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Historical materialism is the methodological approach of Marxist historiography that focuses on human societies and their development over time, claiming that they follow a number of observable tendencies. This was first articulated by Karl Marx (1818–1883) as the materialist conception of history. It is principally a theory of history according to which the material conditions of a society's way of producing and reproducing the means of human existence or, in Marxist terms, the union of its productive capacity and social relations of production, fundamentally determine its organization and development.
Historical materialism[a] looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life. It posits that social classes and the relationship between them, along with the political structures and ways of thinking in society, are founded on and reflect contemporary economic activity.
Since Marx's time, the theory has been modified and expanded by Marxist writers. It now has many Marxist and non-Marxist variants. Marxists contest that historical materialism is scientific but Karl Popper and Leszek Kołakowski claimed it does not comply with the modern standards of scientific method and classified it as pseudoscience.
- 1 Development and history
- 2 Key ideas
- 3 Key implications in the study and understanding of history
- 4 Warnings against misuse
- 5 Criticisms
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
Development and history
While Marx never used the words "historical materialism" to describe his theory of history, it nevertheless first appears in Friedrich Engels' 1880 work Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, to which Marx wrote an introduction for the French edition. By 1892, Friedrich Engels indicated that he accepted the broader usage of the term "historical materialism," writing in an introduction to Socialism: Utopian and Scientific;
I am perfectly aware that the contents of this work will meet with objection from a considerable portion of the British public. But, if we Continentals had taken the slightest notice of the prejudices of British "respectability", we should be even worse off than we are. This book defends what we call "historical materialism", and the word materialism grates upon the ears of the immense majority of British readers... I hope even British respectability will not be overshocked if I use, in English as well as in so many other languages, the term "historical materialism", to designate that view of the course of history which seeks the ultimate cause and the great moving power of all important historic events in the economic development of society, in the changes in the modes of production and exchange, in the consequent division of society into distinct classes, and in the struggles of these classes against one another.
Marx's initial interest in materialism is evident in his doctoral thesis, which compared the philosophical atomism of Democritus with the materialist philosophy of Epicurus, as well as his close reading of Adam Smith and other writers in classical political economy.
Marx and Engels first state and detail their materialist conception of history within the pages of The German Ideology, written in 1845. The book, which structural Marxists such as Louis Althusser regard as Marx's first 'mature' work, is a lengthy polemic against Marx and Engels' fellow Young Hegelians and contemporaries Ludwig Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, and Max Stirner. Stirner's 1844 work The Unique and its Property had a particularly strong impact on the worldview of Marx and Engels: Stirner's blistering critique of morality and whole-hearted embrace of egoism prompted the pair to formulate a conception of socialism along lines of self-interest rather than simple humanism alone, grounding that conception in the scientific study of history.
Perhaps Marx's clearest formulation of historical materialism resides in the preface to his 1859 book A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production.
In a foreword to his essay Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (1886), three years after Marx's death, Engels claimed confidently that "the Marxist world outlook has found representatives far beyond the boundaries of Germany and Europe and in all the literary languages of the world." Indeed, in the years after Marx and Engels' deaths, "historical materialism" was identified as a distinct philosophical doctrine and was subsequently elaborated upon and systematized by Orthodox Marxist and Marxist-Leninist thinkers such as Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Georgi Plekhanov and Nikolai Bukharin. This occurred despite the fact that many of Marx's earlier works on historical materialism, including The German Ideology, remained unpublished until the 1930's; in reality, most self-styled Marxists had not read beyond Capital Vol. 1.
In the early years of the 20th century, historical materialism was often treated by socialist writers as interchangeable with dialectical materialism, a formulation never used by Marx or Engels. According to many Marxists influenced by Soviet Marxism, historical materialism is a specifically sociological method, while dialectical materialism refers to the more general, abstract philosophy underlying Marx and Engels' body of work. This view is based on Joseph Stalin's pamphlet Dialectical and Historical Materialism, as well as textbooks issued by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Perhaps the most notable recent exploration of historical materialism is G. A. Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, which inaugurated the school of Analytical Marxism. Cohen advances a sophisticated technological-determinist interpretation of Marx "in which history is, fundamentally, the growth of human productive power, and forms of society rise and fall according as they enable or impede that growth."
Several scholars have argued that historical materialism ought to be revised in the light of modern scientific knowledge. Jürgen Habermas believes historical materialism "needs revision in many respects", especially because it has ignored the significance of communicative action.
Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand.
Historical materialism builds upon the idea of historical progress that became popular in philosophy during the Enlightenment, which contends that the development of human society has progressed through a series of stages, from hunting and gathering, through pastoralism and cultivation, to commercial society.
Historical materialism rests on a foundation of metaphysical or philosophical materialism, in which matter is considered primary and ideas, thought, and consciousness are secondary, i.e. consciousness and human ideas about the universe result from material conditions rather than vice versa.
Marx built on this foundation with the assertion that economic processes form the material base of society upon which institutions and ideas rest and from which they derive. While the economy is the base structure of society, it does not follow that everything in history is determined by the economy, just as every feature of a house is not determined by its foundations. Thus, there is the idea that in the capitalist mode of production the behaviour of actors in the market economy (means of production, distribution and exchange, the relations of production) plays the major role in configuring society.
Historical materialism springs from a fundamental underlying reality of human existence: that in order for human beings to survive and continue existence from generation to generation, it is necessary for them to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life. Marx then extended this premise by asserting the importance of the fact that, in order to carry out production and exchange, people have to enter into very definite social relations, most fundamentally "production relations".
However, production does not get carried out in the abstract, or by entering into arbitrary or random relations chosen at will. Human beings collectively work on nature but do not do the same work; there is a division of labour in which people not only do different jobs, but according to Marxist theory, some people live off the fruits of others' labour by owning the means of production. How this is accomplished depends on the type of society. Production is carried out through very definite relations between people. And, in turn, these production relations are determined by the level and character of the productive forces that are present at any given time in history. For Marx, productive forces refer to the means of production such as the tools, instruments, technology, land, raw materials, and human knowledge and abilities in terms of using these means of production.
Writers who identify with historical materialism usually postulate that society has moved through a number of types or modes of production. That is, the character of the production relations is determined by the character of the productive forces; these could be the simple tools and instruments of early human existence, or the more developed machinery and technology of present age. The main modes of production Marx identified generally include primitive communism or tribal society (a prehistoric stage), ancient society, feudalism, and capitalism. In each of these social stages, people interact with nature and produce their living in different ways. Any surplus from that production is allotted in different ways. Ancient society was based on a ruling class of slave owners and a class of slaves; feudalism was based on landowners and serfs; and capitalism based on the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class privately owns the means of production, distribution and exchange (e.g., factories, mines, shops and banks) while the working class live by exchanging their socialized labour with the capitalist class for wages.
Marx identified the production relations of society (arising on the basis of given productive forces) as the economic base of society. He also explained that on the foundation of the economic base there arise certain political institutions, laws, customs, culture, etc., and ideas, ways of thinking, morality, etc. These constituted the political/ideological superstructure of society. This superstructure not only has its origin in the economic base, but its features also ultimately correspond to the character and development of that economic base, i.e. the way people organize society is determined by the economic base and the relations that arise from its mode of production. G.A. Cohen argues in Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence that a society’s legal-political superstructure stabilizes or entrenches its economic structure, but in the other direction the economic relations determine the character of the superstructure, and that the economic base is primary and the superstructure secondary. It is precisely because the superstructure strongly affects the base that the base selects that superstructure. As Charles Taylor puts it, "These two directions of influence are so far from being rivals that they are actually complementary. The functional explanation requires that the secondary factor tend to have a causal effect on the primary, for this dispositional fact is the key feature of the explanation." It is because the influences in the two directions are not symmetrical that it makes sense to speak of primary and secondary factors, even where one is giving a non-reductionist, "holistic" account of social interaction.
- Social progress is driven by progress in the material, productive forces a society has at its disposal (technology, labour, capital goods, etc.)
- Humans are inevitably involved in productive relations (roughly speaking, economic relationships or institutions), which constitute our most decisive social relations. These relations progress with the development of the productive forces. They are largely determined by the division of labor, which in turn tends to determine social class.
- Relations of production help determine the degree and types of the development of the forces of production, also known as the mode of production. For example, capitalism tends to increase the rate at which the forces develop and stresses the accumulation of capital.
- Both productive forces and productive relations progress independently of mankind's strategic intentions or will.
- The superstructure—the cultural and institutional features of a society, its ideological materials—is ultimately an expression of the mode of production (which combines both the forces and relations of production) on which the society is founded.
- Every type of state is a powerful institution of the ruling class; the state is an instrument which one class uses to secure its rule and enforce its preferred production relations (and its exploitation) onto society.
- State power is usually only transferred from one class to another by social and political upheaval.
- When a given style of production relations no longer supports further progress in the productive forces, either further progress is strangled, or 'revolution' must occur.
- The actual historical process is not predetermined but depends on the class struggle, especially the organization and consciousness of the working class.
Key implications in the study and understanding of history
Many writers note that historical materialism represented a revolution in human thought, and a break from previous ways of understanding the underlying basis of change within various human societies. As Marx puts it, "a coherence arises in human history" because each generation inherits the productive forces developed previously and in turn further develops them before passing them on to the next generation. Further, this coherence increasingly involves more of humanity the more the productive forces develop and expand to bind people together in production and exchange.
This understanding counters the notion that human history is simply a series of accidents, either without any underlying cause or caused by supernatural beings or forces exerting their will on society. Historical materialism posits that history is made as a result of struggle between different social classes rooted in the underlying economic base. According to G.A. Cohen, author of Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, the level of development of society’s productive forces (i.e., society’s technological powers, including tools, machinery, raw materials, and labour power) determines society’s economic structure, in the sense that it selects a structure of economic relations that tends best to facilitate further technological growth. In historical explanation, the overall primacy of the productive forces can be understood in terms of two key theses:
|“||(a) The productive forces tend to develop throughout history (the Development Thesis). |
(b) The nature of the production relations of a society is explained by the level of development of its productive forces (the Primacy Thesis proper).
In saying that productive forces have a universal tendency to develop, Cohen’s reading of Marx is not claiming that productive forces always develop or that they never decline. Their development may be temporarily blocked, but because human beings have a rational interest in developing their capacities to control their interactions with external nature in order to satisfy their wants, the historical tendency is strongly toward further development of these capacities.
Broadly, the importance of the study of history lies in the ability of history to explain the present. John Bellamy Foster asserts that historical materialism is important in explaining history from a scientific perspective, by following the scientific method, as opposed to belief-system theories like creationism and intelligent design, which do not base their beliefs on verifiable facts and hypotheses.
Alienation and freedom
Hunter-gatherer societies were structured so that the economic forces and the political forces were one and the same. The elements of force and relation operated together, harmoniously. In the feudal society, the political forces of the kings and nobility had their relations with the economic forces of the villages through serfdom. The serfs, although not free, were tied to both forces and, thus, not completely alienated. Capitalism, Marx argued, completely separates the economic and political forces, leaving them to have relations through a limiting government. He takes the state to be a sign of this separation—it exists to manage the massive conflicts of interest which arise between classes in all those societies based on property relations.
Nations as a product of capitalism
According to historical materialism, nations arose at the time of the appearance of capitalism on the basis of community of economic life, territory, language, certain features of psychology, traditions of everyday life and culture. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party Marx and Engels explained that the coming into existence of nations was the result of class struggle, specifically of the capitalist class's attempts to overthrow the institutions of the former ruling class. Prior to capitalism, nations did not exist. The Marxist theory of the national question was developed further and concretized by Lenin. According to him, there are two opposite tendencies in the development of nations under capitalism. One of them is expressed in the activization of national life and national movements against the oppressors. The other is expressed in the expansion of links among nations, the breaking down of barriers between them, the establishment of a unified economy and of a world market.
In his analysis of the movement of history, Marx predicted the breakdown of capitalism, and the establishment in time of a communist society in which class-based human conflict would be overcome. The means of production would be held in the common ownership and used for the common good. In the mention of "human liberation" one should not neglect that, in the level of production, the working class is the most oppressed. But either way, in the prediction of the future, one shall first know of the past (e.g., the establishment of capitalism, and the transitional part of feudalism).
Warnings against misuse
Marx himself took care to indicate that he was only proposing a guideline to historical research (Leitfaden or Auffassung), and was not providing any substantive "theory of history" or "grand philosophy of history", let alone a "master-key to history". Engels expressed irritation with dilettante academics who sought to knock up their skimpy historical knowledge as quickly as possible into some grand theoretical system that would explain "everything" about history. He opined that historical materialism and the theory of modes of production was being used as an excuse for not studying history.
In the 1872 Preface to the French edition of Das Kapital Vol. 1, Marx also emphasized that "There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits". Reaching a scientific understanding was hard work. Conscientious, painstaking research was required, instead of philosophical speculation and unwarranted, sweeping generalizations.
But having abandoned abstract philosophical speculation in his youth, Marx himself showed great reluctance during the rest of his life about offering any generalities or universal truths about human existence or human history. The first explicit and systematic summary of the materialist interpretation of history published, Anti-Dühring, was written by Friedrich Engels.
One of the aims of Engels's polemic Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science (written with Marx's approval) was to ridicule the easy "world schematism" of philosophers, who invented the latest wisdom from behind their writing desks. Towards the end of his life, in 1877, Marx wrote a letter to the editor of the Russian paper Otetchestvennye Zapisky, which significantly contained the following disclaimer:
... If Russia is tending to become a capitalist nation after the example of the Western European countries, and during the last years she has been taking a lot of trouble in this direction—she will not succeed without having first transformed a good part of her peasants into proletarians; and after that, once taken to the bosom of the capitalist regime, she will experience its pitiless laws like other profane peoples. That is all. But that is not enough for my critic. He feels himself obliged to metamorphose my historical sketch of the genesis of capitalism in Western Europe into an historico-philosophic theory of the marche generale imposed by fate upon every people, whatever the historic circumstances in which it finds itself, in order that it may ultimately arrive at the form of economy which will ensure, together with the greatest expansion of the productive powers of social labor, the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. (He is both honouring and shaming me too much.)
Marx goes on to illustrate how the same factors can in different historical contexts produce very different results, so that quick and easy generalizations are not really possible. To indicate how seriously Marx took research, when he died, his estate contained several cubic metres of Russian statistical publications (it was, as the old Marx observed, in Russia that his ideas gained most influence).
But what is true is that insofar as Marx and Engels regarded historical processes as law-governed processes, the possible future directions of historical development were to a great extent limited and conditioned by what happened before. Retrospectively, historical processes could be understood to have happened by necessity in certain ways and not others, and to some extent at least, the most likely variants of the future could be specified on the basis of careful study of the known facts.
Towards the end of his life, Engels commented several times about the abuse of historical materialism.
In a letter to Conrad Schmidt dated 5 August 1890, he stated:
And if this man (i.e., Paul Barth) has not yet discovered that while the material mode of existence is the primum agens this does not preclude the ideological spheres from reacting upon it in their turn, though with a secondary effect, he cannot possibly have understood the subject he is writing about. (...) The materialist conception of history has a lot of [dangerous friends] nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French "Marxists" of the late 70s: "All I know is that I am not a Marxist." (...) In general, the word "materialistic" serves many of the younger writers in Germany as a mere phrase with which anything and everything is labeled without further study, that is, they stick on this label and then consider the question disposed of. But our conception of history is above all a guide to study, not a lever for construction after the manner of the Hegelian. All history must be studied afresh, the conditions of existence of the different formations of society must be examined individually before the attempt is made to deduce them from the political, civil law, aesthetic, philosophic, religious, etc., views corresponding to them. Up to now but little has been done here because only a few people have got down to it seriously. In this field we can utilize heaps of help, it is immensely big, anyone who will work seriously can achieve much and distinguish himself. But instead of this too many of the younger Germans simply make use of the phrase historical materialism (and everything can be turned into a phrase) only in order to get their own relatively scanty historical knowledge – for economic history is still in its swaddling clothes! – constructed into a neat system as quickly as possible, and they then deem themselves something very tremendous. And after that a Barth can come along and attack the thing itself, which in his circle has indeed been degraded to a mere phrase.
Finally, in a letter to Franz Mehring dated 14 July 1893, Engels stated:
... there is only one other point lacking, which, however, Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. 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. This has given our adversaries a welcome opportunity for misunderstandings, of which Paul Barth is a striking example.
Philosopher of science Karl Popper, in The Poverty of Historicism and Conjectures and Refutations, critiqued such claims of the explanatory power or valid application of historical materialism by arguing that it could explain or explain away any fact brought before it, making it unfalsifiable and thus pseudoscientific. Similar arguments were brought by Leszek Kołakowski in Main Currents of Marxism.
In his 1940 essay Theses on the Philosophy of History, scholar Walter Benjamin compares historical materialism to the Turk, an 18th-century device which was promoted as a mechanized automaton which could defeat skilled chess players but actually concealed a human who controlled the machine. Benjamin suggested that, despite Marx's claims to scientific objectivity, historical materialism was actually quasi-religious. Like the Turk, wrote Benjamin, "[t]he puppet called 'historical materialism' is always supposed to win. It can do this with no further ado against any opponent, so long as it employs the services of theology, which as everyone knows is small and ugly and must be kept out of sight." Benjamin's friend and colleague Gershom Scholem would argue that Benjamin's critique of historical materialism was so definitive that, as Mark Lilla would write, "nothing remains of historical materialism ... but the term itself". However, Benjamin was arguing against a mechanistic form of historical materialist explanation then prevalent in Stalin's Russia, and was himself a committed, if unorthodox, Marxist. Later in "On the Concept of History", he writes:
Class struggle, which for a historian schooled in Marx is always in evidence, is a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist. ... There is no document of culture which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is never free of barbarism, so barbarism taints the manner in which it was transmitted from one hand to another. The historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from this process of transmission as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.
Underlying the dispute among historians are the different assumptions made about the definition or concept of "history" and "historiography". Different historians take a different view of what it is all about, and what the possibilities of historical and social scientific knowledge are.
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- Analytical Marxism
- Classical Marxism
- Economic determinism
- Fundamentals of Marxism–Leninism
- Marx's theory of history
- Orthodox Marxism
- Parametric determinism
- Technological determinism
- Theory of historical trajectory
- Edwin R. A. Seligman wrote:
This doctrine is often called "historical materialism," or the "materialistic interpretation of history." Such terms are, however, lacking in precision. If by materialism is meant the tracing of all changes to material causes, the biological view of history is also materialistic. Again, the theory which ascribes all changes in society to the influence of climate or to the character of the fauna and flora is materialistic, and yet has little in common with the doctrine here discussed. The doctrine we have to deal with is not only materialistic, but also economic in character; and the better phrase is not the "materialistic interpretation," but the "economic interpretation" of history.
- Seligman 1901, p. 613.
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- Frederick Engels. "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (Introduction - Materialism)". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
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- Althusser, Louis (1969). For Marx. The Penguin Press. p. 59.
- "Max Stirner (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information (CSLI), Stanford University. Retrieved 2018-09-06.
- Welsh, John F. (2010). Max Stirner's Dialectical Egoism, A new interpretation. Lexington Books. pp. 20–23.
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- Charles Taylor, “Critical Notice”, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 10 (1980), p. 330.
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- Foster & Clark 2008.
- Dixon, Norm. "Marx, Engels and Lenin on the National Question". Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
- "В.И. Ленин. О национальном вопросе и национальной политике" (in Russian). Retrieved 21 April 2018.
- Lenin n.d.
- Engels, cited approvingly by E. P. Thompson in 'The peculiarities of the English,' Socialist Register, 1965.
- "Letters: Marx–Engels Correspondence 1890". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
- "Letters: Marx–Engels Correspondence 1893". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
- Lilla, Mark (25 May 1995). "The Riddle of Walter Benjamin". The New York Review of Books.
- Benjamin, Walter. Theses on the Philosophy of History.
- Cohen, G. A. (2000) . Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (expanded ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Engels, Friedrich (1946). "Foreward". Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
- Foster, John Bellamy (1999). Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature. New York: Monthly Review Press.
- Foster, John Bellamy; Clark, Brett (2008). Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present. New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 978-1-58367-173-3.
- Fromm, Erich (1961). "Marx's Historical Materialism". Marx's Concept of Man. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
- Kołakowski, Leszek (1978). Main Currents of Marxism: Its Origins, Growth and Dissolution.
- Lenin, Vladimir Illyich (n.d). "Критические заметки по национальному вопросу" [Critical Remarks on the National Question]. Полного собрания сочинений В. И. Ленина (in Russian). 24 (5th ed.). pp. 113–150. Check date values in:
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- ——— (1993). Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Nicolaus, Martin. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-044575-6.
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- Popper, Karl (1957). The Poverty of Historicism.
- Seligman, Edwin R. A. (1901). "The Economic Interpretation of History". Political Science Quarterly. 16 (4): 612–640. doi: . JSTOR 2140420.
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- Acton, H. B. The Illusion of the Epoch.
Critical account which focusses on incoherencies in the thought of Marx, Engels and Lenin.
- Anderson, Perry (1974). Lineages of the Absolutist State.
- Aronowitz, Stanley (1981). The Crisis in Historical Materialism.
American criticism of orthodox Marxism and argument for a more radical version of historical materialism that sticks closer to Marx by changing itself to keep up with changes in the historical situation.
- Blackledge, Paul (2006). Reflections on the Marxist Theory of History.
- Boudin, Louis B. (1907). The Theoretical System of Karl Marx. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co.
Contains an early defence of the materialist conception of history against its critics of the day.
- Childe, V. Gordon. Man Makes Himself.
Free interpretation of Marx's idea.
- Cohen, Gerald. Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence.
Influential analytical Marxist interpretation.
- Draper, Hal. Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution.
Captures the full subtlety of Marx's thought, but at length in four volumes.
- Fleischer, Helmut. Marxism and History.
Good reply to false interpretations of Marx's view of history.
- Gandler, Stefan (2015). Critical Marxism in Mexico: Adolfo Sánchez Vázquez and Bolívar Echeverría. Historical Materialism Book Series. 87. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Press. ISBN 978-90-04-28468-5. ISSN 1570-1522.
- Giddens, Anthony (1981). A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism.
- Graham, Loren R. Science Philosophy and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union.
Sympathetically critical of dialectical materialism.
- Habermas, Jürgen. Communication and the Evolution of Society.
Argues historical materialism must be revised to include communicative action.
- Harman, Chris. A People's History of the World.
Marxist view of history according to a leader of the International Socialist Tendency.
- Harper, J. (1942). "Materialism and Historical Materialism". New Essays. 6 (2). Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
- Holt, Justin P. (2014). The Social Thought of Karl Marx. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications. doi:10.4135/9781483349381. ISBN 978-1-4129-9784-3.
Provides an introductory chapter on historical materialism.
- Jakubowski, Franz. Ideology and Superstructure.
Attempts to provide an alternative to schematic interpretations of historical materialism.
- Jordan, Z. A. (1967). "The Origins of Dialectical Materialism". The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism: A Philosophical and Sociological Analysis. London: Macmillan. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marx Myths & Legends.
- Mandel, Ernest. Introduction to Marxism.
Emphasizes understanding the roots of class society and the state.
- ——— (1986). The Place of Marxism in History. International Institute for Research and Education. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
Modelled on Lenin's "Three components of Marxism" but with a section on the reception and diffusion of Marxism in the world.
- Mao Zedong. Four Essays on Philosophy.
Standard Maoist reading of Marx's materialism.
- Marx, Karl (1848). Manifesto of the Communist Party.
- ——— (1869). The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.
- ——— (1887). Engels, Friedrich, ed. Capital: Critique of Political Economy. Volume I: The Process of Production of Capital. Translated by Moore, Samuel; Aveling, Edward. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
- ——— (1895). The Class Struggles in France, 1848–1850.
- ——— (1932). Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.
- ——— (1932). The German Ideology.
- ——— (1956). Engels, Friedrich, ed. Capital: Critique of Political Economy. Volume II: The Process of Circulation of Capital. Translated by Lasker, I. (2nd ed.). Moscow: Progress Publishers.
- ——— (1959). Capital: Critique of Political Economy. Volume III: The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole.
- ——— (1964). Hobsbawm, E. J., ed. Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations. Translated by Cohen, Jack. London: Lawrence & Wishart.
- ——— (1969). "Theses on Feuerbach". Marx/Engels Selected Works. Moscow: Progress Publishers. pp. 13–15.
- Mehring, Franz (1975). On Historical Materialism. Translated by Archer, Bob. London: New Park Press. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
Classic statement by a contemporary and friend of Marx & Engels.
- Novack, George (2002). Understanding History: Marxist Essays. Chippendale, New South Wales: Resistance Books. ISBN 978-1-876646-23-3. Retrieved 21 April 2018 – via Marxists Internet Archive.
Trotskyist interpretations of problems of history.
- Nowak, Leszek. Property and Power: Towards a Non-Marxian Historical Materialism.
Attempts to develop a post-Stalinist interpretation of Marx's project.
- Rees, John. The Algebra of Revolution.
Classical Marxist account of the philosophy of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Lukacs, and Trotsky.
- Rigby, S. H. (1998). Marxism and History: A Critical Introduction (2nd ed.). Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-5612-3.
- Shaw, William H. Marx's Theory of History.
Provides a short survey.
- Spirkin, Alexander (1990). Fundamentals of Philosophy. Translated by Syrovatkin, Sergei. Moscow: Progress Publishers. ISBN 978-5-01-002582-3. Retrieved 15 January 2011.
- Stalin, Joseph. Dialectical and Historical Materialism.
Classic statement of Stalinist doctrine.
- Suchting, Wal. Marx: An Introduction.
Includes a good short introduction.
- "The Materialist Conception of History". Education Bulletin. No. 1. 1979. Retrieved 21 April 2018.
- Therborn, Göran. Science, Class and Society.
Critical survey of the relationship between sociology and historical materialism.
- Thompson, E. P. "The Poverty of Theory".
Polemic which ridicules theorists of history who do not actually study history.
- Wetter, Gustav A. Dialectical Materialism: a Historical and Systematic Survey of Philosophy in the Soviet Union.
- Witt-Hansen, Johan. Historical Materialism: The Method, The Theories.
Sees historical materialism as a methodology and Das Kapital as an application of the method.
- Wood, Allen W. (2004). Karl Marx. Arguments of the Philosophers (2nd ed.). Abingdon, England: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-31697-2.
Delves into misinterpretations of Marx including the substitution of "Historical materialism" by Lenin.