What follows is an excerpt from Maurice Cornforth’s 1952 Readers’ Guide to the Marxist Classics.




(1) Frederick Engels. “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” Karl Marx & Frederick Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24, International Publishers, 1989, 281-325.


The substance of Marxism-Leninism, the basic principles of which have been applied and further developed in the theory and practice of world Communism, are expounded in a comparatively few fundamental works by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.

These are of varying degrees of difficulty, and it is important that the student should select the right works to tackle first. For the beginner, the best introduction to Marxism is to be found in Engels’ Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. This, therefore, should be read first; and with it may usefully be read Anarchism or Socialism by Stalin.

The Communist Manifesto comes next. It should not be attempted first, because there is a difficulty in reading it, arising from its very comprehensive character and compressed style.

Next, the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks).

These three works — Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, the Communist Manifesto, and the History of the C.P.S.U.(B) — together comprise the most essential basic reading. There is a tremendous amount of material in them, and the student will need to return to them in the light of further reading in order to master their contents more fully. But a preliminary reading of these three works provides an introduction to the whole range of problems covered by Marxism-Leninism.

The ten works included here under the heading of “basic principles” have been classified as follows:

(A) General Introduction to Marxist Theory: The Manifesto and Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, in which the fundamental ideas of scientific socialism are put forward; together with Anarchism or Socialism.

(B) More Advanced Reading: – Engels’ great theoretical work Anti-Dühring, and Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he dealt with fundamental questions of the programme of the working class party.

(C) The History of the C.P.S.U.(B): – This shows how the teachings of Marxism were applied and further developed in the victorious struggle of the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin and Stalin.

(D) Leninism: – Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism, in which he deals with the basic conceptions and policies of Leninism, as the Marxism of the epoch of imperialism and of proletarian revolution; and Stalin’s Problems of Leninism, which deals especially with the dictatorship of the proletariat.

(E) Imperialism and the Proletarian Revolution: Lenin’s Imperialism, which lays bare the nature of imperialism as the last stage of capitalism and the eve of the socialist revolution, and State and Revolution, which expounds the theory of the state and of the tasks of the working class in overthrowing capitalist class rule and instituting the rule of the working class, socialist democracy.


(1) Frederick Engels. “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” Karl Marx & Frederick Engels Collected Works, Vol. 24, International Publishers, 1989, 281-325.

Of all the works of Marx and Engels, this is probably the best for the beginner. Written in a very clear and easy style, it introduces the reader to the basic ideas of scientific socialism.

Its three chapters were extracted from Engels’ much larger work, Anti-Dühring

The chief difficulty which a new reader is likely to find lies in the Introduction, where a variety of philosophical views are discussed. In this Introduction Engels deals with the history of modern materialism, and then refutes the views of the Agnostics and of the German philosopher Kant. The reader who finds such discussions difficult should read the Introduction after and not before the rest of the book.

The following are the main points dealt with in the three chapters of Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.

1. Socialism was first put forward as the dream of an ideal society—a utopia. The Utopian Socialists (St. Simon and Fourier in France, Robert Owen in Britain) could not show how socialism was to be achieved in practice. For they could not point to the social force, i.e. the working class, whose class interest demanded socialism and whose struggle would bring socialism into being.

Engels shows that socialism must be turned from a utopia into a science, which means that it must be based on an understanding of the laws of development of society, of the class struggle, of the contradictions of capitalism, of the role of the working class.

2. Scientific socialism has a philosophical basis—dialectical materialism.

Dialectics,² says Engels, means studying things in their real motion and interconnection. He contrasts this with “metaphysics,” which considers things “one after the other and apart from each other.”

Engels goes on to contrast dialectical materialism with the dialectics of the idealist philosopher, Hegel.

3. Marxism extends materialism to the understanding of society and its laws. It demonstrates that the ultimate cause of all important historical events lies in the economic development of society, i.e. in changes in the mode of production and exchange. It is the development of production and exchange which leads to the division of society into hostile classes and to the class struggle.

The task of socialists is not simply to criticise existing capitalist society as unjust, but to understand the nature of the capitalist mode of production and its laws of development. The essential nature of capitalism was laid bare by Marx’s discovery of surplus value.

4. The fundamental contradiction of capitalism is the contradiction between the social production which capitalism has brought into being and private capitalist appropriation. This contradiction contains the germs of the whole of the social antagonisms of to-day. And Engels further shows how capitalism in its development necessarily passes through periodic economic crises.³

The solution of the contradiction can be achieved only when the working class, as a result of its struggle, establishes social ownership to match social production.

5. Engels goes on to show how, with the further development of capitalism, capital becomes concentrated into the hands of great trusts and combines.

At a certain stage in this process, the state must begin to undertake the direction of production. Yet capitalist state ownership is not socialism, for the workers in state industries are still exploited for capitalist profit. The taking over of productive forces by the capitalist state does not solve the social conflicts. It does, however, bring them to a head, and creates the technical conditions for going forward to socialism. For this it is necessary that the working class should seize political power, taking possession of the productive forces and utilising them, not for capitalist profit, but for the welfare of society as a whole.⁴

6. Here Engels deals with the nature of the state. The state is a product of the division of society into hostile classes, and its function is to preserve the conditions of class exploitation. It has therefore always been the instrument of the ruling class—in slave society of the slave-owners, in feudal society of the feudal lords, in capitalist society of the capitalist class. The modern state is essentially a capitalist machine, the organ of capitalist class rule.⁵

It follows that when socialism has abolished the exploitation of one class by another, there remains no more need for coercion and repression and therefore no need for any social repressive force, a state. So the state will wither away.⁶

7. Finally, with the establishment of socialism, anarchy in social production is replaced by planned organisation. Consequently, instead of being at the mercy of economic forces which they cannot understand, men will be able more and more consciously to plan their lives and make their own history. “It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”

¹ The beginning of Chapter I is taken from the Introduction to Anti-Dühring, while the rest of Chapter I comes from the first chapter of Part III. Chaplet II is again extracted from the Introduction, and Chapter III reproduces Part III, Chapter II.
² See Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach; Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism.
³ See Marx, Theories of Surplus Value; Wage Labour and Capital; Lenin, A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism; Stalin, Report to 16th Congress.
⁴ On state capitalism and socialism see further Lenin, The Impending Catastrophe and Left-Wing Childishness and Petty-Bourgeois Mentality; Stalin, Report to 14th Congress of C.P.S.U.(B).
⁵  See Lenin, The State and Revolution.
⁶ The theory of the state was further developed by Stalin at the 18th Congress of the C.P.S.U.(B), where he dealt with the functions of the Socialist State, and the question of the  “withering away” of the state, in conditions of the existence of socialist countries surrounded by a hostile capitalist world.


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