Five books every socialist should read

Rupert Mallin

 Now, given it's a list for socialists, the socialistic, trade unionists and those enquiring into Socialism, I wasn't going to reconfirm the obvious: 'Raggered Trousered Philanthropist,' 'Homage to Catalonia,' 'Grapes of Wrath,' etc. Also, I took the notion of 'books' literally, rather than being novels. Indeed, in my list I've purposefully avoided scores of wonderful novels in order to think about influences on me then and now. So, here is my missive.

1. 'Dubliners' - James Joyce (short stories)

To understand the power of Modernism, Dubliners begins to change the terrain - literally. The attention to place becomes another place - a universal rendering, like Google Earth, but with all the realities of lives attached. Joyce makes epiphany secular and 'Dubliners' is the ground upon which one of the 20th Century's greatest novels 'Ulysses' stands.

2. 'A Coney Island of The Mind' - Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poems) - City Lights Publications, US

Ferlinghetti set up City Lights Publications and published Ginsberg and all the 'beat' generation. In many ways he stood in the background. However, Ferlinghetti's easily accessible jazz poems (performed in San Francisco with jazz musicians), as evidenced in this great collection, have been overlooked in Britain. Ferlinghetti's humanitarianism squeezes right into you. They're so easily accessible and should be given to every thirteen year old.


3. 'Red Shelley' - Paul Foot (a socialist study) - Bookmarks

Brilliantly the late Paul Foot unpicks the complexities of what scholars consider Percy B. Shelley's 'mature' works and places them alongside his masterly 'adolescent' common man poems like the 'Mask of Anarchy' to show that there should be no division between them. This book should be on every secondary school's text book list.

4. 'Bob Cobbing & Writers Forum' - a Ceolfrith Press celebration

Socialists' celebration of Modernism so often seems to begin and end with Myokovsky and Andre Breton - founder of the most experimental arts movement in history, Surrealism - and Brecht's epic plays. That's fine but always looking at the tip of the mountain can deny the mountain, it's core, which should be an anathema to socialists!

Little attention has ever been given to this country's greatest concrete/sound poet Bob Cobbing. He carried on the work of Dada and Surrealism into the 21st century and both the mainstream and the Left in the UK ignored him consistently. Socialists need to embrace experimentation in all forms of art (this is entirely why Socialist John Molyneux's defence of Tracey Emin's work is so important, in my view).

5. 'Nelson & the Huruburu Bird' - Mairead Byrne - Wild Honey Press (poetry)

Mairead writes today/now and is one of the very few who crosses over between the academic production of poetry and the aching huge world beyond. Her work is both a celebration of humanity and of womanhood - as a gathering of the broken pieces. Her poetry crosses into history, archaeology, walking-observation, the personal, the global. 'Wild Honey' is a small publisher in Ireland.

Socialists must celebrate those writers and artists who are half on their side. These are not going to be big celebrities or leading academics, but those beneath. Indeed, without looking at the entire mountain of artistic production, an enthusiasm for the summit alone, in dialectical terms, can just end up in a scree fall from on high into Agit Prop and Socialists talking down to the very class - the majority - they claim leadership of.



Feb 2006

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