Karl Marx's neglected contribution to historiography

Karl Marx, the father of Communism, was foremost a socio-political revolutionary, with his groundbreaking concepts that would give rise to a new political order throughout the world, but was also a pioneer in the field of history.  Marxist history is a school of historiography (a specifically critical study of past events) that focuses on the role of social class and economic motives in determining the outcomes of events.  This view is clearly a major factor in real-world causes and consequences.  For example, it is impossible to study the French Revolution without taking the nation's flawed social structure and the widespread poverty into account.  As a result, Marx's theory has been incorporated into the mainstream practice of historiography, and almost all aspects of the past are studied through his lens.

In Marxist fashion, this practice has made significant contributions to the obscured history of the working class, oppressed minorities and women.  Marxist history is therefore diametrically opposed to the 'Great man' school of historiography, wherein the course of history is shaped by the actions of a select few individuals.  This is a necessary criticism to this flawed viewpoint as it explores deeper causes than simply the whims of great leaders.

The stigma of being labelled as a 'Marxist' means that Marx's contribution has been largely omitted out of the pages of a field that he has reshaped.  This is not only for his radical politics, but because his school of historiography does not only dictate the practice of historians, but attempts to predict the course of the human story.  Marxist history is deterministic. It suggests a direction of history, which will climax in a classless society, which will mark the socio-cultural development of man and signal the end of history, as all subsequent events will pale in significance compared to the sequence of occurrences that led to the universalism of Communism.  Francis Fukuyama, the great socio-political scientist adheres to the same vision of society's evolution, but in his 'The End of History and the Last Man' he regards liberal democracy to be this mythical system.

As a result of this controversial ideal, there is a rift in this school of thought.  Historians, such as Eric Hobsbawm, who's 'Age of Empire' inspired me to research this perception, who use Marxist methodology but disagree with much of mainstream Marxism, identify themselves as marxist historians (with a lowercase m).  Methods of Marxist historiography, such as class analysis, can be separated from the quasi-religious ideal of mankind's socio-cultural evolution. Such practitioners refer to their work as marxian.

It is imperative to remember and enshrine such luminaries in the pages of the subject they helped to develop.  It is also an absolute necessity for history students to evaluate and gain some understanding of the philosophy and practice of history.  The straitjacket curriculum encourages a mindless recitation of facts with occasional analysis, but distances itself from the documents and the people who construct our vision into the past.  To hope to write a work of history, one must study and comprehend historiography.


'Das Kapital' - Karl Marx

'The Communist Manifesto' - Karl Marx

'The end of History and the Last Man' - Francis Fukuyama

'Rethinking History' - Keith Jenkins

'A Short Introduction to History' - John Arnold



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