Five books every socialist should read

Ben Drake

Well where to start? Obviously there are the Holy Texts - Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, plus Cliff, Hallas etc - experience suggests we all tend to recoil from these like GCSE set texts, but actually there's a reason they're classics, they actually are brilliant and incisive.

But I think what SUN is after is more personal choices. So here goes:

1. Paul Foot - The Vote, How It Was Won And How It Was Undermined. Our late comrade's great work and a fitting legacy, all his passion and rigour applied to the crucial but often undervalued issue of the franchise.

2. Mark Steel - Reasons To Be Cheerful. On a lighter note, Mark Steel's account of his life in the SWP and beyond is honest, insightful and inspiring.. and mostly just really really fall-on-the-floor funny.

3. CLR James - The Future In The Present and At The Rendezvous Of Victory. Okay, cheating, two books. CLR James was an undoubted genius (and my Dad's favourite political thinker). These two collections of his writings give a good sense of the breadth and depth of his work and his too-often unacknowledged legacy. Just for example, as far as I can see he devised the concept of state capitalism about a decade before anyone else. If you're into cricket you'll also love Beyond A Boundary.

4. Mike Marquese - Redemption Song: Muhammed Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties. Just great. Very much in the CLR James tradition (Mike'll like that) this is how Marxist analysis should be done. Genuinely couldn't put it down until I'd read it cover to cover.

5. Sheila Rowbotham - Hidden From History. Socialist men in particular should read feminist work often, if for no other reason then to remind ourselves that the personal bloody well is the political thank you very much. Was tempted to suggest Simone de Beauvoir's 1960 classic The Second Sex or something by Lindsey German as more Left-friendly, but Sheila Rowbotham's book blew my mind when I read it as an undergraduate simply because of the egregious examples of how history too often lies to us.

I must also cheat again and recommend the book I've most recently read, a little Fontana paperback from their 60s 'Modern Masters' series, David Caute's study of Frantz Fanon entitled simply 'Fanon'. Some of the debates explored are stunningly relevant to current arguments around Iraq and anti-imperialism. Not sure if it's still in print though! but if anyone wants to borrow a copy email me via SUN and I'll happily post it on.

Oh, and everyone should read the first Harry Potter book.. not for socialism, just because it rocks!




May 2006

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