Reading guide

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An introduction to the three volumes of Karl Marx's Capital by Michael Heinrich[edit]

This book is widely popular in Marxist study groups, and is used widely in German universities whose country this was first published in. The author systematically covers all three volumes of Capital and explains all the basic aspects of Marx's critique of capitalism in a way that is clear and concise. He provides background information on the intellectual and political milieu in which Marx worked, and looks at crucial issues beyond the scope of Capital, such as class struggle, the relationship between capital and the state, accusations of historical determinism, and Marx's understanding of communism. Uniquely, Heinrich emphasizes the monetary character of Marx's work, in addition to the traditional emphasis on the labor theory of value, this highlighting the relevance of Capital to the age of financial explosions and implosions.

Marx's Capital Illustrated by David N. Smith[edit]

Marx's Das Kapital for Beginners by Michael Wayne[edit]

Marx’s Das Kapital For Beginners is an introduction to the Marxist critique of capitalist production and its consequences for a whole range of social activities such as politics, media, education and religion. Das Kapital is not a critique of a particular capitalist system in a particular country at a particular time, but rather its aim was to identify the essential features that define capitalism, in whatever country it develops and in whatever historical period. For this reason, Das Kapital is necessarily a fairly general, abstract analysis. As a result, it can be fairly difficult to read and comprehend. At the same time, understanding Das Kapital is crucial for mastering Marx's insights to capitalism. Marx's Das Kapital For Beginners offers an accessible path through Marx's arguments and his key questions: What is commodity? Where does wealth come from? What is value? What happens to work under capitalism? Why is crisis part of capitalism's DNA? And what happens to our consciousness, our very perceptions of reality and our ways of thinking and feeling under capitalism?

A companion to Marx's Capital by David Harvey[edit]

This book seeks to explain Capital, Volume I and is based on Harvey's lectures from right before the book's writing, giving original and sometimes critical interpretations of Capital. Note that while Harvey's reading guide has helped some people get into reading Capital, Harvey has a tendency to skip over or misrepresent many of Marx's key arguments. This review of the reading guide is recommended. See also Harvey's introduction to Chapter 1: There's also a book for the second volume.

Marx for Beginners by Rius[edit]

A cartoon book summarizing the works of Karl Marx: the origins of Marxist philosophy, history, and economics; capital, labor, class struggle, as well as socialism.

Marx: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Singer[edit]

Peter Singer identifies the central vision that unifies Marx's thought, enabling for Marx's views as a whole to be grasped. He sees him as a philosopher primarily concerned with human freedom, rather than as an economist or a social scientist. In plain English, he explains alienation, historical materialism, the economic theory of Capital, and Marx's ideas of communism, and concludes with an assessment of Marx's legacy. Keep in mind however that this book was first published in 1980 and then reissued in 1996 — at this time, there wasn't as much material to support the scientific claims of Marxism, such as that capitalism as a system tends towards increasing inequality and that the rate of profit continuously falls. This author in particular is rather skeptical of the scientific aspect of Marxism, though in the 21st century there is much more data and empirical observation to validate these predictions.

Conditions and life of Marx and Engels[edit]

Karl Marx: His Life and Environment by Isaiah Berlin[edit]

Karl Marx: The Story of His Life by Franz Mehring[edit]

Karl Marx: Man and Fighter by Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen[edit]

Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels by Tristram Hunt[edit]

Background to Marxism[edit]

G. W. F. Hegel[edit]

He developed a rather modern form of dialectics that recognized the importance of antitheses in logic, whereas the dialectics of the Ancient Greeks for example, did not. Marx saw this as a dramatic improvement and would incorporate this into his own idea of dialectical materialism.

Ludwig Feuerbach[edit]

His materialist writing was an inspiration for Marx, who had written about him in Theses on Feuerbach.

Adam Smith and David Ricardo[edit]

Political economists who are one of the most influential classical economists. Marxism is in part an economic science, and so draws some concepts from these two thinkers, such as the Labor theory of value.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Charles Fourier, and Henri de Saint-Simon[edit]

Early socialist thinkers who Marx developed on, largely by applying the elements of class struggle that were beginning to take form during his time, yet which were rather absent in the times of these authors and so is rather absent.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon[edit]

His writings on private property were found useful by Marx and were incorporated into his own ideas and writings.

Dialectical materialism[edit]

On the Jewish Question[edit]

An essay by Marx in which he criticizes fellow Young Hegelian Bruno Bauer and in this begins to develop a materialist conception of history.

Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right[edit]

Marx comments on Hegel's work Elements of the Philosophy of Right, in which he begins to develop his theory of alienation.

Theses on Feuerbach[edit]

Eleven shorts notes written by Marx as a basic outline for the first chapter of The Germany Ideology in 1845. Here he criticizes the materialism of the Young Hegelians for not putting the nature of man in context of his economic and social relations. Marx argues that merely understanding the origins of religious belief were not enough in moving towards its elimination, instead declaring that it was the underlying social and economic structure which gave rise to religious belief and that it was a transformation of this which was a necessary precondition to the elimination of religion.

Dialectics on Nature[edit]

An unfinished work by Engels that applies Marxist ideas, particularly those of dialectical materialism, to science, which at the time was outputting many revolutionary discoveries such as the discovery of the cell, the law of conservation and transformation of energy, and Darwinian evolution. Throughout the work, Engels battles with various unscientific schools of thought prevalent among scientists, especially idealism and vulgar materialism. Though certain aspects of the book are obsolete, such as some scientific data that was just the imperfect product of its time, the book's general methodology and analysis remain valid today. It also develops the comments that Engels had made about science in Anti-Dühring, as well as including Engels' essay "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man", which has also been published separately as a pamphlet, wherein Engels argues that the hand and brain grew together, an idea supported by later fossil discoveries (particularly in Australopithecus afarensis).

Soviet Union[edit]

Grover Furr has some occasional decent material on disproving certain lies, such as about the Holodomor, however does have a noticeable ideological bias to defending Stalin and his legacy. Michael Parenti is a more reliable author, on the other hand. Victor Zemskov is a good resource as well, however his works are largely in Russian only. Interestingly, he was anti-Stalinist and anti-Soviet before starting his research into the archives concerning purges, however in his research he has actually taken on a pro-Soviet attitude instead. Other good historians include Arch J. Getty, R. W. Davies, Stephen G. Wheatcroft, and Domenico Losurdo. Alec Nove's work is also useful for learning about the economy of the USSR, plus Lars Lih has done some great studies of Lenin and his ideas, which correct a number of huge myths about the Russian Revolution and the early USSR. There are also articles on the early USSR posted on and

Stephen Kotkin is a rather poor source, as he tries to psychologize Stalin as some crazy paranoid figure in place of actual historical and structural analysis, like the one laid down by Getty three decades before him. The WSWS published a great takedown of his work here.

You have to be really careful when studying the history of the USSR because almost every faction involved in the history of the USSR has its own myths and biases, and some of them are downright ahistorical fabrications, especially when it comes to the history of the Bolsheviks and various political struggles in the early USSR.

See also[edit]