From Review, International Socialism (1st series), No.53, October-December 1972, p.41. 
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Revolution in Perspective
by Mary Charlesworth
Peter Lowe £2.50
by John Dunn
The subject matter of these two books has something in common. The ‘six great revolutions’ which take up about half of Mary Charlesworth’s book are the American (1775-83), French (1789-94), Mexican (1910-40), Russian (1917), Chinese (1949) and Cuban (1959). The ‘eight major revolutions of the twentieth century’ considered by John Dunn include the last four. In every other way the books are completely different.
Revolution in Perspective is a picture book in the coffee table sense. The pictures – photographs, paintings, drawings and cartoons – are very good indeed. The commentary is less so, though it is a good deal better than might have been expected from an author who was employed, so the blurb tells us, by the Foreign Office and the Bank of London and South America. In fact her heart is in the right place though her politics are a bit muddled.
I see this as a first class children’s book and like all good children’s books it can be looked at with pleasure and profit by the intelligent adult. A bright ten-year-old could have whole new worlds conjured up by the illustrations and could make something of the text. Few of those of us above that age could fail to benefit from it too.
A reviewer for this journal is expected to subject the politics of the items he considers to a critical scrutiny. In this case that approach is irrelevant. There is plenty to quarrel with of course, but what we have here is an introduction and a very good introduction. £2.50 may seem a little expensive for just under 200 pages but the production and lay-out is excellent. Definitely recommended.
John Dunn is Director of Studies in History at King’s College, Cambridge, and after conscientiously ploughing through the 300-odd pages of his work (including 70 or so pages of notes and references) I am thankful that I am not one of his students for he would surely fail me. The old, dreary aphorisms are regurgitated yet again.
‘Leninism is a strategic doctrine for a revolutionary elite and, as such, in the pre-revolutionary period it is highly authoritarian and quite consistently so.’
‘The Leninist model of revolution, elitist, manipulative and unrelentingly opportunist ...’
And so on and so forth.
Dunn professes the complacent scepticism of a comfortable conservative.
‘Marxism as a theory, a coherent body of doctrine, is false. It is perhaps unfortunate that it is false, in the same way that it is unfortunate that Christianity is false. How nice it would be if either were true. How nice it would be if any theory were true which promised access to a kingdom in which the lion will lie down with the lamb and no one hurt nor destroy. But as yet, sadly, there is no reason to believe that any such theory is true.’
What can be said in favour of this work? It does indeed contain a quantity of assorted information and a bibliography of several hundred titles. With unusual candour the author confesses that this
‘contains a number of items (mostly journal articles) which I have not even contrived myself to see at all, but which trustworthy authorities suggest may be of value.’
1. Fred Hall was a pseudonym occasionally used by Duncan Hallas.
Last updated on 3.10.2007