The Red in the Rainbow, by Hannah Dee

Since 1970, struggles against LGBT oppression have won impressive legal gains alongside a sea-change in social attitudes. Liberation remains a distant prospect, however, and in this context Dee constructs an entertaining and thoroughly cogent exposition of the classical Marxist theory of sexuality. In examining how economic organisation underpins social structures surrounding sexuality – and what this means for transforming such structures – Dee presents a rich seam of historical detail; for instance the often-neglected sexual radicalism of early Social Democratic perspectives. Despite tending to the mechanistic in an over-hasty rejection of queer theory, this is recommended reading for any non-expert.

Bookmarks; 2011; 192 pages

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The City and the City, by China Miéville

Through Tyador Borlu, a police Inspector conducting a murder investigation in decaying Beszel and wealthy Ul Qoma, two Eastern European cities inhabiting the same space, Miéville explores the extent to which borders determine the lives of ordinary people. The best scenes describe Borlu experiencing the architecture, culture and people he has always lived with but that he has learned to ‘unsee’ since birth; scenes during which the reader shares in the sense of unease and shock. This is a gripping crime novel that develops pace and intrigue although in terms of narrative and analysis, the concluding pages are slightly disappointing. MM

Pan; 2010, 373 pages

Stalin and Shostakovich, by Solomon Volkov

This account of the perilous, unremitting battles between Stalin and Shostakovich charts an engrossing history which extends well beyond the book’s protagonists. Lacking incisive political perspective, Volkov nonetheless unearths a wealth of detail on the whole structure of state-regulated cultural production during the Stalin era. With disaster an ever-present threat, figures such as Shostakovich, Eisenstein and Pasternak engaged in a compex set of cat-and-mouse relations: often barely surviving through a combination of guile and Stalin’s uncertain desire for international recognition. Incorporating fascinating analysis of Shostakovich’s key works, Volkov’s readable fusion of the musicological and the social is a clear success. AB

Little, Brown and Company; 2004; 384 pages

Red Riding Quartet, by David Peace

Through four novels, innumerable ruined characters, the Yorkshire Ripper murders and more than a few scenes of utterly shocking intensity, Peace’s Red Riding quartet interrogates a core of disturbing themes with hypnotic single-mindedness. Returning constantly to sadistic police brutality, unconquerable sexual obsessions and the torture of children, Red Riding succeeds overwhelmingly because the horrifying cruelty depicted is borne not of abstract evil nor incomprehensible psychology, but simple greed (the motive which is, of course, indispensable to all free-market economic theory). Wealth buys immunity from democratic control; Peace’s exposition of this process is as cogent as it is viscerally, terrifyingly powerful. AB

Serpent’s Tail; 1999-2002

We Saw Spain Die: Foreign Correspondents in the Spanish Civil War, by Paul Preston

We Saw Spain DieFacing reactionary press barons’ hostility to socialists and Western governments’ deals with fascism, foreign reporting on the Spanish Civil War was accurate only through constant struggle. We Saw Spain Die recounts the stories of the many correspondents who risked lives and careers to carry out this struggle – international journalists whose bravery and determination informed a mass audience of the astonishing, tragic courage of ordinary Spaniards battling fascist military onslaught. Weaving together personal, professional and political detail Preston offers unusual insight into the defeated Revolution and journalistic practice, and through individual experiences constructs a valuable addition to the Revolution’s historiography. AB

Constable; 2009; 512 pages

Militant Modernism, by Owen Hatherley

When devastating capitalist crisis offers a justification for the savage intensification of market discipline (for the masses), to counter-attack on either political or aesthetic grounds may seem audacious enough. To do so on both at once is outrageous and, in the case of Militant Modernism, outrageously brilliant – with thrilling style and a swaggering contempt Hatherley dismisses the pathetic unoriginality of new private housing, market-fetishising artistic practices and much else besides. He serves up a newly emancipating rediscovery of socialist modernism in public housing, planning, film and sexuality and writes with exhilarating confidence and astonishing thematic breadth: “Forward! Never forgetting.” AB

Zero Books; 2009; 160 pages

City: Cities for people, not for profit

This special issue of City investigates the theory and practice of resisting commodification in urban communities. The case studies offer a fascinating insight into struggles for justice in the city and include a diverse range of examples across the Europe, the US and elsewhere. The theoretical contributions are less impressive, though Slaters’ brilliant and surgical dismantling of gentrifying approaches to ‘regeneration’ provides a notable exception. Otherwise the specific modalities of urban power are not persuasively defined as autonomous from power operations in capitalist society as a whole whilst the strategic outlook eschews the working class without presenting a viable alternative. AB

Special Issue; Volume 13/Numbers 2-3/June-September 2009

Routledge; 2009; 210 pages


Language ought to be the joint creation of poets and manual workers. George Orwell

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