New books from Pluto in November – Unfree in Palestine / Weapon of the Strong / Idiotism / Gerrard Winstanley / Doomed by Hope / The History of Democracy

Good morning radicals and book-lovers! November is the month of insurrection, fireworks and anti-militarism (if you have the correct analysis about the 5th and 11th of the month respectively…)

It’s been a big one already – Mitt Romney was defeated by a lacklustre Barack Obama in a campaign that failed to elicit much enthusiasm. Unsurprising in an electorate underwhelmed by four years of domestic compromise, and disturbed by a foreign policy of drone attacks and extra-judicial assassination.

Still, if the prevailing winds blowing in from the Atlantic have had a whisper of ‘better the devil you know’, have no fear – Pluto is here, with new books to re-engage both spirit and mind with a more meaningful politics.

First up, Unfree in Palestine, by Nadia Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay. Based on first-hand accounts and extensive fieldwork, Unfree in Palestine reveals the role played by identity documents in Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians, from the red passes of the 1950s to the orange, green and blue passes of today.

The authors chronicle how millions of Palestinians have been denationalised through the bureaucratic tools of census, population registration, blacklisting and a discriminatory legal framework. Unfree in Palestine is a masterful expose of the web of bureaucracy used by Israel to deprive the Palestinians of basic rights and freedoms, and calls for international justice and inclusive security in place of discrimination and division.

Jon Bailes and Cihan Aksan edit Weapon of the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism. The term ‘terrorism’ is often applied exclusively to non-state groups or specific ‘rogue states’. Far less attention is given to state terrorism carried out or sponsored by democracies, most notably the United States. History shows that this state terrorism has been responsible for the deaths of millions of people.

Weapon of the Strong analyses the forms of US state terrorism through exclusive interviews with leading commentators and theorists, including Noam Chomsky, Edward S. Herman, Richard A. Falk, Judith Butler, Ted Honderich, Norman Finkelstein and Gilbert Achcar. The interviews explore the different aspects of state terrorism: its functions, institutional supports and the legal and moral arguments surrounding it, and consider specific case studies in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Idiotism examines the condition of society in late capitalism where the market logic of neoliberalism has become the new ‘common sense’, taken as the model for the organisation and management of all aspects of social life. Using the Greek word idios, meaning ‘private’, Neal Curtis calls this privatisation of the world ‘idiotism’.

Constructing a new vocabulary with which to understand contemporary society, Curtis examines ‘idiotism’ across the spheres of economics, politics and culture, drawing on the philosophy and political theories of Martin Heidegger, Louis Althusser, Franco Berardi, Jacques Rancière and Cornelius Castoriadis.


Gerrard Winstanley: The Digger’s Life and Legacy is the latest in Pluto’s Revolutionary Lives series. ‘The power of property was brought into creation by the sword’, so wrote Gerrard Winstanley (1609-1676) – Christian Communist, leader of the Diggers movement and bête noire of the landed aristocracy. Despite being one of the great English radicals, Winstanley remains unmentioned in today’s lists of ‘great Britons’.

John Gurney reveals the hidden history of Winstanley and his movement. As part of the radical ferment which swept England at the time of the civil war, Winstanley led the Diggers in taking over land and running it as ‘a common treasury for all’ – provoking violent opposition from landowners. Gurney also guides us through Winstanley’s writings, which are among the most remarkable prose writings of his age.

Next up is Doomed by Hope, a beautifully presented collection of essays by writers and artists which traces the history of contemporary Arab theatre and its relationship to social change.

With contributors from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Kuwait and Yemen, this book includes both academic discussions and personal narratives, alongside a number of specially commissioned portraits of contemporary Arab theatre artists. The essays revolve around the legacy of the late Syrian dramatist Saadallah Wannous, whose monumental plays incited audiences to rise up against tyranny decades ago.

This  is one of the first English language volumes on Arab theatre. Highly topical following the Arab Spring, it explores cultural practices – from reading plays in a classroom to performing in a security state and directing in theatres, prisons, and international festivals – in times of revolt.

Last but not least, Brian Roper’s The History of Democracy: The concept of democracy has become tarnished in recent years, as governments become disconnected from voters and pursue unpopular policies. And yet the ideal of democracy continues to inspire movements around the world, such as the Arab Spring.

Brian Roper refreshes our understanding of democracy using a Marxist theoretical framework. He traces the history of democracy from ancient Athens to the emergence of liberal representative and socialist participatory democracy in Europe and North America, through to the global spread of democracy during the past century.

Roper argues that democracy cannot be understood separately from underlying processes of exploitation and class struggle. He offers an engaging Marxist critique of representative democracy, and raises the possibility of alternative democratic forms. The History of Democracy will be of interest to students and scholars of history and politics and all those concerned about the past, present and future of democracy.

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