European history, new book


This video from the USA says about itself:

Dr. William Pelz, A People’s History of Modern Europe, Open University of the Left, 6-18-2016, Chicago, Illinois

By Steve Andrew in Britain:

Engrossing account of European history from below

Monday 26th September 2016

A People’s History of Modern Europe by William A Pelz (Pluto Press, £18)

VERY much written from the perspective of “history from below,” at best this book by William A Pelz is a well-written and engrossing read.

It’s a confident and no-holds- barred text that rapidly gets down to a thoughtful discussion of salient periods — inevitably selective — of European history from a left and feminist perspective.

The late medieval period is notably well addressed, particularly the European-wide peasant revolts and their relationships, good and bad, to Reformation figures such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both indulged in anti-semitic abuse and eulogised their own rich backers when necessary — an aspect of both figures that most biographers choose to ignore.

It’s a book with a significant concentration on the trajectory of certain nation states and French history from the momentous events of 1789 right through to the 1871 Commune, and the much debated revolts of 1968 are brilliantly contextualised.

The same applies to the passages exploring German history from Bismarckian unification right through to the rise of national socialism which includes a detailed analysis of the massively influential Social Democratic Party.

Post-war, the history of much-neglected Yugoslavia and the revolts against fascism in both Greece and Portugal, are given welcome prominence, as is the 1984 British miners’ strike.

Pelz provides an international rather than national perspective of the latter, viewing it as a dispute pivotal in ushering in undiluted neoliberalism.

Yet there’s a surprising dearth of information about the historic shift globally from feudalism to capitalism and the related role of racism, slavery and colonialism in facilitating this.

And any text of this nature is bound to provoke disagreement and Pelz’s over-reliance on the the works of British Socialist Workers Party theorists, apparent from sources cited, makes this all the more inevitable.

In Pelz’s world view, when the so-called Stalinist or social-democratic left achieves something, it’s evidently not enough. When it doesn’t, it’s because it never intended to in the first place, happy as it was in carrying out Moscow’s diktats or secure as it was in enjoying roles or benefits doled out by the Establishment. If only history or politics were that simple.

It’s questionable, too, whether this history-from-below account is as startlingly original as the author would appear to claim. Right-wing narratives that celebrate the role of the aristocracy, idealistic politicians, philanthropic industrialists and brilliant scientists might well be making a worrying comeback.

But a long-standing tradition of writing, from Engels’s Peasant War in Germany to the contributions of EP Thompson and Howard Zinn show that Pelz’s journey through the highs and lows of European history is by no means unique in its intent to tell history from the side of the oppressed.

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