Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Some Summer Reading for Revolutionaries

Though there are important looming strikes ahead, as well as protests such as that at Tory Party conference in Manchester on Sunday 29 September, and other events such as the Unite the Resistance conference in October on the horizon, August is a good time to catch up on some reading, and though I am aware that many revolutionaries are busy reading Lenin just now - including One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, I thought I would highlight a few other books that might be of interest to readers of Histomat.

First up, some black history (on which subject see this blog post for other suggestions on 'radical black reading')*. In the superb Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, Christoph Waltz's character - a German dentist turned bounty hunter called Dr. King Schultz challenges the Leonardo DiCaprio's slaveowner character Calvin Candie about the fate of one of his slaves, D'Artagnan while in Candie's private study: 

Candie: Are you brooding 'bout me getting the best of ya, huh?
Schultz: Actually, I was thinking of that poor devil you fed to the dogs today, D'Artagnan. And I was wondering what Dumas would make of all this.
Candie: Come again?
Schultz: Alexandre Dumas. He wrote The Three Musketeers. I figured you must be an admirer. You named your slave after his novel's lead character. If Alexandre Dumas had been there today, I wonder what he would have made of it?
Candie: You doubt he'd approve?
Schultz: Yes. His approval would be a dubious proposition at best.
Candie: Soft hearted Frenchy?
Schultz: Alexandre Dumas is black.

While it is always good to read the great Dumas himself, the author Tom Reiss has recently published a Putlizer prize winning book - The Black Count: Napoleon's Rival and the real Count of Monte Christo about General Alexandre Dumas, father of the famous novelist - and a heroic black general who was born in what became Haiti and rose to command revolutionary armies during the French Revolution and who inspired many of the stories of daring-do in Dumas's novels. The work has been widely reviewed - including here and here, but in short you will be hard put to find a more gripping page-turner of a biography relating to race and revolution this year. I really cannot recommend this book enough. 

On the subject of racism, I have already mentioned Brian Richardson's excellent edited collection Say it Loud! Marxism and the Fight Against Racism on my blog (it is also reviewed here), but another edited volume from Bookmarks also deserves attention, Capitalism and Sport: Politics, Protest, People and Play edited by Michael Lavalette.  Full of wide-ranging essays on all manner of sports, there really will be something for everyone here and the book is packed full of eye-opening facts from history that will come as a surprise to all but the most well-read socialist sports fan.

 I have been meaning to mention another edited volume Marxism and Social Movements, co-edited by Colin Barker, Laurence Cox, John Krinsky and Alf Gunvald Nilsen, which is at the moment a very expensive hardback with Brill only but next year will be appearing in a more affordable paperback with Haymarket.  Nonetheless, some of the contents of the collection are available online on one of the editors blogs here - worth checking out.  On the subject of Marxism and social movements, the meetings from Marxism 2013 are now online to either listen to  here while some are available to watch here.

Finally, I have just finally got around to reading The Great Gatsby which I thoroughly enjoyed (but have still to see the new film).  As F. Scott Fitzgerald  once commented to his daughter in a letter only days before his death in December 1940: “Sometime when you feel very brave and defiant and haven’t been invited to one particular college function, read the terrible chapter in [Marx’s] Das Kapital on ‘The Working Day,’ and see if you are ever quite the same.”  At a time of Tory austerity, where zero hour contracts afflict the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers, suggesting people read (or re-read) Marx himself seems as good a way as any to end this post. 

 * Edited to add: I forgot to mention Footprints, a collection of poems by the black Barbadian Communist Peter Blackman (1909-93), and edited by Chris Searle - whose introduction to the volume has been reprinted in the latest issue of Race and Class.  This is a very nice little collection by a forgotten activist - who clearly deserves to be remembered as a significant Caribbean poet.

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