Books

An Inconvenient Death

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The US and British invasion of Iraq in March 2003 killed millions and entrenched a cycle of violence and Islamophobia which continues to shape events.

The war was justified by Iraq’s supposed possession of “weapons of mass destruction” though none were ever found. Two million marched in London in protest in February 2003.

In the Shadow of Enoch Powell

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Enoch Powell made his notorious Rivers of Blood speech in the Midland Hotel in Birmingham on 20 April, 1968. At the time he was the Conservative MP for the constituency of Wolverhampton South West. In her book In the Shadow of Enoch Powell Shirin Hirsch examines the impact of Powell’s speech in the Wolverhampton of 1968 and analyses its significance 50 years later. Hirsch draws on archival material as well as her own contemporary interviews.

The Alt-Right: What Everyone Needs to Know

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The alt-right has attracted a lot of attention over the last couple of years, propelled into prominence by the Trump phenomenon in the US. It is best seen as part of the general resurgence of the far right in the US, across Europe, Brazil and elsewhere, but whereas much that has crawled out into the light of day is familiar, the alt-right is apparently something new.

A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution

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This is an important and long-overdue book which I recommend strongly. The extraordinary events in Portugal in 1974-5 have been one of the great unreported stories of my lifetime. In that time there have been a smattering of hard-to-find specialist books on Portugal and an excellent chapter in the late Colin Barker’s “Revolutionary Rehearsals” but this book is a game-changer.

October Song

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Paul Le Blanc adds to a rich tradition of historical analysis that shows a clear discontinuity between the Russian Revolution of 1917, as well as some bright periods of pluralism and worker self-organisation, and the later Stalinist dictatorship.

Le Blanc, in a simply-written, concise book, depicts all phases from pre-revolutionary Russia, to the period after the overthrow of Tsarism, the mixed economy, the New Economic Policy (NEP) and the Stalinist years.

The Realm of the Punisher

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I read this book hoping to learn about the Philippines, a country of which I have only a smattering of knowledge. I finished it with a slightly larger smattering: about Spanish and US imperial domination and Japan’s invasion during the Second World War; Rodrigo Duterte’s upbringing and his brutal reign as mayor of Davao, and his payment-by-results “war on drugs” as president that is causing thousands of state-sponsored murders.

The Common Wind

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This is a worthy companion piece to CLR James’s Black Jacobins, which immortalised Toussaint L’Ouverture and the successful slave revolt in the French Caribbean colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti) in the 1790s. The book’s core brings to life the everyday resistance that often gets lost when recording revolutions. The slave owners were terrified of the slaves’ endlessly creative ways of spreading news. The existence across the Caribbean of “masterless” free black people made it harder for owners to control their slaves.

The New Enclosure

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Privatisation is the theme of the post-Thatcher era and key to understanding it is the attack on state assets, such as rail, post, coal and power, and on land ownership. The overt privatisation of public land that began in the 19th and 20th centuries is, the author states, the defining feature of the post-1979 era. Land ownership infers power: it shapes ecology, access to aquifers, fracking and more.

How It Happened

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This is a long overdue translation of Erno Munkácsi’s 1947 first-hand account of the final months and days that saw the extermination of over 400,000 Hungarian Jews in the death camp at Auschwitz. It is a powerful addition to any serious understanding of the degradation, humiliation and ultimately extermination that befell European Jewry with the victory of fascism. It should serve as an urgent and powerful reminder to all those fighting the far right today as to what awaits us if we are unable to stem its poisonous ideology.

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