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OPINION: 5 books every leftist should read this summer (and a few others)

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I started this semester with a column recommending six books I think every leftist should read, especially for those who are new to the left. It’s very important for every leftist to fully grasp the history and ideas of our movements, so I’m finishing this semester the way I started: with five more books every leftist should read, plus a few others. 

So, take some time off from your classes, enjoy the summer, but be sure to make some time to do some reading. Maybe at the beach – some of these books will be sure to raise eyebrows there. 

“Revolutionary Suicide” by Huey P. Newton 

This is Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton’s 1973 autobiography, and it’s a blend of the personal and political. I wrote a column in January about the Panthers, largely informed by my reading of Newton’s autobiography. Newton and Bobby Seale were just college students when they founded the Party, and their first recruit was a high school student. 

The Panthers largely consisted of young people just like us. They saw the problems in their community, the suffering Black Americans had endured from the hands of the capitalists and the government, and they organized. Every leftist should know their story, beautifully told here by their co-founder.  

It’s important for leftists to know the stories of our great predecessors. In addition to “Revolutionary Suicide,” see also former Black Panther Assata Shakur’s book, “Assata: An Autobiography,” and “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life,” Jon Lee Anderson’s biography of the great revolutionary.  

[Related: OPINION: She who struggles: Assata Shakur and the radical Black women who fought for civil rights]

“Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?” by Mark Fisher 

I’ve been very open about my political views in the pages of the IDS, which has in turn led to many discussions with fellow students about capitalism. Many of them admit the system isn’t great. It produces mass amounts of inequality and is constantly falling into crises. Regardless, an alternative seems unimaginable to many of them. Sure, the system is bad, but it’s the best we can do. Right?  

This is the essence of “Capitalist Realism,” a concept which Fisher sums up nicely in his book like this: “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.” It is in many ways a book about despair; despair that a better future is just impossible. “Capitalist Realism” is one of the best books about modern life – it both explains our collective inertia and seeks to overcome it.  

“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” by Andreas Malm 

Now a major motion picture!  

I wrote a column in March discussing some of the ideas in this book. Malm essentially argues that property damage should be considered a valid tactic in the fight against climate change. It’s a controversial claim, but it is compelling. Climate change threatens our future, and our leaders are not taking it seriously. As I argued in the March column, people like Joe Biden ostensibly believe in climate change, but their actions – see the Willow Project – suggest that they don’t.  

But remember, all I’m recommending is that you read the book! Read it and reconsider if we’re doing enough to combat climate change.  

“October: The Story of the Russian Revolution” by China Mieville  

Reading books about history is important for leftists, because many reactionaries are going to accuse us of not knowing history. So, we must know it better than them. The Russian Revolution of 1917 produced the world’s first socialist state, and it’s imperative we learn from both the triumphs and failures of the past. Emulate what worked, avoid what didn’t. 

Mieville’s book is riveting – you won’t know you’re reading history. It’s an inspiring story of workers who shook the world, changing it forever. For a leftist, the story of the Russian Revolution will be quite inspiring. For others, “October” will just be an enjoyable read.  

[Related: OPINION: Prisons are obsolete]

For more historical works, see Ellen Meiksins Wood’s “The Origin of Capitalism,” and Marx’s contemporary history of the Paris Commune, “The Civil War in France.” 

“On Practice and Contradiction” by Mao Tse-Tung 

“Why should we read Mao,” the liberals in my walls ask. Wasn’t he awful? He did make some serious mistakes that should never be repeated, true. But the founder of the People’s Republic of China is still admired by millions of people, including young people in China today. Condemn him if you want – but shouldn’t we try to understand him, if only to understand them? 

The work I recommend here is the 2017 collection of Mao’s essays published by Verso. Many of them are quite inspiring, written before Mao and the communists had come to power. I often think about Mao’s assertion that the mighty U.S. was just a paper tiger – something that seems scary but is as flimsy as a piece of paper.  

Those of us on the left often feel like our opponents are too strong, impossible to overcome. That we are small, and they are big: surrender, then, to capitalist realism. But to read Mao’s words is to understand why millions still adore him, despite his errors. “Bigness is nothing to be afraid of,” Mao wrote. “The big will be overthrown by the small. The small will become big.” 

Jared Quigg (he/him) is a junior studying journalism and political science.

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