Our first session of Socialist Night School is this week! We will be meeting at the Highland Square Branch Library on Wednesday, April 17 from 6:00-8:00 pm. Check out the Facebook event here. Following Central Brooklyn DSA’s Night School program, our first session will be titled “Historical Materialism.” Most of the meeting will be small group discussion over the texts and discussion questions, with a full-group debrief to close the event. Please arrive on time and ready to discuss the readings. Snacks will be provided!
1. For Engels, what brings about the “final causes of all social changes and political revolutions,” and for Marx, when can an “existing social order be destroyed?” How do we define “modes of production,” “individual vs. socialized means of production,” and “forms of appropriation?” How do these terms factor into Engels’ account of historical stages? How do those this differ from liberal histories?
2. On the third page of the excerpt, Engels states, “Socialized production revolutionized all the old methods of production. But its revolutionary character was, at the same time, so little recognized that it was, on the contrary, introduced as a mean of increasing and developing the production of commodities.” In this excerpt, how does Engels define the commodity? What are commodities as opposed to goods produced for the satisfaction of need, using the terms from Question 1? Finally, what is labor-power, and how is it a commodity?
3. On page 5 of the excerpt, Engels refers to the “anarchy of production in society generally.” Why does Engels refer to production in society as anarchy? Engels goes on to state, “the compelling force of anarchy in social production…turns the limitless perfectibility of machinery under modern industry into a compulsory law by which every individual capitalist must perfect his machinery more and more, under penalty of ruin… but the perfecting of machinery is making human labor superfluous.” How does this drive to perfectibility relate to the relationship between the socialized mode of production and the capitalist form of appropriation, and where does the laborer fit into this drive?
4. In the excerpt from Marx, he refers to the “totality of the relations of production” – which constitutes “the economic structure of society” – as “the real foundation.” How is this foundation defined using the relationships of production and appropriation from Engels? What is the superstructure supported by this foundation, and using Engels’ letters, how does he further define the between the two? How does this superstructure seek to resolve the relationship between production and appropriation, and how, according to Marx, do material conditions limit the “consciousness of mankind” to perceive the problems it seeks to solve in society?
5. From these readings, what is necessary for humankind to destroy the existing social order of relations of production, and how do Marx and Engels’ ideas of socialized production, appropriation, foundation, and superstructure fit with your hypothesis?