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A Marxism study guide

By staff

Marxism-Leninism is the science of revolutionary social change. It allows us to understand the laws of motion of society and to understand how to organize in line with those laws. This will allow us to resolve the contradictions inherent in capitalism that lead to exploitation, oppression, poverty, waste, crisis and war. By using Marxism, we can transform the world we live in into a just world, where the working class, who produces the vast wealth of society, is able to put that wealth to work and solve the problems that capitalism creates.

It is essential, then, that the working class take up Marxism in order to fulfill its historic mission. Marxism must be fused with the working class movement. But Marxism can seem intimidating and complex, and daunting to study. Many don’t know how to begin.

First, studying Marxism can be done on one’s own, or in a group setting. Studying with others is the best option, since varied perspectives, discussion and debate can help to unravel complex topics. Group study can become the nucleus of new Marxist organization. This is a great tool for building organization where it doesn’t exist yet. If you get together locally with a handful of friends or coworkers to study some Marxist texts, that group can think together about how to put the ideas expressed in those texts into practice. The practical struggle of the working class is both the source and the aim of Marxist theory. It is through social practice that we really come to understand things in a deep and thoroughgoing way. By testing theory in practice, then summing up that practice to apply once more, both our theory and our practice advance to a higher level. This is the basics of the Marxist theory of knowledge.

So what should we study? Many would think that the study of Marxism should begin with the study of Marx, and so they would say to read The Communist Manifesto or even Capital. If you want to read the classics of Marxist theory, the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, then there is much to be gained from doing so. Each of these great revolutionaries have written texts of tremendous importance in developing Marxism, and they form the foundation of Marxism-Leninism. In the United States, Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries like Harry Haywood, Claudia Jones, and William Z. Foster wrote a great deal that is valuable. But while it is good to read those things, that’s probably not the best place to start. If one wants to study biology, one doesn’t typically begin by reading Darwin’s Origin of Species, but rather with a textbook in biology written in a modern way that helps to explain and contextualize those ideas. Marxism is no different. The important thing is to have a plan for study that you can follow through on, and that actually works for achieving your goals.

One of the best texts to begin with is The Political Program of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. This relatively short text explains in plain language the way that Marxism fits in with organizing for revolutionary change in the United States under current conditions. It analyzes the conditions in which we find ourselves and shows the way forward. Reading this text will help to contextualize Marxist theory, and help the reader understand what the pressing issues of the day are. It will also raise more questions, which will help guide further study and you look to deepen your understanding. After the program, you should read The Revolutionary Science of Marxism-Leninism by J. Sykes. This book looks at the various elements of Marxism from a practical point of view and in a concise and accessible way. This book can serve as a primer on the fundamentals of revolutionary theory. Understanding these fundamentals will help considerably as you go forward.

You will want to understand how to put what you are learning into practice. The pamphlet Some Points on the Mass Line can help you understand how Marxism can be applied most effectively in organizing. After this, there are many useful texts to help address particular questions. Since the class struggle is central to Marxism, you should study how it can be carried out under present conditions. The pamphlet Class Struggle on the Shop Floor by FRSO is essential for understanding how class struggle relates to the trade union movement. Furthermore, by this point you should understand that the national question is important. The strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the liberation movements of oppressed nationalities is central to organizing a united front against monopoly capitalism. To learn more about the African American national question, you should read the FRSO pamphlet The Third International and the Struggle for a Correct Line on the African American National Question, and the book,  Marxist-Leninist Perspectives on Black Liberation and Socialism by Frank Chapman. On the Chicano national question, you should read My Journey to Aztlan by Marisol Marquez. There’s a lot to study on these pivotal issues, but these are the best to start with.

In both the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution, the nucleus of the revolutionary organizations that formed the core of those struggles grew from the simple seeds of small, Marxist study groups. Lenin and Mao each began by organizing study groups, and then connected those study groups to the practical movement. In this way they were able to build revolutionary parties based on Marxism and rooted in the practical struggles of the working and oppressed masses. In the United States today, the central task of revolutionaries is to build a new, revolutionary communist party that can contend for power. The Freedom Road Socialist Organization is working in cities across the country to build such a party. You should study the FRSO program and join in the fight.

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