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A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
New Directions 1958
Ferlinghetti’s San Francisco bookshop, City Lights, is my favourite bookshop in the world. Ferlinghetti was one of the major figures of beat culture and later associated with left libertarian politics and opposition to the gentrification of San Francisco. Some of his poems in A Coney Island of the Mind also have a political edge, though this is no didactic tract. Rather it gathers together fragments of America’s post-war reality and presents them in critical juxtaposition. Some pieces are written to accompany jazz and in rhythm seem to anticipate Gil-Scott Heron’s later proto hip-hop.
Live Working, Die Fighting by Paul Mason
Paul Mason really brings to life the history of workers’ struggle as he examines different episodes of it, from the 1871 Paris Commune to the experience of the Jewish workers’ Bund organisation in Poland. Alongside this, Mason draws parallels with 21st century struggles in the global south, allowing him not only to present a fascinating historical narrative, but to draw out of it key dilemmas which have informed the alternative strategies pursued by different parts of the international workers movement over time.
The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
Zone Books edition 1995
Many theoretical tracts lose relevance as history overtakes their insights, but in many ways this one seems more relevant today than when it was written in the 60s. Less self-indulgent than other situationist writing, its not an easy read, but some of its insights into mass consumer society are crucial.
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
I’ve yet to come across anyone who’s read this book and didn’t like it. Definitely Atwood’s best novel, it utilises both a common theme of hers, that of people trapped by their circumstances, and her talent for verisimilitude. The result is a book that does what truly great novels can – engross you so thoroughly that you use every spare moment to carry on reading.
The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes
Thames and Hudson second edition 1991
This is the classic account of modernism in visual art in the 20th Century and should be read in conjunction with regular trips to the Tate Modern. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually managed to get through all of the copious text, interesting though it is, but the book is worth owning just for the colour prints. From impressionism to expressionism, dada to pop art, the historical context of artistic movements shines through, helping not just to explain art through history, but history through art too.
The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge
New York Review of Books new edition 2004
Though Serge was essentially an anarchist, when he arrived in Russia in 1919 he joined the Bolshevik party to support the revolution. His ended up exiled to Siberia for his opposition to Stalinism, eventually escaping the country but to great personal cost. This novel, set in 1930s Europe stands out as an illumination the Soviet dictatorship and its foreign policy as great as Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.
Detroit, I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin
St Martin’s Press 1975
US history is full of exciting revolutionary moments you never hear about, and 1968-72 in Detroit was one of them. This is the definitive account of revolutionary unionism amongst the mainly black workforce in Detroit’s massive car industry. Far more than the ‘counterculture’ which was at least partly absorbed into neoliberal consumer culture, this was a movement which really scared the US establishment and which, along with the rest of the radical black liberation movement had to be definitively defeated.
Christopher and His Kind by Christopher Isherwood
University of Minnesota Press edition 2001
Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin is well known, not least because it eventually became the basis for the film Cabaret. Yet the ‘Christopher’ character is that novel is only loosely based on Isherwood. By 1976 the gay liberation movement had happened and Isherwood felt able to write this properly autobiographical account of his life between 1929 and 1939, covering not just his time in Berlin but his subsequent journey around pre-war Europe and attempts to rescue his German lover Heinz from the Nazis. It’s a fascinating and intimate account.
James O’Nions’ selections can be purchased here.
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We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright