Eamonn McCann, Civil rights activist, Northern Ireland
It wasn’t until August 1969 that I came to know Chris, when he walked into the middle of a riot in the Bogside in Derry carrying a rucksack with 2,000 copies of a Socialist Worker special.
British soldiers had moved in a couple of weeks earlier. Nationalist leaders now wanted the barricades down. Hadn’t the troops come to protect us? The riot was in resistance to this notion.
Chris detailed me as assistant paper seller. The front page headline was, “Barricades Stay Until Special Powers Go!” Scores of rioters and onlookers swarmed around. I recall him holding up a hand to shield his armful of papers: “Only one each, only one each!”
More than 30 years later I told the story at Marxism, by way of encouragement for shivering mornings when sales are slow.
He used it as a peg on which to hang an exposition of the distinction between agitation and propaganda and the importance of knowing when each is appropriate.
I told him afterwards it sounded like he thought we’d sold too many. No, he laughed. But we shouldn’t just enjoy memories like that, we also had to learn. Did I still think the headline the right one?
That’s one of the things that made him such a formidable figure in revolutionary politics, not that he always had the answer, but that he was forever questioning.
Lindsey German, Former editor, Socialist Review
I met Chris Harman in 1973, when he had just finished his first book, Class Struggles in Eastern Europe, of which he was rightly proud.
This developed the state capitalist analysis first pioneered by Tony Cliff and was typical of Chris’s clear, readable and informed writing. He wrote on an incredible range which contributed greatly to our theory.
I learnt a great deal from Chris about our tradition, politics and theory. He was always involved in international politics and played a key role in building the International Socialist Tendency, influencing many beyond our ranks. His death is a terrible loss to the party, the movement and the whole left.
Riaz Ahmed, International Socialists, Pakistan
People outside of Pakistan will find it difficult to understand how important Chris Harman has been to the small group of revolutionary socialists here.
We first emailed him when translating his pamphlet, The Prophet and the Proletariat, into Urdu. The tract manages to bring a class analysis to the problem in a way that discusses at least five different movements in the Islamic world.
Its subject matter remains essential to us, and taboo for much of the rest of the left.
Since then we have translated more of Chris’s books and sold hundreds of these versions. The bestseller is A People’s History of the World.
Comrades here vividly recall Chris’s visits to Pakistan in 2003 and 2005. We organised a series of meetings, including with rising nationalists in Balochistan, peasants fighting the military in Okara, and industrial workers and students in Karachi.
As usual we learned a lot in the few words he spoke.
Estelle Cooch, Central London
The death of Chris Harman is a loss in so many ways, but especially to the student movement. My school history teacher recommended his book The Fire Last Time – about the student and workers’ struggles around 1968 – after I was involved in a walk-out against the Iraq war.
When I went to study at the London School of Economics (LSE), where Chris had helped to lead the student revolt in 1968, I was surprised at the interest he took in what the Socialist Worker Student Society did – from huge debates to trivial students’ union motions.
Every year Chris spoke at our first meeting. At the start of the recession more than 60 confused and terrified economics students packed into a room to ask questions about what was happening. Chris provided them with exemplary answers.
In 2008 we held a major meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 1968. As opposed to the nostalgic indulgence of some of the other speakers, Chris talked about the events in a way that left students wanting to fight against tuition fees and for a better world today.
When we occupied our college in protest at Israel’s assault on Gaza, Chris spoke again. But rather than talking about the history of the conflict – as he’d been asked – he chose to discuss the best tactics for dealing with the college administration.
We will continue the struggles he started.
Andy Zebrowski, Pracownicza Demokracja (Workers Democracy), Poland
Socialists in Poland were shocked to hear of Chris Harman’s death. Our group has translated many of his articles and pamphlets – they have been vital in developing people’s understanding of Marxism.
In 1988 and 1989 I was lucky enough to travel round Eastern Europe with Chris to talk to left wingers in the opposition.
Those trips marked the beginnings of socialist groups in Poland and the then Czechoslovakia.
Today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chris’s analysis of the 1989 revolutions together with his explanation of today’s crisis are a must for activists.
He shows there is real hope only in politics centred on mass workers’ movements in all countries.
Please accept my deepest sympathy. I was very shocked to learn of Chris’s death, as I had seen him only last Sunday and he seemed very fit and full of life.
I had known Chris for 46 years. The enormous breadth of his knowledge and the range and quality of his writing were extraordinary. He could certainly have been a very successful, and prosperous, academic, but I don’t thing such a thing interested him at all.
He told me quite recently that he was glad he had been sacked from the only academic post he briefly held, at Enfield College of Technology (later Middlesex Poly). He was totally devoted to the socialist cause, a professional revolutionary in the very best sense of the term.
As an editor Chris commissioned a great many articles from me, and rejected a few. I learned a great deal from him about how to write for the revolutionary press and how to address an audience. He first encouraged me to write on Sartre, back in the early 1970s, something I shall always be grateful to him for.
I had my disagreements with Chris (I remember him howling “disgraceful” at me at Marxism one year when I rejected his position on the dialectics of nature). But though he defended his ideas passionately, he was never personally antagonistic, and it was always a rewarding experience to discuss with him. The best memorial to him will be the fact that so much of his work will continue to be read for many years to come.
He will be greatly missed by all those of us who knew him, but our sympathy goes to you who were close to him and loved him.
Javier Carlés, Socialismo Internacional, Uruguay
We received the news on Chris’s death with surprise and sadness. We were lucky to receive him in Montevideo twice and he’ll be always in our memories.
The best tribute to Chris is to take his struggle and ideas further. All of our solidarity is with his comrades, in particular Talat and his children.
John Molyneux, Portsmouth
As a committed revolutionary socialist and Marxist writer more than 40 years Chris's contribution to the development of socialist ideas was unequalled. At the time of his death he was, in my opinion, the foremost Marxist theorist in the world and his loss will be blow to socialists from Seoul to San Francisco.
But his prolific writings, above all, his amazing distillation of the whole story of humanity in his People's History of the World, and his profound analysis of the economic crisis of contemporary capitalism in many books and articles, culminating in his brilliant Zombie Capitalism, will remain an indispensible educational resource and guide to action for the whole international socialist movement for decades to come.
Jean Parker, Australia
Chris Harman’s death is terrible news for socialists everywhere. Surrounded by such immense crises, with such a desperate need to build workers’ confidence to change the course of history, we desperately need the quality of Harman’s mind.
The release of every new International Socialism is relished here in Australia in no small part because of the incredible power of Harman’s analysis and the clarity of his writing.
Even for someone who never met him, this feels like a terrible loss.
Sam Strudwick, London
I was so sad to hear of Chris’s death. I remember when I first joined the SWP, or the IS as it was then, in 1976 and went to one of my first meetings.
Comrades were saying I must come to Soas and hear Chris Harman speak. So I did and I thought “Wow”.
He was an amazing and passionate speaker but what was he talking about?
It was only later over the years that I realised he was one of the best theoreticians and most inspiring comrades we had on the left.
So Chris, you will be greatly missed but all your work and writings will live on with us and we will never give up the fight.
François Sabado, NPA (New Anticapitalist Party), France
I’ve just heard the terrible and sad news. I’ve spoken about Chris at the national council of the NPA, which has paid tribute to him.
We plan to produce articles about his life and his political struggle.
Rest assured that we are with you in spirit, with the SWP and all the militants remembering Chris.
Neale Williams, London firefighter
I was truly shocked to hear that Chris Harman had died. Every time workers fight he will live on.
Kamal Khalil, Speaking at a socialist conference in Cairo
Chris Harman, we will not say goodbye. You will stay among us with your revolutionary ideas and with your revolutionary spirit.
We promise you, comrade, to continue the revolutionary struggle, holding high the banner of revolutionary socialism.
It is good to go down fighting, holding your pen, in unison with one’s revolutionary ideas.
This comrade, fighter and teacher has remained true to every word he wrote and every idea he put forward.
Motsomi Marobela, International Socialists Botswana
We too are very touched by the untimely loss of this great revolutionary. Chris was an inspiration to us who always used his lucid rebuttal of neoclassical economics to defend Marxist economics.
I will always remember the man and his flask of tea.
Chris has not only won thousands to socialism but equipped all of us revolutionaries to go on – no matter how tough times are.
In this context the giant will rest happily and assured that the struggle continues.
More red fire will burn!
Ian Mitchell, NUM union militant during 1984-5 Miners’ Strike
Chris was a regular visitor to the coal fields during our strike.
He always had a grip on the direction of the strike, a strong analysis, because he put himself on the ground.
I remember a debate in Worksop between the Labour Party and the SWP where Chris was in the audience. He helped to win people to the side of revolution. That carries on.
Socialist Worker was always crucial during the strike and Chris was key to that.
The Lost Revolution is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and I read it during the strike.
It’s important to stress Chris’s theoretical contribution but he was always active. He always put himself on the line.
Brune Seban, Sinistra Critica, Italy
The whole congress of Sinistra Critica offers its condolences to Chris’s partner, Talat, Chris’s family, and all revolutionaries who will miss him so much. We’ll continue the fight.
Penny Duggan, on behalf of the Bureau of the Fourth International
We have heard with sadness of the death of Chris Harman while participating in the Cairo conference.
All revolutionary socialists must appreciate Chris’s whole-hearted commitment to the struggle and the many contributions he made to it through his party activity and publications, despite the political differences that could also exist.
We particularly appreciated his participation in our recent international seminar on the crisis, and will be publishing his contribution along with the other material produced by the seminar.
The Fourth International and its national organisations extend our warmest comradely solidarity to Chris’s family and to the comrades of the SWP and the IST in this difficult moment of great loss
Pat Stack, London
“Nobody told me there’d be days like these” sang John Lennon. When I heard the news of Chris Harman’s death on Saturday morning, I kept thinking this can’t be.
If Tony Cliff was as founder of our tendency and originator of the theory of State Capitalism the single most important figure in it, then Chris was surely the single most important recruit which is praise indeed as there have been many very very fine recruits. Revolutionary socialism, our tendency, our party and our theory were his very life and soul, and he their finest exponent.
I joined the International Socialists in 1974 and one of the first books I read was Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe. I read it with great apprehension, the idea of state capitalism seemed to make perfect sense to me, but this was surely going to be a daunting read for someone who at that time had never been to a higher education establishment.
How wrong I was – the book was fascinating, inspiring and utterly utterly accessible. The name Chris Harman had immediately registered as someone to be read and listened to. Down the years the books kept coming – the phenomenal Lost Revolution, The Fire Last Time, the extraordinary People’s History of the World, and just recently Zombie Capitalism.
In truth though when I first saw him speak at a completely packed and overheated room at Portsmouth Polytechnic I was rather disappointed. I expected a great orator, but instead found a rather awkward speaker, a bit stuttery, his sentences tended to tail off.
Our first meeting was also something of a let down, Harman seemed unfriendly, uncommunicative and I thought, “I guess I’m just not important enough”.
Both judgements proved to be way off beam. True Harman was not a great orator (though his speaking style did develop greatly over the years), yet for me there was no meeting quite like a Harman meeting.
I never left one of his meetings without feeling I had learned something new, and that was as true after 35 years as it was after one. There was an astoundingly logical development of his thought processes, and just as with his writing there was an unfailing ability to make the complex seem clear and simple whilst never being simplistic or patronising.
As for being unapproachable or self important, nothing could be further from the truth. I quickly learned that Chris was shy, but that when you got beyond the shyness, there was a man with whom you could spend many enjoyable hours. He loved to laugh and seemed happier to be the butt of people’s jokes then any one I have ever met.
This surely was the most remarkable characteristic of the man. He was just the cleverest man I have ever met, yet had no conceit to him. If academia largely ignored him he seemed to not mind in the slightest, he never sought stardom or adulation – unlike those of us who if we are honest loved the applause of our speeches, the laughter at our jokes. His mind was fixed upon a much greater things then personal praise, things like the liberation of humanity.
I remember many years ago having a chat with him about some Party squabble or other, where he said to me that what happened to him, what role the party wanted him to play was of little importance compared to the project we were all involved in – and I knew listening to him that he meant it.
I have so many personal memories of him, he was one of small number of people who throughout the 1970s and 1980s you would find at every Party party, usually in the kitchen.
I remember him whispering to me once at a party that was running out of beer that we were OK as he’d spotted some cans on the floor and he’d kicked them behind the fridge, when the moment of our great triumph came he went and retrieved four cans… of dog food!
I remember as a student arguing stridently at a day school about the Afghan rebels, and Chris afterwards explaining to me and my good Portsmouth friend the late Kevin Murphy that we were objectively CIA agents – he said it with that big grin of his on his face, and he spent the rest of the night drinking with these two “US stooges”.
I also remember Chris the Bob Dylan fan (he explained to me that Dylan had clearly been influenced by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weil – something that only became generally acknowledged years later), Chris the dinner party host (he was a terrific cook), Chris the holiday companion (especially getting pulled by police at Dover after a Christmas break in Normandy – while I was practically strip searched he was outraged about their sarcastic remarks about his clapped out Renault!).
I remember Chris as the man who explained to me twice that there were advantages for me in not having legs (once because I didn’t have to worry about parking, and once because I didn't have to worry about socks!)
I remember Chris the proud father (and recently grandfather) of Seth and Sinead – and I remember Chris and Talat one of those couples who on the face of it seemed unlikely, but anyone who knew them knew they were just meant to be, knew the happiness and completeness they brought each other.
I remember Chris the eccentric driver, Chris the eccentric eater, and well, Chris the eccentric.
Most of all though I remember Chris my mentor, my inspiration, the embodiment of revolutionary socialism, the truly remarkable man.
Three days later I still can’t believe I will never see him or speak to him again, but I know I will never forget him.
Mobilise definitely, but I will mourn also.
Strange days indeed
Sinéad Kennedy, on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party, Ireland
The members of the Irish Socialist Workers Party would like to express our deep sorrow and shock at the sudden death of Chris Harman.
Chris was one of the world’s foremost Marxist thinkers and, for more than four decades, he has made enormous, indeed defining, intellectual and political contributions to the struggle for socialism.
His final book, Zombie Capitalism, is and will continue to be, essential for anyone who wishes to understand the complexities of contemporary capitalism. It is impossible not to marvel at his ability to unfold the entire history of humanity between the pages of one single volume, in his magisterial, A People’s History of the World.
His death is an enormous loss for the British Socialist Workers Party, but his loss will also be deeply felt throughout the entire International Socialist Tendency and, indeed, throughout the entire international socialist movement.
The Irish SWP benefited tremendously over the years from Chris’s advice, discussions and writings. For more than 30 years, he engaged with members of our organisation in detailed discussions on strategy, tactics and ideas. Just this spring, he travelled to Dublin to address a day school on Marxist economics. Everyone who had the privilege of hearing him left, not only with a clear, Marxist understanding of the current economic crisis, but with a guide for action.
Chris Harman will be very sadly missed but his life and his work will continue to be an inspiration for socialists around the world. We hope that by continuing Chris’s fight for better world that we can, in some small way, pay tribute to Chris’s life and work.
Please convey our condolences to Talat, Sinead and Seth, and to all his family and friends at this sad time.
GM Tamás, Hungary
Allow me to join the grieving family of the international left as we are mourning the fighter and the thinker Chris Harman. In my long years of hesitation among political winds blowing in all directions, International Socialism, the journal he edited was an indispensable inspiration. I was honoured when Chris and Talat visited me in Budapest to record a conversation that has subsequently appeared in ISJ, and has been since translated in many languages. Chris's solidarity, his understanding of the continental left, his refusal to forget the ravages of Stalinism has made him an excellent observer of European affairs. He had nothing insular. He had that trait of the real revolutionary that would not allow him or her to be indifferent to people's predicament wherever they may be confronting oppression and injustice. We'll miss him.
Tim Sanders, Cartoonist/illustrator
I want to offer my condolences to all of Chris’s family and friends. This is a truly tragic, and terrible loss. I had the honour and pleasure of working with him on Socialist Worker for many years. He was a great man, who I will always remember with affection and admiration.
He will be sorely missed by all his comrades and friends. The socialist movement has suffered a huge loss, but as Chris would want it, we will keep on fighting.
Kathleen Brown, Pennsylvania, USA
I wanted to express deepest sympathy to the family, friends and comrades of Chris Harman. I never knew him personally, but eight years ago when I became a socialist (at the age of 18) his words helped guide and shape my own ideas. One of the first books I read was Economics Of The Madhouse: Capitalism and the Market Today. Then it was How Marxism Works and after that The Lost Revolution. Most importantly, Russia: from workers' state to state capitalism, has a soft spot in my heart.
Thank you to Chris Harman for helping to make a socialist in the United States, and may we continue to organize in his spirit.
Yury Simonov, trade union and human rights activist, Russia
I have heard of Chris Harman's death and it is a shock to me – I saw Chris in London during the 2004 European Social Forum (ESF) and helped translate his speech into Russian. I especially attended one of the seminars in Athens, during the 2006 ESF, where Chris made a report on the revolutionary processes in the world, to listen to him.
I have read a number of his books, including A People's History of the World, which I bought in Beyrouth, Lebanon, this year, and which I have found brilliant, really awesome in terms of its thematic scope and the author's literary talent.
His book Explaining the Crisis helped me once again revisit Marxism and get deeply involved in its studies.
Chris will always stay in our memory and hearts.
The best people leave so suddenly and so relentlessly, so mercilessly...
Please send my personal condolences to Chris's children and to all those who were close to him.
ISO National Coordinating Committee, International Socialist Organisation, PO Box 6758, Harare, Zimbabwe
Our heartfelt condolences to Chris Harman’s family, the IS tendency and the working people of the world for the loss of a committed revolutionary, comrade Chris.
For the majority of his life Chris played a crucial role of developing a strong Marxist theory within the IS tendency and outside which made him an indispensable revolutionary character. Here in Zimbabwe we will always remember him for the advisory role he played together along with other comrades like Alex Callinicos, Charlie Kimber and a few others in SWP during our days in the Movement for Democratic Change.
The theoretical arguments, some which we disagreed on then, are now proving worthwhile and correct. Comrade Chris shall always remain within us through the Marxist books he authored which shall always provide us with theoretical guidance.
How very shocked and sorry I was to hear of Chris Harman’s untimely death. We have lost such a comrade.
The last time I saw Chris was outside BBC Television Centre protesting against Nick Griffin’s invitation to appear on Question Time. We were in the midst of so many young activists and there he was protesting alongside all of these angry youngsters.
He had an intellect which he so generously and expertly used to teach and to explain a rotten world, a world he worked so hard throughout his life to change. And he was also always right there in the thick of it, fighting for a better world be it opposing the Nazis, or supporting tenants on the estate where he lived, and it always felt like a privilege to be fighting alongside him.
I send all my sympathy and support to Talat, Seth and Sinead at this time and to all his close friends, family and comrades.
We have lost a wonderful man.
Gyekye Mani Tanoh, International Socialists, Ghana
Comrade Chris Harman was a hugely inspirational figure for IST comrades in Ghana and many of those other activists we work with in the wider social justice and anti-war movements here and across Africa.
The rich relevance of his life’s work as a revolutionary socialist activist, thinker, and writer has been directly felt even in day-to-day questions and tactics, not to mention in matters of broader strategy and perspectives.
In Ghana, I remember how his seminal pamphlet, “The Prophet and the Proletariat” helped our fledgling IS group to contribute to vital leadership which helped avert a growing sectarian division between Islamic and Christian organisations in the national student movement and build the basis for a left pole among Islamic students in particular.
In turn, this was an invaluable basis for building the progressive anti-imperialist politics that has since served to anchor a broad cross-sectional unity of militants organizing in opposition and resistance to US Imperialism, especially in its contemporary virulent anti-Islamic form.
Chris Harman’s other work, such as Economics Of The Madhouse taught us that class exploitation across the world and not a superficial north-south racism and geography of discrimination was the basis of contemporary global unevenness and the systematic impoverishment and dehumanization in places like Africa. Closely connected with this lesson is the absolute requirement of an unyielding and uncompromising internationalism, which Chris practiced and lived till the hour of his death in North Africa.
Chris, Nante Yie, Damrifa Due! (Go Well, Rest In Peace!)
Regrettably, I was one of the very few Comrades from the IS in Ghana and elsewhere in Africa who had the opportunity to personally meet and engage with Chris Harman.
My very last conversation with him, at the British SWP annual Marxism conference this July, ranged from the relative qualities of Nigerian and Ghanaian food, to the spices of African and Asian cuisine, through a history of trade and imperialism and a final friendly, wry, but serious admonition from Chris to me and our Comrades – “never make the mistake of thinking you are too busy to write, you cannot sustain organization beyond a certain point without writing”. He then sought to transform this into an immediate practice by enlisting my commitment to participate in a planned (and well-overdue) special issue on Africa for the International Socialism journal, which he edited (A project we must complete!).
Recalling this, I vividly remember the persona, the whole attitude of this revolutionary who wrote the epic People’s History of the World, whose wrote on party and class, strategy and tactics, state and capital, and nationalism in his vigorous debates with comrade, friend and foe. In our firm view, Chris made history, he didn’t just write about it.
We know the blow of Chris’s tragically untimely passing will fall heaviest on his partner Talat, his family and closest friends, his comrades on the SWP central committee and in the party he helped build, transform and lead into the 21st century.
But we too will mourn Chris. And then we will organise and fight – and we will write! – until our final breaths to realize the goals, our goals, in whose service he dedicated his vast talents and rich life.
Professor Verity Burgmann, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia
Please add my expressions of sympathy and sadness at the loss of Chris to the landslide you must be receiving. Chris recruited me to the IS/SWP in the early 1970s when I was at the London School of Economics and he remained a profound influence on me, despite distance and infrequent contact. He was scarily clever and a great speaker, writer and activist. And good company. His influence will endure.
Sefi Samueloff, The Committee for a Revolutionary Communist Party, Palestine
I feel that I share your sadness about the tragic death of comrade Chris Harman.
Comrade Harman will be remembered as one of the most important Marxist educators of our generation.
His legacy will be perpetuated in the international working class movement not only in our time or only in Britain but worldwide.
Andrea, Pete, High Wycombe, Britain
Just wanted to express how shocked and sad we are hearing Chris Harman had died. We will miss his ability to help show that the darker the night the brighter the star! A friend summed Chris up simply, “What a great bloke!” He will be missed in the future struggle for a truly equal world that he fought so bravely for.
Our hearts go out to his family and friends.
Polska Partia Pracy, Polish Labour Party
The Polish Labour Party, deeply saddened by the news of the death of Chris Harman, offers to you its sincere and fraternal condolences.
Chris Harman was an outstanding militant and thinker of our common struggle against capitalism and imperialism, for workers’ rights, liberties and emancipation, and a human and truly democratic society of freely associated producers.
His death is a great loss to the workers’ movement.
We are sure that our best tribute to him will be a close cooperation between our parties, in the framework of the European Anti-Capitalist Left, in the struggle to change the world in the historical interests of all exploited and oppressed
I have been away so only just picked up this sad news.
Chris’s work touched many and it was after reading his Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe that I had the “ammunition” and arguments that made me understand that I had made the right decision to join IS in 1974. He put a theoretical and historical framework that helped me understand that my “crude Marxism” of a teenager that had led me to simply not believe that the Eastern European could be socialist was indeed true. And he was easier to read the Cliff’s State Capitalism!
Please pass on my condolences – the movement and party will miss him.
Sabby Sagall, London
Chris Harman was, I think, the first member of the International Socialists (IS) I met after joining the London School of Economics (LSE) Socialist Society in the autumn of 1966. Aged 24, he couldn’t fail to impress with the extraordinary breadth of his knowledge of Marxism in all its ramifications and applications. He had been to speed-reading classes and had an immense capacity for absorption. He used this knowledge to help us understand that there was an alternative to the bourgeois social science we were being taught.
One was also struck by the manner in which he combined theoretical understanding with tactical acumen. Building on the work of Tony Cliff, Chris spent hours helping us clarify key political issues, particularly those associated with student ultra-leftism, such as the danger of identifying social-democracy with fascism or the pitfalls of believing that students could lead the revolution.
He was also very helpful to Jewish revolutionary students in helping us understand that the alternative to anti-Semitism was not Zionism but socialism. As John Rose has pointed out, in Chris’s book about 1968, The Fire Last Time, he undoubtedly underplayed his own role in the first major UK student struggle, the 1967 LSE sit-in against the appointment of Walter Adams, former director of University College, Salisbury, Rhodesia, who had carried put racist policies on campus.
Chris was, moreover, instrumental in assisting student revolutionaries make the leap from student politics to working-class politics. I remember him handing me a leaflet calling for support for the Barbican building workers’ strike in 1967. It was entitled Would You Scab? At the time, I didn’t know what the word “scab” meant. But Chris patiently explained the issues involved and for many of us it was our first experience of industrial struggle. Together with Tony Cliff, Chris played a major role in recruiting student militants to IS, helping to make it the largest revolutionary organisation in Britain.
Chris was also amazingly hard working and conscientious. In the early 1970s, he once came to speak at the Ford Dagenham IS branch. After the meeting, we invited him to join us for a drink, but he felt he had to go straight back home to do a couple of hours more work on his book on Eastern Europe.
As others have said, there is no doubt that Chris could have been earning a large salary as a journalist or academic. But he never wavered in his commitment to revolutionary socialism and the revolutionary party, even during the hardest of times such as the 1980s. Indeed, his stewardship of Socialist Worker from 1982 helped to hold the SWP together during those years of defeat when the party shrank.
In addition to his immense output of books on Marxist theory and revolutionary history, Chris had wide cultural interests. He had considerable knowledge of European literature and had come to love classical music. At school, he had been told he was tone-deaf and would never be able to play an instrument. But in 1997, he began taking piano lessons. At home, he had a piano behind his desk and computer, and in the evening would often swivel round and play for 15 or 20 minutes so as to relax before retiring for the night.
Earlier this year, over dinner, he revealed his knowledge of music in an interesting conversation about the differences between Mozart and Beethoven. And he was always setting new goals, meeting fresh challenges. He had been brushing up his A-level Spanish so that he could listen to radio broadcasts from Venezuela.
It is hard to overstate the loss, both personal and political, that Chris’s untimely death represents. The SWP, indeed the international left as a whole, has lost one of its most outstanding theoreticians and strategic thinkers. The loss is all the more poignant given that we are entering a new historical phase of crisis and resistance. The only crumb of comfort is that he did complete his latest book, Zombie Capitalism, before his death. Chris predicted the crisis, and could have played a major role in the resistance.
We have lost a friend, a comrade and a leader. The greatest loss, of course, is that of Talat, Seth and Sinead. They can rest assured that Chris will never be forgotten.
A huge loss and for us all and particularly his family very sad news. My thoughts are with them. What an immense and irreplaceable contribution Chris made. It is strange to think of platforms without Chris in the future. I for one will miss his considerable and thought provoking presence.
This is so sad. The picture shows he passed away “in action” as it were, engaged as always on the ideological front line. Sympathies to all who were close to him.
I am grief stricken to hear of Chris’s death. He is irreplaceable. To me (along with Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas) he was the IS when I joined. My thoughts are with you.
I am so very sorry to hear of the loss of an absolute brilliant comrade – Chris.
Words cannot explain just how much he will be missed. HE WAS SUCH A LOVELY PERSON. Condolences to you all. My thoughts are with you.
I was really shocked and upset to hear about Chris’s untimely death. He has always been there since I joined in 1970 and what a brilliant Marxist he was. We shall all really miss him. Please send on my condolences, particularly to Seth who of course used to be an organiser in Manchester.
An ever present in the leadership of the party during my 30 plus years of membership Chris Harman’s contribution to our party, the International Socialist Tendency and the revolutionary left is immense and will be greatly missed.
A sudden death is always difficult to come to terms with and I was looking forward to his meeting in Birmingham next Friday. I hope the meeting will go ahead and be turned into a tribute to Chri’s huge contribution to helping us understand the world we live in and more importantly changing it.
I am deeply shocked – Chris spoke at our branch only last week – please pass on these condolences to Talat and the rest of his family.
Chris was hugely important to the Party and the wider movement for his intellectual contributions. But I also have two strong personal memories.
One is of him speaking from the gallery of the Old Theatre at the London School of Economics in 1968. He was speaking with such certainty of the confidence he had in the ideas of IS and that even if we had just one member on the Dockers Shop Stewards Committee our views would get a hearing and win through in the end.
The other is of him, also at the LSE, with sledge hammer in hand successfully attacking the gates that the authorities had put up to stop us once again occupying the admin building.
Chris was no ivory tower intellectual – we will miss him very much.
My sıncere condolences at such a sad tıme. I remember Chrıs from my early days ın the party as a teenager. He was a huge ınfluence on my understandıng of many complex polıtıcal areas. He wıll be mıssed
Luke, Sydney, Australia
A few words don’t count for much, but condolences to Talat, family, and close friends for their loss. This is a tragic loss for those that were fortunate enough to know Chris personally, for those like myself who merely knew him from a distance in the countless books, articles, and speeches, and for socialism around the globe. All we can do is keep organising, keep resisting, so that Chris’ legacy lives on.
I was very saddened to hear of the passing away of Chris. I can only imagine how this is a very difficult time for you all.
Chris will leave a void it the lives of all those he has been in contact with both personally and politically.
I did no know Chris very well personally, for me he was always the editor of Socialist Worker and in that role he held my respect, not because of the title, but because of the quality of the job he did.
Three words always remind me of him when he spoke them passionalty at a SWP meeting a long time ago.
Audacity, Audacity, Audacity.
I am deeply shocked and saddened to hear about the death of Chris Harman. After an initial round of political activity in the Labour Party Young Socialists and the Youth Trade Union Rights Campaign in Kent during the early-1980s, I joined the SWP when I moved to London.
It was the middle of the Great Miners’ Strike, the GLC was threatened with closure and before long many Saturday evenings would be spent supporting the sacked newspaper workers on The Highway in a bitter strike that would later become known as the Battle of Wapping.
Amidst all this activity, I devoured the writings of classical Marxism, of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg – a tradition that had been so cruelly distorted by Stalinism. But I also discovered how Marxism was being renewed by another generation of socialists, including within the SWP itself.
Foremost amongst them was Chris Harman. His critical interpretation of Gramsci rescued a revolutionary who was in grave danger of being appropriated by those who no longer believed in a radical transformation of society. His Marxist writings on political economy spanning 40 years and filled with insights about the contemporary workings of capitalism were a breath of fresh air compared with the staid economists to be found in academia who reduced the discipline to a field of applied mathematics.
And there was much, much more, including latterly of course his monumental A People’ History of the World. My personal favourite was The Lost Revolution: Germany 1918-1923 which demonstrated both how close the generation of Lenin, Luxemburg, Levi and Trotsky came to toppling world capitalism and the concrete historical forces that led to the extinguishing of such a project. Most importantly of all, he showed in this important book that revolutions aren’t inevitably doomed to fail, that by learning the lessons from the past, the oppressed and the exploited could succeed in liberating humanity from the excesses of global capitalism. That is a very rich legacy to bequeath to the socialists of today and tomorrow.
Sheila, Lewisham SWP
What a terrible, terrible loss. Chris was an inspiration and a guiding light to us all. For me, he has embodied the best of what the party has stood for since I joined in 1970. We have suffered the loss of Tony Cliff, Duncan Hallas, Paul Foot and many other good socialists who fought for a better world. It feels like Chris was the heart and the rock of our political tradition. irreplaceable. My sincere condolences to Talat and Chris’s loved ones.
A dreadful sadness. He was there when I came to political consciousness, and aided my understanding ever since. Now as a proper student I go to People’s History of the World for all kinds of reference points. Just last Wednesday I bumped into Talat at the Library and asked her something about Vienna, she said she didn’t know, but knew a man who did – but I had to be quick as he was off to Cairo. I remember the years when we were working on the paper together, always ready to pull me up and explain, and sometimes give in when wrong – the books are one thing but the International Socialism journal has flowered with his editorship. The revolutionary workers movement has lost one of its best comrades and most decisive intellects.
Chris was an old friend and outstanding comrade. I’m absolutely gutted at his death. After recently reading his latest book, Zombie Capitalism, I wondered if any one else could have written it. Chris was an outstanding socialist intellectual but he wore his intelligence lightly. He had the ability to make the most difficult ideas intelligible and consequently turn them in to weapons in the struggle for a better world. The best tribute we can pay Chris, the one he would truly have wanted, is to keep up that struggle.
I doubt you remember me, but two years ago at Marx-Is-Muss in Berlin, you and Chris hammered away at me for what seemed like hours until I joined the Tendency section in Germany, around the Marx21 magazine. Even though it was only two years ago, it feels like decades ago in how my life has changed since then. Without you and Chris I don’t know if I ever would have become a revolutionary, and for that, I wish to express my deepest thanks.
You and your family are in all of our thoughts at this tragic time.
Please pass on sincere condolences to Talat, and to Chris’ family. A sad loss at such an early age. Chris’s intellectual contribution to our tradition of socialism as the self-emancipation of the class was outstanding and we have lost a great comrade.
For example, two of the books he authored, The Lost Revolution and A People’s History of the World, are probably two of the best socialist history books ever and should be on the reading list of every socialist.
Margo, South London
Condolences on the passing of Chris Harman. He was an inspiration and contributed so much to the fight against capitalism. My thoughts are with anyone who knew him.
It was with shock that I learnt of Chris’s death.
Please would you pass on my sincere condolences to his family and to his comrades. I wanted to salute his life long commitment to the left. He and I may not have agreed about how to get to a just world, but for sure his and my enemies were and are the same.
The passionate debates we had at the London School of Economics are a long time ago, but they do not fade from my memory.
Volkhard Mosler, Marx21, Germany
I want to express my deep respect for Chris Harman. His writings and his arguments have helped us a lot in building a revolutionary Marxist current in Germany out of the student movement of the late 1960s.
His 1968 article “Party and Class” was translated into German and helped to clarify important questions of what type of organisation we were aiming for. His pamphlet “How Marxism Works” helped to educate hundreds of German socialists in basic Marxist ideas. His book on the German Revolution of 1918-23 has many very original interpretations of the strengths and weaknesses of the revolutionary forces.
His articles on Islam, on historical materialism, the changing of the working class and especially on the crisis of capitalism were written with a deep understanding of the Marxist method and helped us to give political answers on the changing world.
When I learnt about his sudden death, my first thought was – who will fill the huge gap his death now leaves? His articles and books were always a great inspiration for me. And I am looking forward to read his newest book Zombie Capitalism.
But I am sure that the living school of Marxism which Tony Cliff, Mike Kidron, Duncan Hallas and Chris have helped to build will not only survive but will bear fruits for a socialist future.
Kristin Anderson, San Francisco, California, USA
I woke up this morning to the sad news that Chris Harman passed away last night. Harman was a leading member of the British Socialist Workers Party, a brilliant writer, and a respected member of the international left.
I first came into contact with his writing five years ago when a member of the antiwar coalition I was part of at San Francisco State University loaned me a copy of The Fire Last Time. I was preparing for a talk I was supposed to give on the antiwar movement in the 1960s. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. That book opened my eyes to a history that previously had been unknown to me.
From him I learned for the first time that people fight back against oppression, that through struggle people’s ideas change, and that history is made by ordinary people. These ideas lit a fire in me and inspired me to read and to learn all I could about the history of struggle and emboldened me to be a fighter and a revolutionary.
Chris Harman’s writings has greatly influence my thinking and I say with confidence that I became and remain a member of the American International Socialist Organization in part because of him.
Chris Harman, you will be greatly missed.
I don't have the words to express my sorrow or what is in my heart today to hear that Chris has died – and that Talat and Seth and Sinead and all his family have lost him like this.
For me Chris was the greatest political influence and probably a big reason why I am still a revolutionary despite all the disappointments of battles lost and temptations to drop out and watch from the sidelines. You can't have worked even a week on the paper with him without learning something that would sink deep and give some depth to raw class anger.
To me Harman was like an endless store of knowledge and of perspective – he just knew everything from obscure facts about post war bus strikes to big impenetrable books. I must have heard the words, 'what you have got to understand Elane is…' Thousands of times and I’m glad for every time I did.
Mixed in with all that, his often eccentric habits and propensity to eat obscure green things that grew like weeds in his garden and give us a weekly lecture on the joys of shopping in the Dalston Waste market have been swirling around in my head along with joint horrified inspections of Seth's fridge and memories of Seth and he messing about together come to me today.
I know we say that we won't mourn we will organise, and we will but I feel so sad and I feel rage that ruling class people are still walking the earth today while we have lost one of our greatest when we still need him so much.
My love to all of you who loved and worked with him
Phaedon Vassiliades, Dinos Agiomamitis, Workers Democracy Group, Cyprus
It is with deep sorrow and disbelief that we received the news of Chris Harman’s death.
Chris Harman, a leader of the Socialist Workers Party died 7th November 2009 as an effective revolutionary in Cairo, where he was speaking at a congress of socialist revolutionaries.
His death is a major loss for the British Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialist Tendency and for the international Marxist movement as a whole.
He was an intellectual, a writer and a theorist of the most extraordinary quality, but he had an ability to explain in simple terms what Marxism meant to him and how we could only change society from below. He had something much more. Harman took Marx out of the hands of academics. This explains why attending a public meeting when he was speaking was a great experience.
Chris Harman could write so well precisely because he had grasped the full wealth of Marxist ideas. He has produced numerous books, pamphlets and articles on a wide variety of topics: on the state capitalist tyrannies of the former Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, how the Russian revolution was lost, the failed German revolutions, the dynamics of modern capitalism, on the 1968 revolts, on political Islam, on Imperialism and many more. His writings comprised a valuable tool for revolutionaries wanting to intervene in the every day political and workers’ struggles with clarity of ideas, strategy and tactics.
Like Tony Cliff the founder of British SWP, Harman’s writings, his efforts and contribution have played a significant part in germinating the seeds of revolutionary Marxist groups and organizations in whatever part of the world, as was the case with our group in Cyprus.
Chris Harman will be very sadly missed but he will remain an inspiration to successive generations of socialists. The best tribute to him is building the struggles of workers and revolutionary organizations internationally.
Please convey our heartfelt condolences to his partner Talat and his family.
Yoann, NPA France
My personal tribute to a great comrade, the revolution has lost one member
Fight will go on for him
Alfredo Saad Filho, London
I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear about Chris Harman's sudden death in Cairo. He was a major intellectual of the revolutionary left, and an activist of many talents and significant merits. Please convey my deepest sympathies to his family and to his comrades.
Phil Chilton, Perth, Western Australia
Although I never met Comrade Harman I read his books and listened to his lectures via the MP3s available. Even from afar he had the power to inspire.
He was a dedicated revolutionary and a fine Marxist historian. He will be greatly missed.
La lotta continua.
Sean and Suzanne, London
We were shocked to hear the news of Chris's death yesterday. It seems trite to say that he will be sorely missed, but he truly will.
Chris inspired our generation to be revolutionaries. His ability to explain complex ideas simply to those who were not familiar with abstract ideas set him apart from those who saw Marxism as an academic exercise. His commitment to the building of a revolutionary party internationally was unflinching. From his writings on Germany to riots and revolution, through to the chronicling of the events of 1968 and after, he has left us with a vast body of work that will guide ourselves and future generations in the bringing about of a democratic Socialist society.
He will be sorely missed but as Cliff was fond of reminding us – we stand on the shoulders of giants which allow us to see far. Chris was one of the giants of the revolutionary movement.
Our love and thoughts are with Talat, Seth and Sinead.
En lucha, Spain
It was with great sorrow we heard of the tragic death of our comrade and dear friend Chris Harman.
This terrible news reached us minutes before our annual conference began – an event that Chris had attended many times.
Chris was a point of reference for thousands of socialists throughout out the world and in particular for us here in Spain. He attended our very first conference in 1995 and most since then. Both when he came over and many times we had the chance to be with him in London during Marxism over the last 15 years he has been a constant source of advice and inspiration for us. En lucha would not have been the same without the constant support he gave us.
We ended our conference toady with a tribute to him and all he has meant to us. His death is an incalculable loss for En lucha and all socialists but as Miguel Sanz, a long-standing comrade from our Seville branch, insisted in his summing up the best tribute we can pay Chris is to continue with the work he dedicated his life to.
Hasta siempre Chris.
Por el socialismo y por la revolución
Javier Carlés, Socialismo Internacional, Uruguay
We received the news on Chris’s death with surprise and sadness. We shared with him some moments of the popular revolt in Buenos Aires and The World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in Brazil.
Also, we were lucky to receive him in Montevideo twice (once he was accompanied by Talat) and you’ll be always in our memories. Like the conversations we had and his sharp ideas. On one occasion he told us we were very “diplomatic” to express our ideas. We first thought it was a matter of cultural differences, but later discover that it was Chris’ method to clarify ideas inside the party, the left and the class. To Chris we owe this lesson and many more that he was able to send to us at a distance. The best tribute to Chris is to take his struggle and ideas further than where he took them.
All of our solidarity is with his comrades in particular to Talat and his children
Hector Melendez, San Juan, Puerto Rico
I am very sorry to hear news on the death of Chris Harman, a great intellectual of the working class and an author and researcher of astonishing productivity. I had the opportunity of meeting and having a chat with him in London a few years ago. He impressed me as a man whose depth and brilliance were inseparable from plainness, a curiosity for new social experiences he came in contact with, and a sense of humour.
In recent years he kept sending me articles by diverse writers and on a range of topics, which were of interest and useful for many of us in Puerto Rico. Especially useful was his analysis on the present economic crisis of capitalism. I had the privilege of translating the first two parts of his monumental A People’s History of the World into Spanish. This became a short book in 2007, which some of us now use in university courses of social sciences and humanities in Puerto Rico. Students actually like the book and express they learn a lot, given the simple terms in which complex issues are put without sacrificing depth and openness to further discussion.
We will remember you Chris Harman and your valuable contributions.
Rosemarie Nuenning, Berlin
As translator of several articles and books by Chris into German, I am very sad about his death. I have followed his politics for more than 20 years now and owe him a good deal regarding my own political life. He has made Marxist theory and history accessible and lively. I will miss his sharp analyses.
It was a privilege to have worked with Chris on Socialist Worker for so many years. Chris was a brilliant theorist and a passionate class fighter. He was also a lovely man. He taught me so much on the paper – not only about Marxist theory, but also about how to write and how to convey socialist ideas in an accessible and engaging way.
Chris was great to work with. He was always supportive and encouraging to unconfident and new writers – even when he felt the need to rewrite your copy. He was also always interested in what workers had to say and he often brought editorial meetings down to earth by insisting we cover the hardships, poverty and struggles faced by our working class readers.
Many of his comments in editorial meetings involved a story from Hackney or a reference to “the Waste”, his small local market. I was inspired by the way that he applied his Marxist understanding to every aspect of life – from the economic crisis to novels and TV detective shows. I still refer to a very long list he gave me of novels that he recommended I read.
He did more than anyone else to inspire and encourage me to read a wide range of books, and to help me gain the confidence to write and give meetings. I owe Chris an immense amount personally and politically, and the party and the wider socialist movement owe him so much more.
I was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death of Chris. In 1974 it was speeches given by Chris, Cliff and Paul Foot that convinced me to join the then International Socialists. What impressed me about Chris was the depth of analysis he gave, he never over complicated things or patronised his audience.
Alongside Cliff’s, his books’ were a central part of my learning and practicing Marxism. Chris was the most rigorous of intellectuals, and he has provided a wonderful legacy for the party.
When I went to Manchester as organiser in the early 1980s, it was Chris’s theory and perspectives that helped guide me through what was a very difficult period for the movement, and the party. He was the finest editor that Socialist Worker ever had.
It was always a pleasure to meet up with him. I last saw him selling the paper on the Afghanistan demo and I can’t believe I will not see him again. But comrades will remain determined to complete the project that Chris was so dedicated to.
My deepest sympathy and condolences to Talat, Sinead, Seth, and his close friends and family.
Vidyadhar DateVidyadhar Date, Mumbai
I will always remember Chris Harman’s stirring speech at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. It made a lasting impression on me.
My sincerest condolences.
On behalf of York SWP I would be grateful if you could pass on our condolences to Talat and all Chris’s family.
I simply cannot convey adequately how important Chris was to myself and my comrades in providing incisive and clear explanations be it of history or economics. His revamping of the International Socialism journal was excellent and his summaries of recent events in the journal provided a clarity and sense of perspective that gave us so much more confidence. Above all he prepared another generation of Marxists who will mourn but continue to organise.
Marie and many NPA comrades, France
We feel very sad. It was thanks to Chris Harman that we understood crisis, Marxism, history and so much more… We’ll always continue to read him and popularise his ideas. And still fight for the power.
Motsomi Marobela, International Socialists, Botswana
We too are very touched by the untimely loss of this great revolutioary. How sad just a few days back we read a review of his recent excellent book Zombie Capitalism. Chris was an inspiration to us who always used his lucid rebuttal of neoclassical economics to defend Marxist economics.
I will always remember the man and his flask of tea. May his family be comforted that his immense contributions resonates acrross the globe. Chris has not only won thousands to socialism but equipped all of us revolutionaries to go on – no matter how tough times are. In this context the giant will rest happily and assured that the struggle continues. More red fire will burn not the last time but forever. If possible may the comrades please send us Zombie capitalism (To: Motsomis Marobela, Po Box 70381, Gaborone, UB, Botswana)
Please pass our condolences to comrade Talat and Chris's family.
Meistra Budiasa, Indonesia
Chris Harman in one of Socialist Thinkers in this century, With our best condolence from Indonesia
This is such awful, shocking news partly because it's so unexpected. I heard him speak at the Lenin day-school last weekend, and he was as clear, sharp and committed as ever. If anything, he seemed to have taken on a new lease of life over the last few years, both as a writer and as an activist.
His speaking and his writing helped tens of thousands around the world better understand Marxism and modern capitalism, and his legacy will be not just the books, articles and speeches, but also all those whose lives he changed – and in particular the party, whose intellectual coherence and political solidity he made such a huge contribution towards. I don't think that we would have negotiated the last difficult few years quite so well without his keen grasp of the essentials.
I first met him in 1974, and he's been a fairly constant presence in my life ever since. Every SWP member will remember an article or an argument of his that changed how we thought or what we did, and we'll all feel that as a huge loss. It must be worst for those of you who worked with him daily – the CC's loss is perhaps greatest of all, and lots of us are thinking of you all as well.
One of the things he's left us is the example of resilience – whatever the setback or defeat, there were new battles to prepare for, and giving up was never an option. Whatever capitalism has to throw at us next, we can build a resistance, and the memory Chris will be an inspiration in those battles. My deepest condolences to Talat, Sinead and Seth, and to all his family and friends. La lutte continue!
I would like to pass on my sincere condolences to Talat and the rest of Chris's family following their tragic loss. I attended Marxism this year following a long hiatus from the revolutionary struggle and quickly decided to attend some of Chris's meetings, in particular the one alongside David Harvey.
After all these years I felt shamed. Shamed by the enthusiasm and commitment that Chris still showed after all these years. As a fitting tribute to comrade Harman I would like to express this to his family: because of Marxism 2009 and Chris's brilliant meetings I am, once again, becoming active in my local SWP branch and muched better prepared to take the socialist arguments into the workplace. Chris's role in inspiring me to do this is considerable.
Onur Devrim Üçbaş, Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party(DSİP), Turkey
Tragic loss of Chris Harman shocked us. He was one of the leaders of real Marxist tradition. I will remember him as he spoke at Marxism 2008 in Turkey. He spent his life with struggle and he will be remembered as a beloved comrade.
As Cliff said, we will not mourn, we will organise.
I always regarded Chris Harman as someone who had an absolute command of the Marxist method a man who stood head and shoulders above the charlatans who pass for bourgeoise economic commentators. His loss is a loss to everyone who wants to put an end to this insane system. Every fight we win will be a victory built on his achievments.
His book on the German Revolution opened my eyes to what could have been, his insight into the lunacy of capitalism will guide us to what will be.
My deepest condolences to Talat and his family
Alda Sousa, for the Left Bloc, Portugal
In the Portuguese Left Bloc we were really shocked when we heard the news of Chris's tragic death in Cairo. In late August I met with Chris at the first NPA summer univeristy at Port-Leucate in France. We both spoke at the Forum of the European anti-capitalist parties, where each of the participants gave his/her contribution for an anti-capitalist perspective to fight the crisis and, beyond that, the capitalist system.
On behalf of the National leadership of the Portuguese Left Bloc, I am sending our condolences to Chris's family and friends and to all SWP members
Trevor Ngwane, member of the Socialist Group, South Africa
It is with great shock that we received the news of the passing away of Comrade Chris Harman. He was a great socialist and fighter for the emancipation of the working class, not just in the UK but throughout the world. The fact that he died speaking in Cairo attests to this.
We wish you strength and serenity during this time of bereavement. Our thoughts are with you. His contribution to the socialist struggle will remain indelible and be known to present and future generations of socialist fighters.
Professor Randhir Singh, Delhi
Shri Sixana, Delhi
Kuldip Singh, Friends of Socialism, Punjab
Sumail Sidhu, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
News of the untimely death of Chris Harman has shaken many throughout the world socialist movement. Regrettably, at this moment of world capitalist crisis, we needed him most.
His is also a great loss for the Third World movement. Harman contributed much to our understanding of Third World capitalism, and visited us in India a number of times.
Our sympathies are with his family and all socialists in Britain.
Panos Garganas, SEK, Greece
Chris Harman died of a heart attack, in the evening of last Friday 6th of November, in Cairo, where he was invited by Egyptian comrades as a speaker.
His sudden death filled with grief not only his comrades in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain, in SEK in Greece and in the other sister organisations of the International Socialist Tendency, but also a whole range of the left all over the world.
Born in 1942 in England, Chris Harman was a student in the London School of Economics (LSE) when the wave of the occupations against the war in Vietnam broke out along with the international movement of May 68 that started in France but embraced the whole world. Already a member of the International Socialists, which later became the SWP, Chris provided the most valuable assets to that movement.
Inside a revolutionary left which was just being reborn, searching how to square its accounts with social democracy and Stalinism, Chris Harman had already offered an important contribution. His pamphlet titled “Russia: How the Revolution was Lost” follows step-by-step the course from the heights of the October Revolution to the netherworld of the Stalinist counter-revolution, recording the haemorrhage of the Russian working class that undermined its control of power, exploding the claims that Lenin led to Stalin.
In a second important essay of that period, titled “Party and Class”, Chris confronted those who wanted to throw away Lenin’s concept of the revolutionary party along with the dirty waters of Stalinism. Revolutionaries could not be mere “movementists” without their own party, nor could they step back to the social-democratic notions of a “broad church” party able to win elections but betraying revolutions.
For us, the comrades who formed OSE (Socialist Revolution Organisation) and later SEK (Socialist Workers Party) in Greece, that period was the beginning that determined our course. Chris Harman was a colleague along with comrades from Greece in the LSE. They took part together in the occupation of the School, as well as in the occupation of the Greek Embassy in London in April 1967, immediately after the coup by the Colonels’ junta.
Like many other militants from Greece in those years, they were carrying the experience of the Greek explosion of the movement that culminated in the “July days” of 1965, preceding May 1968. That experience of the first break with reformism in Greece met with the hidden revolutionary traditions that Harman and his comrades were bringing to the light of the movement. Until today, we still draw from the guiding power of that combination.
Harman took Tony Cliff’s theory of state capitalism in Russia and elaborated it about the countries of Eastern Europe. His book Bureaucracy and Revolution in Eastern Europe revealed the roots of the workers’ revolts in Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, East Germany 1953 and Poland 1956, 1968 and again 1980-81 – long before the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in 1989.
Chris proved himself a brilliant student of Cliff not only in the theoretical elaborations. He became a leading force in building the SWP, not only in the years of the headlong rise of the movement in the 1970s, but also in the difficult years of Margaret Thatcher, with the ebb of the revolutionary left internationally. He edited the Socialist Worker newspaper for 25 years and he literally taught how important a tool the revolutionary newspaper is for Marxists who remain faithful to the notion that Marxism is a guide to action. For us in Workers Solidarity newspaper, Chris Harman’s newspaper was and remains a model.
His journalistic duties didn’t stop Chris from carrying on his theoretical contribution. His book on May ’68 has been an invaluable intervention on how to see that explosion not as a “French moment” of the movement but as an international full decade that embraced Europe from Paris to Prague, and from Italy and Portugal to Greece after the fall of the Junta. He spread the panorama of the movement to Mexico and Argentina, helping the waning revolutionary left to assimilate the lessons and find the stamina in order to go on.
In May 1988, when OSE was celebrating the 20th anniversary of May 1968 with three days that inaugurated “Marxism” in Greece as an annual event, Chris Harman was in Athens with us. Since then, he came again and again to support this effort and also to “inhale”, as he used to say, the experience of the movement in Greece.
As always, Chris didn’t limit himself in arguing the necessity of building a revolutionary party of the working class. He took the experience of the German Revolution of 1918-1924 and transferred it in a book, every single page of which brings to life the need of the party for a victorious strategy and tactics in the workers revolution.
With great patience and tenacity, and a remarkable wealth of historical knowledge, he took good care to provide his comrades with the best examples from history in order to help in understanding the difficulties of revolutionary action in changing situations.
The scale of his historical studies appeared all together in his book A People’s History of the World. From the primitive communist societies to the 20th century revolutions, it is a magnificent overview carrying all the transitions from the antiquity to feudalism, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the bourgeois revolutions, not only in Europe but also in China and the Islamic world, in Africa, in Asia and in the Americas, from the Incas to the Vietnam War. It is a work enviable by academics, written by a revolutionary who preferred to stay a full-time cadre for the SWP, during all his working life. It is a book informed cover to cover by the effort to defend Marx and Engels’ notion of historical materialism.
Finally, what marks out Chris Harman’s contribution to the international movement in recent years, is without doubt his contribution in the economic theory of Karl Marx. Between the economic crisis of the 1970s, that signalled the end of the post-war expansion of capitalism and the eruption of the present world economic crisis, there is a period of about 35 years.
Especially after the collapse of the Eastern block and the so-called triumph of capitalism in 1989, it was very difficult for someone to remain faithful to Marx’s assessment that capitalism is a system carrying inside itself the tendency towards crises. In the 1990s, the years of Clinton, of the “new economy” and of the “magician Greenspan”, it was easy for ideas claiming that the changes in capitalism have made crisis a thing of the past to dominate.
Chris resisted that temptation, not in a dogmatic way, but with an arduous effort to keep Marx’s fundamental ideas relevant with the actuality. With articles and polemics from the pages of the International Socialism Journal, where he served as an editor in the last years, with his books about the Economics of the Madhouse, with debates in conferences and meetings, he managed to provide to the new anti-capitalist movement of the 21st century the tools in order to understand the eruption of the new big economic crisis. His last book, Zombie Capitalism is a dense result of his work of many decades.
Harman closed his contribution to the cause of revolutionary socialism, in the way he started it. The young student of LSE helped the movement of 1968 to find the answers about the thread of revolution that Stalinism had cut. The mature Harman of Zombie Capitalism helps a new generation of activists to find the contradictions of system they want to overthrow. All of us who marched with him in this journey, we mourn for his loss, but we are proud for the legacy he leaves behind. Everyone who wants to continue the struggle for socialism, will always feel Chris Harman’s inspiration by their side.