Introduction to Communism

This section is highly recommended for people who are completely new to communism or new to the ultra-left.

Capitalism and Communism:

Basic Ultra-Left Positions:

Organize:

Riot:

Dialectics

Marx consistently uses dialectics in some of his major works, such as Capital, and comprehending the logic behind dialectics and why they are useful is key for understanding Marx.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

1. Introduction: “Read Marx, not the ‘Marxists’!”:

The hardest part about reading Karl Marx is freeing the mind of all of the distortions and lies surrounding Marx’s thought. Starting with the 2nd International (and some might say, starting with Friedrich Engels), there has been a tendency to read Marx’s thought as a rigid, positivist, determinist, and mechanical doctrine. Hence the birth of “Marxism”. Let me be clear that Marx would have been appalled how his “loyal” followers bastardized his thought. Stalin and company did not help at all and in fact furthered this tendency by codifying “Marxism” into a bourgeois state ideology, one to justify the powers that be in various ways instead of being their radical critique.

It is time to discard all preconceptions of Marx, whether learned from the popular media, from teachers and professors, or from the “Marxists” of various stripes, including the Orthodox, Leninist, Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, and Althusserian varieties. It is time to read Marx for what he was and this means reading Marx down to the letter without the mediating influence of a thousand misconceptions. Only then can we truly see Marx’s thought for what it truly is: a major step towards understanding how the working class can emancipate itself and therefore emancipate humanity, as well as a guide to critiquing the inhumanity of the world we live in and to understanding how we might be able to live humanly as freely associated social individuals under communism. There is no such thing as an innocent reading of any important world figure; everyone interpreting Marx has their own agenda in mind. My only hope is that you, the reader, will take the most radical of agendas, the emancipation of the working class and humanity, as well as the “ruthless criticism of all that exists” (Marx, Letter to Ruge, September 1843), and embrace it as their own.

However, we should not only read Marx but also the works of those who fought hard to defend the authentic core of Marx’s thought against various distorted “Marxisms”. This includes reading Friedrich Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Anton Pannekoek, Amadeo Bordiga, Guy Debord, Raya Dunayevskaya, Gilles Dauvé, Cyril Smith, and Michael Heinrich, among many others. Again, because no one can be a neutral interpreter of Marx, we must read these authors critically and see the differences between their ideas and Marx’s ideas.

A remark on Engels. “Marxism” treats Engels, Marx’s close friend and collaborator, as essentially a second head of Marx, seeing Engels as being in approximately one hundred percent coherence with Marx on all accounts. In fact, Engels, though closely associated with Marx’s thought, should not be conflated with Marx. Engels was neither a neutral arbiter of Marx’s thought nor did he and Marx agree on all points; rather, he was a great and independent thinker in his own right. Though the way that Engels interpreted Marx in matters of Marx’s critique of philosophy, political economy, and utopian socialism made it easier for the 2nd International to distort Marx’s thought into a mechanistic, positivist doctrine, we cannot blame Engels for the way that “Marxism” turned out. “Marxism’s” enormous distortions, innovated by Kautsky, Bernstein, Plekhanov, and company, go far beyond Engels’s miniscule mistakes. Nevertheless, the point I am trying to get across is that we should read Engels’ self-written works critically and realize that it was a completely different thinker who wrote those pieces, not the second head of Marx.

Another thought on interpreting Marx. We should not take Marx’s thought as some static doctrine thrown down from heaven, applicable in its entirety to any and all circumstances, but rather as a living body of thought. To take Marx’s thought as dogma would be contrary to Marx’s own method of “ruthless criticism of all that exists”, including ruthless criticism of Marx’s thought itself. There are numerous gaps and lacunae in Marx’s works, including large blind spots when it comes to the ever-present problems of race and gender. Marx also wrote for the 19th century and in the 21st century; the economic base, legal-political superstructure, and social consciousness have certainly changed a great deal. This is not an invitation to throw the baby out with the bathwater and discard Marx’s thought for some kind of postmodernist relativism, but rather to modernize Marx’s thought for the 21st century while keeping the fundamental invariants of Marxism, including the conception of Communism as “the real movement [of the proletariat] that abolishes the current state of things [i.e. the capitalist mode of production, including private property, class, capital, wage-labor, and commodity production]” (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, 1845).

Further reinforcing the fact that we cannot take Marx’s ideas as a fixed and absolute dogma is the fact that Marx had many errors in praxis. Some of Marx’s errors include continuing to endorse and work within the trade union movement, as well as supporting the national liberation of Poland. We need to read Marx critically in light of these mistakes.

Finally, I have three links below that I recommend the reader to go over before starting either their first reading or re-reading of Marx.

The Blunden introduction below gives an overview of common misperceptions of Marx’s thought and character. It is a good overview for those who have read a fair bit of the “standard” interpretation of Marx (Including but not limited to the Orthodox, Marxist-Leninist, Trotskyist, and Maoist interpretations, as well as the interpretations of Marx created by opponents of Marx’s thought), as a way of deprogramming oneself from the various ways that “standard Marxists” and opponents of Marx have distorted Marx’s thought.

In addition, the McQueen article below tries to make the act of reading Marx less daunting, by explaining Marx’s writing style, informing us about what exactly makes Marx’s writing so compelling, and telling us where the actual difficulties of Marx lie as well as how to overcome them.

The Rubel article helps dispel the myth that Marx and Engels shared the same views and encourages us to keep this distinction in mind while reading their works.

Finally, the Elbe article exposes different ways of interpreting Marx, in particular the Orthodox “Worldview” School, the Western Marxism School, and the Neue Marx-Lektüre School.

Now it is time for Marx to speak for himself and I will list Marx’s (and Engels’s) works in the order that makes the most sense to me. The reader can obviously choose their own path through these texts.

2. The Basics of the Communist Orientation:

These works lay down the foundation for the communist point of view. Readers should probably read through these texts multiple times and take notes before moving onto future sections.

3. Critique of Political Economy:

These works include Marx’s Magnum Opus of Capital (A work that he never finished), as well as works introducing Capital, antecedent to Capital, and after Capital. The Heinrich work is of the Neue Marx-Lektüre school and the Fine & Saad-Filho work is of the Temporal Single-System Interpretation school. I recommend the Heinrich book’s interpretation over the Fine & Saad-Filho book’s interpretation, though you should read both interpretations of Marx.

4. Young Marx:

These works tended to emphasize the Humanist, Hegelian dimension of Marx’s thought. Particularly important in Young Marx was his theory of alienation and his theory of communism as the reconciliation of humanity with its human essence and its species-being. Young Marx was heavily influenced by both Hegel’s dialectics and Feuerbach’s materialism.

5. Break with Feuerbach:

These two works represent Marx’s critique of Feuerbach’s contemplative materialism and conception of human nature, after he moved away from his previous Feuerbachian problematic as expressed in his earlier works. Marx also posits his new way of viewing the world, taking the standpoint of socialized humanity and the relation between human being and human being as the starting point of his critique.

6. Materialist Conception of History:

Marx applied the materialist conception of history first elaborated in The German Ideology to other historical events of interest.

7. Engels’s Popularizations, Applications, Explanations and Defenses of Marx’s Thought:

Engels in his later life continued to defend what he saw as Marx’s thought. Here we see differences in the way that Engels and Marx approached questions of philosophy, political economy, and socialism. Read these writings critically, in light of the fact that Marx and Engels were two separate people. In particular, Engels:

  • Had a positivist, natural-law interpretation of dialectics and science (Marx had a critical, negative conception of dialectics and science, and never thought that dialectics were laws of nature).
  • Conceived of Marx’s critique of political economy as a mere improvement of bourgeois political economy (Marx saw his critique of political economy as a radical break with the entire field of political economy as a whole).
  • Saw “scientific” socialism to some extent as a positivist, empiricist doctrine (Marx saw his socialism as “scientific” only in opposition to “Utopian” socialism).

8. Minor Works:

You can probably get away with not reading these, but for the real Marx nerds or scholars out there, reading these might be fun.

9. Collected Works:

The Marx and Engels Collected Works contains all of the minor English-translated works and letters written by Marx and Engels throughout their lifetime that were not included earlier in this list. Again, this is for the hardcore Marx nerds and scholars out there. The real deal is the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe, which is the full list of Marx and Engels works, but it is so far only in German aside from selected works.

Hegel

Given how much Marx was influenced by Hegel, it makes sense for you as the reader to go back to Hegel so as to improve the quality of your interpretation of Marx. Thus, I have here some of Hegel’s actual works. After reading these works, it might be worthwhile to go through Marx’s main texts again to see if there is anything new you can pick up from them.

György Lukács

Lukács developed a theory of reification, which you can read in his work below. He also penned a critique of Engels’ natural law interpretation of dialectics, arguing that there could be no dialectics of nature. The stuff on the party-form here is just Soviet apologia, so please excuse that.

Ultra-Left Currents and Their Critique

This includes writings by ultra-left currents, as well as criticism of those ultra-left currents by other ultra-leftists.

Rosa Luxemburg:

Introduction to the Classic Ultra-Left (Dutch-German Left, Italian Left, and French Left):

Dutch-German Left (Council Communist):

Italian Left (Bordigist):

French Left (Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Situationist International):

Analysis of the Classic Ultra-Left:

Post-Situationists:

Introduction to Jacques Camatte (Post-Bordigist):

Introduction to the American Left:

American Left (Marxist-Humanists):

Autonomists:

Analysis of the Autonomists:

Angry Workers World:

Communization Currents

This includes various interpretations of and elaborations upon “communization” by several communization groups and theorists.

Dominique Blanc’s Communization:

Troploin’s Communization:

Endnotes’ Communization:

Sic’s Communization:

Bruno Astarian’s Communization:

Théorie Communiste’s Communization:

Tiqqun’s Communization (Noticeably shittier than the other communization currents):

Critique of Tiqqun’s Communization:

More Communization Authors:

Contemporary Ultra-Left Positions

This includes defenses of positions that contemporary ultra-leftists tend to take. This section is primarily negative, talking about what ultra-leftists are against, though the articles also often contain what alternatives the proletariat has instead.

Anti-“Anti”:

Anti-Utopianism:

Anti-State:

Anti-“Transitional Society”:

Anti-Democracy:

Anti-Electoralism:

Anti-Unionism:

Anti-Work:

Anti-Workerism:

Anti-“Labor Aristocracy”:

Anti-Lifestylism:

Anti-Activism:

Anti-“Left Parties”:

Anti-“Left-Wing of Capital”:

Anti-“Left Unity”:

Anti-“Basic Income”:

Anti-“National Liberation”:

Anti-“Anti-Imperialism”:

Anti-“Identity Politics”:

Anti-“Cis-Hetero-Patriarchy”:

Anti-“White Supremacy”:

Anti-Ecocide:

Anti-School:

Critique of Other “Communist” Tendencies

This is a collection of articles and books refuting movements and tendencies that claim to be “communist”. History is the best refutation of various Stalinist currents, so this section will largely consist of the theoretical refutations of tendencies that have no real history, such as Trotskyism. Last is an article that serves as a self-critique of anarchism, which does have a real history and does have legitimate communist elements inside it.

Anti-Trotskyism:

Self-Critique of Anarchism:

Critique of Philosophy

This part is a collection of articles and books critiquing philosophy as a whole, specific philosophies, and various wrongheaded interpretations of Marx with regards to philosophical matters.

Anti-Philosophy:

Anti-“Worldview Marxism”:

Anti-“False Consciousness”:

Anti-Religion:

Anti-Morality:

Anti-“Dialectical Materialism”:

Anti-“Historical Materialism”:

Anti-“Economic Determinism”:

Anti-Lenin:

Anti-Mao:

Anti-Althusser:

Critique of Political Economy

This part contains elaborations upon and analysis of Marx’s Capital, critiques of various areas of political economy, and attacks upon wrongheaded interpretations of Marx’s critique of political economy.

Marx’s Capital:

Class Analysis:

State Theory:

Social Reproduction:

Imperialism:

Marxist Ideas of Change:

Social Democracy and Neoliberalism:

Crisis:

Communism:

Anti-“Economist Marx”:

Anti-Marginalism:

Anti-Lenin:

Anti-Primitivism:

History

This part is a history of bourgeois societies, as well as of currents of proletarian resistance running through them.

USA:

USSR:

United Kingdom:

Germany:

Spain:

China:

Hungary:

France:

Italy:

Chile:

South Korea:

Chiapas:

Early 2000s Anti-Globalization Movement:

Rojava:

Greece:

World Poverty/Violence:

Slums:

Interesting Sites

These are some sites that contain more literature for the curious reader to peruse, information about joining or starting a left communist organization, and various other areas of interest for left communists.

Book/Article Archives:

Start a Reading Group:

Communization Currents:

Other Ultra-Left Organizations/Individuals:

Ultra-Left Blogs:

Ultra-Left Journals and Magazines:

Left Communist Organizations:

Marx Myths:

Global Supply Chain Mapping:

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