Bookbriefs

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Issue: 
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Left books about women - Books from skips - House of Bush, House of Saud - Lev Kamenev - Australian women - Against the war

American women workers can claim a lot of the credit for the first International Women's Day in 1911. On Sunday 8 March 1908, hundreds of women demonstrated in New York. They wanted the vote and a fighting needle trades union. Clara Zetkin, the German revolutionary, argued that this should be the date of a day dedicated to fighting for equal rights for all women-everywhere. Almost a century later there is a real shortage of new left wing books about women.

It's difficult to recommend recent books that argue there is a global women's movement when they lump together UN conferences on women and women bankers' associations with those who risk their jobs and lives to fight the conditions in sweatshops. But there are some great older books: One Hand Tied Behind Us: the Rise of the Women's Suffrage Movement by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris (Rivers Oram £11.95), Sex, Class and Socialism by Lindsey German (Bookmarks £6), Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings, with a foreword by Angela Davis (IPNY £6.99) and Round About a Pound a Week by Maud Pember Reeves (Virago £7.99). This is the record of the Fabian Women's group's research from 1909-13 in Lambeth. They talked to local families and discovered that people with bugger all to live on were resourceful, intelligent and hard working. What a relief that this is now common knowledge.

Also out this month is the third edition of Working Women (TUC Publications). Full of case studies and statistics it should be a useful resource for trade unionists.


Clara Zetkin: Selected Writings was long presumed to be out of print but recently turned up on an American book wholesaler's website. It must have been easy to lose books in huge warehouses before the computerisation of stock. Particularly during the downturn, books didn't get thrown out but weren't ordered either. Curious booksellers in faraway countries were instead eagerly awaited to put in an order. A variation on this phenomenon is when a publisher decides to throw books out because they are not on the computer and without a market. Packets of Marx and Engels then have to be rescued from bins.


Gibson Square is not a publisher normally associated with left wing books. Their titles include Nancy Mitford: a Memoir and The Ascent of the Matterhorn, but when House of Bush, House of Saud by Craig Unger was published in the US and big companies were ducking the writs wrapped round half-bricks, they nipped in and bought the UK rights. They have been bullied but the book has done very well in hardback and just to mess with our minds, their top outlet - selling over 300 copies - was Selfridges. Between the lobster and the hip-hop designer gear nestled a book that details the business links between these two venerable families and their similarities of political outlook and systems of justice.


From Russia, my contact, beneath the clock tower carrying a rolled-up copy of Iskra, tells me that Trotskyist Lev Kamenev's book, Between the Revolutions 1905-1917, has been republished. It has been unavailable since Stalin had Kamenev shot, but now reappears from a company that specialises in romantic fiction.


A little more hidden history from Australia. The Vulgar Press has just reprinted Sugar Heaven by Jean Devanny. It fills the gap in 1930s novels by Australian women communists and is set in the workers' struggles of the sugar cane fields of Queensland. Oddly it appears that white entrepreneurs with superior brains and work ethic didn't build Australia.


New from Naomi Klein: No War (Gibson Square £4.99) hopes to do for Iraq what Zola did for Dreyfus with J'accuse. Just right for those who refuse to stop talking about the war and have utterly failed to move on. See you all on the 19th; I'll bring the crockery.