Communist Student Group

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Semester study plans

Fall 2021 Virtual Studies

Five Important Letters by Engels

Saturday December 11, 2021 at 12 PM

In 1905, Stalin wrote that Engels, in his letters from 1891-94, “emphasized that while it is true that ideas do not drop from the skies but are engendered by life itself, yet once born, ideas acquire great importance, for they unite men, organize them, and put their impress upon the social life which has engendered them.” For our final study of the semester, we will revisit Engels’s correspondence where he argues against the vulgar mechanistic understanding of historical materialism, illustrates the existing reciprocity between base and superstructure, and elucidates how historical development serves as the motive force of ideas. This latter point is especially important for understanding Engels’s famous passage on “false consciousness” in his 1893 letter to Mehring. Clarifying this question is necessary for Maoist students at a time when academic Marxists and even self-identified communists remain under the spell of the revisionist philosopher Althusser and his idealist coupling of Marx with the unconscious, to produce a theory of ideology as the imaginary space for the interpellation of individuals into subjects. We maintain that material relations are reflected in thought, albeit in an inverted fashion. As Engels says, “only the nervous system is lacking” to set these mental images right on their feet again.

Engels to C. Schmidt, October 27, 1890
Engels to F. Mehring, July 14, 1893
Engels to Borgius, January 25, 1894
Engels to J. Bloch, September 21, 1890
Engels to W. Sombart, March 11, 1895

How revolutionary was the American Revolution? (in two parts)

Saturday October 9 and 16, 2021 at 12pm ET

Historiography has recently become an important stage on which a number of the imperialist bourgeoisie’s political controversies are playing out. At stake is the ability of one faction of the bourgeoisie or the other to bring the ongoing petty bourgeois revolt under its control and to establish political legitimacy. An important means by which these factions are seeking to cement their mass base is by either defending or revising the American bourgeoisie’s own creation myths. On the one side crusading Republican legislators have declared war on “critical race theory,” vowing to eradicate it from all public school curricula. On the other side, with recent revelations such as the 1619 Project, liberal publications like the New York Times have produced a new kind of nationalism which hides behind the guise of criticality, but in the end still seeks to legitimize the bourgeoisie’s decrepit national project through a more inclusive multicultural patriotism.But how do revolutionary communists read American history? In this two part lecture Communist Student Group will sum up the American Revolution from a Marxist perspective. How revolutionary was the American Revolution? Was it progressive? What did it achieve? These are questions Marxists must answer very differently from recent bourgeois historians.

Lenin’s WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Begin Again From the Beginning
Saturday September 11, 2021 at 12pm ET

The quote “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement” is justly famous, and often quoted by Communists. But do we really know what Lenin meant by these words, or the context of political struggle and theoretical controversy in which he made them? Lenin wrote his 1901 pamphlet to develop three burning questions for the movement in Russia: the content of political agitation, the tasks of organization, and the plan for constructing a militant all-Russian Party from various sides.

This presentation, focusing on the first chapter of the book, follows Lenin’s analysis of an emergent trend within social-democracy: the economistic trend that renounces social revolution for gradual reform, advancing the slogan “freedom of criticism” against the intolerance of orthodox Marxists. Lenin’s counterblast to this opportunist project touches on basic themes in Communist work, such as what you say about yourself vs. what you do, the deviations of dogmatism and revisionism, as well as the universal truth of Marxism vs particular national characteristics in which this truth concretely manifests. The chapter’s conclusion with a rich passage from Friedrich Engels will reinforce the importance of philosophy, the Marxist understanding of imperialist capitalism, as well as the need for the ideological preparation of the proletariat.

The insights from this classic text are invaluable for the dire situation of Marxism today, where the struggle, in Engels’s words, must “begin again from the beginning.”


4/24/21 Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy

DETAILS: In 1913, Lenin described Engels’ small book Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1888) as one of the clearest and fullest expositions of Marx and Engels’ defense of philosophical materialism.

It was, in Engels’ words in the Foreword, a “short, connected account” of M&E’s relation to Hegel and a “full acknowledgement” of their influence by Feuerbach. Achieving familiarity and eventual comprehension of this book of little more than 40 pages means working to take hold of knowledge that reason has “labored to produce over several thousand years” to quote Hegel from his work cited by Engels in Section I. In our time, dominated no less than in that of Engels’ by “pauper’s broths” of eclecticism in the universities and “vulgar job-hunting” in so-called “educated” society, the only inheritor of this knowledge is the Communist movement.

The book covers in a very concise form: The early publication history of M&E, M&E’s interpretation of Hegel, the basic question of philosophy and the knowability of the world (topic of our 3/27 study), Feuerbach’s role, 18th-century French materialism and its limitations, the materialist conception of history …. Along the way, Engels addresses other questions of interest, such as a certain philistine conception of “idealism” as the “pursuit of ideal aims” and “materialism” as its opposite, a view still common today.

Suggested Reading: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy by Frederick Engels

We suggest reading the short 1888 Foreword and Section IV beforehand; the latter is an exposition of the Marxist world outlook. We recommend having a physical copy of the whole text on hand to follow during the study, which will rely on the version in the Marx & Engels Collected Works, Volume 26, pp. 353-398 (I-IV) and 519-520 (Foreword).

3/27/21 Lenin and Engels Against the Agnostics

DETAILS: Lenin’s struggle against the theories of Ernst Mach and his disciples necessarily involved a polemic against the philosophical conception and line of agnosticism, which denies the possibility of thoroughly knowing the world. Agnosticism’s chief representatives in the 18th century were David Hume and Immanuel Kant. In his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, Lenin explains how Kant could be attacked from the Left and the Right, for either the concessions to materialism or idealism in his system. The refutations of agnosticism made by Hegel, Engels, and Lenin form a crucial intervention in philosophy, and are still integral to a defence of materialism today, as bourgeois academia, including the “Left,” keeps reissuing agnosticism in innumerable theoretical shades, staving off a scientific understanding of society and keeping science limited to the natural sciences, and opposed to practice. As Engels said, dialectical materialism holds that it is practice that transforms the not-yet-known into the known. Practice serves as the “most telling refutation” of “all other philosophical fads.”

This study will be in the form of a presentation with time for discussion. The suggested reading will provide a basis for engaging with the material of the presentation.

Suggested reading:

  1. The 1892 English Edition Introduction to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific by Engels
  2. Part 2: “Materialism” of Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy by Engels

2/20/21 The Unity of the World Debate

DETAILS: The closing paragraphs of chapter three, section 4 of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism represent a decisive intervention in a debate that had raged between a variety of thinkers over the previous three decades. This “debate on the unity of the world” began in 1875 with Dühring’s argument that “all-embracing Being is one” and was subsequently joined by Engels, Dietzgen, Plekhanov, the Machists Bazarov (Bolshevik) and Yushkevich (Menshevik), and Lenin himself. Our lecture will examine the various positions taken up in the debate in order to explain why Marxists assert that “the unity of the world consists in its materiality” (Engels).

Suggested reading:

  1. The final four paragraphs of Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism Ch 3, section 4
  2. PDF: Collected quotes from the Unity of the World Debate (this material will be covered in the lecture)


9/26/20 The Communist Manifesto

10/17/20 On Practice, Mao

11/7/20 Marx & Engels After the Commune


5/31/20 On Contradiction, Mao, Part I

6/7/20 On Contradiction, Mao, Part II

6/14/20 On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People, Mao, Part I

7/19/21 Revolution Teaches, Lenin (1905)

Spring 2020

2/14/2020 Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Marx & Engels

2/28/2020 Where to Begin? (1901), Lenin

3/29/20 On Practice (1937), Mao [VIRTUAL STUDY]

4/5/2020 Lecture: The Argument of Marx’s Capital (Part I) [VIRTUAL STUDY]

4/5/2020 Lecture: The Argument of Marx’s Capital (Part II) [VIRTUAL STUDY]

4/19/20 Marxism and the National Question (1913), Stalin [VIRTUAL STUDY]

4/26/20 Five Letters by Engels [VIRTUAL STUDY]

5/3/20 Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels [VIRTUAL STUDY]

5/10/20 The American Revolution, Part I [VIRTUAL STUDY]

5/17/20 The American Revolution, Part II [VIRTUAL STUDY]

Fall 2019

9/13/19 Lecture: What Is a Proletarian Intellectual?

9/20/19 Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? (1963) Mao

9/27/19 Lecture: The National and Colonial Question

10/4/19 Lecture: The American Revolution — How Revolutionary Was It?

Spring 2019

2/25/19 Lecture: The Argument of Marx’s Capital

3/18/19 Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), Engels

4/18/19 Lecture: Mao on Democracy and Centralism

  • On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People (1957)
  • Talk At An Enlarged Working Conference Convened By The Central Committee Of The Communist Party Of China (1962)

Fall 2018

9/21/18 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Karl Marx
Five Letters by Friedrich Engels:

  • Engels to J. Bloch, September 21, 1890
  • Engels to Conrad Schmidt, October 27, 1890
  • Engels to Franz Mehring, July 14, 1893
  • Engels to Borgius, January 25, 1894
  • Engels to W. Sombart, March 11, 1895

9/27/18 Film Screening: The Young Karl Marx (2017)

10/5/18 On Practice (1937), Mao

10/11/18 Film Screening: How Yukong Moved the Mountains (1976)

10/19/18 Dialectical and Historical Materialism (1938), Stalin

10/25/18 Film Screening: Pravda (1970)

11/2/18 On Contradiction (1937), Mao

11/8/18 Film Screening: The Battle of Chile, Part I (1975)

11/16/18 Analysis of the Classes in Chinese Society (1926), Mao
The Camp of the Revolution (1971), The UCFML

11/30/18 A Revolutionary MLM Organization, The UCFML
On Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, The UCFML