Announcing The School of Marxist Fundamentals
You’re newly disillusioned with the state of the world, you feel there’s something fundamentally wrong in the world. You think it has something to do with capitalism, and socialism or communism or even anarchism might be some kind of approach to make things better for your fellow human beings. But you don’t really know and you want to educate yourself on such matters. So you ask around various socialist/communist/anarchist communities what’s up and what to read, and they pummel you with a list of books longer than your arm, or a list consisting of random snippets from various videos, articles, essays, diagrams from obscure authors who have made no historical impact and have no real relevance to human society. From there you’re simply left on your own to form your own varied conclusions and offered no real connection to people who can situate various texts in their appropriate historical setting. Most likely you give an honest effort to try and read through some of the texts or watch some of the videos but fail to see the immediate relevance and abandon the pursuit of reading through these ‘beginner lists’ and jump towards popular ‘socialist’ youtubers/breadtubers or podcasts, most of whom also have little to no theoretical grounding either. The root of the problem here is that there is no existing organization capable of guiding budding communists in their theoretical development, capable of connecting the apparently theoretical texts of Marxism to real world situations. That’s where our School of Marxist Fundamentals (SoMF) comes in. The SoMF is a space where guided study of selected Marxist texts occurs. The curriculum is intelligently arranged such that the previous works flow naturally into the next works while simultaneously being fairly accessible to anyone who wishes to drop in or out of the study group as the demands of class struggle permit. The pace of reading is such that the average student or worker should be able to keep up with the entire curriculum. The goal of the curriculum is to give a brand new socialist a solid understanding of the fundamentals of Marxism, something which we find to be sorely lacking in the modern world. The curriculum is divided into three sections, though each will naturally contain elements of the others.
Our studies of philosophy are not so much intended to provide an understanding of philosophy, but are meant to provide the means of overcoming philosophy. We will start with Engels’ wildly popular booklet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific which will give a brief overview of the history and development of socialism from the utopians to the Marxists while also covering a history of materialism and idealism. Following that work we will read Marx’s The German Ideology, at least, the section concerning Feuerbach. From this manuscript we will discover the necessity of transcending philosophy in order to talk about the real content of history. The most important lesson to be derived from this is the method that Marx employs to give real meaning to, and thereby do away with, philosophy. Lastly, we will cover Marx’s Paris Manuscripts which, again, show the necessity of overcoming philosophy, this time not in order to explore the real content of history, but to discover how human beings produce and reproduce themselves, that is, to transcend philosophy and discuss economics.
Having overcome the mystical realm of philosophy, we make our way, as Marx did so many decades ago, to the demystification of economics. Economics is, after all, merely the mystified form of how human beings produce their own society. This section covers both Capital Vol. 1 and Value, Price, and Profit. The first mentioned book will successively set-up and transcend economic categories, moving from the category of commodity to exchange-value to value to surplus-value to capital and the limits to which capital runs up against. These categories are not, as we will see, neatly self-contained categories which remain as they are, but, on the contrary, are categories which beg to transcend their own limitations and take real account of the content of the class struggle which often occurs throughout the pages of Capital. Value, Price, and Profit, for its part, gives us an example of the use Marx makes of his critique of political-economy as a weapon to combat anti-working class ideologies, in this case the idea that fighting for higher wages is a fruitless pursuit. After which we come to the real meat of the curriculum.
Our history section covers the revolutionary wave emanating from the first world war, specific events covered include the Russian Revolution, the Brest-Litovsk treaty, the Kronstadt affair, the period covering 1914-1923 in Germany, and the Chinese revolution of the 1920’s. The point in covering this time period and these specific events is encapsulated by the following two quotes from Trotsky.
“The older generation which passed through the war of 1914–18 did not discharge a single one of its tasks. It leaves to the new generation as heritage the burden of wars and revolutions. These most important and tragic events in human history have often marched side by side. They will definitely form the background of the coming decades. It remains only to hope that the new generation, which cannot arbitrarily cut loose from the conditions it has inherited, has learned at least to understand better the laws of its epoch.”
“On the other hand, the [First World] War with its armies of millions, and its hellish weapons of destruction can exhaust not only society’s resources but also the moral forces of the proletariat. If it does not meet inner resistance, this War may last for several years more, with changing fortunes on both sides, until the chief belligerents are completely exhausted. But then the whole fighting energy of the international proletariat, brought to the surface by the bloody conspiracy of imperialism, will be completely consumed in the horrible work of mutual annihilation. The outcome would be that our entire civilization would be set back by many decades. A peace resulting not from the will of the awakened peoples but from the mutual exhaustion of the belligerents, would be like the peace with which the Balkan War was concluded; it would be a Bucharest Peace extended to the whole of Europe.
Such a peace would seek to patch up anew the contradictions, antagonisms and deficiencies that have led to the present War. And with many other things, the Socialist work of two generations would vanish in a sea of blood without leaving a trace behind.”
In short, the tasks confronting the generation of socialists bequeathed the legacy of the First and Second Internationals were not completed by them, and the second world war, which was fought out to “the mutual exhaustion of the belligerents” set back even that work for several generations as well. Couple that with the fact that the USSR itself collapsed a few short decades ago, and we’re left with a legacy of collapse and failure. We’re at worse than ground zero. At least the generation of proletarians who fought in World War One had the legacy of the two Internationals to rely on. We are, today, faced with the same general tasks, and more, that were posed to that generation. We must learn from their struggles, their victories, and their more numerous defeats. We have nothing but that history left to us from their experiences.
History, of course, did not stop with the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1927 and only resume its course yesterday, so why does our curriculum stop there? There is the simple necessity of creating a stopping point, so the selection is somewhat arbitrary, but the 1927 defeat is the ending of the revolutionary wave which emanated from the First World War. This period was chosen because of the vast amount of variables simultaneously at play, the level of development of capitalism in the nation of interest, the level of development of the local worker’s movement, the level of development of the international worker’s movement, the attitude of foreign and native bourgeoisie, etc. An intelligent and close study of this period can serve as the prototype for an analysis of other periods of history. It is also the period in which, more so than any other, the class struggle was fought out consciously to its bitter end across multiple nations simultaneously.
Having reached the end of our studies of this historical period, the curriculum will start over again with philosophy and repeat itself. The second time around, however, will include an ‘extension course’ which will deal with the subjects of philosophy and economics in more depth. The extension course for economics is fairly straight forward in that we will finish reading the rest of Capital, Volumes 2 and 3 along with a reading of Maksakovsky’s The Capitalist Cycle. I haven’t finalized the curriculum for the philosophy extension course, but it will revolve around Pannekoek’s Lenin as Philosopher and some works by Cyril Smith. The extension course will be in addition to, and not replace, the base curriculum. Additionally, there will be a history extension course which, rather than cover a single time period in great depth, will cover various countries in various time periods. Specifically, we will read about Reconstruction in America, the strike wave of 1877 in America, the Mexican Revolution, Bolivia from 1952 to 1982, and ending with Allende’s Chile. It is inevitable, due to the different lengths of the two curricula, that the base course and the extension course fall ‘out of sync’ with each other such that the base course may be reading about philosophy while the extension course reads about history. A full list of texts follows the end of this post so that you can go through the curriculum at your own pace if you wish.
The School of Marxist Fundamentals is hosted through discord and you can join the server with this link. The format is such that a section of reading is assigned and discussed on a weekly basis. At present we have three discussion times, 7 p.m. EST Saturdays, 7 p.m. UTC Sundays, and 7 p.m. UTC+8 Sundays. We hope you will join us there, but I would like to conclude with a further word on the importance of education for our movement.
Ours is not a movement which can be successfully led by specialists. Our leaders have been, can be, and will be again assassinated, jailed, exiled, deported, betrayed, die from simple natural causes, and/or turn traitor themselves. If the loss of our leaders is enough to paralyze our movement then our movement never had a chance to begin with. The dynamic we must foster within our movement is not one of leaders/followers but one which encourages each and every comrade to develop themselves to the furthest extent they are capable and willing to develop. To that end, it is important for every willing and able-minded comrade to educate themselves so that our collective history and theory is not confined to the brains of a few armchair Marxists, but is present at every student strike, workplace occupation, conversation between co-workers, march against police brutality, and more.
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific
The German Ideology (we are only reading the section on Feuerbach)
The Paris Manuscripts (also known as The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844)
Capital Volume 1 (intercut with a brief supplemental reading to help with the understanding of chapter 1)
Value, Price, and Profit
History of the Russian Revolution Volumes 1-3
History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk
All Power to the Councils!
The German Revolution 1917-1923
The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution
Karl Marx and Human Self-Creation
Karl Marx and the Future of the Human
Lenin as Philosopher
Capital Volumes 2 & 3
The Capitalist Cycle
Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution 1863-1877
The History of the Great Riots
The Mexican Revolution Volumes 1 & 2
Rebellion in the Veins: Political Struggle in Bolivia 1952-82
Allende’s Chile: The Political Economy of the Rise and Fall of the Unidad Popular