Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Marxist history of the world

A Marxist History of the World - from Neanderthals to Neoliberals
by Neil Faulkner
Pluto Press
Pbck ₤18

Anyone attempting to write a history of the world is, one might think, either a fool or a Hercules, but Faulkner is neither. He takes the reader on a heady gallop through the epochs, dynasties and empires of history, providing often illuminating insights and valuable aid to comprehending history as an interconnected process. For those looking for a broad grasp of human history in one volume this may be your book. He explains why certain societies or systems were successful or not, how one supplanted another, and how geography, social and economic relations influenced that process.

Sadly, once he reaches the 20th century his Trotskyist blinkers are firmly in place. Predictably, post 1917, the communist parties in the various countries of the world, with their ,Stalinist dogma‘, are the reason for the collapse of the world revolutionary movement. He is at one with right wing historians in quoting Orwell as the authority on the Spanish Civil War, and writes (p. 237) that the PCE played ,an actively counter-revolutionary role‘ in that struggle. The clear implication: without the ,treachery‘ of the CP, there would have been a glorious outcome. In Portugal, too, (p. 278) it wasn‘t Soares and his mis-named ,Socialist Party‘ that frustrated the revolution with the help of the CIA and funding from West German social democracy, but the communists again. I find this treatment of the Portuguese party‘s forty years‘ heroic struggle against fascism a wilful travesty. In the Arab world his analysis is the same: ‘The old Arab Communist Parties, following the Stalinist line, led their supporters to defeat by subordinating working-class movements to treacherous bourgeois-nationalist leaders.’ (p.289)

Allende, the former Chilean president, who was a convinced Marxist is described as a ‘left-reformist’ (p. 276) The Polish Solidarnosc movement is described as ‘a workers‘ revolutionary movement’ (p. 248), ignoring the fact that Walensa and his cohorts were motivated more by a reactionary Catholic-nationalism and certainly not by a vision of a democratic workers‘ state.

He describes how on 9 November 1989 ,hundreds and thousands converged on the Berlin Wall...and began to tear it down‘. No they didn‘t - a few West Berliners, tanked up with alcohol, sat astride the Wall and began chipping at it, but East Germans were more interested in their new freedom to travel to the West, not with dismantling the Wall.

The Soviet system was of course ‘state capitalist’. How the Trotskyists square a Marxist understanding of capitalism and the Soviet economic system takes some mental acrobatics. There was much wrong, but as far as I know, no individuals were salting away vast profits in Swiss bank accounts and no class lived off profits. Call it state socialism if you like or even bureaucratic socialism, but capitalism, no.

Despite covering up to 2012, Faulkner completely ignores the Latin American revolutions and the transformation of that whole sub-continent, surely a watershed moment of modern history?

The author‘s style is readable and clear, but it does at times feel more like an evangelical lecture than a joint enterprise of discovery with the reader. Faulkner concludes his tome with the predictable mantra of how to achieve world revolution in three easy stages, an appeal that only undermines any credentials he may claim as a disinterested historian.