2007 - 2022

Twelve Books

Preparing for the season of goodwill Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman selects books to tide us over into the New Year, and beyond.

Apart from bah humbug miserabilists those of all faiths and none manage to find Christmas a time to give, and to receive. With this in mind twelve books for the twelve days of Christmas, however to get them all read by the time Twelfth Night is out will most likely leave the reader intellectually exhausted so a slower pace towards an early Spring is advised for all but the most committed readers.

Falling Down : The Conservative Party and the Decline of Modern Britain Phil Burton-Cartledge   

In the 1980s it sometimes seemed all the Left ever talked about, debated, for the most part argued over was ‘Thatcherism’, especially the analysis of such pioneered by Stuart Hall and others in the pages of Marxism Today. Thatcher’s three consecutive victories had a habit of focusing defeated Labour minds, Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out! Out! Out!  Clearly wasn’t enough. A generation on and Cameron, May and Johnson have managed between them to chalk another foursome at Labour’s expense yet never sparked the kind of understanding and rethinking their more illustrious predecessor did. Phil Burton-Cartledge offers a powerful ideological response to this omission, though whether the decline of ‘Tory Britain’ translates into the Tories’ defeat at the polls who knows? 2022 will provide a route map toward the likelihood of that possibility.

Veteranhood : Rage and Hope in British Ex-Military Life  Joe Glenton 

More than I care to remember the highpoint of Thatcherism was framed by her 1982 Falklands misadventure. No doubt next year Johnson will come out all guns blazing to misuse the 20th anniversary for any electoral gains he can muster. Likewise it was Iraq that framed Blair’s decline to the extraordinary point of being re-elected Prime Minister in ’05 on the lowest share of the vote, 35.2%, of any British government.  Both episodes quite rightly generated huge popular goodwill towards the veterans of these wars. Yet this goodwill, often mobilised in the cause of all manner of politics, scarcely understands what author, and former soldier, Joe Glenton calls ‘veteranhood’. In turns angry and informed this is a book that seeks a settlement entirely different from the mawkish ‘help for heroes’ variety.  

 The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold Tariq Ali  

The undignified retreat of US, British and other forces from Afghanistan was undoubtedly one of the global news stories of the year.  The crushing defeat of a client state at the hands of an insurgency which whether we like it or not clearly enjoyed popular support has left a human mess the occupying powers had nothing resembling the will to clear up with anything much more than pitifully piecemeal efforts. Tariq Ali’s mix of the polemical and the analytical on this most wasteful of conflicts are collected together in one handy volume to provide a much-needed wake up call for those who reminisce for the era of militarised liberal interventionism without accounting for the ever-worsening bloody mess it contributed to.    

This Can’t be Happening George Monbiot 

If the horrors of 9/11and their aftermath dominated most of the 2000’s, and this year’s helpless retreat of the occupying powers as its client state collapsed in Afghanistan represents some kind of undignified endpoint, what’s next?  George Monbiot offers a brief, and to the point, case for the Climate Emergency. Few would argue with George’s choice but what makes his writing both urgently necessary and political astute is his combination of the factually investigative with the politically speculative.  George not only catalogues the sheer size of the environmental disaster awaiting the next generation’s coming of age but crucially the potential for constructing the kind of alternative to moderate, if not eliminate, this cataclysmic threat.  

Woke Capitalism : How Corporate Morality is Sabotaging Democracy  Carl Rhodes

Such is the size of this fast-approaching environmental disaster that apart from the 21st century version of flat earthers there is no serious effort to deny it.  Yet incorporation of opposition and obfuscation of the facts on an industrial scale can be nearly as bad. ‘Greenwashing’ or as Carl Rhodes rather brilliantly puts it ‘ woke capitalism’ and his book provides just the kind of rigorous exposure of such antics corporations employ entire PR departments to avoid and never mind the costs.     

Free : Coming of Age at the End of History Lea Ypi  

The accusation of ‘idealism’ at the expense of ‘practical politics’ is of course a familiar one. The necessity for both is effortlessly chronicled in Lee Ypi’s autobiographical account of growing up in first staunchly Communist, then post-Communist, Albania.  Her tale is both deeply and affectively personal and at the same time unapologetically political. It is a combination that makes Lia’s book a wonderfully essential read. 

Daring to Hope : My Life in the 1970s Sheila Rowbotham   

If there is one author and activist identified more than any other with the principle ‘the personal is political’ it is Sheila Rowbotham. Sheila’s follow up to her memoir of the 1960s, Promise of a Dream carries her personal, and political story forward to 1970s second wave feminism, the uneasy relationship of the women’s liberation movement’s with socialism and the enduring radical, potential, of building from the grassroots up.  Informative and inspirational, so much so it is liable to make the reader impatient to read what happens next, the Thatcherite 1980s. 

Radical in Diversity : Europe’s Left 2010-2020  Amieke Bouma, Cornelia Hildebrandt and Daniel Koltsida

Covering the period of peak Syriza, Podemos and Die Linke this comprehensive collection is perfect for a News Year bout of looking back in hope, as well as asking ourselves what went wrong, and why?  Luxembourg and Cyprus are amongst the countries’ post-Pasokificaton Lefts coveted, not exactly micro-states but small nations nevertheless. The very obvious omission therefore is Scotland, Wales is missing too, the North of Ireland gets a passing reference in the chapter on Ireland, oh ad England?  Well that’s the chapter on the UK (sic) isn’t it?  Scottish readers, and fellow English republicans will get my point. 

Orwell & 1984 Paul Foot

Any emergence of an English Republican Left will be driven by the consequences of a successful, and civic-nationalist movement in Scotland.  Because without Scotland there is no United Kingdom, instead three independent nations sharing one small island. Until then those of us who use the label ‘English Left’ advisedly are reliant on resources of hope to shape our politics, George Orwell for many will be just such a vital resource. The combination of George Orwell and Paul Foot is positively inspired. Campaigning journalists, dissident socialists, brilliant writers, generations apart the connections however are both obvious and uncanny.  And both in their different ways understood the specificities of England and Englishness while being committed internationalists, and socialists. Foot was in his element as a public speaker, Orwell & 1984 a transcript of one of his talks turned into a short book, a showcase for the universalism of Orwell’s socialism, by the increasingly impressive socialist publisher, Redwords.   

Renewal : A Journal of Social Democracy  

The best kept secret of UK (sic) Labour’s plural left is the quarterly read Renewal.  Under-promoted, with the look of an academic journal sure to put off all but the most inquisitive. Yet providing an exchange, and quality, of ideas nobody else in and around Labour provides.  The latest, Winter 2021, edition includes an essay by arguably the most important thinker in England on Britain’s break up and what this means for an English Left, John Denham,  ‘Nationhood and Belonging: The Purpose of Patriotism’  and as a special Christmas treat  available to down for free here.

International Brigade against Apartheid: Secrets of the People’s War that Liberated South Africa Ronnie Kasrils 

Christian or secular Christmas and the dawning of a New Year is a time for hope and inspiration, goodness me couldn’t we do with some of both right now. For such look no further than this book of awesome courage in the face of insuperable odds, and there’s even a victory to celebrate too.  Revealed for the first time the previously secret story of the internationalists from all around the world who carried out all manner of heroic missions to help bring down Apartheid South Africa.  

The Art of Activism  Steve Duncombe and Steve Lambert   

Steve Duncombe is the author of one of my favourite books on the very necessary fusion of politics and culture Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy. First published in 2007, and recently republished in a most welcome new and updated edition.  This new book, co-authored with Steve Lambert is a how-to guide to practicing what they describe as ‘artistic activism’. Lavishly illustrated the text mixes ideas on how to ‘do’ politics with creative application to change the ‘look’ of politics too. Neither have the imprint of a corporate makeover, this is a process from below, to turn this into political practice, with this book as a guide, not a bad New Year’s Resolution., Happy Hogmanay!


Note No links in this review are to Amazon, if can avoid buying off Corporate tax dodgers please do.   

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction aka Philosophy Football. Mark’s latest book is Corbynism from Below


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  1. Derek says:

    40th anniversary next year, not 20th.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Derek, and how many of the Falklands Conflict records are still sealed? Apparently one lot was unsealed just a few weeks ago, not heard anything about it yet. https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C16895983
      Wonder what will appear in the New Year batch of declassifications.

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