Like many people today, I first encountered Marxism online. With a growing interest amongst young people in socialism and Marxism, there is equally a growing number of online “Marxist meme” pages, Twitter accounts and Facebook groups. Quickly, social media became my go-to for Marxist theory, history and politics. Although I did some basic reading I used social media as a substitute for more thorough reading and research, often taking what online users said at face value.
When I first came to the University of Sheffield I wanted to get more involved with Marxists in real life instead of just sharing memes online. Because of this, I attended a few Marxist Society meetings. I found the talks and application of Marxism to historic and current events fascinating. Afterwards I realised just two hours at a Marxist Society meeting where I was able to hear a well-researched talk, discuss with others, and ask questions (without judgement) was far more valuable than two years or so I had spent scrolling online. Through this, as well as attending reading groups put on by the society, I was able to thoroughly grasp theoretical concepts which I previously couldn’t.
It is obvious that to gain a degree, for instance, requires studying the classics of your discipline, discussing fundamental concepts in seminars and sharing your own views, and attending lectures given by those more well read. We wouldn’t trust a surgeon if he had learnt heart surgery from a meme or an engineer who had taught himself without ever speaking to another engineer. Marxist theory should be approached similarly. We are seeking to transform society on an international scale from capitalism to socialism. We will only succeed through training revolutionaries in Marxism which is essentially the living memory of working class struggle. As Lenin said, without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.
Marxists have often been criticised in the past for placing such high importance on theory and educating ourselves. Rather than sitting around talking and writing, these critics say, why not go out and do something. But this throws up questions. What do we do? Has it been tried before? What is the desired result? Only Marxist theory can help illuminate the answers. Nor is this a new criticism either: Marx himself faced the same! In 1846, a German communist named Weitling accused Marx of being an “intellectual” whose “armchair analysis of doctrines far from the world of the suffering and afflicted people”. This rightly infuriated Marx, who responded: “Ignorance never yet helped anybody.” These words continue to ring true.
To many, and with good reason, the world can appear as chaotic and unexplainable. The election of Trump, the issue of Brexit, the Gilet Jaunes movement, the rise of the far-right… all of these events can seemingly appear out of nowhere. But through looking at the underlying class relations and struggle, through understanding dialectics (the logic of motion and change), through looking at the fundamental contradictions that exist within capitalist society, confusion is replaced by clarity. The advantage of Marxist theory is simply the advantage of foresight over astonishment.
For me, this is what Marxist Societies and the Marxist Student Federation provides access to. Learning anything by yourself and using online resources can be very difficult, and you can end up with all sorts of wrong ideas and misunderstandings. But learning alongside others and with the opportunity to share your own knowledge and perspectives, to improve everyone’s understanding, is invaluable. To quote Tony Blair, the antithesis of a Marxist revolutionary: “education, education, education”. It is only through a serious commitment to educating ourselves and others on Marxism and its application to all spheres of life, from art to science, that we can hope to achieve socialism in our lifetime.
Dylan Cope, Sheffield Marxist Society