Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 1, 2020

Marxism for Beginners

Filed under: Introduction to Marxism class — louisproyect @ 9:29 pm

From time to time, I get email asking me advice on how to learn something about Marxism or a particular aspect of it. I always answer publicly on my blog since I expect that others might benefit from my response. The last example was my Readings on Race and Class that recommended texts by Ted Allen, et al.

A couple of weeks ago someone sent me an email from a self-described “working class person” who was looking for all the educational resources on Marxist theory she can find and asked “Would you have any ideas of any sort of online Marxist free schools or anything like that?” What follows is my response. I admit that I have not listened to the recommended videos below but am relatively sure that they will be of benefit.

Academics

Richard Wolff:

Wolff is a professor emeritus from the University of Massachusetts who has turned YouTube into a virtual Marxist free school. I don’t know of any other scholar, retired or otherwise, who has made more YouTube videos addressing the needs of newcomers to Marxism than him. Although I have some political differences with Wolff, I give him credit for being an exceptionally lucid and engaging speaker.

1. Introduction to Marxist Economics This is a six-part series consisting of short videos averaging around 12 minutes that gets into the basics. They were recorded at the Brecht Forum in NYC in 2009, exactly the kind of Marxist free school that my correspondent was referring to. Unfortunately, the Brecht Forum no longer exists, the result of NYC’s real estate luxury prices. Wolff describes his talks as providing “a working foundation in the core concepts of Marxian economic theory — necessary and surplus labor, labor power, surplus value, exploitation, capital accumulation, distributions of the surplus, capitalist crises, and the differences between capitalist and other class structures.”

In addition to these talks, Wolff gave another lecture at the Brecht Forum in 2012 titled “Crisis and Openings: Introduction to Marxism” that tied the financial crisis of 2008 to new anti-capitalist movements.

Finally, while the Brecht Forum no longer exists, there is a virtual school that emerged out of its ashes called The Marxist Education Project that contains both archived videos from the Brecht Forum’s past as well as new classes such as one based on Andy Merrifield’s new book, “Marx Dead and Alive: Reading Capital in Precarious Times”. The book has gotten rave reviews and the class is relatively inexpensive at $20.

David Harvey

Now 85, Harvey is still going strong. I am not sure if he a professor emeritus like Wolff but I surmise that most of his pedagogical efforts are devoted to his website that contains his heralded lectures on Marx’s Capital that was presented at the People’s Forum in NYC, an attempt to continue the legacy of the Brecht Forum. Harvey used to give talks at the Brecht Forum himself, including one that I wrote about 20 years ago. Like Wolff, Harvey is a very clear and lively lecturer. Also like Wolff, I have my political differences with him and respect his long-standing commitment to socialism.

I also recommend bookmarking the People’s Forum since it has a wealth of videos recorded at their headquarters, including ones that would be of interest to folks trying to get a handle on Marxist theory, such as one titled “The Ballot, The Streets- Or Both: From Marx and Engels to Lenin and the October Revolution” that is an interview with August Nimtz, the foremost scholar on this subject.

Ben Fine

I know Fine mostly by reputation. He is a Professor of Economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies who has written a lot about South Africa.

There’s a recording of his lecture titled Introduction to Marxist Economics that is divided into two parts.

One of the comments under the YouTube video sounds like it might be very useful. “May be finally I got someone to clear the wooly muddled thinking that years of studying Economics has created in my mind.”

Political groups

Within this category, I found two resources that look promising. I generally look askance at material produced by self-described Leninist groups since much of it is tied to their own particular ideology. However when it comes to something as basic as introducing Marxism, less harm is produced.

Jo Cardwell

Cardwell is a member of the British Socialist Workers Party. I know next to nothing about her but her introduction to Marxist economic theory is probably worth listening to.

Alan Woods

Woods is the long-time leader of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), which is based in England. The IMT is Trotskyist and their website is an excellent repository of articles about culture and science that I have referred to over the years. His talk on The Relevance of Marxism Today is probably intended as an advertisement for his group but I suspect that it will contain some interesting insights.

Non-video resources

Introduction to Marxism Class

In 2008, I set up a mailing list on Yahoo on this topic. All of the articles I posted can be read here. They are not exactly anything like an ABC’s but primarily reflect my own preoccupations for better or for worse.

Books

1. RIUS, Marx for Beginners

This is an absolutely great comic book written by a Mexican cartoonist that I read when it first came out in the sixties. There’s nothing like it and it can be read for free here.

2. The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel

Another comic book with illustrations by Martin Rowson. I am not sure about its value, at $19.99 for only 80 pages. This review might help you make up your mind.

3. Marx’s Capital Illustrated: An Illustrated Introduction

Co-written by David Smith (Author), Phil Evans (Illustrator), this 216 page book that can be purchased for $7 used on Amazon and is published by Haymarket Books, the imprint of the now dissolved ISO. This tends to recommend it. Smith is both a scholar and an activist, maybe even an ex-ISOer. In any case, this deserves a close look.

4. Marxism: a Graphic Guide

Co-written by Woodfin, Rupert, Zarate and Oscar, this 205-page book is available for free as an eBook. I took a brief look and it seems worth your time.

This is just a start. I imagine that others will add to this in the comments below.

6 Comments »

  1. How about a cartoon Marx book of your writing/s, artiest a cousin twice removed?

    On Wed, Dec 2, 2020, 1:32 PM Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist wrote:

    > louisproyect posted: ” From time to time, I get email asking me advice on > how to learn something about Marxism or a particular aspect of it. I always > answer publicly on my blog since I expect that others might benefit from my > response. The last example was my Readings on R” >

    Comment by Ray Wood & Roberta Kelly — December 2, 2020 @ 9:38 pm

  2. The NY Times, for once, actually had a decent obit for Rius.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — December 2, 2020 @ 9:47 pm

  3. I quite like John Molyneux’s “Arguments for Revolutionary Socialism.” British SWP. It’s here, for free: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/molyneux/1987/argrevsoc/index.html What I like about it is it’s organized into questions people might raise with you if you say that you are a Socialist. Super short essays on questions like these:

    But you can’t change human nature …’
    Won’t we always need bosses?
    Don’t revolutions mean violence?
    ‘Under socialism they’d make us all the same …’

    Comment by Keith Danner — December 3, 2020 @ 12:53 am

  4. Why not check the original source but start with derivatives?…
    I began serious looking into the TOE with reading Darwin and went from there

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/index.htm?utm_source=hootsuite&utm_campaign=hootsuite
    https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/index.htm

    Comment by peter moritz — December 3, 2020 @ 1:43 am

  5. As someone who left school at 16 , which was a regular thing for the country I came from, and an industrial worker most of my working life I like books that are not over academic.
    One book I really found useful was the HaymarketBooks edition, of the manifesto; The Communist Manifesto
    A Road Map to History’s Most Important Political Document, edited by Phil Gasper.
    Gasper does a great job in making this important book relevant and accessible. As the book was written a long time ago there are people and events who may be unfamiliar to most people.
    Gasper goes through the book line by line with annotations so you can get a better idea of what Marx was talking about.
    As he writes in his short introduction, ‘…it is aimed specifically at both students reading the Manifesto for the first time and young political activists – fighting corporate globalization, war environmental destruction and all forms of oppression- who want to know whether Marx’s ideas are useful guides for them today.
    I think it’s useful for anyone of any age.
    The edition also includes a few other writings. including Engels wonderful, ‘The Principals Of Communism.’

    https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/824-the-communist-manifesto

    Comment by splodgen — December 3, 2020 @ 4:21 am

  6. I recently scanned the three-volume Selected Works of Marx and Engels, put out by the Soviets back in the 70s:

    * https://archive.org/details/swmarxengels1
    * https://archive.org/details/swmarxengels2
    * https://archive.org/details/swmarxengels3

    The Soviets also published a Selected Correspondence of Marx and Engels, which I also scanned a while back on an older scanner: https://archive.org/details/selectedcorrespondencemarxengels

    Obviously these aren’t light reading, and not even four large books can include everything of significance in the writings of Marx and Engels, but they should help give direction to Marxist newbies.

    As an aside, the Soviets (among others) put out compilations of writings by Marx, Engels, and/or Lenin on specific subjects (the United States, Anarchism, pre-capitalist societies, etc.) which I’ve scanned or linked to here: http://eregime.org/index.php?showtopic=17673

    Comment by Ismail — December 15, 2020 @ 2:46 am


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