Chris Harman

How Marxism Works

Further reading

This book is a basic introduction to Marxism. Hopefully most readers will want to learn a lot more. One of the key features of Marxism is that people learn through struggle. When workers are fighting they can learn surprisingly rapidly. However, such spontaneous insights don’t necessarily in themselves explain the world. Reading, discussion and debate are essential complements to the battles we engage in.

The list of titles below is provided as suggestions. You might want to follow up a particular topic that has been raised in this book, or you might want to dip into a bit of everything. Either way, if you’ve started to get a hang of how Marxism works, you won’t want to stop.

Those titles marked with a * are short pamphlets. I have restricted the list to books in print at the time of writing. Any of this list can be obtained from Bookmarks the bookshop, or through the bookstall of your local branch of the Socialist Workers Party.

Other introductions to Marxism

The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Written in 1848 this is the classic introduction to Marx and Engels and their analysis of how capitalism works, why it is more dynamic than previous class societies, why it is prone to deepening crises and how it creates its own gravedigger in the form of the working class. Price £1.00.

Socialism: Utopian and scientific – Frederick Engels. Engels’ starting guide to socialism was even more popular than The Communist Manifesto when it was first published. It provides an historical account of the emergence of capitalism from old medieval Europe and a political, economic and philosophical guide to workers struggling for a new world. Price £2.95.

Why we need a revolutionary party* – Lindsey German. An SWP pocket pamphlet showing what kind of revolutionary party is needed if workers are to take power and achieve a transformation of society. Price 50p.

The revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx – Alex Callinicos. A modern classic outlining Marx’s life, his developed theories of history, the capitalist economy, and its relevance today in understanding society east and west, and how we can win socialism. Now in a new edition. Price £5.50.

Party and class – essays by Tony Cliff, Ducan Hallas, Chris Harman and Leon Trotsky. Introduction by Alex Callinicos. Price £3.50.

Education for socialists’ pamphlets

Marxism and the modern world* – including short articles on imperialism, state capitalism, national oppression and national liberation movements and permanent revolution. Price 50p.

Marxism and the state* – including short articles on state and revolution, democracy and the state, from parliament to workers’ democracy, the workers’ state and the road to workers’ power. Price £1.00.

The basic ideas of Marxist economics* – providing a short and very clear introduction to the basic concepts of Marxist economics including exploitation, surplus value and the falling rate of profit. Price £1.00.

Women’s liberation and the class struggle* – including short articles on the Marxist theory of women’s oppression, wrong theories of women’s oppression, arguments against the Marxist position, and the party, the working class and women’s liberation. Price 70p.

What do we mean by ...?* – including short articles on syndicalism, centrism, sectarianism, ultra-leftism and terrorism. Price 70p.

What do we mean by revolution?* – including short articles on the general strike, insurrection, revolution and violence, soviets: the lessons of 1905, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ and democracy, and the role of the revolutionary party. Price £1.50.

Marxist economics and the crisis

Wage labour and capital and Wages, price and profit – Karl Marx. These are two short introductions to Marx’s economic theory. The former in particular is accessible to those starting to read in this area. It is advisable to start with these two works before plunging into the very rewarding but much more demanding three volumes of Capital. The two pamphlets are published together in a Bookmarks edition. Price £3.95.

Man’s worldly goods – Leo Huberman. A highly readable introduction covering some of the essential aspects of Marxist economics. Price £8.99.

Economics of the madhouse – Chris Harman. A book written for the general reader outlining Marx’s economic theory and applying it to an understanding of the development of capitalism in the 20th century. Amongst other topics, it includes discussion of the development and crisis of state capitalism, the long boom, the onset of crisis in the early 1970s, Keynesianism, monetarism and the theory of globalisation. Price £3.50.

Explaining the crisis – Chris Harman. It was Marx who first provided a comprehensive and compelling analysis of the capitalist system, both in its periods of growth and boom, and of crisis and recession. In this classic account of Marxist economics, Chris Harman explains the essential elements of the Marxist analysis of economics. Price £8.50.

The Russian Revolution

Ten days that shook the world – John Reed. Stirring eyewitness account of the events of the October Revolution. Price £7.99.

The lessons of October – Leon Trotsky. Written in response to the failure of the German Revolution in 1923, this was the first serious analysis of the events that led up to the October Revolution in 1917. It provides a unique insight into those events provided by the person who actually organised the insurrection. Price £2.50.

In defence of October: a debate on the Russian Revolution – John Rees with Robert Service, Sam Farber and Robin Blackburn. This book takes up the debates around the meaning of the Russian Revolution addressing many questions such as: whether the revolution was a Bolshevik coup or the working class taking power under the leadership of the Bolsheviks; whether Lenin led to Stalin; and whether the Russian Revolution still has lessons for Marxists today. Price £4.50.

History of the Russian Revolution – Leon Trotsky. One of the greatest pieces of historical writing on an event of the utmost significance for the 20th century. It was written by the man who organised the insurrection and built and led the Red Army during the Civil War. Price £21.99.

The working class movement in Britain

1919: Britain on the brink of revolution – Chanie Rosenberg. The First World War had ended and the first workers’ revolution had taken place in Russia. Britain was in turmoil and working class revolt was on the agenda. This book traces the events and explains why the opportunities to change society fundamentally were thrown away. Price £2.25.

Days of hope: the General Strike of 1926* – Duncan Hallas and Chris Harman. A pamphlet on the strike that could have shaken the British ruling class but which was sold out by the Trades Union Congress. It draws the lessons that the trade union bureaucracy cannot be trusted and that the working class must rely on its own rank and file organisation and political leadership independent of the Labour and trade union leadership. Price 95p.

Marxism and trade union struggle: the General Strike of 1926 – Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein. A longer but very rewarding analysis of the 1926 General Strike and its lessons for Marxists. Price £6.95.

The making of the English working class – E.P. Thompson. A magnificent study of the everyday lives of working people and the origins of Britain’s workers’ movement. Price £14.99.

The Labour Party

New Labour or socialism?* – Alex Callinicos. Tony Blair claims it was New Labour that won the election. This pamphlet examines the question of why Blair has dumped any promise to bring about serious reforms to benefit working class people. It attacks the notion of free market capitalism that now dominates the political thinking of both Tory and Labour Parties alike and argues for a grass roots, truly democratic socialism as an alternative. Price £2.00.

Where is Labour going?* – Duncan Blackie. This pamphlet provides a brief guide to the history of the Labour Party and its political thinking and exposes the Labour Party’s rotten record in office. Price £1.00.

The Labour Party: a Marxist history – Tony Cliff and Donny Gluckstein. This book studies the Labour Party in its different phases: at birth, in the shadows of the Russian Revolution and the General Strike of 1926, through the governments of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan. In an extra chapter for the new edition, the authors trace and explain the rise of Blair and New Labour. Price £5.00.

The international working class

The lost revolution: Germany 1918 to 1923 – Chris Harman. The ravages of the First World War and the beacon of the Russian Revolution helped to create a series of opportunities for revolution in Germany. The failure of the revolution in Germany isolated Soviet Russia, which led directly to the rise of Stalin’s brutal dictatorship, and provided the conditions for Hitler to come to power ten years later. This book traces those inspiring and tragic events in Germany between 1918 and 1923 and shows how history could have been very different if revolutionary socialist organisation had been bigger and more mature. Price £9.95.

Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell. Orwell’s best book, and far better than his better known and deeply pessimistic Animal Farm and 1984, in which he gives a vivid picture of what it is like for the working class to be ‘in the saddle’ in the Spanish Revolution of 1936. Price £6.99

Teamster rebellion – Farrell Dobbs. A fantastic account of how socialists led mass strikes of transport workers in the United States in the 1930s. Price £10.95.

Imperialism, the national question and the Third World

Deflected permanent revolution* – Tony Cliff. This pamphlet explains how the fight for national liberation in many countries came to be dominated by organisations that claimed to be Marxist, why they were sometimes successful, but created state capitalism not socialism, and why a socialist alternative in the real Marxist tradition can be built in less developed countries. Price £1.00.

Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism – V.I. Lenin. Written in response to the outbreak of the First World War and the capitulation of the nominally Marxist Social Democratic Party in Germany, Lenin places imperialism firmly in the context of the development of capitalism and its needs. If some of the detail of the analysis is outdated and wrong, it remains an invaluable starting point to understand 20th century imperialism and the drive to war. Price £2.50.

The rights of nations to self determination – V.I. Lenin. Here Lenin sets out the basic Marxist principles on national liberation. The pamphlet is now published in a collection entitled Questions of national policy and proletarian internationalism, price £2.50.

Permanent revolution – Leon Trotsky. One of Trotsky’s major contributions to Marxist theory. He argued that the rising bourgeoisie were too weak and fearful of the working class to get rid of the feudal ruling class in backward countries. The revolution would have to be made by working class insurrection. But if the working class make a revolution, they won’t then wish to hand power over to the feeble bourgeoisie; they will want to establish a workers’ state.

Women’s liberation, racism, and Ireland

The struggle for women’s liberation* – Elane Heffernan. A short pamphlet from the SWP outlining the causes of women’s oppression and how best they can be fought. Price 50p.

The origin of the family, private property and the state – Frederick Engels. Engels’ classic account, rooting the oppression of the family in the needs of capitalism. This was a path breaking book way ahead of its time. Even if some of Engels’ predictions have understandably not been borne out by subsequent developments, it remains quite invaluable. Price £4.99.

Sex, class and socialism – Lindsey German. Building on the classical Marxist tradition this book shows how women’s oppression is rooted in the family, which itself is a product of the changing capitalist system. It challenges alternative theories of women’s oppression, particularly feminist theories of patriarchy, and attacks the fashionable post-feminist viewpoint. German argues that whilst the struggle for women’s liberation has brought many gains, ultimately oppression will only be destroyed by a socialist transformation of society in which women workers will have a central part. Price £7.95.

Race and class – Alex Callinicos. This book shows how racism grew out of the development of capitalism, out of the need for cheap labour through slavery, through the ideological justification for colonialism and the abiding need to divide workers, the better to rule them. It also shows how the system has thrown up the opportunities to unite workers and to overcome racism in the struggle against oppression and exploitation. Price £3.50.

Malcolm X – Kevin Ovenden. A short book on the life and ideas of one of the most radical and courageous of the leaders of the struggle for black liberation in the United States. Ovenden argues that Malcolm’s ideas developed towards the end of his short life in an anti-capitalist direction and that he began to see the importance of finding ways of uniting blacks and whites to fight their common enemy. Price £2.95.

Staying power: black people in Britain – Peter Fryer. This is the best history of black people in Britain and of the fight against racism. Price £15.99.

Ireland: why the troops must get out* – Chris Bambery. A short pamphlet from the SWP on Ireland’s troubles and why British troops are part of the problem not part of the solution. Price 50p.


Last updated on 26 January 2010