Based on my non-economic readings over the past year or so, here are some books to follow up if you want to find out about …
The British Labour Party
Edmund Dell, A Strange, Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain, Harper Collins, 1999
Written by a Labour right-winger, this book contains a telling critique of the reformism and hypocrisy of the Labour left, plus rarely noted information on how the colonies (and the US) provided the funds with which to set up the welfare state in 1945. Its main message is that the British electorate will not warm to ‘socialism’, so Labour has always had to retreat from radical programmes, even ones that were far from socialistic and which at best could be called national welfarism.
The Partition of India
Narendra Singh Sarila, In the Shadow of the Great Game: the Untold Story of India’s Partition, Harper Collins 2005 and 2009
This is the only book I have found that explains what was in it for the British when India was partitioned. It shows how the British backed Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his opposition to the Indian National Congress, and how they encouraged the formation of Pakistan as a dependent state that they could better rely upon to be anti-Russian than an independent India. Historians usually avoid this and explain partition by claiming that there were deep-rooted ethnic/religious differences that demanded a Moslem Pakistan separate from a Hindu India.
Middle East historical background
James Barr, A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East, Simon and Schuster, 2011
A very interesting account of the carve up of the region between the British and the French, from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel, mainly covering the 1915-49 period. This brings out the hypocrisy and double dealing of the major powers very clearly. For example, it shows how France armed and supported the Zionist opposition to Britain in Palestine as a means of getting back at the Brits for edging them out of Syria.
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: the Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, Phoenix Press, 2000
Fromkin has some very good coverage of the machinations of the big powers in the region, from the late 1800s to the 1920s. Although he is pro-Zionist, he provides a lot of useful material on who did what, when and why.
However, neither of these books (nor many others) asks the question of why the Palestinians had to pay the price for the European murder of millions of Jews – in terms of expulsions and seized land in the UN 1948 deal to set up Israel (quite apart from the new state’s later annexations).
Immigration/racism in Britain
Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: the Story of Immigration to Britain, Abacus Books, 2004 and 2005
This covers a long history from the 1200s (!), but very well, and with interesting insights into popular prejudice and political responses, giving many striking examples. The 20th century takes up most of the book, and is most relevant for contemporary politics.
Africa and nationalism
Basil Davidson, The Black Man’s Burden: Africa and the Curse of the Nation State, James Currey, 1992
This is the best thing I have read on the problem of nationalism, and why Africa is such a mess. Davidson shows how the efforts of post-colonial governments in Africa to adopt a national perspective, largely adopted from Europe, could not work. This perspective did not suit the realities on the ground, where there were all kinds of cross-border relationships and also divergences within supposedly unified nations. Davidson puts this in a materialist perspective, showing how the up and coming African bourgeoisie was still very weak, and in the 20th century could not replicate what the Europeans did in the 19th in terms of building nation states. This was a clear sign of the limits on development created by the imperialist world economy, both in colonial times and today.