The runaway success of Jeremy Corbyn’s bid for the Labour leadership is focusing the attention of the left on the Labour Party's history and prospects in a way not seen for a generation. John Rees provides a guide to essential reading
1Parliamentary Socialism (Merlin) by Ralph Miliband. The definitive account of why Labour has never been able to deliver socialism through Parliament written by the Marxist father of the two Miliband brothers. Their political careers are a practical proof of why Dad was right. Taken together with Ralph's The State in Capitalist Society these books will illustrate all the structural barriers still to be faced by any left reformist project, from Syriza to Corbyn led Labour Party.
2Left Wing Communism, an infantile disorder by Lenin. Contains Lenin's polemic with British socialists about why they should relate to the Labour Party and, at the same time, build an independent revolutionary organisation. Interesting to read now because at the time the young Communist Party was able to affiliate to Labour as an independent organisation - conditions approximated, no doubt temporarily, by the controversial supporters category today.
3The Labour Party, A Marxist History (Bookmarks) by Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein. A detailed look at the Labour Party's history by two revolutionary socialists. Even for sceptics the sheer horror of some of what Labour has got up to - from breaking strikes to secretly introducing nuclear weapons - is eye-popping.
4The Labour Movement in Britain (Historical Handbooks) by John Savile. A veteran of the Communist Party historians group, Saville left the party after the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956. Here he provides an unusually theoretically informed account of the British Labour movement and its relationship with the Labour Party.
5Keir Hardie: A Biography (Hutchinson) by Caroline Benn. Excellently written, this is a warts and all description of one of the great early leaders of the Labour Party. Tells you a great deal about the militancy of the movement that gave birth to the party, and how far it subsequently moved away from its first promise.
6A Very British Coup (Serpent's Tail) by Chris Mullin. Mullin was a follower of Tony Benn and a Labour MP in his own right. This novel, and the TV series based on it, is a fictional account of how the political establishment undermines a left-wing Labour prime minister. May become required reading if Jeremy Corbyn becomes Labour leader!
John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.