Five books every socialist should read

Dave Riley

Dave Riley is on the National Executive of the Australian Socialist Alliance


Vladimir Lenin: What is to be Done?

I read this first in 1969 and in answering this question Lenin really got to the basic bits and pieces of what warrants doing. It lays out the core challenges for all those who have a  partyish perspective.
Indeed, it tells us why parties are important for anyone serious about socialism. It's also the best socialist DIY in paper.


Karl Marx: The Communist Manifesto

This is an exploration of our existence and its necessity that still rings out loud for anyone who wants to hear its message. After so many years it still rings true and has a depth of political savvy
that so many so called socialists have tended to ignore. Ground yourself in the Manifesto and then the rest has much more relevance.

Alexander Luria: The Making of Mind: A Personal Account of Soviet Psychology

This is a memoir by one of the great neuropsychologists who with Lev Vygotsky did so much to place human psychological experience within  historical context. But where the book  succeeds so much is in its exploration and application of dialectical materialism to the everyday. It's  a great primer for the method of Marxism. This may seem strange choice but Luria's work and the essays of Stephen Jay Gould give you a grounding in DiaMat that may not be so accessible through the more academic sources.

Malcolm X & Alex Hailey: The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

You need biographies and the like to get a sense of where people come from and how they change. There's many inspiring narratives to be read and its hard to place one above another. But for my money the life of Malcolm X encompasses all the elements that go some way to recording the dynamic of how you can both live your life and by seeking to change society also change yourself. With Malcolm X it was so very much a journey ,one sustained by trying to  comprehend reality by engaging it actively. For afters you can listen to Malcolm X's speeches such that this book and whatever  audio you can access, becomes a total, almost indispensable, package.

Peter Weiss: The persecution and assassination of Jean Paul Marat as performed by the patients of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade.

I admit to getting a lot out of Weiss' plays because he was so effective at projecting the key issues, even personal issues, that you have to deal with as you ratchet up your political  engagement.
The dialogue which makes up the central exchange in this play is a brilliant weaving of character -- actual historical figures -- with the massive dynamic of the French revolution. But just like Bertolt Brecht's poems -- a collection of which I'd also add to the list if  I was allowed the room -- there are these little sequences of ideas that have a handy knack of resonating in your mind long after you first read them. It's like -- both with Weiss and BB -- you have these adages always on hand to formulate a notion of some substance relevant to your political existence.



Feb 2006

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