To celebrate International Workers' Day, Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books for all our May days
Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! The traditional distress call when things are on the verge of going hopelessly wrong. Come the morning of 7 May, the Scottish, Welsh polls, Hartlepool by-election, various mayoral votes and numerous local election votes will have been counted from the day before and it will be either Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer, possibly both, who will be calling for help as the losses pile up.
The Dignity of Labour the debut book from one of Labour’s brightest thinkers, the MP Jon Cruddas will surely be a key text for any post-election debrief. Rather unfairly presented as the ‘old’ versus all the new, bright, young radical thinking on Labour’s rather fraying left fringe, instead this book adds a perspective rooted in workplace culture and organising which complements rather than contradicts Jon’s new generation peers. In the post-Corbyn Starmer era, such is the kind of axis around which ideas and initiatives can prosper. Fortunately this book provides both in abundance to get us going. What a great way to start a month’s worth of reading.
On 7 May, much attention will be paid to Labour’s polling in the so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, is the loss of Labour’s traditional core vote a product of geography, class, politics? Or a mixture of all three? Tom Hazeldine’s The Northern Question goes in search of some answers within the parameters of what he describes as a ‘divided country’, a division produced out of a political class’s decision to prioritise financialisation over production, London and the south-east over the north. A historical travelogue not for the politically faint-hearted.
Irreversible? In these May days it might sometimes seem like this. In Paint your Town Red, Matthew Brown and Rhian E.Jones serve to fire up the spirit of hope with the story of how Preston - where Matthew is the Labour council leader - managed to reverse decades of privatisation, outsourcing, the ghost towning of High Street shopping, via a highly localised socialism. Together they both tell Preston’s story but crucially how other towns and cities, north, and south, could adapt the lessons to their own circumstances, if the political will is there to do so.
An invaluable source for such will is the posthumously published Robin Murray: Selected Writings, skilfully edited by Michael Rustin. Robin was that rare thing in an economist, macro in vision, micro in practical application, able to communicate both to the studiously non-economist in a manner that informed and inspired. Much missed, this collection ranges over Robin’s key essays and a wonderful variety of lesser known ones. If May Days fade to grey, this is a book to brighten the soul.
Two dominant themes of the past five years or so have been populism and pasokification. The first, shaping a bloc of support that goes beyond traditional political loyalties, has primarily been identified with the right, Trump, Farage/Johnson for example. The latter, with the left, traditional social democratic parties in headlong decline as they suffer huge losses not only to this populist right but also to smaller radical parties shaving off support on their left flank too. Left Populism in Europe by Marina Prentoulis is a very welcome argument that these are not simply binary oppositions. That in their different ways, a Corbynist Labour Party, Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, were most successful when they were a synthesis of both a left version of populism and a radicalisation of social-democracy. And the differing rates of failure of all three, Corbyn, Syriza and Podemos is due to not successfully combining the two. A book to expand our horizons beyond Britain across the European Left.
Mark Fisher was a writer who single-handedly expanded the intellectual horizons of an entire new generation of left thinkers. The collection, edited by Matt Colquhoun, Post Capitalist Desire consists of his final lectures and provides a real insight into his contribution, and our loss. Ranging over capitalism, revolution, consciousness and Marxism, the themes may seem familiar yet Mark’s approach, and explanation, was entirely original which shines through on every page of this magnificent, if tragic, epitaph of a book.
Edited by Des Freedman Capitalism’s Conscience isn’t quite a funeral notice on the occasion of the Guardian’s 200th anniversary, though not far short. Never mind the technological, cultural and economic challenges to all versions, but particularly newspapers, of ‘legacy media’. The argument of the contributors, across a diverse range of themes is that the daily house journal of the liberal left has simply failed to keep up with how those two labels, liberal ideals combined with left-wing politics, have changed. Only the most dogged defender of the paper would disagree but for many of us we cannot resist it as a daily read, a reference point for our agreement, and disagreement, though whether that will be enough to sustain the paper, and for how long, who knows?
At its best, the Guardian remains peerless as an investigative and campaigning newspaper. This has absolutely been the case throughout the pandemic, day after day, edition after edition, revealing the truly horrific threat of a deadly disease, exposing the lethal and corrupt incompetence of the Tory government’s handling of the crisis, offering positively radical routes towards a post-pandemic politics. All very necessary and most welcome, yet it is Many Different Kinds of Love by poet, author, Guardian contributor Michael Rosen that best mixes the inevitable, and essential, combination of the personal, and the political as finally, hopefully, we escape from the immediacy of the disease to engage with what comes next. In Michael’s inimitable style, a book that is moving, funny, angry and idealistic.
Part of what comes next, or at least should come next, must be a renewed commitment by both governments and social movements to reverse the climate emergency. However bad the scale of the Coronavirus crisis, to be brutal, it pales into insignificance compared to the pain, suffering and deaths the climate crisis threatens to inflict, worldwide. What is encouraging however is the breadth of informed concern and dedicated desire for change this is provoking. A measure of this is the Teen Vogue collection No Planet B, edited by the magazine’s politics editor Lucy Diavolo. No, this is not a misprint, the teenage edition of Vogue has a politics editor and has filled a book with chapters on the climate emergency, almost all written by young women aged 10-25 years, chapters that make the connections between the environment, migration and inequality with an imperative for action that prime minsters and party leaders, almost all male, aged 50-65 years, could well do with reading. A book from a new generation for readers of all ages.
And my number one pick of ten books for a May days read? Jeremy Gilbert’s Twenty-First Century Socialism. A short read, almost a manifesto, for the ambitious can be dusted off in one May day to leave the remaining thirty, having interpreted the world, to change it. The meaning of capitalism, the promise of socialism, the ideas for a programme of transformational politics and a strategy for how to achieve them. If books in the right hands really are weapons, this one’s thermonuclear.
Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction, aka Philosophy Football.
Before you go...we need your help
Mark Perryman is a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. Co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football, he has also edited numerous books on the politics of the Left. The latest is Corbynism from Below and is published by Lawrence & Wishart, available to order from here.