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Socialist Book Club

The club first met on 25th October 2015 and had a useful discussion about the books people had suggested, sharing reading interests and the purpose of the club. It was interesting to note the re-establishment of the Left Book Club.

We now meet regularly after reading a book decided on at the previous meeting. Our discussions are enjoyable, allowing us to examine what we mean by socialism and to share the insights gained.

The club is committed to developing members’ knowledge of socialism, not just reading for pleasure, but recognises that ‘a good read’ would help!

Contact Richard Millwood if you are interested in joining.


Books we have already discussed and links to our reviews:

November 2015 – The Soul of Man Under Socialism – Oscar Wild

January 2016 – The Establishment: and How They Get Away with It – Owen Jones

July 2016 – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell


This is the list of books originally suggested by members:

Title Author Year Pages Summary
The Joy of Tax Richard Murphy 2015 256 In The Joy of Tax, tax campaigner and creator of ‘Corbynomics’ Richard Murphy challenges almost every idea you have about tax. For him, tax is fundamentally about the ideas that shape the sort of society we want to live in, not technicalities. His intention is to demonstrate that there is indeed a joy in tax, and by embracing it we can create a fairer society and change the world for the better. Tax has been a feature of human society for a very long time. Almost no one gives tax a good press even though, as Richard Murphy argues, it has been fundamental to the development of democracy the world over. Whilst we may not like tax very much, in contrast it is clear that we really do like the public services which governments provide. So much so, in fact, that for most of the last 300 years, people have been more than happy for governments to run deficits by spending more than they raise in taxation. 2008 apparently changed all that. The issues of debt, deficits, cuts and austerity have dominated the political agenda ever since. Virtually every aspect of the government’s finances and how to rearrange them in the forlorn hope of balancing the books has been discussed in great detail. Despite that, there has been almost no real discussion during this period about what tax is for and how it contributes to the creation of the society we aspire to.
The Establishment Owen Jones 2015 384 Why is it that the people who caused the financial crash have got away with it while those who played no part have been punished? This, essentially, is the question that Owen Jones poses in his passionate account of political and economic injustice. In searching for the answer he, like other columnists before him, has alighted on the “e” word, the establishment.
Silent Spring Rachel Carson 1962 400 Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted a large audience to the environmental and human dangers of indiscriminate use of pesticides, spurring revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Lord Shackleton, a preface by World Wildlife Fund founder Julian Huxley, and an afterword by Carson’s biographer Linda Lear. Now recognized as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, Silent Spring exposed the destruction of wildlife through the widespread use of pesticides. Despite condemnation in the press and heavy-handed attempts by the chemical industry to ban the book, Rachel Carson succeeded in creating a new public awareness of the environment which led to changes in government and inspired the ecological movement. It is thanks to this book, and the help of many environmentalists, that harmful pesticides such as DDT were banned from use in the US and countries around the world. Rachel Carson (1907-64) wanted to be a writer for as long as she could remember. Her first book, Under the Sea Wind, appeared in 1941. Silent Spring, which alerted the world to the dangers of the misuse of pesticides, was published in 1962. Carson’s articles on natural history appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, Reader’s Digest and Holiday. An ardent ecologist and preservationist, Carson warned against the dumping of atomic waste at sea and predicted global warming.
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past Giles Tremlett 2012 496 An indispensable introduction to the complex politics and fast-shifting culture of Spain over the last thirty years, Ghosts of Spain presents an engaging and highly readable account of the country’s remarkable transition from stagnant authoritarianism to vigorous democracy. The opening chapters on the partly hidden legacy of the Civil War and Francoism are quite outstanding as Tremlett gives reasons for Spain’s extraordinary lack of either reconciliation or recrimination.
William Morris: A Life for Our Time Fiona MacCarthy 1994 600 Since his death in 1896, William Morris has come to be regarded as one of the giants of the Victorian era. But his genius was so many-sided and so profound that its full extent has rarely been grasped. Many people may find it hard to believe that the greatest English designer of his time, possibly of all time, could also be internationally renowned as a founder of the socialist movement, and could have been ranked as a poet together with Tennyson and Browning.
Chavs Owen Jones 2012 320 In modern Britain, the working class has become an object of fear and ridicule. From Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard to the demonization of Jade Goody, media and politicians alike dismiss as feckless, criminalized and ignorant a vast, underprivileged swathe of society whose members have become stereotyped by one, hate-filled word: chavs. In this acclaimed investigation, Owen Jones explores how the working class has gone from ‘salt of the earth’ to ‘scum of the earth.’
To the Finland Station Edmund Wilson 1940 544 Presents the history of revolutionary thought and the birth of socialism, from the French Revolution through the collaboration of Marx and Engels to the arrival of Lenin at the Finlyandsky Rail Terminal in St. Petersburg in 1917.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist Robert Tressell 1914 624 Clearly frustrated at the refusal of his contemporaries to recognise the inequity and iniquity of society, Tressell’s cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors provide a backdrop for his main target — the workers who think that a better life is “not for the likes of them”. Hence the title of the book; Tressell paints the workers as “philanthropists” who throw themselves into back-breaking work for poverty wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
The Soul of Man Under Socialism Oscar Wilde 1891 48 In The Soul of Man, Wilde argues that, under capitalism, “the majority of people spoil their lives by an unhealthy and exaggerated altruism-are forced, indeed, so to spoil them”: instead of realizing their true talents, they waste their time solving the social problems caused by capitalism, without taking their common cause away. Thus, caring people “seriously and very sentimentally set themselves to the task of remedying the evils that they see” in poverty, “but their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it” because, “the proper aim is to try and reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty will be impossible.”
The Accumulation of Capital Rosa Luxemburg 1913 496 Taking Marx as her starting point, she offers an independent and fiercely critical explanation of the economic and political consequences of capitalism in the context of the turbulent times in which she lived, reinterpreting events in the United States, Europe, China, Russia and the British Empire. Many today believe there is no alternative to global capitalism. This book is a timely and forceful statement of an opposing view.
Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister Michael Jago 2014 400 Raised in a haven of middle-class respectability, Attlee was appalled by the squalid living conditions endured by his near neighbours in London’s East End. Seeing first-hand how poverty and insecurity dogged lives, he nourished a powerful ambition to achieve power and create a more egalitarian society in 1935, Attlee was single-minded in pursuing his goals, and in just six years from 1945 his government introduced the most significant features of post-war Britain: the National Health Service, extensive nationalisation of essential industry, and the Welfare State that Britons now take for granted.
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate Naomi Klein 2015 576 Naomi Klein has written a few books critiqueing capitalism. Her latest book is a powerful merging of red and green thinking. She has taken climate change as the central theme although there are many other issues she could have dealt with. Oil is central to the global economy and hence politics. Her message to the Greens is you will get nowhere unless you understand the economics and politics of capitalism. And to the anti-capitalists she says you will not understand the significance and seriousness of what capitalism is doing until you understand climate change. Climate change lays bare the workings of global neo-con capitalism.
Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism Fredric Jameson 1991 461 Seeking to crystalize a definition of “postmodernism” Jameson’s inquiry looks at the postmodern across a wide landscape, from “high”; art to “low,” from market ideology to architecture, from painting to “punk” film, from video art to literature.
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society Jürgen Habermas 1962 328 This major work retraces the emergence and development of the Bourgeois public sphere – that is, a sphere which was distinct from the state and in which citizens could discuss issues of general interest. In analysing the historical transformations of this sphere, Habermas recovers a concept which is of crucial significance for current debates in social and political theory.
Failed: What the “Experts” Got Wrong About the Global Economy Mark Weisbrot 2015 293 Why has the Eurozone ended up with an unemployment rate more than twice that of the United States more than six years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers? Why did the vast majority of low- and middle-income countries suffer a prolonged economic slowdown in the last two decades of the 20th century? What was the role of the International Monetary Fund in these economic failures? Why was Latin America able to achieve substantial poverty reduction in the 21st century after more than two decades without any progress? Failed analyzes these questions, explaining why these important economic developments of recent years have been widely misunderstood and in some cases almost completely ignored.
The Golden Notebook Doris Lessing 1962 576 A powerful account of a woman searching for her personal, political and professional identity amid the trauma of emotional rejection and sexual betrayal. In 1950s London, novelist Anna Wulf struggles with writer’s block. Divorced with a young child, and fearful of going mad, Anna records her experiences in four coloured notebooks: black for her writing life, red for political views, yellow for emotions, blue for everyday events. But it is a fifth notebook – the golden notebook – that finally pulls these wayward strands of her life together. “Feminism communism writers block and a bloody good read !!”
To Build a New Jerusalem: Labour Movement from the 1890s to the 1990s A. J. Davies 1996 578 In August 1892, Keir Hardie took up his seat in Parliament as the first independent Labour MP. Hardie’s world was a bleak one of factories, cities, fledgling trade unions and manual work. Today, over a century on, the computer terminal has replaced the cloth cap and the party leader, Tony Blair, is on the verge of becoming the first Labour Prime Minister for nearly 20 years. This work traces the development of the Labour Party and explores the lives and careers of the individuals who shaped it.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber 1905 320 Max Weber’s best-known and most controversial work, ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’, first published in 1904, remains to this day a powerful and fascinating read. Weber’s highly accessible style is just one of many reasons for his continuing popularity. The book contends that the Protestant ethic made possible and encouraged the development of capitalism in the West.
The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Attwood 1985 324 Set in the near future, in a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government, The Handmaid’s Tale explores themes of women in subjugation and the various means by which they gain agency.
One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society Herbert Marcuse 1964 257 Marcuse offers a wide-ranging critique of both contemporary capitalism and the Communist society of the Soviet Union, documenting the parallel rise of new forms of social repression in both these societies, as well as the decline of revolutionary potential in the West. He argues that “advanced industrial society” created false needs, which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought.
Hard Work: Life in Low-pay Britain Polly Toynbee 2003 256 A passionately reasoned and compelling account of the avoidable cruelties still embedded in the underside of British life – by a writer who has literally worn the clothes, lived in the flats and done the jobs of the poor. Every member of the cabinet should be required to read it, apologise and then act.
Karl Marx Francis Wheen 2010 450 Karl Marx, whose influence on modern times has been compared to that of Jesus Christ, spent most of his lifetime in obscurity. Penniless, exiled in London, estranged from relations and on the run from most of the police forces of Europe, his ambitions as a revolutionary were frequently thwarted and his major writings on politics and economics remained unpublished (in some cases until after the Second World War). Wheen has an ear for juicy gossip and an eye for original detail. Marx comes over as a hell-raising bohemian, an intellectual bully and a perceptive critic of capitalist chaos, but also a family man of Victorian conformity personally vetting his daughters’ suitors, Victorian ailments (carbuncles above all) and Victorian weaknesses, notably alcohol, tobacco and, on occasion, his housekeeper.
Social Class in the 21st Century Mike Savage 2015 480 A fresh take on social class from the experts behind the BBC’s ‘Great British Class Survey’. Why does social class matter more than ever in Britain today? How has the meaning of class changed? What does this mean for social mobility and inequality? In this book Mike Savage and the team of sociologists responsible for the Great British Class Survey look beyond the labels to explore how and why our society is changing and what this means for the people who find themselves in the margins as well as in the centre. Their new conceptualization of class is based on the distribution of three kinds of capital – economic (inequalities in income and wealth), social (the different kinds of people we know) and cultural (the ways in which our leisure and cultural preferences are exclusive) – and provides incontrovertible evidence that class is as powerful and relevant today as it’s ever been.