Reading List

Political Theory: Verso Student Reading

Political_theory-

With the rise of global economic instability, the looming threat of catastrophic climate change, and capitalism close to breaking point, the time has never been more ripe to arm yourself with the political theory you need on campus.
 

All our student reading is 40% off as part of our Back to University/School sale. Ends September 30, 23:59 EST. See all our student reading lists here.

The Tragedy of the Worker is a brilliant, stringently argued pamphlet reflecting on capitalism’s death drive, the left’s complicated entanglements with fossil fuels, and the rising tide of fascism. In response, the authors propose Salvage Communism, a programme of restoration and reparation that must precede any luxury communism. The Tragedy of the Worker demands an alternative future—the Proletarocene—one capable of repairing the ravages of capitalism and restoring the world.

The classic text of Italian workerism finally available in English.

How did the dynamic economic system we know as capitalism develop among the peasants and lords of feudal Europe? 

The ubiquitous nature and political attraction of the concept of order has to be understood in conjunction with the idea of police. Since its first publication, this book has been one of the most powerful and wide-ranging critiques of the police power.

Nunes redefines the terms of organisational theory, and argues that organisation must be understood as always supposing a diverse ecology of different initiatives and organisational forms. Drawing from a wide array of sources and traditions Nunes develops a grammar that eschews easy oppositions between ‘verticalism’ and ‘horizontalism’, and offers a fresh approach to enduring issues like spontaneity, leadership, democracy, strategy, populism, revolution, and the relationship between movements and parties.

Classical liberalism regarded universal suffrage as a mortal threat to property. So what explains the advent of liberal democracy, and how stable today is the marriage between representative government and the continued rule of capital?

The Imperial Mode of Living implies that people’s everyday practices, including individual and societal orientations, as well as identities, rely heavily on the unlimited appropriation of resources; a disproportionate claim on global and local ecosystems and sinks; and cheap labour from elsewhere. This availability of commodities is largely organised through the world market, backed by military force and/or the asymmetric relations of forces as they have been inscribed in international institutions.

What makes a fascist? Are there character traits that make someone more likely to vote for the far right? The Authoritarian Personality is not only one of the most significant works of social psychology ever written, it also marks a milestone in the development of Adorno’s thought, showing him grappling with the problem of fascism and the reasons for Europe’s turn to reaction. Over half a century later and with the rise of right-wing populism and the reemergence of the far-right in recent years, this hugely influential study remains as insightful and relevant as ever.

Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into this concise and tightly argued manifesto: analyzing the varieties of anticapitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and an unparalleled guide to help us get there.

Futures of Socialism takes an in-depth look at the reasons for Labour’s 2019 election defeat, with Unite’s Andrew Murray on Labour’s Brexit position, Tom Mills on the British media, Gargi Bhattacharyya and Jeremy Gilbert on better ways to build a political project, and Keir Milburn on generation left. The anthology also compares the fortunes of the British left with socialist movements overseas, in despatches from Europe and America.

Davis consults a vast archive of labor history to illuminate new aspects of Marx’s theoretical texts and political journalism. He offers a “lost Marx,” whose analyses of historical agency, nationalism, and the “middle landscape” of class struggle are crucial to the renewal of revolutionary thought in our darkening age.

For the first time ever, this book brings together all of Marx's essential political and historical writings in one volume. These writings allow us to see the depth and range of Marx’s mature work from the tumultuous revolutions of 1848 that rocked European society through to the end of his life. Including The Communist Manifesto, The Class Struggles in France and The Critique of the Gotha Programme, this volume shows Marx at his most astute, analysing the forces of global capitalism as they played out in actual events.

Neoliberalism is fracturing, but what will emerge in its wake? 

The full magnitude of Benedict Anderson’s intellectual achievement is still being appreciated and debated. Imagined Communities remains the most influential book on the origins of nationalism, filling the vacuum that previously existed in the traditions of Western thought. Cited more often than any other single English-language work in the human sciences, it is read around the world in more than thirty translations.

In this hugely influential book, Laclau and Mouffe examine the workings of hegemony and contemporary social struggles, and their significance for democratic theory. With the emergence of new social and political identities, and the frequent attacks on Left theory for its essentialist underpinnings, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy remains as relevant as ever, positing a much-needed antidote against 'Third Way' attempts to overcome the antagonism between Left and Right. 

Historian and political thinker Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that theories of “postmodern” fragmentation, “difference,” and contingency can barely accommodate the idea of capitalism, let alone subject it to critique. In this book she sets out to renew the critical program of historical materialism by redefining its basic concepts and its theory of history in original and imaginative ways, using them to identify the specificity of capitalism as a system of social relations and political power.

This book proposes the first critical history of the Anthropocene, shaking up many accepted ideas: about our supposedly recent “environmental awareness,” about previous challenges to industrialism, about the manufacture of ignorance and consumerism, about so-called energy transitions, as well as about the role of the military in environmental destruction.

A compelling analysis of fascism, replete with insights into the authoritarian movements and states of our time. 

What is the “populist moment” and what does it mean for the left?

In this masterful new history, Andreas Malm claims it all began in Britain with the rise of steam power. But why did manufacturers turn from traditional sources of power, notably water mills, to an engine fired by coal? Contrary to established views, steam offered neither cheaper nor more abundant energy—but rather superior control of subordinate labour. 

Régis Debray explores America’s global cultural ascendancy in this provocative and witty analysis of our contemporary condition. Whereas Europe once foregrounded the importance of time and writing, America is a civilization of spectacle and kinetics, blind to the tragic complexities of human life. A measure of America’s success is how its jargon has been adopted by European languages, but there is much more than that to the States’ infiltration into all aspects of modern life. 

For Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, neoliberalism is no mere dogma. Supported by powerful oligarchies, it is a veritable politico-institutional system, one capable of perpetuating itself aggressively. Far from representing a break, crisis has become a formidably effective mode of government.

Fredric Jameson’s pathbreaking essay “An American Utopia” radically questions standard leftist notions of what constitutes an emancipated society. Advocated here are—among other things—universal conscription, the full acknowledgment of envy and resentment as a fundamental challenge to any communist society, and the acceptance that the division between work and leisure cannot be overcome. In addition to Jameson’s essay, the volume includes responses from philosophers and political and cultural analysts, as well as an epilogue from Jameson himself.

In the new capitalism of networked information technologies, our very ability to communicate is exploited, but revolution is still possible if we organise on the basis of our common and collective desires. Examining the experience of the Occupy movement, Dean argues that such spontaneity can’t develop into a revolution and it needs to constitute itself as a party.

Drawing on a number of different theoretical frameworks, including feminist standpoint theory, socialist feminism, and poststructuralist thought, as well as theories of peformativity and self-valorization, Kathi Weeks proposes a nonessential feminist subject—a theory of constituting subjects.

Inventing the Future is a bold new manifesto for life after capitalism. Against the confused understanding of our high-tech world by both the right and the left, this book claims that the emancipatory and future-oriented possibilities of our society can be reclaimed. Instead of running from a complex future, Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams demand a postcapitalist economy capable of advancing standards, liberating humanity from work and developing technologies that expand our freedoms

Written in the afterglow of May 1968, the text addresses a question that continues to haunt us today: in a society that proclaims its attachment to the ideals of liberty and equality, why do we witness the ever-renewed reproduction of relations of domination? Both a conceptually innovative text and a key theoretical tool for activists, On the Reproduction of Capitalism is an essential addition to the corpus of the twentieth-century Left.

Ruling the Void offers an authoritative and chilling assessment of the prospects for popular political representation today, not only in the varied democracies of Europe but throughout the developed world.

In State of Insecurity, Isabell Lorey explores the possibilities for organization and resistance under the contemporary status quo, and anticipates the emergence of a new and disobedient self-government of the precarious.

Perry Anderson’s essay “The Antimonies of Antonio Gramsci,” first published in New Left Review in 1976, was an explosive analysis of the central strategic concepts in the thought of the great Italian Marxist. Since then it has been the subject of book-length attacks across four decades for its disentangling of the hesitations and contradictions in Gramsci’s highly original usage of such key dichotomies as East and West, domination and direction, hegemony and dictatorship, state and civil society, and war of position and war of movement.

It was the 1917 Russian Revolution that transformed the scale of the Communist Manifesto, making it the key text for socialists everywhere. On the centenary of this upheaval, this volume pairs Marx and Engels’s most famous work with Lenin’s own revolutionary manifesto, “The April Theses,” which lifts politics from the level of everyday banalities to become an art-form.

Few terms are so widely used in the literature of international relations and political science, with so little agreement about their exact meaning, as hegemony. In the first full historical study of its fortunes as a concept, Perry Anderson traces its emergence in Ancient Greece and its rediscovery during the upheavals of 1848–1849 in Germany. He then follows its checkered career in revolutionary Russia, fascist Italy, Cold War America, Gaullist France, Thatcher’s Britain, post-colonial India, feudal Japan, Maoist China, eventually arriving at the world of Merkel and May, Bush and Obama.

All our student reading is 40% off as part of our Back to University/School sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.