good novels with good political or working class content

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Melmoth
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Jan 24 2008 12:29

Comrades
Perhaps try "Strumpet City" by James Plunkett, a novel set in the Dublin Lockout of dockers and Carters in 1912. Very beautifully written by I think an ex-Trotskyist. It sets the betrayal of the strike by the Liverpool officials of the Transport and General Workers Union. James Larkin is an important background character. Also deals with the Catholic church, the family and the women question. Above all it relies on the testimony and the daily life of workers and the unrimitting poverty of Dublin slums.

baboon
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Jan 24 2008 16:36

"Novels are anti-working class"? What rubbish! Some of the best classical novels expose the real nature of the bourgeoisie and its society like no other. Marx's favourite was Balzac.
I agree with Jef C that Doestoyevky's "The Devils" (or "The Possessed" depending on the translation) is right up there.

ernie
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Jan 24 2008 18:25

You certainly cannot beat Balzac for whithering criticism of the emerging bourgeoisie. He also wrote extremely well, and with real humanity.

jain
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Jan 24 2008 21:57

I recommend "A Life Full of Holes' by Driss ben Hamed Charhadi, translated by Paul Bowles 1936?. It's the (true) story of the morrocan author's life after he was left to fend for himself at the age of eight as he works a series of jobs as shepherd, baker's helper, laborer etc. and as a trafficker in kif in Tangier, eventually winding up in jail, sentenced to hard labor in a rock quarry. Fantastic story of survival in the face of adversity which is compellingly told and packed with detail.

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R.R. Berkman
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Jan 26 2008 02:10

Some solid recommendations all around. But for all the SciFi nerds out there...

"The Mars Trilogy."

Kim S. Robinson is sympathetic to anarchism, even casting Russian anarchists in leading roles. In "Green Mars" he outlines an interesting fictional blue-print of what an anarchist society would look like. Furthermore, the differences between the primmies and the anarchists/socialists on Mars makes for interesting reading... Indeed, I think I've had the same debates before here on Earth.

If one hasn't the time to read all three - they are hefty - "Green Mars" gets the nod from me.

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Khawaga
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Jan 26 2008 15:37
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I recommend "A Life Full of Holes' by Driss ben Hamed Charhadi, translated by Paul Bowles 1936?. It's the (true) story of the morrocan author's life after he was left to fend for himself at the age of eight as he works a series of jobs as shepherd, baker's helper, laborer etc. and as a trafficker in kif in Tangier, eventually winding up in jail, sentenced to hard labor in a rock quarry. Fantastic story of survival in the face of adversity which is compellingly told and packed with detail.

Did you see the movie? Pretty decent, but due to the medium it didn't pack as much punch as the novel.

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"The Mars Trilogy."

That trilogy is excellent, and I agree that Green Mars is the best.

jain
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Jan 26 2008 18:32
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Did you see the movie? Pretty decent, but due to the medium it didn't pack as much punch as the novel.

No -didn't know there was one - is it worth checking out?

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Jan 27 2008 09:54

If you liked the book it is well worth checking out. One of the better Arabic movies I've seen, though as I said simply because it is a movie and not reading the book the ending just doesn't have the same 'oomph'. I saw it at the Cairo Film festival two years ago so I assume it should be out on DVD or on some torrent tracker.

yoshomon
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Jan 27 2008 20:28

'Break Their Haughty Power' is a great novel about the early IWW. I think there's a few good IWW novels.

Hydra
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Jan 28 2008 22:27

Seconded the recommendations for The Dispossessed, Woman On The Edge Of Time and Parable of the Sower (although IMO the latter's sequel, Parable of the Talents, gets even more political) - all among my favourite novels.

Others:

Toni Morrison - Beloved - most powerful novel about slavery and its aftermath that i can think of, incredible writing style as well, effortlessly bridges the gap between literary realism and ghost/horror type stuff...

Paul Park - Celestis - heavy, trippy sci-fi exploration of colonialism and identity, some deep stuff for the "theory-bitches" in there (shit, now i'm trying to remember which message board i got that phrase from...)

Ken Kesey - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest - THE great American libertarian novel. On re-reading it fairly recently certain misogynistic and/or pro-capitalist interpretations became a bit more noticeable, but still i think it's just about the greatest literary indictment of paternalism ever written.

John Steinbeck - The Grapes Of Wrath - kind of almost goes without saying in a thread like this, but still really fucking powerful. Even more moving when you realise that the same process of proletarianisation it depicts happening in the rural US in the 1920s/30s is happening in most of the rest of the world now. Some of the stuff he wrote about the land blew me away with its prescience, it could have been written by someone like Vandana Shiva.

Orwell - 1984 - again kind of goes without saying, was a huge influence on me whether or not Orwell actually was an anarchist, combine it with the previous 2 and you've basically got the roots of my politics.

I have, but haven't read Q - it's been sitting on my bookshelf looking pretty for about 2 years, for some reason i never get round to starting it...

Reading the first(?) of Iain M Banks's Culture novels ATM (Consider Phlebas), about halfway through it but apart from the Culture obviously being a post-scarcity anarcho-communist civilisation it doesn't seem too heavy on the politics as yet, it feels more like it's "background" rather than "story" to me. OK tho, but doesn't (yet) feel like a "classic".

If graphic novels count there's always V for Vendetta (don't even bother with the film, it mutilates it)...

Hydra
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Jan 28 2008 22:31

Oh yeah, on a somewhat lighter tip there's China Mieville if you like madly over-the-top and inventive fantasy - OK, it kind of shows that he's a(n ex-?) swappie, but still that's a shitload better than the politics of most fantasy stuff, even if he does kind of feel like he has more ideas than his writing style can handle...

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Jan 29 2008 06:46
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Reading the first(?) of Iain M Banks's Culture novels ATM (Consider Phlebas), about halfway through it but apart from the Culture obviously being a post-scarcity anarcho-communist civilisation it doesn't seem too heavy on the politics as yet, it feels more like it's "background" rather than "story" to me. OK tho, but doesn't (yet) feel like a "classic".

Consider Phlebas is the first Culture novel, and as far as I know the Culture is never central to any of the Culture books. They're more about those that live on the fringes of the Culture and, as you say, it provides more of the backdop, or is the universe, for the stories. Not a classic, but good sci fi nevertheless. Would recommend his Algebraist novel as well, it has anthropological elements in it where the main protagonist is studying this species/society that seems pretty anarchist.

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pingtiao
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Jan 29 2008 08:49

Mieville's 'Iron Council' is good- a workers', soldiers' and prostitutes' council on an eternally moving train- laying and taking up its own tracks as it heads into the unknown away from class society. Ace.

The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson was amazing.

magnifico
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Jan 29 2008 09:16

Loads of stuff by Dickens is overtly political and from a working class standpoint, also Hardy writes from the viewpoint of common people and tends to make them look a lot better than the scummy landowners at a time when most books only gave a shit about which dandy the lord's daughter was going to marry and all that bollocks.

As someone else mentioned Jeanette Winterson is some kind of libertarian albeit of a somewhat liberal persuasion (she actually wrote one of the articles in that crimethinc days of war book, the 'product is the excrement of action' one!) and this comes across a fair bit in most of her novels, which are fucking brilliant

magnifico
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Jan 29 2008 09:19

also Arundhati Roy, 'The God of Small Things', well good

magnifico
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Jan 29 2008 09:21

Also I love feministish books by Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Angela Carter and others but apparently that makes me a sex pest or something tongue

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Tojiah
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Jan 29 2008 15:41
Hydra wrote:
If graphic novels count there's always V for Vendetta (don't even bother with the film, it mutilates it)...

I have to disagree completely. As much as the movie was boring Hollywood action nonsense, the graphic novel is even worse. At least the movie took out all the more transparent misogyny. It's one of the few books I lent out and don't ever want returned. And the political extremes described (a violent totalitarian regime vs. violent elitist terrorism) don't go beyond the kind of bourgeois illusions that would suggest democracy as we know it as a lesser of evils.

Hydra
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Jan 29 2008 18:20

OK, i've got a really different interpretation then. Mine is a bit more metaphysical - V is meant to be a monster (both in the sense of him being inhuman/superhuman and in that of him being a torturer and terrorist), because he was created by a monstrous, torturous, terroristic system. He is the transitional phase, the means by which the monstrous system brings about its own destruction - evil is necessary to destroy evil, because good, by its nature, is not destructive enough to do so. Thus his own death is as necessary as the destruction he wreaks on the state for anarchy/freedom/peace to be possible. In that context, I kind of see him as an allegorical figure representing the industrial proletariat...

As for the misogyny, i'd say that the misogyny in the book is not Moore's, but his representation of fascism's (much like the misogyny in Pan's Labyrinth). By taking that (among all the other really "controversial" bits) out, the film considerably reduced its impact. (And if you're arguing that V himself is a misogynist, see my first paragraph.)

V for Vendetta is an elitist and substitutionist work if you take it literally. However, knowing Moore from a lot of his other work (both comics and prose fiction), i think much of it is on a far more "meta" kind of level...

Hydra
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Jan 29 2008 18:25
magnifico wrote:
Loads of stuff by Dickens is overtly political and from a working class standpoint, also Hardy writes from the viewpoint of common people and tends to make them look a lot better than the scummy landowners at a time when most books only gave a shit about which dandy the lord's daughter was going to marry and all that bollocks.

OK, that's the second recommendation of Hardy i've had on class grounds in the past couple of weeks. I think i'll have to go find myself some...

I've never got on with Dickens because of his writing style. More sub-clauses to the sentence than the average philosophy textbook, and I had to go back and count the negatives to work out whether most sentences meant one thing or the opposite. I know he was paid by the word, but i don't think i've ever managed to finish a novel by him - he kind of put me off 19th century literature in general (well, along with bloody stupid posh pricks' soap opera Jane Austen)...

magnifico
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Jan 29 2008 19:43
Hydra wrote:
OK, that's the second recommendation of Hardy i've had on class grounds in the past couple of weeks. I think i'll have to go find myself some...

I'd recommend Tess of the D'Urbervilles to start with, a fantastic book. Hardy's books aren't really overtly political with people rebelling or owt it's just that they tend to be about common folk and the injustices of the class system come across very strongly, it's clear he has a deep sympathy with his characters and that their problems stem from the distribution of wealth and power. They also tend to imply quite a feminist outlook in that a lot of his female characters are victims of their position as women and all the hypocrisy around sex and marriage that was prevalent at the time.

You've got to be in the mood for Dickens but once you get into a book it starts to fly by, i found. it might just not be your thing. he was definitely though a lot more left-wing than most people realise

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Jan 29 2008 21:48

Wow i'm super excited about this thread. I don't know when the next time that i'll read a novel in english is but i've got some good ideas smile

Johny Got His Gun is pretty amazing.

I can't believe no one has mentioned Catch 22. There's a character who is clearly a personification of Capital itself, and that's just the icing on the cake.

Down and Out in Paris and London by Orwell is great. As long as we're recommending creative non-fiction (i.e. memoirs), let me throw out two more: Out of the Night"This is a book by a man who began his life as a European revolutionary and died in Maryland as a member of the PTA. This is also a book by a man who was a socialist when Stalinists devoted more time and resources to murdering members of the democratic left than they devoted to fighting capitalism. And this is a book by a man who experienced from the inside the dominant isms—communism, socialism, national socialism. It's the best insider's tour there is, better even than Koestler's Darkness at Noon and Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed." —Bruce Anderson, editor of the Anderton Valley Advertiser, from the introduction.

and BAD: the autobiography of James Carr James Carr was the best friend of George Jackson while in prison and scheduled to become a high-up black panther when he got out, but he began to develop a critique of Stalinism/leftism and the way that the left was profiting off of Jackson's death. He linked up with some bay area pro-situs before he was mysteriously killed.

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Red Marriott
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Jan 30 2008 00:50

Carr's Bad is reviewed here and the Afterword to the UK edition is here.

If we're getting on to memoirs, Ciliga's 'Russian Enigma' is pretty good. And Faludy's 'Happy Days In Hell' has good sharp descriptions of life in Stalinist Hungary and its camps.

BTW, Devrim - I think Battlescarred is probably referring to Victor Serge's behaviour in the Bonnot Gang trial when, iirc, he was out to save his own neck in a quite selfish uncomradely way by trying to make a separation between 'bandits' and 'honest intellectuals' like himself. This pissed off his fellow defendants, one of whom interrupted Serge's court pleadings to say "...you're trying to separate yourself from your comrades, and it's cowardly." In any case, 2 guns had been found in his flat and the jury weren't convinced - he got 5 years. Also, iirc, years later when he'd become a Bolshevik, he was willing to privately agree with radical criticisms of Lenin's regime that it was no workers' state; while publicly remaining uncritically loyal to the regime.

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Jan 30 2008 07:17
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I think Battlescarred is probably referring to Victor Serge's behaviour in the Bonnot Gang trial when, iirc, he was out to save his own neck in a quite selfish uncomradely way by trying to make a separation between 'bandits' and 'honest intellectuals' like himself. This pissed off his fellow defendants, one of whom interrupted Serge's court pleadings to say "...you're trying to separate yourself from your comrades, and it's cowardly. In any case, 2 guns had been found in his flat and the jury weren't convinced - he got 5 years."

As far as I know, and I could be wrong, Serge wasn't a member of the Bonnot Gang, and went to prison because he refused to turn evidence on them. There may be things that I am unaware of, but I have never seen anything where his behave comes across as cowardly.

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Also, iirc, years later when he'd become a Bolshevik, he was willing to privately agree with radical criticisms of Lenin's regime that it was no workers' state; while publicly remaining uncritically loyal to the regime.

This seems more than a bit harsh. He was so 'uncritically loyal' that he was kicked out of the party, and spent three years in prison.

Devrim

j.rogue
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Jan 30 2008 10:31

Stone Butch Blues

yoshomon
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Jan 30 2008 14:11
j.rogue wrote:
Stone Butch Blues

It's too bad that Feinberg is one of the main people in the World Workers Party. I got hir book Transgender Warriors before knowing this, and it turned out to be a propaganda piece for the WWP.

j.rogue
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Jan 30 2008 16:11
yoshomon wrote:
j.rogue wrote:
Stone Butch Blues

It's too bad that Feinberg is one of the main people in the World Workers Party. I got hir book Transgender Warriors before knowing this, and it turned out to be a propaganda piece for the WWP.

Really? I read that and thought it was just a bunch of different bios.

magnifico
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Jan 30 2008 16:46

I mentioned Margaret Atwood before but one book I read recently which was well good by her was 'The Penelopiad', a sort of feminist retelling of the story of Odysseus from the point of view of his wife. Especially suitable for any feminists who are into ancient Greeks and that

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Anna
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Jan 30 2008 17:05

'Player Piano' by Vonnegut is good. A pretty straight-forward (for Vonnegut) science fiction novel set in the future, but addresses the alienation of a technocratic society, the gulf between engineers and proles who've had their livelihood displaced by machines. I think there's an upsurge of some sort...I can't remember much of the book to be honest but I seem to remember it was quite political.

Other Vonnegut, especially Slaughterhouse 5, goes without saying.

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Jan 30 2008 18:39

No, Devrim, he wasn't a member of the Gang, but he was part of the same political scene and close to them, and was on trial with them as a result of the robberies (which he didn't participate in) and his journalism. I can't be bothered to read Parry's 'Bonnot Gang' book again to get the whole story but I think that is the bones of what Parry says; that he went to jail for his inflammatory articles and for weapons found in his flat. As the quote I mentioned earlier shows, his courtroom behaviour wasn't seen in a good light at all by his fellow defendants/comrades.

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He was so 'uncritically loyal' that he was kicked out of the party, and spent three years in prison.

It seems to me Serge was always 'honest' far too late. His account of the lies told by the party as soon as the Kronstadt revolt broke out were only recounted years later in exile, while he remained silent and loyal in 1921. (If that is to be excused by it being personally dangerous to speak out in 1921, then that is only a further condemnation of the regime.) But at the time he said publicly ""Despite its mistakes and abuses the Bolshevik Party is at present the supremely organised, intelligent and stable force which deserves our confidence. The Revolution has no other mainstay, and is no longer capable of any thorough going regeneration."

His time in Bolshevik jails came years later, in 1933, and is not necessarily proof of any great integrity - e.g., many interrogators later became the interrogated. And lots of totally loyal and uncritical party hacks also ended up inside in the purges. As his translator, P. Sedgewick, put it;

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most of Serge's writings from 1922 as far as 1930 show no sense of shock at the Party dictatorship[2]; its monopoly of power is defended as an inevitable law of revolution, on the grounds that every mass upheaval is bound to generate an elite of the clear-sighted.[3] Nor in these publications is any incrimination to be found of the Cheka - even though, in his controversy with Trotsky, Serge argued that the very establishment of this extraordinary and uncontrolled organ of repression by the Bolsheviks was a fatal calamity for the later course of the revolution.[4] In public, Serge gives no hint of the savage practices of the Chekas for whose victims he frequently interceded in private in 1919-21. For example, in his discussion of 'the problem of revolutionary repression', written in 1925 for a French readership, there is none of the familiar Sergean ambivalence about violent means and unchecked police power: the moral sensitivities seen in the later Trotsky debate yield before a crass justification of the Cheka as an instrument 'effective' in its repression since 'it acts along the line of historical development' in the cause of 'an energetic class, conscious of what it wants . . .' 'Excesses, errors and abuses' are admitted: but these are to be limited by 'the political and moral control' of the 'most conscious vanguard of the working class', beside that of 'the masses of the people.' 'The class character of the repression' is supposedly guaranteed by these grandly floating historical forces. It is true that 'a certain cruelty arises from the material circumstances of the struggle' (overcrowded prisons with poor hygiene) and that 'second-rate personnel', lacking the high moral qualities of the top Bolsheviks, are left in charge of coercive affairs.[5] These limited reservations about the practice of Red Terror, which of course fail in any way to probe the decision-making structure of the Bolshevik regime, are the most that Serge is prepared to publish even after his experience of Chekist butchery was, as we know from his later memoirs, fairly detailed.
http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/serge.html
Quote:
In the summer of 1921 the anarchist Gaston Leval came to Moscow in the Spanish delegation to the Third Congress of the Communist International. In private, Serge confided to him that "the Communist Party no longer practices the dictatorship of the proletariat but dictatorship *over* the proletariat." Returning to France, Leval published articles in "Le Libertaire," using well-documented facts, and placing side by side what Victor Serge had told him confidentially and his public statements, which he described as "conscious lies." In 'Living My Life', the great American anarchist Emma Goldman was no kinder to Victor Serge, whom she had seen in action in Moscow.
http://libcom.org/library/anarchists-bolsheviks-serge-daniel-guerin

His books are a good read but he's not quite the great 'troubled conscience' of the revolution they lead some to take him for.

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Jan 30 2008 22:29

I think it is totally valid to make a criticism of V.Serge. I am a bit busy at the moment, and I will reply latter, but whatever the discussion is dont you think that this phrase is a bit harsh:

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Victor Serge was an arsehole

Devrim