Classic reads

Why read State Capitalism in Russia?

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Many people still associate socialism and especially Marx's version of socialism with the brutal Stalinist regime in the Soviet Union.

Tony Cliff's book State Capitalism in Russia has enabled us to explain why the horrific crimes committed by the Stalinist regime had nothing to do with socialism. Instead Cliff argued that Russia under Stalin's rule became a particular form of capitalist society, state capitalism, locked into competition with its rivals in the West.

Why Read The History of the Russian Revolution?

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Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky's biographer, described The History of the Russian Revolution as Trotsky's, "Crowning work, both in scale and power and as the fullest expression of his ideas on revolution." Trotsky himself says "The history of a revolution, like every other history, ought first of all to tell what happened and how. That however is, little enough. From the very telling it ought to become clear why it happened thus and not otherwise...

"The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historical events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at these crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they...sweep aside their traditional representatives and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime."

Classic Read: Roxana

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Daniel Defoe

First published in 1724

This lesser known novel by the author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders is the "autobiography" of a professional mistress, set during the Restoration of the late 17th century. But it feels like Defoe's own time - the new world of capitalist London, in which traders are competing with aristocrats and a delicate social etiquette is coming under strain.

Why Read The Civil War in France?

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The Paris Commune of 1871 was the result of the world's first working class revolution. It survived for only two months but it was the most democratic and liberating government the world had seen up till that point. It offered a glimpse of a model of democracy that goes beyond the limited parliamentary democracy which is the best we can expect under capitalism.

Marx did not pluck a theory of what real democracy would look like from thin air - he learnt it from the concrete example of the Paris Commune. The Civil War in France, a pamphlet based on speeches to the First International, was written by Marx in 1871. It is both an impressive, succinct history of the Paris Commune and a powerful polemic against capitalism.

Classic read: Alone in Berlin

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Hans Fallada

First published in 1947

Hans Fallada's 1947 novel Alone in Berlin is set in the German capital during the Second World War. It tells the intertwined stories of families living in an apartment block and trying to cope with the Nazis' terror regime. Fallada shows ordinary people both resisting the Nazis and working for them, in a myriad of different ways.

Why read Wage-Labour and Capital?

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Wage-Labour and Capital is online at http://bit.ly/187qEer

Karl Marx's pamphlet Wage Labour and Capital first appeared as a series of articles in Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the newspaper that Marx edited during the 1848-9 revolution that swept Germany and Europe.

The articles were based lectures that Marx had given to German workers in Brussels in 1847.

Marx's aim in the pamphlet is to set out and explain "the economic conditions which form the material basis of the present struggles between classes."

Why read Socialism: Utopian and Scientific?

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Everyone who rebels against capitalism is motivated by a vision of a better, more just society. From Martin Luther King's "dream" to the way that the Occupy movement created assemblies designed to demonstrate more democratic forms of organising, to workplaces run without bosses in revolutionary Egypt to student occupations where people discuss and fight for the education free of the fetters of profit-making, people don't just get fed up with the way things are - they think about ways to organise the world differently.

These kinds of ideas are part of a long and proud history of people who have rejected the barbarity of capitalism. Freidrich Engels' pamphlet, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, summarised - and criticised - some of the most sophisticated thinkers to reject the cruelty of the Industrial Revolution and argue for a different way of organising society. Engels dubbed these thinkers - Comte de Saint-Simon, Charles Fourier and Robert Owen - the "utopian socialists".

Why read Reform and Revolution?

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Rosa Luxemburg's short book Reform or Revolution is often overlooked these days, in favour of her more famous, The Mass Strike. Written while in her late twenties, Reform or Revolution demonstrates the keeness of Luxemburg's Marxism and the sharpness of her polemic.

The book is a response to a series of articles and an eventual book by Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein was an important figure in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) to which Luxemburg also belonged. Bernstein was arguing for a movement away from the ideas embodied in classical Marxism.

Luxemburg argued "His conception of the march of economic development is incompatible with the Marxist theory of surplus value. Therefore, Bernstein abandons the theory of value and surplus value, and, in this way, the whole economic system of Karl Marx."

Why read State and Revolution

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Lenin finished writing State and Revolution in September 1917. At the time the fate of the Russian Revolution hung in the balance. After the February Revolution overthrew the Tsar, the country was run by a provisional government involving socialists in coalition with bourgeois forces.

Workers across Europe continued to be sent to the trenches in their millions in a seemingly endless imperialist war.

Lenin was aware of the desperate need for workers to take power in Russia, but also for revolution to spread beyond Russia. He aimed his arguments at Karl Kautsky, who had been the leading theoretician of the influential pre-war German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The key question was whether the existing state under capitalism could be taken over and used to advance the interests of workers.

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