Given the fact that the left is heavily populated by both the literary and the opinionated, there is no shortage of reading material. Joe Glenton comments on some of his recent favourites.
Having no shortage of reading material has a number of knock-on effects; not least, it leads to that terrible affliction known as consumerism. I have stacks of left-wing books, so many I may be forced read some of them. That said, they make me look intellectual and are useful as shelving.
As one who only recently fell into the gulf of socialism I have had to wade through a lot of shit to get nearer the promised land so I’ll try and pick out some landmark texts. The Maoist in me says too much choice is bad… and the Leninist in me responds with the question posed when faced with absolutely anything – be it potential capture by the secret police, an impending right-wing coup or last orders at the Students Union bar: WHAT IS TO BE DONE…?!
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Little introduction is required to one of the most famous calls-to-arms in literary history. The language is sometimes archaic, but the gist is clear and resonates now as we careen towards crisis. I have a nice one and a workaday one! Free to download.
Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton
Of all the leftist books I’ve waded through, Eagleton’s stands out. While I am conscious it has already been reviewed by Counterfire, I cannot help but be exhilarated. Eagleton, Marxist and literary critic, despatches with the most common arguments against Marxism. One by one, accusations of totalitarianism, utopianism, idealism and more, have their flanks exposed, pierced and shattered. Marx, as it turns out, was more distrustful of the State than the libertarian right, was a pessimist in the meaningful sense, planned to complete democracy not diminish it and, if alive today, would likely eschew excessive labour for stewy tea and a shared tent with Counterfire’s own Joshua Virisami at Occupy LSX.
The Meaning of Marxism by Paul D’amato
Although this book has a distinctly American bent to it, it has proved informative; Marxism, I have learnt, does not wait for visas or mope at border crossings. Broad in scope, it is one of a number of books I refer to again and again. Everything from Hegel to historical materialism to an explanation of the circumstances of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath is unpacked in short, sharp fashion.
The ABC of Socialism by John Rees
Rees’s book is clear, simple and direct. It was one of the first books handed to me when I asked for some entry level reading about this socialism malarkey. That was a year or so ago, I am avoiding the person I borrowed it from. Now that may be impossible, but I’ll run the risk to recommend it.
What is to be done? by Vladimir Lenin
As soon as you move past the fiction of Lenin as authoritarian you stumble into good pastures. It turns out he was a practical, driven revolutionary who wrote, thought and acted with precise economy. In this renowned pamphlet he addresses the question which confronted the Bolsheviks as it confronts us today: the blueprint for the revolutionary organisation. Here is a man who put a lot of emphasis on an analysis of the concrete and the current.
Strategy and Tactics by John Rees
Short and readable, setting out what, why and how. In many ways Strategy and Tactics is a What is to be done? updated for our current situation. The contemporary language, however, makes it more accessible. Known amongst Counterfire members as ‘Strategy and Tictacs’, it is critical and clear, yet minty fresh.
State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin
I have found this book very useful. The most brilliant analysis is often the most simple. Lenin’s argument of what the state is comes into its own at a time when we have actual events to hold up against it. The Arab Revolutions, the riots, the wars and the state's response to our resistance all hint at the state’s true nature. Because, in crises, when the state is reeling we see the bare mechanics of capitalism. We see the state is a public power ordained by the rulers to levy tax, we see it is both above and alienated, created to keep us in check and composed of special groups of armed lackeys as well as prisons, courts etc. All this, plus I used it to flatten my pleasant but centrist lecturer’s argument on the subject of ‘UK values’ and Cameron’s multiculturalist waffle. Lenin has words with bite.
Capitalism and Class Consciousness by Chris Nineham
This short book addresses the work of Hungarian revolutionary Georg Lukacs. It explains just how and why human consciousness accepts the ideas that capitalism ingrains. But, more importantly, it explains just when and why this manufactured set of ideas start to crumble, and how to steer the newly-awakened into mass action.
A World to Win by Tony Cliff
The autobiography of one of the revolutionaries of our time is worth revisiting again and again. A World to Win drifts between anecdotes, both funny and serious, to passages of enormous analytical clarity on everything from Left-zionism, state capitalism, the permanent arms economy and riot and repression, from the originator of a tradition.
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