The other day I had a meeting here in Shanghai with a visiting private equity type from America. He was extremely young in a sort of faux-donnish style and extremely right wing which made the non-essential chit-chat rather gruesome. As we parted he gave me a gift – a copy of Ann Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. He assured me that this was helping him through the current hard economic times when he felt his basic values might be challenged by such outrageous hard line socialists as Obama. I was naturally graceful in acceptance though having read it many years ago knew how distasteful I personally found the book and its message. Ho, hum.
Anyway, that got me wondering what classics we should be digging out and then by complete accident (serendipity I guess you’d call it) I came across The Independent’s feature - Black and white and red all over: Left-wing reads.
I’ll assume their first choice – Mao’s Little Red Book – was a joke
Then we get:
2) Robert Tressell’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists from 1910 which I agree is a timeless classic – it’s been 20 years since I read it so that might be a good one to re-read
3) Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth from 1961 – ashamed to say have never read
4) Emma Goldman’s Living my Life from 1931 – a great read and reminds us there’s historically been more choice in American politics than the risible differences between Bush and Obama
5) Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex from 1949 – which I personally remember as a bit of a slog
6) Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath from 1939 – which I’m sure reads today as well as the first time I read it as a teenager
7) Gramsci‘s Prison Notebooks from 1929-35 – which I confess to occasionally still dipping into to keep on track
8) Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole from 1932 - which remains a classic British novel though rarely read I fear these days
9) Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? From 1862 – which I did read ages ago but none has remained in my mind sadly
10) Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness from1928 – never read, sorry
11) Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front from 1928 – which dad made us all read as kids to learn to hate war – it worked!
12) Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle from 1906 – which, talking of my dad, is his favourite book and which made a huge impression on me as a kid
13) Zola’s Germinal from 1885 – but then anything from Zola including especially I think La Bete Humaine would do
14) Marx’s Capital from 1867 – still original and best
15) Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England from 1845 – which I re-read recently over a long weekend in Manchester and is still great (there’s also an apparently an excellent new biography of Engels out too)
16) Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women from 1792 – of course
17) Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s A New Civilisation from 1935 – questionable this one – important at the time certainly; the social engineering and USSR admiration comes over a little trite now though
18) Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia from 1938 – which is of course (as is everything) great and Orwell a God but if it was my list…as a socialist classic Road to Wigan Pier or Down and Out in London and Paris would win out
19) CLR James’ The Black Jacobins from 1938 – a classic from a great man – a socialist who loved cricket – now that’s who should run the world!
20) Rosa Luxemburg’s The Junius Pamphlet from 1916 – fascinating but I’m over by teenage crush on Rosa these days
A very interesting list and only a few I’d add:
Jon Don Passos’ USA – which make a mark on me as a lad
Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying
Rudolf Rocker’s Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism
Anything by Tony Negri
And probably a few others that’ll come back to me as soon as I’ve posted this!