Political Theory Undergraduate Reading List


Your campus needn’t be a hotbed of communist activity for you to be armed with the proper theory this school year. Prepare to debate your professors and peers with Verso’s Political Theory 101 syllabus.




On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

By Louis Althusser 

On the Reproduction of Capitalismdevelops Althusser’s conception of historical materialism, outlining the conditions of reproduction in capitalist society and the revolutionary struggle for its overthrow.

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.



Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics

By Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe

“A brilliant tour de force of scholarship and argument.” – Marxism Today

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.



Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Politics

By Richard Seymour

With a landslide in the first round, this unassuming antiwar socialist crushed the opposition, dealing a huge blow to the Blairite opposition. For the first time in decades, socialism is back on the agenda—and for the first time in Labour’s history, it defines the leadership.

This book tells the story of how Corbyn’s rise was made possible by the long decline of Labour and a deep crisis in British democracy. It surveys the makeshift coalition of trade unionists, young and precarious workers, and students who rallied to Corbyn. It shows how a novel social media campaign turned the media’s “Project Fear” on its head, making a virtue of every accusation thrown at him. And finally it asks, with all the artillery that is still ranged against Corbyn, and given the crisis-ridden Labour Party that he has inherited, what it would mean for him to succeed.



Crowds and Party
By Jodi Dean

How do mass protests become an organized activist collective?

Crowds and Party channels the energies of the riotous crowds who took to the streets in the past five years into an argument for the political party. Rejecting the emphasis on individuals and multitudes, Jodi Dean argues that we need to rethink the collective subject of politics. When crowds appear in spaces unauthorized by capital and the state—such as in the Occupy movement in New York, London and across the world—they create a gap of possibility. But too many on the Left remain stuck in this beautiful moment of promise—they argue for more of the same, further fragmenting issues and identities, rehearsing the last thirty years of left-wing defeat. In Crowds and Party, Dean argues that previous discussions of the party have missed its affective dimensions, the way it operates as a knot of unconscious processes and binds people together. Dean shows how we can see the party as an organization that can reinvigorate political practice.



Willing Slaves of Capital: Spinoza and Marx on Desire

By Frederic Lordon

“This ambitious but always lucid book aims to reopen the conceptual framework of capitalism.” – Le Monde Why do people work for other people? This seemingly naïve question is more difficult to answer than one might at first imagine, and it lies at the heart of Lordon's Willing Slaves of Capital. Lordon reveals the fundamental role of affects and passions in the employment relationship, reconceptualizing capitalist exploitation as the capture and remoulding of desire, debunking notions of individual autonomy and selfdetermination while simultaneously saving the ideas of political freedom and liberation from capitalist exploitation.Willing Slaves of Capital is a bold proposal to rethink capitalism and its transcendence on the basis of the contemporary experience of work.



The ABCs of Socialism

Edited by Bhaskar Sunkara

The remarkable run of self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders for president of the United States has prompted—for the first time in decades and to the shock of many—a national conversation about socialism. A New York Timespoll in late November found that a majority of Democrats had a favorable view of socialism, and in New Hampshire in February, more than half of Democratic voters under 35 told the Boston Globe they call themselves socialists. It’s unclear exactly what socialism means to this generation, but couple with the ascendancy of longtime leftwinger Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in the UK, it’s clear there’s a historic, generational shift underway.

This book steps into this moment to offer a clear, accessible, informative, and irreverent guide to socialism for the uninitiated. Written by young writers from the dynamic magazine Jacobin, alongside several distinguished scholars, The ABCs of Socialism answers basic questions, including ones that many want to know but might be afraid to ask (“Doesn’t socialism always end up in dictatorship?”, “Will socialists take my Kenny Loggins records?”). Disarming and pitched to a general readership without sacrificing intellectual depth, this will be the best introduction an idea whose time seems to have come again.



Democracy Against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism

By Ellen Meiskins Wood

“Reading a Wood essay is a shock to the system, demanding the reader take a position, often leaving you invigorated and slightly bruised in the process.” – Michael Watson, Red Pepper
Historian and political thinker Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that theories of “postmodern” fragmentation, “difference,” and con-tingency 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. She goes on to explore the concept of democracy in both the ancient and modern world, examining its relation to capitalism, and raising questions about how democracy might go beyond the limits imposed on it.



Riot.Strike.Riot: The New Era of Uprisings

By Joshua Clover

Baltimore. Ferguson. Tottenham. Clichy-sous-Bois. Oakland. Ours has become an “age of riots” as the struggle of people versus state and capital has taken to the streets. Award-winning poet and scholar Joshua Clover offers a new understanding of this present moment and its history. Rioting was the central form of protest in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and was supplanted by the strike in the early nineteenth century. It returned to prominence in the 1970s, profoundly changed along with the coordinates of race and class.

From early wage demands to recent social justice campaigns pursued through occupations and blockades, Clover connects these protests to the upheavals of a sclerotic economy in a state of moral collapse. Historical events such as the global economic crisis of 1973 and the decline of organized labor, viewed from the perspective of vast social transformations, are the proper context for understanding these eruptions of discontent. As social unrest against an unsustainable order continues to grow, this valuable history will help guide future antagonists in their struggles toward a revolutionary horizon.



Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune

By Kritisin Ross

“In recent years, the Paris Commune has again moved to the center of political thinking. Kristin Ross’s new book now, virtually for the first time, gives us an account of the intellectual antecedents of the Commune as well as its contemporary impact. This is an indispensable text for all current left theory!" – Fredric Jameson

Kristin Ross’s new work on the thought and culture of the Communard uprising of 1871 resonates with the motivations and actions of contemporary protest, which has found its most powerful expression in the reclamation of public space. Today’s concerns—internationalism, education, the future of labor, the status of art, and ecological theory and practice—frame and inform her carefully researched restaging of the words and actions of individual Communards. This original analysis of an event and its centrifugal effects brings to life the workers in Paris who became revolutionaries, the significance they attributed to their struggle, and the elaboration and continuation of their thought in the encounters that transpired between the insurrection’s survivors and supporters like Marx, Kropotkin, and William Morris.



Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and the World Without Work

By Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams

“A fascinating book about an alternative to austerity.” – Owen Jones Inventing the Future is a bold new manifest0 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.



Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism
by Benedict Anderson

The definitive, bestselling book on the origins and development of nationalism. Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson's brilliant book on nationalism, forged a new field of study when it first appeared in 1983. Since then it has sold over a quarter of a million copies and is widely considered the most important book on the subject. In this greatly anticipated revised edition, Anderson updates and elaborates on the core question: what makes people live, die and kill in the name of nations? He shows how an originary nationalism born in the Americas was adopted by popular movements in Europe, by imperialist powers, and by the anti-imperialist resistances in Asia and Africa, and explores the way communities were created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism and printing, and the birth of vernacular languages-of-state. Anderson revisits these fundamental ideas, showing how their relevance has been tested by the events of the past two decades.



Mapping the Nation

by Gopal Balakrishnan

“Representative of serious left-of-center thinking on the subject of nationalism, and of great use as a general introduction to the topic.
– Francis Fukuyama

In nearly two decades since Samuel P. Huntington proposed his influential and troubling ‘clash of civilizations’ thesis, nationalism has only continued to puzzle and frustrate commentators, policy analysts and political theorists. No consensus exists concerning its identity, genesis or future. Are we reverting to the petty nationalisms of the nineteenth century or evolving into a globalized, supranational world? Has the nation-state outlived its usefulness and exhausted its progressive and emancipatory role?

Opening with powerful statements by Lord Acton and Otto Bauer – the classic liberal and socialist positions, respectively – Mapping the Nation presents a wealth of thought on this issue: the debate between Ernest Gellner and Miroslav Hroch; Gopal Balakrishnan’s critique of Benedict Anderson’s seminal Imagined Communities; Partha Chatterjee on the limitations of the Enlightenment approach to nationhood; and contributions from Michael Mann, Eric Hobsbawm, Tom Nairn, and Jürgen Habermas.



Fossil Capital: the Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming

By Andreas Malm

“Malm forcefully unmasks the assumption that economic growth has inevitably brought us to the brink of a hothouse Earth. Rather, as he shows in a subtle and surprising reinterpretation of the Industrial Revolution, it has been the logic of capital (especially the need to valorize immense sunk investments in fossil fuels), not technology or even industrialism per se, that has driven global warming.”
– Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Ecology of Fear
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. Animated by fossil fuels, capital could concentrate production at the most profitable sites and during the most convenient hours, as it continues to do today. Sweeping from nineteenth-century Manchester to the emissions explosion in China, from the original triumph of coal to the stalled shift to renewables, this study hones in on the burning heart of capital and demonstrates, in unprecedented depth, that turning down the heat will mean a radical overthrow of the current economic order.



State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious

By Isabell Lorey

Years of remodelling the welfare state, the rise of technology, and the growing power of neoliberal government apparatuses have established a society of the precarious. In this new reality, productivity is no longer just a matter of labour, but affects the formation of the self, blurring the division between personal and professional lives. Encouraged to believe ourselves flexible and autonomous, we experience a creeping isolation that has both social and political impacts, and serves the purposes of capital accumulation and social control.

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.



Mapping Ideology

Edited by Slavoj Zizek

For a long time, the term ‘ideology’ was in disrepute, having become associated with such unfashionable notions as fundamental truth and the eternal verities. The tide has turned, and recent years have seen a revival of interest in the questions that ideology poses to social and cultural theory, and to political practice.

Mapping Ideology is a comprehensive reader covering the most important contemporary writing on the subject. Including Slavoj Žižek’s study of the development of the concept from Marx to the present, assessments of the contributions of Lukács and the Frankfurt School by Terry Eagleton, Peter Dews and Seyla Benhabib, and essays by Adorno, Lacan and Althusser, Mapping Ideology is an invaluable guide to the most dynamic field in cultural theory.



An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army
By Frederic Jameson

“In An American Utopia, Jameson affirms the critical function of utopian thinking and the efficacies of the form itself. He insists that the fundamental function of utopias is to revive a sense of the future, which requires taking aim at the forces that prevent us from venturing out from the comfortingly familiar confines of the present.” – Kathi Weeks

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. To create a new world, we must first change the way we envision the world. Jameson’s text is ideally placed to trigger a debate on the alternatives to global capitalism. 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.



Frames of War
: When is Life Grievable?

By Judtih Butler

Analyzing the different frames through which we experience war, Butler calls for a reorientation of the Left.

In this urgent response to violence, racism and increasingly aggressive methods of coercion, Judith Butler explores the media’s portrayal of armed conflict, a process integral to how the West prosecutes its wars. In doing so, she calls for a reconceptualization of the left, one united in opposition and resistance to the illegitimate and arbitrary effects of interventionist military action.



The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition

By Arjun Appadurai

This major collection of essays, a sequel to Modernity at Large and Fear of Small Numbers, is the product of ten years’ research and writing, constituting an important contribution to globalization studies. Appadurai takes a broad analytical look at the genealogies of the present era of globalization through essays on violence, commodification, nationalism, terror and materiality.

Alongside a discussion of these wider debates, Appadurai situates India at the heart of his work, offering writing based on firsthand research among urban slum dwellers in Mumbai, in which he examines their struggle to achieve equity, recognition and self-governance in conditions of extreme inequality. Finally, in his work on design, planning, finance and poverty, Appadurai embraces the “politics of hope” and lays the foundations for a revitalized, and urgent, anthropology of the future.



Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy By Peter Mair

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. “Every so often one comes across a book, a poem or a work of art that is so original, perfectly crafted, accurate and true that you can’t get it out of your head. You have to read or look at it many times to place it in context and understand what it means. ... Peter Mair has written what is by far and away the most powerful, learned and persuasive anti-EU treatise I have come across. It proves that it is impossible to be a democrat and support the continued existence of the European Union. His posthumous masterpiece deserves to become a foundation text for Eurosceptics not just in Britain, but right across the continent.” – Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph



The Communist Manifesto: A Modern Edition

by Frederick Engles and Karl Marx

In the two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, global capitalism became entrenched in its modern, neoliberal form. Its triumph was so complete that the word “capitalism” itself fell out of use in the absence of credible political alternatives. But with the outbreak of financial crisis and global recession in the twenty-first century, capitalism is once again up for discussion. The status quo can no longer be taken for granted.

As Eric Hobsbawm argues in his acute and elegant introduction to this modern edition, in such times The Communist Manifesto emerges as a work of great prescience and power despite being written over a century and a half ago. He highlights Marx and Engels’s enduring insights into the capitalist system: its devastating impact on all aspects of human existence; its susceptibility to enormous convulsions and crises; and its fundamental weakness.

More reading lists:

Philosophy Undergraduate Reading List
Art and Aesthetics Undergraduate Reading List
Economics Undergraduate Reading List
Race and Ethnicity Undergraduate Reading List

History Undergraduate Reading List
Feminism and Gender Undergraduate Reading List
Cities and Architecture Undergraduate Reading List


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