As the editors of this important collection of essays explain, when the Socialist Register was launched, back in 1964, the aim was to provide annual volumes of socialist analysis and discussion.
This was in the belief was that ‘the possibility of fruitful discussions is now greater than for a long time past’, a belief in the contemporary relevance of socialist analysis and discussion that the current editors share. By definition, then, this volume sets out, like its predecessors before it, to stimulate socialist analysis and debate and to explore the implications in terms of the more immediate political concerns of the day.
This fiftieth volume is particularly useful on two counts. Firstly, the collection includes essays that explore the Socialist Register project’s history in relation to previous debates on the Left, over the past five decades. And secondly this collection provides a more contemporary focus on social class in the context of ‘the spread and deepening of capitalist social relations around the globe that has been increasingly marked by growing social inequality’.
The chapters on the lineage of the Socialist Register explore the origins in relation the development of the British New Left, with a critical account of debates around the New Left’s class analysis, including reflections on the contributions of thinkers such as E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn. This sets the context for the following chapter exploring debates on class and politics over the Socialist Register’s five decades, including debates around the Marxism Today project and debates with Socialist Feminism. (For some reason these chapters are placed at the end of the book – some readers may find it more helpful to read these first, as background to more contemporary debates).
Whilst some of the chapters focus upon more theoretical debates, such as the chapter critically engaging with what the author describes as the ‘cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory’ others are more focused upon exploring the implications for current issues for the labour and progressive movement. For instance, the chapter on the ‘Walmart working class’ explores the growth of precarious employment in relation to theoretical debates on the changing composition of the working class. Other chapters focus upon the implications of debates on the composition of the capitalist class in the context of neo-liberal globalisation (demonstrating the continuing significance of struggles at national as well as at international levels). The chapter on’ Left Unity or Class Unity’ provides a particularly thought -provoking discussion of the flaws in arguments for setting up a new political party of the Left, in Britain. And the chapters on Brazil include a critique of the so-called ‘Brazilian spring’ pointing up the need for such critiques, rooted in class analyses, when it comes to considering so-called ‘springs’ and popular uprisings in the Arab world, Ukraine, Thailand and elsewhere.
Overall then, this book comes as highly recommended reading for Marx Memorial Library readers. The collection is well worth reading for the chapters on contemporary issues with added value provided by the final chapters’ reflections on earlier debates. Readers will also be interested to learn more about the particular role played by Ralph Miliband, who made such key contributions to launching and editing the Socialist Register, over many years.