Since the turn of the 20th century, the world has been at a war of ideologies. Be it the battlegrounds of Europe and Asia, or the Cold War, the social movements, political elections, and of late, university elections – the Right vs. the Centre vs. the Left has been one of the longest fought battles, though symbolically most of the times, of human history. And since the advent of the new millennium, ideological affiliations have become even more prominent.
Some reason for this can be accredited to the internet revolution, which gave the young mind access to political literature from all over the world. A college student from a remote village in India can now access political and social theories from the likes of ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Plato to modern thinkers like Edmund Burke, Karl Marx, and Vladimir Lenin. This access to rich political literature from the comfort of a mobile phone or a laptop is a reason that we have more and more young political activists surfacing across the globe.
In this article, we will mention and discuss books about the most prominent political and social ideologies prevalent in our times. All of these ideologies have been in practice for more than half a century, and hence, have enough source material to study and analyze:
Socialism and Communism
Socialism is arguably the most influential ideology of the 20th century. From the Russian Revolution by Vladimir Lenin to the Cuban Revolution by Fidel Castro, great leaders of the civilized world and revolutionaries across colonies were influenced by the theories of socialists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Communism, an ideology held by many powerful countries like China, Vietnam, North Korea, etc., is also inspired by Socialism.
Moreover, many modern forms of democratically elected governments in major regions like Scandinavia, the Indian Sub-Continent, Africa, etc., also have socialist elements in their constitutions. For instance, the Constitution of India in its preamble calls the country a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic.” Likewise, an overwhelming majority of workers’, farmer’s, and students’ unions in India follow socialist principles.
To understand an ideology so influential, one has to study pioneering works. These include The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels, Das Kapital by Marx, and ‘Imperialism, the Highest State of Capitalism’ by Lenin. ‘Alienation and the Soviet Economy: The Collapse of the Socialist Era’ is an excellent work for those looking into the shortcomings and challenges that plague Socialism. Biographies of Socialists leaders like Che Guevara (Che: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson), Thomas Sankara (Who Killed Sankara by Alfred Cudjoe), Fidel Castro (Fidel Castro: My Life: A Spoken Autobiography by Ignacio Ramonet), etc. is also a must-read to have a thorough understanding of Socialism.
Capitalism is the archnemesis of Socialism, and it is literally quite apparent in this era. The Anglosphere (the US, the UK, New Zealand, Canada, and Australia) holds the capitalist model of governance and economy. This is in stark contrast to its rival nations like Cuba, China, Russia, and North Korea, which makes it quite simple to deduce what capitalism stands for: “Less interference of the state in economic affairs and maximum private ownership of resources”.
The war of words and the literal kind between capitalists and socialists was a common occurrence throughout the last century, and it goes on even today. While socialism is more about social values and morals, capitalism is more about profit maximization and capitalizing opportunities. In developed countries like the US and the UK, the private sector owns resources of production for the majority of industries. And while capitalists live under heavy criticism all their lives, no one can deny their tremendous contribution to the national and global GDP.
To understand the basic ideals of capitalism, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations is an essential read along with Louis Kelso’s The Capitalist Manifesto’ and George Reisman’sCapitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Likewise, to find whether capitalism is relevant in this day and age, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by Thomas Piketty is of great help. To have a critical view of the capitalist form of governance, John Perkins’s Confessions of an Economic Hitman’ is an eye-opener.
No matter how ugly or horrific it may sound, fascism is far from over in this world. The horrors of the holocaust by the Nazis to the right-wing nationalist, religious, and racist movements are very much alive. The shocking murder of George Floyd, a 45-year-old black man, in Minneapolis last year was a strong reminder that institutional bigotry not only exists but also is a form of neo-fascism. The killings of minority communities by cow vigilantes in India, often supported by the administration, is yet another example.
The greatest examples of neo-fascist states include China (not merely for killing Uyghur Muslims), the illegal state of Israel (using DIME and biochemical weapons on Palestinian protestors), and the United States (disrupting the Middle East, Latin America, and more). The recent attempt by the Trump supporters to take over the United States Capitol Building is a chilling reminder that though Hitler died over three-quarters of a century ago, his ideals, unfortunately, continue to live.
To understand the fascist mentality, and unique elements to identify fascism, Adolf Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is arguably the greatest book. The book details Hitler’s journey from being an artistic genius to an antisemitic bigot, and his destructive plans for Germany. ‘Origins of Totalitarianism’ by Hannah Arendt, ‘The Anatomy of Fascism’ by Robert O. Paxton, ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ by MS Golwalkar, and Philip Kerr’s ‘Berlin Noir’ are also great books to understand and learn about fascism. However, a book that every individual must read, simply to fathom the severity of the crimes Nazis committed, is ‘The Diary of a Young Girl’ by Anne Frank.
Imagine a country where there’s no government, no laws, no police, no military – that’s what anarchism is all about. Propagating that the state or government can never be free of corruption, adherents of this ideology want complete liberty from any form of restriction or rules. This is a key factor that differentiates a Socialist or a Communist from the Anarchists. However, there’s more to Anarchism than mere love for total freedom.
While one may wonder about the state of the society without any formal authority, Anarchism promotes ethics instead of an obligation, and hence, focuses heavily on moral arguments. It is a radical form of Socialism, adopting utopian principles like collectivism, individualism, syndicalism, and mutualism. Nonetheless, there’s not a single country in the world that claims to have anarchist principles in practice. And that’s not hard to think why. That said, some of the most intellectual minds of the last 100-150 years have been anarchists.
The famous writer, George Orwell, though not a self-proclaimed anarchist, portrayed the corruption and dystopia of world governments in his works like ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’. Likewise, “the most important intellectual alive”, Noam Chomsky describes himself as an Anarcho-Syndicalist. Chomsky’s famous work on political theory, ‘On Anarchism’ not only solidifies his position as a modern anarchist but also works as a concise manual on political theory. Other important books to understand anarchism include ‘Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution’ by Peter Kropotkin, ‘Anarchism: From Theory to Practice’ by Daniel Guerin, and ‘Anarchist Manifesto’ by Anselme Bellegarrigue.
Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.