Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football offers a selection of the best football, running and sports politics books of the quarter
In England there’s no sports writer quite like Dave Zirin. He writes about sport from the Left with such passion and style that readers will never spot the join. An American, the bias is unsurprisingly towards baseball, basketball and their own bastardised version of ‘football’, yet both the issues raised and his range of coverage are unmistakably internationalist. Dave’s latest Game Over should by rights be a major publishing event for the committed British sports fan, yet our fan culture is so parochial this superb book will be lucky to get a mention of two. Ownership, athletes on strike and supporting others on strike, Egyptian fans at the core of the Tahrir Square protests, the failed legacy of World Cups and Olympics. this book has the lot and more. The writing style provides a template for how to mix politics and sport yet keep the reader engaged whose interests leans more towards one or the other. Simply unmissable.
The London 2012 Olympics more than any other event has helped stimulate at last some writing over here of the sort Dave Zirin provides in the USA. Accounting for sport’s meaning beyond the touchline, track, pool or ring. In the build up to the Games Matt and Martin Rogan’s Britain and the Olympics provided a rare moment of context. Revisiting the 1948 London Olympics, dubbed the ‘austerity games’ for an insight into what London 2012 might become in a period of similar economic recession. Rich in interview material, one year on from London’s Games this is a book that deserves to be revisited as we ponder over the reality of the legacy claims. Written since the Games ended Phil Cohen’s On The Wrong Side of the Track? locates those legacy claims firmly in the social and geographical context of East London. This was where the regeneration was supposed to take place, acting as a leveller between the city’s tourist and retail mecca, the West End, and the depressed East End. Beautifully written, with an uncanny eye for cultural detail Phil’s book is a powerful response to the overblown myths and broken promises of the Olympian legacy agenda. Click to continue reading →
Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman previews books to look out for in the first quarter of 2013
I have an old lefty badge somewhere: ‘Books are Weapons’. Of course reading alone is never enough- did someone mention the point however is to change it? But we live in an era of unprecedented austerity, the urgent challenge that the threat of Climate Change should be posing almost all conventional definitions of growth, and the enduring disarray of oppositional politics. So finding the time for a good read to provoke both thought and action is as good a New Year resolution as I can think of. And despite the mind-numbing dullness of the political mainstream, in the margins there’s thankfully still plenty to savour.
By way of a kind of New Year revolutions primer there’s none better than the 2013 edition of the annual Socialist Register. Each year the Socialist Register editors take a broad theme, this year’s is ‘A Question of Strategy’, commission a broad and international range of contributors and compile the results into a highly readable collection. The 2013 version is particularly strong and timely, with post-Occupy, the rise of Syriza, the contrasting experiences of the European Left and post-Leninist models of political organisation all to the fore. For an entirely different kind of compendium treat yourself to Poems of Protest, a slim volume of the too often neglected poetry of William Morris, beautifully designed by Roger Huddle with a superb introduction by Michael Rosen. It’s a great combination, the kind of book to keep you inspired throughout 2013.
The web has helped a new wave of leftist polemic to become sharper than ever before. Richard Seymour at Lenins Tomb is a fine craftsman of a decent and often witty left-wing argument. Some would say he might remind them of a young Christopher Hitchens. To put any such notion where Seymour certainly feels it should belong he has written an angry denunciation of everything Hitchens became and allowed himself, wilfully, to represent. Unhitched is both a fine read of how a dissenter went mainstream but also a window on what dissent today might look like free of the conventions of the liberal establishment.
Three books of historical record likewise distinguish a politics unconstrained by convention. David Gilbert’s Love and Struggle was one book in 2012 I missed and I won’t be making the same mistake in 2013. An autobiographical account of how one activist went from late 1960s student activist to 1970s Weather Underground operative, this is more than just a tale of ‘68 but a powerfully written exploration of the enduring appeal and motivation of idealism. Dealing with entirely different subject matter, Physical Resistance by Dave Hann however provides an equally compelling account of the heroism that anti-fascism will often demand. Forthcoming, Lindsey German’s new book, How A Century Of War Changed The Lives of Women” takes a similarly long historical sweep to Hann, this time with a focus in particular on the political experience of, and resistance by, women to militarism and imperialism. This is a much neglected aspect of women’s lives and politics, by redressing the balance this book provides a pleasingly different, and necessary, read.
Also forthcoming, and from a distinctively socialist-feminist trajectory is the welcome and timely republication in updated form of the late 1970s book Beyond the Fragments by Merlin Press. The argument raised by the authors that feminism has to be central to the remaking of socialism, neatly summed up in their maxim ‘the personal is political’ has ebbed and flowed in terms of influence and consequence in the past three decades. It will be interesting to see what kind of impact the updated edition has on a new generation still confronting many of the issues this book raised before many of them would have been born.
Part of the appeal of Beyond the Fragments for me in the late 1970s when it was first published, that I’ve stuck with ever since, is that it wasn’t just about the remaking of socialism, but also demanded the reinvention of the political. Most of my own writing in recent years has been about sport, football in particular. I’ve been informed crucially by the belief that there is no such process as keeping politics out of sport because sport is itself political, social, economic and cultural. Or as Albert Camus once put it, and Philosophy Football neatly turned into a best-selling T-shirt, “All That I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football.” Phil Cohen, author of a splendid new book on London 2012, On The Wrong Side of The Track? detects next to no morality in the deliberations and actions of the modern Olympic movement. Instead he carefully details the actuality of what the Games will come to mean for East London in years to come. Once all the hoopla is over this is precisely the sort of subject-matter that needs addressing. This isn’t to indulge in what Cohen calls ‘Olympophobia’. Rather it is simply the essential task of any effective oppositional politics to separate establishment rhetoric from practical reality. Artist and photographer Neville Gabie provides an entirely different insight into the popular mood of the celebratory that the Olympic project at its best would become in his book-length version of his Olympic artistic residence. Great Lengths is a visual account of the potential of the Olympics to inspire without concealing the nature of the obstacles to that emotional and physical result.
A Left politics that takes popular culture seriously as a core site where ideologies are made, contested and unmade must be as much about the point of consumption as the more familiar terrain of the point of production. UK Uncut’s protests outside Starbucks, Top Shop and High Street Banks revealed the progressive potential of such a focus for politics, helped along with some flair, creativity and imagination. For all three in political abundance look no further than Reverend Billy’s debut book The End of the World. Reverend Billy is the star of US anti-consumerism agitprop of the sort that that readers of Adbusters will be familiar with. An absolute must read, and a great laugh too.
The experience of parenthood is often an experience that challenges almost every value mother and father once had. For a richly amusing read of the contradictions and compromises of bringing up boys in the modern family enjoy MOB Rule by Hannah Evans, mother to three boys. Not the usual subject-matter for a ‘politics’ reading list yet if we can’t take how our children develop seriously what does this say about any definition of the political?
A mix of locality, race and identity with sharply incisive writing helps make Rupa Huq’s On The Edge one of the most interesting titles published at the start of this year. Rupa’s subject matter is hugely original, the politics of suburbia. What do these places mean outside of our imagination and preconceptions, and crucially how have the suburbs shaped contrasting versions of English identity? A truly great book that it is hard to finish reading and not feel you’ve learned something.
It’s a great list of new, recent and forthcoming books for 2013’s first quarter which makes it almost unnecessary to chose a single title for the accolade of best of the lot. Yet Andrew Simms, author in my view of the best political book in recent years, Tescopoly deserves precisely that for his new book Cancel The Apocalypse. For those who wonder what a ‘next Left politics’ might look like, this is it. With wit and boldness Andrew deconstructs our appetite for growth,consumption and all the misery this creates, often without us realising the reason why. Linking with considerable original insight economic crisis to environmental disaster he refuses to accept the cosy pigeonholing of subjects that politics, in and out of the mainstream, too cosily accepts and reinforces. But this is a book of hopefulness too, a template for remaking the political, a brilliant refusal to accept the way things are.
That’s it for now, just remember each and every one of these books is a weapon in the right hands. I’ll be back in March to provide a reload of Spring books. Enjoy your reading.
Note: No links for books in this books preview, my previous and future reviews and previews too, are to Amazon. If you can avoid purchasing from the tax dodgers, my recommendation is to do so, as much as you possibly can.
Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football
A Christmas Books Gift List for Hopeful Materialists
Philosophy Football’s Mark Perryman reviews the best left-wing books of 2012 for a hopeful materialist’s seasonal gift list.
Christmas time, not much peace in large parts of the world, precious little goodwill for the 99% either. A time for turbo-driven commercialism to drive up retail’s footfall. Bah Humbug? Or if you prefer just put the Historical Materialism on one side for the season and embrace the Hopeful Materialism of looking forward to what might be wrapped up and waiting under the tree for 25 December.
A year that continues to be dominated by the fallout from recession and the consequences of austerity means there’s plenty of decent reading matter on the neo-liberal onslaught. Not cheery enough for a seasonal surprise? Then try Meme Wars, by Kalle Lasn of Adbusters. Subtitled ‘The Creative Destruction of Neo-Classical Economics’ this is a coffee table book for revolutionaries, brilliantly illustrated to both entertain and inform. And for a compelling read on the impact domestically of the Coalition’s mishandling of the economy, the powerfully written Dogma and Disarray is perfect for anybody who enjoys Polly Toynbee’s searing assault on all things Cameroon in her Guardian column. With co-author David Walker, Polly expands her arguments and analysis in a handy pocket-book format, a perfect stocking-filler for wannabe social-democrats. Fellow Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has collected the best of his pieces for the paper and also turned them into a very fine book, The Revenge of History. Purposefully internationalist in range, the writing is intimately connected to a politics shaped by the desire to uproot injustice and propel movements to transform society, an inspirational commentary on a past decade framed by both potential, and betrayal. Those who read the <Guardian from the Left will love this one. An attempt to put on paper the various ideas and ideals that might turn the next decade into something more hopeful and less treacherous is the ambitious What We Are Fighting For. Edited by Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campaglio this is a manifesto-style book covering a diverse range of themes written by a variety of politically-committed authors. Upated for the paperback edition, When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques is beautifully written and incredibly challenging for most readers whose politics remain unaffected by the irresistible rise of China as a global power. If half of what Jacques claims for the significance of China to the 21st Century is proved to be correct then a fundamental rethink will be needed. This book provides the basis for such a process, an absolutely essential read.
At the close of 2011 Time magazine chose the ‘protester’ as their composite person of the year cover star. 2012 saw a number of books which sought to capture the meaning and significance of the Occupy! movement that was so central to those twelve months of protest. Amongst the best was Andrew Boyd’s compendium-like Beautiful Trouble which brought together some of the most imaginative elements of a movement influenced by a mix of non-violent direct action and the public drama of situationism. Unashamedly a handbook of do-it-yourself protest. Autonomist ideas have been a key part of many such actions originating outside of the mainstream of leftist, trade union and NGO politics. Occupy Everything edited by Alessio Lunghi and Seth Wheeler very much comes from this autonomist tradition, it is a very effective challenge to left attempts to incorporate the Occupy movement into their own ways of working politically, one for those who embrace creeative tension as a plus, not a minus.
2012 marked two important World War Two 70th Anniversaries, the battles of Stalingrad and El Alamein. In recent months David Cameron has announced plans in 2014 to mark the centenary of the commencement of World War One. Too often this ‘anniversaryism’ is entirely divorced from the politics and causes of the conflict. In the case of the Second World War, anti-fascism, as marked by Philosophy football’s range of Stalingrad T-shirts. A masterful account of the Eastern Front campaign waged against the Nazis is provided by the definitive biography of the most important of all the Red Army’s Generals, Marshal Zhukov. Stalin’s General by Geoffrey Roberts combines the finest in military history writing with a hugely readable account of the political intrigues that would affect Stalin’s control over the resistance and reversal of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR. A deconstruction of much of the mythology of WW2, ranging from Indonesia and Vietnam to Yugoslavia and Greece, is provided by Donny Gluckstein’s splendidly dissenting A People’s History of the Second World War. Almost every theatre of this most global of conflicts is covered with examples chosen to illustrate how anti-fascism was too often used as a mask to enforce empire and prevent resistance movements becoming a focus for turning liberation from occupation into movements for independence and revolution.
For a progressive politics to mean anything and extend well beyond the tiny audience it currently involves in any meaningful way requires an agenda unrestricted by the narrow parliamentary definition. Yet many who profess a preference for the extra-parliamentary can likewise fail to see much beyond this boundary too. In contrast to such narrowness two of the most interesting books of this year are Martin Kelner’s Sit Down and Cheer and Steven Poole’s You Aren’t What You Eat. Neither are written in an obviously political fashion yet they engage with subjects vital to any project to change society for the better. The summer of 2012 was absolutely dominated by sport, consumed by most of us via the TV. Kelner’s book is a fascinating history of sport on TV. The Christmas best-sellers? Cookery books, Poole’s book is a superbly written critique of our modern obsession with what he rather neatly dubs ‘gastroculture’.
Fiction is something else some might find surprising cropping up in such an avowedly political reading round up. Yet as a form it is vital to both understanding society and framing a vision to change it. With his novel Heartland author Anthony Cartwright established himself as a hugely gifted author. Cartwright’s latest, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher has a title to guarantee his addition to the kind of people the Daily Mail make it its business to warn us against. The plot imaginatively weaves the make-believe with the very real consequences of the deindustrialisation and mass unemployment that was Thatcher’s doing. For a writer of best-selling crime fiction Christopher Brookmyre has a strangely low profile in the mainstream press. Here is a writer who effortlessly combines his Scottishness, politics, and an ever-rising death count, usually in the most bloodied of circumstances, to create a thrilling read. His latest, When The Devil Drives has rather disappointingly junked some of the darkly bleak humour of his previous titles, a lack however more than compensated for by the strong plot and even stronger characters that populate the book.
A proudly quirky choice for ‘journal of the year’, but my favourite is the annual edition of Twentieth Century Communism, which for 2012 took as its theme ‘communism and youth’. Splendidly mixing the historical and the international this is in every sense of the words a labour of love, yet each edition never disappoints with its faultless rediscovery of one variant on a radical past. Publishing-wise Communism seems to be making a bit of a twenty-first century comeback too. The icon-shattering publishing house, Zero books, added Colin Cremin’s iCommunism to its increasingly impressive list of titles. This is a book that updates Frankfurt School style radicalism for the web 2.0 generation. Breathlessly modernist and radical at the same time, the perfect combination. Jodi Dean’s The Communist Horizon is part of the publisher Verso’s interesting project to reinvent the entire idea of Communism. The academic references are considerable and may put off some readers, yet the purpose is faultless, a wonderful polemic full of both anger and imagination. But the best of this bunch is Kate Hudson’s The New European Left . An academic publisher will narrow and reduce this book’s readership yet it deserves to be widely read. In a year when Syriza in Greece offered a vision of what an Outside Left party boasting both broad appeal and electoral success might look like this book provides a well-written analysis of the successes and failures of similar projects across Europe. The Left in Britain remains largely parochial in its interests, Kate Hudson outlines the urgent need to connect our politics to these developments on the other side of the Channel. Of course in Greece the neo-fascist Golden Dawn are on the rise and across Europe a populist right is growing too. The point is that this has been challenged by a resurgent Outside Left too, posing a popular alternative while in Britain the growth of UKiP isn’t matched by such a formation to Labour’s Left of any substance at all. Kate Hudson’s book lifts the spirits by shifting the focus to Europe to understand what a successful development of this sort looks like
It seems unnecessary to single out a ‘Book of the Year’ amongst the riches already listed. But the passing away of Eric Hobsbawm in this year coincided with the publication in paperback of perhaps his most important selection of essays, How To Change the World. A truly public intellectual, scholarly yet absolutely committed to maximising the political impact of his writings, a broad appeal few other historians could boast, and an unapologetic Marxist, anti-capitalist and communist to the end. Philosophy Football celebrated his work in 2012 with the reintroduction of our Hobsbawm T-shirt with the brlliant quote “The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven maned people.” This book is a handbook for those in future years might seek to equip themselves with the ideas and ideals of Marxism and Communism Hobsbawm not only cherished but helped develop. A stunning collection.
With this lot the temptation to abandon all thoughts of boycotting Christmas as a bourgeois deviation will have to be put on hold until Boxing Day, after all isn’t that bloke heading for the chimneys dressed in red?
Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football
Alice Walker refuses to allow Israelis to publish edition of Color Purple
Pulitzer Prize-winner cites ‘apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people’
The celebrated US author Alice Walker has refused to allow a new Israeli edition of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Color Purple, in protest at what she calls Israel’s policy of “apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people”.
The African-American writer, who is active in the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, has written to the Israeli publisher, Yedhiot Books, saying she cannot permit publication of the book “at this time”.
In the letter, made public by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott on Israel, she invokes a comparison with the decision not to show the 1985 Steven Spielberg film of her novel in South Africa before the end of apartheid. A version of Ms Walker’s classic story of an abused black woman set in the segregated US Deep South of the early 20th century was published in Hebrew in the 1980s.
But she says the testimony heard last year from Israelis and Palestinians by the private Russell Tribunal on Palestine, of which she was a member, was “devastating”. The tribunal, which investigates alleged war crimes, has no legal status and is modelled on one set up during the Vietnam War by the philosopher Bertrand Russell and other intellectuals.
Ms Walker adds that having grown up “under American apartheid” she found that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians was “far worse”. The use of the term “apartheid” to describe the treatment of Palestinians arouses fierce antagonism in Israel.
The BDS campaign calls for sanctions against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights” and goes significantly further than a separate and parallel campaign for the boycotting of goods produced in settlements in occupied territory, which are widely regarded as illegal in international law. Ms Walker says she hopes the BDS campaign “will have enough of an impact on Israeli civilian society to change the situation”.
In her letter, Ms Walker thanks the publisher – an offshoot of the mass-circulation daily newspaper Yedhiot Ahronot – “so much” for what she says is its wish to publish her novel. She adds: “I would so like knowing my books are read by the people of your country, especially by the young, and by the brave Israeli activists (Jewish and Palestinian) for justice and peace I have had the joy of working beside. I am hopeful that one day, maybe soon, this may happen. But now is not the time.”