War and revolution has been a theme of 2014. Workers’ Liberty comrades were asked to recommend some books on that theme, all readily available, and ideal for reading over the holiday period.
The German Revolution 1918-23 by Pierre Broué
This book is the most in depth account of a pivotal period of the twentieth century I’ve ever read. It has huge lessons for us today on the united front, transitional demands and the concept of a workers government.
Regeneration by Pat Barker
The first book in this trilogy about World War One, starts by quoting “A Soldier’s Declaration”, Siegfried Sassoon’s July 1917 statement of protest against the war and beings with that moment in Sassoon’s life.
Rather than court martial Sassoon and turn him into an anti-war martyr, the military declared him insane and sent him to Craiglockhart, a War Hospital for treating shell-shocked soldiers. Set mostly in Craiglockhart, the main character, the psychiatrist Rivers, treats characters for the psychological trauma they have undergone at the front. Rivers encourages his patients to talk, so we can glean the horror of the front, with the added poignancy that by the time we’re hearing of them, the events have already led to psychological breakdown.
Sassoon, an already-established poet and Wilfred Owen, who was yet to be published, met in Craiglockhart in 1917. The book plays on this chance historical encounter and imagines their conversations, including one where Sassoon amends the opening line of ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ to say, “What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?”
Yhe fictionalised conversations between Rivers and his patients and between Sassoon and Owen invite you to think emotionally and psychologically about the events of World War One. I am now reading book two of the trilogy, The Eye in the Door and can’t wait to read the third, The Ghost Road, for which Pat Barker won the Booker Prize.
The Home Front by Sylvia Pankhurst
We are less than half a year into four years of commemoration of the centenary of the Great War, a sanitised celebration which glorifies and justifies the war. There will be some mention of the terrible sufferings of the men in the trenches, but little of the appalling hardships opposed on the people on the “home front”.
Sylvia Pankhurst’s book, first published in 1932, tells the brutal truth about the women who struggled to raise families with no welfare state, the returning wounded soldiers abandoned by the government that sent them to war, the conscientious objectors who faced the most severe of punishments for refusing to go along with it. Keep alive their memory, and see how the British ruling class was not their champion but their enemy at home.
The Lost Revolution: The story of the Official IRA and the Workers’ Party by Brian Hanley and Scott Millar
In December 1969, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) split into two wings, with its political wing, Sinn Féin, following suit in early 1970. The most well-known, the “Provisional” IRA, were the Catholic nationalists who, after contributing in no small part to thirty years of sectarian violence, now share power with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Stormont. This story is well known.
The Lost Revolution tells the stoyr of the “Official” IRA and its political wing, the Workers Party of Ireland, a political force which, in its own different way, did much to shape modern Ireland.
A collaboration between an academic and a political journalist, this book is well-written, with the pace and drama of a good novel.
The Workers Party still exists, though greatly diminished from its height of seven TDs and an MEP. Its former President Sean Garland has only recently fought off attempts by the US to have him extradited for alleged involvement in a North Korean plan to forge counterfeit dollars.
In 1991, the party split, with many of its elected representatives forming the social democratic Democratic Left. In 1997 it merged with the Irish Labour Party, with Proinsias De Rossa become a Labour MEP. In 2011, Eamon Gilmore became Labour’s leader and the Irish Tánaiste, a post which he held until last July.
How did the “Official” IRA reach such an unlikely set of destinations, from its roots in the traditional republicanism of the early 1960s? The answer is complex, with many bizarre and often deadly twists and turns in between.
The Third Reich by Richard J Evans
This is the second part of a trilogy on Nazi Germany. There is an industry of history books about the Nazis but there are fewer serious histories. Most are written from a Liberal or Conservative point of view. Evans in contrast gives a Marxian (if not Marxist) analysis.
Evans is very interested in and very lucid about the class nature of Nazism and the disastrous role played by the leadership of the mass working class parties, the reformist SPD and the Stalinist KPD. Evans analysis coincides with Trotsky’s in that he thinks a united front between the two parties before 1933 could have stopped the rise of the Nazis.
The Third Reich In Power shows how the Nazis built a cultural, political and ideological hegemony and the brave but mainly doomed attempts to resist this. Evans prose really brings to light the monstrous horror of it all and makes you angry that this could have happened within living memory.