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Probing Interconnections

Amar Farooqui

By Chris Harman
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2005, pp. vii 729, Rs. 385.00


This is an outline history of the world written by a well-known Marxist activist and theoretician who is a prominent member of the Socialist Workers Party (UK). The Socialist Workers Party represents one trend within Trotskyism, and this position is quite evident especially in Chris Harman’s treatment of the twentieth century (which comprises almost one-third of the text).   The book traces the historical evolution of societies from the origins of humankind almost down to the present day—it brings the story up to the early 1990s. Harman has accomplished this task with great skill. His masterly survey is based on a Marxist understanding of history and is therefore concerned with the emergence of class society and the development of successive modes of production. What we have is not just ‘history from below’ as opposed to the “Great Man” approach, but an attempt to probe the ‘interconnection of events’ to be able to discern a pattern. Marxism provides us with a hypothesis which makes it possible to discern and make sense of this pattern. Notwithstanding pronouncements about the supposed irrelevance of Marxism in the post-1991 era, or Francis Fukuyama’s sterile ‘end of history’ proposition, Marxism continues to be a powerful tool for understanding history. Harman makes it a point to acknowledge his debt to Gordon Childe, Christopher Hill, E.P. Thompson, G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, and D.D. Kosambi.   The book begins with a brief description of the hunting-foodgathering (foraging) economy of the paleolithic period, followed by a discussion on the neolithic ‘revolution’ (Harman does not see any need to drop the term ‘revolution’, ignoring Childe’s detractors). Harman then goes on to examine the first bronze age civilizations (Mesopotamia and Egypt), the urban revolution, the impact of metallurgy on social organization, the emergence of classes and patriarchy, and early state formation. Here again he generally adheres to Childe’s framework.   There is a fascinating chapter (‘The first “Dark Ages”’) which one would be unlikely to come across in a standard textbook account but which is integral to the structure of the present book. Harman argues that great bronze age civilizations, Egypt for example, were based on the production of a vast surplus and its appropriation by a small ruling class. This in turn was linked to the creation of a powerful state and its attendant paraphernalia. Over a period of time the paraphernalia (a significant part ...

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