Beginner Socialist/Communist Reading List?


#1

I don’t know if it’s acceptable to create a topic just because I’m curious about the answer, but I’m sure I can’t be the only person on this forum in the same boat of wanting to be more knowledgeable about politics but having no idea where to start.

I know that I can’t just jump into a higher level political philosophy text, since most of those would assume prior knowledge of the basic movements and writings and such to build upon those, and I don’t even know where I would start learning about those. To be completely honest, I only know very vaguely the distinction between communism and socialism (thanks American educational system!), and once it breaks down into more granular categories like Trotskyism I’m completely lost.

So folks, what are your recommendations for where to start? I’m sure there are some good articles that’d clear up basic ideas and terminology pretty well, but I’m also looking for books to get a more detailed understanding of things and figure out where I fall in terms of ideology.


#2

Might sound cliché, but

The Communist Manifesto is the best place to start imo


#3
  • Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, Debt: The First 5000 Years, and The Utopia of Rules, by David Graber, for some relatively light reading about anarchism from an anthropological perspective
  • The Communist Manifesto is a great place to start, as well… It’s short and not that hard.
  • The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin, one of the key texts of anarchist thought
  • Das Kapital by Karl Marx, if you’re in for a doozy, this one’s long and split into three volumes (the link is only to the first), but is the foundation underpinning much of modern leftist thought.
  • Anarchism and Other Essays, by Emma Goldman, another leftist thinker who was huge in developing anarchist thought in the 20th century

But, in all honesty, a lot can be gleaned by just hanging out with and listening to leftists. Anyone who insists that you read a bunch of old books to participate in their movement is a jerk. To get started I recommend the podcasts Delete Your Account and Chapo Trap House, and if you’re on twitter I recommend you follow @mechapoetic, @bombsfall, and @mcclure111, and @vogon, all of whom will point you to loads of smart people.

Generally, The Anarchist Library is a good resource for a lot of free writing about leftism.


#4

I googled the thread topic and these came up:

http://socialistappeal.org/resources-2/educate-yourself/1018-marxist-fundamentals-reading-list.html



There is also a dedicated Marxist library at https://www.marxists.org/archive/index.htm


#5

Communist Manifesto still holds up. It’s short enough that I hand wrote my copy cuz I didn’t want it stained by the capitalist system. It’s definitely more of an introduction, but it’s a good way to get the terms into your ear. Unfortunately it was written before the Industrial Revolution, as I imagine the thinking would change as both labor has been significantly devalued and work is no longer the sole reason for existence. Das Kapital is longer and also written by Marx; I haven’t read it myself yet.

I’ve only read abt Communism in the context of history. I can personally recommend A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes. It covers the 1917 Russian Revolution. It’s a bit more broad in topic range if you want a straight up philosophy book, I’ve found history is more fun to read. I’ve been thinking about its portrayal of Tsar Nicolas II alot recently.


#6

I’m really interested in what else comes up in this thread. I was an academic, so my readings are a little different, but I fundamentally agree with lycaon:

The answer to your question really depends on what you’re looking for. Do you want to be an activist? Do you want foundational work? I would actually recommend two things that sort of sit in the middle… ish … of that spectrum.

1 - The Worldly Philosophers by Robert Heilbroner, is an overview of fundamental strains of economic thought that run from Adam Smith through Marx and Keynes. It’s a really approachable, understandable introduction to each. It crystallized a lot of things in big ways for me when I was a grad student.

2 - Capitalism and Social Democracy by Adam Przeworski. Okay, this is deeper, but Przeworski is wrestling with some critical questions about how social democratic movements accomplish their goals. This is denser, but for me opens a lot of doors. I went looking for my copy and couldn’t find it, but this scan of the intro, first chapter, and postscript will give you a ton to read and think about.

This topic is deep, and I agree on the recommendation to take a look at Kapital, and also throw in Thomas Piketty’s Capital from a couple of years ago; there’s a reason that one struck such a nerve. For an extremely critical and near-historical perspective, I also got a lot out of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine as an application of particular economic perspectives on 20th century policy and practice.


#7

Basic theory is a great place to start. And a lot of the links already posted in reply to this are great.

But looking at the living, breathing world around us is just as important. So I’m gonna recommend reading Revolution in Rojava: Democratic Autonomy and Women’s Liberation in the Syrian Kurdistan.

They’re taking radical ideas and ideals (especially for the region) and turning them into reality. Ideas like egalitarianism/Feminism (roughly 50% of the government & military is female), Libertarian Socialism, Secularism, Democratic Socialism, Communalism, Pluralism, etc-. They’ve also (maybe most incredibly) effectively stopped any/all religious conflict and/or ethnic conflict.

And remember that this isn’t something from the past, this is happening right now.


#8

Every book lycaon recommended is gold.

I came into politics in a roundabout way. My main interest when I was younger was art, and I discovered a lot of political works by reading about that. Reading about the artists I was interested in just kind of naturally put things on my radar. One of my favorite books is ‘Anarchist Modernisim’ by Allan Antliff. Not that I’m necessarily recommending that book to you, but I would maybe suggest looking for books written about things you’re already interested in that also provide some political insight. As a jumping off point. I don’t think there’s any one book that’s going to define your politics. I’ve read like, 1,000 books (many with footnotes!) and I’m still dumb as hell.


#9

@lycaon’s book list is v good, but if you have zero foundational reading, I could see them being intimidating.

So let me add one quick suggestion: I don’t love it, but Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right is a very good entry point into Marxist thought. Eagleton is a literary theorist, not an economist, and the strength of his prose reflects that, I think. In really clear speech, he unfolds a reading Marx that is amendable to modern readers, and in doing so, makes a subtle case against supposedly dogmatic readings. So, as long as you’re careful not to read his own analysis as The Analysis, and instead use it as a starting point, you’d be in good hands.

Unsurprisingly, from there I think the freshman Marx scholar should read The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, which can work as a great building block for reading Marx’s own prose (and which includes the dude at his most evocative.)

And hey, when it’s time to dig into Capital, remember that David Harvey has a massive video course online for free!


#11

David Harvey’s videos and book ‘A Companion to Marx’s Capitol’ were a welcome aide when reading Capitol. I almost recommended it, but it took me like, two years to get through it all…


#12

I’ll add that LibriVox has a free audiobook of Capital narrated by a soothing British man.
https://librivox.org/capital-volume-1-by-karl-marx/


#13

Hate to keep posting here but I thought of an okay book: Hatred of Capitalism, published by semiotext(e). That book offers a lot of jumping off points, no answers.


#14

da share z0ne


#15

Some good intersectional/postcolonial stuff (maybe not directly related to what you’re looking for, but both are absolutely vital to modern socialist/communist thought):

<a href=“https://www.amazon.com/dp/B001C32HE6/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1”>The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon
<a href=“https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NDTUDIY/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1”>Orientalism by Edward Said
<a href=“https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0054KKRKY/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494829846&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=women+race+and+class”>Women, Race, & Class by Angela Davis
<a href=“https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B00N980EQK/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494829898&sr=8-1&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=settlers+the+mythology+of+the+white+proletariat”>Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat from Mayflower to Modern by J. Sakai


#16

http://www.workers.org/books2016/what-is-marxism-all-about-by-fist.pdf This is a very simple, straightforward explanation of a lot of the basic stuff. It’s what I usually send to new people.


#17

I’m going to second Highwire’s sentiment and their list. I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to reach for Marx’s original writing (I only ever did when it was required reading for sociology classes), and I think it’s at least as important to be conversant in intersectionality as in economic marxist theory.

I want to point out something like Children of the Broken Treaty by Charlie Angus. This one’s from a specifically Canadian perspective, but it’s a great case study on the ways in which colonial practices can be contorted and reformed to look like progress while perpetuating the same oppression that minorities have always suffered. It also touches on the ways that contemporary activism is changing, which leads me to another point:

I think studying media theory is often overlooked but will only become more and more valuable as we intermingle media into our daily lives more and more.


#18

I would add to this excellent list

Assata by Assata Shakur (very readable, as its an auto-biography)
Soledad Brother by George Jackson (ditto, it’s an epistolary book so it’s all letters he sent in jail, and it traces his becoming radical)
Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B Du Bois (A little dryer as it’s history but this book completely changed my entire understanding of American History)


#19

I actually think the best books you can read with regards to communism are fiction: the sci-fi novels of Iain M. Banks’ Culture series. They depict a post-scarcity, effectively utopian interstellar future for humanity (using ‘humanity’ in quite a broad sense).

It is de facto communist rather than avowedly so, given that those kinds of economic distinctions have become rather moot, but I think what it crucially illustrates is that if we want to realise the goals of communism, our immediate objective should not be to restructure society wholesale as-is, but to work towards realising, through technological progress and political change, a material condition in which, through sheer plenitude, selfish motives and the primal fear of insufficiency and death that breeds them – which otherwise tend to militate that communist movements inevitably contain the seeds of their destruction within them – are essentially obsolete.

To do this, we need to encourage the development, through collective, internationally collaborative endeavour, of automation and artificial intelligences, with the explicit goal of sustainably meeting the basic needs of and de-necessitating work for every human being on the planet. That is, I believe, the only viable path to the utopia promised by communism. For other paths, the danger of the dictatorship of the proletariat (or what have you) metamorphosing sooner or later into just another oppressive elite is much too great.


#20

Lots of good recs already so I’ll just add this note: lots of stuff you’re already possibly reading will change once you’ve internalised some tenets from this foundational stuff. Both a socialist (“how to fix capitalism to not be so broken”) and communist (“capitalism is the problem”) lens provide insight and also can be enhanced by looking at the intersections (overlapping oppressions) with other issues.

Good feminist texts are improved by having internalised a few of the core ideas in these beginner texts and reading them improves your understanding of how class oppression interacts with the patriarchy. An understanding of class means nothing if you’re blind to racism and how racism interacts with classism/capitalism.

To give an example, I was recently reading Inequality: What Can Be Done? and it’s a deeply capitalist book. At most you can point to it as on the Right side of socialism. But I got a lot out of reading it because of a grounding in Leftist ideas. The data is often good, even if the conclusions are less easy to recommend (especially if you think that capitalism cannot be rehabilitated/is fundamental to generating mass inequality).


#21

The be honest wikipedia is always a great starting point. If you then find a stream you might be more interested in like for say Stalinism or Marxisme etc… you can find more in books they have written or stuff people wrote about it most off these thing are really out off date. In one of Karl Marx books for example. Karl Marx advised to kill cultural groups like Scots Basks and other European cultural group cause they where lacking in cultural advancement real mental stuff… And as always Communism sounds great on paper but in the end off the day way more people died of Communism then people died from Fascism don’t forget that. Hoped this helped a bit.