The Fundamentals of Marxism: A Short Reading List

Marxist theory is the basis upon which our analysis, perspectives, program, and participation in the movement are based. It is our "guide to action." This why the WIL and IMT place so much emphasis on political education. To this end, we have created an extensive Education Plan to assist comrades in their political development. This is an important resource.

However, it's length and scope may seem daunting to new comrades. With this in mind, the Editorial Board of Socialist Appeal has compiled a shorter list of classic works and other important writings we think will serve to lay a strong foundation in the ideas and methods of Marxism. We would like to encourage all our members and those interested in learning more about Marxism to read (or re-read!) through the works on this list, if possible, over the course of a 12 month period.

This selection of writings is an excellent introduction to many of the fundamentals of Marxist theory. There are many other writings that could be added, and depending on comrades' interests and the particular work they are engaged in, other readings may need to take priority over this list. But if we diligently and systematically work through this selection, and not only read, but also discuss these ideas with others, and thereby continually improve our understanding of the Marxist method, we will be in a much better position to delve into the dozens of other classic works of Marxism outlined in the full Education Plan. But not only that. We will also be far better equipped to apply these ideas and methods to our daily work of building the WIL and fighting for socialism. These works may be discussed as part of the regular WIL branch meetings, or where this isn't possible, more experienced comrades should try to meet with and discuss these works with our new members one-on-one.

Many of these are smaller books or pamphlets; some are more lengthy books; and others are just short articles. This list should therefore be more digestible than the full Education Plan, particularly those with busy work or school schedules. All of them are available to be read online for free (links are provided), and many of them have already been published by Wellred USA and are available at Others can be found used or may be checked out at your local library, and Wellred USA plan's on publishing all of these works within the not-too-distant future.


The ABCs of Marxism

  • Why We Are Marxists by Alan Woods
    A short introduction to the basic elements of Marxism and why socialism is the only way forward for humanity.
  • The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxismby V.I. Lenin

    This short article outlines the most basic—but fundamental—elements of Marxism: its philosophy, understanding of history, and analysis of economics.

  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
    The founding document of the Communist movement. More relevant today than when it was first written over 160 years ago. Although it is relatively short, every line is dense with content and some find it difficult to read. But once you work through it carefully, you will find the ideas start falling into place. Like a good song, the Manifesto is worth re-reading time and time again—there is something "new" in it every time you read it!
    • Read it here | Purchase Four Marxist Classics here

Marxism and U.S. history, dispelling basic misconceptions about Marxism, etc.

  • Marxism and the USA by Alan Woods
    This brief history of the class struggle in the United States illustrates that the ideas of Marxism, socialism and communism aren’t at all alien to “the land of opportunity.” From the primitive communism of many Native Americans to the American Revolution, the Civil War, and beyond, there is nothing "un-American" about socialism and revolution. In fact, there is no country more ripe for building socialism than the United States.
    • Read excerpts here | Purchase the full book here

Introduction to Marxist Philosophy: Dialectical and Historical Materialism

  • Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Friedrich Engels
    Socialism existed long before Marx and Engels, but it remained just “a good idea,” until their development of scientific socialism. Engels discusses the various Utopian socialist movements of the past and their limitations.
    • Read it here | Purchase Four Marxist Classics here

Marxism and the state, anarchism, and reformism

  • State and Revolution by V.I. Lenin
    State and Revolution was written to prepare the Bolshevik party for their task in 1917 of leading the Russian working class to power. It analyzes the origins of the state, its role in maintaining the rule of capital, the need for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois state, how a workers' state must be used by the working class to defend the socialist revolution, and how the state as an instrument of the rule of one class over another would "wither way" in the transition from socialism to communism, as a result of the gradual dissolution of classes. In this short book, Lenin also takes up the views of the anarchists and the reformists on this question, and exposes their limitations.
    • Read it here | Purchase Four Marxist Classics here

The Transitional Method

  • The Transitional Program by Leon Trotsky
    How do Marxists use programmatic demands to win the working class to the cause of revolutionary socialism? Trotsky explains the need to use transitional demands to bridge the gap between “minimum demands” and “maximum demands”; between the the present consciousness of the working class and the need for the socialist transformation of society; and between the revolutionary party and the advanced workers.
    • Read it here | Purchase Four Marxist Classics here

The Mass Organizations of the Working Class

  • Introduction to the Writings of Ted Grant Vol. 2 by John Peterson
    In the post-World War II period, the Marxists were isolated and without mass forces. Under these difficult conditions, British Marxist Ted Grant, basing himself on the ideas and methods of Lenin and Trotsky, understood the need to do long-term, systematic work in the mass organizations of the working class in order to prepare for future revolutionary explosions. This introduction offers some background and an overview of how Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, and Grant approached the mass organizations, including the experience of the Militant in Britain in the 1980s and 90s, and the need for a mass party of labor in the U.S. today.
    • Read it here | Purchase Ted Grant Selected Works Vol. 2 here
  • Left-wing Communism by V.I. Lenin
    The Communist International which was created after the Russian Revolution was formed mostly from left-wing splits in the Socialist International. Many had ultra-left positions as a reaction to decades of the reformist leadership of the Socialist parties. Lenin used this book to educate the young cadres of the Comintern in the methods of Bolshevism and the relation between the class, the party, and the leadership. It is a masterpiece of Marxism, applying the basic tenets already outlined in the Manifesto: "The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties; They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole; They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement."

What About the Soviet Union?

  • Introduction to the Writings of Ted Grant Vol. 1 by John Peterson
    What was the Soviet Union? Was it to be defended? What went right? What went wrong? Ted Grant wrote extensively on the class nature of the Soviet Union and the need to defend the nationalized planned economy. A clear understanding of the Soviet Union and Stalinism is necessary to combat the common misconceptions associated with socialism. This introduction deals with an overview of the Marxist analysis of the Soviet Union and the concept of a "deformed" or "degenerated" workers' state.
    • Read it here | Purchase Ted Grant Selected Works Vol. 1 here
  • The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky
    Why did the Soviet state degenerate into the monstrous bureaucratic regime of Stalin? Leon Trotsky analyzes how it came about, the Soviet state as it was in in the 1930s, the potential for genuine socialism hinted at by the advances of the USSR in spite of the bureaucracy, and what the tasks of the Marxists were in relation to it. He predicts in advance that if a political revolution did not succeed in overthrowing the bureaucratic regime and replacing it with workers' democracy, that capitalism would eventually be restored, with tragic consequences for the Soviet and world working class.

Introduction to Marxist Economics

  • Wage Labor and Capital by Karl Marx
    In this short book, Marx explains in everyday language how labor creates value, how capital exploits labor, and how wages are determined in capitalism. An excellent introduction to Marxist economics.
  • Value, Price, and Profit by Karl Marx
    In this work, Marx explains how prices relate to a commodity's value and shows where profits actually come from. Another great introduction to Marxist economics.

Imperialism and War

  • Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism by V.I. Lenin
    Capitalism once played a progressive historic role in dragging humanity out of the impasse of feudalism. By developing the productive forces to previously unheard of levels, it has laid the material basis for socialism. But as the system began to reach its limits, this was reflected in the development of imperialism and the outbreak of world war. This classic work was written in the midst of World War I, and served to train a new layer of Marxists after the betrayal of many of the leaders of the Socialist International, who had capitulated to "their" national capitalist classes. It explains how industrial capital came to dominate merchant capital, only to be further dominated by finance capital. It also details the rise gigantic monopolies concentrating enormous wealth in a few hands. In addition, it explains how imperialist nations dominate others through the export of capital, terms of trade that favor the more powerful country, and the use of military power to impose their will.

The Historical Origins of Class Society

  • Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State by Friedrich Engels
    How did the early primitive communist societies lead to the eventual rise of class society? What is the state and where did it come from? By examining the best-available anthropological and historical research of the time, Engels analyzes the rise of classes and the changing forms of the family, private property, and the state over the course of human history. Only by fully understanding the past can we correctly analyze the present and act to change the future course of human development.

 If you have read through all of these works and feel you have a handle on the basics, it's time to explore the many classics available in our more complete Education Plan, and to keep up with current events and the application of the Marxist method by regularly visiting and