The Fundamentals of Marxism: A Short Reading List

Marxist theory is a revolutionary “guide to action”—the basis for our political analysis, perspectives, program, and participation in the workers’ movement. This is why the International Marxist Tendency places so much emphasis on political education. To this end, we have created an extensive Education Plan to assist comrades in their political development. This is an important resource. However, its length and scope can seem daunting to new comrades.

With this in mind, the Editorial Board of Socialist Revolution has compiled a shorter list of classic works and other important writings we think will serve to lay a strong foundation in the ideas and methods of Marxism. We encourage all US IMT members and anyone else interested in learning more about Marxism to read or re-read the works on this list, if possible, over the course of a 12-month period. Ideally, these works should be discussed with a more experienced comrade or in small reading groups. If you’re not yet an IMT member and would like to join or discuss these readings with another comrade, reach out now to get involved!

Many other writings could be added, and depending on comrades’ interests and the particular work they are engaged in, other readings may need to take priority over this list. Nor is there a “set in stone” order in which these should be read. But we are convinced that if we all diligently and systematically work through these selections, we will be in a much better position to delve into the dozens of other classic works of Marxism outlined in the full Education Plan. Most importantly, we will also be far better equipped to apply these ideas and methods to our daily work of building the IMT and fighting for socialism in our lifetime.

Most of these works are short books or pamphlets, some are more lengthy books, and others are just short articles. We also publish reading guides for most of them. All of them are available for purchase in print from or can be read online for free.

Table of Contents


Core Classics: Marxist Classics Volume 1

On Strategy and Tactics

On Stalinism

Introduction to Marxist Economics

Imperialism and War


Introduction to Marxism

What Is Marxism?

Written by Alan Woods and Rob Sewell in 2007 (200 pages).

This work is aimed specifically at newcomers to Marxism. The book is organized into three broad sections, corresponding to the three component parts of Marxist theory: dialectical materialism, the materialist conception of history, and Marxist economics. Each chapter starts with a modern introductory overview, followed by key extracts from some of the great works of Marxism written by its most outstanding exponents: Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky. At the end of each chapter, 20 discussion questions are included to help the reader better process the text and absorb the key ideas. The book also includes a glossary of theoretical terms and concepts, as well as extensive suggestions for further reading.

Get the book here  |  Read it online here


Core Classics: Marxist Classics Volume 1

The four core classics by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky that we list below are compiled in Marxist Books’ book Marxist Classics Volume One.

The Communist Manifesto

Published by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 (30 pages).

The founding document of the communist movement has gone down in history as one of humanity’s most powerful and influential revolutionary documents. It boldly throws down the gauntlet to bourgeois society, and provides a remarkably concise survey of world history and economics in a visionary anticipation of the world we live in today: from economics to globalization, the rise of capitalism, classes, and the class struggle that has driven all recorded history. Although Marx and Engels developed and refined these ideas much further in subsequent works, all the basic elements are present in embryo in this work. In fact, the Manifesto is more relevant today than when it was first written, not because the authors had a crystal ball, but because they were the first to combine Hegelian dialectics with materialist philosophy—resulting in the most powerful tool for intellectual inquiry yet devised by humanity.

Get the booklet here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide  |  Get Marxist Classics Vol. 1

Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Written by Friedrich Engels in 1878 (40 pages).

In this short text—originally published in Anti-Dühring, and later as one of the most popular socialist pamphlets in history—Engels explains the origins of scientific socialism, dialectics, and historical materialism. The idea of a society based on cooperation and equality is very old and has reappeared at different times and in various forms. It was brilliantly expounded by the early French socialists Saint Simon, Fourier, and by Robert Owen, who founded the cooperative movement in England in the early 19th century. These were great and original thinkers who were far ahead of their time. But for all the socialist and communist thinkers before Marx, socialism was seen in mainly moral and ethical terms—it was simply a “good idea,” which for some reason people had not thought of earlier. As Engels explains, Marxism starts from the premise that changing society is not merely a matter of coming up with the idea of socialism, but of having the material means to actually provide a world of plenty for all.

Get Marxist Classics Vol. 1 here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide

State and Revolution

Written by V.I. Lenin in 1917 (100 pages).

This important work of Marxist theory was written by Lenin while working in clandestinity between August and September of 1917. It was a means by which the cadres of Bolshevism were theoretically armed in preparation for the task of leading the Russian working class to power. It analyzes the origins of the state as an instrument for maintaining class rule, the need for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois state, how a workers’ state must be used by the working class to defend the socialist revolution, and how the state would “wither way” in the transition from socialism to communism as a result of the gradual dissolution of classes. Lenin also examines the views put forward by the anarchists and reformists, exposing their limitations, quoting extensively from Engels and Marx. Basing himself on these earlier works, he presents a comprehensive and authoritative Marxist analysis of the state.

Get the book here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide  |  Get Marxist Classics Vol. 1

The Transitional Program

Written by Leon Trotsky in 1938 (42 pages).

How do Marxists use programmatic demands to win the working class to the cause of revolutionary socialism? In the founding document of the Fourth International, Trotsky explains the need to use transitional demands to bridge the gap between “minimum demands” and “maximum demands”; between the present consciousness of the working class and the need for the socialist transformation of society; and between the revolutionary party and the advanced workers. The task of today’s revolutionaries is to raise demands that bridge today’s level of class consciousness with the need for socialism, objectively stating what is, and what is needed to raise that consciousness.

Get Marxist Classics Vol. 1 here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide


On Strategy and Tactics

Where to Begin

Written by Lenin in 1901 (7 pages).

A brilliant, compact summary of the ideas further developed by Lenin in his 1902 classic, What Is to Be Done? In it, he outlines the need for a disciplined revolutionary party, painstakingly prepared ahead of “explosions and outbursts,” and organized around a revolutionary newspaper. As he explains, “A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer.” These and other essential insights into the relationship between the class, the party, and the leadership are as relevant as ever as we build the modern incarnation of the original Bolshevik Party.

Read it online here

“Left-wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder

Written by V.I. Lenin in 1920 (97 pages).

The Communist International, which was created after the Russian Revolution, was formed mostly from left-wing splits in the Socialist International. Many had ultraleft positions, as a reaction against  decades of the reformist leadership of the Socialist Parties. Lenin used this book to educate the young cadres of the Comintern in the methods of Bolshevism and the relation between the class, the party, and the leadership. His insistence on combining supreme tactical flexibility with intransigence in the politics and rigorous attention to theory retains all its pertinence for today’s Bolsheviks.

Get Marxist Classics Vol. 2 here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide


On Stalinism

Stalinism and Bolshevism

By Leon Trotsky (1937)


Get Marxist Classics Vol. 2 hereRead it online here

The Revolution Betrayed

Written by Leon Trotsky in 1936 (208 pages).

The most serious Marxist analysis of what happened to the Russian Revolution after the death of Lenin. Trotsky provides a profound analysis of the 1930s Soviet state, explains the potential for genuine socialism hinted at by the advances of the USSR, and outlines the tasks of the Marxists in relation to it. He predicts in advance that if a political revolution did not succeed in overthrowing the bureaucratic regime and replacing it with workers’ democracy, capitalism would eventually be restored, with tragic consequences for the Soviet and world working class. As Trotsky once explained, a nationalized planned economy needs democracy as the human body needs oxygen. Without a thorough understanding of this work, it is impossible to understand the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Get the book here  |  Read it online here


Introduction to Marxist Economics

Wage Labor and Capital

Written by Karl Marx in 1847 (42 pages).

This short work is one of the best-known introductory texts on Marxist economics. It is based on a series of lectures delivered by Marx at the Workingmen’s Club of Brussels in 1847, in which he explains in everyday language how labor creates value, how capital exploits labor, and how wages are determined in capitalism. Although it is an early work, it contains the outline of Marx’s development of the Labor Theory of Value and many important insights into the workings of the capitalist system and the way in which workers are exploited.

Get Marxist Classics Vol. 2 here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide

Value, Price, and Profit

Written by Karl Marx in 1865 (56 pages).

In contrast to Wage Labor and Capital, which was written before the Communist Manifesto and at a time when Marx had not yet fully developed his theories of political economy, Value, Price and Profit, was produced at a time when the Labor Theory of Value had already matured in Marx’s thinking. It was first delivered as a speech to the International Working Men’s Association (the First International) in 1865, while he was working on the first volume of Capital, which was published two years later.

Get Marxist Classics Vol. 2 here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide


Imperialism and War

Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

Written by V.I. Lenin in 1916 (132 pages)

This classic work was written in the midst of World War I, and served to train a new layer of Marxists after the betrayal of many of the leaders of the Socialist International, who had capitulated to “their” national capitalist classes. It explains how industrial capital came to dominate merchant capital, only to be further dominated by finance capital. It also details the rise of gigantic monopolies concentrating enormous wealth in a few hands. In addition, it explains how imperialist nations dominate others through the export of capital, terms of trade that favor the more powerful countries, and the use of military power to impose their will.

Get the book here  |  Read it online here  |  View our reading guide


If you have read through all of these works and feel you have a handle on the basics, it’s time to explore the many classics available in our more complete Education Plan, and to keep up with current events and the application of the Marxist method by regularly visiting and

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