Workers Vanguard No. 879

27 October 2006


Karl Marx on Historical Materialism

(Quote of the Week)

Writing in 1859, Karl Marx provided a classic summary of historical materialism, which lies at the basis of the worldview developed by himself and Friedrich Engels.

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 social 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.

—Karl Marx, Preface, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)