Ten books every socialist should read

Tawfiq Chahboune

Tawfiq Chahboune is a regular contributor to Socialist Unity. Although it's meant to be five books we have given Tawfiq special dispensation because of his charming personality. 


Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

The funniest, possibly wisest, book ever written. No mere opinion this - just a fact. No superlative can do Heller's masterpiece justice. To quote the first line: "It was love at first sight".


Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.

Diamond asks: "Why weren't Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?" Here is a scientific answer by one of the world's foremost scientists and intellectuals. One of the most profound books ever written.


American Power and the New Mandarins by Noam Chomsky.

A devastating series of essays by the Left's finest living writer and hammer of fools. Amazingly, this powerful work is Chomsky's first political book. It includes an unequalled critique of the invasion of Vietnam (conveniently known in our debased culture as the Vietnam war), and gives liberal "intellectuals" such a thoroughly good spanking that one wonders how these bozos can feel no shame in living a life of diabolical mendacity, downright imbecility and tortuous logic. Add Chomsky on the Spanish Revolution and we have one of the foremost polemics ever written. A monstrous war and intellectual thugs defending war crimes? Plus ca change...


Rights of Man by Thomas Paine.

A passionate revolutionary polemic from the unvanquishable spirit of Albion's finest. Paine is in blistering form in this classic - and witty - defence of republicanism, freedom, democracy, economic justice and reason. Beautiful prose and phrases that sent, and can still send, tyrants and their intellectual storm troopers into a frenzy. Has the capacity to induce a massive stroke at twenty paces to the antithetically-titled political philosophies of "Conservatism", "Liberalism" and "Labourism". "An hereditary mathematician" indeed!


The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James.

Slavery, revolution and liberation in San Domingo. James weaves together the only successful slave rebellion, the life of the remarkable Toussaint L'Ouverture and the French Revolution in this magnificent and moving history. A tour de force.


Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell.

No, not Nineteen Eighty-Four or Animal Farm. Homage to Catalonia is Orwell's triumph. A journalistic masterpiece that is a heady cocktail of history, political machinations, soldier's memoir, war reporting and great escape. Orwell retells the fascist and Stalinist snuffing out of the Spanish Revolution. Ever wondered what it must feel like to get a (fascist) bullet in the throat?


The State in Capitalist Society by Ralph Miliband.

Miliband offers an examination of the evolution and necessity of state institutions in advanced capitalist countries (government, military, judiciary, police, civil service, etc). Although seemingly democratic institutions, their structure is, and must be, scrupulously undemocratic. They are, after all, defending the ruling class. The state's institutions have "internalised" the values of capitalism as the natural state; anything else - i.e., socialism - is unnatural and sinister. The state is capitalism's armoury and propaganda ministry. Brilliant analysis from a brilliant man. Miliband must be turning somersaults in his grave: his two sons are imperialist goons.


Roads to Freedom by Bertrand Russell.

Russell offers a popular but serious treatment of Marxism, anarchism and syndicalism. Russell discusses the pros and cons of each, concluding that a mixture (taking the best from each and discarding the worst) of all three is the only road to a just and free society. This "Guild Socialism", a mixture of socialism and diluted anarcho-syndicalism, is, for Russell, the most humane from of social, economic and political organisation. Russell rightly believes that socialism will not exist if it is not libertarian. A provocative and near-compelling proposition by one of the greatest philosophers.


The Politics of War by Gabriel Kolko.

A magisterial and monumental account of the results of the second world war. Empires fell and a new empire rose. The contours of the modern world were set by the war and by a US foreign policy that would make past empire builders drool. Kolko's book concerns itself with the 1943-1945 period when it became clear that the axis powers would lose and that Europe's imperial powers were finished as actors on the global stage. Almost unrestrained, the US moulded (and continues in its efforts to mould) a world in its own interests. The consequences are apparent today. Kolko's book is a colossal achievement.


Man's Worldly Goods by Leo Huberman.

Economic history made effortless and entertaining by a founding editor of the outstanding Monthly Review. A whirlwind tour of pre-capitalism, capitalism and the need for socialism. Though far too accommodating to antisocialist, and indeed antisocial, Bolshevism, Huberman's elegant book remains a must for every socialist.    



Feb 2006

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