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There are two things that beginning students of socialism should guard

themselves against. One is the idea that there are short cuts to understanding
socialism. The other is the idea that socialism can be learned by reading the
works of nonsocialist or anti-Marxist "socialists" who pretend to treat the
subject objectively.

There are no short cuts to an understanding of the fundamental principles of

socialism. This is not to say that serious students cannot be guided and
shown how to use their time fruitfully and economically. They can be, and it is
our purpose here to provide some guidance and direction to the beginner.


As to short cuts, it is especially important to avoid secondary sources of

"information" on socialism. The "scholars" who produce such secondary
studies are, even when they claim to be socialists, almost invariably hostile to
Marxism, which is to say, to genuine socialism. One consequence of this is
that lies and distortions of Marxism, invented by supposed "authorities,"
become the raw material for scores of treatments of alleged Marxist concepts
and "histories" of the socialist movement.

As for the idea that socialism may be understood by reading books that are
allegedly "objective," this is based on a fundamental misconception of what
socialism is.

Socialism is a science. But it is not like botany, or electronics, or chemistry.

Socialism is also politics--working-class politics--and it challenges the existing
capitalist order at almost every point. For that reason, as Marx expressed it,
socialism arouses "the most violent, mean and malignant passions of the
human breast, the furies of private interest." Rare indeed is the capitalist or
capitalist-minded "scholar" who can be objective about socialism.

Students who really want to understand Marxism won't sell themselves short
by going to secondary sources. They will go to original sources. They will go
to the works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, the founders of scientific
socialism, to Daniel De Leon and to the works of other recognized exponents
of Marxism.


"How should one begin?" is a question the serious beginner may find difficult
to answer. Socialism is a science of considerable dimensions. It involves
history, sociology, politics, economics and even anthropology. A study of
socialism leads into all these fields. But all aspects of socialism dovetail, and
scientific socialism may be said to rest on three basic theories or principles.
They are:

• The materialist conception of history.

• The law of value, with its corollary theory of surplus


• The class struggle.

We believe beginners can best prepare themselves to grasp these theories
and principles by first reading four pamphlets by Daniel De Leon. De Leon was
not only a master of Marxian science; he also had a gift for simplifying
complex ideas. While the four pamphlets we refer to were first published
many years ago, their lucid explanation of basic socialist principles lends them
remarkable freshness. The four pamphlets are: Reform or Revolution, What
Means This Strike? The Burning Question of Trades Unionism and Socialist
Reconstruction of Society.

Our advice to beginning students is that they next concentrate on grasping

the Marxian theory of history--historical materialism. There are few brief
works that unfold this vital area of thought better than the Communist
Manifesto and Engels' Socialism: From Utopia to Science.

There are other important elaborations of the materialist conception of

history. But these can wait for later. Here we would suggest that beginning
students proceed by turning their attention to Marxian economics, starting
with Marx's Wage-Labor and Capital and his later work Value, Price and Profit.

By this time beginning students will find that they have a good grasp of the
meaning of the class struggle, for it is an aspect of socialism that is
inseparable from the study of historical materialism and Marxian economics.
However, the manifold implications of the class struggle are elaborated in a
large number of works listed in our catalogue. One that the beginning student
can profit from is Capitalism and Unemployment.

Finally, for students who wish to learn something about what socialism is not,
we recommend Socialism Today: A Reply to Time Magazine and The Nature of
Soviet Society.

From this point, beginning students of socialism will find that they have the
basic orientation needed to find their own way.