Reading List

Key Debates in Theory: Verso Student Reading

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The left has always been characterized by the intensity of its theoretical debates. Disagreements are important becuse they are not merely intellectual, but determine the kind of long and short-term strategies we pursue in our politics. While key debates change given political and historical circumstances and often taken on new names, certain fundamental theoretical differences emerge again and again: the state debate; reform vs. revolution; the Marxist theory of history; economic theory; international structures; the nature of imperialism; the role of culture vs. economic interests; race and class; populism; the nature of imperialism; the debate on postcolonial theory. All these topics have a deep impact on how we conceive the future of left politics across the globe. Below are some key interventions from Verso's list into key debates in theory. See also our Western Marxist Theory reading.

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Historical Materialism and Marxist Theory 

Davis consults a vast archive of labor history to illuminate new aspects of Marx’s theoretical texts and political journalism. He offers a “lost Marx,” whose analyses of historical agency, nationalism, and the “middle landscape” of class struggle are crucial to the renewal of revolutionary thought in our darkening age.  

Erik Olin Wright’s Classes was hailed on publication, by the American Journal of Sociology, as “almost certain to be the most important book on social classes” of the decade. Wright presented a bold attempt—through the subtle use of the tools of analytical Marxism—to resolve some of the long-standing problems in contemporary class theory.

In this elegant book, Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into a concise and tightly argued manifesto analysing the varieties of anti-capitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and a unparalleled guide to help us get there. Another world is possible.

A leading sociologist proposes a new framework for a socialist alternative.

Ellen Meiksins Wood explores the connections between class, ideology and politics. 

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. 

In this pithy and panoramic work—both stimulating for the specialist and accessible to the general reader—one of the world’s leading social theorists, Göran Therborn, traces the trajectory of Marxism in the twentieth century and anticipates its legacy for radical thought in the twenty-first. 

In this lively and wide-ranging book, Ellen Meiksins Wood argues that what is supposed to have epitomized bourgeois modernity, especially the emergence of a “modern” state and political culture in Continental Europe, signaled the persistence of pre-capitalist social property relations. Conversely, the absence of a “modern” state and political discourse in England testified to the presence of a well-developed capitalism. 

In this brilliant and kaleidoscopic look at the emerging feminist international, Verónica Gago uses the women’s strike as both a concept and a collective experience.  

An exhilarating exploration into the utopias and dystopias that could develop from present society 

A critical evaluation of the course and legacy of the Analytical Marxist project.

State Theory  

A fascinating history of the political theory of hegemony 

One of the major works of the new American Marxism, Wright’s book draws a challenging new class map of the United States and other, comparable, advanced capitalist countries today. It also discusses the various classical theories of economic crisis in the West and their relevance to the current recession, and contrasts the way in which the major political problem of bureaucracy was confronted by two great antagonists—Weber and Lenin. 

An all-star cast of radical intellectuals discuss the continued importance of communism.

An all-star cast of radical intellectuals discuss the continued importance of communism. 

An all-star cast of radical intellectuals discuss the continued importance of communism. 

In The Dilemmas of Lenin, Ali provides an insightful portrait of Lenin’s deepest preoccupations and underlines the clarity and vigour of his theoretical and political formulations.

Key writings of the great political theorist, including his debate with Ralph Miliband on the state.

Imperialism and International Relations

Perry Anderson charts the intertwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital. 

Against the self-image of the bloc, Perry Anderson poses the historical record of the EU's assembly. He traces the wider arc of European history, from First World War to Eurozone crisis. 

The Indian Ideology caused uproar on first publication in 2012, not least for breaking with euphemisms for Delhi’s occupation of Kashmir. This new, expanded edition includes the author’s reply to his critics, an interview with the Indian weekly Outlook, and a postscript on India under the rule of Narendra Modi. 

Leading English-language account of the fall of Lula’s Workers’ Party and rise of Bolsonaro and the New Right 

Perry Anderson's now classic overview of the work of EP Thompson.

Commentary on European integration from across the political spectrum. 

In this wide-ranging book that provides an explanation for both the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and new forms of Western colonialism, Tariq Ali argues that many of the values proclaimed by the Enlightenment retain their relevance, while portrayals of the American Empire as a new emancipatory project are misguided.

An updated account of how liberal calls for humanitarian intervention provide a smoke screen for imperial conquest.

Class, Race, and Nationalism 

As Touré Reed argues in this rigorously constructed book, the road to a more just society for African Americans and everyone else, the fate of poor and working-class African Americans is inextricably linked to that of other poor and working-class Americans.

A classic work explaining the emergence and function of race within capitalism.  

Part essay, part autobiography, Darkwater explicitly addresses significant issues, such as the oppression of women and Eurocentric standards of beauty, the historical rise of the idea of whiteness, and the abridgement of democracy along race, class, and gender lines. 

The world-famous work on the origins and development of nationalism

Culture and Ideology  

The World in a Grain of Sand makes an argument for literature from the Global South against the grain of cultural studies, especially postcolonial theory. It critiques the valorisation of the local in cultural theories, typically accompanied by a rejection of universal categories since the latter are viewed as Eurocentric projections. 

A thorough critique of postcolonial theory from a Marxist perspective, particularly its theories of social reproduction, imperialism, and history.  

Mapping Ideology is a comprehensive reader covering the most important contemporary writing on the topic of ideology.  

In Aesthetics and Politics the key texts of the great Marxist controversies over literature and art during these years are assembled in a single volume. They do not form a disparate collection but a continuous, interlinked debate between thinkers who have become giants of twentieth-century intellectual history.

Raymond Williams is a towering presence in cultural studies, most importantly as the founder of the approach that has come to be known as “cultural materialism.” Yet Williams’s method was always open-ended and fluid, and this volume collects together his most significant work from over a twenty-year period in which he wrestled with the concepts of materialism and culture and their interrelationship. 

Setting himself against the growing tendency to homogenize “Third World” literature and cultures, Aijaz Ahmad has produced a spirited critique of the major theoretical statements on “colonial discourse” and “post-colonialism,” dismantling many of the commonplaces and conceits that dominate contemporary cultural criticism. 

Against the Grain is an excellent introduction to the range of Terry Eagleton’s thought and his considerable body of work. It is also a useful primer for all readers interested in the vitality of literary theory today. 

In a timely intervention in one of today's most vital theoretical debates, the contributors to Ghostly Demarcations respond to the distinctive program projected by Derrida's Specters of Marx.

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