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.
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Yasmin Gunaratnam reflects on John Berger’s gut solidarity with the stranger
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Siobhán McGuirk says the question we are too afraid to ask is simple - what kind of society leads to Donald Trump as President?
The battle lines are clear. Democracy is in peril and the left must take itself seriously electorally and politically. Ruth Potts speaks to Gary Younge, who was based in Muncie, Indiana, for the US election, about the implications of Donald Trump’s victory
We need a society built on openness, community and equality to truly defeat everything that trump stands for, writes Nick Dearden.
Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen
Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving
Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
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Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
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Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
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Utopia: Daring to dream
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Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK
A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank
News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions
Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release
Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts
‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette
The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.
How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op
Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU
Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity
Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson
Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release
University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.
Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.
Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History
Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.
A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas
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From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
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The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
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The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.
Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.
Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism
What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry