405

    Chapter 3 Europe in turmoil 430

    Chapter 4 Revolt in the colonial world 449

    Chapter 5 The ‘Golden Twenties’ 463

    Chapter 6 The great slump 469

    Chapter 7 Strangled hope: 1934-36 491

    Chapter 8 Midnight in the century 510

    Chapter 9 The Cold War 543

    Chapter 10 The new world disorder 577

    Conclusion: Illusion of the epoch 605

    Notes 621

    Glossary 663

    Further Reading 687

    Index 695 Chris Harman is the editor of Socialist Workerand a leading

    member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain. He is the

    author of many articles, pamphlets and books including Class

    Struggles in Eastern Europe, Explaining the Crisis, Economics of the

    Madhouse, How Marxism Worksand The Lost Revolution:

    Germany 1918 to 1923. Introduction

    Who built Thebes of the seven gates?

    In the books you will find the names of kings.

    Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?

    And Babylon, many times demolished

    Who raised it up so many times? In what houses

    Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?

    Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished

    Did the masons go? Great Rome

    Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom

    Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song

    Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis

    The night the ocean engulfed it

    The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

    The young Alexander conquered India.

    Was he alone?

    Caesar beat the Gauls.

    Did he not have even a cook with him?

    Philip of Spain wept when his armada

    Went down. Was he the only one to weep?

    Frederick the Second won the Seven Years War. Who

    Else won it?

    Every page a victory.

    Who cooked the feast for the victors?

    Every ten years a great man.

    Who paid the bill?

    So many reports.

    So many questions.

    ‘Questions from a Worker who Reads’ by Bertolt Brecht


    The questions raised in Brecht’s poem are crying out for answers. Pro-

    viding them should be the task of history. It should not be regarded

    as the preserve of a small group of specialists, or a luxury for those who

    can afford it. History is not ‘bunk’, as claimed by Henry Ford, pioneer

    of mass motor car production, bitter enemy of trade unionism and early

    admirer of Adolf Hitler.

    History is about the sequence of events that led to the lives we

    lead today. It is the story of how we came to be ourselves. Under-

    standing it is the key to finding out if and how we can further change

    the world in which we live. ‘He who controls the past controls the

    future,’ is one of the slogans of the totalitarians who control the state

    in George Orwell’s novel 1984. It is a slogan always taken seriously by

    those living in the palaces and eating the banquets described in Brecht’s


    Some 22 centuries ago a Chinese emperor decreed the death

    penalty for those who ‘used the past to criticise the present’. The

    Aztecs attempted to destroy records of previous states when they con-

    quered the Valley of Mexico in the 15th century, and the Spanish at-

    tempted to destroy all Aztec records when they in turn conquered the

    region in the 1620s.

    Things have not been all that different in the last century. Chal-

    lenging the official historians of Stalin or Hitler meant prison, exile

    or death. Only 30 years ago Spanish historians were not allowed to

    delve into the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, or Hungar-

    ian historians to investigate the events of 1956. More recently, friends

    of mine in Greece faced trial for challenging the state’s version of

    how it annexed much of Macedonia before the First World War.

    Overt state repression may seem relatively unusual in Western in-

    dustrial countries. But subtler methods of control are ever-present. As

    I write, a New Labour government is insisting schools must stress

    British history and British achievements, and that pupils must learn

    the name and dates of great Britons. In higher education, the histo-

    rians most in accord with establishment opinions are still the ones who

    receive honours, while those who challenge such opinions are kept

    out of key university positions. ‘Compromise, compromise’, remains

    ‘the way for you to rise.’

    Since the time of the first Pharaohs (5,000 years ago) rulers have

    presented history as being a list of ‘achievements’ by themselves and

    their forebears. Such ‘Great Men’ are supposed to have built cities


    and monuments, to have brought prosperity, to have been respon-

    sible for great works or military victories—and, conversely, ‘Evil

    Men’ are supposed to be responsible for everything bad in the world.

    The first works of history were lists of monarchs and dynasties known

    as ‘King Lists’. Learning similar lists remained a major part of history

    as taught in the schools of Britain 40 years ago. New Labour—and

    the Tory opposition—seem intent on reimposing it.

    For this version of history, knowledge consists simply in being able

    to memorise such lists, in the fashion of the ‘Memory Man’ or the Mas-

    termindcontestant. It is a Trivial Pursuitsversion of history that pro-

    vides no help in understanding either the past or the present.

    There is another way of looking at history, in conscious opposition

    to the ‘Great Man’ approach. It takes particular events and tells their

    story, sometimes from the point of view of the ordinary participants.

    This can fascinate people. There are large audiences for television

    programmes—even whole channels—which make use of such mate-

    rial. School students presented with it show an interest rare with the

    old ‘kings, dates and events’ method.

    But such ‘history from below’ can miss out something of great im-

    portance, the interconnection of events.

    Simply empathising with the people involved in one event cannot,

    by itself, bring you to understand the wider forces that shaped their

    lives, and still shape ours. You cannot, for instance, understand the

    rise of Christianity without understanding the rise and fall of the

    Roman Empire. You cannot understand the flowering of art during the

    Renaissance without understanding the great crises of European feu-

    dalism and the advance of civilisation on continents outside Europe.

    You cannot understand the workers’ movements of the 19th century

    without understanding the industrial revolution. And you cannot

    begin to grasp how humanity arrived at its present condition without

    understanding the interrelation of these and many other events.

    The aim of this book is to try to provide such an overview.

    I do not pretend to provide a complete account of human history.

    Missing are many personages and many events which are essential to

    a detailed history of any period. But you do not need to know about

    every detail of humanity’s past to understand the general pattern that

    has led to the present.

    It was Karl Marx who provided an insight into this general pattern.

    He pointed out that human beings have only been able to survive on


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