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There were scenes of jubilation in Paris last Saturday evening, as delegates from almost 200 countries celebrated the results of over two weeks of negotiations at the 2015 United Nations climate change conference, COP21. World leaders have declared the Paris agreement to be a “historic” landmark in the fight against climate change; an unprecedented display of cooperation in terms of international efforts to curb global warming.

According to the Financial Times (12th December 2015), “John Kerry, US secretary of state, said: ‘This is a tremendous victory for all of our citizens . . . It is a victory for all of the planet and for future generations . . . I know that all of us will be better off for the agreement we have finalised here today.’”, whilst “Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief climate negotiator, hailed the agreement as a ‘milestone in the global efforts to respond to climate change.’”

Elsewhere, again according to the FT (13th December 2015), “Angela Merkel, German chancellor, said the deal was ‘the first time that the entire world community has obligated itself to act — to act in the battle against global climate change’, while Pope Francis also praised the “concerted effort and generous dedication” of those involved.

But before the ink had even dried on the paper, doubts were already being raised about the viability of the agreement – doubts that, in the final analysis, reflect the limitations and contradictions of the capitalist system.

Rising temperatures; increasing pressure

So why all the backslapping and self-congratulating amongst representatives at COP21? In many respects, the joy on display in Paris was the result of the extremely low expectations that have been sown in relation to such negotiations, due to years of anti-climactic posturing and paralysis.

For more than two decades, until now, the world has been treated to an annual display of complete impotence by political leaders, who have routinely failed to agree on any way forward in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Delegates have simply been unable to decide how responsibility should be shared out, with each nation’s representatives simply trying to export the problem elsewhere. The last major attempt in Copenhagen in 2009 accomplished almost nothing, with the sole outcome being a pathetic “accord”, worth less than the paper it was written on. The fact that anything has been agreed this time round is therefore considered to be a major achievement.

Many commentators, however, have gone much further and praised the Paris agreement for committing almost all countries to a programme of carbon emission reduction targets that aim to keep global temperature increases (compared to pre-industrial levels) to below 2°C, with efforts to limit increases to an even more ambitious 1.5°C figure. Furthermore, the agreement requires countries to revisit and assess their progress and targets every five years, with aims to have net-zero average worldwide carbon emissions by the year 2050. And for the first time, the biggest emitters – the US, China, and India – are signed up to an international climate change agreement.

The fact that such commitments have been made is a reflection of the grassroots campaigning and pressure from below that has taken place over the months and years leading up to COP21. As the natural and social impacts of climate change become apparent to all, and with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets worldwide in recent weeks to demand the protection of our planet, delegates in Paris will have felt the eyes of the world burning into the back of their heads as they attempted to negotiate a deal.

The elephant in the room

ClimateMarchNov2015 2Nevertheless, the limits of the Paris agreement were also quickly plain to see. Many have rightly noted that the Paris agreement provides no legally binding commitments to reduce carbon emissions – a point of contention that was at the centre of the breakdowns in all previous negotiations. To avoid embarrassment this time around, UN organiser simply ignored this elephant in the room, instead asking countries to supply “intended” targets for emission reduction. But, as the Economist (12th December 2015) notes:

“The efforts outlined in the pledges on climate action—‘intended nationally determined contributions’ that 186 of the countries at the Paris negotiations have provided—are more in line with a total warming of 3°C than one of less than 2°C, the limit that was written into previous UN documents, let alone 1.5°C.”

Michael McCarthy, environmental columnist for the Independent, asserted that, “the treaty which has been four laborious years in the making is simply not enough.”

“It will not, as it stands, keep global warming below the recognised danger threshold for the world of 2C above the pre-industrial level – still less below the new ‘aspirational’ limit of 1.5C, which the conference decided upon in one of its most eye-catching moves.”

The environmentalist and journalist, continues:

“We need to be clear: there is no guarantee whatsoever that the present settlement will bring about the necessary cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which are causing the atmosphere to warm, with potentially disastrous effect. The voluntary CO2 reductions which virtually all countries promised in the run-up to the conference, even if implemented in full – and that’s a big if – will only hold the projected warming down to 2.7°C at best, which is well into the danger zone for the world; and this recognition of the agreement’s limitations is at the heart of the criticism levelled at it over the weekend from some of the more radical climate campaigning groups.”

We should add, however, that even the limited targets and plans that have been agreed at COP21 represent no more than good intentions at the present time. As the developmental economist, Jeffrey Sachs, emphasised in response to the results of the climate change negotiations, writing in the Financial Times (12th December 2015):

“The diplomats have done their job: the Paris agreement points the world in the right direction…It does not, however, ensure implementation, which remains the domain of politicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers and civil society.”

Sachs – a renowned bourgeois economist – is being a bit generous to his friends in Washington and Wall Street, however; for the failure to act against climate change does not lie in the slightest at the feet of “scientists, engineers and civil society”. The problem is not one of science and technology, but one of class interests, with the bosses and bankers – and their political representatives in all countries – first and foremost seeking to protect the profits of big business.

This was clearly displayed within hours of the agreement in Paris, as the chief executives of major fossil fuel corporations – so confident of having the final say on the matter of environmental policy and regulation – stated that they did not see any change to their plans as a result of COP21 negotiations. Indeed, to stress this point unambiguously, politicians from the US Republicans spoke categorically of their opposition to the Paris agreement, as the FT reports:

“In the US, Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, questioned the Paris deal, saying that the US portion relied on measures championed by President Barack Obama that were being challenged in the courts.
“‘Before his international partners pop the champagne, they should remember that this is an unattainable deal based on a domestic energy plan that is likely illegal, that half the states have sued to halt, and that Congress has already voted to reject,’ Mr McConnell said.
“A spokesman for Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, told the Financial Times: ‘This agreement does not bind Congress in any way, and we will continue to focus on an energy policy that promotes America’s abundant natural resources.’”

The road to hell…

dead endRegardless of the good intentions and political colours of those world leaders who are now tasked with implementing the decisions taken in Paris, however, within the shackles and straightjacket of the capitalist system, such international agreements remain, at best, unstable and uncertain; at worst, they are dangerous utopias and illusions.

At root is the barrier of the nation state, which under capitalism exists to protect the profits and interests of the capitalist class within its borders on the world stage. Like a thieving band of pirates, such nations may be able to cooperate in the short term as long as there is enough fruit from their plunder to go around; but as soon as the loot dries up, the bandits and gangsters will quickly be at each other’s throats.

The world has seen major international agreements in the past; most notably, the formation of the post-war consensus surrounding the Bretton Woods agreement, which was responsible for creating an international monetary system, with global bodies such as the United Nations and the World Bank at its helm. Such international co-operation in the post-war period, however, was a product of a unique convergence of historical factors, which led to a massive economic upswing, and an unprecedented epoch of geo-political stability, presided over by the hegemonic and unrivalled world power of US imperialism.

Today, the conditions for such stability are long gone. The material conditions for reforms have been shattered as a result of the deepest crisis in capitalism’s history; the decline of US imperialism, meanwhile, along with the impacts of the global economic crisis, have given rise to the most turbulent geo-political relations since World War Two. This is demonstrated point blank by the crises in the Middle East; the disintegration of the European project; a collapse in oil prices; the scourge of terrorism and fundamentalism; and the waves of refugees fleeing wars and poverty abroad.

Who pays?

At the end of the day, the question boils down to a simple one: who pays? As part of the Paris agreement, the advanced capitalist countries have promised to transfer at least $100bn per year to developing countries by 2020, to help the most vulnerable nations deal with the impacts and effects of climate change. On top of this, there is a clear need for hundreds-of-billions more in terms of the investment in renewable energy and green technologies required to reduce emissions to the targets agreed upon in COP21.

And yet, the money clearly exists. Already, according to official estimates by the International Energy Agency, subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amount to almost $600bn in total. On top of this, we might wish to mention the $1.6 trillion spent worldwide on arms and weapons to fight in imperialist wars. Rather than pave the deserts of the planet with solar panels, our capitalist governments spend eye-watering amounts to fight for access to the black gold that lies underneath.

As the global crisis of capitalism deepens and spreads, those international agreements thought up between diplomats and negotiators in the sanctuary of Parisian conference centres will quickly be fractured by the harsh realities of the capitalist system and its race-to-the-bottom logic of competition.

Already we see how the hard won reforms and rights of the past are being eroded away by the endless attacks and austerity of the ruling class, in order to protect the profits of the 1%. Similarly, the environmental regulations and reforms fought for today will be the first to be attacked – along with what remains of workers’ rights to organise against the bosses – in the future as the capitalists seek to claw back the profits they have lost as a result of such laws.

The more far-sighted bourgeois analysts have already drawn the conclusion that another world slump is on the horizon, threatening to plunge the global economy back into the darkness of recession and crisis. In such an event, all the fine words agreed upon at COP21 under the observation and scrutiny of the planet’s population will quickly be tossed aside as bourgeois politicians rush to save the system that benefits them and the class that they represent.

The parasite of capitalism

capitalism diseaseAfter seven years now of endless crisis, the capitalists and their political representatives have shown clearly that they are incapable of running the economy, let alone managing something as complex and important as the environment. And yet the wealth and technology to solve the problems of climate change are lying right in front of us, just waiting to be picked up, placed under the control of society, and used in the interests of the 99%, rather than for the profits of the few.

The fundamental problem is not one of political will, but of economic laws and logic. Only by replacing the laws of competition, profit, and private ownership with a democratic, rational, socialist plan of production can we seriously set about tackling the environmental questions with the vigour required.

Amidst all the celebrations in Paris, we as Marxists must tell an inconvenient truth: the only way to guarantee the health and protection of our planet is to put an end to the cancerous and parasitic capitalist system that is sucking the life out of it.

Educate Yourself

  • Educate Yourself
  • The Fundamentals of Marxism
  • Dialectical Materialism and Science
  • Historical Materialism
  • Marxist Economics
  • The State
  • Russia, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalinism
  • Anarchism
  • Feminism
  • Fascism
  • The National Question
  • Imperialism and War
  • Revolutionary Strategy
  • Revolutionary History

Socialist Appeal are proud to publish this basic guide to help focus your studies of Marxist theory and practice. Visit the various tabs to find links to introductory articles, classic texts, and audio talks for different topics. We also invite our readers to become acquainted with the more basic ideas of Marxism by starting with the recommended short reading list, going through the FAQ section, reading this article that combats the myths about Marxism, and listening to the following audios:

Why Marx Was Right - Alan Woods

What is Marxism? - Alan Woods

What Will Socialism Look Like? - Fred Weston

What is Capitalism? What is Socialism? - Fred Weston

We will be expanding and developing this section over time. Please contact us if you have any questions, or if you'd like any suggestions on what to read next.

Reading the classics of Marxism is the best way to understand these ideas. At first it may seem difficult, but every worker and young person knows that things worth having are worth working hard for!  Patient and persistent study, discussion, and ultimately, the day to day application of these ideas over a lifetime are the key.

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Marxist theory is the basis upon which our analysis, perspectives, program, and participation in the movement are based. It is our "guide to action." This why Socialist Appeal and IMT place 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, it's length and scope may seem daunting to new comrades. With this in mind, Socialist Appeal 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 would like to encourage all our supporters and those interested in learning more about Marxism to read (or re-read!) through the works on this list.

This selection of writings is an excellent introduction to many of the fundamentals of Marxist theory. There are many other writings that could be added, but this selection provides a strong basis for those wishing to equip themselves with the necessary ideas for the daily work of fighting for socialism.

Many of these are smaller books or pamphlets; some are more lengthy books; and others are just short articles. This list should therefore be more digestible than the full Education Plan, particularly those with busy work or school schedules. All of them are available to

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Dialectical Materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. Every political movement, party, or even statement of any kind bases itself, consciously or unconsciously, on some sort of philosophy or world outlook. Marxism is concerned with effecting a radical change in society, and therefore requires an exceptionally clear, thoroughgoing, and systemic set of philosophical principles.

The ideas of Dialectical Materialism, based on the best traditions of philosophical thought, are not a fixed dogma but a system of tools and general principles for analysing the world materialistically and scientifically.

If we are to understand society in order to change it, this cannot be done arbitrarily, since the human will is not master of nature; rather, our ideas and thoughts are reflections of necessary material laws. Instead, we must seek to understand the laws of how human society changes. By following our education plan for Dialectical Materialism, the reader will familiarise themselves with this way of looking at the world so that they too can begin to apply Marxist ideas.

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Historical Materialism is the result of Dialectical Materialism applied to human society and history. It encompasses the general theory of how and why society develops in the way it does. A deeper, more concrete understanding of these principles in combination with a study of real, living history of class struggles enables us to come to a general understanding of where capitalist society is headed and what political strategy is required to successfully influence the course of events.

The basic principles of Historical Materialism are that human society has inherent laws guiding it - its developments are by no means arbitrary or accidental, nor the mere subject of the will of great men and ideas. Human individuals can and do influence society according to their ideas, but only ever within definite material constraints and conditions. Above all, the law determining historical development is that of the development of the means of production - meaning economically productive technology, science, technique etc. The extent of the development of the productive forces determines the social relations of production - i.e. the structure of society, class relations etc. Each social system has its inherent laws of motion. If we want to overthrow capitalist society, we must understand how capitalism works.

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Marxist economics is the study of the laws of motion of capitalist society. Why does capitalism perpetually go into crisis? Why does mass unemployment exist? Are commodity production, the domination of the market, and rich and poor natural, immutable states of being for humanity? Or are they merely the products of this specific mode of production - capitalism? If so, is there any way capitalism can exist without these problems, or by minimising them?

Marxist economics is a “holistic” way of analysing capitalist economy. It starts out by placing it in its real historical context (rather than dreaming up abstract idealisations of capitalism to justify it, as bourgeois economics does), studying all its interconnections and contradictions, rather than artificially isolating one aspect of it. In doing so, Marxist economics lays bare the functioning of capitalism; the exploitation and injustice inherent within it. Those who want to get to the essence of why, in the 21st Century, despite having a more advanced understanding of the world than ever before, humanity seems plunged into perpetual crisis it cannot get to grips with, should look no further than Marxist economics, beginning with the writings of Marx himself.

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Like money, the state is something we are all very familiar with and take for granted, but its real essence tends to elude us. The ideologists of capitalism have tried, in various ways, to justify the capitalist state as supremely rational; a neutral arbiter for society, and the embodiment of justice. For Marxists, the state is not at all neutral, nor just. It is certainly anything but rational. We must strip the vale of mysticism away and reveal the state’s real basis. To do that, we have to treat the state historically - taking in its origins, rise, and eventual fall.

The state has not always existed. It is inseparable from class society. Ultimately, it is the instrument for the ruling class to oppress and hold down the masses, guaranteeing the status quo and the sanctity of property. Although the modern state performs many other functions, these are secondary to its real basis - the protection of a set of property relations. To do this, it needs “armed bodies of men” and a monopoly on the use of violence. To establish socialism, it will not be possible for the working class to use the state as it currently exists - that is, with the same network of judges, heads of police and army etc. All the key texts explaining how exactly we relate to the state, and the

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The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in world history for Marxists. For the first time, the working class successfully took and held power. The slaves fought back and won. For these reasons, the name of Lenin and Trotsky, and the entire 1917 episode, has been deliberately dragged through the mud by the bourgeoisie ever since.

Naturally they are aided in this task by the degeneration of the revolution and by the existence of Stalin’s monstrous dictatorship. However, Stalinism represents the opposite of Bolshevism’s real traditions, which readers can read about in this section, as well as the Marxist explanation for why Stalinism took place and what this means for our movement.

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Radicalised youth, seeking to understand how to change modern society, naturally tend to look to both Marxism and Anarchism in equal measure. The question as to which philosophy, or which combination of the two, has the best answers, has long been at the forefront of the minds of revolutionaries.

Anarchism is naturally attractive to all those correctly alienated by bureaucracy in the revolutionary movement. Anarchists are certainly correct to reject Stalinism and careerism. However, it is not sufficient simply to reject these phenomena. We need to understand why bureaucracy and oppression exist and what role they play, in order to understand how to avoid them. We believe that, for all its opposition, Anarchism has little to say about the alternative to bureaucracy. Instead, it is Marxism’s historical materialist method that allows us to understand these problems. In this section the reader will find a series of articles dealing with anarchism and the issues that anarchism raises.

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The discrimination and oppression of women is integral to class society, such that Engels even referred to it as the “first class oppression”. Along with the class system itself, the oppression of women often takes on the appearance of being natural, immutable and eternal, since it has been with us for so long.

But Marxism is a historical science, concerned with understanding the fundamental changes that society goes through. It cannot be satisfied with comfortable prejudices. A study of the origins of human society, as Engels famously conducted in his book The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, reveals that the oppression of women is by no means natural and was not even known for much of our history. As Engels explains, the oppression of women arose with the emergence of class society and private property; it will fall with it.

Marxists are fully in solidarity with feminists: we are irreconcilably opposed to the oppression of women and fully support the struggle for their emancipation. We believe this will be achieved through the class struggle, since that is the basic locomotive of history in a class society such as ours. However, Marxism represents a distinct set of ideas from feminism, which is a more eclectic and varied set of ideas. We believe that in this section, readers will find the tools Marxism

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Fascism is something of a bogeyman in modern British society, and has an almost mythical character in bourgeois public opinion. But despite constant talk of it, very little is said about why it happened and how it may or may not happen again.

Fascism is really the death agony of capitalism and the “distilled essence of imperialism”. The fascists in Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries were only able to come to power on the back of defeats of the working class. Ultimately, the madness of fascism expresses the historic crisis and dead-end of capitalism that had arrived by the early 20th Century, alongside the inability of the working class to take power and replace capitalism with a workers’ state, due to the corruption of their leadership, in the form of both reformism and Stalinism. Fascism could and should have easily been avoided had the working class possessed a militant and united leadership prepared to take power.

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The question of nationalities - that is, the oppression of nations and national minorities, which has characterised capitalism from its birth till the present time - has always occupied a central position in Marxist theory. Once again, the historical materialist approach of Marxism dissolves the apparent “natural” role of the nation as a necessary expression of human society. Nations have by no means always existed, nor will they always exist in the future.

The nation as we know it today is a product of the development of capitalism and its need to unify peoples into units of a certain size (depending on the level of the system’s development – e.g. more recently formed nations tend to be much bigger) to consolidate the market. The contradictions and tensions between nations are a result of capitalism’s “combined and uneven” development. The contradictions of the capitalist mode of production itself force each ruling class to expand outwards, developing a global market and imperialism in the process.

The violent tensions that this process breeds in turn give rise to nationalism, racism and wars. There is no way a successful world revolution, abolishing the global capitalist system, can take place without a careful and nuanced understanding of the national question, with all the sensitivities and complexity it brings. Therefore this section is of the utmost importance for revolutionaries.

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War is a constant feature of life under capitalism, especially in the epoch of imperialism. There has not been a single day of peace since the end of WWII, despite the appearance of WWII (and all previous wars) of being the “war to end all wars”. Capitalism is inherently unstable, competitive and violent. Moreover, there can be no final peace between the classes, since this system is based on the exploitation of the working class by the rich. 

However, there are wars of different kinds under capitalism. The question of war is the hardest equation of all to judge, so careful study is essential so that revolutionaries are not blown off course by the complexities involved. For example, some “socialists” called for support for the war in Iraq, as it had the appearance of establishing “democracy” over dictatorship. Equally, the failure to understand the true meaning of WWI and its implications was the direct cause of the death of the Second International.

Wars, like revolutions, represent the sharp extreme of capitalism’s crisis. Under capitalism, there will be many wars in the future. The more revolutionaries study and understand capitalism’s previous wars, the better equipped we will be to fight against future wars and the capitalist system itself.

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Socialist Appeal is the British section of the International Marxist Tendency, which is active in around 40 countries. Our aim is to spread the ideas of Marxism, in an organised fashion, in the labour and youth movement. Only the British working class has the ability to change British society, because of the central role they play in production and their shared interest in establishing socialism.

However, we must carefully study the history and traditions of the British working class in order for Marxist ideas to connect with them. There are all too many groups who simply declare themselves the vanguard of the British working class, and have a dismissive attitude to the class’ real traditions.

In this section readers will find a series of articles explaining our position on the class struggle in Britain, the key points in the history of the British working class and the lessons to be learnt from them, and the strategy of the Marxists in relation to the movements of the masses.

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The ideas of Marxism and the need for a revolutionary party are not the result simply of a single individual, but arise from the study of history - the history of class struggle. In this respect, the revolutionary party is often referred to as being the memory of the working class, and our task is to learn the lessons from history in order to prepare for the revolutionary events taking place today and in the future.

In this section we present a series of articles and audios covering the key revolutionary struggles in history - from the early class struggles in Rome to the tremendous movements of the working class in the 20th Century. By reading and listening to these, our readers should gain a good overview of the history of the revolutionary movement and the main lessons to be learnt from these.

For analysis of 21st Century revolutionary movements, check out the News and Analysis sections of the website!

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Marxist theory

Hitler and the Rise of Fascism in Germany Hitler and the Rise of Fascism in Germany
Duration: 00:51:40
Date: 9 Mar 2017
Workers’ control, democracy, and power Workers' control, democracy, and power
Duration: 00:57:00
Date: 2 Mar 2017
In Defence of the Russian Revolution - part two In Defence of the Russian Revolution - part two
Duration: 00:21:16
Date: 17 Feb 2017
In Defence of the Russian Revolution -  part one In Defence of the Russian Revolution - part one
Duration: 00:22:04
Date: 1 Feb 2017
Materialism and Dialectics in Ancient Greece Materialism and Dialectics in Ancient Greece
Duration: 00:48:58
Date: 27 Jan 2017
Imperialism in the 21st century Imperialism in the 21st century
Duration: 00:57:35
Date: 13 Dec 2016
Fascism: What it is and how to fight it Fascism: What it is and how to fight it
Duration: 00:36:44
Date: 12 Dec 2016
Dialectics, science, and nature Dialectics, science, and nature
Duration: 00:48:55
Date: 9 Dec 2016
Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution
Duration: 00:42:54
Date: 30 Nov 2016
Marxism, Imperialism, and War Marxism, Imperialism, and War
Duration: 00:50:16
Date: 25 Nov 2016
The Hungarian Revolution: 60 years on The Hungarian Revolution: 60 years on
Duration: 00:47:10
Date: 1 Nov 2016