Five books every socialist should read
Andy Newman is on the national executive of the Stop the War Coalition and a regular contributor to Socialist Unity
The People's War - Angus Calder
The Second World War and its aftermath still has a strong influence on British politics, and a resonance in our culture. Angus Calder’s book about British society on the home front is simply brilliant, full of detail as well as big narrative. It shows the tension between the two simultaneous wars, the people’s war against fascism, and the bosses’ war to preserve the Empire.
Bows Against the Barons - Geoffrey Treece
I think it is so important that children read books that encourage them to imagine that the world could be different. That is why for all their faults I would still encourage children to read the Narnia books. Good historical fiction does the same job, and Geoffrey Treece’s retelling of the Robin Hood stories as class war, written in 1934, is one of the best. I also think that nationalism is a complex political and social phenomenon, and we should preserve the progressive aspects of English identity, here shown in the struggle against the Norman yoke..
Post Prison Writings and Speeches - Eldridge Cleaver
This book had a dramatic influence on me when I read it aged about 13, and is from the period when Cleaver was Minister of Information of the Black Panther Party. The books that came out of that period; such as Black Power by Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, or Soledad Brother by George Jackson; are electric with passion against injustice, and a belief that change was coming. As the demonisation of Islam, and the debate about terrorism are taking centre stage today, it is fascinating to read the arguments from these afro-American activists about identity politics and violence.
History of Economic Thought - Isaak Illich Rubin
Most socialists understand that they should try to get to grips with Marx’s economic writings, particularly Capital. But the ideas are difficult at first, and I would strongly recommend Rubin’s fantastic history of the thinkers who preceded Marx, which includes a history of the development of the capitalist economy. This book was developed as a text book on economics for Moscow University in the 1920s, and is very readable.
Mandate of Heaven - Marx and Mao in Modern China - Nigel Harris
Because China matters! I was in Guangzhou with work a couple of years ago, and I was amazed at the place: extremes of wealth and poverty, and just the huge scale of the economy. This is a great book for understanding the background to the Chinese Communist Party, who are now running the wild-west frontier of free market capitalism.
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