Pick of the year

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Our writers' cultural and literary highlights of 2017

Judith Orr

I am a big fan of Irish writer Sebastian Barry; his work is inventive, evocative and flows like poetry. His latest novel, Days Without End, follows one of the McNulty family, Thomas, on his emigration from Ireland to escape the Famine. The American Civil War is the backdrop to this rich and powerful tale that explores the violence of war and love and sexuality as Thomas falls in love with fellow soldier John Cole and they fight to survive.

Music and the Russian Revolution

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The social and political turmoil surrounding the First World War and the wave of revolutions across Europe produced some of the most radical modernist music. Sabby Sagall outlines key figures in the movement and looks at debates among revolutionaries about "working class culture".

The carnage and brutality of the First World War had punctured the balloon of late 19th century optimism and established that the industrial and scientific progress of capitalism had not led to a world based on justice and reason but to unimaginable horror. Industrial cities had produced unprecedented wealth but also poverty and alienation hitherto unknown.

Ending the silence on workplace sexism

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The autumn has been dominated by the sexual harassment claims against prominent figures. Sally Campbell looks for collective solutions to a problem often experienced individually.

Since October headlines have been dominated by revelations of sexual harassment and assault, first against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and then spreading to other producers, directors and stars.

The scandal then engulfed the UK parliament, where Tory minister Michael Fallon was forced to resign over sexual misconduct — and claimed his behaviour was “acceptable ten or 15 years ago”. Some 28 other Tory MPs and several Labour figures are being investigated over similar issues.

Drugs: It’s time to stop and think

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In discussions about stop and search, racism and young people, there is an elephant in the room. Brian Richardson says it’s time to end the "war on drugs".

David Lammy is clearly a man who has been liberated by his removal from the rigours of high political office. This year he has raged with righteous anger about the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, demanding corporate manslaughter charges against those responsible for the deaths of dozens of people including his friend, the 24 year old artist Khadija Saye. In addition he has spoken with passion on Stand Up to Racism platforms and published a government commissioned review into racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

Danger on the right in Europe

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The far-right has made a series of major electoral gains across Europe. Charlie Kimber details the links between their rise and the wholesale distribution of bigotry by the establishment.

A series of election results in Germany, Austria, France and the Czech Republic have seen advances for hard right and sometimes fascist forces. The left has made advances, including the rise of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. But there are stark warnings of the danger from the right.

The killing fields of capitalism

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How should we define mass violence, such as that against the Rohingya? Rob Ferguson raises questions about the terms ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Since August over half a million Rohingya refugees have fled their homes and villages in Rakhine state in Myanmar. Villages, homes and mosques have been put to the torch in what the military term “clearance operations”. Thousands of civilians, including children, have been brutally killed and many tortured and raped.

Martyred for Irish liberation

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There is a long history of Irish workers organising alongside their English comrades and of anti-Irish feeling dividing the working class. One hundred and fifty years ago three Irish men were hanged by the British state on trumped up murder charges. Delia Hutchings tells the story of these Manchester Martyrs.

On 23 November 1867 Michael O’Brien, Michael Larkin and William Allen were hanged. They had been found guilty of murdering British police officer Sergeant Charles Brett while taking part in an audacious plan to free two leading Irish Nationalists from a police van. They are known as the Manchester Martyrs.

On 11 September 1867 Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy were arrested for loitering in Manchester. It was several days before the Manchester police realised that they were holding the leadership of the International Republican Brotherhood — the Fenians.

"On the grey horizon of human existence looms a great giant called Working Class Consciousness"

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John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World is the best known eyewitness account of the Russian Revolution, but he was accompanied on his visit in 1918. Jan Nielsen tells the story of Louise Bryant, American bohemian, talented journalist and commentator on life in revolutionary Russia.

Louise Bryant was an American radical journalist who travelled to revolutionary Russia with John Reed, author of Ten Days that Shook the World. Bryant wrote her own account of the events she witnessed and people she met, titled Six Red Months in Russia.

Interview: Marxism and Mental Distress

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Author Iain Ferguson spoke to Socialist Review about his new book, Politics of the Mind

It feels like there’s an epidemic of depression and anxiety at the moment. It’s being talked about a lot more and is often discussed in terms of people missing work. Why do you think issues around mental health have come to the fore recently?

I think the single most important reason is because of the huge increase in the level of mental distress right across the board that affects, perhaps most obviously, people who are out of work and are pressured by the work capability assessment, and those on benefits who are being pressured into work at any cost.

Catalonia, class and independence

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The Spanish state’s violent response to the Catalan independence referendum last month was shocking, writes Héctor Sierra, but now is the time for the left to take a lead.

The events in Catalonia have exposed the limitations of liberal democracies once again. Friedrich Engels wrote that the capitalist state is composed of “special bodies of armed men”. Few times in recent history has this been so clear as on Sunday 1 October, when the Spanish ruling party, the conservative People’s Party (PP) led by Mariano Rajoy, responded to the Catalan referendum on independence by deploying 10,000 police and paramilitary agents to physically stop voters from casting their ballots.


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