Meaning of Marxism Study Guide

Paul D’Amato’s book The Meaning of Marxism is a valuable overview of many of the core concepts of Marxism and a great introduction to socialist politics.  Here is a study guide for the book divided into six sections with study questions for each chapter.


Session One: Marx’s Materialism


  1. Why is Marxism still relevant?

Chapter One: “From Millenarianism to Marx”

  1. Marx wasn’t the first socialist. What made his and Engels’ socialism different from the earlier socialists?
  2. Many people argue that Marxism is “utopian.” Is that true? What did Marx and Engels mean by the term?
  3. If people are victims of their circumstances, how can they move beyond them?

Chapter Two: Marx’s Materialist Method

  1. Most people think that the only way to be “objective” and truthful is to be impartial. What do Marxists think about that idea?
  2. What is the difference between idealism and materialism?
  3. Is there such a thing as “human nature”? And if so, how is it shaped, environmentally or biologically, or both?
  4. Name two aspects of the dialectic. Can you explain what is meant by the transformation of quantity into quality?

Chapter 3: The Marxist View of History

  1. Some historians see human history as a product of changing ideas. What, for Marx, is the starting-point for understanding history?
  2. Explain the difference between the forces and relations of production.
  3. Is Marxism “deterministic”?
  4. How and why did class divisions arise? Under what conditions could classes disappear?
  5. Discuss the validity of this statement: “Capitalism is a product of human greed.”


Session Two: Marxist Economics

Chapter 4: Marxist Economics: How Capitalism Works, and How it Doesn’t

  1. Explain “the labor theory of value.”
  2. What’s wrong with the statement: “The value of commodities is determined by their relative scarcity or abundance.”
  3. Discuss the validity of this statement: “The purpose of the market is to ensure that products are properly distributed.”
  4. Where do profits come from?
  5. How does capitalism get out of slumps?
  6. Explain the “tendency of the rate of profit to fall.”


Session Three: The Working Class, Revolution and Organization

Chapter 5: No Power Greater — The Working Class

  1. What is the “working class”? Is it anyone that works?
  2. What gives wage workers more potential power than slaves or peasants?
  3. What did Marx learn from the Paris Commune of 1871?
  4. Why do socialists support unions? Are unions enough to fight for socialism?
  5. How can workers who today accept life under capitalism come to challenge it?

Chapter 6: Democracy, Reform and Revolution

  1. We learn in school that the state balances between competing interests. What is the role of the state under capitalism?
  2. How democratic is democracy under capitalism?
  3. The left calls the Democratic Party the “graveyard of social movements.” What does this mean?
  4. Can elections bring socialism?
  5. What is the difference between a coup and a revolution?

Chapter 7: The Need for Socialist Organization

  1. What kind of organization was the German SPD? How did it organize?
  2. What did Lenin mean by a “vanguard” party?

Supplementary reading: Ahmed Shawki, “What Kind of Party do we Need?” (


Session Four: The Success and Failure of the Russian Revolution

Chapter 8: Russia: The God that Failed?

  1. What was the difference between the Bolshevik, Menshevik, and Leon Trotsky’s theories about the nature of the Russian revolution?
  2. What were the main slogans of the Bolsheviks in the revolution?
  3. What were the soviets?
  4. Why weren’t the Bolsheviks able to fulfill their goals? What held them back?
  5. Is socialism synonymous with state control of the economy?


Session Five: Imperialism and Oppression

Chapter 9: Imperialism, Nationalism and War

  1. Is war a product of human nature?
  2. Compare and contrast Lenin’s view of imperialism with Kautsky’s theory of “ultra-imperialism.” Is imperialism a government policy or a stage of capitalism?
  3. What has changed about imperialism since Lenin’s day? Do those changes invalidate his theory?
  4. Comment on the idea that the United States intervenes all over the world to “spread democracy.”
  5. Is there such a thing as “national interests”?
  6. Discuss the validity or otherwise of this statement: “The integration of the world economy has rendered national states obsolete.”

Chapter 10: Marxism and Oppression

  1. Explain Lenin’s views on the right of nations to self-determination.
  2. Have women always been oppressed?
  3. What is the role of the family under capitalism?
  4. Has racism always existed?
  5. Does capitalism need racism?
  6. Evaluate this statement: “Marxism cares more about exploitation than it does oppression.”


Session Six: Taking On the Arguments Against Socialism

Chapter 11: Marxism and the Environment

  1. Marxists see abundance as the basis of a socialist society. How can we have abundance without ruining the environment?
  2. Are there “too many people” on the planet?
  3. What do socialists say about lifestyle choices?

Chapter 12: But What about?… Arguments against socialism

  1. Is capitalism more efficient than socialism?
  2. Aren’t people naturally competitive?
  3. Do the ends justify the means?
  4. Isn’t the working class shrinking, and aren’t we all middle class now?
  5. Isn’t socialism about conformity?
  6. Can ordinary people run society?

Chapter 13: Can it Happen Here?

  1. Is there something “special” about the United States history that makes socialism impossible here?

Chapter 14: Imagine…The future socialist society

  1. What measures would have to be taken by a workers’ government to effect a transition toward a socialist society?
  2. What did Marx mean by a planned economy?

Chapter 15: The Point is to Change it

  1. What did Engels mean when he wrote that the bourgeoisie is “unfit to rule.”
  2. What do we mean when we say the alternative is socialism or barbarism?