Preparing for the season of goodwill, Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman selects books to tide us over into the New Year, and beyond
Apart from bah humbug miserabilists those of all faiths and none manage to find Christmas a time to give, and to receive. With this in mind, here are twelve books for the twelve days of Christmas. However to get them all read by the time Twelfth Night is out will most likely leave the reader intellectually exhausted so a slower pace towards an early Spring is advised for all but the most committed readers.
1Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Modern Britain, Phil Burton-Cartledge (Verso 2021)
In the 1980s it sometimes seemed all the Left ever talked about, debated, and for the most part argued over, was ‘Thatcherism’, especially the analysis of such pioneered by Stuart Hall and others in the pages of Marxism Today. Thatcher’s three consecutive victories had a habit of focusing defeated Labour minds - ‘Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out! Out! Out!’ clearly wasn’t enough.
A generation on and Cameron, May and Johnson have managed between them to chalk another foursome at Labour’s expense yet never sparked the kind of understanding and rethinking their more illustrious predecessor did. Phil Burton-Cartledge offers a powerful ideological response to this omission, though whether the decline of ‘Tory Britain’ translates into the Tories’ defeat at the polls who knows? 2022 will provide a route map toward the likelihood of that possibility.
2Veteranhood: Rage and Hope in British Ex-Military Life, Joe Glenton (Repeater 2021)
More than I care to remember, the high point of Thatcherism was framed by her 1982 Falklands misadventure. No doubt next year Johnson will come out all guns blazing to misuse the 20th anniversary for any electoral gains he can muster. Likewise it was Iraq that framed Blair’s decline to the extraordinary point of being re-elected Prime Minister in ’05 on the lowest share of the vote, 35.2%, of any British government.
Both episodes quite rightly generated huge popular goodwill towards the veterans of these wars. Yet this goodwill, often mobilised in the cause of all manner of politics, scarcely understands what author, and former soldier, Joe Glenton calls ‘veteranhood’. In turns angry and informed, this is a book that seeks a settlement entirely different from the mawkish ‘help for heroes’ variety.
3The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, Tariq Ali (Verso 2021)
The undignified retreat of US, British and other forces from Afghanistan was undoubtedly one of the global news stories of the year. The crushing defeat of a client state at the hands of an insurgency which, whether we like it or not, clearly enjoyed popular support has left a human mess the occupying powers had nothing resembling the will to clear up with anything much more than pitifully piecemeal efforts.
Tariq Ali’s mix of the polemical and the analytical on this most wasteful of conflicts are collected together in one handy volume to provide a much-needed wake up call for those who reminisce for the era of militarised liberal interventionism without accounting for the ever-worsening bloody mess it contributed to.
4This Can’t be Happening, George Monbiot (Penguin 2021)
If the horrors of 9/11and their aftermath dominated most of the 2000’s, and this year’s helpless retreat of the occupying powers as its client state collapsed in Afghanistan represents some kind of undignified endpoint, what’s next? George Monbiot offers a brief, and to the point, case for the climate emergency.
Few would argue with George’s choice but what makes his writing both urgently necessary and political astute is his combination of the factually investigative with the politically speculative. George not only catalogues the sheer size of the environmental disaster awaiting the next generation’s coming of age but crucially the potential for constructing the kind of alternative to moderate, if not eliminate, this cataclysmic threat.
5Woke Capitalism: How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy, Carl Rhodes (Bristol University Press 2021)
Such is the size of this fast-approaching environmental disaster that apart from the 21st-century version of flat-earthers, there is no serious effort to deny it. Yet incorporation of opposition and obfuscation of the facts on an industrial scale can be nearly as bad. ‘Greenwashing’, or as Carl Rhodes rather brilliantly puts it ‘woke capitalism’. His book provides just the kind of rigorous exposure of such antics corporations employ entire PR departments to avoid and never mind the costs.
6Work Without the Worker: Labour in the Age of Platform Capitalism, Phil Jones (Verso 2021)
The ‘dignity of Labour’ vs ‘post-work’ debate can at times be vexatious with a strongly generational, inflection. That’s as ideological maybe, but doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having the argument. The clue to why this is important is in the name, y’know the Labour party. Readers don’t need to endorse each and every one of author Phil Jones’s conclusions to appreciate his five chapter themes in this admirably short n’ punchy book as the perfect jumping-off point for making such an argument productive (sic).
7Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, Lea Ypi (Penguin 2021)
The accusation of ‘idealism’ at the expense of ‘practical politics’ is of course a familiar one. The necessity for both is effortlessly chronicled in Lee Ypi’s autobiographical account of growing up in first staunchly Communist, then post-Communist, Albania. Her tale is both deeply and affectively personal and at the same time unapologetically political. It is a combination that makes Lia’s book a wonderfully essential read.
8Daring to Hope: My Life in the 1970s, Sheila Rowbotham (Verso 2021)
If there is one author and activist identified more than any other with the principle ‘the personal is political’, it is Sheila Rowbotham. Sheila’s follow up to her memoir of the 1960s, Promise of a Dream carries her personal, and political story forward to 1970s second wave feminism, the uneasy relationship of the women’s liberation movement with socialism and the enduring radical, potential, of building from the grassroots up. Informative and inspirational, so much so it is liable to make the reader impatient to read what happens next, the Thatcherite 1980s.
9The Art of Activism, Steve Duncombe and Steve Lambert (OR Books 2021)
Steve Duncombe is the author of one of my favourite books on the very necessary fusion of politics and culture, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. First published in 2007, and recently republished in a most welcome new and updated edition. This new book, co-authored with Steve Lambert is a how-to guide to practicing what they describe as ‘artistic activism’.
Lavishly illustrated the text mixes ideas on how to ‘do’ politics with creative application to change the ‘look’ of politics too. Neither have the imprint of a corporate makeover, this is a process from below. Please, please, please would the US-based authors come to the UK to run a training event?
10Mixed Forms of Visual Culture, Mary Anne Francis (Bloomsbury 2021)
Mixed forms, the everyday in the hands of the artist transformed to achieve, project, provoke an entirely different response to the one utility had intended. This apparently complex concept made sense to me as I think of my co-founder Hugh Tisdale's beautifully crafted Philosophy Football designs not as T-shirts, but as using the T-shirt as a platform for ideas. None of this is to suggest reviving the dire cultural reductionism of prolecult, rather art as transformative by means and purpose. These apparently complex yet applicable ideas for a political culture often lacking in an imaginative and engaging visual culture are ready made for a next generation left for whom culture is a key terrain over which ideologies are contested.
The book is beautifully packaged too, but priced out of anyone’s bracket for the lucrative library market. And so a different plea on behalf of this truly revelatory book. No criticism of the publisher, that’s their business, but a popular, competitively-priced edition is surely deserved, there’s a readership for this, much-needed influence to be made too.
11Socialist Explainers: Short Answers to Big Questions, Elaine Graham-Leigh (Counterfire 2021)
An edited collection of sharply written summaries which begins with the need for a theory of socialism before outlining the ‘socialist basics’. What is capitalism follows before the joys of how it can be replaced by socialism. Admirably brief, and to the point, can be read in one sitting between the festivities to fire up the commitment to make such a change more of a reality in 2022 than in 2021, which let’s face it, isn’t asking much is it?
Once it was the Big Red Diary from Pluto Press which was pretty much a must-have for a certain part of the 1980s’s outside left. In recent years Verso have produced a ready-made 21st century version and this year’s, now with accompanying and very stylish notebook, most certainly doesn’t disappoint. lllustrations and an historical timeline spice up each week’s entries with short essays opening each month too. Rush to the keyboard and order one before 2022 is upon us.
Before you go...
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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.