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Chris Harman: A thinker and a polemicist

Feature by Larry Elliott, December 2009

The last time I saw Chris Harman he was in his element.

A year into the most ferocious financial and economic crisis since the 1930s, we were sharing a platform at the Marxism conference in central London. We were both trying, probably unsuccessfully, not to sound smug.

I always enjoyed those sessions with Chris. We could hardly be described as political soul mates, but on some of the big issues - the chronic instability of modern capitalism, the delusional nature of the long post-1992 global boom, the futility of New Labour's business-as-usual approach - we were in broad agreement.

It was simply that I thought the system could be reformed for the better and Chris didn't. We agreed to disagree on that one.

I enjoyed those sparring sessions with Chris. He was always polite, yet steely and rigorous in his analysis. In my case, I always stepped off the platform feeling that I had learned something new.

The reason was that Chris was a true intellectual: you knew he had done the reading and done the thinking. His arguments - even if you opposed them - had an elegant consistency about them.

The crisis, of course, played to these strengths. Every week a new pile of books purporting to explain what has gone wrong and how to put it right arrives on my desk at the Guardian.

Mostly, they are dross from so-called experts who never saw trouble coming in the first place. Zombie Capitalism, Chris's last book, was different.

Authoritative, properly researched and well written, it provides the classic Marxist interpretation of the events of the past two and a half years and is a fitting testimony to a thinker and polemicist I shall miss very much.


Larry Elliott is the Guardian newspaper's economics editor

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