Newsnight correspondent, Paul Mason’s Live Working or Die Fighting offers a unique, timely and engaging micro-historical account of the rise and fall of the revolutionary working class. Charting the conditions which gave rise to the mass syndicalist movements in Europe and the Americas during the early 20th century, contemporary parallels are drawn and interwoven with the experiences of workers in the newly industrialised “global south”.

Mason eulogises key inspirational figures from our past – figures like Louise Michel, Bill Haywood, Tom Paine – telling of bitter struggles fought with murderous bosses and implacable rulers. Latterly, he cites the post-war factors that have seen militant workers’ movements fall into seemingly irretrievable decline; welfarism and workforce stratification, to name but two.

One bone of contention for us, which is raised in the book’s closing chapter, is the misguided faith placed by the author in aid agencies as instruments of social change. Nevertheless, Mason observes how market globalisation has sounded the death knell of “consensus” politics, thereby bringing about a renewed convergence between what were previously (economically and geographically) disparate workforces. Whether this convergence is capable of being forged into a worldwide movement for social change remains to be seen.

The future, as they say, has yet to be written, but Live Working or Die Fighting provides an invaluable and well researched account of how we got to where we are now. Recommended.

Live Working or Die Fighting
Paul Mason – 2008 – Vintage Books - 320 pages – £8.99 – ISBN: 978-0099492887

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