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"It's time to win more than arguments" - The Revenge of History reviewed in the Guardian, Al Jazeera and the HuffPost

31 October 2012

The heat of debate within Seumas Milne's The Revenge of History is stirring up further discussion in its reviews. Featured in Al Jazeera, the HuffPost and in the Guardian - reviewed by Verso's Owen Hatherley - Milne's collection of Guardian columns from 1997 to 2012 is a timely work of vengeful revisionism.

David Wearing, writing for Al Jazeera, marks out the trajectory of Milne's argument: that the neo-conservative "empire" in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall realistically only lasted for seven years. While the neo-liberals went head first into a future they believed to be theirs, the voices of the Left continued to speak of the potential for disaster, but when times are good, the voices of dissent are silenced even more than usual due to sheer unpopularity. The same is the case for Milne's prediction of greater resistance in Iraq post-Saddam Hussein. The Revenge of History proves that the "Cassandras have been vindicated, but this is worthless by itself, of benefit only to our own egos".

Wearing sees the necessity of Milne's work being specifically a collection of columns: the advice we didn't take was there all along and now that we're actually paying attention, what are we going to do?

The extent to which Milne and his few agreeable contemporaries were correct about the decisions of the Blair and Bush eras are startling. All seem like matters of fact that leave little room for disagreement but certainly did not on initial publication. Statements from Milne such as "determination to bind Britain ever closer to US foreign policy [would] ratchet up the threat to our own cities... [and] fuel anti-Western sentiment" must have seemed like pessimistic speculation to the majority of the media, but "[s]ure enough, on July 7, 2005, al-Qaeda suicide bombers murdered 52 innocent people and injured over 700 in central London, citing the invasion and occupation of Iraq among their justifications."

Owen Hatherley's review in the Guardian notes that Milne is "[n]ever obviously bothered by tact, [as he] could publish a column a couple of days after 9/11 bemoaning that those in the US asking why the attacks occurred "still don't get it". Whether this is a flaw or a talent is up for discussion. Perhaps it is the case that time is healer of brash remarks, especially when they're correct?

John Wight, writing for the HuffPost, reviews Milne's articles in the climate of the time, believing him to "continually [succeed] in cutting through the propaganda of the dominant narrative in article after article". It serves as a reminder to the contemporary reader just how prophetic Milne's words turned out to be - but the reality of stark hostility received toward Milne or any mainstream writer who shared his opinions

Milne's "join-the-dots" approach makes it astonishing to believe that those in power could nor and did not foresee any consequences of their actions, wrapping up the early years 21st century in the continued "imperialist expansion".

Included in The Revenge of History is Milne's earliest piece after the election of Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 1997. Milne was willing to grit his teeth and "settle for at least a tolerably reforming government – and given his partial optimism, it is unusual in this collection for not being vindicated by events", according to Owen Hatherley. The inclusion may be so that Milne tacitly admits that hindsight is effective only most of the time, but also importantly that Blair was then comparing himself to de Gaulle, that "only his Labour government would be able to truly dismantle the benefits system".

Each review sees The Revenge of History as work of bleak revisionism, but heeds the warning that history has time and time again proved to be capable of repeating itself. Where the reviews unanimously agree is that a work of this kind should be used as a way to revitalise the Left and that it is very possible, but only time will prove what will be determined as our history.

Visit the Guardian , Al Jazeera and the HuffPost to read each review in full.