Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The Road to Wigan Pier
First published 1937
It’s mostly remembered as a classic account of the northern working class in the 1930s, but it had a major impact on me for two other reasons. Orwell ferociously scrutinises the prejudices of his own class, reminding us how the absurdities of the class system are, so often, sustained by fear and hate. ‘A middle-class child is taught almost simultaneously to wash his neck, to be ready to die for his country, and to despise the “lower classes”,’ as he wonderfully puts it. And he looks at how socialists fail to win over working-class people because of a failure to communicate clearly, revelling in their own eccentricities and avoiding bread-and-butter issues. Something for us to think about, no?
Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World
British commentators rightly assail other countries for failing to come to terms with the barbarism of their past, like Turkey’s denial of the Armenian genocide. But Britain has yet to even begin acknowledging the crimes it committed in the dark days of empire. Davis reveals how a fatal combination of the El Niño weather phenomenon, imperialism and laissez-faire dogma led to the deaths of tens of millions of people across what we now know as the ‘third world’. It is still a national myth that British imperialism was somehow more humane than elsewhere, but this book reveals otherwise.
Brother in the Land
Robert E Swindells
Oxford University Press (1984)
If you want to guarantee your child is committed to nuclear disarmament for life, this book is your best shot. I was nine when I read this story of a boy growing up in post‑apocalyptic northern England, and frankly it had a devastating impact on me. It might be a children’s book, but it doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the bomb: it is totally uncompromising and lacking in sentimentality as it looks at a civilization in meltdown.
The Working-Class Majority
Levison punctured the then-hegemonic idea of ‘affluence’, and the widespread myth that the American working class had vanished. But this was also an assault on the new type of liberalism that had emerged in the 1960s, and he particularly directs his fire on liberals’ dismissal of workers as reactionary ‘hard-hats’. Levison argued that the Democrats no longer appealed to working-class America, leaving many of them to defect to the welcoming arms of a new populist right. It was a lesson that needed to be learned then but it’s even more relevant today.
King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism
Africa still suffers dearly from the legacy of imperialism. I’d bet that few today have even heard of King Leopold of Belgium, but Hochschild unmasks him as one of the great tyrants of human history. After conquering the Congo in the late 19th century, Leopold’s forces raped the country of its rubber, copper and other natural resources. In the process, up to 10 million people – half the population – perished. Imperialism has never been held to account for the crimes it committed in this period. Thankfully we have the likes of Hochschild to keep reminding us.
The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
First published 1848
It has become almost a cliché for right-wing commentators in the past few years to ask: ‘Maybe Marx was right?’ To the surprise of first-time readers, Marx and Engels almost eulogise the revolutionary role capitalism once played, arguing it ‘has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals’. But above all, there is something strikingly prophetic about their manifesto: it very accurately describes the forces of capitalist globalisation we see today. Capitalism has changed a lot since 1848, but the foundations of any understanding of the system we still – tragically – live under begins here.
The Making of the English
E P Thompson
First published 1963
Thompson was determined to stop the working class being seen as a static, homogenous, inhuman bloc, including by the left. Instead, he saw class as a process, looking at how working-class identity emerged as bonds of solidarity, forged in opposition to ‘other men whose interests are different (and usually opposed to) theirs’. The sheer humanity of this book shows how creative Marxism can be, in contrast to the turgid, stale way it has often been applied.
Homage to Catalonia
First published 1938
I don’t think I get more emotional reading about any historical episode than the Spanish civil war. Orwell brings it alive with his unique honesty: the boredom, the heroism, the dirt, the occasional amateurishness, and of course the betrayal. A chilling reminder of the shadow cast by Stalinism over the left in the 20th century.
Owen Jones is the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, which will be published in June by Verso. www.owenjones.org
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now argues that after years of colonial domination and dodgy trade deals, the UK must make amends and support Zimbabwe in this uncertain time.
Last month's mass far right demonstration can be linked to a toxic mix of government tolerance of fascism and neoliberalism on steroids. Ewa Jasiewicz investigates.
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
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