Birthday verse

The Verso Book of Dissent: From Spartacus to the Shoe Thrower of Baghdad, edited by Andrew Hsiao and Audrea Lim, reviewed by Jennie Bailey
March 2011

From the Greek riots to students demonstrating against tuition fees in the UK, from global activism against the Canadian tar sands to Irish protesters opposing the IMF bailout, 2010 was a good year for dissent. What better to celebrate the unashamedly leftist publisher Verso’s 40th birthday, then, than a book that attempts to chronicle nearly 4,000 years of fighting for what one believes in?

In an ambitious attempt to chronicle the people and movements that have significantly influenced the activists and left thinkers of today, the editors have laid out dissenters and dissenting organisations in clear sections that one can dip in and out of. However, while the structure of the book is sound, the 20th century accounts for the majority of entries and I found earlier eras lacking in detail. The inclusion of nearly four pages of The Communist Manifesto was also unnecessary, as the reader could have been sign-posted to this text.

There are controversial inclusions (Lenin and Valerie Solanas) and glaring omissions (Mary Wollstonecraft, Vandana Shiva and Milan Rai among others), although the authors do acknowledge the latter in the introduction to the book. The excerpts covering anonymous organisations such as the Weather Underground and the Acme Collective are enlightening, but it would be nice to see some environmental movements represented, such as the Landless Peasants Movement, and a nod to the mid-2000s anti-capitalist Dissent! activists.

This book should be read alongside similar texts, including The Vintage Book of Dissent edited by Michael Rosen and David Widgery – an essential introduction and a wonderful book – and We Are Everywhere by Notes from Nowhere. The Verso Book of Dissent is a more than welcome addition to the radical history canon and future editions should be anticipated enthusiastically. Dissent is not static; neither is history. Now, dear reader, out of your armchair and onto the streets!


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