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Karl Marx and History

Karl Marx developed a theory of history and society that was indispensable as an underpinning of his larger economic theory. For Marx, human history wasù and isù essentially economic history, and thus we cannot begin to understand economics until we understand the basic material premises of all human history. In The German Ideology, he presents each of four premises in detail, fleshing out a broader materialist conception of history. This materialist conception explains the myriad ways in which humankind has endeavored to meet its urgent material needs, and ultimately provides us with an understanding of history that does not rely upon, or utilize, a universal dogma or a timeless range of objective human values. The ideas of Marx the Historian lead inexorably to the conclusions of Marx the Revolutionary, expressed most famously in the Communist Manifesto.

Marx believed that the history of mankind was the history of the class struggle (Berlin 120). Throughout history, human beings have devised various responses to the ômaterial conditions of lifeö, which are ostensibly variations of economic existence (Marx 161-162). In The German Ideology, Marx presents the premises of the materialist method, premises which he insists can be verified empirically. As Isaiah Berlin points out, these premises establish a historical conception of man as a technological being, a being made what he is ôby means of the work that they cannot avoid doing if they are to satisfy their needsö (116).

ôThe first premise of all human historyö, Marx tells us, is ôthe existence of living human individualsö(160). Distinguished from animals as soon as they begin to produce for themselves, human progress is thus contingent upon a degree of physical organization. Further, what is produced is an expression of what they are as individuals: ôThe nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their productionö (161). ...

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Karl Marx and History. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 02:31, May 29, 2023, from