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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Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy’ International Woman’s Day

We’re celebrating International Woman’s Day with ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’ and subject of Sarah Irving’s biography: Leila Khaled. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation tells the story of Khaled’s remarkable life as a female activist in a man’s movement. From hijacking planes, to her involvement in radical sects, Leila Khaled’s activism made her as era-defining as Che Guevara.


When Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a left-wing organization with international links and the declared intention of winning the return of the Palestinian people to the lands they had left only 20 years before. This was the era of Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia just two years earlier, and of liberation struggles in South East Asia. The right of oppressed peoples to resist by armed means was discussed worldwide, and the heroes of these movements decorated the walls of student bedrooms and left-wing homes. The second wave of feminism was also breaking, adding another aspect to the environment in which news of this young female hijacker would be received.

In Leila’s Middle East home, Israel had just defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War, humiliating the Arab world militarily and capturing the remaining Palestinian territories west of the River Jordan and north of the Sinai. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including thousands of refugees from the initial establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, had been living under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, but were now subject to Israeli military occupation. Despite this, the world’s attention to the Palestinians themselves was minimal. They were seen by the West as a small, dispossessed refugee people, caught up in the hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and of little importance except as an excuse for aggression by Arab powers. Amongst the Palestinians of the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, discontent had been brewing. A resistance movement, which had been growing since the mid 1960s, had been further radicalized and popularized by the Six Day War and by Palestinians’ increasing suspicion of the hollow support voiced by Arab regimes. As Rosemary Sayigh, who lived in Lebanon throughout the 1970s, puts it:

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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


Ellen Wilkinson: Communism, feminism and the Labour Party

For International Women’s Day, Paula Bartley celebrates one of the UK’s boldest radical politicians.

Remember When "Red Ellen" - Ellen Wilkinson MP - who led the Jarrow Marchers speaking in Trafalgar Square

On March 8th 1938, Ellen Wilkinson was the key-note speaker for the first celebration of International Women’s Day in London. Today, her voice still resonates, at a time when our country is faced with a government all too keen to punish the underprivileged and all too keen to protect the interests of a rich few.

From an early age, Ellen Wilkinson’s veins flowed with a political blood and her whole life revolved around campaigns for social justice in one form or another. She was committed to women’s rights from an early age – in 1913, aged 21, she became a paid worker for the Manchester National Union of Women’s Suffrage. By July 1915 Ellen was appointed the first national organiser for women at the National Union of Distributive and Allied Workers. All her life she remained a trade unionist, proud of the links between NUDAW, the Labour Party and the working-class.

During the war – as with so many young  people – Ellen became attracted to revolutionary communism. On this day, nearly one hundred years ago, women textile workers in Petrograd, Russia celebrated International Women’s Day by downing their tools and taking to the streets demanding bread for their children and an end to the war. Over the next few days women swept through Petrograd, encouraging men to support their protests. The March revolution had begun, the Tsar resigned and a new Provisional Government was formed. In November 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power and attempted to create a socialist state in Russia. Like many on the left, Ellen was swept away by the Russian revolution and became excited by the possibility of communism in the United Kingdom.

Ellen became one of the first members of the Communist Party, and she remained a member until the Labour Party made it a proscribed organisation. In 1924 Ellen, now 33 years old, stood as Labour Party candidate for Middlesbrough East. She was the only woman on the opposition benches and one of only four women in the House of Commons.

Ellen was a trade union sponsored MP and all her life fought to improve the pay and conditions for working people. In May 1926 there was a General Strike in support of coal-miners who had had their wages cut. Ellen worked hard to support the miners and later helped immortalise the strike in two books. Her co-authored A Workers History of the Great Strike is an emotionally charged account of those nine days and her autobiographical novel Clash captures the atmosphere and excitement of the struggle.

Unsurprisingly, the Tory Government did not approve of strike action, and did its utmost to make the General Strike fail. When the strike collapsed the Government reduced wages, increased working hours and permitted conditions in the mines to deteriorate even more.

By 1927, the Government had passed the Trades Disputes Act which restricted workers’ rights even further. It made sympathetic strikes illegal, protected strike-breakers, and made picketing almost impossible. These rights were later won back … and later taken away by Margaret Thatcher.

The Trades Disputes Act also made it harder for unions to raise funds. Instead of members ‘contracting out’ of paying a levy to the Party the new Act made them ‘contract in’.  Ellen and her union thought the Trades Disputes Act was a calculated attempt to cripple the trade unions and to destroy the Labour party. It was, they believed, ‘inspired by motives of class and partisan hostility.’

Indeed, she insisted that ever since the Conservative Government had been returned to power they had worked steadily in the interests of the rich.

But, as ever, history delivers unexpected political twists. In 1929, despite Tory attempts to undermine the Labour Party, Labour won the next election. Thanks to the efforts of Ellen and other sympathetic MPs, all women over the age of 21 were eligible to vote. Fourteen women MPs were elected, nine of whom were Labour. But the Labour Party was immediately faced with one of the world’s biggest economic disasters. On October 29th 1929 the Wall Street Crash precipitated a world-wide economic crisis. Banks collapsed, businesses went bust, consumer spending plummeted, currencies lost their value and unemployment rose.

The Labour Government had an economic choice: it could either cut expenditure or pump money into the economy. It chose austerity.

This was 1930, not 2016, yet Ellen knew exactly where to place the blame for this economic catastrophe: the greed of the bankers. ‘We are told’ she thundered ‘that the Budget doesn’t balance, that there are going to be terrible things happen unless you are prepared to accept cuts – cuts everywhere except in the dividend of the bankers’.

Ellen believed that a planned economy was the only real solution to the economic crisis. She wanted to nationalise the Bank of England and key industries. Capitalism, she believed, needed to be controlled. The debate on the cuts – as we know – led to the break up of the Labour Government.  It eventually collapsed in August 1931. Ramsay MacDonald resigned as Labour leader to become Prime Minister of a Conservative dominated Coalition Government. Ellen, as with most Labour MPs, refused to join it. It was, and still is, the most damaging split that the Labour Party ever experienced. And it took a long time – fourteen years in effect – to recover.

In September 1931 Ramsay McDonald was expelled from the Labour Party and the following month a General Election took place. The National Government, with McDonald as leader, won a landslide victory securing 554 seats: all at the expense of the Labour Party which won a humiliating 52. It was a crushing defeat. Ellen lost her seat, and no Labour women were left in Parliament. The Labour Party had kept to its core values but at the expense of a loss of power.  It certainly seemed as if the Labour Party had wandered into a political wilderness from which it would be unable to re-emerge.

Ellen missed Parliament, and in 1935 she stood and was elected for Jarrow.  Once again, she was the only woman on the Labour benches. In the early 1930s, Jarrow was one of the most disadvantaged and depressed towns in England. It had one of the worst unemployment records, largely because the Conservative government were instrumental in closing down the shipyard. In Ellen’s words they ‘had cut the throat of Jarrow’. While the banks were ‘stuffed full of money’, she complained, ‘I am working with men and women who are without’.

Ellen is best known for her organisation of the Jarrow Crusade, a march that has become thejarrow iconic image of the Hungry Thirties, an image of resistance, an image of survival, an image of resolution and fortitude. On Monday October 5th 1936 the marchers set off to walk to London; on October 31st, thirty days and 290 miles later, they reached the capital.

The Crusade hit the headlines. And in her electrifying account of the Crusade with its evocative title, The Town that was Murdered, she ensured that the March would remain celebrated.

Ellen was no dreamy intellectual hoping for an unrealistic nirvana. She was a pragmatist, a realist. Her politics was informed by the lives of people like her Jarrow constituents – not by reading theoretical handbooks.

Ellen has deep resonance for anyone interested in politics today. The MP for Jarrow was clear about what she believed. She talked like a human being about real things. Her words were delivered with such feeling that you trusted what she said. She was no political robot, blindly iterating policy if she thought it might win votes. She was one of that rare breed: a conviction politician whose compassion was always evident. For me, she represented Labour’s heart and soul. She was ‘unspun’, inspirational, committed to the values of equality and fairness.


Paula Bartley is an independent scholar and former Senior Lecturer in History at the Bartley EWUniversity of Wolverhampton. She is the author of Votes for Women (2007), Emmeline Pankhurst (2002) and The Changing Role of Women (1996). Her work has appeared in the American Historical Review, Social History, Midland History and Women’s History Review.


Ellen Wilkinson: From Red Suffragist to Government Minister is available to buy from Pluto Press here.

Dead Women Can’t Vote

Sisters Uncut, a feminist direct action group, recently made headlines with their intervention at the premier of ‘Suffragette’. Pluto is very pleased to present an exclusive contribution from one of their members, explaining the group’s position and outlook, as an expression of our solidarity with the ongoing struggle for women’s liberation in Britain.

‘Last week, Sisters Uncut stormed the red carpet of the premiere for the new film Suffragette. With Hollywood celebrating the historical struggles for women’s liberation, we wanted to remind the world that the fight is not over. oDoKg7NzAccording to Refuge, 1 in 4 women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes and at a time when women need more support, the Conservative government is giving less.

We believe the only way to achieve liberation is to disrupt the status quo, the everyday workings, of oppressive systems. Liberation is never given; it’s taken. The Suffragettes knew this well. Universal suffrage was not achieved not out of the kindness of politicians’ hearts but because the Suffragettes protested, disrupted, disobeyed, argued, theorised, mobilised and organised for the vote. They put their bodies on the line in their struggle for suffrage: hunger strikes, chaining themselves up, throwing themselves in front of horses. They put their livelihoods on the line: setting mailboxes on fire, smashing windows, setting off bombs. It’s within this disruptive, disobedient, unapologetic tradition of the Suffragettes that Sisters Uncut stands.

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Pluto Books Reviewed by Mark Perryman in ‘The Huffington Post’

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football has reviewed three Pluto titles this month.

As part of a list of books to ‘find dreams of a better tomorrow’ he reviewed Katherine Connelly’s Sylvia Pankhurst (Pluto, 2013), Christos Laskos and Euclid Tsakalotos’ Crucible of Resistance (Pluto, 2013) and Anandi Ramamurthy’s Black Star (Pluto, 2013).

As Perryman writes: As the almost instantly forgettable party conference season disappears over the horizon the Westminster bubble political landscape would be hard pushed to inspire anybody much at all. For hope of a better, different, tomorrow we must increasingly draw on other traditions from beyond the mainstream, contemporary and out of history, challenging too a narrow definition of politics the parliamentary parties depend upon for their sorry version of legitimacy.

The article was syndicated to The Huffington Post. You can view it in its entirety here. We’ve reproduced the review of our books below. For more information or to buy a title, click on the cover images below. Continue reading