Fundamentals of Marxism Summer Study Series

For Marxists, there is an indissoluble interrelation between ideas and what we do: theory and practice. The theory of Marxism draws upon the historical experience of the working-class movement; and that theory in turn informs our practice. Practice without theory is rudderless; theory without practice is academics.

This summer join us as we dig into the fundamentals of Marxism -- grounding us in some of the basic tenets of Marx and Engel’s thought on historical materialism (Marx’s view of history and social change); on the economic structures of capitalism; and on the political and social dynamics of class struggle.

We've planned six meetings, paired with the readings below. These discussions will run on wed nights, bi-weekly for the duration of the summer, interspersed with organizing meetings.  Anyone can participate, but these are not introductory texts, so we recommend that folks familiarize themselves with some basics (listed in each section) before moving on to the main texts.

Historical Materialism
Session One: The German Ideology -- Wed 7/21

The German Ideology was the first work in which Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sketched out the framework for understanding history and society that was to guide their theoretical and practical activities for the rest of their lives. Understanding historical materialism and how change is made throughout history is key to our understanding of how we are actually capable of bringing Socialism about.

Recommended prerequisites:
Main reading:
If you prefer to buy the books: The German Ideology or The Marx-Engels Reader

Marx’s Political Economy

For most people economics is a mystery better left unsolved, but Marx rescued economics from the economists and turned it into a tool for explaining inequality, exploitation, and crisis--as well as a way to end all three. And the current economic crisis makes study of this topic even more pressing!

Recommended prerequisites:

Session Two: Value, Price and Profit -- Wed 8/4
If you prefer to buy the books: Wage-Labour and Capital and Value, Price, and Profit

Session Three: Primitive Accumulation
Wed 8/18
If you prefer to buy the books: Capital, Volume 1

The Politics of Social Classes

The Class Struggles in France was Marx’s first attempt to explain a piece of contemporary history -- the 1848 French Revolution -- by means of his materialist conception, on the basis of the prevailing economic situation.  He continues to analyze France in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, a pamphlet looking at historical events leading up to Louis Bonaparte's coup d'├ętat of December 2, 1851—from the viewpoint of his materialist conception of history. Together with Marx's contemporary writings on English politics, the Eighteenth Brumaire is the principal source for our understanding of Marx's theory of the capitalist state.

Recommended prerequisites:

Session Four: Class Struggles in France 
Wed 9/1
If you prefer to buy the books: The Class Struggles in France

Session Five: Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis
Bonaparte -- Wed 9/15
If you prefer to buy the books: The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte or The Marx-Engels Reader

Session Six: The Paris Commune -- Wed 9/29

Anyone Reading The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels can't help but be amazed at the pamphlet's relevance after 150 years. But already by 1872, on one critical point, Marx himself was convinced that the Manifesto was "out of date." The occasion for this revision, not just in the Manifesto, but in one of the fundamental tenets of Marxism, was the epic struggle in 1871 of the Paris Commune, a mass movement of workers and the poor that for the first time in history established a short-lived workers' government in Paris. Although ultimately unsuccessful, the Commune was a spectacular demonstration that the future belonged to the world's working class.

The central lesson of the Commune, which had Marx and Engels scrambling to rewrite Marxism's founding document, is of such importance that socialism is ultimately impossible without it. "One thing especially was proved by the Commune," writes Marx. "That the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes." In order for workers to govern themselves, the workers must first assure that the bourgeoisie cannot simply use their military forces to repossess what they have temporarily lost.

Recommended prerequisite:
Main Reading:
If you prefer to buy the books: The Civil War in France: The Paris Commune