Recent Cutting Edge Books
in Emancipatory Social Thought (left radical)
(and some from earlier years)
Compiled by James Herod
Fotopoulos, Takis. Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need for a New Liberatory Project. London: Cassell, 1997, 401 pages.
This is an outstanding attempt to redefine the radical project. It was inspired by, but not limited to, libertarian municipalism. Part One is a rather mundane demolition of capitalist development theory. But Part Two is a brilliant and innovative outline of a society based on direct democracy and "a stateless, moneyless, and marketless economy," as well as a philosophy "beyond objectivism, irrationalism, and relativism" to go with it. Fotopoulos is founder and editor of one of the most important contemporary journals of radical social philosophy (now online only), The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy (formerly Democracy and Nature).
Holloway, John. Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London: Pluto Press, 2002, 237 pages.
Holloway never mentions anarchists in this book, except perhaps in passing. Yet the book could serve as a philosophical foundation for anarchy. He bases himself on the Frankfurt School of critical theory, and especially on the tradition of autonomous marxism. He starts from the separation of the done from the doing, and proceeds to unravel capitalist social relations from there, using the best of Marx and the above mentioned traditions to do so, often restated in more comprehensible terms. There is an excellent discussion of fetishism, a critique of scientific marxism, a discussion of the revolutionary subject, and more. The transcendance of the subject/object duality is a theme throughout. All in all, this is a remarkable book. One disappointment. He does not realize that the assembly would be the social embodiment, in concrete terms, of what he is talking about.
Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2004, 285 pages.
She begins in the late Middle Ages, 1300-1500, as feudalism is unraveling. She surveys the tremendous revolts and class struggles going on at that time. The exploited classes were perhaps closer to throwing off their oppressors then than ever before or since. Capitalism, she argues, was a response to this impending revolution. With feudalism no longer working as a mechanism for extracting wealth from the laboring classes, a new system had to be invented. The book sort of serves as a history of capitalism, with a focus on the enclosures and the establishment of wage-slavery. The witch hunts (spread over 200 years and killing at least 200,000 women taken from virtually every town and village in Europe and some of the colonies) were a crucial part of this, because the independent power of feudal women had to be destroyed before wage-slavery could be fully established. This is an advanced cutting-edge book.
Graeber, David. Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value. New York: Palgrave, 2001, 337 pages.
For those who are interested in establishing an anarchist world without money, this is a good place to begin (to understand money, which we most likely have to do before we can get rid of it). Graeber tackles the question of the how humans assign value to things (and where prices come from and what are they based on), relying on his extensive knowledge of the anthopological literature to help answer it. A key part of the book is his long chapter on Marcel Mauss Revisited (the author of The Gift). Thus the book is directly relevant to the current revival of interest in the so-called "gift economy."
Morris, Brian. Western Conceptions of the Individual. Oxford, UK: Berg, 1991, 505 pages.
Brian Morris is a British anarchist trained in anthropology. This outstanding book is a study of the struggle to overcome the specious individual/society dichotomy, but it can also serve as a history of the major schools of social philosophy since Descartes. This study is especially relevant to revolutionaries in the United States who are so deeply embedded in and have to struggle against an overwhelmingly individualistic culture. It should be required reading for all individualist anarchists, to help them shed their anarchonistic beliefs and get on the cutting edge. Morris wrote a companion book, Anthropology of the Self. His studies of Bakunin and Kropotkin are also first rate.
Wood, Ellen Meiksins. Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 200 pages.
I selected this title mainly to get Ellen Wood onto the list, but I could just as easily have selected any of her other five books (plus two co-authored with her husband Neal). Wood is one of the most brilliant contemporary students of capitalism. This book has chapters on renewing class analysis, the base/superstructure debate, a critique of Max Weber, a critique of the concept civil society, and much more.
Steinberg, Michael. The Fiction of a Thinkable World: Body, Meaning, and the Culture of Capitalism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2005, 223 pages.
Here is a book that just may be the definitive answer to the specious individual/society dichotomy. The weird thing is that the author hardly mentions left libertarian radical social thought, which has been waging this struggle for over a hundred years, but builds his case almost entirely on recent work in (non-mainstream) cognitive science and philosophical biology. It's a fairly easy read, but the scope of his learning across all fields from ancient times on is quite impressive. It serves as a good antidote to the idiocy of contemporary American individualist anarchist writing (post-left anarchists, crimethinc, primitivists) which sees society as an aggregrate of autonomous individuals and fails to understand that humans are intersubjective beings.
McNally, David. Bodies of Meaning: Studies on Language, Labor, and Liberation. New York: State University of New York Press, 2001, 277 pages.
McNally is a libertarian socialist, and earlier wrote an excellent book, Against the Market, and a more recent book, also good, Another World is Possible: Globalization and Anti-Capitalism. He calls himself a critical materialist and sets out in Bodies of Meaning to overcome the body/mind, idealism/materialism duality, with special attention to the idealism of post-modernism, using a materialist theory of language as a vehicle for the attack. For the most part he succeeds, although at times he seems to slip back into mechanical materialism. His discussion of the origin and evolution of language is terrific, and he really does integrate language back into the body.
Pateman, Carole. The Problem of Political Obligation: A Critique of Liberal Theory . Berkeley: California University Press, 1985. 222 pages.
This is the best discussion so far of the principle of "self-assumed political obligation," and of political authority in general. Together with her first book, Participation and Democratic Theory, and her third book, The Sexual Contract, this body of work represents the most brilliant and devastating critique of liberal democratic theory so far, and a defense of direct democracy and hence of anarchism.
Castoriadis, Cornelius. Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1991, 304 pages.
These are Castoriadis' most accessible essays since his writings for Socialism or Barbarism in the fifties in France. The book is one of the strongest recent philosophical defenses of direct democracy, with a non-foundationalist theory of knowledge to match it. See also the collected essays in the World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination. In between his early 'Socialism or Barbarism' period and the late essays collected in these two volumes, Castoriadis wrote a couple of rather intimitating tomes, which are nevertheless solid fare for those who can handle them: The Imaginary Institution of Society, and Crossroads in the Labyrinth.
Hudson, Michael. Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of U.S. World Domination . London, Pluto Press, 2003, 425 pages.
This book was such an accurate description of the way American institutions of international financial domination worked (in 1972 when it was first published) that finance capitalists rushed to get a copy to help them improve their system. Fortunately, the book is also useful to anti-imperialists, especially in this expanded and updated edition. It is a detailed, scholarly tome not meant for the faint-hearted, which describes how the U.S. has managed to dominate the world for nearly a century.
Midgley, Mary. Beast and Man: The Roots of Human Nature. London: Routledge, 1979, revised edition, 1995. 277 pages.
This is the sanest guide yet through the quagmire of the nature/nurture debate, by a leading British philosopher. She's also thoroughly grounded in animal studies. She tackles sociobiology in an open-minded yet critical way, trying to glean what nuggets of insight she can from it. This is a wise book.
Rose, Gillian, Hegel Contra Sociology. London: Athlone, 1981, 261 pages.
She argues that the badly warped social science that we have known for the past century and a half, which was founded on positivism, could have been avoided if Hegel's leads had been followed. This is a difficult but exciting and provocative book.
Schmidt, James. Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Between Phenomenology and Structuralism. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985, 214 pages.
This is a lucid exposition of Merlau-Ponty's pioneering efforts to break out of the subject/object duality, with special emphasis on the project that occupied the last years of his life, namely, to redo his whole philosophy and overcome the limitations of phenomenology and structuralism. These unfinished studies were eventually published as The Visible and the Invisible. Merleau-Ponty is one of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge, radical social philosophers so far, but one sadly neglected by American revolutionaries. His works are in English primarily because of the phenomenologists at Northwestern University.
Wallerstein, Immanuel. Historical Capitalism. London: Verso, 1983, 1995, 163 pages.
This is the best short introduction that I know of to the nature and internal workings of the capitalist social order. Wallerstein is the greatest contemporary analyst of capitalism. You can find references to his many volumes of essays and to his three volume history of capitalism on his web site at the Braudel Center at New York University at Binghamton.
McNally, David. Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism, and the Marxist Critique. London: Verso, 1993, 262 pages.
This is a brilliant reconstruction of the decades-long dispute between Marx and Proudhon over the market. It is an insightful book, and is very helpful in getting a handle on so-called market socialism, of which Proudhon's theories were the first example, McNally claims.
Ingham, Geoffrey. The Nature of Money . Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2004, 254 pages.
Ingham (together with a small group of economists clustered mostly at the University of Missouri in Kansas City) has been revolutionizing the study of money. They have proved that money did not originate from barter, but was instead invented by states, as a means of collecting taxes. This casts an entirely new light on the prospects of getting rid of money: if you get rid of states you might be able to get rid of money too (although they do not draw this conclusion themselves; they argue that since money reflects the power relations in the society, if you equalize the power, money would not be a problem -- to which I raise a very skeptical eye.)
Easton, Susan. Humanist Marxism and Wittgensteinian Social Philosophy. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1983, 148 pages.
In this little-known book, Easton, most likely inspired by the New Left's rejection in the 1960s of the separation of fact and value, attacks (in 1983, somewhat ahead of the game) the false dichotomies of essense/appearance, language/reality, materialism/idealism, theory/practice. Intriguingly, she finds that Marx and Wittgenstein are on the same page in transcending these dualities. This is a fine contribution to a genuinely dialectical world view.
Chossudovsky, Michel. The Globalization of Poverty and the New World Order. Global Outlook, 2003, 376 pages.
This is a clear explanation of the workings of capitalist world financial institutions and their devastating consequences on the world's peoples (although they work marvelously well for the ruling class), with detailed historical studies of many concrete cases.
Hecht, Jennifer Michael. Doubt: A History. The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson. San Francisco: Harper collins, 2003, 551 pages.
What I found stunning about this book is the evidence she amasses to prove that from the dawn of recorded human history there have been people, both great philosophers and whole societies, who have rejected religion. It was balm to a beleagured, discouraged atheist. The staying power of religion remains inexplicable to me, and the recent resurgence of fundamentalism the world over even more so. But at least I know now that the tradition to which I belong is as ancient and lasting as the belief systems that I reject and oppose. This gives me hope that one day religion will be eradicated from the earth, which simply means that humankind will mature to the point of being able to cast its crutches aside and stand straight and tall on its own legs.
Heller, Agnes. Instincts. Assen, Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1979, 97 pages.
This is a thorough refutation by a leading radical philosopher of the claim made by many sociobiologists that humans have an instinct of aggression. It is a fine rebuttal of sociobiology.
Ward, Colin. Anarchy in Action. London: Freedom Press, 1973, second edition, 1982, 152 pages.
This is an excellent introduction to anarchy. Ward brings anarchism down to concrete reality in terms of welfare, schooling, housing, work and play, social organization, crime and deviance, and so forth. He is England's greatest contemporary anarchist writer.
Marshall, Peter. Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism. London, Fontana Press, 1993, 767 pages.
This book is not cutting edge in the sense of offering new ideas but only in the sense of organizing into one massive volume the astonishing history of anarchism. Marshall begins the story in ancient China with Taoism in the sixth century BC. He finds precursors of anarchism in ancient Greece, the European Middle Ages, and the revolutions of early modern Europe. He considers both the great thinkers and the movements. Together with George Woodcock's classic Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements, the book serves to bring to contemporary revolutionaries a knowledge of the only viable social philosophy left standing as we enter the 21st century. Both of the main establishment social philosophies -- conservativism and liberalism -- are dead. Their counterparts in the radical movement -- leninism and social democracy -- are dead. Anarchism remains. It is a rich tradition worthy of being the foundation upon which to create a new civilization.
Midnight Notes. New Enclosures. Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts: Midnight Notes (issue No. 10 of the journal by that name), 1990, 100 pages. Distributed by Autonomedia.
This book was produced by a very innovative group of thinkers coming out of the tradition of autonomous maxism. As the title suggests the focus is on the capitalist process of enclosure. They argue that enclosure is not something that happened once during the founding of capitalism and then stopped, but is an ongoing process or tactic that has reached a new massive scale in our time. They pursue this theme through an analysis of the debt crisis on the global level (among other things), but also in several local case studies. The book also includes a creative attempt to picture a way to reverse this abomination, through what might be called (although they didn't) disenclosure.
Knabb, Ken. The Joy of Revolution. Included in his Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb: 1970-1997, pp 1-88. Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997, 408 pages.
Ken Knabb is the leading representative of Situationism in the United States. Situationism has pictured a free society in terms of generalized self-management. This image is quite nicely fleshed out in this book, which is a useful synthesis of the work and community perspectives. It is one of the few recent, extended, discussions of how a self-governing people would arrange themselves socially, with numerous hints about how to bring such a society into being.
Sharp, Gene. Civilian-Based Defense: A Post-Military Weapons System. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990, 165 pages.
This is a creative and provocative synthesis of the traditions of military strategic thinking and nonviolent resistance. Sharp raises nonviolent resistance to a new level entirely, and gives hope that overwhelming firepower can be defeated, through massive, socially organized noncooperation. This book can be usefully studied by all revolutionaries who are seeking ways to defeat the vast military machines of the world's ruling classes.