Rebecca Townesend

Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio

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Michael Rosen’s latest collection of poetry for adults is wide ranging but at its heart displays a profound anti-racism and a fury at ruling class hypocrisy. In “Migration” he writes, “Our banks migrate billions/ but they don’t call that migration./ We say no to blaming migrants”.

For socialists who enjoy poetry this collection is an essential read for now, dealing as it does with some of our key political priorities including anti-racism, solidarity with refugees, Corbyn, privatisation and the attacks on education and the NHS.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

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“The time has come./ I begin/ the story of Lenin”. So opens Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s astonishing 3,000-line poem written shortly after Lenin’s death in 1924. The poem articulates the grief and shock of Lenin’s passing; “On the worker/ bent at his gears/ the news pounced/ and bullet-like burned”. It also pleads for Lenin not to be idolised: “I’m anxious lest rituals,/ mausoleums/ and processions,/ should/ obscure/ Lenin’s essential/ simplicity”.

Queens of Industry

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Queens of Industry is a small but fascinating exhibition focusing on the women chosen to represent the industries of coal, wool, cotton and the railways as “queens” between the 1920s and 1980s. It would be easy to dismiss the whole concept as merely a sexist anachronism, but that would be to miss a more complex picture and dismiss the experiences of the women themselves.

The Caseroom

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Saltire Society first Book of the Year for 2017 has nominated this book for it’s prize. The Caseroom opens in 1891 with 13 year-old Iza Ross starting work at Ballantyne’s Pauls print works in Edinburgh, quickly moving on to 1894 at which point Iza is fully trained as a typesetter or compositor. We learn quickly women doing this work have a different experience to men. “It’s women’s work too” Iza explains, adding, “But lads serve a seven-year apprenticeship; we spend just three years learning.”

A Blaze in a Desert

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A Blaze in a Desert is a slim volume of selected poems by Victor Serge. Serge was a revolutionary and writer who witnessed many of the great political highs and terrible lows in the first half of the 20th century.

He was inspired by the revolution and arrived in Russia in January 1919, shortly afterwards joining the Bolshevik Party. He consistently opposed Stalin and was exiled.

Revolution: New Art for a New World

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This is a great film for socialists with an interest in art. Written, produced, directed and narrated by Margy Kinmonth, the film focuses on the artistic avant-garde that flourished in advance of and following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

It moves on to discuss the changes in art subsequent to Stalin’s consolidation of power. The film gives a basic political history of the 1917 Revolution and the events that followed.

The Unwomanly Face of War

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The author is a Nobel Prize winner who documents the experience of women that served in the Soviet Army in the Second World War, based on hundreds of interviews she carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

One million women served in the Soviet Army and she spoke to women who worked in every possible role and geographical area, including sappers, nurses, surgeons, foot soldiers, air force captains, pilots, tank drivers, partisans and snipers.Originally heavily censored, it was first published in 1985, and this is the first time it has been available in English.

Iraq: The Cost of War

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Jeremy Greenstock dedicates his book to his wife, but could as well have dedicated it to the global anti-war movement, stating, “For Anne, who suspected long before I did that Saddam had no WMD.”

Greenstock was the UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) in the run up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and UK Special Envoy for Iraq in the immediate aftermath.

He has written a long and hugely detailed book and in between a potted history of his own career and reflections on the role of the UN, American power and other major political events he focuses on Iraq.

The Plough and the Stars

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This production of Sean O’Casey’s The Plough And The Stars, written in 1926, marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin.

The action in the first two acts takes place in November 1915 and the final two are set during Easter week 1916, with the uprising as the backdrop. The mood of the play changes with the shifting time. The opening scenes have a lighthearted humour that is absent in the final tragic and heartrending moments.

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