Saturday, 7 November 2009

RIP Chris Harman

Very sad and totally unexpected. More at Luna 17 and Lenin's Tomb.


Bro S said...

That is dad. I have a copy of his 'The Lost Revolution' on my shelf.

Phil said...

I'm sure you meant *sad*, Brother S.

His 'How Marxism Works' was one of the first books about Marxism I read and helped firm up my thinking when I was a young 'un.

A great loss for the SWP and the socialist movement as a whole.

luna17 said...

Yes, I joined the SWP in October 1992 and remember reading How Marxism Works not long after joining - it had either been published recently or came out soon after that. It was a remarkably clear introduction to the tradition; I was only 14 and grappling with the ideas from scratch. Harman also, of course, wrote much of theoretical depth and across an astonishing range of subject matter.
And thanks for the link.

Phil said...

It saddens me some are using this occasion to launch sectarian attacks against Chris and his reputation. Pathetic but unsurprising.

skidmarx said...

Perhaps Brother S means that we are all children of the revolution.

Eddie Truman said...

Reading Harman's 'The Prophet And The Proletariat' was a crucial moment in my own political development.

A sad loss to the whole socialist movement.

Dominic Smith said...

To the SWP members here, I'm sorry for your loss. While I've never read any works by Chris Harman, from reading the comments of some comrades here, how his books helped them to develop politically in their formative years and thus feel a certain personal loss is something I can relate too.

When I first joined the SP back in 2003, after first quickly devouring the various introductory texts and a copy of Trotsky's 'Stalinism and Bolshevism' (that amusingly, me knowing practically nothing of the historical context, was pretty incomprehensible to me) I began to delve into Grants writing and when he died back in 2005 it hit me pretty hard.

To the SWP's credit, their obituary of Grant in 'Socialist Worker' was pretty respectful, recognising his achievements in spite of the considerable theoretical differences that separate them, they did not use it as an opportunity to,

"...launch sectarian attacks against Chris and his reputation."

As Comrade Phil put it and I look down at disgust at those who are engaging in this practice with regard to Chris Harman.

Anonymous said...

yes a loss to the swp for sure.

actually the biggest ones using this are certain sections of the swp using this as a stick to bash john rees!

see obituarty at by keiran allen

paul, coventry

Phil said...

I guess this begs the question of when a comrade dies, when is it proper to critically evaluate their contribution? (And I mean a respectful examination of their life and thought, not sectarian mudslinging).

Mark P said...

Jesus, I hadn't read Kieran's obituary until now.

Those last few paragraphs are pretty openly factional. It portrays the struggle against Rees in terms that make it sound like Harman's equivalent to Lenin's last struggle against Stalin.

Dominic Smith said...

First correction for the typo, Grant of course died in 2006.

With regard to Phil's question, I have some pretty firm opinions on this matter. The thing to bare in mind first of all is that people are human beings rather than cold analytical machines, the political inevitably mixes with the personal in a tangled web, although naturally comrades should endower to be aware of this and though self discipline attempt to maintain an objective mind and thus if not completely eradicate it, at least limit its effects.

For this reason, following the death of a important figure in the Marxist movement with obvious 'followers' and 'opponents' brings passions to the surface on either side. The former feel a sense of loss, filled with a drive to 'defend their ideas and legacy' while the latter, while in most cases not being inhuman monsters that are 'glad their dead' and would not have wished it, except in the case of abomanations including totalitarian Stalinist leaders like Stalin or those who would have taken their place if they could like Healy of the WRP, none the less cannot help but politically recognise that a figure who was putting forward ideas they believed played a negative role in the workers movement is no longer doing so and feel a certain cense of satisfaction, again NOT to be mistaken with any kind of twisted pleasure.

Both states of mind are not, psychologically speaking, in a favourable position to make an objective assessment of that individual's contribution to Marxist theory and/or the practical movement. But this is not the only reason, say hypothetically that someone of the latter category were to quickly produce a detailed critique of them and they had been able to make it objective, it's likely that the majority of those of the former would not only be deafened to it, but would be provoked into a knee jerk defensive reaction, producing one-sided appraisals that end up doing the very opposite thing the latter wanted, the further spreading of their ideas and you could see the reversal if coming from the other direction although it's unlikely to be as strong as the opponents are not driven by passionate grief, sometimes of a deeply personal kind with regard to those comrades who knew them personally.

So a 'cooling off' period is necessary, their death should be marked by a simple obituary of a more passive character, on this note I'm willing to say that I don't think Taaffe's one for Grant was really up to the job, although I do recognise completely that Taaffe was provoked by the inexcusable attempts at historical falsification by Alan Woods and it was necessary to counter these lies, so the burden of blame lies squarely on Woods and this being a case example of the points I raised earlier.

As for how long to wait, which was the actual content of Phil's question, I can only state my opinion but I think a year at least is necessary, for the above reasons and because any balanced assessment, be it critical or overwhelming positive, should be of a reasonable quality anyway, with proper research, backing up arguments with various quotes ect.

skidmarx said...

Was it this obituary: ?
No mention of John Rees, the closest it gets to an openly factional stick-bashing is
"That’s same dialectic led Chris in the last years of his life to blow the whistle on the difficulties that the British SWP experienced after trying to found a radical left via the Respect project."
Should the writer have simply ignored one of Harman's last contributions to the SWP? It seems to be OK to misconstrue the writings of the living even if the dead are sacrosanct.

On the question of how long to leave it before making an assessment, I tend to think the longer it's left the less likely it is to happen.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a number of comments from both Phil BC and Dominic. I thought the obituary of Ted Grant in the Socialist a few years back was extremely ill-judged and disingenuous and I know I'm not the only member of the SP who thought so. I think a simple reporting of the facts and genuine sympathy is all that's required in the immediate aftermath, critical analysis can come later. I have many differences with the SWP and others on the left but I worry about comrades who aren't saddened by the deaths of Cliff, Paul Foot, Harman etc irrespective of their own place on the left.

The piece on this blog (which is by no means holds any weight) is absolutely disgraceful: