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.
1 The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold – Tariq Ali
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 that 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.
2 Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation – Cate Malek and Mateo Hoke
Whenever Israel launches one of its murderous military assaults on the Palestinian occupied territories, it is never long before protests erupt on the streets of Britain, increasing in size and anger as the assaults become ever more deadly and indiscriminate. What is lacking is a day-to-day broad-based solidarity movement rooted in local communities with a popular cultural dimension on the kind of scale the Anti-Apartheid Movement achieved at its height.
This book could almost serve as a script to start a conversation on how to make this happen. Shorn of the leftist rhetoric that has narrowed the base of support for Palestine, it instead allows the Palestinians to speak for themselves, and what a testament of suffering, resistance, hope this provides.
3 The Richer The Poorer: How Britain Enriched the Few and Failed the Poor – Stewart Lansley
This book is described as a ‘200 year history’ though much of the book is concerned with firstly the post-war settlement and from 1979 onwards its subsequent deconstruction at the hands of neoliberalism. This is an account of the persistence of gross inequality that no government has adequately tackled and most haven’t even bothered to in the belief that ‘trickle down’ will suffice. As Stewart establishes, definitively, it won’t.
4 Overtime: Why We Need a Shorter Working Week – Will Stronge and Kyle Lewis
A four-day week, or if we prefer a three-day weekend: who in their right minds wouldn’t vote for this? The fear of course is that in the hands of employers a shorter working week will simply lead to harder work for less money and ever-increasing casualization. Will Stronge and Kyle Lewis provide a campaigning manifesto for this potentially hugely popular and life-changing policy, minus the pitfalls.
5 Socialist Explainers: Short Answers to Big Questions – Elaine Graham-Leigh
This is 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 is explained before the joys of how it can be replaced by socialism. Admirably brief and to the point, it 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?
6 Alienation Spectacle & Revolution: A Critical Marxist Essay – Neil Faulkner
Another short book: the ideas however brim over to such an extent that a single Christmastime sitting’s reading is likely to leave the reader reeling with more questions than answers. This is a strength, not a weakness.
Neil Faulkner has come up with a highly original argument which skewers the very obvious failings of the latest phase of capitalist development, while not excusing the mainstream left’s inability to understand the systemic cause of the failings, let alone reverse them. There is no necessity to endorse the entirety of Neil’s argument to recognise he has a well-made point.
7 The European Radical Left: Movements and Parties Since the 1960s – Giorgos Charalambous
The parochialism of the English (I use the term advisedly) left has for a long period shut it off from both theoretical debates and practical politics across Europe. There, debates are more obviously rooted in Marxism, often with a strong Communist Party; they are as much cultural as political, drawing on vibrantly militant social movements and trade unions. All this, and more, even a cursory engagement with Europe’s left will reveal. As a starting point, this book is anything but cursory yet for those new to the subject rich in insight and sure to provoke an inclination to find out more.
8 Radical Left in Diversity: Europe’s Left 2010-2020 – Amieke Bourma, Cornelia Hildebrandt and Danai Koltsida
This is the perfect companion volume to The European Radical Left, combining a focus on the peak years of Syriza, Podemos and Die Linke, with a comprehensive and detailed chapter-by-chapter, country-by-country account of the differing experiences of similar parties across Europe. Our rotten electoral system may preclude the emergence of anything like this here but this doesn’t mean, especially post-Corbyn, an audience and political space has been extinguished.
Of course there should be no borders, actually existing or of the imagination, in terms of where we source our inspiration. For such, look no further than this awe-inspiring book, revealing for the first time the previously secret story of the internationalists who carried out all manner of heroic missions to help bring down apartheid South Africa.
10 New Polarizations Old Contradictions -Socialist Register 2022
Save this one for the New Year: it will be well worth the wait. Socialist Register was founded in 1964 by Ralph Miliband and John Saville , a product of the New Left, carried forward principally by Leo Panitch into the 2000s and now by his fellow editors Greg Albo and Colin Leys. The annual Socialist Register is testament to a past, present and future Left. The 2022 edition won’t disappoint: the endurance of Trumpite populism in the USA, an anti-capitalist critique of social media and learning the lessons of the Corbyn Project are amongst the highlights, and there’s plenty more too, ideas for setting the New Year up angrily-nicely.
A twice-yearly journal of left political and cultural history, packed with lessons to be learnt from the past, messages of hope for a better future. The latest edition ranges over the decline and fall of the British Communist Party, the lasting significance of Gramsci’s prison notebooks and the two Irish wives of Friedrich Engels. If that little lot is enough to interest and intrigue, subscribe for the two 2022 editions.
Once it was the Big Red Diary from Pluto Press which was pretty much a must-have for a certain part of the 1980s’ 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. Illustrations and historical timelines 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.
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