Sojourner Truth Organization


The outline study guide which follows is based on classes conducted by Sojourner Truth Organization over the past two years. The original draft has undergone substantial modification as a result of the classes, and there is undoubtedly room for considerable improvement still, but its basic shape has worn well.

Each time we have taught the material; that is, we have had three or four "teachers" presumed to be more familiar with a broader range of Marxist doctrine and five to eight "students." "Students" one time become "teachers" in later sessions. Each part is introduced with an overview from a "teacher" and then the "students" give prepared answers to the study questions which are thoroughly discussed and debated, "student" reactions first. Of course, in each session the "teachers" have been learners as much as the "students," sometimes more so.

We think this is the best way to learn these lessons, in contrast to the study circle approach which has been a popular bequest of the New Left and which has characterized so much radical education during the past decade. This is partly because of the intrinsic difficulty of some of the materials, such as the texts by Hegel and Althusser. "Teachers" who are versed in the terms of the debates surrounding these thinkers can steer the discussion to useful conclusions and debates that may not emerge in discussions solely limited to the assigned materials.

There is another aspect which has proven to be the decisive consideration for us. Some concepts—often central to the entire program of study—are sufficiently subtle that they will not necessarily emerge even from a very careful study group. One example, probably the most important one, will illustrate. In Part One, study question four says:

The Guardian and the Weather Underground state that the fundamental contradiction of modem capitalism is that between the proletariat ("working. class as a whole") and the capitalists ("imperialist bourgeoisie"). Prairie Fire says it is "the contradiction between social production and private appropriation." Who is right? Why?

In our view, the correct answer is "neither of the above." Yet it is not necessarily clear from the texts why this is so, though the necessary explanations are provided.

According to Marx, the social contradiction which can only be resolved by revolution is that between the forces of production and the relations of production. The most common Marxist interpretation of this assertion is that forces of production means capital (sometimes our latter‑day Marxists implicitly limit this to technology, so that the "full development of the forces of production" is interpreted solely as the presence of advanced, highly productive machinery) while relations of production means the system of production, appropriation, and exchange.

In reality, Marx meant something quite different. Forces of production includes both capital and labor, while relations of production includes capitalists and workers. Thus the proletariat is an essential of both sides of the antagonism—on one side as the creator of use value, on the other as wage laborer. The contradiction is therefore internal and essential to the working class itself, and cannot be resolved externally. STO's political line—in particular our understanding of the role of white skin privilege—is based on this recognition of the conflict internal to the proletariat.

The Guardian/Weather Underground view is wrong because it sees the essential contradiction as between workers and forces external to their class, rather than seeing the necessary embodiment of that conflict within the workers themselves. Political concepts which are derived from a faulty understanding of this process, such as class consciousness, will be warped in a similar direction.

The Prairie Fire interpretation suffers from a different problem. Unlike the Guardian/Weather Underground mistake, the Prairie Fire statement can be textually supported; it is a summary of the position argued by Engels in Anti‑Duhring. But the situation more or less accurately described by Engels was a historically specific example drawn from pre‑imperialist, pre‑state‑capitalist capitalism. Prairie Fire's mistake is to presume that Engels' observation can be generalized without regard for the stage of capitalism, and then substituted for the general form of the contradiction described by Marx. Ironically, Engels himself in the same book demonstrated that private‑property capitalism could be superseded by nationalization without abolishing capitalist exploitation. Usually those who talk about the contradiction between social production and private appropriation today are doing so for a political reason—to exclude from consideration the contradiction between forces and relations of production in the "socialist" countries.

If the participants entered these classes with a tabula rasa, the most reasonable interpretation of the readings might readily emerge from unassisted collective study. But they don't. Nearly all are experienced leftists who have assimilated the various distortions of Marxism which constitute the conventional wisdom. These, more than the difficulties and complexities of the concepts, are the reasons for furnishing experienced help to guide the learning process.

Some material critically important to our classes has been superseded. In the STO study, one whole segment of each session was devoted to a critique of Stalin's Dialectical and Historical Materialism.

There were two study questions:

1. List everything that is inadequate or wrong in Stalin's pamphlet. Be ruthless, and as complete as possible.

2. Why has no one ever published a serious critique of the Stalin pamphlet, in spite of its being probably the most widely distributed work on the subject of dialectical materialism?

Each of these was assigned to an individual who made a presentation which was followed by a general discussion. With the publication of Lance Hill's article in this issue of Urgent Tasks, we are replacing that session of the study program with a comparable one on Mao Tse‑Tung. Lance Hill was one of the "students" (who became one of the "teachers"). His article is an individual product except to the extent that he chose to incorporate ideas from the general discussion. In editing the article for publication, no attempt was made to have it conform to any official position.

Other areas of study, begun in the classes, have led to expanded discussion and elaboration in STO's Internal Bulletin and in Urgent Tasks—for example the symposium on Louis Althusser's politics in Urgent Tasks number four. We think the basic readings and discussion are sufficiently enlightening to warrant retaining them, using the later materials as supplements.

We have found that thirty to sixty days of student/teacher preparation followed by five days and evenings of uninterrupted discussion classes is required to accomplish satisfactorily the aims of this program. It poses serious problems to a small organization, most of whose members are workers and all of whom are engaged in political work. Under such circumstances the classes cannot succeed unless the political decisions personal and organizational—are taken seriously and firmly, even ruthlessly, enforced. During the pre‑class period, participants must be sufficiently free from other political obligations to concentrate on study; for the classes themselves, held in rural retreats, people often have to spend most of their annual vacation time. Comrades not involved in the same session have to pick up the slack in political work and personal responsibility.

We feel it has been worth the investment, and would caution others against attempting shortcuts. If theoretical work is a prerequisite to building a revolutionary movement, as Lenin argued, a thorough grasp of How to Think is the first step in developing the ability to do that work.

Many of the readings are available in dozens of editions. Those that can easily be found are not referenced to a specific edition. In some cases we have chosen a particular, easily obtainable edition of a work, in order to provide uniformity when citing multiple excerpts. Copies of out‑of‑print readings may be obtained from STO—contact us for costs. Groups should also feel free to contact STO if teachers for this study program are desired.

We strongly recommend the following study habits to students: Keep a notebook of your studies. Make a note every time you have a question about anything, even if it is merely the definition of a word that you look up in the dictionary, or even if it is a concept that you expect will be clarified in a later passage or a subsequent reading.

As soon as you have finished a reading, record what you didn't like about it. In the cases of excerpted materials, for example, it is likely that earlier parts that are not included here will contain information which is vital to a full grasp of the selected fragment. What terms ought to be included in a supplementary glossary? What individuals or historical events should be identified? What kind of supplementary materials would be helpful? Should this particular selection have been omitted? Why or why not? Answer each of these questions before proceeding to the study questions for the particular reading.

— Education Committee
Sojourner Truth Organization

A Guide to the Study of Dialectical Materialism


We begin with Lenin's observation to Inessa Armmand: "People for the most part (99 percent of the bourgeoisie, 98 percent of the liquidators, about 60‑70 percent of the Bolsheviks) don't know how to think, they only learn words by heart." [35:131 Lenin's emphasis] It is our purpose in this study program to impart an ability to evaluate political situations critically and to decide independently on proper courses of action. Our aim is to elevate the effectiveness of our political work by elevating the quality of our "product."

The skills of which we speak are theoretical, but theoretical in the broadest sense. We are not concerned here with abilities to operate an offset press or marshal a picket line, but we are concerned with the organization and presentation of criticism, whether of strategy, general tactics, or issue‑oriented practical work. Our conception of criticism does not rest on the application of general rules and abstract principles, but on mastering the approach summarized by Lenin: "Dialectics is the teaching which shows how Opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical,—under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another,—why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another." [38:109]

In some ways what we are attempting to accomplish is the Marxist equivalent of a Berlitz class in a foreign language. We are not striving to be comprehensive, but we are attempting to impart a functional ability to use Marxism. This is quite different from the usual introductory course which intends to convince the newcomer of the value of Marxism and to familiarize her/him with its terms and scope, but on the whole to leave the important decisions to the more advanced.

Since this is a short course, it would be wrong to view it as an end in itself. If it fails to inspire further study of works like The Poverty of Philosophy, The German Ideology, the Grundrisse, Capital, Anti‑Duhring, Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, Gramsci's writings, and so forth, then it is not fulfilling its long‑term purpose and ought to be re‑evaluated in that light. Still, at present our emphasis has to be utilitarian.

The purpose of all this study is not abstract or millennial. If after all this you cannot explain how labor unions can be the greatest obstacle to class struggle or why Communist Parties can fiercely oppose proletarian revolutions, we will have failed. But understanding of this type is also armament, preparation for battle. The test of that will be in our political practice.

Part I
Base and Superstructure in Motion


Karl Marx, "Preface" to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach"

Frederick Engels, Letter to Schmidt (August 5, 1890) in Marx and Engels, Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1968), pages 688‑90; Letter to Bloch (September 21, 1890), MESW: 692‑3; Letter to Schmidt (October 27, 1890), MESW: 694‑9

Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Martin Nicolaus, trans. (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), pages 305‑7, 310, 452‑3, 462, 488, 705‑6


This part includes two very well‑known selections from the writings of Marx and Engels, and several that are less familiar. One might say that the "Theses on Feuerbach" represent the "voluntarist," the "Hegelian," the "dialectical" side of Marxism, while the "Preface" shows the "determinist," the "scientific," the "materialist" side. We have included these together to show, from the beginning of the course, the roots in Marx's writings of two diverging trends in Marxist thought, and to demonstrate from the outset the dangers of failing to consider Marx's writings as a totality. Engels' letters represent his conscious attempt to correct what was a one‑sidedness in the socialist movement of his day. The significance of the Grundrisse selections we leave to the discussion to determine.


1. Marx states that social existence determines the consciousness of people. What is meant by social existence? How are the circumstances of social existence changed?

2. What is the conflict that leads to social revolution? How does it develop under capitalism?

3. What does the passage from the Grundrisse [705‑6] say about how the forces of production are fettered by capitalism?

4. The Guardian and the Weather Underground state that the fundamental contradiction of modem capitalism is that between the proletariat ("working class as a whole") and the capitalists ("imperialist bourgeoisie"). Prairie Fire says it is "the contradiction between social production and private appropriation." Who is right? Why?

5. Is Engels' treatment of the relationship between the economic base and the political superstructure of society, as expressed in his letters to Bloch and Schmidt, adequate?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology

2. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy

3. Frederick Engels, Anti‑Duhring

4. Frederick Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach

Part II
The Marxist View of Change


Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach"

Karl Marx, Grundrisse: 88‑94, 99‑102

G. W. F. Hegel, Science of Logic, A. V. Miller, trans. (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969; New York: Humanities Press, 1976), pages 44‑59

G. W. F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, J. B. Baillie, trans. (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1967), pages 80‑84

V. I. Lenin, "On The Question of Dialectics," 38: 357‑61

V. I. Lenin, "Elements of Dialectics," 38: 220‑2

V. I. Lenin, "Once Again On the Trade Unions," 32: 92‑4

C. L. R. James, excerpts from Notes on Dialectics

Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I (New York: International Publishers, 1967, New World edition), pages 177‑8


These readings constitute essential statements of Marxist dialectics, yet nearly every attempt to popularize them winds up grossly falsifying them (as in the writings of Mao Tse‑tung, Stalin, and Maurice Cornforth).

This whole problem will be developed later; here we will give one illustration. The most widely used introductory textbook for studying Marxist "philosophy" is Maurice Cornforth's Materialism and the Dialectical Method. Cornforth writes, "At bottom, idealism is religion, theology. 'Idealism is clericalism,' wrote Lenin. All idealism is a continuation of the religious approach to questions, even though particular idealist theories have shed their religious skin. Idealism is inseparable from superstition, belief in the supernatural, the mysterious and unknowable." [page 18]

Contrast that statement with the full Lenin citation from which Cornforth drew his fragment: "Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one‑sided, exaggerated, uberschwengliches [over‑extended] (Dietzgen) development (inflation, distention) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is ("more correctly" and "in addition") a road to clerical obscurantism through one of the shades of the infinitely complex knowledge (dialectical) of man." [38:361 Lenin's emphasis]

Does not Lenin say exactly the opposite of what Cornforth concludes? This illustrates a potentially paralyzing problem of Marxist study. If a beginner studies easy‑to‑read popular pamphlets in order to learn what Marxism is, she/he may learn only much later (if ever) of this type of deception. It may be more difficult to read the original presentations of these ideas, but it is the only certain way to eliminate counterfeit Marxism.


1. What is the relationship between philosophical idealism and dialectical materialism? Between dialectical materialism and materialism? How does Marx characterize Feuerbach's philosophical errors in the Theses?

2. What is the essence of dialectics? How can it be tested?

3. Why is it difficult to simplify the study of dialectics?

4. Ted Allen has written that the policy begun in colonial Virginia conferring a privileged status on European�Americans in relation to African‑Americans was the "invention" of the white race. What do you think of the notion that the white race was "invented"? Is it possible to speak of "race" as having an origin in historical times?

5. Lenin connected the "betrayal" of the Second International to the new stage reached by capitalism. Would the failure of the Communist parties after 60 years to establish socialism in any country constitute conclusive evidence of another change in historical stages? (Debate over the definition of socialism is not the intended focus of this question, although it obviously must be considered part of the discussion.)

6. How does the process of production in the U.S. today shape workers' attitudes toward consumption? What was different during the Great Depression? How will communism be different?

7. Is the U.S. working class backward? Explain your answer.

8. What is meant by "negation of the negation"? Give examples. Is this a conservative or a revolutionary concept?

9. Find applications of Lenin's elements of dialectics in the Grundrisse passages in this and the previous session. Give particular attention to any examples of the "negation of the negation."

10. What is the Marxist organization and who are we?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. George Plekhanov, The Materialist Conception of History

2. V. I. Lenin, Philosophical Notebooks

3. C. L. R. James, Notes on Dialectics: Hegel and Marxism

Part III
From Hegel to Marx


G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind, pages 228‑40

David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770‑1823 (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1975), pages 557‑64

Karl Marx, Capital I: 19‑20, 177‑8

Karl Marx, Grundrisse: 100‑1

Karl Marx, Letter to Engels (January 14, 1858) in Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), page 100

Karl Marx, Collected Works 3: 331‑3

George Lichtheim, Introduction to Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind, pages xxv‑xxx

Roman Rosdolsky, The Making of Marx's "Capital" (London: Pluto Press, 1977), pages xi‑xiv

V. I. Lenin, excerpt from "Conspectus of Hegel's Science of Logic," 38: 208‑19

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), pages 345‑6, 444‑8


Hegel sees a duality in each level of self‑consciousness. Each level of consciousness contains its own opposite. He carries this argument through to its most extreme statement: each self‑consciousness can only fully emerge through a life and death struggle: "it is solely by risking life that freedom is obtained." [page 233] When Hegel differentiates the master and the bondsman it becomes clear that the master's "independent existence" and "power" are not equivalent to freedom. The bondsman's "negative attitude," the result of his "self‑consciousness in a broad sense" rooted in participation in productive labor, becomes the condition for genuine freedom.

"But just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence." [page 237] (Gramsci has carried this further still: "the more an individual is compelled to defend his own immediate physical existence, the more will he uphold and identify with the highest values of civilization and humanity, in all their complexity." [Prison Notebooks, page 170]

Marx has called Hegel's Phenomenology "the true point of origin and the secret of Hegelian philosophy." [Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, page 136] Engels referred to it as "a parallel of the embryology and paleontology of the mind, a development of the individual consciousness through its different stages through which the consciousness of man has passed in the course of history." [Ludwig Feuerbach, page 14] Since Engels wrote this very late in life, and after Marx had died, it is worth remembering when one is told that Marxism is a complete rejection of Hegel.


1. In the conflict between master and slave described by Hegel, at what points can each be described as "class conscious"?

2. "My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life‑process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of "the Idea," he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of "the Idea." With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought." [Capital I: 191 What, then, is the relationship of Marx to Hegel?

3. Compare Lenin's statement that "the result of activity is the test of subjective cognition and the criterion of objectivity which truly is" [38:219] with his statement that the essence of dialectics "must be tested by the history of science." [38:357] Would Gramsci agree with Lenin's tests?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. C. L. R. James, "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery" in Amistad 1

2. C. L. R. James, "Colonialism and National Liberation in Africa" in Miller and Aya, eds., National Liberation

Part IV
How Revolutionaries Are Made


George Plekhanov, excerpt from The Role of the Individual in History

Rosa Luxemburg, "Stagnation and Progress of Marxism"

Sidney Hook, excerpt from Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx, "The Quest for Marx"

George Rawick, "The Historical Roots of Black Liberation," Radical America, Volume 2, Number 4 (July‑August 1968)

Noel Ignatin, Black Worker/White Worker

Mark Twain, excerpt from Huckleberry Finn, Chapter XXXI

Lerone Bennett, excerpt from "Tea and Sympathy: Liberals and Other White Hopes"

Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1966, first Evergreen Edition), pages 27‑38


If Hegel is difficult, Plekhanov is a pleasure to read; it is no mystery why his writings are responsible for the early popularization of Marxism in Russia. This statement is an excellent summary of the orthodox view of the relations between individual character, society as a whole, and "historical accident." Though Luxemburg and Plekhanov were later to diverge politically, there is a certain similarity in the views they expressed in the selections included here. The Rawick, Ignatin, Twain and Bennett selections all deal with the development of consciousness through an internal dialectic.


1. What determines the extent to which an individual can influence society? What is the influence of "accidents" on history? Are Plekhanov's positions on these questions right? What about Engels' [see the letters in Part I] ?

2. Why cannot human nature account for the course of history? Or can it?

3. What accounts for the stagnation of Marxism described by Rosa Luxemburg?

4. Luxemburg says that the third volume of Capital far exceeded the theoretical needs of the proletariat of her time. Is she right?

5. Why are people of great talent often the contemporaries of others with similar talents?

6. What is the limit of individual power? In what sense can a person "make history"?

7. Does Lerone Bennett mean the same thing as Hegel by "free"? Is freedom, to Hegel, "just another word for nothin' left to lose"? Does Frantz Fanon agree with Hegel's definition?

8. Compare Shields Green and Huck Finn. Do the same for John Brown and Jim.

9. What does George Rawick mean that "one can never remove culture, although one can transform it" [page 8]? What represents the negation of the negation in Black culture today?

10. What insight is shared by Hegel, Bennett, Twain, Rawick and Ignatin? How is it missing from Elkins and Genovese (based on the Rawick reading)?

11. What does it mean to "construct acts to the end"?

12. How do characters like Shields Green, John Brown, Huck Finn, and Jim affect everyone else? What is it that "few American white men" can resist?

13. Is George Rawick a racist? Is Mark Twain? Is Stanley Elkins? Is Eugene Genovese?

14. What is self‑activity? How is it relevant to revolution? Who is a revolutionary?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. W. E. B. DuBois, John Brown

2. Autobiography of Mother Jones

3. Autobiography of Malcolm X

4. Franz Mehring, Karl Marx

5. James Forman, The Making of Black Revolutionaries

6. Tony Cliff, Lenin

7. Paul Frolich, Rosa Luxemburg

8. Peter Netti, Rosa Luxemburg

9. Anne Moody, Coming of Age in Mississippi

10. Matthew Ward, Indignant Heart

11. Hakim Jamal, From the Dead Level

12. Ida B. Wells, Crusade for Justice

13. Fred Beal, Proletarian Journey

14. Hosea Hudson, Black Worker in the Deep South

15. Richard Wright, Native Son

16. B. Traven, The Death Ship

(Obviously a list like this can go on forever, but these should be suggestive.)

Part V
How Revolutions Are Made


W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction (New York: Atheneum, 1969), chapter IX

C. L. R. James, Black Jacobins (New York: Vintage Books, 1963), chapters IV, V, and XII


The two readings are models of the application of dialectics to the study of history. Both are examples of the universality of the dialectical method: the ability to recognize common themes and interconnections between seemingly isolated events, and to discover "the contradiction in the very essence of things."


1. Who were the Jacobins? Was James justified in referring to the Saint Domingue revolutionaries as "Black Jacobins"?

2. Do you agree with DuBois' statement [page 358] that Reconstruction was an attempt at a dictatorship of labor?

3. Compare DuBois' remark [pages 319‑20] about the attitude of white Americans with James' description of Parisian attitudes [pages 139‑40]. How do you explain the transformations in the thinking of the white masses? How do you explain their later relapse?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

2. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Civil War in the United States

3. Karl Marx, The Civil War in France

4. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution

Part VI
The Marxist Method


Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, pages 323‑43, 462

Georg Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness, Rodney Livingstone, trans. (London: Merlin Press, 1971), chapter "What Is Orthodox Marxism?"; also pages 50‑1, 204‑6

Karl Marx, Capital I: 75‑6; III: 817

Sidney Hook, excerpt from Towards the Understanding of Karl Marx

Ken Lawrence, excerpt from January 25, 1973 memorandum to the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF)


In some ways Gramsci and Lukacs sharply diverge from Engels and Lenin. The latter two viewed dialectical materialism as a universally useful theory of knowledge, as applicable and important to the study of chemistry and physics as to problems of human society. Gramsci limited his concerns to questions of politics and culture, a situation largely forced upon him by his imprisonment. Lukacs specifically rejected the applicability of dialectics outside the realm of human social experience. These matters have been and continue to be the subject of heated debate, but they need not directly concern this course of study as long as we are generally aware of them.

Gramsci is well known to STO and our friends, but some background on Lukacs may be helpful. Lukacs had a checkered political career; because he deliberately accommodated to Stalin with consciously hypocritical tactical self‑criticisms, there has always been some ambiguity concerning his own attitude toward his theoretical work. On the other hand, after Lenin's criticisms shattered his early ultra‑"left" and sectarian views, he was always firmly in the right wing of the Comintern, and his premature fight for his line—the "Blum Theses" he submitted to the Sixth Congress of the CI—were the cause of his political downfall, not his opposition to Stalinism. By the time Dimi�trov's Popular Front (virtually identical to the Blum Theses) was adopted at the Seventh Congress, Lukacs' retreat from political life had been totally accomplished.

Thereafter he confined his writings to cultural matters. He emerged from seclusion to become the Minister of Culture in the short-lived Hungarian revolutionary government of 1956 headed by Imre Nagy; following its overthrow by the Soviet army, he returned to even greater seclusion, but emerged to condemn the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Lukacs argued that his hypocrisy was fully justified because it was better to live under the worst socialism than the best capitalism. It is this ambiguity of his work, even more than its right‑wing political line, that renders it so attractive to scholastic Marxists. It is therefore wise to approach it with a large measure of caution. [It is interesting to note the contrasts and similarities in Marxist writings under the shadow of censorship—Lenin's Imperialism under the tsar, Gramsci under Mussolini, and Lukacs under Stalin.]

On the other hand, Lukacs was no party hack, grinding out "philosophy" to justify the party line. He retained his critical approach throughout his career, giving his work a value that is usually missing from the Marxist writers of any country. This is the independent significance of the revived interest in his writings.

The essay "What Is Orthodox Marxism?" is a product of Lukacs' early years, under the influence of the European revolutions. Examining it in 1967, 48 years after he wrote the first draft, Lukacs reaffirmed his belief that it is "not only objectively correct but also capable of exerting a considerable influence today when we are on the eve of a Marxist renaissance."


1. What is philosophy? What is a philosopher?

2. What is the relationship of language to philosophy?

3. How does consciousness shape personality? Is "proletarianization" a justifiable kind of "conformism" for an individual? for a communist organization?

4. During World War II an overwhelming majority of United Auto Workers' members voted in a referendum to abide by a no‑strike pledge agreed to by the union's leadership. Before, during, and after the passage of the referendum a majority of the union's membership participated in wildcat strikes. Was this hypocrisy? Explain it in Gramsci's categories.

5. Under what conditions can intellectuals propagate their views among the masses? Under what conditions can the revolutionary party?

6. Gramsci says Marxism seems like a philosophy of intellectuals separated from common people and from common sense. Is he right?

7. What, according to Gramsci, is the conflict within the consciousness of the average person? Relate this conflict to the contradictions discussed in earlier sessions.

8. Would Gramsci agree with Rosa Luxemburg's statement that the working class cannot create its own culture under capitalism? Do you agree with Luxemburg?

9. Gramsci writes [page 334], "Critical self‑consciousness means, historically and politically, the creation of an elite of intellectuals." Was Gramsci an elitist?

10. How does the "average person" retain his/her views in the face of a superior intellect? How does she/he change views?

11. Why are new converts to Marxism often extremely unstable? What should we do about it?

12. Reread the second paragraph on page 341 of Gramsci's Prison Notebooks. One reader, commenting on the passage at the end of that paragraph, asked if Gramsci is "taking back with the left hand what he gave with the right." How do you interpret this passage? (Remember that Gramsci often uses "intellectual" in a double sense to refer to the revolutionary party.)

13. What is orthodox Marxism? Was Marx an orthodox Marxist? Is Lukacs correct in saying that even if every one of Marx's individual theses could be disproved, Marxism would still be valid?

14. In a speech Lenin said, "A journal of the Communist International recently appeared under the title of Narody Vostoka. It carries the following slogan issued by the Communist International for the peoples of the East: 'Workers of all countries and all oppressed peoples, unite! ' 'When did the Executive Committee give orders for slogans to be modified?� �one of the comrades asked. Indeed, I do not remember that it ever did. Of course, the modification is wrong from the standpoint of the Communist Manifesto, but then the Communist Manifesto was written under entirely different conditions. From the point of view of present‑day politics, however, the change is correct." [31:453] Was Lenin an orthodox Marxist?

15. Explain the distinction between the "real existence" and the "inner core" of facts.

16. How would you understand the ideas of "imputed class consciousness" [Lukacs, page 51] and "identical subject‑object" [Lukacs, page 206] ? How are they related to each other?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. Georg Lukacs, Lenin

2. Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince

3. Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution

Part VII
Louis Althusser's Philosophy


Louis Althusser, For Marx (New York: Vintage Books, 1970), pages 38‑9, 89‑90, 111‑3, 164‑73, 182‑93, 227‑231

Karl Marx, Grundrisse: 100‑2

G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind: 80‑4, 141‑2

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks; 351‑7, "What is Man?"


Frederick Engels, Letter to Bloch, September 21, 1890

C. L. R. James, excerpt from Notes on Dialectics

Karl Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach"


Any doctrine which can claim millions of adherents throughout the world will necessarily be subject to differing—even violently conflicting—interpretations. Christianity is an obvious example; Marxism is no exception. In addition to differing interpretations which stem from the wide variety of attempts to extrapolate contemporary adaptations from century‑old insights, there is another aspect.

Hal Draper has truthfully written, "What goes by the name of Marxism nowadays, like as not, has little to do with Marx's views, in general or on any particular subject. This is a penalty for the 'success' of Marxism—that is, its widespread appeal—in spite of the periodic pronouncements of its death, which are almost as frequent as of yore. This parasitic disease—cooptation by alien elements—attacks all world outlooks that encompass a whole era." [Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Part 1. State and Bureaucracy, pages 17‑18]

It is this latter consideration with which this section is primarily concerned. We take for granted that everyone engaged in this study has a degree of familiarity with the spectrum of Marxist opinion in the U.S. today as manifested in various left parties and publications.

We believe that Althusser's theoretical work is fatally flawed by his importation of a purportedly scientific method—rationalism—as a substitute for the notion of the self‑emancipation of the working class. The reason for examining his work here is because it is a serious attempt to confront Marx's writings, rather than a faked version of dialectical materialism, as in Cornforth, or a trivialized version, as in Stalin.


1. What do you think of Althusser's statement that in order to identify the "real, mature" Marxist concepts which are to be found in Marx's writing one must activate "provisional Marxist theoretical concepts"?

2. Compare Althusser's "dialectical circle" with Hegel's explanation of the concept.

3. What is the difference between Althusser's and Gramsci's interpretations of the Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach? Who seems more correct?

4. Define Althusser's Generalities I, II, and III. Define "concrete" as used by Marx in the Grundrisse passage.

5. "How is it possible, theoretically, to sustain the validity of this basic Marxist proposition: 'the class struggle is the motor of history' . . . when we know very well that it is not politics but the economy that is determinant in the last instance?" [Althusser, page 215] Althusser regards these statements as inconsistent. Do you? Explain your answer.

6. Criticize Althusser's proposition (2) stated on page 185. In doing so, compare Althusser's quote from Marx, "this concrete‑real 'survives in its independence after as before, outside thought'," with the same statement as it appears in the Grundrisse selection.

7. Lukacs summarized his outlook by saying, "Rightly or wrongly, I had always treated Marx's works as having an essential unity." Althusser argues the opposite, yet both Marxists have similar followings among purely academic Marxists. Why?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. "The Politics of Louis Althusser: A Symposium," in Urgent Tasks number four, Summer 1978

2. David McLellan, Marx Before Marxism

3. David McLellan, ed., The Grundrisse by Karl Marx

The Philosophy of Mao Tse‑Tung


Mao Tse‑Tung, On Practice

Mao Tse‑Tung, On Contradiction, chapter IV, "The Principal Contradiction and the Principal Aspect of a Contradiction"

Mao Tse‑Tung, Where Do Correct Ideas Come From?

Martin Glaberman, "Mao as a Dialectician"


In the sixties it was the writings of Mao Tse‑Tung that steered the Black Panther Party and Students for a Democratic Society to Marxism. All over the United States these groups distributed Quotations from Chairman Mao by the thousands, while in their study circles nearly all of them read and discussed Mao's philosophical writings, whatever else the direction of their study. The greatest irony of the left today is that these writings, which brought so many young revolutionaries to Marxism, now stand as one of the main barriers to their deeper understanding. Martin Glaberman's essay is probably the most substantial Marxist critique of Mao's philosophy published to date.


1. List everything that is inadequate or wrong in On Practice. Be ruthless, and as complete as possible.

2. How useful are Mao's concepts of "principal contradiction" and "principal aspect of a contradiction" to an understanding of Lenin's "Elements of Dialectics"?

3. Is Martin Glaberman correct to conclude that Mao's contributions have nothing to do with philosophy?

4. Where do correct ideas come from?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy

2. Karl Korsch, Three Essays on Marxism

3. George Plekhanov, The Materialist Conception of History

4. George Plekhanov, Fundamental Problems of Marxism

5. Victor Serge, From Lenin to Stalin

Part IX
Totality and Universality


C. L. R. James, Modem Politics (Detroit: Bewick/ed, 1973)

William M. Ivins, Jr., Prints and Visual Communication (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), pages 1‑20

George Plekhanov, Unaddressed Letters (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1957), "First Letter"

Ken Lawrence, "Behind Tutankhamun's Treasures," Urgent Tasks number four, summer 1978


Marxism is a proud theory, claiming for itself a general applicability. Even while continuing to dodge the question of its applicability in the realm of natural science, there is a duality to the broad value of the theory: on the one hand its result, though derived from an examination of particular examples of human struggle, if valid, can be applied (generally) to every instance; on the other hand, the method itself is applicable to investigations of every kind of human endeavor. These claims are important enough to serve reflexively as the ultimate test and vindication of the theory itself.


1. What is art?

2. How does Plekhanov propose to prove the correctness of the materialist view of history? Does he succeed? Is there a better way?

3. What determines what people find to be esthetically pleasing? How do you explain the esthetic pleasure that people in the 20th century gain from ancient Greek art?

4. Was Plekhanov a racist?

5. What does Plekhanov mean when he says that the increased division of social labor among different classes leads to a disappearance of the direct dependence of art on technology and mode of production? Is he right?

6. Whose assessment of ancient Greece seems more correct to you, James' or Ivins'? Is the difference between the two more than a question of fact?

7. Why were Griffith, Chaplin, Eisenstein and Picasso able to produce works of undying vision while the finest modern writers produced only a picture of gloom, degeneration and decay?

8. Do you agree with Ken Lawrence's thesis that changes in mass consciousness can be anticipated by expressions in popular culture?

Supplementary or Future Recommended Readings:

1. C. L. R. James, The Future in the Present

2. John Berger, Success and Failure of Picasso

3. John Berger, Art and Revolution

4. John Berger, Ways of Seeing

5. E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class

6. T. O. Ranger, The African Voice in Southern Rhodesia

7. C. L. R. James, Mariners, Renegades, and Castaways

8. C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary

9. Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution

10. George Plekhanov, Art and Social Life

SOURCE: Sojourner Truth Organization. "Marxist Education" and "How to Think: A Guide to the Study of Dialectical Materialism", Urgent Tasks, no 7, winter 1980, pp. 18-19, 19-29.

100 Years of C.L.R. James

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

Thinking Critically About Critical Thinking: A Guide


Sojourner Truth Organization - Building Workers' Power and Fighting White Privilege - Urgent Tasks

Stalin's Little Book on Philosophy by Lance Hill

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