Chris Harman: A Life in the Heart of Struggle
November 7th, 2009
Chris Harman, the editor of International Socialism and a central committee member of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), died from a massive heart attack on November 6th. He was 66.
A convinced revolutionary socialist all his adult life, Harman had played a key role in founding Socialist Worker and editing it until 2004. Harman was an internationalist from the start. That was reflected in myriad ways, from his participation in the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in the the late 1960 to the symbolic location of his death: Cairo.
Harman was a polymath, gifted as an author, speaker, editor, leader and economist. His book The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923 is a powerful tool for revolutionary socialists.. His greatest work, A Peoples’ History of the World, is invaluable. He was also outstanding as an activist and leader of the SWP and its forerunner, the International Socialists. Harman played a major role in helping the organisation develop its political direction and in explaining its choices to a radical audience. His famous 1992 debate with Ernest Mandel on the bureaucratic Stalinist dictatorships in Quatriéme Internationale (now ContreTemps) was translated into English and is still in print as The Fallacies of State Capitalism.
The victory of Khomeini’s forces in Iran was not, then, inevitable, and neither does it prove that Islamism is a uniquely reactionary force against which the left must be prepared to unite with the devil (or rather, the Great Satan) of imperialism and its local allies. It merely confirms that, in the absence of independent working class leadership, revolutionary upheaval can give way to more than one form of the restabilisation of bourgeois rule under a repressive, authoritarian, one party state. The secret ingredient in this process was not the allegedly “medieval” character of Islam, but the vacuum created by the failure of the socialist organisations to give leadership to an inexperienced but very combative working class.