With the planet facing environmental crises, some have sought to bring about change through individual efforts, trying to change the environmental practices of corporations by altering individual purchasing choices. We publish here an article by Kevin Harriman and Kevin Nance of Socialist Appeal USA, who look at the question of consumerism and the environment under capitalism, and explain the socialist alternative.

The philosophical premise behind the consumerist strategy is the idea that we can in effect will a change in society through our purchasing choices. The idea is that if we could just change everyone’s mind about their role in the environment, then we would change society and its structure. If we could only convince everyone individually to be more caring towards the environment and to change their personal lives, then we could change the world.

This type of thinking has its roots in the philosophical school known as idealism. This type of idealism should not be confused with “holding high ideals” or being an optimist. Idealism in this sense is the idea that the concrete reality of the world is merely a crude reflection of our ideas and our thoughts. According to this outlook, reality and society are mere reflections of our consciousness. However, for Marxists, consciousness and society are not forged in the realm of ideas, but in the material conditions of our world. Our ideas are a reflection of material reality, not the other way around. Therefore, to truly effect a fundamental change, we must change the material conditions and structures of society, not merely change our ideas.

Despite their good intentions, proponents of the consumerist approach fail to realize that people, economies, and societies are extremely complex, constantly interact with one another, and do not exist in a vacuum. They are conditioned by relationships internal and external. No one—no matter how intelligent, pure-hearted, or strong-willed—can change the world by pure force of will or individual effort. Those who would seek to change the world must look to its roots, its deep structures. They must determine what conditions and what processes give rise to the evils they seek to destroy. If we do not pull the weed out by its roots it will grow back. For every environmentally destructive company, product, or process that we shut down, another will return to its place—until we change the system that gives them their existence.

We must be clear. The environmental crisis is not the fault of the working class. The only thing the workers are “guilty” of is not overthrowing this rotten system (yet). Under capitalism, the majority does not have a say in how resources are used or production is organized. The capitalists are behind these decisions, and their main decision-making criteria is the pursuit of profit. The consumerist strategy seeks in effect to pass the burden onto the shoulders of the working class. The workers are asked to sacrifice their standard of living in an effort to stave off environmental disaster, while the capitalists line their pockets with big profits.

It is absolutely true that the working class has both the power and the responsibility to ameliorate the effects of climate change. But this does not require punishing ordinary people for wanting a good quality of life. The working class has the power to ensure that the planet is habitable for everyone precisely because it has the power to defeat capitalism. Workers operate the means of production, the factories, the farms, etc., which means that they have the power to withhold their labor and bring production to a screeching halt.

Put concretely, here is one example of the enormous power of the workers. Many wish to stop the use of coal, which tears up the land and pollutes the air. But which is a more effective way to stop the production of coal: to get your university to divest from coal (which means some other entity will buy up those shares, and coal production will continue as before), or to directly and collectively halt its production and invest massively in clean forms of energy while providing quality jobs to former coal industry workers? Only the working class can stop the production, not only of coal, but of the profit-making system of capitalism.

Another misconception is that change occurs gradually. Marxists explain that contradictions drive change. These contradictions do build up gradually over time, but are then actualized sharply and suddenly. For example, in chemistry it is well known that at normal atmospheric pressure, water boils at 100 degrees Celsius. Steadily, the temperature increases, now 97 degrees, now 99 degrees—still no boiling water—but at 100 degrees a dramatic phase transition takes place. Water turns into steam. Something similar happens in society and in people’s consciousness. The problems of society build up, but there isn’t a fight back right away. At a certain stage, however, people decide enough is enough, and people fight back.

Marxists understand the need to prepare ourselves for this fightback. While we support any struggle against capitalism and its pernicious effects on the environment, we do not lose sight of the big picture. We link the immediate struggles to the long-term struggle to end the profit system. We struggle not only against environmental degradation, homophobia, racism, low wages, and more, but link all of these struggles with the need for socialism as the only solution capable of resolving all these problems.

Practical Barriers

There are several other, more practical, problems faced by the advocates of a consumerist strategy. For example, “green” products necessarily serve a niche market; only a minority of consumers have the awareness, resources, and opportunity to participate in these consumer efforts. The inequities of capitalism ensure that most people simply cannot afford to “vote with their dollars.” They must make the most economical choices, and these are offered by the companies that cut corners to keep prices low and profits high. As a consequence, many impoverished areas do not even have access to basic supermarkets and stores, let alone options such as organic food markets. As with everything else under capitalism, the market is in charge; “green” options cannot be profitably sold to the majority of consumers and so they are not available to them. The dynamics of the market determine what consumer options are available and to whom, and these are the same dynamics that cast a blind eye on environmental destruction. A small minority of “green” conscious consumers cannot change these dynamics however much they might wish to.

Consider the case of organic farming. Farming with only natural pesticides means that more crops will fail. This means more resources in terms of land and labor must be utilized to produce the same amount of food. One study found that organic farming produces 25% less food than conventional methods on the same amount of land. More resources means higher costs and, as a result, companies that produce organic food cannot compete on a large scale with the conventional agribusiness giants, even though these giants are themselves getting into this profitable business. They may be able to sell their higher-cost foods to some upscale grocery stores, but they will never be capable of replacing their conventional competitors as the primary food producers at the stores that feed the majority. Similar considerations must be borne in mind for every other sector of the economy, such as mining, chemicals, transportation, etc.

Under capitalism, businesses must compete with one another and maximize profits in order to survive. The individual efforts of consumers cannot defeat the powerful structural incentives that drive environmental destruction. The structure itself must be fundamentally transformed. Capitalism is not something that can be reformed. A lion cannot be reformed into eating celery. If we want an animal that does not have a lion’s appetite, we need a different animal altogether!

For a socialist planned economy

The environment is not just a source of resources to be exploited; it is an interconnected system of which we are a part. It is humanity’s “species being” to work and manipulate nature with tools. It is only now, in the epoch of capitalism, that our tools have become so powerful that they threaten to destroy the system on which everything, including ourselves, depends. However, we are not doomed to be unsustainable. Humans are very rational, creative, and intelligent beings. We are able to recognize a need and adapt accordingly. The problem is that the capitalist economy is not subject to our intelligence or reason. It is subject to the anarchy of an inhumane market and is not consciously planned in harmony with the environment. What is needed is the next step in human development.

The idea that there are “too many” humans for the planet is scientifically inaccurate, though under capitalism, it is a serious concern. Improved techniques allow fewer people to produce more food and other necessities of life. According to the EPA, “If US farmers in 1931 wanted to equivalently yield the same amount of corn as farmers in 2008, the 1931 farmers would need an additional 490 million acres!” Productivity has skyrocketed since then and can go even further. There therefore is no need to be pessimistic about the possibilities—once we cast aside the yoke of capitalism.

What is unsettling is how resources go to waste under the present system, because if they were given away for free or at low cost to those in need, it would lower capitalists’ profitability. According to the Washington Post, “Each year, about 40 percent of all food in the United States goes uneaten.” For many reasons, but above all the drive for profits, enormous resources—in this, case farmland and food—go wasted.

Under capitalism, we allow the vast bulk of the economy to be run undemocratically by a tiny minority. Unsurprisingly, the capitalists run things in a way that serves the interests of their own class. In the capitalists’ eyes, the earth is there to be plundered and exploited. How can the narrow limits of this system provide a solution? The consumerist strategy suggests that this status quo can remain so long as the capitalists promise to be a little nicer to the environment. This is wishful thinking; the true solution lies in a total democratic reorganization of our economy.

We need an economic and political system that will not attack, but rather, will improve our standard of living in a way that does not harm the environment. A socialist economy would be run by all layers of society, democratically, from the bottom up. Workers in every department of every business would meet to discuss and elect an accountable leadership at all levels. They would in turn link up with entire workplaces, industries, states, countries, and eventually the whole world. This would be a new, truly democratic political system embedded in the very structure of the economy. Everyone would have the opportunity to put forward their ideas and opinions. There would be little interest in planning an economy that would create pollution or rely on hazardous materials that kill and maim workers. Under capitalism, these are merely “externalities.” But if subject to a democratic discussion, we are confident they would be quickly eradicated. By ridding ourselves of the profit motive and private ownership of the means of production, humans can reconnect with the earth and their own labor, thereby fully connecting with themselves and each other.

The absurdity of capitalism can be seen in planned obsolescence, a scheme in which products are purposely designed to become useless after a period of time—so that new products have to be bought. The Economist explains, “A classic case of planned obsolescence was the nylon stocking. The inevitable ‘laddering’ of stockings made consumers buy new ones and for years discouraged manufacturers from looking for a fibre that did not ladder. The garment industry in any case is not inclined to such innovation.” Cars, gadgets, lightbulbs, houses, and many other items have an artificially limited shelf life. Under socialism, humans could produce things to last and to be adaptable, minimizing the resources being used. Recycling programs would be vastly expanded. Single-use products like water bottles and plastic spoons could be reduced, replaced with alternatives, and eventually eliminated.

Immediately after the working class comes to power, it would be necessary to launch a giant public works and infrastructure plan. Public transportation would be well-funded, quick, efficient, and comprehensive. On the basis of a democratically planned economy, we would use the wealth of society to produce wonders, develop education, infrastructure, health, and science. The creativity of the authors of this article is obviously limited by the constraints of the system we live in, but future generations will be able to adapt the needs of humanity in ways that today are possible only in science fiction. When workers have the ability to be creative in the workplace they would innovate to make things safer, more efficient, and environmentally sustainable. All this and more will be possible. As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”'

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