Issue 176 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published June 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review
My favourite books
|Austin Burnett has been an active socialist for over 60 years|
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, played a major role in my life. It was the first English novel about the working class and the struggles ordinary people have to wage in their everyday life.
The novel is instructive, moving, witty and full of working class pathos and lively humour. But it is always full of hope. All through there is a tremendous attack on the oppressive system--its greed, dishonesty and double standards.
I have read the book time and time again during my long life, and each time still find moving and uplifting.
Jack London's Iron Heel. I read this book at the time of the famous working class victory over the fascists at Cable Street. The book, and the first hand experience of fighting fascism on the streets, made me doubly aware of what it meant if the fascists ever came to power here.
Already we had Italy and Germany as role models. We understood the nature of fighting fascism, not only with words, but on the streets and in every place we found them. I still believe it's as true today as it was then.
Sacco and Vanzetti were two outstanding working class socialists, who were murdered in 1927 as a warning to the rest of the American working class.
They had spent seven years on death row awaiting their death. The sentence of death was carried out, despite an international protest on their behalf. Just before their death they sent out a number of letters to family and friends. Amongst the last batch of letters was one to a 13 year old daughter, asking her to always be true to socialism, to remember that they had died for their beliefs. She should not pay any attention to American capitalism and its press, but remain true to socialism and its ideals and have faith in her own class.
My first real read about the Russian Revolution was John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World. This book had a tremendous influence on my life. It made me conscious of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution. From that time on I had a great respect and admiration for Lenin, and his co-worker, Leon Trotsky.
The reading of the book went a long way in preventing me from joining the Communist Party. When Stalin started his arrest of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution, I used to think, how could all those revolutionaries be guilty of so called counter-revolution? I stayed in the ILP.
Day after day we were fed accounts of the show trials taking place in Russia. But the influence of Ten Days that Shook the World stood me in good stead. At the time, not being a Marxist, I still had a gut feeling that Trotsky was right.
The Spanish Civil War is the backdrop to George Orwell's Homage to Catelonia. Both directly and indirectly he shows up the dangers of totalitarianism.
The novel brings out the horrors of war. At times there are signs of pessimism creeping into the novel, but the book left me with a feeling of hope.
My final book is one of the all time greats, if not the greatest, on the subject of anti-Semitism--The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. The book digs deep into the causes of anti-Semitism and also shows how nationalism can lead to anti-Semitismn.
After reading this book there is no possibility of sitting on the fence. Everyone who wants to see an end to this foul creed and make sure it does not appear on our streets should read this book.
It also shows the part that British imperialism played in fostering anti-Semitism, from the 1880s to the outbreak of the First World War. There is also a clear analysis of how Hitler used anti-Semitism in his bid for power.
It's a long and hard read, but well worth the effort.