George Monbiot is the author of Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain, and is a Guardian columnist. His most recent book, The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world, proposes a global democratic revolution.
1. The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer
Lietaer was once the world’s top currency trader, but stepped back to ponder what he and his colleagues were doing to other people, and how the global money supply could be designed to protect people’s livelihoods and the environment, rather than destroying them. It is a brilliant, visionary book which makes you itch to start applying some of his ideas.
2. Soil and Soul by Alastair McIntosh
One day, when the value of this book is finally recognised, it will transform our perception of ourselves, our history and our surroundings, much as the work of Alice Miller and Sven Lindqvist has done. It is a first step towards the decolonisation of the soul: the essential imaginative process we have to undergo if we are to save the world from the political and environmental catastrophes which threaten it.
3. The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine
This remains both the definitive defence of democracy and, arguably, the finest piece of political writing ever published in English. Paine skewers his opponents with agile and often hilarious arguments, while, with tremendous energy and drive, laying out a fiercely convincing democratic philosophy.
4. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
Despite Freire’s tangled rhetoric and mystifying enthusiasm for Mao Tse Tung, this is the foremost work on the key democratic task: helping people to identify and challenge the sources of their oppression. While it is rightly recognised in Latin America as a transformative text, in Europe we still suffer from the assumption that we have no need to educate ourselves about our political circumstances, as the media will do the job for us. Which suggests, of course, that we have an even greater need than the Latin Americans…
5. The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek
Perhaps the funniest novel ever written, and a brilliant study on how to get one up on the authorities while seeming to co-operate. Svejk appears to be the most loyal soldier in the Austro-Hungarian army, yet all his energies are dedicated to trying to desert.
6. Selected Writings by Gerrard Winstanley
Winstanley is Britain’s great neglected revolutionary, the man who in 1649 sought to use the opportunity created by the bourgeois revolt against the Crown to precipitate a peasant and proletarian revolution. He was hundreds of years ahead of his time, demanding universal education for men and women, the annual election of all officials, an end to foreign wars of aggression prosecuted by Britain and the abolition of private landed property. As we can see, he didn’t get very far.
7. Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy
This is by no means Tolstoy’s finest novel, but it’s a powerful description of the means by which someone can overcome his class interests and come to fight on behalf of his class enemies. Prince Nekhlyudov finds himself serving as a juror at the trial of a woman he ruined, and is forced to confront the oppression to which he contributes.
8. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Tressell’s novel reminds me of nothing so much as Moby Dick. It’s a big, rambling novel with a weak plot and endless diversions, roughly held together by a big idea. The author was a self-educated signwriter who, because of his social status, could find no publisher to take it: it was published posthumously. His political prescriptions are a little kooky, but his rendition of the desperate lives of working people in the early years of the 20th century is faultless.
9. Letters to a Young Activist by Todd Gitlin
A wise, compassionate, beautifully-written book about what constitutes effective revolutionary action. It permits contemporary activists a glimpse into the successes and failures of the New Left in the 1960s, and there is plenty we should learn from both.
10. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
The definitive example of how inspiring a bad idea can be. It is hard to read this book without wanting to pick up a gun and shoot the nearest industrialist. But because the theory so woefully failed to fit society, society had to be remodelled to fit the theory. The peasants, aristocrats, artisans and shopkeepers did not, as Marx suggested, disappear of their own accord: they had to be eliminated. The “social scum” of the lumpenproletariat, which came to include indigenous people, had to be disposed of just as hastily, in case they became, as Marx warned, “the bribed tool of reactionary intrigue”. Contemporary communists often claim that Marx’s prescriptions were corrupted by Stalin and Mao. My impression is the opposite: the problem is that they were rigidly applied.