Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Essential Reading

The tradition of revolutionary action and organizations includes study groups involved in readings and discussions of the major radical political works, philosophy, arts, and sciences. In order to intervene and change history, one must understand the situation and most importantly get to the heart of the matter rather than dwell on peripheral issues.

For Marxists and others this means looking at material forces rooted in the real world rather than spiritual, supernatural, or even mental phenomena. The material forces are the variables and components that are important. These are the driving forces of history. Thus, we are not particularly interested in peoples' perceptions of problems (though this can be important), but what real information and sources lead us to conclude. Not only do we base conclusions on real evidence and material forces but these forces are causal. This is called materialism. Materialism is the branch of philosophy in which causation flows from natural forces. Idealism, the opposite of materialism, sees causation in the supernatural, the psychological, and the mental, and these forces result in real world actions. Materialism, on the others hand sees causation in natural phenomena, human relations, and the physical order, and these forces result in ideological relations.

A real world example is the critique of religion. Idealists argue that religious and spiritual stages of development, such as the shift to a monotheistic religion or the emergence of Christianity, causes changes in the way governments are run and economies are administered. Materialists on the other hand, argue that changes in the way that production is carried out or organized (economics) will effect changes in government and religion. The two positions are diametrically opposed. As George Novak argues, one must be right the other must be wrong. The idealist position is a tool for the ruling classes to mystify the origins of society, hide exploitation, and lead people down the path of speculation. The materialist position is a tool for oppressed classes to be able to see the root of their oppression, its causes and how to fight it. This can apply to economic exploitation as well as gender and racial oppression.

The first essential reading for erstwhile leftists, radicals and revolutionaries, but also for social scientists and historians is the Communist Manifesto of 1848 by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. It can be obtained in most libraries, larger bookstores or free online at:


A second important reading is State and Revolution by Vladimir Lenin written in 1917 full of clarifications of the thought of Marx and Engels on the role of the state, can the state be used to help socialism and many other questions. It is hard to obtain in book stores and libraries. Large libraries should have it. Get in free online at:


This version looks long but in print it is only about 100 pages.

A huge amount of work by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and many others is available online and free of charge at:



Renegade Eye said...

Good post. Put together succinctly the four major viewpoints, for change.

Umer A. Chaudhry said...

Nice post. However, I think you have missed the philosphical contribution of Marxism.

This is the scheme of works I would recommend to begginer:

1. 'The Principles of Communism' by Engels

2. 'The Communist Menifesto' by Marx and Engels

3. 'Socialism: Sceintific and Utopian' by Engels

4. 'Wage, Labour and Capital' by Marx

All of these works are present at http://marxists.org/archive/marx/works/sw/index.htm

In Solidarity,