Monday, 22 September 2008

Read this!

There's been some great lefty books written recently and I thought I would share three of them that I've read in the last year and enjoyed. 

The first of these is Live Working, Die Fighting by Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason. This is a fascinating book. Paul tells the history of the early labour movement through particular episodes such as the Peterloo massacre to the Jewish workers union (the Bund) in pre-war Poland. As a journalist he clearly understands how not to bore people to death, but unlike most journalists he actually sets out to educate rather than recapitulate old truisms. 

One of the ways he does this is to draw parallels with events in the early labour movement, and the struggles of workers in today's global South. These parallels serve to illustrate problems of organising for workers rights and social change that echo down the ages - like whether co-operatives are the basis of a different society or a diversion from more important aims.

Refreshingly, Paul comes at his subject with no obvious agenda, though I'd guess that if his book managed to educate today's global justice activists about the importance of workers' struggles whilst reminding trade unionists of their radical roots, he'd be satisfied.

My second book is The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. Her central thesis is that since the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s, extreme free market ideologues have sought to use a period of societal 'shock' to rapidly impose free market reforms which would have met massive opposition at other times. In the main I find this persuasive, and even if she's over-egged the pudding in places this is a fine exposition of just how nasty neoliberals (and their corresponding 'ism') are which old-hand lefties may know, but a new generation needs to learn.

And to give her her due, there are big bits of this book which she completely pioneered the examination of in newspaper articles during the last few years - the 'corporate invasion' of Iraq for instance, and what she calls 'disaster capitalism' in the wake of natural disasters. For this reason, the last chapters are some of the best (the book is organised chronologically) so even if you're finding the book a little too long, do persevere.

Finally, complete with a recommendation from Naomi Klein, is Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved. The politics of food is a hot topic at the moment, what with the food crisis, the rise of organic agriculture and climate change. When better, then, to read a backgrounder to the world food system written for a popular audience? I was reminded of Fast Food Nation at points, though with more anti-capitalism. Plus its got bits about movements of resistance to the corporate capture of our food so its not all doom and gloom.

I'd be interested to hear what other people think of these (in other words 'hello, is anyone actually reading this?')


Jim Jay said...

Hello, I've just bought Stuffed and Starved for a pound in a clearance sale - will let you know what I think once I've read it.

You'll be pleased to know I have now linked to your blog.

Nick said...

Hi James, will link to your blog too and should write more myself. I think Walden Bello's critique of Klein's excellent book is good - she does forget the role of local elites and also fails to highlight the problems with Keynesianism which gave neoliberalism the space to move and impose their pernicious agenda. Check it out if you haven't already on

Justin said...

My goodness... I wonder how long Paul will be allowed to keep his job in the upper echelons of the Bloody Bland Consensus.