A friend recommended a Youtube series to me titled “Crash Course World History”. I’m impressed by the quality of the videos and I’m glad that folks are growing a space for educational videos on Youtube.
My take on John Green’s (and Raoul Meyer’s) crash course in world history is that it does a relatively good job with history. Now to be clear, I’m no professional historian nor really much of an amateur one. But Green’s attacks on the “great men” theory of history are solid and are a much needed clarification since most primary and secondary history courses are taught using this flawed theory. For those unfamiliar with it, the idea is essentially that great men (and every once in a while a great woman) are who make history – so you study George Washington, or Napoleon, with no or little attention to the lives of the vast majority of people. This gives a sense that these men were leaders who changed the world, rather than simple figureheads who became a symbol of much larger and complex issues involving large groups of people.
Moving away from the “Great Men” theory leaves a narrative gap – how do you tell the story of world history if it’s not the parade of leaders? Green only does OK with creating another narrative. He emphasizes complexity but he admits that his format often causes him to ignore complexities. In the end, Green offers several “lessons” of merit, but no overall framework for understanding history, which is what an understanding of Marxism could provide to a study of history.
Green on Marx
But how does Green treat Marxist thought? Not particularly well. He paints a caricature of Marxists as brutal dictators or as unsophisticated students, or at the best rudimentary social theorists with a one-track mind on economics only.
However, despite the bad rap that Marxism gets on his show, many of the important pieces of analysis are drawn or connected to Marxist theory. In one episode, Green refers to himself as a Keynesian Centrist, so it’s clear he is no Marxist, but I think he, as with many liberals/centrists, has certain sympathies with Marxist theory. If only he could overcome the rudimentary caricature of Marxism that he presents, he may find it more meaningful. To my point and his credit, Green does favorably cite Fredric Jameson in one episode, but fails to mention Jameson being a Marxist or the quote being related to Marxist theory.
A Marxist History Course?
Noting Green’s “textbook” understanding of Marxism, I thought how a space could be made for a Marxist World History course. This also made me think of Chris Harman’s “A People’s History of the World” which I haven’t read yet. My point being that history has been studied by Marxists and they have applied Marxist theory to history – however, this scholarship is not popularized like other stories of History. Harman’s book is a step in this direction, but I would love to see a World History mini-series online that would highlight the events of history using Marxist analysis. I won’t be planning to take this on for Marxism Today – partially because that’s not what this Podcast is for and partially because I’m not well-read enough in history for that now. But none-the-less this would certainly be a project worth exploring for the online Marxist community.
Here’s the link: