Star critics on the reads that have impressed them this year
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) the notorious trade deal being negotiated between the US and Europe will, if implemented, be the greatest transfer of power to big business for a generation.
The right of huge private companies to sue governments into bankruptcy for policies that have an impact on projected profits will undermine democracy across the continent. TTIP must be stopped and that’s why my 2014 list is topped by John Hilary’s short tract The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, published by War on Want to inform and support its anti-TTIP campaign.
It has been reprinted twice since it came out in February due to overwhelming demand and has been translated into eight languages. It is a must for anyone involved in taking this struggle forward.
Telling the truth about the first world war in the face of a 12-month barrage of jingoism has been a key priority in this, the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the horrific imperialist conflict.
Two booklets which have provided the resources to do just that are Neil Faulkner’s No Glory: The Real History of the First World War published by Stop the War Coalition and John Ellison’s The First World War 1914-18: Causes, Consequences and the Struggle Against It in the Communist Party’s new Our History series.
Hopefully concise material of equal accessibility and quality will be published about fascism and its defeat as we move into 2015 and the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war, with the tsunamis of mass media lies that this will undoubtedly engender.
Incidentally, were I awarding a cover of the year prize, it would go to Neil Faulkner’s booklet with its striking image by war artist John Nash.
From India to Palestine: Essays in Solidarity is published by LeftWord Books, based in New Delhi. Edited by novelist and academic Githa Hariharan on behalf of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in India (PSCI), the work contains 14 essays on India and Palestine-Israel.
It is a rich source of perspectives on the Palestinian people and their struggle, reflecting India’s historical involvement with Palestine and Israel and the campaign of solidarity conducted in the spirit of genuine internationalism in the face of the New Delhi government’s increasingly close relationship with Israel.
It sheds light on the issue of Palestine from a stance other than the western and there is much that we can learn from it.
My final choice is Maria Fyfe’s A Problem Like Maria: A Woman’s-eye View of Life as an MP, published by Luath Press.
Women are desperately under-represented in Westminster, so it’s good to hear from one attempting to “tell it like it is.”
The author, first elected in 1987, spent 14 years as a Labour MP, and she provides exactly what the title indicates.
The result is an informative, engrossing and refreshing read.
The year has been one of relentless WWI jingoism and I was delighted with Not Our War: Writings Against the First World War edited by AW Zurbrugg (Merlin Press) as an antidote.
It showed that there were strong voices who opposed militarism and the war and that the quarrel was not between working men of other countries but with capitalists and capitalism.
But my book of the year is The Darkest Days: The Truth Behind Britain’s Rush to War, 1914 by Douglas Newton (Verso).
Here is definitive proof that WWI was no national historical triumph. In the words of the author, it was “a common European tragedy — a filthy, disgusting and hideous episode of industrialised killing … It was unredeemed by victory. The uplifting element of the story lies in the struggle to avert it.”
To war in another era, and Regards Croises Sur la Bretagne et le Pays de Galles/Cross-Cultural Essays on Wales and Brittany, published jointly by the centres for Celtic Studies at Aberystwyth and Brest Universities, with some essays published in French and others in English.
Of particular interest are Barry J Lewis’s piece on Guto’r Glyn, a professional Welsh poet who fought on the English side in the hundred years’ war and whose work gives a first-hand account of attitudes to war and the social values of the time, while Cathryn Charnell-White charts the influence of climate in stirring up revolutions and Anne Hellegouarc’h explores the psychological traumas of language loss in Brittany.
During the year I discovered The Spokesman, the quarterly journal of the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. It’s rare for me to read every article in any publication but its May issue provided an excellent and detailed background to the troubles in eastern Ukraine.
There’s an article by Ian Fairlie on Britain’s disjointed energy sector with particular reference to the nuclear problem, pieces on Greece, Jeremy Corbyn discussing the problems of Nato and other contributions by Moazzam Begg, Bruce Kent, John Pilger and Tony Benn. A new year’s resolution? To send my subscription off in the post.
David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (Profile Books) was unjustly overshadowed in the 2014 political economy stakes by Thomas Piketty’s celebrated Capital in the 21st Century.
While Piketty mastered a mass of data to make the unarguably useful point that capitalism generates rising inequality Harvey’s book, which takes us to the heart of the contradictions capitalism is generating today, is far more profound.
Some will be familiar to any student of Marxism, others — particularly in the sphere of technology, geography, ecology and alienation — are tributes to Harvey’s originality and capacity for integrating different disciplines into a dialectical anti-capitalist unity.
My only beef is that Harvey omits capitalism’s predilection for generating wars from his survey of its contemporary crisis-wracked progress. That aside, his book nudges towards revolutionary conclusions, whereas Piketty’s is the toast of well-intentioned reformists.
As a runner-up, A People’s History of the French Revolution (Verso) by Eric Hazan is an overdue effort to rehabilitate Robespierre (left) and the revolutionary terror when the historiography of the French revolution is mostly moving in other directions. A tiresome anti-Stalinism is the only drawback in a book which recovers the revolutionary dynamics of the time.
Although it wasn’t published this year, David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years (Melville House) is now available in paperback and is a hugely stimulating anthropological challenge to political economy, raising new questions for Marxists but firmly urging an alternative to the anti-human nature of our present economic relationships. Money, he reminds us, is first of all an act of social violence.
All three books contribute, in different ways, to the development of revolutionary thinking and the recovery of revolutionary history.
Sarah Waters’s The Paying Guests passes the acid test as a book of the year.
Very well-written, if over-long, it’s set in 1922 and has a post-war aura of family loss, betrayed hope and destitute ex-soldiers.
In a large, genteel and run-down Camberwell house, an impoverished and inert middle-class woman lives with her young daughter Frances who, shut off from her early Suffragette past, cooks and cleans.
They take in lodgers, a young couple of the “clerk class,” and as social barriers gradually fall, sexual tension is built up skilfully to the consummation of passionate lesbian love, followed by murder and a trial. Gripping.
People sometimes say: “We won the war,” without saying who “we” were and that impelled me to read again Alexander Werth’s classic Russia At War.
He gives many quotations from war leaders, including Churchill’s warm message of friendship and alliance with the Soviet Union and Stalin’s rallying speech to the Soviet people in the summer of 1941. The reasons he advances for the military disasters of that year include the 1937 purges in the Red Army and the propaganda about its invincibility.
There are vivid impressions of the Battle of Moscow, the appalling famine in Leningrad and the transportation of over 1,300 industrial enterprises east to the Urals.
The fightback at terrible cost was heroism at its most extreme. Two-thirds of the vast territory occupied by the Germans in 1941-2 had been liberated by the end of 1943. The Russians welcomed the second front in Europe in 1944 and drove the enemy from their country before their assault on Germany leading to Berlin and the allied victory in Europe. Worth the re-read.
The Politics of Climate Change by Paul Harris warns of the approach of the adverse effects of the change much sooner than once expected.
He sees the greatest hope for new international leadership coming from China which, with the US, is one of the two chief polluters globally.
The material consumption of people is the main force behind the change, Harris contends, and he approves criticism of corporate interests, whose objective is to generate profit by encouraging worship of novelty and sophisticated advertising.
Yet he avoids the conclusion that the replacement of corporate interests by democratic control of the economy is the logical path towards saving the environment and ourselves.