The following review appeared in the February/March 2010 issue of Challenge magazine by Sylvia Jones.
The Imperial Controversy: Challenging the Empire Apologists is one of three books released by Manifesto Press at this year's Communist University of Britain. The others are a survey of the Cuban education system by Theodore MacDonald and a history of the 1911 Railway Strike by Robert Griffiths. Andrew Murray's book completes this initial offering with an outright attack on the pro-war “Left” - today's liberal imperialists.
The book is comprised of five chapters, each of which stands as a separate essay on a distinct topic but which are linked together by the underlying themes of the book and by the order in which they have been placed, each providing the groundwork or rationale for the next.
The first chapter takes clear aim at the new breed of imperial historians, whose attempts to rehabilitate the history of the British Empire are exposed, through their own words, as simply a prop for the defence and extension of modern imperialism. Whilst such 'court historians' have always existed in class societies, the scope provided by modern media monopolies for the promotion of their drivel is truly frightening and makes books like this, which seek “to rescue the real record of the Empire from those who would like to bury it in obscurity and those who would like to use it as a model for contemporary world governance” (p) even more important.
The second chapter sets out to do precisely this, using a comparison with Nazi Germany to draw out the true horror of the Empire. Whilst this may seem slightly crude on the face of it, the evidence drawn together by the author in fact shows a startling continuity between the naked class rule of Hitler fascism and the more concealed brutality of British, and other European, Empire. As Murray points out, “[i]n Britain itself, suggesting that the Empire deserves to be viewed in the same historical light as Nazi Germany seems far-fetched or even offensive... Yet the comparison would not seem so far-fetched to the greater millions of subject people once ruled from London (or Paris, The Hague, Lisbon, Madrid, Brussels or Rome). What needs to be confronted... is the view that... the deaths of millions of people on one hand can be offset against the construction of railways on the other.” (p)
In the words of African-American leader W. E. B. DeBois, “there was no nazi atrocity – concentration camps, wholesale maiming and murder, defilement of women or ghastly blasphemy of childhood – which Christian civilisation or Europe had not long been practising against colonial folk in all parts of the world in the name of and for the defense of a superior race born to rule the world.”
Given the space available, the chapter is by no means an exhaustive list of the crimes of Empire, yet the examples are well-chosen enough, and the overview comprehensive enough, to make this chapter recommended reading for anyone teaching or studying this period of history.
Following his catalogue of the worst crimes of Empire, Murray goes on to look at the Middle East in more detail. It is here that he really comes into his own. His knowledge and understanding of British and American intervention in the region is comprehensive and the exposition clearly structured and lucid enough to give the reader an immediate grasp of the background to current conflicts. If there is a weakness in this section, it is that the question of Palestine is only touched on briefly. However, what reference there is makes the authors's stance abundantly clear and is in line with the analysis of the rest of the book.
The final two chapters return to the polemical style of the first, chapter four taking on “Blair's Victorian Values” and chapter five the pro-war liberal imperialists who used their positions in The Guardian, the New Statesman and other publications to enthusiastically cheer on the brutal destruction of Iraq and Afghansitan. Again, Murray quotes extensively, letting his opponents hang themselves with their own words.
Overall, the book is excellent and the authors engaging style is a perfect complement to his strong analysis and thorough research.