International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.


Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.


Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks for International Woman’s Day

bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.



Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.

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Dry Your Eyes and Organise! A Pluto Press reading list

With the election of Donald Trump it’s time for the left to take action! We cannot and will not let racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism be legitimised and normalised. Here are our list of books to arm yourself against the rise of proto-fascism!




Using Gramsci: A New Approach by Michele Filippinifilippini-t02985

Released this month, Michele Filippini proposes a new approach based on the analysis of previously ignored concepts in his works, creating a book which stands apart. Look on Wikiquote and you won’t unearth Antonio Gramsci’s much-quoted dictum ‘I love the poorly educated’. Gramsci stressed the need for popular workers’ education to encourage development of intellectuals from the working class. His work sought to reveal, rather than obscure; through his writing we come to understand how hegemony is produced, likewise ideology, how civil society functions and what constitutes collective organisms, society and crisis. In this time of crisis, we need Filippini’s rigorous reappraisal of Gramsci’s work to better understand the political machinations we encounter.

Racism: A Critical Analysis by Mike Cole

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Racism traces the legacy of racism across three countries in-depth: the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. In examining the United States, Cole charts the dual legacies of indigenous genocide and slavery, as well as exploring anti-Latina/o and anti-Asian racism. As we contemplate histories of racism, Cole asks us to re-engage with arguments about the central role of capitalism in perpetuating the most vicious of inequalities. Anxieties about migrant labour and the dilution of ‘authentic’ – read White – American culture the election landscape. However Cole distances himself from the liberal platitiudes of ‘Love Trumps Hate’, instead showing that racism is both endemic and multifaceted and not solvable by the election of a Democratic candidate. This book serves as an important reminder of the need to take a long view as we renew our shared struggle against the racism still scarring human lives across the globe.

Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks

In Feminist Theory, hooks maintains that mainstream feminism’s reliance on white, middle-class, and professional spokeswomen obscures the involvement, leadership, and centrality of women of colour and poor women in the hooks-t00702movement for women’s liberation. The campaign of Hillary Clinton relied too heavily on false assumptions about identity politics, it presumed a universal experience of womanhood, embodied by Clinton, which was not substantiated by most American women’s lived experiences. Failing acknowledge the full complexity and diversity of women’s experience, in order to create a mass movement to end women’s oppression resulted in the election of a sexist tyrant. Hooks argues that feminism’s goal of seeking credibility and acceptance on already existing ground – rather than demanding the lasting and more fundamental transformation of society – has shortchanged the movement. In order to resist and fight towards an equal world for women we must conceive of a society outside of the confines of the patriarchal pre-existing one. Let’s follow hooks to the letter, her writing established her as one of feminism’s most challenging and influential voices and it could not be more necessary, urgent and relevant.

After Queer Theory: The Limits of Sexual Politics by James Penneypenney-t02732

After Queer Theory is predicated on the provocative claim that queer theory has run its course, made obsolete by the elaboration of its own logic within capitalism. James Penney argues that far from signalling the end of anti-homophobic criticism, however, the end of queer presents the occasion to rethink the relation between sexuality and politics. The regressive homophobia of the American election suggests that queer politics subsumption into mainstream political discourse was in vain, queer politics finds itself at a critical juncture. After Queer Theory argues that it is necessary to wrest sexuality from the dead end of identity politics, opening it up to a universal emancipatory struggle beyond the reach of capitalism’s powers of commodification.


We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism by cox-t02839Laurence Cox and Alf Gunvald Nilsen

We live in the twilight of neoliberalism: the failed election of another Clinton president proves that the ruling classes can no longer rule as before, and ordinary people are no longer willing to be ruled in the old way. Pursued by global elites since the 1970s, neoliberalism is defined by dispossession and ever-increasing inequality. The refusal to continue to be ruled like this appears in an arc of resistance stretching from rural India to North America. Written prior to Trump’s election, Cox and Nilsen’s emphasis lies with left wing movements, but this should not be read as a disconnected from our present reality, instead because the book shows how movements can develop from local conflicts to global struggles; how neoliberalism operates as a social movement from above, and how popular struggles can create new worlds from below, the book is a guide to resisting the current crisis.

Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today by  John Holloway

‘The concept of revolution itself is in crisis’, writes John Holloway, difficult to eshew when the word has foundholloway-t01965 itself in the mouths of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. In this book, John Holloway asks how we can reformulate our understanding of revolution as the struggle against power, not for power. Modern protest movements ground their actions in both Marxism and Anarchism, fighting for radical social change in terms that have nothing to do with the taking of state power. This is in clear opposition to the traditional Marxist theory of revolution which centres on the overthrow of government. Holloway reposes some of the basic concepts of Marxism in a critical development of the subversive Marxist tradition represented by Adorno, Bloch and Lukacs, amongst others, and grounded in a rethinking of Marx’s concept of ‘fetishisation’– how doing is transformed into being. This radical rethinking demonstrates how we can bring about social and political change today.

Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism by Jeremy Gilbert

Common Ground explores the philosophical relationship between collectivity, individuality, gilbert-t01517affect and agency in the neoliberal era. Jeremy Gilbert argues that individualism is forced upon us by neoliberal culture, fatally limiting our capacity to escape the current crisis of democratic politics. The book asks how forces and ideas opposed to neoliberal hegemony, and to the individualist tradition in Western thought, might serve to protect some form of communality, and how far we must accept assumptions about the nature of individuality and collectivity which are the legacy of an elitist tradition. Along the way it examines different ideas and practices of collectivity, from conservative notions of hierarchical and patriarchal communities to the politics of ‘horizontality’ and ‘the commons’ which are at the heart of radical movements today. Exploring this fundamental faultline in contemporary political struggle, Common Ground proposes a radically non-individualist mode of imagining social life, collective creativity and democratic possibility.

Solidarity without Borders: Gramscian Perspectives on Migration and Civil Society Alliances edited by Óscar García Agustín and Martin Bak Jørgensen

This book presents an argument for Gramsci’s theory of the formation of a transnational agustin-t03061counter-hegemonic bloc, methods of modern resistance and new forms of solidarity between these forming groups. With case studies of the Gezi Park Protests in Turkey, social movements in Ireland and the Lampedusa in Hamburg among others, the argument is explored via national contexts and structured around political dimensions.

Four themes are discussed: the diversity of new migrant political actors; solidarity and new alliances across borders; avoiding misplaced alliances; and spaces of resistance. Migrants are often deprived of agency and placed outside the mobilisations taking place across Europe. Solidarity without Borders will demonstrate how new solidarity relations are shaped and how these may construct a new common ground for struggle and for developing the political alternatives we will desperately need over the coming four years.


All books are available from the Pluto website


Witnesses to the Revolution in Rojava

Revolution in Rojava is the first book-length account of the unique and extraordinary political situation in Rojava, Syria. In this article, Janet Biehl talks to the authors and discusses how and why the new society in Rojava so inspired them.

For decades, three million Syrian Kurds have lived under brutal repression by the Assad regime, Revolution in Rojavatheir identity denied, access to education and jobs refused, imprisonment and torture a way of life for those who dared object. Yet resistance has grown. By developing organisations, after the Arab Spring arrived in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds seized the moment to create a pioneering, democratic revolution. The liberation of northern Syria—Rojava—began at Kobanî on July 19th 2012, and the global history of social and political revolution would never be the same again.

In May 2014, three Kurdish solidarity activists from Germany and Turkey decided to visit Rojava. ‘I wanted to see it, to learn from its practice’, says Michael Knapp, ‘to understand the contradictions and research the system’s difficulties. Because we can learn a lot from it for revolutionary projects in Western countries.’ With their combined language skills, contacts, and extensive knowledge of the movement, they were able to do close fieldwork and interview many people.

Upon their return, they compiled their observations into a book, Revolution in Rojava, which has just been published in English.

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The story behind ‘Suffragette’

For International Women’s Day, Jaqueline Mulhallen writes on the inadequacies of the film Suffragette

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The film Suffragette comes out on DVD this week, in part to coincide with International Women’s Day. While the film has been praised for portraying the suffering, determination and sacrifice of women who were trying to get the vote, it tells only part of the story.

Set in the last couple of years of a campaign which the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had launched nine years earlier, the film focuses on the more violent and desperate phase of the campaign. It includes the hunger strikes and the force-feeding which many suffered, as well as the death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Derby while she was attempting to attach the WSPU colours to the King’s horse, as well as documenting the women’s protests through window-breaking and arson. However, it ignores the origins of the organisation, which started amongst a number of women from the Labour movement in Manchester and the North West.

The Northern cotton mills employed by far the largest group of women workers in the country, and the trade union organisers Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth were encouraging the mill workers to demand the vote. At the large protest in Downing Street in 1905, these women from the cotton mills in their grey shawls and clogs formed a significant part of the crowd. Other early protests included women from East London waving red flags. Although the film shows a working class woman from East London, her experience is at odds with the real story of women in the East End which is much more exciting and dramatic than the story of the film.

Over time, the WSPU became increasingly by Unknown photographer, bromide print, mid 1900sundemocratic. One of the original figures of the movement Christabel Pankhurst (who does not feature in the film) wanted her ideas to prevail, and splits occurred. The first was in 1907 when a number of women left the organisation to form the Women’s Freedom League. Christabel was more attracted to wealthy women, who gave generously to the WSPU, and her politics became more and more orientated towards the Conservative Party of the time. She began to see working class women as irrelevant to the fight for the vote. The failing of this re-orientation was proven when she and her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst met Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister in 1912. In typical fashion, he stood firmly against their demands for votes for women.

While the suffragettes’ initial window breaking protest was a response to violence suffered by women from the police was a success, the arson attacks which began in 1912 started to lose support among the general public. Soon, a warrant was issued for Christabel’s arrest, and she fled to Paris. She never suffered through a hunger strike and spent only a brief time in prison, and after her release was able to direct the WSPU campaign from abroad. Then came the second split with her supporters Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, which occurred due to their disagreements over the violent turn of the campaign.

It was then that Christabel’s younger sister, Sylvia, decided to give up her career as an artist SylviaP-001and become a leader of the WSPU. Sylvia Pankhurst believed that the vote could only be won by building a mass organisation of working-class women together with men. Sylvia had been a loyal member of the WSPU, selling the paper, writing for it, organising and speaking at meetings and going on hunger strike, but she had never openly criticised its policies, despite the fact she was a friend of Keir Hardie, and never gave up her commitment to socialist politics.

In 1912 Sylvia opened branch of the WSPU in Bow, London. This East London Federation of Suffragettes grew into a large organisation which included men. At the huge demonstrations and meetings held by the ELFS the police were rarely able to arrest Sylvia, who was protected by both men and women. This was the time of the Great Unrest, and many of the men in Bow worked in the docks, an area which was vulnerable to strikes.

Unlike Christabel, Sylvia had been so successful in her aim of building a strong organisation of working women, that in 1914 she was able to organise a deputation of six of these women to see the Prime Minister by threatening him with a hunger strike outside the House of Commons. The huge procession which accompanied this frail dying woman there consisted of both men and women whose presence so near Parliament must have alarmed the government who prevented the demonstration proceeding any further. However, Sylvia gave the police the slip and arrived in a taxi. The six women who saw Asquith finally convinced him of the justice of giving votes for women with their moving life stories.

Looking again at the film Suffragette, it is difficult to see how any working man or woman in 1912 could have been unaware of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, or find it necessary to go anywhere else in London to carry out activity, when there were so many meetings and demonstrations right there at home. Given the support men gave to the East London Federation it is also strange to see the men in the film so antagonistic towards the women. While Sylvia’s initial speeches had been greeted with rotten vegetables and fish heads, this phase did not last long and Sylvia herself was very popular. The husband in the film Suffragette separates from his wife because of her activity and gives their child up for adoption. This doesn’t accord with anything I have read about working-class communities at that time, nor does it ring true with my experience of living in East London for the last 20 years of the 20th century.


Jacqueline Mulhallen wrote and performed in the plays ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Rebels and Friends’. Her ground-breaking book The Theatre of Shelley (Open Book Publishers, 2010) has been internationally acclaimed. She contributed a chapter on Shelley to The Oxford Handbook to Georgian Theatre (OUP, 2014) shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize 2015.


Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary is available to buy from Pluto Press here.

Manchester to have first statue of a woman since Queen Victoria – Sylvia Pankhurst and Ellen Wilkinson shortlisted

As the Guardian‘s Hatty Collier reported last week, Manchester is set to get its first statue of a woman since Queen Victoria, following a unanimous vote from councillors who said they were appalled that the “widow of Windsor” is the city’s only female sculpture.

There are currently 16 statues in the city, 15 of which are men. Following the council’s decision, the public will get to vote on who to honour in bronze. The subjects of two Pluto Revolutionary Lives biographies – suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, and Jarrow March organiser and Labour minister for Education, Ellen Wilkinson – are on the shortlist along with other famous female Mancunians.

Click on the cover images below to find out more about both of these great women.

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Katherine Connelly talks about Sylvia Pankhurst on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour today

IMG_2553Katherine Connelly, author of Sylvia Pankhurst: Suffragette, Socialist and Scourge of Empire (Pluto, 2013) was on Woman’s Hour this morning, talking about the life and legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst and women in the East End. It is 100 years since Sylvia established the East London Federation of Suffragettes, and the East London Suffragettes Festival (1-10 August) will be celebrating the anniversary.

Click here to listen to the programme online now. Katherine’s segment starts 20 minutes in. You can buy the book direct from Pluto Press for just £11.50 including free UK P&P. Click here for more info.

“Katherine Connelly has written an important work on my mother Sylvia Pankhurst. Packed with new historical information which makes her life and times come alive it is a fascinating and very readable biography which does much to explain my mother’s political evolution from Suffragette to Anti-Fascist.” Prof. Richard Pankhurst