Political Theory: Verso Student Reading

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With the rise 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.

See all our student reading here.

Finance. Climate. Food. Work. How are the crises of the twenty-first century connected? In Capitalism in the Web of Life, Jason W. Moore argues that the sources of today’s global turbulence have a common cause: capitalism as a way of organizing nature, including human nature. Drawing on environmentalist, feminist, and Marxist thought, Moore offers a groundbreaking new synthesis: capitalism as a “world-ecology” of wealth, power, and nature.

The authors discuss key issues, such as questions of accumulation and expropriation; discipline and freedom; and the powerful new concepts of activation and acceleration. Their politically committed sociology, which takes the side of the losers in the current crisis, places society’s future well-being at the center of their research.

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.

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. The Paris Commune was a laboratory of political invention, important simply and above all for, as Marx reminds us, its own “working existence.” Communal Luxury allows readers to revisit the intricate workings of an extraordinary experiment.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Vivek Chibber’s Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital was hailed on publication as “without any doubt … a bomb,” and “the most substantive effort to dismantle the field through historical reasoning published to date.” This book brings together major critics of Chibber’s work to assess the efficacy of his argument from differing perspectives. Included are Chibber’s own spirited responses and reformulations in light of these criticisms.

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.

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.

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.

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