Friday, 16 January 2009

The 5 books...

An idea shamelessly robbed from Jim Jay, only I´m not going to imagine that anyone has the attention span to get all the way to ten, so you´re stuck with only five. Also, I was never a member of the SWP, so none of them come from their rather questionable back-catalogues.


In fact, seeing as I´m still pretty young, I reckon mine look rather respectable from my current perspective. There´s no looking back and shuddering here, I´d recommend reading each and everyone one of these...


1) Maurice Brinton - For Workers Power

Maurice Brinton, a neurosurgeon, was a member of a group called Solidarity, refugees from various Leninist groups, influenced by some unorthodox French libertarian Marxists (mainly Socialisme ou Barbarie, in particular Paul Cardan/Cornelius Castoriadis). Anyone who spent too much time hanging around Libcom.org, which compliments it´s, err, unique forum, with one of the most extensive left-wing libraries on the net, should be familiar with it. You can find a load of Brinton stuff on there, well worth flicking through. It was important to me because it helped me move beyond the idea that everything worthwhile in a revolutionary sense had to happen more or less like it did in the past, and took me toward the idea that every generation makes these things up as we go along. If you want to read something short, stick to the two short statements As We See It and As We Don´t See it, which are as a good a concise explanation of what it should mean to be a good revolutionary.


Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

2. E.P.Thompson - The Making of the Working Class

First off, if you´re interested in British history, this is a fantastic book. It´s well-written enough to be as enjoyable as it is informative (unlike his contemporaries Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm, who I find dull as), it basically invented the idea of social history as we now understand it, and it gives you a great perspective on our past which is far more exciting than the conventional narrative. It traces the development of popular and social movements in England from 18th Century Republicanism to the emerging the early consciously working-class movements of the 19th.



For the political activist, I think the money quotes are all in the preface, particularly those that take apart the idea of someone or some group embodying the historical consciousness of a class:

There is today an ever-present temptation to suppose that class is a thing. This was not Marx's meaning, in his own historical writing, yet the error vitiates much latter-day "Marxist" writing. "It", the working class, is assumed to have a real existence, which can be defined almost mathematically--so many men who stand in a certain relation to the means of production. Once this is assumed it becomes possible to deduce the class-consciousness which "it" ought to have (but seldom does have) if "it" was properly aware of its own position and real interests. There is a cultural superstructure, through which this recognition dawns in inefficient ways. These cultural "lags" and distortions are a nuisance, so that it is easy to pass from this to some theory of substitution: the party, sect, or theorist, who disclose class-consciousness, not as it is, but as it ought to be.

to be continued...

3 comments:

John said...

Very good start indeed, Jack! :-)

Loved the Brinton book myself, and I'm slowly working my way through Castoriadis, as and when I can find copies of his books.

Agreed on the Thompson book too, although I never got further than a couple of hundred pages in. Glad to know the best bits are at the start!

Cheers

Jack Ray said...

the rest is just for the history geeks really, the only problem I had with Solidarity is that if they´re ideas were so good, why did they end up folding...

John said...

I don't think evangelizing was ever their strong suit, was it? They just seemed to just fade away. I last saw them at an anarchist bookfair in London around 84-85.

Ironic really, because there seems to be a genuine resurgence of interest in some aspects of Castoriadis's thought, such as the social imaginary and the role of the imagination in revolutionary thought. But his books aren't the easiest to read, even in translation.