The Bourgeois Epoch: Marx and Engels on Britain, France, and Germany

The Bourgeois Epoch: Marx and Engels on Britain, France, and Germany

The Bourgeois Epoch: Marx and Engels on Britain, France, and Germany

The Bourgeois Epoch: Marx and Engels on Britain, France, and Germany


Richard Hamilton provides an in-depth critique of the writngs of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels on Britain, France, and Germany. Hamilton contends that the validity of their principal historical claims has been assumed more often than investigated, and he reviews the logic of their historical arguments, citing relevant sources that challenge many of the assertions they used to build their theory of inexorable historical change.
Although Marx emphasized the need for systematic empirical research into historical events, he and Engels in fact relied on impressionistic evidence to support their claims of how fault lines were forming in capitalist society. Marxist theory, Hamilton concludes, is poorly supported in the historical analysis supplied by its original formulators. In showing that the historical record points to alternative readings of the course of social, economic, and political development in Western society, Hamilton argues that class boundaries tend to be fluid and that major change is more often than not the product of evolutionary -- rather than revolutionary -- forces.


My first extensive reading of Marx and Engels occurred in the early 1950s when I was a graduate student in sociology at Columbia University. Apart from the second and third volumes of Capital, I read all that was available in English (including some of the then hard-to-find early writings). As was expected of us, I read widely in the work of Max Weber and Emile Durkheim. I also read, among others, all of the works of Thorstein Veblen and all of Talcott Parsons writings up to and including his 1951 opus, The Social System. In my spare time, what little there was of it, I read widely in literature, in the work of Dostoevsky, Conrad, and Thomas Mann, among others.

My reading of the academic literature had to be rapid and, a necessary correlate, without much depth or understanding. One had to cover a lot of ground for the sake of forthcoming examinations. While reading Marx Eighteenth Brumaire, I wondered about his portrait of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte. How would other authors treat the man and his policies? What facts would be included or excluded? What factors would be emphasized? What framework would be used? In short, how would other treatments differ from Marx's portrayal? I found a biography of Louis Napoleon in Butler Library and read it quickly. But the welter of material was all too complicated. There was no time for a detailed comparison of the texts. There was no time for critique or assessment. I made a mental note: it was something to be done, a task for some future research.

One evening, after a hasty supper in the Lion's Den, I overheard a conversation between some history graduate students. One of them said: "Those sociologists don't know any history." I recognized the truth of the conclusion. It took me some time, more than I care to think about, to remedy the problem in my own mind and work.

Of all the reading done back then, I most regret the time spent on the work . . .

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