The theoretical framework developed by Marx and Engels for understanding the past has had a significant influence on history writing, even among many who do not count themselves political fellow travelers. Paradoxically, this influence endures despite the absence in the pair’s extensive writings of a single, stand-alone exposition on historical materialism. Readers are left to patch together a holistic understanding from three distinct strands of their work: fragments from Marx and Engels’s reckoning with the mixed inheritance of the Enlightenment and the subsequent achievements of German philosophy; the historical element in Marx’s studies of political economy; and their collaborative attempts to apply their approach to events unfolding during their own lifetimes — most significantly, the failed 1848 revolutions in Europe, the American Civil War of 1861 – 65, and the 1871 Paris Commune.

Both for its illumination of this theoretical legacy...

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