I've added two links to the side-bar. These are PoliticsHome, which is a valuable source of political coverage, and Standpoint, a new magazine, edited by Daniel Johnson, that has many good things. On Standpoint's web site, the Cambridge historian Brendan Simms writes illuminatingly about Serbia after the capture of Radovan Karadzic:
[T]here are still demons on the loose in Serbian political life, in the security apparatus, in intellectual circles, and in public opinion. Much of the population had still not quite come to terms with what was done in their name during the 1990s. Belgrade will therefore need help, rhetorical and practical, to make the last leap into Europe by arresting Ratko Mladic. Now is the time for Europe to reach out. Serbia has once more begun to find its soul, and we must make sure that it does not lose it again.
I very much agree. Another angle, and one well worth examining, about the life and times of Karadzic is provided by Rose Shapiro in The Guardian. It is far from being a frivolous point that the man responsible for a campaign of hatred and genocide later adopted a clandestine career as a practitioner of mumbo-jumbo, or "alternative medicine" as it's sometimes know. Ms Shapiro writes:
Just because Karad[z]ic was a war criminal, it doesn't follow that all alternative practitioners are genocidal maniacs, and indeed many practitioners sincerely believe in what they are doing and want to help their clients. But there have surely been enough cases now of blatant recklessness if not outright deceit to confirm that practising alternative medicine is very often the last refuge of the scoundrel.
The next item doesn't belong in history, and it doesn't belong in the noble tradition of the exposure of pseudoscience, but it's a pleasing juxtaposition. The New Statesman carries a review of a book called A People's History of the World by Chris Harman. Harman's entire adult life has been spent in the service of the Leninist sect the Socialist Workers' Party. He has edited the party's newspaper and theoretical journal, and is a longstanding member of the party's Politbureau.
Being a leading member of the SWP is no barrier to writing a good book. Another former editor of the party's journal, Nigel Harris, wrote a book a few years ago on immigration, Thinking the Unthinkable, that I thought was excellent. And I concede that I have not read Harman's book. But I note with complacence that Harman's publisher, Verso, carry on their web page for the book the commendation of the 9/11 conspiracy theorist Howard Zinn, likening Harman's work to his own.
The Statesman's reviewer is not a historian but a blogger called Richard Seymour. Nothing wrong in that - except that Seymour is also a member of the Socialist Workers' Party. That's a singular editorial decision, as a member of the SWP is, by definition, bound by the views of the party's Central Committee. The SWP, being a Leninist organisation, adheres to the principle of "democratic centralism". This bizarre concept was coined by Lenin in 1906 as the guiding organisational principle of the revolutionary party. As one political theorist has usefully summarised it (Joseph Femia, Marxism and Democracy, 1992, p. 136): 'By "democratic", Lenin meant that the elected Party Congress was to be supreme over policy. By "centralism", he meant that once general policy was agreed, the everyday decisions of the central bodies were absolutely binding on all members, who were expected to march in step, whatever their private reservations.'
It's no great surprise, in the circumstances, that Seymour is overwhelmed by the profundity of the book under review, which is 'a dizzying tale of change "from below", with political, economic and cultural narratives interwoven, and occasional pauses to point out intriguing theoretical vistas'. The Statesman has an unfortunate record of not disclosing the interests of its book reviewers, and it's time this policy was tightened up.
Incidentally, it looks to me as if the SWP regards Seymour as a popular exponent of historical issues. A nice instance was an article in Socialist Worker a year ago, in which Seymour discussed the case of the atomic spy Julius Rosenberg and his wife Ethel ("executed on trumped up charges by the US state"). Seymour explained:
Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed that dozens – sometimes he claimed hundreds – of communists were active in the government. Through the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was able to bully and slander hundreds of US citizens.
The exact number of US citizens whom Senator McCarthy was able to bully and slander through the House UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) was zero. McCarthy was not a member of the Committee. As its name indicates, HUAC was a committee of the House of Representatives; Senator McCarthy, as his title indicates, was a member of the Senate. The House of Representatives and the Senate are not the same thing. If any constitutional theoreticians of the SWP are reading this, I undertake further to explain that the Queen's Speech is not in fact written by the Queen, and that the Lord Privy Seal isn't in charge of locks on the lavatory.