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Losing steady ground

Christopher Draper, Llandudno

What a contrast! Just when I’d resolved to write and congratulate PN for publishing Daniel Hunter’s excellent ‘Finding Steady Ground’, I came across Pascal Ansell’s review of William Pelz’s book, A People’s History of Modern Europe in the same issue (April/May 2017). While the former was bursting with original, reflective insights, the latter just echoed Pelz’s political prejudices.

Over a century ago, the German anarchist Gustav Landauer realised that ‘the personal is political’ and wrote: ‘The state is not something which can be destroyed by a revolution, but is a condition, a certain relationship, between human beings, a mode of human behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently’. Yet Pascal takes at face value, and repeats, Pelz’s characterisation of anarchism as violent.

Ansell rightly reminds us that: ‘Possessing a grip on history allows us to better determine our own future’, but draws a curiously racist conclusion; ‘For as Peltz notes: “If the average European worker or farmer lives a significantly better life than others around the planet, it is in large measure because they have fought”’!
This implies that the non-European poor are impoverished because they haven’t fought exploitation like we have!

In truth, poor Europeans are wealthier than the poor elsewhere because European workers share in the spoils of ongoing colonial exploitation.

Rather than explore the subtle and myriad skeins of class collaboration that bind European workers to an exploitative economic system (shopping at Primark, Pound Shops, etc) both reviewer and reviewed fall back on the familiar formulaic analysis: ‘None of the advantages that so many enjoy today were gifts from an enlightened ruling class. Every reform, every concession by those with wealth and power came as a result of the self-activity of average Europeans.’

Instead of expanding on the ideas of ‘the personal is political’, we are offered a simplistic Manichean model of Good versus Evil.

Surely our ‘grip on history’ reminds us that when the ‘Good’ Russian workers did overthrow the ‘Bad’ Czarist regime it didn’t take long for new patterns of power and exploitation to emerge and new tyrants to arise.

PN is not Socialist Worker and one of the strengths of our peace movement is recognising that relationships are never one-dimensional. As we struggle ‘to create the germ of a new society within the shell of the old’, we need more imaginative articles like ‘Finding Steady Ground’ and less resort to political orthodoxy.

Peace & love,

Topics: History