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03 June 2019


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Thomas Tarrants

When I learned you would be covering the Russian Revolution, I have to admit to having had a bit of apprehension about it. As a Marxist-Leninist, I've been dismayed at numerous dives into Marxism devolving into nonsense, slander, mischaracterizations, or surface-level analysis. Listening to your episode 10.3 was incredibly refreshing. It was as accurate as it was unbiased, and much more in-depth than I expected you to go into.

You didn't cover it in 10.3, and perhaps you will in 10.4, so I apologise if I'm leaping ahead a bit, but I figure the sooner it gets pointed out, the better. Instrumental for understanding Lenin's revision of Marxism (and consequently why the social revolution happened in such an underdeveloped country as Russia at all) is dealing with Marx's failed prediction of the contradictions in capitalism would be at their worst in the highly developed, advanced capitalist countries. And this tends to dive into Marx's analysis on the Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall.

The basis for this is of course in the labour theory of value, specifically the role of innovation in reducing the socially-necessary labour time for commodities. It seemed like 10.3 would have been a great place to outline the foundations of this, or 10.4 if you hadn't got to it already.

Or if you have this all planned and written out, then I'm just being superfluous here and the main take-away is that I'm really appreciative with what you're doing here, and that I intend to refer people to this episode to help them understand Marxism.


It's a shame that none of this Marxist theory really helps socialists figure out how to actually build a functioning socialist society if capitalism is abolished. The crucial question after a socialist revolution in, say Angola, for example is how do you run the factories after the capitalist is removed? Do the workers manage it? Does a government bureaucracy manage it? What is the best way to develop the economy? If two countries have a socialist revolution, one has a per capita GDP of $300, one has $9000, what is the appropriate development approach for the two countries? If you use the same strategy in both, you're going to have big problems. These seem to be questions that revolutionaries really had to deal with on the ground, and mostly had to improvise. The theory quickly ran out of usefulness, other than as a way to agitate the workers.


To be fair, it’s not like Smith and Locke offered direct political guidance, either. And I’m pretty sure the French revolutionaries were winging it as much as the Russians.

That said, it appears that a Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy is the most successful form of socialist government, based on real-world observations. That may be historical accident, or it may be a meaningful factor.


I really like your discussion of Marx and Marxism so far. Do you, or anyone in the commentariat know of any books that are easier to read than Kapital that do a good job of this?

I want to become more educated on this subject (mostly to be able to intelligently debate). However, my background is in Neuroscience and I've never taken an economics course. Therefore, a book a la "Marxism or Socialism for Dummies" would be a great start - because Kapital would probably hurt my brain.

Any suggestions?

Ron Sparks

Wow, Mike. You made Hegelian philosophy and Marx’s adaptation of it both interesting and comprehensible to an amateur like myself. Well done!


Joseph, the Communist Manifesto is very short but a great introduction to Marx and Engles’ ideas, if you are interested.

Daniel Ostrowski

There’s a book in the Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions series on Marx (and another book on Engels) which might be worth a look as basic introductions


Joseph, the usual suggestion for Das Kapital primers are the pamphlets "Value, Price and Profit" and "Wage Labour and Capital".


Joseph, there is a Professor David Harvey that does some good lectures on the subject on youtube.


I couldn't help but notice the sarcastic tone in Duncan's comments about Marx's theory. What are the flaws and mistakes in the theory, and what is the truth then? I'm inquiring about things like labor to keep the worker alive, surplus labor over that, the amoral capitalist hoarding it all and the min-maxing of losses and profits without restraint by the capitalist.

Big Jake

Pyatnize. the flaw is the foundation of the whole philosophy.
the labor theory of value is so absurd that no one takes it seriously anymore.
the subjective theory of value is a much more solid theory and is largely accepted by all or at least all reputable economists today.


I see, thank you. That makes sense.


Big Jake, The Labour Theory of Value isn't "absurd", it actually makes falsifiable predictions that (as far as we can reckon from macroeconomic data) are pretty much correct about the workings of the Capitalist system, search for Paul Cockshott, he's a Marxist economist with several papers on this and a youtube channel where he presents those papers in more accessible language.

The real reason the LTV isn't very employed in the field of Economics nowadays is that it isn't really a theory about prices and their short-term variations, which is what Economists are usually interested in. It focuses instead on the long-term (and by that I mean decades) tendential laws of the Capitalist system, the structural ways it develops crisis, etc.

Ja Rule

I am looking forward to the whole Russian Revolution as much as the French Revolution. It just seems like most people are completely uninformed about what happened. What is Marxism actually? What are its principles. How do you get from Marx to Lenin to Stalin.

That's something that is desperately needed for a general audience and I am so grateful for Mike Duncan to be doing this.

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