The Guardian 14 December, 2005
Hoping to have some spare time over the next few weeks to do some reading? Looking for a gift or two that won't add to the whopping profits of the big retailers? Here's a few suggestions from The Guardian Editor for good reading from SPA Books.
It is all too easy to reflect on the year just past — the new industrial relations, social welfare, voluntary student unionism and terror laws; the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan; the millions of people infected with AIDS, malaria, TB and other preventable diseases; the mass starvation and lack of drinking water; climate change;, and so on. Is it futile to fight on? Are the odds too great to overcome? What can we, ordinary people, do? Are socialism, democracy and peace just dreams?
The answer to these questions lies in the book CUBA beyond our dreams by Silvia Martínez Puentes. This is an amazing collection of articles, facts and figures on the daunting tasks facing the people of Cuba following the Revolution and what they have built under such difficult circumstances. The book covers the economic, political, material, moral and human work of the Cuban Revolution. It illustrates what can be done when workers take power.
Are you one of those people who have a mental block when it comes to political economy? Then People vs Profits, a collection of short pieces by the late Victor Perlo is a good place to start reading. The articles first appeared in the People's Weekly World newspaper of the Communist Party, USA. They deal with very important issues including labour and industry, social security, racism, oil, taxes, finance and although some date back to 1961, are remarkably topical, which says something about the capitalist system!
Another book by Victor Perlo, Super Profits and Crises: Modern US capitalism, is like a bible to me. It explained for me in simple terms theory that I had previous failed to understand, and did so in a very practical and meaningful manner.
Of course the real "bible" is the The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Not as old as the New or Old Testaments, it was first published in 1848 as the platform of the Communist League, a working man's association in London. The Manifesto ends with those immortal words:
"Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose, but their chains. They have a world to win.
"Working men of all countries, unite!"
In this short volume, Marx and Engels put forward the theory of communism, the class nature and economic foundations of capitalist society, and show the way forward to create a new society free of exploitation.
You can purchase the Manifesto as a single pamphlet or in a larger volume such as the one including essays by Che Guevara and Rosa Luxemburg.
For trade unionists, in particular, Marx's Wage Labour and Capital is a great booklet to gain a better understanding of the workings of capitalist exploitation and what is behind the current offensive against trade unions. Engels' The Wages System is also worth studying.
If you are looking for a trade union story of struggle, Bradon Ellem's Hard ground: unions in the Pilbara from the Pilbara Mineworkers' Union is well worth reading. "This is the story of workers and their families caught up in the industrial laboratory of global mining companies made possible by excessively pro-business state and federal governments", writes CFMEU Mining and Energy General President Tony Maher.
If you are interested in labour history, then These Things Shall Be! Bob Ross Socialist Pioneer — His life & Times. Edgar Ross treats the struggles of his father as a case study of the growth of the labour movement in Australia from the late 19th century until his death in 1931. Bob was one of the founding members of the first Socialist Leagues in Australia, which came into being in 1887. He was a militant trade union leader, a member of the first ACTU Executive, an influential writer and very effective propagandist.
For an insight into where Howard and his big business mates would like to drive Australian workers, then you cannot go past Engels The Condition of the Working-Class in England. It is interesting to read what English employers were telling workers 150 years ago, that a wage rise, a shorter working day (down to 12 hours), safe working conditions or abolition of child labour would put them out of business. The struggles and gains made by the working class over the years did not wreck the economy and capitalism is still in business. The struggles now are often over the very same issues as those of the 18th century. Capitalism has not changed — the difference being that in that period workers were fighting for the conditions that are now under attack.
In the light of all the Prime Minister's talk about "our values" and emphasis on the individual, Ethics (Progress Publishers) makes very interesting and useful reading. The book looks at the social and class roots of morality, comparing the two different types of society. There is a section on moral principles which deals with collectivism, humanism, socially useful work, patriotism and internationalism and other issues. Various trends of the 20th century are examined as well as the question of socialist morality.
Also on the question of ethics, there is A Dictionary of Ethics, also from Progress Publishers. I am not suggesting it be read in one sitting from cover to cover, but it is worth browsing through and have on the shelf as a reference to look up when names of people, religions, philosophical concepts pop up. For example, Howard continually promotes philanthropy. The dictionary provides much more than a definition, giving some history to its use, its impact on those who are on the receiving end, what Marx and Engels had to say about it, and so on.
While on the subject of reference material, the Dictionary of Philosophy (Progress Publishers) is invaluable. It covers philosophers, philosophical theories and concepts, is rich in historical material, all from a Marxist point of view.
Still on philosophy, The German Ideology by Marx and Engels is one of their most important works. In the first chapter Marx and Engels provide a general introduction to the materialist conception of history. They expound on the decisive role (but not the only role) played by material production in the life of society. They reveal the dialectics of the development of the productive forces and the relations of production.
It was written in 1845 and 1846, and laid the basis for the materialist way of understanding history.
Finally, books make great presents!
If you are looking for a present that keeps on giving, then go no further than a subscription to The Guardian.
For another type of gift for the festive season what about a T-shirt with a message?
We have Che (black on white and black on red), Lenin (black on red and black on grey),
Marx (black on white) and Eureka flag shirts. All $16 plus postage $4 extra.
To order books and T-shirts see below.
Cuba beyond our dreams $20 (p&P $8)
People vs Profits $15 (p&p $8)
Super Profits and Crises: Modern US capitalism $15 (p&p $8)
The Communist Manifesto — single booklet $3 ($1.00)
Communist Manifesto plus Rosa Luxemburg & Che $25 (p&p $1.50)
Wage Labour and Capital $2 (p&p $1)
The Wages System $2 (p&p $1)
Hard Ground: Unions in the Pilbara $15 (p&p $2.50)
These Things Shall Be! Bob Ross Socialist Pioneer $12 (p&p $2.50)
The Conditions of the Working Class in England $10 (p&p $2.50)
Ethics $7 (p&p $1.50)
A Dictionary of Ethics $6 (p&p $1.50)
Dictionary of Philosophy $15 (p&p $8)
The German Ideology $15 (p&p $8)
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