Recovery Positions : Labour Party Conference Reading Guide

25.09.21

As Labour Conference gathers in Brighton  Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football reviews books that seek to describe what the party’s recovery might look like.

It’s been a while, Labour Conference and the attendant World Transformed Festival haven’t gathered since September 2019. Since then there’s been the disaster of the party’s 2019 General Election defeat, Keir Starmer’s election as Labour leader, the Coronavirus crisis, unimpressive Scottish, local and by-election results,  and Jeremy Corbyn’s ongoing suspension as a Labour MP. Plenty to discuss, or more likely argue over, then. 

It is hardly ever mentioned but Keir Starmer had only  been a Labour MP for a remarkably short time before becoming Labour leader, a shade under five years. Jeremy Corbyn 32 years, Gordon Brown 24 years, Tony Blair 11 years. Ed Miliband the same five years, but Ed had previously been a Labour Party special adviser, he knew the Labour Party inside out. Plus as Director of Public Prosecutions for Keir any such involvement in Labour would have been effectively precluded. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean better, or worse, but the lack of much in the way of Keir’s Labour backstory makes for political biographer Michael Ashcroft, his previous biographies include Rishi Sunak, Jacob Rees-Mogg and David Cameron, very hard work. Despite that Red Knight: The Unauthorised Biography of Sir Keir Starmer contains more than most currently know about Keir. A decent man, a campaigning lawyer, strong principles but thrust into a position his short period active in Labour let alone at Westminster leaves him dangerously exposed to simply going with the flow. ‘Captain Hindsight’ is an effective barb. Brighton is expected to settle that, we will see.  Len McLuskey’s autobiography Always Red bids farewell as he stands down as a major figure in Labour politics since 2010 when he was first elected Unite General Secretary. A power broker in internal party politics of the old school who became Jeremy Corbyn’s most significant ally the first third of the book reveals the story of the man behind the machinations, a picture that hardly featured in the way he projected himself as a political operator which is a shame. The remainder of the book is his particular insider’s account of Labour under Miliband, Corbyn and Starmer, unashamedly partisan it is nonetheless a fascinating story of how a trade union operates inside Labour. A mode of operating his successor Sharon Graham won the General Secretary election on a platform of replacing, how that plays out crucial to the immediate future of Labour, and trade union, politics. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both books deal as a key theme with 12.12.19 and its immediate aftermath. The seriousness of the setback Labour suffered, and the train of events that led to Keir becoming leader remain a potent part of the party’s present and will surely feature right across conference. Edited by Grace Blakeley Futures of Socialism :  The Pandemic and the Post-Corbyn Era is the Corbynite interpretation of  2019 combining a belief that Corbynism must persist while not sparing any political blushes for what went wrong. Many of the contributors  to Grace’s book would cite the late Leo Panitch as their single most important intellectual influencer, his final book, co-written with Colin Leys Searching for Socialism : The Project of the Labour New Left from Benn to Corbyn  is likely to be a set text amongst a pessimistic left for a considerable time to come. Out of the Ordinary : How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How it Can Again by Marc Sears, formerly Ed Miliband’s Chief Speechwriter, offers one way to restore some optimism to Labour’s current fortunes.  Staggeringly original while drawing on a wide range of inspirations, this is an argument that seeks to root Labour in locality and community. In Marc's book, he waa a founder member, there is some overlap with the thinking of ‘Blue Labour’ a tendency that proffers a left affinity for patriotism, family and faith, a trinity that many would see as the antithesis of the progressive, Paul Embery has written Despised : Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class to convince readers otherwise.  He may not convince, though dismissing his argument out of hand amounts to a counsel of despair, of next to no use either. 

For the time being any transformation of the do-nothingness of despair into actually happening hope will inevitably be mapped on to a post-pandemic terrain.  Luke Cooper’s Authoritarian Contagion: The Global Threat to Democracy absolutely connects the grounding of such a politics in a popular democratisation that provides a forthright alternative to the drift towards authoritarianism, personified , if you like, by Priti Patel.  What Priti might do with what were previously considered pretty much inalienable rights doesn’t bear thinking about, it should, and Luke's book will help spark such thoughts.. The Great Recoil: Politics after  Populism and Pandemic is the latest from Paolo Gerbaudo a theorist of an emergent digital opposition, and doesn’t disappoint in terms of the mix of ideas that challenge convention and innovation of practical application. As we shift from coronavirus crisis to post pandemic we’ll need both, in abundance. Whilst 2019-2021 might appear unprecedented in terms of a contest between the spread of disease versus a lockdown ‘crisis’ is a well-worn theme in left politics, too often deployed to mask an inability to interpret the significance of socio-economic change. Donald Sassoon, historian of socialism, in Morbid Symptoms: Anatomy of a World in Crisis provides the historical and global context to give due credence to the significance of such change, that both pre-dates the pandemic and has been accelerated by it. To challenge such change in the cause of something better Oli Mould offers a towering polemic in Seven Ethics against Capitalism: Towards a Planetary Commons that centres the necessity to resist co-option and subservience because as Margaret Thatcher once said, there is no alternative.  Go Big : How to Fix the World by Ed Miliband is a welcome attempt to fuse the kind of holistic anti-capitalism of Oli with the Parliamentary Socialism Ed’s father Ralph was such a renowned critic of.  An unworkable combination ? Yes too often it has proved to be, though the originality and cheerfulness of Ed’s ideas is a most welcome effort to convince it doesn’t have to be. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1979 In and Against the State was published by the quixotically titled ‘London Edinburgh Weekend Return Group’, a pioneering text , fiercely practical in applying a politics of active participation in the institutions we variously work for, depend upon, live under and a strategy towards not only resistance to them but their transformation, I still have my now very dog-eared copy . Hugely influential amongst a libertarian left strand struggling to survive Thatcherism The re-issuing of  In and Against the State  with a new introduction by Seth Wheeler and contributions from John McDonnell and John Holloway is welcome, timely and another reminder to those on our ‘side’ that, actually, there is an alternative but it might not be the one to be found in the textbooks of statist-socialism.  A revived version of such a politics is to be located in a mix of popular democracy, local accountability and participation while delivering fully functioning and much improved services compared to the immiseration provided by decades’ worth of privatisation. Or in other words, The Case for Community Wealth Building  as described by the authors Joe Guinan and Martin O’Neill,  pioneered by Preston Council and increasingly practiced by Labour local authorities all over. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Such scale of ambition, from below and above, couldn’t be more urgent in the current era of both post pandemic and an actually existing climate emergency. Mathew Lawrence and Laurie Laybourn-Langton’s Planet on Fire : A Manifesto for the Age of Environmental Breakdown follows on from where Labour’s Corbyn era ‘Green New Deal’ left off.  The threat of everlasting change for the worse borders on the unimaginable which leaves us with a party politics barely able to cope. The Green New Deal sought to square that circle yet labourism’s productivist tendency was always likely to blunt the urgency and scale of change required, and it did. The impetus now exists primarily outside of the party political  Climate Change is Racist by key green thinker  Jeremy Williams is typical, of the deep-seated radicalism this impetus is creating, Jeremy’s book a primer in linking climate change to global inequalities via a framing that is chosen to upset, racism.  Raphael Kaplinsky’s Sustainable Futures: An Agenda for Action is another response with a purposefully positive case for social-economic change out of adversity for the better.  The political task remains to combine the harshness of Jeremy’s critique of root causes with Raphael’s positivism of a solution. Without that combination we will fail. 

Class politics of a range of varieties has been experiencing that failure since the triumph of neoliberalism in the latter part of the twentieth century.  The Shadow of the Mine : Coal and the End of Industrial Britain co-authored by Huw Benyon and Roy Hudson is an epic account of this defeat for an industry, and the communities and politics it helped produce.  Of course such a defeat goes beyond simply one industry, one largely atypical version of working class community.  Cynthia Cruz’s The Melancholia of Class : A Manifesto for the Working Class  makes a hugely original case for such defeat as a contest between class assimilation versus class annihilation.  The interesting part of her argument is that this contest serves to produce a working class culture that is fundamentally melancholic. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this context it is noticeable how increasingly younger writers on the left are problematising the inescapable centrality of work not only to our everyday lives but the future society socialism promises. A manifesto for such a politics is provided by Amelia Horgan with Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism. Jobification, slackers, resistance, play, a very different agenda to labouring under the illusion that employment is the best that such a socialist society can aspire to provide. The American writer Sarah Jaffe has been a key influence on the emergence of this post-work politics, her latest book Work Won’t Love You Back is certain to continue that, and deservedly so. Sarah’s against the exploitation, exhaustion and atomisation work produces but she also describes the means of escape; joy, pleasure and a satisfaction that is both of the individual and the collective. One alternative that the digital era has helped reinvent is a ‘sharing economy’ or perhaps that should be for the most part a so-called sharing economy. This is very much the view of author Tom Slee in his What’s Yours is Mine :  Against the Sharing Economy. It is certainly the case that the likes of  Airbnb and Uber serve no one’s interests except their owners and shareholders' at the expense of those doing the sharing. But to share, aided by online innovation, is a natural accompaniment to the kind of society the post-work thinkers articulate, a very different task for an ambitious left would be to set itself the aim to establish such organisations as a signpost towards the art of the possible. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post work is an idea that has come from a radicalised left. Progressive patriotism is more difficult to locate.  Championed by Keir Starmer as a new direction for Labour yet part of Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair’s leadership politics before him. Jeremy Corbyn would also speak of a national story that includes the Levellers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and Cable Street. Progressive patriotism is a multi-faceted idea that it would be quite wrong to write off as cover for a shift to the right, even if on occasion it is (mis) used for exactly that purpose.  Edited by Paul Sng This Separated Isle is a fantastic starting point towards a radicalised patriotism featuring incredible photos and short punchy essays that portray this island of modern Britain as a contested space of despair versus hope. Owen Hatherley’s collection of his essays Clean Living Under Difficult Circumstances does something similar with an exploration of how architecture shapes lives and communities  from Walthamstow to Edinburgh via ever-decreasing public toilets and the closure of public libraries. Enchanting and imaginative, with excursions to other nations as well, a truly great read. A Small Man’s England by Tommy Sissons focuses on England, a nation in Keir Starmer’s version of progressive patriotism entirely subsumed into the wrapping of himself in the Union Jack. In contrast Tommy’s book is a powerful argument for a solidarity that knows where it is coming from, England.  What this is up against, the cultural and political legacy of an empire on which the sun never set, is the subject of Peter Mitchell’s Imperial Nostalgia: How the British Conquered Themselves.  The failure to find the means to let go of this particular part of Britain’s national story is why that narrative is so trapped in the past in a manner thar shapes our present. The pre-eminent thinker on a politics that has latterly acquired this progressive patriotism label remains Tom Nairn. His seminal work The Break- Up of Britain first published in 1977 is out once more in a new edition with an entirely original introduction by Anthony Barnett.  Tom’s argument is that the British state is mired in an outdated and unworkable Union. Unionist Labour fundamentally rejects this and in Scotland has suffered the disastrous consequences, an electoral defeat not only epic but a key factor in Labour’s poor prospects of winning a British General Election on its own.  Three independent nations, one island, Tom’s break-up has taken a while but despite Labour conference scarcely countenancing such a prospect few would doubt its coming. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reservations about the fusion of the national and the popular being any kind of basis for a Labour recovery are rooted in how this has traditionally been the politics of the far right. On Burnley Road : Class, Race and Politics in a Northern English Town is Mike Makin-Waite’s compelling account of the disastrous consequences in one northern town when such a politics and the issues they seek to exploit proceed unchallenged, the fascist British National Party (BNP) winning not only support but council seats too and at Labour’s expense. And it gets worse, in Codename Arthur  Nick Lowles reveals for the first time the story of how an anti-fascist spy infiltrated the BNP, the undiluted fascism of their politics and how this directly led some of those that follow them to commit ever-increasing acts of violence, including bombings.  The BNP, thankfully, are long gone, defeated by both broad, community led, campaigning and the tradition of splits that typifies these kinds of parties from the National Front in the late 1970s onwards when they seek to go wider than their fascist core to become an electoral force. Joe Mulhall’s Journeys into the Far Right brings this account right up to do with a resurgent politics that combines its racism and nationalism into a hate-filled, often violent, mix on an international scale from Britain, across Europe to the USA, India and Brazil. Both insider and analytical this is a handbook for a future none of us would want to see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The title of the latest book from Paul Mason says it all in terms of urgency and agency How to Stop Fascism and doesn’t disappoint.  Parts of the left do have an unwelcome habit of sticking the label ‘fascist’ too readily, too lazily, with an apolitical abandon. Paul in contrast roots anti-fascism in an understanding of the history and ideology of where fascism come from in order to confront and defeat it in the here and now. Not just a good read, though it is, very much so, an absolutely essential one too.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central to fascist ideology, with the horrific consequence of the holocaust, is antisemitism. There can be no greater shame therefore than the sticking of this label, whether we like it or not, and I most certainly do not, antisemitic on the Labour Party. Few would argue that the entire party is antisemitic, not many believe the bulk of the membership are either. But by shrugging off with an air of angry resentment in the name of the party that some are Corbynism made a disastrous error. A combination of simple-minded conspiracism and a lazily ill-informed confusion of Jewishness as a whole with the actions of the Israeli government in particular isn’t a problem that anybody on the left should ignore, play down or reduce to whataboutery. Originally published in  1984 long before any of this Steve Cohen’s pathbreaking That’s Funny  You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic : An Anti-Racist Analyis of Left Antisemitism provided an uncomfortable account of how antisemitism has always existed within the left , an outline of how otherwise  once natural allies the left and the Jewish community need to relearn how to work together and a methodology towards making the crucial distinction between anti-zionism and antisemitism. After some years being almost impossible to get hold the book was made available again by No Pasaran Media in 2019 pointing to how very relevant Steve’s analysis remained but too late to do very  much about what became known as ‘Labour’s antisemitism crisis’. In his Confronting Antisemitism on the Left : Arguments for Socialists  Daniel Randall is very clear that his ambition is to bring That’s Funny up to date with a renewed purpose and energy, he does so, with considerable skill. This is a polemic aimed at erstwhile comrades, Daniel’s own politics, a particular brand of Trotskyism, might occasionally get in the way of his argument but one of the principles of a plural left should be to jettison an unwelcome habit of not finding the means to disagree on ABC despite agreeing on LMN and as a result failing to work together on XYX.  Both Steve and Daniel’s are fine books but the definitive work for me on this most vexatious of subjects  is Labour’s Antisemitism Crisis: What the Left Got Wrong and How to Learn from It by the longstanding leftwing writer on fascism and antifascism David Renton. Definitive in scope, politics and writing style this is a hugely impressive piece of writing and puts the Keir Starmer era Labour Party’s own pitiful efforts at antisemitism training to shame. Sadly the same Labour regime in all likelihood will ban David from speaking at Labour meetings on the subject because he doesn’t appear on some approved list to do so.  In the face of all that David’s book demands the widest possible platforms and readership, what a disappointment then it has come out from an academic publisher with their usual unimaginative cover and high price. No criticism of Routledge intended, well done for publishing it, but this book’s audience stretches way beyond academia, hopefully a more attractively packaged and reasonably priced second edition will be on its way soonest, in the meantime readers should grab a copy soon as they can. 

  

 

              

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resisting the far right, confronting antisemitism, reversing the climate emergency, adapting to the changing place of work in daily life and communities will be no mean feat. The Labour Party will continue to be a key part of that process though whether it helps or hinders the feat remains to be seen.  Prior to Work Won't Love You Back Sarah Jaffe’s earlier book Necessary Trouble while focussing on America is testament to the conditions and prospects of what in activist-speak is termed ‘movement-building.’ Published in 2016, the year Trump was elected President, and Jeremy Corbyn re-elected Labour leader, the question five years on must be how those conditions and prospects shape up currently in the era of Biden, and Starmer. Jeremy Corbyn, and in the USA  Bernie Sanders, sought to construct a politics that fused party and movement, whatever the scale of their achievement in the end both failed.  A failure both electorally and with regard to this fusion, for the party as movement too.  Of course, the two are related, when one loses, both lose and as Rodrigo Nunes argues in Neither Vertical nor Horizontal: A Theory of Political Organisation  finding a way through this impasse to build anew requires going beyond unhelpful binary oppositions for any signs of left renewal. 

Millennials, zoomers, post this and that, fully automated wotsit, there is an unnerving tendency for the left to believe that in order to be relevant only all things brand spanking new will do. Yet to learn from the past doesn’t imply an aversion to the changed conditions of the present.  Sylvia Pankhurst: Sexual Politics and Political Activism by Barbara Winslow is a powerfully written rejoinder to such ahistoricism, Sylvia’s story is of militant internationalism, committed class politics, the labour movement central to effecting change. An unrepentant communist,  Sylvia Pankhurst represented a kind of feminism the establishment would rather not associate with women winning the vote, we should. Editors David Featherstone and Christian Høgsbjerg's The Red and the Black: The Russian Revolution and the Black Atlantic do something similar in challenging the conventional view of 1917 which makes precious few links to an emergent oanti-racism and black radicalism of the same period from America to empire. Of course neither the suffragettes nor 1917 are any kind template for Black Lives Matter or the movement thaf erupted in the wake of the murder of Sarah Eveard but neither should we be tempted to assume that the only fitting destination for such histories is a dustbin. The latest issue of the journal Twentieth Century Communism takes as its theme ‘ sexuality, responsibility and communism’ learning how Dutch communists in the 1940s sought to spark a sexual revolution by distributing condoms in factories just one gem to discover when history is suitably retrieved.  For those of a certain age 1989 seems just like yesterday while for millennials and zoomers its history, ancient history. Yet the epochal events of that year and those they helped shape afters are very much a part of our present.  Revolutionary Rehearsals in the Neoliberal Age edited by Colin Barker, Gareth Dale and Neil Davidson could perhaps be more accurately titled ‘revolutionary reversals’ , helpfully contributors chart the various ruptures of 1989 from Eastern Europe and South Africa to Latin America. Any kind of British revolution is so distant it might as well be non-existent yet our world remains shaped by change on this kind of dramatic scale, mostly for the worse, a critical internationalist left cannot afford not to learn these lessons of defeat rather than simply celebrate the moment of victory and never mind the rest. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cultural front will scarcely be acknowledged in either Labour Party Conference proceedings or much of the fringe, whereas at The World Transformed it is as close to centre stage(sic) as cultural politics gets in the arena of the party political. This is as much of a division in Labour, some would argue an even more significant division, as left vs right. Marcus Gilroy-Ware’s After the Fact? The Truth About Fake News details how the media is both a product of politics and produces an entire culture not simply headlines and bulletins. It is these means of production that generate fake news on the scale of anti-mask, anti-vaxx witnessed during the pandemic. What kind of left is equipped to acknowledge this let alone challenge it?  As Marcus shows, one that contests the cultural front. National liberation movements, often out of necessity, have understood the role of what writer Michael Lavalette calls  ‘cultures of resistance’, specifically in Michael’s new book Palestinian Cultures of Resistance  where his focus is on Palestine’s ‘national resistance literature’ of the 1960s to early 1990s.  With the huge, yet reactive, spurts of Palestine solidarity protests whenever Israel launches its attacks on Gaza and the West Bank it is surely time to provide a platform for the modern-day versions of such cultural resistance for a broad, popular, pro-active movement of Palestine solidarity to take shape. William Morris might not quite fit the label ‘national resistance literature’ but it’s not far off what out of history he provides us with. Quintissentially English yet avowedly internationalist his poetic tribute to the 1871 Paris Commune, The Pilgrims of Hope in a new edition with an introduction provided by Michael Rosen couldn’t be more effective as a response to the fiction that Morris did a nice line in floral wallpaper and that’s about it.  Rather he was, and remains, a true English revolutionary.  For me Rock against Racism (RAR) 1978-81 remains the pre-eminent practical example of the fusion of politics and culture.  It may be generational but to my mind there’s been nothing like it since, and more’s the pity.  In Babylon’s Burning : Music, Subcultures and Anti-Fascism in Britain 1958-20 Rick Blackman uniquely provides not only a spirited account of RAR but both a prehistory and postscript of movements of  ‘pop n politics’ which both inspired it and were inspired by. 

By means of escape from Labour’s conference floor or all that hard thinking at The World Transformed a little crime fiction might not go amiss with almost as much intrigue, conspiring and backstabbing as factional warfare manages to conjure up. Chris Brookmyre’s 2019 Fallen Angel is now out in paperback managing to combine a critique of corporate PR, exposure of the murky appeal of conspiracy theorising  and an at times mesmerising plot of murderous intent. Or his latest The Cut which uses one of his favourite devices revisiting an old crime to find not all was what it seemed, not even remotely. Pure escapism, or a means to view Labour politics with a new eye after a good night’s read? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Alternatively if in Brighton for conference and fringe a read to remind delegates and visitors of the place when back home instead of a stick of rock that will only rot our teeth. Attila the Stockbroker, the bard of Brighton and Hove Albion, member of nearby East Worthing and Shoreham CLP, punk poet and ranter of considerable repute, unforgettable live, nearly as good to read, Heart on My Sleeve: Collected Works 1980-2020.  Or Janine Booth, fellow poetic ranter with a socialist-feminist tendency, labour historian, RMT activist, member of Lewes CLP down the road, one of her CLP’s conference delegates, pioneer of the Spoaken Word night in the town. Her latest poetry collection Unprecedented Rhymes : Verses versus the Virus bang up to date Covid poems and poignant, the apparent absence of iambic pentameters notwithstanding.

 

 

 

 

 




 

Or why not serve up a supper after a hard day at conference  with an Ed Balls recipe book ? Not a sentence I’ll admit I had ever previously imagined myself writing. Appetite: A Memoir in Recipes of Family and Food is warm, and endearing and with enough culinary insight and originality to be taken seriously which left me wondering why so few of these qualities shone through when Ed was a frontline politician. Labour party culture and Westminster expectations have a lot to answer for. Only quibble not too much for us vegetarians, volume two, Ed Balls saves the planet one recipe at a time? Reinvention complete, Ed Balls eco-warrior

Before Blair, Brown (and Balls), Miliband, Corbyn, Starmer came those long years of defeat 1970-1997. This Labour Conference follows the 2010-21 years of Labour defeats, plenty would predict these won’t end any time soon either. That earlier period was marked by a critique in and around the party of the limitations of labourism with the newly translated works of Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci a huge influence.  A new biography Antonio Gramsci  by Andrew Pearmain provides the political-historical context that explains, but never restricted, Gramsci’s ideas to serve as a ready-made introduction for new generation left intellectuals.  The most significant figure applying Gramsci’s ideas to an understanding of both Thatcherism and Labour’s defeats, in the face of, was Stuart Hall. James Procter’s short, and very accessible book Stuart Hall is an excellent introduction to his work for those unfamiliar and a reminder for those who were once familiar but the years since have dimmed the memory, and perhaps the politics. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Which brings me to my number one book to help read the 2021 Labour Conference and guide our ideological way through the debates at The World Transformed. First published in 1988 following 1987 Neil Kinnock and Labour’s third successive General Election defeat, Labour in 2021 and now reissued Stuart Hall’s The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left consists of his hugely original essays from these years. Stuart pioneered the analysis of the Thatcherism as a decisive break with the post-war consensus, as neoloiberalism we've been living with the consequences. Uniquely he refused to divorce this from a critique of the left's own failings , not as a cover for either the Labour right or hard lft, but something different. And that something would be founded on ideas and coalitions, a new common sense, a hegemonic left.  Still relevant, highly readable, the connections between those defeats andc the reasons for back then and now are uncanny. Readers who make those connctions won't much cheerier about Labour's immediate prospects but they will be prepared for a road that may be hard yet full of possibility. What better take home from Brighton ’21 could there possibly be? 

 

Note No links in this review are to Amazon, if you can avoid giving money to billionaire tax-dodgers who profit from their employees’ low wages and poor working conditions please do. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy FootballHis latest book is Corbynism from Below   

 

              

 

Ten Books for May Days

30.04.21

1st May, a workers day, to celebrate Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books for all our May days

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!  The traditional distress call when things are on the verge of going hopelessly wrong. Come the morning of 7th May and the Scottish, Welsh polls, Hartlepool by-election, various mayoral plus numerous local election votes have been counted from the day before and it will be either Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer, possibly both, who will be calling for help as losses pile up. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dignity of Labour the debut book from one of Labour’s brightest thinkers, the MP Jon Cruddas will surely be a key text for any post-election debrief. Rather unfairly presented as the ‘old’ versus all the new, bright, young radical thinking on Labour’s rather fraying left fringe, instead this book adds a perspective rooted in workplace culture and organising which complements rather than contradicts his new generation peers.  In the post Corbyn present Starmer era this is the kind of axis round which ideas and initiatives can prosper. Fortunately Jon provides both in abundance to get us going. What a great way to start a month’s worth of reading.  

On the 7th of May much attention will be paid to Labour’s polling in the so-called  ‘Red Wall' seats, is the loss of Labour’s traditional core vote a product of geography, class, politics? Or a mixture of all three?  Tom Hazeldine’s The Northern Question goes in search of some answers within the parameters of what he describes as a ‘divided country’, a division  produced out of a political class’s decision to prioritise financialistion over production, London and the south-east over the north. A historical travelogue not for the politically faint-hearted.   

Irreversible? For these May days it might sometimes seem like this. In  Paint your Town Red Matthew Brown and Rhian E.Jones serve to fire up the spirit of hope with the story of how Preston, Matthew is the city’s Labour council leader, managed to reverse decades of privatisation, outsourcing,  the ghost towning of High Street shopping, via a highly localised socialism.  Together they both tell Preston’s story but crucially how other towns and cities, north, and south, could adapt the lessons to their own circumstances, if the political will is there to do so.  

An invaluable source for such will is the posthumously published  Robin Murray : Selected Writings skilfully edited by Michael Rustin. Robin was that rare thing in an economist, macro in vision, micro in practical application, able to communicate both to the studiously  non-economist in a manner that informed and inspired. Much missed, this collection ranges over Robin's key essays and a wonderful variety of lesser known ones. If May Days fade to grey this is a book to brighten the soul.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two dominant themes of the past five years or so have been populism and pasokification. The first, shaping a bloc of support that goes beyond traditional political loyalties, has primarily been identified with the Right, Trump, Farage/Johnson for example. The latter, with the left, traditional social democratic parties in headlong decline as they suffer huge losses not only to this populist right but also to smaller radical parties shaving off support on their left flank too.  Left Populism in Europe by Marina Prentoulis is a very welcome argument that these are not simply binary oppositions.  That in their different ways, a Corbynist Labour Party , Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, were most successful when they were a synthesis of both a left version of populism with a radicalisation of social-democracy.  And the differing rates of failure of all three, Corbyn,  Syriza and Podemos was due to not successfully combining the two.  A book to expand our horizons beyond Britain across the European Left.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Fisher was a writer who single-handedly expanded the intellectual horizons of an entire new generation of left thinkers.  The collection, edited by Matt Colquhoun Post Capitalist Desire  consists of his final lectures and provides a real insight into Mark's contribution, and our loss. Ranging over revolution, consciousness and Marxism, the themes may seem familiar yet Mark’s approach, and explanation, was entirely original which shines through on every page of this magnificent, if tragic, epitaph of a book.      

Edited by Des Freedman Capitalism’s Conscience isn’t quite a funeral notice on the occasion of the Guardian’s 200thanniversary, though not far short. Never mind the technological, cultural and economic challenges to all versions, but particularly newspapers, of ‘legacy media’. The argument of the contributors, across a diverse range of themes  is that the daily house journal of the liberal left has simply failed to keep up with how those two labels, liberal ideals combined with left-wing politics, have changed. Only the most dogged defender of the paper would disagree but for many of us we cannot resist it as a daily read, a reference point for our agreement, and disagreement, though whether that will be enough to sustain the paper, and for how long, who knows?  

At its best the Guardian remains peerless as an investigative and campaigning newspaper.  This has absolutely been the case throughout the pandemic, day after day, edition after edition, revealing the truly horrific threat of a deadly disease, exposing the lethal and corrupt incompetence of the Tory government’s handling of the crisis , offering positively radical  routes towards a post-pandemic politics. All very necessary and most welcome yet it is Many Different Kinds of Love by poet, author, Guardian contributor Michael Rosen that best mixes the inevitable, and essential, combination of the personal, and the political  as finally, hopefully, we escape from the immediacy of the disease to engage with what comes next. In Michael’s inimitable style a book that is moving, funny,  angry and idealistic. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of what comes next, or at least should come next, must be a renewed commitment by both governments and social movements to reverse the climate emergency. However bad the scale of the Coronavirus crisis, to be brutal it pales into insignificance compared to the pain, suffering and deaths the climate crisis threatens to inflict, worldwide.  What is encouraging however is the breadth of informed concern and dedicated desire for change this is provoking. A measure of this is the Teen Vogue collection No Planet B edited by the magazine’s politics editor Lucy Diavolo.  No, this is not a misprint, the teenage edition of Vogue has a politics editor and has filled a book with chapters on the climate emergency, almost all written by young women aged 10-25 years, chapters that make the connections between the environment, migration and inequality with an imperative for action that prime minsters and party leaders,  almost all male, aged 50-65 years, could well do with reading.  A book from a new generation for readers of all ages.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my number one pick of ten books for a May day's read?  Twenty-First Century Socialism by Jeremy Gilbert.  A short read, almost a manifesto, for the ambitious can be dusted off in one May day to leave the remaining thirty, having interpreted the world, to change it. The meaning of capitalism, the promise of  socialism,  the ideas for a programme of transformational politics and a strategy for how to achieve them, if books in the right hands really are weapons, this one’s thermonuclear. 

Note no links for purchasing the books are toAmazon, if you can avoid giving money to tax-dodging corporations please do   

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled 'sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction', aka Philosophy Football.               

 

        

 

                

 

Books to spring into Spring with 

09.04.21

As what seems like a never-ending lockdown approaches some sort of end  Mark Perryman  has been reading up on the sport we've missed and what it might become

Way back when, during the first lockdown, March ’20, Jonathan Liew wrote a brilliant column on small sport vs big sport . What Jonathan meant by ‘big sport’ was what we watch, for the lucky few as fans in person, for most on the TV.  And ‘small sport’?  What we do, a jog, a bike ride, a workout session via youtube, an open water dip. Can be done on our own, non-competitive, little or no kit required, cheap, and in theory open to just about all.  It is ‘small sport’ that has persisted through the pandemic while ‘big sport’ has been cancelled, postponed, threatened with financial oblivion, struggled on in a much reduced version. 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a handbook for these curious conditions and whatever might follow few will better Jürgen Martschukat’s timely The Age of Fitness.  His pioneering argument is that the obsession with individual performance via such ‘small’ sport is emblematic of, a product of, neoliberalism. Competition, individualisation and commodification certainly all play (sic) their part.  But does the potential exist for a sporting counterculture?  I would argue it absolutely does, however first we have to understand sport cannot be reduced to a simple binary opposition, big bad sport vs small good sport. This book brilliantly provides the framework for just that necessary insight.

The 2021 Tokyo Olympics are pencilled in to mark big sport’s return with a  vengeance this summer. Postponed from 2020 the sensible move would have been to keep to the quadrennial Olympic cycle and defer instead to 2024. But commercial interests and lucrative broadcasting rights outweigh any such good sense in the hands of conservative sports administrators. ‘ The Games Must Go On’ becomes the mantra, the latest edition of Understanding the Olympics by  John Horne and Garry Whannel, is the best possible explanation of where this unwelcome alliance of commerce, broadcasters and conservative officialdom with big sport has come from.  That isn’t to say there isn’t much to enjoy about the Olympics or as I put it in the title of my own book for London 2012 ‘Why the Olympics  Aren’t Good For Us, and How They Can Be ’countervailing tendencies exist. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gender is one such way what the Olympics represents is challenged, Jean Williams’ pioneering Britain’s Olympic Women is of the ‘hidden from history’ feminist tradition of uncovering those whom otherwise would be forgotten. From the first games of the twentieth century via the early post-war and Cold War games to the 1980s and the impact of professionalism Jean Williams tells the story , including  athlete Audrey Brown at the Nazi Olympics of ’36, swimmer Margaret Wellington at the ’48 austerity games, equestrian Pat Smythe and the 1952 Cold War games, and so many more to leave readers questioning why we hadn’t we heard her story before? Uncovering such a story and many others of women Olympians is, eventually, a happy ending. The big fear is that the modern pressure to succeed at the highest level has no such positive conclusion, instead bullying, abuse and drugs in the chase for gold.  Where might this end? The Medal Factory by Kenny Pryde achieves the difficult task of reminding readers of the collective joy and national pride as Team GB’s cyclists swept the medals board while not ducking the dark side of the coaching and competitive culture that lay behind all that success.  A revealing read.        

Pandemic sport, watching on the TV or doing it ourselves, has offered many a relief from the horrific daily updates on ever rising death rates. A snatched moment of normality, win, lose, or draw, the chance to dream. Ian Ridley’sThe Breath of Sadness was written before Covid yet its incredibly emotional trail around country cricket as a journey through the loss and grief of losing his relatively young wife at the age of 56 to a lethal cancer is sadly very much a book of the current moment.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell shares a similar theme, sport versus grief, in Emily’s case the distraction of endurance sport, ultra distance cycle racing.  But also the inspiration sport can provide to help untangle the tangled up emotions of death for the living, why them, why not me?  Paul Fournel’s  Need for the Bike approaches this emotional role of sport from a different angle , an instant classic when originally published in France , now translated into English, this is a story of the bike as companion, purveyor of agony and ecstasy, the perfect vehicle for a two-wheeled two fingers to everything the pandemic threw at us. 

Meanwhile in ’20 what ‘big sport’ lost was the sense of being there, in the stands,  down the pub, watching with mates, and for the lucky victorious crowd, celebrating too. Few missed the latter more than Liverpool fans, a first domestic league championship since the old First Division title of 89-90. Anthony Quinn’s Klopp is testament to all that Liverpool achieved in this most unusual of seasons and the manager arguably uniquely well-placed to make this long awaited achievement possible.  Liverpool’s era of nearly-but-not-quite coincided with a failure to find a successful managerial culture to follow the immensely successful ‘bootroom’ era of  Shankly and Paisley era and to a lesser extent Evans and Dalglish too.  Man Utd found the same in the wake of both Busby and Ferguson, and now after the Wenger years came to and end at Arsenal too.  While Arsène’s autobiography My Life in Red and White isn’t exactly a ‘kiss and tell’, few football autobiographies are that revealing, there is more than sufficient insight to reveal what Wenger brought to Arsenal and the scale of the problem in coming anywhere close to replacing his contribution.  For that missing element in a decent football book, the confessional, Rob Steen has this down to his customary fine writer’s art with The Mavericks. Originally published in 1994, now reissued and updated, Rob’s book goes behind the changing room door to reveal the backstory of  a generation of 1970s flair players whose ability to entertain on, and off the pitch, was much more about their lawlessness and free spirit than sticking to the plan and playing for the team.

Harry Pearson’s Far Corner subtitled   ‘a mazy dribble through North-East football’ was also first published in 1994, rather unexpectedly almost three decades later Harry’s written a follow up The Farther Corner this time subtitled ‘a sentimental return to North-East football.’  Of course sentimentalism in and of itself is not enough, although any book that takes in the clubs Newcastle Benfield, Pontefract Collieries, Seaham Red Star  and plenty more where that lot came from will help convince that it is an emotion in a time of such chronic uncertainty not to be lightly dismissed either.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For an appreciation of all that we have missed in the past year, and a reminder of both from whence our football clubs came from and mod£rn football’s insatiable desire to consume (sic) the traditions they helped generate the books of Daniel Gray are an essential pleasure.  Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters , telling the story of what Daniel dubbed ‘ England’s football provinces’  or in other words life outside the big city clubs was the first of what has become to date a quartet . The latest Extra Time adds a further 50 (50!) ‘eternal’ delights of  mod£rn football  to the 50 he’d uncovered previously in Saturday 3pm which  just goes to show putting the £ into ‘modern’  cannot destroy everything we hold dear, well not yet.  In between producing these two finely optimistic books Daniel also managed to find ‘50 lost wonders of the beautiful game’ neatly summed up in the book’s title Black Boots and Football Pinks sadly there will be ample scope post-pandemic for a second volume of these losses too. 

A visual memento of what a year not going to games has robbed us of us is superbly provided by British Football’s Greatest Grounds compiled by Mike Bayly. I have shelfloads of  football photography books, all much treasured, but I I was beginning to think the genre might almost be exhausted by now. Mike’s book confounds that, photos that give an all-round sense of the stadium as an environment and located in its surroundings, the sharply observed essays Mike provides to accompany the photos,  a format rank ordering the must-see 100 grounds with my club Lewes FC’s Dripping Pan at number one, I couldn’t possibly comment , but the ‘100’ will have readers  arguing over the selection and  rank ordering for years to come, and that’s what I call a formula for a great book!  

In his book Because It’s Saturday Gavin Bell defiantly describes lower league football as the game’s ‘heartlands’ though even here the march of Mod£rn Football isn’t entirely absent, in which version of Orwellian Newspeak was the fourth division reinvented as ‘League Two’? For an insight into the commodification of the ability to stop, make and score goals Daniel Geey’s Done Deal is both unrivalled and deeply unsettling.  When Coronavirus struck there were those in the game, as the saying goes, unwilling  ‘ to let a good crisis go to waste.’  The most extreme version of this became known as Project Restart to entrench the wealth, and power of the ‘big’ clubs at the expense of the rest of the Premiership, never mind the ‘pyramid’ and ended up being rejected, for now. Jon Berry ingeniously subverts the phrase for the title of his book Project Restart  to describe the impact of twelve months’ worth of virus and lockdown on a sport, lest we forget, that stretches from Sunday league to Premier league, and all points in between.   And Berry concludes with the interesting question, when it’s all over can football be part of making the post-pandemic world a better place? Lets hope so. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long before the current crisis Jim Keoghan established himself as a chronicler of  how to turn such hope into reality.  First with Punk Football  Jim’s spirited account of the rise of fan ownership, a hugely significant movement vital to a better football, tho’ as recent reversals at Swansea, Portsmouth and Wrexham  illustrate, the commitment even amongst fans to such a model, when a rich investor comes calling promising success on a plate,  remains fragile.  The continuing need nevertheless for fan ownership is made via the title of Jim’ new book How to Run a Football Club well it would be with the simple insertion of the word ‘not’. The argument made in this finest of reads is that whatever level football is enjoyed the ‘simple love of the sport’ should be paramount, but isn’t.  Fan ownership would inevitably mean scaling back the huge operating budgets of the behemoth clubs, and would that be such a bad thing, what precisely would we miss?  And what would we gain?

Unlike the supporter ownership movement Football’s response to #BlackLivesMatters, however laudable, was characterised by a corporate version of social responsibility, in this case anti-racism almost, entirely divorced from any kind of initiative that could be described as fan-led When ‘taking a knee’ becomes an obligatory pre-match ritual rather than how it originated as an act of rebellion it is increasingly doubtful this is a player-led response either.  

Racism and English Football by Daniel Burdsey points to all the complex, but very necessary, challenges in developing such a response. Until these are faced a truly anti-racist football will remain as far away as before last year’s explosion of black resistance.  A fine and vital book, but academic publishers and authors who produce such invaluable books, why no cheap paperback edition?

What might a fans’ resistance movement look like, on race and the extremities of  commodifying this most fabled of ‘people’s games’ look like? Three recent books provide an inkling.   St Pauli: Another Football is Possible by Charles Viñas and Natxo Parra connects the history and development of this club as icon of resistance to a wider social movement of change rooted in fandom but not restricted by it.  In Ultras Mark Doidge, Radoslaw Kossakowski and Svenja Mintert describes a very particular fan culture that is in turns passionate, orchestrated and performative, global in appeal though to date English fandom has remained largely unaffected, unimpressed even.  Digital Football Cultures  edited by Stefan Lawrence and Garry Crawford points to an experience of supporters which today is more genuinely international, following the game online, building fan communities, expressing a cultural ownership of club, team, and players, in a manner not always welcome. A football from below?  Possibly. 

Finding the answer to this, and other, questions isn’t easy, but to treat football with the seriousness it deserves means we have to at least try. And in a manner the conventions of both the game and politics barely equip us with the ideas and tools the task requires.   In this regard as the co-founder of Philosophy Football Stephen Mumford’s book Football: The Philosophy Behind the Game quite naturally appealed  to me and I’m pleased to say didn’t disappoint with its stimulating mix of the game’s attractions, including beauty, chance, victory and the ideas we observe, but sometimes miss, in the course of ninety minutes.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


For those of a particular inclination David Goldblatt is the ‘Eric Hobsbawm of football writing’ just like the greatest of historians tracing of our society’s past to explain the present David has done the same with football. His latest The Age of Football surveys a sport in the grip of neo-colonial power, the crisis of an institutionalised Europeanism, corruption and shifting great power politics. In David’s hands context is all and makes for the very best of footballing reads.   

Two recent books explore a situation where sporting officialdom for the most part, players and many fans unike the reponse to #BlackLivesMstter pitched themselves against anti-racism. Geoff Brown and Christian Høgsbjerg’s short book Apartheid is Not a Game revisits the notorious 1969 South African Springboks’ rugby and South Africa’s 1970 cricket tour of Britain and the successful efforts by mass protests, disruption and sabotage to stop them.  Pitch Battles by Peter Hain, one of the key organisers of those protests and his co-author, South African scholar and activist André Odendaal, connects sport’s boycotts and protests vital role in the anti-apartheid movement to a wider struggle for an anti-racist sporting culture, bringing the story bang up to date  with both present-day South Africa, lockdown and #BlackLivesMatter. A superb read for resistance and change in ‘21.

 

 

 

 

 

 



Likewise the incorporation of 'taking the knee' by the  sporting establishment in '20 couldn't be more different to how sport responded, if at all, to Colin Kaepernick's original act, which was absolutely of anti-racist resistance. And Colin wasn’t alone, as fellow pro American Footballer and Superbowl winner Michael Bennett details in his sharply titled book Things That Make White People Uncomfortable this is a movement of protest, against injustice, opposition to racism and the way black communities are policed . How neatly all of this can co-exist with the most powerful forces in sport seeking to co-opt it remains to be seen.  A book that provides the kind of framework to help us not only anticipate such outcomes but shape them too is  The Game is not a Game by Robert Scoop Jackson, who like Bennett and the peerless  Dave Zirin all  hail from the USA, and all three authors published by the left books outfit over there Haymarket Books .  So here’s a question, why doesn’t a sports-obsessed culture like Britain’s, with honourable exceptions, produce committed left sports writing of this sort and supported by the main left publishers to produce it in cheap, accessible and attractive formats? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three examples of the art of the possible from three different British independent publishers, and on p’raps not the sporting subject matter we might expect for such an endeavour.  First off, from Pluto Press David Berry’s A People’s History of Tennis in which he traces the making of a sport beyond the Pimms, strawberries and cream  set constructed instead out of feminism, socialism and migration. ‘Tennis from below’, who’d have thought it?  Next up, from Repeater  same sport but a very different  approach,  Racquet a celebration of the sheer diversity  of tennis, edited by David Shaftel and Caitlin Thompson, consisting of articles from the magazine of  the same name now available as a book.  The downturn of the late twentieth century boom of tennis as a popular recreational sport,  the roots of elitism in tennis versus race, gender and class on and off the court,  the sexualising of Maria Sharapova, this is a range of politicised sports writing to enthuse and inspire others, whatever our sport. My third example pushes at the boundaries of possibility, Self Made Hero have published Czech author Jan Novák’s graphic novel  Zátopek a pioneering combination of words by Jan with the comic-strip art of Jaromír 99 creates a mix that both engages the modern reader and informs us of the achievements of one of the true athletic greats and the social system, post war East European  communism, including its flaws, that framed his achievements on the track.  Form and content, together, producing a truly memorable read. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my sports book of the Spring?  The Miracle Pill by Peter Walker would be the ideal book any year as we emerge from Winter, spring into Spring and look forward to the Summer. Combine this with the pressing desire by many to reassess their lifestyle choices after the best part of twelve months under one lockdown restriction or another and Peter’s book is spot-on perfect.  What make this read really special is the argument that the sedentary position isn’t an individual choice but the product of social imperatives that diminish, ignore and do little to encourage an active life.  The consequences are severe and costly, the alternatives cheap and beneficial, a progressive popular common sense vision of building back better would do a lot worse than taking this as its starting point. A miracle? I’m told they can happen. 

 

Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka  Philosophy Football    

  

 

       

How to Read a Way out of the Crisis

07.12.20

The Coronavirus Crisis navigated by Mark Perryman’s reading guide to cause, effect and afters.  

The lockdown has forced all manner of reflections on how a deadly disease can threaten humankind’s existence and what kind of world will follow any much hoped-for recovery. Where those reflections end up is anybody’s guess. Slavov Žižek is the kind of writer to be relied upon to make such a guess, and a well-educated one too, his response to the crisis Pandemic! doesn’t disappoint in making any reader think, and rethink. The evidence of past plagues is that to assume any such rethink on a systemic scale will happen of its own common-sense accord is only to leave power in the hands of those with little or no interest in effecting any such change. The Monster Enters by Mike Davis is a historical testament to that, tracking how agriculture, food producers, governments and big business have colluded following past pandemics to protect their own interests at the expense of public health. Lee Humber’s Vital Signs makes the case for the absolute necessity of a radical public health strategy with the explicit purpose of tackling inequality, inequalities revealed in explicit and deadly detail via disproportionate Coronavirus death rates. Dead Epidemiologists is an investigation by Rob Wallace and his co-authors into where the virus came from, its origins and its rapid escalation to become a deadly pandemic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A detailed understanding of how and why the Coronavirus crisis proved so lethal is provided by the short and instant book The Covid-19 Catastrophe by Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of the medical journal The Lancet.  One of the most interesting responses to this catastrophe has been from below, localised, community-focused self help, or ‘mutual aid’. Edited by Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembra  Pandemic Solidarity is a collection of accounts from across the world of how these initiatives began, the ways they organise, and the questions they pose for more traditional ways of ‘doing’ politics.  But perhaps what the Coronavirus crisis has revealed more than anything else is the prevalence of loneliness, not solidarity, in our society. Noreena Hertz’s pioneering argument in The Lonely Century is that rather than treat this as somebody else’s ‘problem’  the necessity is to reorganise society to produce connectivity and out of this collectivity.  Whether this might be one of the more hopeful outcomes of the crisis is too early to say although the bracing intellectual self-confidence of the many contributors to Everything Must Change edited by Renata Ávila and Srécko Horvat certainly seeks to convince the reader that things won’t remain the same, because the virus has proved they can’t. We shall see. To turn simply waiting to seeing how things might turn out into actively shaping those outcomes Grace Blakeley in her new book The Corona Crash provides just the kind of political programme, and analysis to frame the outcomes with a newly radicalised version of a post-pandemic politics.

It isn’t to minimise the huge human, and as these accounts testify largely avoidable, tragedy to suggest that 2020 is simply the warm-up act to the climate emergency to come. In Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency Andreas Malm skilfully makes these connections to reveal the links between capitalism’s insatiable appetite for the natural world resulting in first a global disease and next the destruction of a planet. Is it too late to put a stop to all this? Nearly but not quite, it is certainly the case that we are already in the midst of a climate crisis but as Derek Wall maps out in Climate Strike resistance most certainly isn’t futile, rather it’s our only hope.  The paperback edition of Naomi Klein’s On Fire  is pretty much a primer for the fusion of this movement against the Climate Emergency with the political demands for a ‘Green New Deal.’        

To turn such a fusion into mass, popular support however requires showing definitively it isn’t simply environmental interests that demand this but material interests too. At the core of such a project is the energy industry, decarbonise that and decarbonisation becomes a realisable objective. Renewables make perfect sense, by definition they last for ever, but decarbonisation on the scale required demands as Ashley Dawson argues in People’s Power massive state intervention, neither individual lifestyle choice will be sufficient nor can the market be trusted not simply to act in defence of vested interests. The sun, wind and tide these are our common treasury for all on a global scale and only the state can protect them to harness their power. Will this lead to declining living standards? No, but they will be different.  Co-authors Giorgos Kallis, Susan Paulson, Giacomo D’Alisa and Federico Semaria in The Case for Degrowth make this argument very well though tactically is ‘degrowth’ really the best label to maximise the breadth of support required for such a politics? Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living is a perhaps more positive version of a not dissimilar politics, describing her case as for an ‘alternative hedonism',  the sound of which the only response to can only be, yes please. 

The climate emergency is gathering pace at the precise moment both the market economy and the welfare state are undergoing momentous change. This is the terrain on which any politics, including environmentalism, is forced to operate. Lisa Adkins, Melinda Cooper and Martijn Konings use one aspect of this change as the focus for their book The Asset Economy which they define as property inflation’s impact on class determinants and generational dynamics. An impact only too familiar to many 21st century parents and their millennial offspring.  Alongside a housing crisis it is the ever-expanding digital economy that more than any other single economic factor which shapes the lives, and life chances, of millennials. Wendy Liu’s Abolish Silicon Valley is a fantastic political call to arms in the cause of socialising the ownership of this most individualistic entrepreneurial of economic forces.  The 2021 Edition of  the annual Socialist Register takes a similar theme, Beyond Digital Capitalism, to explore not only the regressive limitations of the digital economy but also the progressive possibilities from a socialist social media to community restaurants and low-carbon public transport,  a truly inspiring read.  

Coronavirus has revealed the actually existing welfare state gripped by its own crisis.  Polly Toynbee and David Walker’s The Lost Decade records the government-made decline of the public realm in devastating detail. No amount of clapping for NHS frontline staff could make up for a decade’s worth, and before that too, of underfunding, underpaying and undervaluing an institution so vital to the nation’s health, virus or no virus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course institutions, not even  the rightly venerated NHS, can stand still.  Reinventing The Welfare State by Ursula Huws skilfully combines this imperative for change while firmly establishing that the market isn’t the sole model for such a change, the ideas are bold, original and inventive, they’ll need to be if the near universal political acceptance of the market model for the past four decades is to be reversed.  The consequences of such bipartisanship are sharpest of all in the university sector. Editors Michael Rustin and Gavin Poynter’s Building a Radical University is a history of the University of East London, best known to those of a certain age as NELP (North East London Polytechnic). The book presents the institution as a haven of ‘radical innovation’ but whilst the instances cited are entirely admirable their survival is surely in resistance to, not the product of, the destruction of the Polytechnic sector in the cause of a worthless marketing exercise. ‘Rebuilding the Radical Polytechnic’ perhaps a future volume for the editors and contributors?    

At the core of both the Coronavirus crisis, and its after-effects, is of course inequality, particularly in wages and workplace conditions. This was the key determinant in how millions experienced the virus, caught it, survived it, or not.  Inequalites turbo-charged towards something over spilling into the obscene by the rapidly changing nature of work. From Amazon’s model, expertly documented in The Cost of Free Shipping edited by Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Ellen Reese, via the Angry Workers collective recording the bitter experience of  casualisation in Class Power on Zero Hours to Callum Cant’s superb analysis from inside the gig economy Riding for Deliveroo.  New versions of the workplace, changing terms of employment, the displacement of work as a defining characteristic of personal identity, all these and more pose fundamental challenges for how trade unions organise. Yet their core role in defending and extending wages and conditions remain as vital as ever, evidenced by trade union membership surges as the Coronavirus crisis threatened to cut these adrift. Unions Renewed by Alice Martin and Annie Quick is a powerfully made case both for this defensive role and at the same time a trade union offensive towards the democratisation of the entire economy.  Such a twin role will be indivisible from the moral and political case against ever-increasing inequality. Ben Phillips makes this case in How To Fight Inequality while arguing that for such a movement to win must coalition build right across all forces in civil society. From the USA Jackson Rising edited by Kali Akuno and Ajamu Nangwaya is a handbook for how such a coalition was both built and effected radical change in one American city.  Read, and be inspired.   

Pre-lockdown there had been a wave of mass, popular movements intensely typical of a digital era framing how to organise. #Metoo was arguably the first of these but of course there is always a prehistory, one which is neatly captured by the sparkling prose and eclectic selection of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s Ladies Who Punch which could almost be called ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls - the grown-up edition’.  And then during the early summer months of the Corinavirus Crisis #BlackLivesMatters erupts. Two books provide both the backstory from both sides of the Atlantic and how such a street movement connects with resistance from within the beast of the legislature, Congress and the Commons. This is What  America Looks Like by Ilhan Omar subtitled ‘ my journey from refugee to Congresswoman’  is the autobiographical account of a politics entirely different from Trump’s, or Biden’s.  Much the same could be said of Diane Abbott, the biography by Robin Bunce and Samara Linton, as chronicled here a target of, and consistent campaigner against, racism. There are, quite simply, far too few like her, more’s the pity. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In  We Need New Stories  Nesrine Malik ranges over gender equality, the faux outrage over 'political correctness gone mad' and identity politics in order to  propose the kind of politics to produce a consciousness from which a movement, so sorely lacking in and out of both Labour and the Democrats might emerge. Not simply a protest movement, though the last year has proved just how much that is certainly needed, but a movement of change too.      

When we, eventually, come out the other side of the Coronavirus crisis the pressing need for an oppositional politics, of resistance, will be urgent. Darkly sinister forces of conspiracy theories and pseudo-libertarianism have emerged and are preparing to prosper. The new and updated edition of David Renton’s  Fascism is the best short introduction to the scale and horror  of what such a politics of hate and blame can conjure up. To date, despite on occasion the very real threat of a breakthrough, the various British variants of fascism have never succeeded. No Platform by Evan Smith tells of one episode, and the controversies it provoked, that contributed to the fascists’ defeat. 

Thankfully while the threat of fascism should never be lightly dismissed its imminent revival as a mass political force is unlikely. Instead we have the global phenomenon of populism, complicated by the fact this has both reactionary right  variants as well as popular left variants too. The Populist Manifesto edited by Emmy Eklundh and Andy Knott  provides a very good account of this sometimes bemusing variety under the heading of one ‘ism.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the People from Jorge Tamames takes a narrower focus but is no less invaluable as a consequence.  Focussing exclusively on the variants of Left populism, specifically Podemos in Spain and Bernie Sanders in the USA, this is a book to give hope for a better politics, and a better future, once the crisis is over.     

The key to that hope reaching fulfilment has to depend not so much on charismatic leaders but engaging ideas. This is the key difference between a Left that is popular and one that is simply populist.  A good starting point is to deconstruct those elements that have degenerated democracy, to that end the multi-authored Media Manifesto provides both an accessible critique and a credible alternative for what passes today as ‘news’.  Peter Geoghegan’s Democracy for Sale expertly dissects how in the digital age the forces that produce such a biased, monopolised news production range far beyond what we read in a paper, listen to on the radio or watch on the TV.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eliane Glaser takes a very different tack in her new book Elitism. Described as both ‘a progressive defence’ and a ‘provocation’ the title would seem to fly in the  face of the former while living up to the latter.  But this most interesting of writers is on to an idea something rooted in the Coronavirus crisis. Science and the scientists, Doctors and frontline NHS workers, public health professionals, their collective expertise puts a fly-by-the-seat-of-his pants PM to shame.  

And as for a thinker who draws these, and many other threads of ideas together a new generation of writers will invariably cite, with good cause, the late Mark Fisher.  Matt Colquhoun’s Egress serves both as an excellent tribute to Mark Fisher’s influence and introduction to his ideas.  The Coronavirus crisis has coincided with the end of Corbyn and Sanders insurgencies, and the defeat of Trump. Quite where this might leave politics afters is anybody’s guess and its too early for the guesswork, educated or otherwise, to get into print yet. A useful starting point before we get to read the eventual theses is the new edition of Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin’s The Socialist  Challenge Today a polemical survey  of the hits, and misses of Corbyn, Sanders and Syriza. The latter is the subject of a detailed critique in Greece 2015 by Éric Toussaint. Of course such critiques are necessary, the crushing of hopes dashed though however have a tendency to produce demoralised despair when what is required is the energy of renewal.  Three very different accounts of the Corbyn era provide, perhaps unwittingly, some sort of basis for this kind of energetic  thinking, and doing. From the outside left As It Happened is a collection of  Lindsey German’s briefings on the Corbyn project from the highs of 2017 to the lows of 2019.  Enthusiasm for what might be possible is combined with a  sharply critical view of why it didn’t, or if you like, revolutionary realism.  It is hard to imagine Deborah Mattinson ever describing herself as a revolutionary but the work she has done on polling and focus groups for a period revolutionised Labour’s approach to electioneering. Beyond the Red Wall  is her attempt to make sense of Labour’s disastrous loss of so many ‘heartland’ seats in the 2019 General Election. We can argue the toss over the book’s methodology but recognising the seriousness of these losses and not assuming we know the answers why is absolutely vital.  Muckrakers Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire don’t pretend to offer any such answers but their strictly unauthorised inside story of the Corbyn Leadership Left Out is so wonderfully scurrilous that it is a rollicking good read even if the politics don't match the reader's.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Land by Owen Jones is the same account but from an openly Corbynist perspective. With an unrivalled media platform Owen is probably the best known purveyor of Corbynist politics, however the most interesting thing about his book is the scale, and the limits, of his critique of what Corbynism became.  Chris Clarke’s The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master offers a very different view on what should follow Corbyn. Highly critical of left populism Chris offers pluralism as his alternative, and in the process rejects the idea that Labour can be both popular and plural. Why not?        

The year will end on one happy note mind, the downfall of Trump. In his place President Joe Biden, what Biden’s America will end up looking like, nobody yet knows.  Better than Trump’s is a mighty low bar, Meagan Day and Micah Uetricht’s Bigger Than Bernie is convinced that without Sanders at the helm it won’t be as good they’d have wished it to be.  For Bernie supporters that’s a self-evident truth, the key however will be how to edge Biden towards the ‘better’ and when the process slows find the means to edge it forward again without retreating to the comfortable margins of inglorious, indignant, opposition.  

Where are the resources for such a hopeful outcome ? Out of history that’s where. Ruth Kinna’s Great Anarchists , illustrated by the sublime Clifford Harper, is a superb place to begin this journey of optimism, chronicling in words and pictures this most optimistic of ideologies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or Robert Tressell’s classic account of the potential for a working class politics of change, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists ingeniously recreated by Scarlett and Sophie Rickard for the first time as a graphic novel. At the core of these different yet complimentary accounts is a sense of coming together to fulfil a common cause. That process Jodi Dean describes in her brilliant short book Comrade as ‘political belonging ’ a value sorely lacking when the practice of politics becomes divorced from the ambition to change, everything.  The latest edition of the twice-yearly journal Twentieth Century Communism ranges over its usual fascinating mix of efforts towards such a scale of change, including communism fighting to survive under the Nazis in interwar Germany and Eric Hobsbawm’s writings on dialectical materialism. Domestic tales of such efforts, not all of them happy, are retold in Ian Parker’s extraordinary Mapping the English Left through Film which details the story of 25 Left groups , what a shame not 57 varieties of, each account introduced with the device of a film Ian has chosen to best represent their politics, opening with Arnold  Schwarzernegger’s Total Recall as the Labour Party. If that doesn’t tempt readers nothing will. Ian’s book is both very funny and highly informative, a rare combination amongst most writers on the Outside Left.  But sometimes these small, highly committed, revolutionary-activist groups produce leaders and regimes which in this tiny closed world are no laughing matter. My Search for Revolution is the story of the Workers Revolutionary Party, best known for counting Vanessa and Corin Redgrave amongst their ranks, as told by former member Clare Cowen. A story Clare describes as abuse, including sexual abuse, all in the cause of creating a party equipped to effect revolutionary change.  

In the interwar years dominated by the Popular Front against fascism that cause connected to a broad public support in every sector of society.  The Folk Singers and the Bureau provides a fascinating account, thanks to the painstaking research of author Aaron J. Leonard of just one instance of the breadth and depth of such support, namely folk music.  Tellingly much of the book consists of what the establishment did to first narrow, then demonise, and finally criminalise this support. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Colin Coulter Working for the Clampdown deals with a very different period of this fusion of the popular, the political and the musical.  The late 1970s to early 1980s, punk, The Clash and Rock against Racism (RAR).  For those of a certain age there’s never been anything like it since. Nostalgia isn’t a healthy trait to equip a radical politics of today and tomorrow but in this instance its worth making an exception, the lessons of RAR too invaluable, and unacknowledged, to be lost in the mists of time.  Colin’s book helps us to understand why.    

Central to RAR’s impact was its agitational visual identity, mixing punk and dayglo, but in a highly original fashion, not derivative of punk in the least, but stood as part of that moment in its own right.  The same care and attention to visual arts activism was applied to RAR’s sister organisation the Anti Nazi League (ANL) by one of the British Left’s most important graphic designers David King. David set a standard of originality and impact both framed by the wonderful art of the Russian Revolution but entirely capable of going beyond it too.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rick Poynor’s David King is a superbly illustrated design biography and deserves to be read by anyone seeking to communicate ideas, and ideals, visually.  A much slimmer volume is the pamphlet Protest Stencil testament to how low cost guerrilla marketing, ‘subervertising’ with good graphics can extend the reach of ideas where more conventional methods fail. Or to while away the grim dissatisfaction of the pandemic indulge yourself and let rip the artistic imagination, crayons at the ready, with N.O.Bonzo’s Off With Their Heads an ‘antifascist colouring book’, yes really.  

For many lockdown has meant spending more time at home, willingly or otherwise, less time doing all those things that take us away from home,  willingly or otherwise. Animal Squat written and illustrated by Doublewhy is a children’s book like few others, a tale of wild things and even wilder ideas for parents not afraid of their sons and daughters questioning why? More time at home has also meant for many rediscovering the joys of eating in versus eating out or takeaways. There’s no one better to make such a realignment enjoyable and economic than Jack Monroe, her latest book Good  Food for Bad Days perfectly timed for these baddest days imaginable. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And when this virus is all over, what then? A book of the year that maps precisely how a pandemic became a crisis, how new models of support and solidarity became the basis of survival, given a social worth and weight never accorded to them before, and provides an organising focus which demands the remaking of the political. The Care Manifesto by The Care Collective the book of 2020 because not only does it find a way out of the crisis but lays the basis for something better in its place.

Note No links to purchase any of these excellent books are to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from a tax-dodging company with woeful working conditions for its employees please do.    

 

Millions of People

14.05.20

Captain Ska release Millions Of People in tribute to the NHS and all key workers

Over the years Philosophy Football has been proud to work with a whole range of artists. Captain Ska are certainly amongst the finest of these, they describe themselves as ' producers of politically iinclined music' to which we'd only add, it's impossible to resist dancing to!

Their latest recording Millions of People (feat Arieleno) is a musical tribute to key workers in the NHS and care homes, the drivers of our trains and buses, cleaners and shop assistants, the emergency services, teachers and migrant agricultural labour. All of whom we clap for every Thursday, all of whom are helping us to survive the Coronavirus crisis, all of whom are otherwise undervalued, underpaid, working in services and industries that have been under-invested in. Once the clapping is over won't it be time for all that to change? 

Launched today ahead of tonight's'Clap'. Enjoy. 

Click on the image below to hear Millions of People and see the inspiring video.  

 

Born in the NHS (after Bruce, kind of)

23.04.20

Long time Philosophy Football customer and occasional collaborator Andrew Simms saw the words on our Born in the NHS  t-shirt and thought why not a song?

With apologies to Bruce (we think he'd approve) and with the fantastic folk talent of Phil Johnstone on vocals and guitar, Peter Newell on drums, with words by Andrew, here is a very familiar song re-imagined in honour of the NHS. Not everyone has to risk their lives when they go to work, but that's what the everyday heroes of the NHS are doing. A suberb exercise in socially distanced creative collaboration. Andrew describes the meage of his words as ' learning who and what really matters in society, and how many of our priorities now need to shift.'  We agree, Born in the NHS, we hope you enjoy it.

Click on below to watch and hear the song 

Our fundraising Born in the NHS T-shirt is available from here 

 

 

Null and Void

07.04.20

The Coronavirus crisis has revealed much about sport as a business Mark Perryman co-founder of Philosophy Football argues mainly bad  

The rush to resume has been for the most part unseemly. The manner in how this will be done ill thought-out. The selfishness, with honourable exceptions, revealing. Right now sport isn’t exactly looking as if its bought into the ‘all in it together’ philosophy that we’re hoping against hope will get us through the Coronavirus crisis. 

It’s not often that I agree with Karren Brady, Sun columnist, Tory Peer and West Ham’s vice chair but when she argued the best option for football was to null and void the 2019-20 football season I thought she was at least being honest about the urgency and scale of what football, and all other sports, is facing.  I prefer the term ‘incomplete’, the season ends now, forget about any resumption, the league places frozen in time, no champions, no Champions League places, no relegations, no promotions. Of course some fans, thinking mainly of themselves not others, accused her of naked self-interest, West Ham currently hover above the drop zone only on goal difference. But the point is such a cessation, for ever, of this one season will produce good results for some bad results for others, Liverpool and Leeds especially. that’s the point of being ‘all in this together.’  

As for games played behind closed doors, the great Celtic manager Jock Stein once said ‘football without fans is nothing'. He was right, it is no accident that football markets itself, the clubs, advertisers, sponsors, broadcasters, always with the game represented as much by what’s going on with those watching the action as those making it. Coca Cola, one of world football’s principal sponsors, summed this up very well with one of their advertising slogans ‘ If transfer fees were paid for fans what would you be worth?’  Of course such a value to the game of fans should not be monetised in such a way, but the fact that it is reveals that the absolute worth of fandom cannot be numbered just in pound signs.  

Immediate incompletion would have revealed the sheer abnormality of the times we are living, or for far too many dying, through. A welcome self-sacrifice as football faced up to its responsibilities. But no, the desire to get back, fuelled mainly by the huge commercial merry-go-round, driven more than anything else by the deals with subscription only broadcasters that funds football’s largesse at the upper end, cannot be allowed to stop for any longer than could possibly be got away with. 

Incompletion would need to be Europe-wide, incomplete seasons would mean no Champions League, this season, and none next either. An eighteen month break, is that really too much of a sacrifice to ask given what all of Euope is going through? Yes, apparently as UEFA and the clubs scramble to find a way to keep their money-spinning show on the road. 

And the international game isn’t much better. In a rushed decision Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2021, the awkward fact that this was the year designated for the Women’s Euros solved by bumping that into the following year. What does this produce? The most almighty of global fixture pile ups. The world sporting calendar is delicately balanced between providing a summer of sport to look forward to and forgetting that sometimes, even with sport, less is more. The women’s Euros in 2022 means England hosting both these and the Commonwealth Games at the same time, madness, both will lose out big time. And there’s another reason why 2021 should be summer tournament free for the men’s game. To give the players  and the fans, a summer off before having World Cup 2022 to look forward to.

This fixture pile up when the crisis is over isn’t restricted to football either.  Another rushed decision had been to move the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to 2021. This means all manner of Olympic Sports’ World and Continental Championships being postponed to the following year to clash with other events carefully diarised for 2022 to avoid that. 

Null and void the lot. Tokyo 2020 becomes Tokyo 2024, Euro 2020 becomes Euro 2024, the existing hosts move along to the next time,  a 4-year wait not that much given the current global crisis while providing the time for the event organisation to recover.    

That recovery to be worthwhile necessitates change, for the most well-paying sports. The obscenity of football clubs laying off non-playing staff to claim state aid when the average wage of a Premiership footballer is £60,000 a week. Chairmen, directors, owners taking a wealth out of their clubs of even greater magnitude.  Clubs lower down the leagues, non-league, the recreational game facing extinction. When the wealth at the top end is so huge to be almost imaginable the cost of self-sacrifice and solidarity borders on the negligible but to date has proved too much for too many.  

The very welcome exceptions to this sorry tale, from executive boxes and boardrooms given over for temporary conversion by local hospitals to clubs and players keeping the foodbanks going that depend on matchday collections,  are to be applauded.  There is, of course, a community around every club that amounts to more than just gate receipts and replica shirts sold. Maybe, just maybe, this crisis, will force a grater recognition of this, that the Fans Supporting Foodbanks stalls outside Anfield , Goodison and numerous other grounds are every bit as part of what football is about, or should be about, as anything else.

Sport will take time to recover. It won’t be the same when it does. Rushing back for ‘business’ reasons won’t help. Sport as a culture will have to rebuild relationships. The hard core fans’ loyalties won’t have changed. But for the more casual fans many will have discovered they didn’t miss it as much as they expected to. And the inevitable financial pressures a huge chunk of the population will face might well mean the money previously spent on being a fan is needed for more pressing priorities. For way too long sport has taken the never-ending financial loyalty of fans for granted, it would be distinctly risky to assume this can continue. And something else has happened during the lockdown. What sportswriter Jonathan Liew calls ‘small sport’. Away from work, stuck at home there seems to have been a rise in physical activity.  A walk, a jog, a bike ride, home weights for keeping fit selling out online,  Joe Wicks youtube keep fit lessons for at-home primary schoolchildren topping 1.5million views per session.  This is nothing to do with the failed model of elite sport success spurring participation, it doesn’t.  Rather this is sport as a social movement, ‘small sport’ may just prove to be a darn sight more useful than ‘big sport’ when finally we emerge out the other side of this crisis and have a society to rebuild. 

When we do, plenty of sports, including fans, will want to celebrate, ‘we’re back’ In that moment lets remember sport has an extraordinary ability to spark a conversation. It cannot, despite too often both sport and campaigners claiming this mantle for it, effect social change on its own but it does get its audience thinking in a way that political parties, protest movements, books and newspaper articles often can’t. Since the mid 2000’s sport has vigorously embraced the ‘Help for Heroes’ movement. Nobody should begrudge the aid veterans very much deserve but the unthinking manner in which sport has propagated this otherwise noble cause has had consequences which have been barely considered. As the sportswriter Richard Williams has put it, very sharply:

“There is something disquieting about this gradual blending of sporting and military culture, with its underlying assumption that all the spectators at any given event involving an England international team necessarily share the government's view of the rightness of what our forces are doing overseas (as opposed to simply honouring their courage in doing it). “

What this produces is a very specific definition of who our ‘heroes’ are, and in the process all those that aren’t. This crisis has served to reveal NHS staff, care workers, refuse collectors, shop assistants, cleaners, posties as just some of those whose public service the rest of us depend on, and right now for plenty, to live, in short, heroes of the everyday. This demands that financial reward, while it isn’t everything is at least a start in providing a recognition of the centrality of these workers to our society. No, in most cases at any rate, they might not have the ability to dribble past three defenders, feint one way, send the goalie the wrong way, and put a screamer in the top left corner of the net. But they absolutely do have something different to contribute and that deserves our support too. When sport resumes lets not only celebrate that, as surely lots of sporting events will rightly do, but also ensure these public services and their workers aren’t a charity case, instead are valued, invested in, rewarded as part and parcel of the society that depends on them.   

 

Mark Perryman is co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Books to Shake 2020

07.02.20

Want to turn the world upside down in 2020?  Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman has found ten books to help us on the way

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Naomi Klein On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal 

The issue that should have dominated the 2019 General Election, but didn’t, the climate emergency. Despite this it’s not going to go away, the Australian bush fires are simply the preview of long hot summers to come Europe’s way and ever increasing risks of floods too. Naomi Klein wears Trump’s ‘prophet of doom’ badge with honour and in her new book On Fire is unafraid to map out a planet on the verge of a breakdown with a plan to do something about it.

 

 

 

 

 

2. Ann Pettifor  The Case for the Green New Deal 

A small group of economists have been working on a ‘Green New Deal’ since the mid 2010’s. The idea was revived and made popular first by the Democrat’s Alexandria Ocasio Cortez early championing of the idea on her election to Congress in 2018 and then once more last as the highlight of Labour’s 2019 General Election Manifesto.  A read of Ann Pettifor’s The Case for the Green New Deal , Ann was one of  that original small group, serves to inform and inspire a politics of alternatives to the otherwise forthcoming destruction of our planet.  

 

 

 

 

 

3. Jack Shenker  Now We Have Your Attention 

While it is absolutely right to seek to establish a common-sense understanding that the Climate Emergency changes everything this won’t happen by ignoring the fact that for most life goes on, not regardless, but because there is no other choice.  Now We Have Your Attention by Jack Shenker is a guidebook to this stark reality. The precariat, hollowed out communities, a debt-ridden generation, but also day-to-ay resistance by casual workers, renters’ unions, grassroots Labour members. A book to both make sense of, and change, the world. 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Maya Goodfellow Hostile Environment : How Immigrants Became Scapegoats

There’s not much doubt that the four years of the Brexit Impasse has ramped up a resurgent, populist racism . That’s not to say Brexit is a racist project, it isn’t, but too much of the discourse around it plainly is. And that in turn built on the legitimising of racism via government policy to create, remarkably in its own official words, a ‘hostile environment’. Maya Goodfellow’s Hostile Environment  expertly unpicks the background of how 2020’s racism has been framed by this process and the widespread failure to challenge the basis of it.    

 

 

 

 

 

5. Andrew Murray The Fall and Rise of the British Left    

It might be thought in some quarters publishing a book on the eve of the 2019 General Election entitled  The Fall and Rise of the British Left  would mean only one thing in 2020, the remainder bins.  But Andrew Murray, quite rightly, is of the school of thought that takes the long view.  We are where we are, doesn’t mean that’s where we’ll stay. His account starts in the early 1970s to track this fall and rise through to the eve of the election. The downs of more immediate relevance right now, the ups might have to wait. 

 

 

 

 

 

6. Daniel Sonabend We Fight Fascists : The 43 Group and Their Forgotten Battle for Post-War Britain 

For an inspiring take on the art of the possible Daniel Sonabend’s  We Fight Fascists cannot be bettered. The largely hidden history of the Jewish ex-servicemen who on their return to Britain from the war witnessed Oswald Mosley’s attempted comeback and set out to stop it, by any means necessary but mainly hard faced, well-organised, physical confrontation. Not for the politically faint-hearted, have a milk shake handy whilst reading. 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg , Antony Lerman, David Miller Bad News for Labour : Antisemitism, The Party and Public Belief

What would the 43 Group make of the Labour Party being portrayed as an antisemitic party? The rigour of the approach by the media studies academic authors of Bad News for Labour cannot be faulted, there is so much detail here that much is obvious. But what is lacking is a broader political perspective, there should be no ifs, no buts, no need to qualify or contextualise our opposition to all forms of racism, and that includes antisemitism. Even, and arguably especially, when those victims aren’t allies of the Left on the question of Palestine. The really bad news for Labour is that too often, too many have appeared to fail that simple test.  

 

 

 

 

 

8. Renewal : A Journal of Social Democracy

OK strictly speaking not a book, but a journal published quarterly. However add four issues of Renewal together in the course of a year to receive the best, and most up to date, debate and analysis of  Labour politics from a left social-democratic standpoint. Which given the current trials and tribulations of the Labour Party, the shallowness of the debate therein, and the uncertain direction of the party thereafter makes Renewal uniquely placed to provide an indispensable read in 2020.  

 

 

 

 

 

9. Nathalie Olah   Steal as Much as You Can : How To Win the Culture Wars in an Age of Austerity 

Steal as Much as You Can has to be the runaway winner of the best book title for essential 2020 reads. Nathalie Olah has written an effortless traversal of the terrains of politics and culture, unpicking their mutual reconstitution in the grip of austerity and neoliberalism. A book that never surrenders to left miserabilism, instead offering the kind of manifesto of generational hope that 2020 demands. And along the way unafraid to pay off its intellectual debts, to Stuart Hall and Mark Fisher in particular. What’s not to like? 

 

 

 

 

 

10. Alex Niven New Model, Island : How To Build  a Radical Culture Beyond the Idea of England

As soon as Rebecca Long-Bailey inserted the words ‘progressive patriotism’ into her pitch for the Labour leadership all ideological hell was let loose from that part of the Left that holds dear to the idea that ‘there’s nothing progressive about patriotism’ end of.  Alex Niven is deeply suspicious of the idea of inserting ‘Englishness’ into all of this, yet ironically in New Model Island he reveals a keener sense of England than most.  What he favours is a resurgent regionalism, let a thousand ‘Englands’ flower, to create what the book proclaims a ‘dream archipelago.’  As Britain stands, post-Brexit, on the verge of a constitutional collapse New Model Island is the essential guide to the troubled year ahead. 

 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka  Philosophy Football

 

 

‘Cause London is Drowning

13.12.2019

… And I live by the river. Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman recalls an epic album

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

14.12.1979 The year of Thatcher’s election was seen out with the release of London Calling widely regarded as the finest of all Clash albums.  14.12.2019 forty years later another Tory nightmare begins. Seems timely to look back, in hope.

The Clash had burst on to the fast-emerging punk scene in ’77 with their debut album. The band’s second long-player Give ‘Em Enough Rope was released to mixed reviews. Over-produced, the tracks’ raw energy edge somewhat blunted. All this was to change however with London Calling.

From double album length, weighing in at astonishing nineteen tracks across four sides, to the stunning cover pic of Paul Simonon doing some serious damage to his bass guitar, this was to become an instant classic.  The rich mix of sounds showcased the foursome’s ever-expanding musical influences; jazz, reggae and dub, the blues, rockabilly, ska. This by and large wasn’t what as expected of 1970s English punk bands. Despite that, both fans and critics loved it.   

On their debut album Joe Strummer had belted out the anthemic ‘ We’re so bored with the USA’ yet two years later The Clash appeared to have fallen hopelessly in love with the place.  The influences were obvious, from Montgomery Clift to Cadillacs, a wholesome embrace of Americana minus the shrill anti-Americanism of the band’s more obvious politics. 

The band were emerging as fulsome internationalists too. Every bit at home belting out their tribute to inner-city resistance  The Guns of Brixton as their very particular account of the battle against Franco’ fascists  Spanish Bombs. For many listeners these would be their first introduction to either  subject, The Clash were a genuinely educative, as well as innovative, outfit, a key influence shaping a generation who’s politics were framed by being anti-Thatcher on the home front  and soon enough against Reagan on the global front too.  Sounds, familiar?        

Two tracks in particular stand out. Not only as unforgettable when first heard but  uncannily prescient four decades on too.  

"What are we gonna do now?

Taking off his turban, they said, 'is this man a Jew?'
'Cause they're working for the clampdown
They put up a poster saying: 'We earn more than you'
We're working for the clampdown

“We're working for the clampdown
We will teach our twisted speech
To the young believers
We will train our blue-eyed men
To be young believers."

 

A clampdown that mixes authoritarianism, race hatred and economic power. This was what the Clash railed against in 1979, it remains the shape of Johnson and Trump’s resurgent right-wing, racist populism today. 

And then of course the album’s title track, London Calling

“London calling to the faraway towns
Now war is declared and battle come down”

This was the era of a Winter of Discontent, the Special Patrol Group, war in Ireland, and soon enough war in the South Atlantic too, the Nazi National Front on the march,  Brixton and Toxteth ablaze, civil disobedience against Reagan and Thatcher’s nuclear arms race, the year-long Miners strike.  ‘War is declared’, they weren’t far wrong. 

"The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growin' thin
Engines stop running, but I have no fear
'Cause London is drowning, and I, I live by the river”

The meteorology might be a tad skewiff but a frightening vision of the future four decades on has become the vivid reality of the present-day climate emergency. A melting polar ice cap, record-breaking heatwaves, agriculture growing seasons in crisis, rising seal levels. Live by the river no longer such good advice mind when the ensure planet is on the verge of drowning.  And we can rest assured The Clash of yesteryear would have been playing Extinction Rebellion benefit gigs today.  Revolution Rock? ’79 vintage, play it loud, 2019 keep the faith. 

 

Original image by Hugh Tisdale, Philosophy Football, available as individually limited edition print signed by Hugh here 

Philosophy Football’s 40th anniversary London Calling T-shirt is available from here

 

How to Read an Election

28.11.19

Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman provides a handy reading guide for the 12th December General Election

There’s not much doubt politics is getting hot, hotter, hottest just as the nights draw in and get cold, cold, colder as Boris Johnson seek to bring some kind of ending to the sorry saga of all things Brexit. 

A  December General Election? The first at this time of year for goodness knows how long. And sort out Brexit? Well the last one didn’t, and there’s absolutely no guarantee the result of this one will either, whichever way it goes. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the immediate aftermath of ‘17 there was much talk that for Labour it was the manifesto that wot  (nearly) won it. Mike Phipps’ For The Many helps us understand the original’s appeal and the ideas required to win this time. Most of the contributors to the essay selection Rethinking Britain are slightly more detached from the organised Labour Left than those contributing to Mike’s book tho’ they share the same intent ‘for the many’, ranging over economics, employment, investment, and social security. One of the brightest voices for such a brand of ‘new’ economics is Grace Blakeley, her first book Stolen is a compelling account not only of all that’s wrong with how financial power is misused but also what could be done about it.  The abolition of tuition fees was a vote-winner in 2017, makes good sense but surely we also need to ask what are universities for, not just how they’re being paid for. A good step in  the former direction is provided by  Raewyn Connell’s The Good University complete with rather excellent sub-title ‘ what universities actually do and why it’s time for radical change. My favourite source for ideas in and around Labour however is the quarterly journal Renewal issue after issue it never disappoints the latest issue is themed around the issue of democracy with a stand-out essay by Lewis Bassett on the vexed question of democracy in the Labour Party.

Radical, new, policies broke through at Labour’s 2019 party conference including the 4-day week, abolition of private schools, a green new deal.  Most of these have found their way into Labour’s 2019 manifesto, good. But in any General Election these face the problem of how they are affected by the Brexit Impasse which isn’t going to disappear in a hurry, and hasn’t. And of course Labour’s antisemitism crisis will be an issue too. Strange Hate by Keith Kahn-Harris firmly and correctly puts the resolution of that crisis in the context of anti-racism. While for those unfamiliar with the specificities of Jewish culture A Jewdas Haggadah provides a much-needed introduction, with occasional hilarious results.   

For a primer chronicling the history of the rise of Corbynism read David Kogan’s Protest and Power : The Battle for the Labour Party.  As to what happens if Labour wins, Christine Berry and Joe Guinan’s People Get Ready! deals strategically with how Labour might govern while seeking to implement a post-neoliberal economic strategy unimaginably radical in it ambition. Wow. 

But to get even close to that point Labour’s  arguments for ‘real  change’ need both to be made popular and to challenge a resurgent right-wing racist populism. J.A.Smith’s Other People’s Politics charts precisely this terrain via a rigorous deconstruction of the populist surge and what kind of response from Labour this requires.

Labour’s  ‘Momentum Left’ is often derided as extremist, Marxist, in fact it is overwhelmingly non-marxist, Marxism no longer offers the pole of attraction for those who favour politics against the mainstream that it once did. In its place a greater range of models of critique.  But that’s not to suggest it is  ead, buried or irrelevant.  The Corbyn Project by John Rees is testament to the necessity of a Marxist critique of even the most left-wing versions of reformism,. We can choose to differ with the critique but to ignore it entirely a serious error. The new edition of  the classic Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein  The Labour Party : A Marxist History now updated by Charlie Kimber to take in both the Blair-Brown years and Corbynism, carefully records from a Marxist standpoint the errors Labour governments have made over the decades. Again we can differ over the precise nature of the causes and consequences,  but those causes and consequences need accounting for.  

If Marxism is no longer sufficient to explain the modern world that doesn’t mean as a framework of analysis it should be made henceforth redundant. Testament to that proposition is the sharply titled, and written,  Aaron Bastani’s Fully Automated Luxury Communism . Full of techno-politics of an unashamedly left  complexion the book is described as ‘a manifesto’.  Notwithstanding the free broadband  offer not quite the version Labour’s produced, Labour still doesn’t entirely share Aaron’s, at times breathless, enthusiasm for the progressive potential of technological change is a tad breathless. Fair enough tho’ modern politics needs to understand how digital technology is transforming the  terrain on which we contest. An unpicking of the contradictions this generates is provided by Jamie Woodcock’s Marx at the Arcade a careful survey of video games and the politics they produce.  

    

 

 

 

 

 

Another ‘unofficial’ manifesto is The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara who offers up a political platform historic in inspiration, futuristic in vision, practical for the present. In a similar vein Nancy Fraser’s The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot be Born  takes Gramsci’s famous dictum as a starting point to understand the twin, opposing , potentials of left and right populism out of the current global impasse typified by Trump, and Brexit. One of the first of a very welcome new pamphlets series from Verso short enough to be read between canvassing sessions to the point, intelligent writing leaving campaigners wanting more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the ‘new to be born’ demands that the ‘old’ has to be subject to critique,  Stephen Duncombe  describes this process as ‘reimagining politics’ which he explains in a new edition of his superb 2007 book Dream or Nightmare updated to take in the age of Trump.  Such a reimagining demands an engagement  with what politics means for those whose entry post-dates the 2008  financial crisis, 2019’s first and second time voters on whose support Labour is counting so much. Keir Milburn’s  Generation Left  should be considered the set text for such connecting with these voters’ practical ideals , this is meant as a compliment richly deserved, by the way. 

And after the votes have been counted, what changes and how much?  The annual Socialist Register has taken for its 2020 theme ‘new ways of living’ with an admirably global view of the cusp new vs old.  A scary vision of how such a transition might end up is provided by Peter Fleming’s The Worst is Yet To Come described as a post-capitalist survival guide, ranging over economic decline, societal division and environmental detonation. Oh well, it wasn’t good while it lasted. To prevent such a vision becomes a reality requires a conversational culture that enables differences of opinion to be shared rather than as a badge of rising intolerance. Two contrasting approaches to this are provided by Billy Bragg aad Richard Seymour, yet both take a similar starting point, social media. Billy’s The Three Dimensions of Freedom champions democratisation in the face of what some have described as ‘surveillance capitalism’.  While in The Twittering Storm Richard tackles the degradation of political debate the entire social media edifice has helped bring about.  In time honoured fashion we need both, institutional change and taking personal responsibility to effect that change. The importance of both approaches cannot be underestimated with elections increasingly fought as much online as on the doorstep. 

Even in the heat of the such campaigns we  need to locate change, personal and political, in the midst of  what theorists call ‘the conjunctural’, the terrain of the present. A special edition of the journal New Formations takes this as its theme This Conjuncture drawing on the work of Stuart Hall  to apply the theory to a wide range of what constitutes the present.

Of course any sense of this particular ‘conjuncture’ is pretty much defined by all things Brexit.  But of course the issue and what it raises has a history too.  Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson’s Rule Britannia : Brexit and the End of Empire  makes this precise point very well, imperial nostalgia a powerful political mobiliser, still.  In The People’s Flag and the Union Jack Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw apply the consequences of an Englishness entwined with the imperial and the martial to the enduring failure for Labour to engage with either the break-up of Britain or the consequent re-emergence of the English nation. Both are of course vital to any understanding of Brexit. 

It isn’t however a crude reductionism though to suggest that Brexit must also be understood via the prism of class. Mike Carter’s All Together Now?  is an epic journey of walking half the length of England to help provide that prism, the deindustrialised communities almost entirely disconnected from the body politic, what kind of answer are the parties providing to their howls of rage? In a similar vein Our City by Jon Bloomfield is a incredibly powerful testimony of how race and migration shapes the modern British city, in this case Birmingham, establishing grounds for both unity and division, the choice of which is entirely political. Riding for Deliveroo the debut book from Callum Cant is another potent  rejoinder to those who would reduce the entire General Election to all things Brexit.  Callum’s spirited case for a resistance to the  the ‘new economy’ should be mote than sufficient to convince it shouldn’t be. 

If an election shaped by the Brexit Impasse fails to respond to these many and varied howls of rage the future will be anything but progressive.  Cas Mudde’s The Far Right Today connects such an understanding to Brexit’s transatlantic equivalent , the 2016 triumph of Trumpism. A triumph framed by a populist racism coupled with authoritarian populism that has its origins in, and message projected by the alt-right.   The New Authoritarians by David Renton is an important, new, analysis of this phenomenon that distinguishes this radicalised, racist right from more traditional versions of classic fascism. All the more dangerous for this shift. As David argues, our opposition and offering of alternatives is strengthened not weakened by understanding the nature and appeal of what we are up against.  Casting votes will be not enough.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The biggest issue in the election surely should be the Climate Emergency.  This will be the shape of politics to come so its useful to have a handbook  for these decades to come whoever is in government. None better than Paul Mason’s latest, Clear Bright Future a guide to past and present crises beyond any conventional electoral focus  and a map of what a radical future in their place might look like too.  A more conventional response is provided by System Change not Climate Change edited by Martin Empson.  Conventional in the sense that most of the contributors derive their politics from Marxism.  It is not to deride the entire legacy of this most revolutionary of ideologies to recognise that firstly its contribution to our understanding of the environmental crisis is negligible, and secondly other, revolutionary, ideas are serving to not only make up for that absence but inspiring millions to action. A combination superbly personified by Greta Thunberg. Greta’s short book No One is Too Small to Make A Difference  would be my pick as the perfect 2019 Manifesto . And as for a campaign guide, Extinction Rebellion’s handbook This is Not A Drill showcases the scale of audacity, action and creative resistance this campaign has generated in such a short time.  But however imaginative, however creative, in the same way that voting is not enough nor will blocking roads be sufficient if the Climate Emergency is to be reversed. We need ideas that become policies and in turn become government action. Labour putting a Green Industrial Revolution at the centre of its message is  a hugely important development in this regard, tho’ Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams’  The Economics of Arrival indicate how far traditional, including left, governments needs to travel to produce a society that is  sustainable.  

Despite the claims of politicians on the stump in politics nothing is ever entirely ‘new’. It pays to take more than a moment to pay heed to the past.  Portugal ’74 is one such instance, the most potent example yet of revolutionary change where we’ve become accustomed to least expect it, Western Europe. An episode brilliantly recalled by Raquel Varela’s new account, A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution .  Closer to home the new edition of Rebel Footprints by David Rosenberg  is a guide the streets  and other parts of London that carry with them a radical past. A history lesson on the move, what a way once those canvassing sessions are over to spend a Sunday afternoon after 12th December, with David’s book in hand, strolling for socialism.  Anti-racism is a strand that runs through much of this past, or at least it should. Evan Smith’s history British Communism and the Politics of Race may focus on one particular part of the Let and its changing relationship to anti-racism, yet the insights provide a much broader perspective on what makes, and what doesn’t, an anti-racist Labour Party.  To keep up to date (sic) more broadly with the historiography of communism there’s no better source than the journal Twentieth Century Communism, the latest issue testament to its customary eclectic mix, Eric Hobsbawm, the Brothers Grimm and the Communist Party of Cyprus. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A range of new titles offer an impressive revisiting of how to construct a political culture. Too little has been done on this front by Labour since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. In the rush and tumble of the campaign theres’s Fck Boris and Grime4Corbyn but what will remain of this after the polling statins close? If ’17 is anything to go by, not a lot.   Beautifully produced the songbook  Working Class Heroes : A History of Struggle in Song edited by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore  provides like-minded artefacts from the past to inspire us towards what the life and soul of the party. but look, and sound like  and the beauty of this book is that with instrument in hand the musical notation can be turned into a weapon of change here and now.  Visual Dissent is an extraordinarily vivid collected works from the much-celebrated photomontage artist Peter Kennard, if only more of the Left took note of Peter’s ability to communicate with wit, humour and impact.  The LGBT movement is never backward at coming forward  with communicating its hopes, ambitions, demands for change . The origins of that political, and cultural imperative are beautifully chronicled in the photos and accompanying essays from Stonewall ’69 which comprise Fred W. McDarrah’s Pride : Photographs after Stonewall.  And as for a soundtrack? In Don’t Look Back in Anger Daniel Rachel chronicles the rise and fall of Cool Britannia, a music, that just like the politics of the same era, the 1990s and noughties, that promised so much but in the end didn’t live up to. Better luck this time, eh?  

And as for when the cut n thrust of the campaign serves to get a tad blunt and tawdry I recommend a turn to How to be a Vegan and Keep your Friends from Annie Nichols. Individual, lifestyle choices aren’t be sufficient in themselves, we need a governments to effect change on the scale the Climate Emergency requires  yet reinventing our diet and ‘keeping our friends’ provides mote than an inkling of both what is possible and necessary. Tasty too.  Who knows what the future might hold after 12th December , we can but dream, with many sacrificing evenings and weekends to help make it happen.  A very welcome return therefore of the Big Red Diary to help plan the first year of supporting, resisting, or maybe even a mix of the two, a new government. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And my book of the General Election campaign? Matt Abbott’s debut poetry collection A Hurricane in my Head : Poems for When Your Phone Dies.  Poetry? And these are for children too?! What’s that got to do with 12th December, eh? Heaps. This is a once-in-a-generation vote, not only to determine Britain’s relationship with Europe via the EU but also the scale of ambition to tackle the Climate Emergency. On both fronts those of us of a certain age will struggle on, learn to live with the dire consequences if the worst possible result imaginable materialises and Johnson is back at Number Ten come the morning of 13th December.  But those at secondary school, the age Matt’s book is primarily aimed at, will have to live with the fallout for their adolescence. A Johnson victory moreover will cement the popular shift to the Right, institutionalise its grip on power for a considerable  time to come, those at school now facing the grimmest possible future. At the very moment the Climate Emergency needs reversing most urgently the least will be being done to stop it. The school climate strikers symbolise an entirely different discourse, hope on the move, pinning the blame for the dire prospects for their future squarely on those old enough to know better. Hope, and Matt’s poems capture this potential superbly with a line in humour that the grown-ups will smile along to warmly. 12th December, for those not yet old enough to vote is just the beginning and this is their book.

Note No links in this review are to Amazon, if you can avoid buying from the corporate tax-dodgers please do.  

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction,’ aka Philosophy Football

 

 

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