Rethinking the French Revolution: Marxism and the Revisionist Challenge

By George C. Comninel | Go to book overview

7
Historical Materialism

Hobsbawm had it exactly right -- it is Marx's overview of history, his overview of the dynamic historical development of class society, that is central to historical materialism. The 1844 manuscripts offer Marx's first statement that there is such a dynamic -- and that it corresponds to the 'movement of private property', or, more precisely, to the development of the antithesis between lack of property and property. In so preliminary a statement, of course, the full implications could not be realized at once. Yet the germ of a conceptual framework was worked out within these three manuscripts, and this line of thought continues uninterruptedly through Marx's works. Since, however, Marx never pursued the historical dynamics of pre-capitalist class society in the serious and sustained manner of his critique of political economy, much of what little he did say about it is problematic. In The German Ideology, as will be seen, the continuity of his thought was to a certain degree deflected by a re-infusion of liberal materialist ideology, the effects of which continue to bedevil Marxist thought. Still, Marx's early insight into the historically fundamental character of class exploitation would endure, and ultimately find its mature expression in the achievement of Capital.


Materialism and Social Reality

This, then, is the central concept of historical materialism: that

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