“Am I a Marxist?”

Being aware of and opposed to injustice doesn’t make one a Marxist, so activists sometimes ask me this question. To find out, they could read volumes and of Marx & Engels and decide if they agree. A short cut for you might be to read Lenin’s tiny pamphlet “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism,” at the bottom of this page, and see if you agree with that.

Even shorter would be to go through this little questionnaire. If your answer agrees with mine, you go to the next question. If not, you check with Lenin by reading the section indicated. Then try again. There are only 6 questions. In each group, just pick the answer that you think is most true.


·       We can, and should, be scientific about social questions

·       Social "science" is more art than anything else

·       It doesn't matter whether it's science or art

·       Social science is scientific and, like other science, impartial


·       The best social science is unique and repudiates what came before

·       The best social science builds on previous thinking

·       There is no "best" social science

·       It doesn't matter whether or not previous thinking is considered


·       It's best to be an idealist because materialism should be beneath us

·       Materialism gives an exact picture of all truth

·       Exact or not, materialism yields more truth than idealism

·       Neither one is better. Both should be used equally


·       The more things change, the more they stay the same

·       Things change, but they just go back and forth like a pendulum

·       Things change, but their movement is circular

·       Things change, and they go in a forward (higher) direction

·       Things change, and they generally get worse throughout history


·       If you want to change things, you have to use only all-new elements

·       If you want to change things, you have to use presently existing elements

·       If you want to change things, all-new elements will be used more than old ones

·       If you want to change things, presently existing elements will be used a little more than all-new ones


·       People from all walks of life have generally the same goals

·       People from different walks of life have slightly different goals

·       Some goals of some groups are unalterably opposed to those of others

·       We should rise above people's perceived differences

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                                             V.I. Lenin (1913)


Throughout the civilized world the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of "pernicious sect." And no other attitude is to be expected,

for there can be no "impartial" social science in a society based on class struggle.


In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage slavery, where Marxism has declared relentless war on wage slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wage-slave society is as silly and naive as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers' wages should be increased by decreasing the profits of capital.


But this is not all. The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling "sectarianism" in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine

which arose away from the highroad of development of world civilization.


On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in the fact that he furnished answers to questions which had already engrossed the foremost minds of humanity. His teachings arose as a direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of  the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism. The Marxian doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is complete and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world conception which is irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defense of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor of the best that was created by humanity in the nineteenth century in the shape of German philosophy, English political economy and French Socialism. On these three sources of Marxism, which are at the same time its component parts, we shall dwell briefly.



The philosophy of Marxism is materialism. Throughout the modern history of  Europe, and especially at the end of the eighteenth century in France, which was  the scene of a decisive battle against every kind of medieval rubbish, against

feudalism in institutions and ideas, materialism has proved to be the only  philosophy that is consistent, true to all the teachings of natural science and  hostile to superstition, cant and so forth. The enemies of democracy therefore  tried in every way to "refute," undermine and defame materialism, and advocated various forms of philosophical idealism, which always, in one way or another,  amounts to an advocacy or support of religion.


Marx and Engels always defended philosophical materialism in the most determined  manner and repeatedly explained the profound error of every deviation from this basis. Their views are most clearly and fully expounded in the works of Engels,

Ludwig Feuerbach and Anti-Dühring, which like the Communist Manifesto, are handbooks for every class-conscious worker.


But Marx did not stop at the materialism of the eighteenth century; he advanced philosophy. He enriched it

with the acquisitions of German classical philosophy, especially of the Hegelian system, which in its turn led to the materialism of Feuerbach. The chief of these acquisitions is dialectics, i.e., the doctrine of developments in its fullest and deepest forms, free of one-sidedness - the doctrine of the relativity of human knowledge, which provides us with a reflection of eternally

developing matter. The latest discoveries of natural science - radium, electrons, the transmutation of elements - have confirmed remarkably Marx's dialectical materialism, despite the teachings of the bourgeois philosophers with their "new" reversions to old and rotten idealism.


Deepening and developing philosophical materialism, Marx completed it, extended its knowledge of nature to the knowledge of human society. Marx's historical materialism was one of the greatest achievements of scientific thought. The

chaos and arbitrariness that had previously reigned in the views on history and politics gave way to a strikingly integral and harmonious scientific theory, which shows how, in consequence of the growth of productive forces, out of one

system of social life another and higher system develops-how capitalism, for instance, grows out of feudalism.

Just as man's knowledge reflects nature (i.e., developing matter), which exists independently of him, so man's social knowledge (i.e., the various views and doctrines - philosophical, religious, political, and so forth) reflects the economic system of society. Political institutions are a superstructure on the economic foundation. We see, for example, that the various political forms of

the modern European states serve to fortify the rule of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat.


Marx's philosophy is matured philosophical materialism, which has provided humanity, and especially the working class, with powerful instruments of knowledge.



Having recognized that the economic system is the foundation on which the political superstructure is erected, Marx devoted most attention to the study of this economic system. Marx's principal work, Capital, is devoted to a study of

the economic system of modern, i.e., capitalist, society. Classical political economy, before Marx, evolved in England, the most developed of the capitalist countries. Adam Smith and David Ricardo, by their investigations of the economic system, laid the foundations of the labor theory of value.


Marx continued their work. He rigidly proved and consistently developed this theory. He showed that the value of every commodity is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labor time spent on its production. Where the bourgeois economists saw a relation of things (the exchange of one commodity for another), Marx revealed a relation of men. The exchange of commodities expresses the tie by which individual producers are bound through the market. Money signifies that this tie is becoming closer and closer, inseparably binding the entire economic life of the individual producers into

one whole.


Capital signifies a further development of this tie: man's labor power becomes a commodity. The wage-worker sells labor power to the owner of the land, factories and instruments of labor. The worker uses one part of the labor day to cover the expense of maintaining himself and his family (wages), while the other part of the day the worker toils without remuneration, creating surplus value for the capitalist, the source of profit, the source of the wealth of the capitalist class.


The doctrine of surplus value is the cornerstone of Marx's economic theory. Capital, created by the labor of the worker, presses on the worker by ruining the small masters and creating an army of unemployed. In industry, the victory

of large-scale production is at once apparent, but we observe the same phenomenon in agriculture as well: the superiority of large-scale capitalist agriculture increases, the application of machinery grows, peasant economy falls into the noose of money-capital, it declines and sinks into ruin, burdened by its backward technique. In agriculture, the decline of small-scale production

assumes different forms, but the decline itself is an indisputable fact.


By destroying small-scale production, capital leads Lo an increase in productivity of labor and to the creation of a monopoly position for the associations of big capitalists. Production itself becomes more and more social-hundreds of thousands and millions of workers become bound together in a systematic economic organism-but the product of the collective labor is

appropriated by a handful of capitalists. The anarchy of production grows, as do crises, the furious chase after markets and the insecurity of existence of the mass of the population.


While increasing the dependence of the workers on capital, the capitalist system creates the great power of united labor. Marx traced the development of capitalism from the first germs of commodity economy, from simple exchange, to its highest forms, to large-scale production. And the experience of all capitalist countries, old and new, is clearly demonstrating the truth of this Marxian doctrine to increasing numbers of workers every year. Capitalism has triumphed all over the world, but this triumph is only the prelude to the triumph of labor over capital.



When feudalism was overthrown, and "free" capitalist society appeared on God's earth, it at once became apparent that this freedom meant a new system of oppression and exploitation of the toilers. Various socialist doctrines

immediately began to rise as a reflection of and protest against this oppression. But early socialism was utopian socialism. It criticized capitalist society, it condemned and damned it, it dreamed of its destruction, it indulged in fancies of a better order and endeavored to convince the rich of the immorality of exploitation.


However, utopian socialism could not point the real way out. It could not explain the essence of wage-slavery under capitalism, nor discover the laws of its development, nor point to the social force which is capable of becoming the

creator of a new society. Meanwhile, the stormy revolutions which everywhere in Europe, and especially in France, accompanied the fall of feudalism, of serfdom, more and more clearly revealed the struggle of classes as the basis and the

motive force of the whole development. Not a single victory of political freedom over the feudal class was won except

against desperate resistance. Not a single capitalist country evolved on a more or less free and democratic basis except by a life and death struggle between the various classes of capitalist society.


The genius of Marx consists in the fact that he was able before anybody else to draw from this and apply consistently the deduction that world history teaches. This deduction is the doctrine of the class struggle. People always were and always will be the stupid victims of deceit and self-deceit in politics until they learn to discover the interests of some class

behind all moral, religious, political and social phrases, declarations and promises. The supporters of reforms and improvements will always be fooled by the defenders of the old order until they realize that every old institution,

however barbarous and rotten it may appear to be, is maintained by the forces of some ruling classes. And there is only one way of smashing the resistance of these classes, and that is to find, in the very society which surrounds us, and

to enlighten and organize for the struggle, the forces which can -- and, owing to their social position, must -- constitute a power capable of sweeping away the old and creating the new.


Marx's philosophical materialism has alone shown the proletariat the way out of the spiritual slavery in which all oppressed classes have hitherto languished. Marx's economic theory has alone explained the true position of the proletariat

in the general system of capitalism. Independent organizations of the proletariat are multiplying all over the world,

from America to Japan and from Sweden to South Africa. The proletariat is becoming enlightened and educated by waging its class struggle; it is ridding itself of the prejudices of bourgeois society; it is rallying its ranks ever more closely and is learning to gauge the measure of its successes; it is steeling its forces and is growing irresistibly.



Written by Lenin in March, 1913
























Q1 right: You’re absolutely right. The first two paragraphs of Lenin’s introduction show clearly that Marxism is a social science and that, under conditions of class struggle, it cannot be impartial. Please use the “back” function and try the second question.

























Q2 Right: Nobody ever said that Marx & Engels “invented” everything. Like smart people of any period, they used what had already developed. Both of them gave credit to those who came before. It’s explained in the introduction to the essay.
























Q3 Right: Materialism is the foundation of Marxist thinking. At the same time, Marxist dialectics teaches us to avoid words like “always” and “never.” Lenin covers this under the first topic of his essay. In my own conversations with co-workers, I think that this is the big stumbling block. As long as people think that truth comes from supernatural sources, or if they aren’t able to define where truth actually comes from, they can convince themselves of anything. When I can’t get people to agree with me that the real world around us provides the means to determine and test what’s true and what’s not, I know it will be triple hard to discuss important issues.

























Q4 Right: The 4th paragraph of the first section deals with historical materialism. A really good book is Origin of the Family, Property and the State by Engels. But you don’t have to read your eyes out to know that human society has improved its overall condition. Anybody want to go back to slavery days?

























Q5 Right: Right. The class struggle as it exists today is what we have to work with. In fact, those who develop the best tactics are those who understand the situation best. Lenin makes this clear in the third section of his essay.
























Q6 Right: The third paragraph of the third section of the essay explains the class struggle. Without understanding it, we can’t understand history. Without history, we can’t understand the situation today. Without understanding the class struggle, our tactics are likely to be wrong.


If you worked your way through the essay and all 6 questions, Lenin would say you’re a Marxist. There aren’t any prizes for being a Marxist, but you can make better decisions and make more of a contribution. At least, that’s my opinion.

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