Agreements of the People
The Levellers (1647-49)
In this revolutionary series of pamphlets, the Levellers –
a parliamentarian faction during the English Civil War – argued for religious tolerance, criminal justice reforms and universal male suffrage. In the end, more modest proposals were adopted by the Commonwealth, and it was not until 1918 that men from all social backgrounds were given the vote.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762)
Rousseau began working on this treatise in 1743, while private secretary to a French ambassador. He was unchallenged and ill-paid, and it was perhaps here that he first felt the injustice conveyed in that famed opening sentence: “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
Rights of Man
Thomas Paine (1791-92)
Responding to Edmund Burke’s sensational attack on the French Revolution, Paine recast the storming
of the Bastille as an assault upon despotism. “Hereditary governments are verging to their decline,” cheered this veteran of America’s struggle for independence, “revolutions . . . are making their way in Europe.”
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
In savaging the social construction of gender, Wollstonecraft challenged the compliance of her “weak and wretched” sex just as much as male dominance. Though well-respected among intellectuals at the time, The Rights of Woman lost favour when details of the author’s unconventional private life emerged.
William Godwin (1793)
Godwin, the founding father of anarchism, predicted the end of government, proposed that education replace criminal punishment and denounced marriage as “the worst of monopolies”. But after his affair with Mary Wollstonecraft led to a pregnancy, the couple married in 1797, much to the surprise of their acquaintances.
The Civil War in France
Karl Marx (1871)
For two brief months in 1871, Parisian socialists and republicans established a proletarian dictatorship known as the Paris Commune. Despite its swift and bloody end, Marx celebrated the experiment as “the glorious harbinger of a new society”.
Ten Days That Shook the World
John Reed (1919)
The American journalist John Reed travelled to Russia in 1917, excited by the growing political ferment. In Petrograd he experienced the October Revolution at first hand, and hastily wrote this gripping eyewitness account of what happened during his journey.
Living My Life
Emma Goldman (1931)
The anarchist Emma Goldman campaigned for birth control and free love well before the sexual revolution. But when deported from America to the USSR on the “Red Ark” with other communist sympathisers, Goldman quickly became disillusioned with the Bolshevik Revolution and the realities of the Soviet state.
Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell (1938)
“Someone has to kill the fascists,” Orwell is reputed to have said before he went to fight in the Spanish Civil War. After the bitter socialist infighting of the Barcelona May Days, he came to see himself as an anti-communist revolutionary socialist. Shot in the neck during trench warfare, Orwell returned to England to complete this breathtaking work.
Our Word Is Our Weapon
Subcomandante Marcos (2001)
Masked by a balaclava, the “faceless face” of Subcomandante Marcos, enigmatic leader of the Mexican Zapatista guerrillas, represents the group’s struggle against neoliberalism. Our Word is Our Weapon is a stirring mixture of political essays, magical realism, and imagined conversations between Marcos and a beetle called Durito.