Blog post

A reading list on International Worker's Day

Anne Rumberger30 April 2015

May 1st marks International Workers' Day, a festival of working-class self-organization stretching back over 130 years. It was originally inaugurated to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, where a bomb thrown during a worker's strike kicked off a period of anti-labor hysteria.

In 1890, the first internationally coordinated demonstration for an 8-hour day was held, in commemoration of those killed in the massacre. Eight anarchists were executed on trumped-up charges after the event. We present the following reading list:

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx Frederick Engels

Two standards are held aloft on every May Day march - the Red Flag, and the portrait of Marx, who lays out in The Manifesto that the history of the world is the history of the class struggles. As the world financial system continues to teeter, The Communist Manifesto is enjoying a resurgence of

The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy by Murray Bookchin, Edited by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor, Preface by Ursula K. Le Guin
“Murray Bookchin is one of the most original and important radical thinkers and writers of the modern era." – Chris Hedges, author of Wages of Rebellion
Brings together Bookchin’s essays on freedom and direct democracy for the first time, offering a bold political vision that can move us from protest to social transformation.

The New Prophets of Capital by Nicole Aschoff
“Through four well-chosen and emblematic case studies, Aschoff tackles this slippery subject with confidence and subtlety, providing readers with key intellectual tools to separate fact from fiction.” – Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate
Enter the new prophets of capital: Sheryl Sandberg touting the capitalist work ethic as the antidote to gender inequality; John Mackey promising that free markets will heal the planet; Oprah Winfrey urging us to find solutions to poverty and alienation within ourselves; and Bill and Melinda Gates offering the generosity of the 1 percent as the answer to a persistent, systemic inequality. The new prophets of capital buttress an exploitative system, even as the cracks grow more visible.

Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune 
by Kristin Ross
“This is an indispensable text for all current left theory!” – Fredric Jameson
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 Extreme Centre: A Warning by Tariq Ali
“Ali remains an outlier and intellectual bomb-thrower; an urbane, Oxford-educated polemicist.” – Observer
What is the point of elections? The result is always the same: a victory for the Extreme Centre. Since 1989, politics has become a contest to see who can best serve the needs of the market, a competition now fringed by unstable populist movements. The same catastrophe has taken place in the US, Britain, Continental Europe and Australia.

Against the Troika: Crisis and Austerity in the Eurozone by Heiner
Flassbeck and Costas Lapavitsas,
Afterword by Alberto Garzón Espinosa, Foreword by Oskar Lafontaine, Preface by Paul Mason
Ebook only!
“Costas Lapavitsas is part of the cadre of academics-turned-politicians forging Syriza’s economic thinking.” – Wall Street Journal
The first book to propose a strategic left-wing plan for how peripheral countries could exit the euro. With a change in government in Greece and looming political transformations in countries such as Spain, this major intervention lays out a radical, anti-capitalist program at a critical juncture for Europe.

War and Revolution: Rethinking the Twentieth Century by Domenico Losurdo, Translated by Gregory Elliott
In this vigorous riposte to those who would denigrate the history of emancipatory struggle, Losurdo captivates the reader with a tour de force account of modern revolt, providing a new perspective on the English, American, French and twentieth-century revolutions.

The Prophet: The Life of Leon Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher
One volume!
Few political figures of the twentieth century have aroused such intensities of fierce admiration and reactionary fear as Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. His extraordinary life and extensive writings have left an indelible mark on the revolutionary consciousness.

Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous 
by Gabriella Coleman
“Essential reading.” – Glenn Greenwald
“Nuanced and compelling.” – Astra Taylor, Bookforum
Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous, by the writer the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.”

The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement 
by Stanley Aronowitz
“Stanley Aronowitz is the most important scholar on the past and present US working class.” – Cornel West
The decline of the American union movement – and how it can revive, by a leading analyst of labor

Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide by Franco “Bifo” Berardi
“As a diagnostician, Berardi is among the sharpest.” – Slate
What is the relationship between capitalism and mental health? In his most unsettling book to date, Franco “Bifo” Berardi embarks on an exhilarating journey through philosophy, psychoanalysis and current events, searching for the social roots of the mental malaise of our age.

Déjà Vu and the End of History by Paolo Virno, Translated by David Broder
“Paolo Virno is one of the most radical and lucid thinkers.” – Meditations Journal
Déjà vu, which doubles and confuses our experience of time, is a psychological phenomenon with peculiar relevance to our contemporary historical circumstances. From this starting point, the acclaimed Italian philosopher Paolo Virno examines the construct of memory, the passage of time, and the “end of history.” In examining the way the experience of time becomes historical, Virno forms a radical new theory of historical temporality.

The Future by Marc Augé, Translated by John Howe
For Marc Augé, best-selling author of Non-Places, the prevailing idea of “the Future” rests on our present fears of the contemporary world. It is to the future that we look for redemption and progress; but it is also where we project our personal and apocalyptic anxieties. By questioning notions of certainty, truth, and totality, Augé finds ways to separate the future from our eternal, terrified present and liberates the mind to allow it to conceptualize our possible futures afresh.

State of Insecurity: Government of the Precarious by Isabell Lorey, Translated by Aileen Derieg, Foreword by Judith Butler
“The important contribution of this thoughtful work is to let us understand finally that precarity is not a passing or episodic condition, but a new form of regulation that distinguishes this historical time.” – Judith Butler, from the foreword
Years of remodeling the welfare state, the rise of technology, and the growing power of neoliberal government apparatuses have established a society of the precarious. 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.

Why It's Still Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions by Paul Mason

BBC Newsnight correspondent Paul Mason made waves with his influential blog post 20 Reasons Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, joining the dots between nascent insurrections in North Africa with student protests in the UK and uprisings across Europe. Mason quickly became a cult figure for his ideas of a new subjectivity emerging at the intersection of debt, poverty and technological development, bringing together voices from across the world to make sense of the new iterations in the crisis of capitalism after the global financial crisis.

Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America Edited by Keith Gessen, Astra Taylor, Eli Schmitt, Nikil Saval, Sarah Resnick, Sarah Leonard, Mark Greif Carla Blumenkranz

May Day saw growing popularity following the Occupy Movement, with General Strikes organized in some cities for the first time in decades. Occupy! was the first book to emerge from the movement, packed with statements, graphics and articles which help trace the multiplicity of complaints and demands that kick-started the most vibrant protest movement in years.

Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy by Ross Perlin

In hopes of climbing the shaky ladders of economic mobility, more and more people have taken on low-paying and unpaid internships. In this touchstone on a vastly understudied topic, Perlin outlines the history of internships and the many ways interns are exploited. While supposedly meant to provide a shoe-in for early-career employees, internships more often benefit the hands of capital. 

Playing the WhoreThe Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant

Historically, sex workers have been left out of mainstream labor struggles, and May Day is no exception. This year, read Gira Grant's incisive analysis of why sex workers don't need moral salvation. Instead, she says, like all workers, they need to collectively struggle against the exploitation inherent in all waged labor. 

Part of the Jacobin Series. 

Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity by Micah Uetricht

In another labor-oriented text for the Jacobin Series, Uetricht traces one of the most important contemporary worker-led struggles: the Chicago Teacher's Strike. Based on front-line organizing, Uetricht shows how the successful actions were years in the making, bringing together school workers, community members, and students to resist the far-reaching consequences of contemporary educational restructuring. 

Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement by Jane McAlevey

Less than 7% of private-sector US workers are currently members of a labor union, a situation that spreads pessimism throughout the movement and can contribute to a feeling of powerlessness. Jane McAlevey bucks this trend: a fierce and feared organizer, she has reinvigorated (and challenged) her own movement, fighting for a return to militancy, participatory education and deep workplace organizing. In Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell) McAlevey tells the story of her battle with work bosses and union bosses with wit and verve.

Willing Slaves of Capital: Marx and Spinoza on Desire by Frédéric Lordon

Many conversations about work and labor movements focus on the objective conditions of exploitation, from the length of the working day to stagnant wages. But by bringing together Marx and Spinoza, Lordon sets out to explore the subjective dimensions of labor: Why, exactly, do people work for other people? This analysis is especially on point, as Mark Fisher says, "at a time when all workers are required to show 'passion' for their jobs."

24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Johnathon Crary 

If you're interested in working life today, you can't limit your analysis to 9-5. As Crary illuminates in this timely and frightening book, the tentacles of work's demands have spread into nearly every hour of human existence. As labor becomes increasingly flexible, freelance, and tied to a global economy, attempting to "turn off" or "clock out" grows more difficult. A perfect bedtime story for any anti-capitalist. 

The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South by Vijay Prashad

In this "full-frontal assault on neoliberalism" (Counterpunch), Prashad develops a history of the rise of the BRICS from their roots in the nightmare of colonialism to the development of political alternatives in massive social movements and the revolutionary revival in South America.

The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners by Seumus Milne

According to Naomi Klein, Milne's The Enemy Within is "the best book on the Thatcher era." This crucial history depicts the 1970s miners' strike and the unprecedented backlash against it. The latest edition is updated with new information about Britain's quashing of organized labor.

Scattered Sand: The Story of China's Rural Migrants by Hsiao-Hung Pai

A huge wave of migration, almost unparalleled in human history, is reshaping our world: yet the 200 million workers who move yearly from China's rural heartlands to the rapidly growing cities are rarely heard from. If Mayday means anything, it means recognizing the daily struggle of workers across the world, and in Scattered Sand journalist Hsiao-Hung Pai relays the accounts of this army of labor, from the Olympic worksites of Beijing to the coalmines and kilns of the Yellow River region, addressing the daily realities of life under capitalism.

Trampling Out the Vintage: Cesar Chavez and the Two Souls of the United Farm Workers by Frank Bardacke

The recent Cesar Chavez movie has brought deserved attention Chavez, but if you're looking for a more critical depiction of the figure and his relationship to the UFW, look no further than Bardacke's award-winning Trampling Out the Vintage, which Dissent magazine calls "enormously insightful and nuanced."

It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest Edited by Paul Buhle & Mari Jo Buhle

The spirit of rank and file direct action that embodied the early May Day spirit remains a vital force for fighting for improved material conditions, despite years of repressive anti-labor laws. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proposed repealing collective-bargaining rights in 2011, thousands occupied the State Capitol, and hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin workers mobilized to defeat the legislation. Through a series of articles, speeches, cartoons and essays, this book tells the story of the largest labor mobilization in modern US history.

Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World Edited by Paul Buhle & Nicole Schulman

Fighting from the bottom up under the banner "One Big Union", the IWW was founded in Chicago by, amongst others, Eugene V. Debs, Big Bill Haywood and Lucy Parsons, whose husband was amongst the Haymarket Martyrs. It is also renowned for its rich cultural legacy of art and music. This book of graphic art traces the story of the IWW, including its role in the fights for the 8 hour day, birth-control rights and worker's liberation.

Masks of Anarchy: The Story of a Radical Poem, from Percey Shelley to the Triangle Factory Fire by Michael Demson, illustrated by Summer McClinton

A perfect companion to Buhle and Schulman’s Wobblies, Demson’s graphic telling of "Masque of Anarchy" shares the Percey Shelley poem that inspired movements across generations, speaking to the underexplored affective dimension of labor organizing. 

Chavs by Owen Jones

In this best seller called "a work of passion, sympathy, and moral grace" by the New York Times, Jones investigates the demonization of the working class, who went from “salt of the earth” to “scum of the earth.” It's no wonder that growing numbers of people, regardless of income, tend to identify as middle class. This book is a go-to for anyone interested in why people are afraid of identifying with the working-class, and by extension, working-class struggles. 

The Unseen by Nanni Balestrini

In this unique political novel, Balestrini offers a fictionalized account of Italy's 1970s Autonomia movement. The narrative describes the experience of one of Italy's unemployed youth, and is as beautiful as it is applicable to today's current youth unemployment crisis. Verso's newest version includes an introduction by Antonio Negri, who says, "Balestrini's book is a great new experiment that shows us the body of the exploited as an actor in the revolutionary process."