Saturday, 7 November 2009

Chris Harman

From Socialist Worker

Chris Harman 1942-2009

Supporters and readers of Socialist Worker as well as socialists from around the world will be sad to hear the tragic news that Chris Harman died last night in Cairo where he was speaking.

Our condolences go out to Talat, his partner, his children and all his family and friends.

Chris Harman was a towering figure on the left in Britain and he made an immense theoretical and personal contribution to the Socialist Workers Party. He was editor of International Socialism Journal and was previously the editor of Socialist Worker for over two decades.

He was also an influential and highly respected figure on the international left.

He was greatly loved and will be sorely missed. We will let comrades know about the funeral as soon as we know any details.

There will be a full obituary in the next issue of Socialist Worker.

If you would like to send any messages of condolences please send them to and we will make sure they are forwarded to Talat and his family.

In comradeship

The SWP Central Committee

Keith Flett adds:

As a member of the IS and SWP from 1974 I heard Chris Harman, whose untimely death has been announced, speak on many occasions, but few would claim that it was his power of oratory that made him an outstanding figure on the left internationally.

Rather it was the combination of activism and a towering Marxist intellect that attracted people to his meetings and to read his articles and books.

Most of Chris Harman’s prodigious output was related to matters other than history, but not all.

His book The Fire Last Time is a masterly history of the events of 1968 and what happened afterwards from the perspective of an active revolutionary socialist. Likewise his book on Germany, the Lost Revolution looks at the reasons for the failure of revolution to spread internationally after 1917.

In the last 10 years the London Socialist Historians Group had a closer engagement with Chris particularly in the period when he became Editor of the theoretical journal International Socialism.

Chris was a keynote speaker at our conference in 2000 which attempted to draw a very preliminary balance sheet of the twentieth century and was frequently to be seen at LSHG conferences, often making incisive contributions.

More recently the LSHG hosted, at the Institute of Historical Research, a London launch for the new edition of what may be seen as Chris’s masterwork, the People’s History of the World. It is a work which demonstrates an immense breadth of knowledge and an incisive Marxist analysis of history. It has been well received critically but still deserves many more readers.

On a personal note I have also been working for some years now, along with the great cartoonist Tim Saunders, on a cartoon version of this book which appears monthly in the Socialist Review. Cartoons of course do not work as lengthy slabs of Marxist text so translating the book into the cartoon format has been a challenge, not least because, quite rightly, Chris’s work is not big on laughs, which is something a cartoon sometimes demands to engage a wider readership.

I often came across Chris in the British Library in central London and we would exchange notes on what we were researching, underlining that his quest for ideas and knowledge was very much an on-going affair.

His work on the current crisis of capitalism and his exposition of a Marxist understanding of crisis has been essential reading and listening in the last couple of years but historians will remember him as someone whose work not only informed and inspired but also provoked political activity.

We have lost one of the great socialist theorists and activists of the last 50 years but the impact of Chris’s work will certainly continue.

Keith Flett, LSHG, 7th November 2009

Edited to add: Chris Harman’s funeral will be on Thursday 26th November. It will be held at 4pm at Golders Green Crematorium.

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