Pathbreaking Book

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Having just read Live Working or Die Fighting I was happy to see the enthusiastic review (Feature, Socialist Review).

I feel that Paul Mason has actually invented a new, quasi-cinematic, genre-one which reaches places in the human psyche not commonly touched in either recent labour history or academic accounts of contemporary labour struggles.

As someone who grew up and went to school with British and European labour history, who has studied and written about historical and contemporary labour struggles, national and international, I felt enlightened and inspired by this book.

This is a romance of labour but one without sentimentality. Although neither a theoretical nor a policy-oriented work, it is certainly informed by both sympathy and understanding of the uneven (if not often combined) struggles of labouring people.

Many of the major movements combined, in varied measure, labour and nationalism, labour and ethnicity, labour and democracy. These movements, and their known and forgotten leaders and activists, were, it is shown, never archetypical proletarians, nor paragons of left or socialist virtue. They were and are, however, our forebears and comrades - people with whom we can in our turn empathise and exchange ideas and experiences.

Moreover, both the introduction and the afterword show remarkable insight into the contemporary predicament of the working classes globally. One of these insights, or biases if you like, is toward working-class culture. It is the disappearance of these which explains, perhaps, why a vastly expanded working class, particularly in China and India, has not yet led to the international labour upsurge that occurred at the time of the first globalisation - at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century.

One can only assume that Paul Mason's comparative lack of attention to the labour, socialist and anarchist parties that have played such a dominant role in labour history is due to his stress on the socio-cultural rather than the party-political. In any case, his bets for labour movement revival seem to be rather on the anti-globalisation, or global justice, movement (in which he sees labour as so far playing only a junior role).

It seems to me that if these two are to be fruitfully articulated, Paul Mason's pathbreaking book will have made a considerable contribution. It should be read, taught, discussed. And translated, for starters, into Spanish, Hindi and Chinese.

Peter Waterman
The Netherlands