Marxism through Arm-Wrestling!

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This activity for IB History forms one part of a detailed unit of study on Marxism and Capitalism that can be found in full here.



Round 1: To illustrate Marx’s view that "All Property is Theft"

• This round will illustrate Marx’s view that free market capitalism benefits the most ruthless and aggressive members of society (a view also posited in John Ronson’s The Psychopath Test).

a. Split or Steal?

b. Arm Wrestling


• Repeat this process until about two thirds of the people in the class have become members of the proletariat.


Round 2: Bourgeoisie and Proletarians – the creation of wage slaves

• We are now in a state where most of the class are proletarians, and a few are aspiring capitalists.

• Explain to students that this illustrates Marx’s view that the capitalist system favours the most aggressive and selfish elements in society.

ADVANCE WARNING TO STUDENTSWarn students of the ‘cost of living’ rule that will be applied at the end of this round (see below).
This will impress upon them the importance of finding employment – at almost any cost.

• In this phase, the capitalists will seek to turn their cash into profit by investing in raw materials, employing workers, producing goods, and selling these at a profit.

• Some of these profits will be paid to the workers in wages; but the owner should aim to keep as much of the profit for him/herself as possible. The workers are under a great deal of pressure to accept offers of employment.


For people with 20 coins or more:

  • You can buy as many units of raw material as you wish (each one costs 20 coins). This is a piece of paper which needs to be torn into 8 neat squares (no tools allowed).
  • Each square can be sold for 5 coins (a nice profit!)
  • You cannot work on the material yourself: you must employ proletarians to do so.

For people with less than 20 coins:

  • You form part of the potential workforce.
  • You need to decide on how many coins you will agree to work for in return for.
  • Bear in mind that those workers agreeing to work at the cheapest wage are most guaranteed to get a job. It is in your interests not to ‘price yourself out of the market’.


The capitalists will then take it in turns to employ one worker each (if they wish to do so). Repeat this process until the capitalists have employed as many people as they wish. Obviously the cheapest workers will be employed first, and those left without work will earn nothing whatsoever. So during this process give workers the chance to change their wage rates to a more competitive level (thereby driving down wage rates).

Each ‘factory’ is then given 2 minutes to produce as many goods as possible. Remember that only proletarians can produce goods, and that the best quality goods will sell easiest – so it’s important for the capitalists to monitor the quality of work (although they are under no obligation to pay the worker if their work is defective).

The produce is brought to the teacher, who purchases the best quality goods at 30 coins per item. Make a point of not buying everything. Surplus goods can be kept ‘in stock’ and put up for sale in subsequent rounds (this will encourage factories to ‘lay off’ workers in times of economic downturn).

• The capitalists then have to pay their worker(s) at the rate agreed.

• Record in the Excel spreadsheet the coins now owned by each person.

COST OF LIVING At this point, every person will now hand over ten coins to the teacher to represent the general cost of living.
Any person without coins who is still unemployed will be considered to have starved to death. Their game is over and they will need to be directed to another task (e.g. researching criticisms of the Marxist analysis).

Subsequent Rounds

The teacher will repeat Round 2 several times, but with new ‘twists’ to highlight other injustices, e.g.:

End Result

• Coins should be exchanged for chocolates.

• Discussion Points follow:

This roleplay is very much a work in progress. If you have any comments or suggestions or feedback you can contact me through the ActiveHistory Contact Form or on Twitter (@russeltarr).


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High Park Lodge, Edstaston Wem, Shropshire, England, SY4 5RD. Telephone/Fax: 01939 233909

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ActiveHistory is the work of full-time history teacher Russel Tarr

1998-2022 Russel Tarr, Limited (Reg. 6111680)

High Park Lodge, Edstaston Wem, Shropshire, England, SY4 5RD. Telephone/Fax: 01939 233909

All rights reserved


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