On International Women’s Day, Tansy Hoskins suggests some great radical books which have inspired movements for social change.

Angela Davis

Too often ‘must-read’ lists of political books end up being compilations of books written exclusively by men, as if a woman never picked up a pen or sat down at a keyboard and ended up changing the world. Here is a brief supplementary list of a few great books, not to be read in opposition to male writers but alongside them where they belong. There are thousands more brilliant female writers out there, please add to the debate and the list, share these titles and make some recommendations of your own.

Rosa Luxemburg - Reform or Revolution

In this pamphlet, Rosa Luxemburg dismantles the arguments of those who believed that reforms rather than revolution could transform society. Whilst she supported the struggle for social reforms as well as social revolution and believed that fighting for reforms was the best school for revolutionaries, she outright refused to accept that reforms could replace revolutionary struggle.

Reforms were not “a more tranquil, calmer and slower road to the same goal, but a different goal.” Reformists were just calling for “surface modifications of the old society” rather than the establishment of a new society. In that way reformism could end up just being an argument for maintaining the capitalist system and a futile attempt to sanitise the inhumane.

Evelyn Reed, Joseph Hansen and Mary-Alice Waters – Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women

In 1954, Joseph Hansen published an article in the US Socialist Worker paper about the massive profits being reaped by cosmetics companies through their exploitation of women’s insecurities. The wittily written article sparked mass debate and multiple letters from female readers working in factories and shops, who felt that Hansen was making fun of them and that he did not understand the need for women to wear makeup in order to get a job under capitalism. Hansen wrote another article which prompted even more debate and more letters. The brilliant Evelyn Reed then weighed into the debate and drew more criticism.

One result was this lively and lovely book published in 1993 as a round up of all the letters and controversy. It stands as a testimony for the need for debate and participation within revolutionary organisations as well as a much needed addition to the debate on capitalism’s impact on women’s lives.

Naomi Klein – Shock Doctrine

After the invasion of Iraq why was a law passed to allow Shell and BP to claim Iraq’s oil reserves? Why were south east Asian beaches auctioned off to tourism companies after the tsunami had destroyed the local populations? Why are residents of New Orleans, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, still without their public housing, hospitals and schools?

In her follow up to the groundbreaking No Logo, Naomi Klein shows the effect of disaster capitalism – the rapid-fire corporate reengineering of societies – on the world. The story of the domination of “free market” policies and the exploitation of disaster-shocked people and countries.

Angela Davis – If They Come in the Morning…

Angela Davis published ‘If They Come in the Morning…’ whilst on remand for trumped up charges and facing the death penalty for crimes she did not commit. As an outspoken academic and a black communist woman Angela Davis was a threat that the US state tried and failed to silence. She wrote some of the most important books to come out of the struggle for civil rights in the USA.

Of ‘If They Come in the Morning…’ Benjamin Zephaniah wrote:Angela Davis taught me that I did not have to tolerate the racism that I was suffering in the playground, she told me that I was not alone, and it was in this book that I first came across the word ‘Solidarity’, then I realised the importance of working together.”

Ariel Levy – Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture

Ariel Levy defines female chauvinist pigs as supposedly empowered women who make sex objects of other women and of themselves.” If male chauvinist pigs thought of women as pieces of meat, Female Chauvinist Pigs do one better, making sex objects of other women — and of themselves.

Far from a prude or a scold, Levy’s point is that sexuality is becoming narrower and narrower, a silicon implant, Jessica Rabbit version of sexuality which is unfulfulling for most women. By buying into the ‘spring break’ mmentality of ogling strippers or taking stripping classes for example, women just seek male approval and prop up male culture and power.

“When it comes to raunch culture, a lot of people say: ‘Well, we’re living in a post-feminist age, women have won the [sex] war, and so it’s OK for all this to happen. It doesn’t actually threaten women’s social position.’ But when did we win the war? We don’t have equal pay for equal work, we don’t have equal representation in government … so when exactly did we win?”

Arundhati Roy – An Ordinary Person’s Guide To Empire

In her usual controversial, inspirational and passionate style, Arundhati Roy has compiled a collection of essays and speeches on poverty, war and globalisation. She attacks the structures of society that keep people poor and hungry in an unrelenting critique of hypocrisy, capitalism and neo-liberalism. Beautifully written this book is full of the shocking stories that governments and corporations would rather you never knew.

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