Making Their Own History
A People's History of Modern Europe
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/09/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21695
Book review of William A. Pelz's A People's History of Modern Europe.
Pelz's myth-busting clears the way for a sweeping account of historical developments from the Middle Ages to post-communist Europe. The main themes around which he organizes this vast narrative are pretty much the same one also finds in bourgeois or old left histories. But of course he gives them a history-from-below twist.
So instead of James Watt puttering around until cylinder-caged steam sets a piston in motion, we learn about the changes in the work and lives of the popular classes under the emerging reign of steam-powered production. However, the emergence of industrial capitalism, symbolized by the steam engine, had a prehistory stretching all the way back to the Middle Ages when feudal rule in Europe showed its first cracks. This is where Pelz's account begins.
We encounter feudal exploitation and its justification through the Catholic Church. But we also learn about dissident movements who thought that Christianity was not about justification of inequalities, but about the equality of all men and women. And we learn that the spread of Islam was fostered by widespread discontent with the double standards the church applied to the popular classes and itself and its feudal pals.