Understanding Marxist Historiography: An Overview

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Understanding Marxist Historiography: An Overview

Wherever one stands on the ideological scale, it is hard to refute the influence Karl Marx, and his subsequent theories and doctrines, have had on the world at large. Some, like Vladimir Lenin, took Marx’s ideals and turned it into a political party and system of government, while others, like Mao Zedong, have simply used it as a basic foundation to further their own ideological and political ambitions. But in its truest essence, based on the writings and subsequent comments made by Marx and others, Marxism is a view of the world, offering both resources to scholars and laymen alike. To further understand Marxism Paul Blackledge states that “it would be a mistake to equate Marxism with the Soviet System”, with the later being a strictly separate entity from the theories originated from Marx. With regards to Marxist Historiography, it has been said by Benedetto Croce, that the “doctrine of [Marx] … has revivified and influenced almost all modern historical research”.

To have a true appreciation for what Marxist Historiography entails, an understanding of Karl Marx is important. He was a German philosopher and political theorist focusing his attention on the interactions between those who owned the means of production and those who supplied the production through work. He was motivated not by a curiosity of industry “but by a critical awareness of its shadowy side, the industrial laborers sorrow, heartbreak, sweat, and toil”. Marx was critical of religion, believing that it was merely a construct to control the masses. Of course his most lasting legacy was the spread of Communism as a political ideology, but it was his contribution to historiography that offers wha...

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...line, stating that the level of production was “essentially the same as it had been in the Greek world”. With the ever increasing costs of expansion and mainatinence of the Roman Empire, coupled with the stagnate levels of production, Walbank believed that the fall of the empire was determined to occur. Another facet of his theory is the use of slavery as a producer of materials. Since slaves were given no incentive, and thus had no reason to innovate, this “induced a contempt for all forms of labour amongst the propertied … thereby diminishing total demand and limiting the possibilities of economies of scale”.

(note: Marxist historians have tended to concentrate on tracing the growth of society’s productive forces, characterizing particular societies in terms of their dominate relations to production, on exploring the extent and nature of class conflict)

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