Marx/Engels on Historical Materialism: Additional Readings


Additional Readings on
Particulars of theory and practice

Historical Examples:


The Class Struggles in France

Introduction: But we, too, have been shown to have been wrong by history, which has revealed our point of view of that time to have been an illusion. It has done even more: it has not merely destroyed our error of that time; it had also completely transformed the conditions under which the proletariat has to fight. The mode of struggle of 1848 is today obsolete from every point of view, and this is a point which deserves closer examination on the present occasion.

Chapter One: The Paris proletariat was forced into the June insurrection by the bourgeoisie. This sufficed to mark its doom....only its defeat convinced it of the truth that the slightest improvement in its position remains a utopia within the bourgeois republic.... In place of the demands...there appeared the bold slogan of revolutionary struggle: Overthrow of the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the Working class!

Chapter Three: The proletariat rallies more and more around revolutionary Socialism, around Communism...This Socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the necessary transit point to the abolition of class distinctions generally...

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. This, again, is of a twofold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other.

The Housing Question

The Historic Position of the Proletariat: Only the proletariat created by modern large-scale industry, liberated from all inherited fetters... is in a position to accomplish the great social transformation which will put an end to all class exploitation and all class rule...

On the Development of Legal Systems: At a certain, very primitive stage of the development of society, the need arises to co-ordinate under a common regulation the daily recurring acts of production....

On the abolition of the antithesis between town and country: The abolition of the antithesis between town and country is no more and no less utopian than the abolition of the antithesis between capitalists and wage workers....



The Poverty of Philosophy

Chapter 1: The consumer is no freer than the producer. His judgment depends on his means and his needs. Both of these are determined by his social position, which itself depends on the whole social organization..... The very moment civilization begins, production begins to be founded on the antagonism of orders, estates, classes, and finally on the antagonism of accumulated labor and actual labor. No antagonism, no progress...

Chapter 2: Economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of production.... The same men who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations. Thus the ideas, these categories, are as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products.

Capital: Volume One & Three

The Secret of Primitive Accumulation: The economic structure of capitalist society has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.

Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation: Private property, as the antithesis to social, collective property, exists only where the means of labor and the external conditions of labor belong to private individuals.

The Trinity Formula: Like all its predecessors, the capitalist process of production proceeds under definite material conditions, which are, however, simultaneously the bearers of definite social relations entered into by individuals in the process of reproducing their life.

Marx to L. Kugelmann in Hanover (July 11, 1868)

Every child knows a nation which ceased to work, I will not say for a year, but even for a few weeks, would perish. Every child knows, too, that the masses of products corresponding to the different needs required different and quantitatively determined masses of the total labor of society. That this necessity of the distribution of social labor in definite proportions cannot possibly be done away with by a particular form of social production but can only change the mode of its appearance , is self-evident.

Engels to Conrad Schmidt (October 27, 1890)

Economic, political and other reflections are just like those in the human eye, they pass through a condensing lens and therefore appear upside down, standing on their heads.... The money market man only sees the movement of industry and of the world market in the inverted reflection of the money and stock market and so effect becomes cause to him.....



Theses on Feuerbach

The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth -- i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.

Letter from Engels to Mehring (July 14, 1893)

"That is to say, we all laid, and were bound to lay , the main emphasis, in the first place, on the derivation of political, juridical and other ideological notions, and of actions arising through the medium of these notions, from basic economic facts. But in so doing we neglected the formal side the ways and means by which these notions, etc., come about for the sake of the content...."

Engels to P. L. Lavrov in London (November 17, 1875)

"1) Of the Darwinian doctrine I accept the theory of evolution , but Darwin's method of proof (struggle for life, natural selection) I consider only a first, provisional, imperfect expression of a newly discovered fact....