Happy May Day! Today is May Day, International Workers’ Day. Marchers, protesters and activists gathered today in Union Square in New York City to march for workers' rights, immigration reform and solidarity with workers everywhere among other issues.
Strangely enough, copyright issues over the English translation of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’s work have surfaced just in time for May Day. The publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, forced the online Marxist Internet Archive to remove copyrighted material, the 50 volume English translation of Marx’s and Engels’s writing, from its website. The website complied, but the publisher, a small independent press barely making ends meet, has been deluged with complaints. The original German version is still available online for free.
May 1 is also Beltaine, the ancient Irish/Celtic holiday that featured bonfires in honor of the beginning of summer for the Celts, and of course, dancing around the Maypole. Beltaine is one of the major Celtic holidays along with Imbolc, Lughnasa, and Samhain. Here are some books to celebrate May Day, whether you are a Communist, a pagan Celt, or not.
“The Communist Manifesto” is short and to the point, delineating the major ideas of Communism in a readable pamphlet. The message is essentially thought-provoking, especially after the economic downturn has left many questioning how well capitalism works as a system. Communism is not a new idea. Various ancient Greeks, Plato in “The Republic” and Pythagoras among them, expounded on the virtues of common property over two thousand years before Marx and Engels published their manifesto in 1848.
“Capital” (“Das Kapital” in the original German) is Marx going into detail about Communism. If you feel like wading through all three volumes, by all means dive right in, but be warned, there are sections about as dry as dust as can be. Just remind yourself there was no TV back then and forge through it. Even in college courses about Marxist theory there are probably only a few famous sections ever really read from “Capital.” Your friends will be impressed when you can explain dialectical materialism to them.
“Ancient Celts” by Barry Cunliffe is a beautifully illustrated volume detailing the history of the ancient Celts. The book uses written sources and the archeological record to explore the nature of Celtic identity throughout Europe. The chapter on “Religious Systems” describes the Irish Celtic festivals, including Beltaine.
“The Mabinogion” is an epic Celtic work based on the oral tradition of Celtic Wales and written down in Welsh in the 13th century. The book includes the “Four Branches of the Mabinogi” dealing with Welsh mythology, tales from the Welsh tradition and the Welsh Romances concerning the Arthurian legend. The English translation is available online in the 1849 version by Lady Charlotte Schreiber.
“The Celtic Heroic Age: Literary Sources for Ancient Celtic Europe and Early Ireland and Wales” edited by John T. Koch in collaboration with John Carey is a lovely anthology of works including classical authors describing the ancient Celts, and early Irish and Welsh sources for the myths and legends of the Celtic tradition. The fantastic stories were passed down orally through the generations and later preserved by scholars in the early Middle Ages. Handy maps provide an excellent visual representation of the scope of Celtic culture and heritage throughout Europe.