Socialist Worker

Books that can stir the fighting spirit

Issue No. 1829

A NEW generation of activists is discovering the power of socialist ideas. Here trade unionists and socialists from across Britain recommend books that changed how they see the world. All of the books that feature would make great presents. They are all available from Bookmarks bookshop.

GMB steward, Manchester

'MY DAD, who was a mill worker, read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists (£9.99) by Robert Tressell to me when I was a kid. I have read it loads of times since then. It's like a soap opera but with politics. It is about working class lives in the past but relates to working class lives, any time and any place.

And I would recommend One Hand Tied Behind Us (£10.95) by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris. This tells the story of working class women in the mill towns building unions and fighting for the right to vote. It shows women as strong.'

Retired engineering shop steward, Coventry

'I WOULD recommend Karl Marx's The Civil War in France. Marx is not writing here so much as a theoretician but as a journalist. He is looking at and learning from workers in struggle, not preaching at them.

I would also suggest E P Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class (£15.99). This book shows the working class, warts and all, developing into a class for itself. The power of workers to build a different society just shines through these books.'


'WHEN I was in the army I read Heroes (£8.99) by John Pilger. It illustrated the horrors of the world but also the reasons to hope. Pilger talked about things like a school fighting against racism that just weren't reported anywhere else.

Another great book is Unreasonable Behaviour (£8.99), the autobiography of war photographer Don McCullin. Towards the end of the book he says he used to think his pictures weren't political, but he came to realise they were nothing but political.'

Shop steward, car industry

'I WOULD especially recommend two inspiring books about ordinary people rising up against fascism. One is Ignazio Silone's Fontamara (£6.50), a magnificent novel about downtrodden Italian villagers rebelling against fascism.

Homage to Catalonia (£7.99) by George Orwell tells of people rising up against Franco's fascists. It has Orwell's famous description of a town where the workers are in the saddle.

Emile Zola wrote a great book about a miners' strike called Germinal (£5). I would also like to mention his novel Truth (£6.99). It is based on the Dreyfus case, when a Jewish army officer was unjustly accused of spying and the anti-Semitism in French society was exposed. In Truth the accused is a Jewish teacher. It is a gripping story about tolerance versus prejudice and bigotry.'

Postal worker, North London

'WOODY GUTHRIE: A Life by Joe Klein is a fantastic book about a socialist and musician who supported all the strikes that broke out in the US in the 1930s. It's a great read. He used to go and play on the picket lines - if he was around today he'd be playing to the firefighters.'

Social worker, West Midlands

'I LOVED A World to Win (£8.99), Tony Cliff's autobiography. It shows Tony Cliff's incredible commitment and fighting spirit. He was a Jew who came to oppose Israel. What he wrote about Palestine years ago is still true today. The book shows how socialists went through painful experiences with humour, compassion and courage.'

GMB shop steward, Barnsley

'THE FIRST book I read after I became a revolutionary socialist was The Communist Manifesto (£1) by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. I thought it would be difficult and technical with lots of formulas, but it was so easy and made so much sense. It explained the whole world capitalist system.

It described things historically but then gave a real idea about how we can change things.'

Teacher, North London

'I WOULD recommend Joseph Heller's novel Catch 22 (£7.99). It is a fantastic anti-war book that shows the insanity of war. It is very funny but really shocking at the same time.

Another book is John Reed's Ten Days That Shook the World (£7.99). It was the first thing I read about the Russian Revolution that wasn't just facts and figures. It was so inspiring. There is a bit where Reed says that all of Russia was learning to read, soaking up ideas like sand soaks up water. That phrase has always stayed with me. It gives you a sense that one day we can do it.'

postal worker

'I DIDN'T read enough during the 1970s - I was too busy organising picketing! But I think everyone should try and read a little basic Marxism. I got a lot from Chris Harman's How Marxism Works (£4.50), and I still go back to it all the time.

I think it is very important that people read about racism. I enjoyed reading about Malcolm X because you get a sense of how different things are connected, like jazz music, racism and slavery.'
The Autobiography of Malcolm X (£9.99).
Malcolm X by Kevin Ovenden (£2.95).

Tube worker, East London

'A BOOK guaranteed to inspire you is It Just Went Like Tinder (£6.99) by John Charlton. It tells the story of the working class revolt in east London in the 1880s when lots of today's unions were created.

At one point 16,000 dockers organised mobile pickets and closed the docks along the Thames. Some 1,400 teenage girls working in the Bryant and May match factory went on strike, and 800 gas workers joined their union in just a day.'

Ex-seafarer, Harwich

'WHEN I was a young shop steward coming into the movement I was knocked back by arguments all the time. The book that will help you deal with these situations is Chris Harman's A People's History of the World (£12.99).

You don't have to read it from cover to cover. You can dive into it when you need to back up your argument.'

Retired chair of Scottish Region FBU

'I WOULD recommend Leon Trotsky's book My Life. Trotsky was one of my heroes and this book shows the man's vision. He had a towering intellect. People like Churchill are intellectual pygmies compared to him.

The physical and mental effort it took him to organise not only the Red Army but also the transport system for a massive country like Russia must have been enormous.

But he never writes of himself as exceptional - he just believed in what he was doing, and he never stopped believing in it and fighting for it.'

Festive Highlights

Carrying the Elephant £7.99 - Michael Rosen's short prose poems telling the story of his life.

The Search for Fatima £16 - Dr Ghada's Karmi's memoir of Palestine and exile in London.

Stupid White Men £7.99 - Michael Moore's hilarious satire of the US establishment.

Bookmarks is Britain's leading socialist bookshop and official bookseller to the TUC.
1 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QE Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Article information

Sat 7 Dec 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1829
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