A theme which often surfaces in contemporary depictions of socialism in literature and popular culture is the use of restrictive controls on the sort of books people in socialist countries had access to, encouraging a notion that bookshops only sold volumes of Marx and Lenin.
Accompanying this is the notion that western literature was totally forbidden to readers of the socialist world, with only state approved propaganda available to slake people’s appetite for entertainment.
This forms the basis for our assumptions that under a capitalist system, we can expect more intellectual freedom than that afforded under a socialist one.
However, when it comes to investigating precisely what we have on offer today in our corporate chainstore bookshops such as Waterstones or Foyles, we find that the very thing which our liberal intelligentsia are always accusing socialist societies of is reflected back at us from the shelves of the politics, history, fiction and general interest sections.
Just as the USSR, DDR and others are viciously criticised for promoting literature which encouraged fidelity to socialist ideals and a Marxist-Leninist, dialectical-materialist conception of history and social development, whilst denying shelf space to works deemed to be politically charged with right-wing, anti-communist themes, the high street book shop chains of Britain today appear like a living example of such an approach, only from the other side of the barricades.
If you’re looking for books on socialism, Marxism or communism, you can choose from a wide assortment of volumes, academic, fictional and theoretical, the vast majority of which are overtly anti-communist in their content.
Whether a lavish character assassination constructed by an academic historian or a ‘based on true events’ type novel detailing the memoirs of some poor victim of a socialist state’s security system, the literature available through our major bookstores is overwhelmingly hostile to socialism and communism, with a considerable amount of paper going to the job of denigrating Josef Stalin alone.
At the same time, a search for Marxist theoretical works beyond the single copies of the Communist Manifesto and Capital in the philosophy and economics sections proves fruitless.
A branch of one of these outlets may hold 3 different disparaging biographies of Lenin, and 5 of Stalin, but not a single volume or booklet representing their theoretical and organisational contributions to political literature.
Despite a great deal of Soviet fiction and autobiographical literature having been translated into English, you’ll struggle to find much evidence of it in the classics section.
Surveying the shelves of any major bookseller in your local shopping complex reveals that rather than the pluralistic, eclectic cornucopia of philosophies and historical viewpoints where all views are welcome, touted as a hallmark of sparkling capitalist culture by the intelligentsia, what we actually find is that one hugely influential, epoch making development of modern political thought is denied representation, and in its place we are offered a library of propaganda in opposition to this particular school of thought.
All sorts of other philosophical traditions and post modern (ie anti-marxian) social theories are available – yet the one which even from a position of hostility can be appreciated to have had a great impact on world history and the contemporary global situation, which is known as Marxism-Leninism, is forbidden.
This is because the rule of capital, its dictatorship over our economic life and culture, remains threatened by this most incisive and decisive of revolutionary theories.
Despite the homogenous monopoly bookstores lavish offerings of ‘education’ about communism and its horrors, workers of all ages, backgrounds and tastes can and must look elsewhere for the truth, and for the literature that only exists for the working class to take up, learn from and apply in order to fulfil its historical mission of pushing our world beyond capitalism and imperialism.