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
- Why is Marxism still relevant?
Chapter One: “From Millenarianism to Marx”
- Marx wasn’t the first socialist. What made his and Engels’ socialism different from the earlier socialists?
- Many people argue that Marxism is “utopian.” Is that true? What did Marx and Engels mean by the term?
- If people are victims of their circumstances, how can they move beyond them?
Chapter Two: Marx’s Materialist Method
- Most people think that the only way to be “objective” and truthful is to be impartial. What do Marxists think about that idea?
- What is the difference between idealism and materialism?
- Is there such a thing as “human nature”? And if so, how is it shaped, environmentally or biologically, or both?
- 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
- Some historians see human history as a product of changing ideas. What, for Marx, is the starting-point for understanding history?
- Explain the difference between the forces and relations of production.
- Is Marxism “deterministic”?
- How and why did class divisions arise? Under what conditions could classes disappear?
- 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
- Explain “the labor theory of value.”
- What’s wrong with the statement: “The value of commodities is determined by their relative scarcity or abundance.”
- Discuss the validity of this statement: “The purpose of the market is to ensure that products are properly distributed.”
- Where do profits come from?
- How does capitalism get out of slumps?
- 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
- What is the “working class”? Is it anyone that works?
- What gives wage workers more potential power than slaves or peasants?
- What did Marx learn from the Paris Commune of 1871?
- Why do socialists support unions? Are unions enough to fight for socialism?
- How can workers who today accept life under capitalism come to challenge it?
Chapter 6: Democracy, Reform and Revolution
- We learn in school that the state balances between competing interests. What is the role of the state under capitalism?
- How democratic is democracy under capitalism?
- The left calls the Democratic Party the “graveyard of social movements.” What does this mean?
- Can elections bring socialism?
- What is the difference between a coup and a revolution?
Chapter 7: The Need for Socialist Organization
- What kind of organization was the German SPD? How did it organize?
- What did Lenin mean by a “vanguard” party?
Supplementary reading: Ahmed Shawki, “What Kind of Party do we Need?” (https://socialistworker.org/2011/12/02/what-kind-of-party-do-we-need)
Session Four: The Success and Failure of the Russian Revolution
Chapter 8: Russia: The God that Failed?
- What was the difference between the Bolshevik, Menshevik, and Leon Trotsky’s theories about the nature of the Russian revolution?
- What were the main slogans of the Bolsheviks in the revolution?
- What were the soviets?
- Why weren’t the Bolsheviks able to fulfill their goals? What held them back?
- Is socialism synonymous with state control of the economy?
Session Five: Imperialism and Oppression
Chapter 9: Imperialism, Nationalism and War
- Is war a product of human nature?
- 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?
- What has changed about imperialism since Lenin’s day? Do those changes invalidate his theory?
- Comment on the idea that the United States intervenes all over the world to “spread democracy.”
- Is there such a thing as “national interests”?
- Discuss the validity or otherwise of this statement: “The integration of the world economy has rendered national states obsolete.”
Chapter 10: Marxism and Oppression
- Explain Lenin’s views on the right of nations to self-determination.
- Have women always been oppressed?
- What is the role of the family under capitalism?
- Has racism always existed?
- Does capitalism need racism?
- 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
- Marxists see abundance as the basis of a socialist society. How can we have abundance without ruining the environment?
- Are there “too many people” on the planet?
- What do socialists say about lifestyle choices?
Chapter 12: But What about?… Arguments against socialism
- Is capitalism more efficient than socialism?
- Aren’t people naturally competitive?
- Do the ends justify the means?
- Isn’t the working class shrinking, and aren’t we all middle class now?
- Isn’t socialism about conformity?
- Can ordinary people run society?
Chapter 13: Can it Happen Here?
- Is there something “special” about the United States history that makes socialism impossible here?
Chapter 14: Imagine…The future socialist society
- What measures would have to be taken by a workers’ government to effect a transition toward a socialist society?
- What did Marx mean by a planned economy?
Chapter 15: The Point is to Change it
- What did Engels mean when he wrote that the bourgeoisie is “unfit to rule.”
- What do we mean when we say the alternative is socialism or barbarism?