The Marxist Philosophy of History

The Marxist
Philosophy of
Dr. Kristen Epps
Colorado State University—Pueblo
HIST300: Historiography
What is Historical Theory?
Closely tied to literary theory and also philosophy,
but with different goals in mind—very
Historical theories are compelling, but unproven,
ideas and principles that help explain the past by
looking at the “big picture;” in more technical
terms, it is an interpretive framework or
metanarrative, “a global or totalizing cultural
narrative schema which orders and explains
knowledge and experience”1
It involves “close reading” of primary sources,
application of a theoretical model to “test” a
historical event/person, and usage of very precise
How Do I Recognize a Historical
This interest in interdisciplinarity only comes in the midtwentieth century
Some topics will lend themselves to a more theoretical
approach (e.g., gender studies, labor history, cultural
studies, etc.)
BUT, some historians are averse to theory, so don’t assume
that there is a theoretical framework in every text
It is usually associated with a school of thought (e.g.,
postcolonialism, postmodernism, etc.), or with the theorist
who developed it (e.g., Judith Butler, Michel Foucault,
Edward Said, etc.)
Look for name dropping in the text or citations (see next
slide) and also usage of specific terminology and
Some Well-Known Examples
This website includes a very complete bibliography, with annotations at the end of
some books that provide basic descriptions of theorists (mixed within a bunch of
"regular" historians, so it is not ideal for browsing):
Postcolonialism (most commonly found in Caribbean, Asian and African
Antonio Gramsci (neo-Marxism):
Frederic Jameson (neo-Marxism):
Jurgen Habermas (“the public sphere”):
Clifford Geertz (culture and anthropology):
Judith Butler (gender, sexuality, and “the body”):
Michel Foucault (poststructuralism, “the body,” sexuality, power, etc.): for basic
terms/definitions,, and for a more
detailed outline,
Karl Marx
Political Theorist and
Georg Hegel
Philosopher and
Key Terms from Hegelian Theory
 Zeitgeist—”the
spirit of the ages”
Key Terms from Hegelian Theory
 Zeitgeist—”the
 Determinism
spirit of the ages”
Key Terms from Hegelian Theory
 Zeitgeist—”the
spirit of the ages”
 Determinism
 Dialectic
Thesis  Antithesis  Synthesis
Western Europe in 1815
Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts, 1844
“The worker becomes all the poorer the more
wealth he produces, the more his production
increases in power and range. The worker
becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more
commodities he creates. With the increasing value
of the world of things proceeds in direct proportion
to the devaluation of the world of men. Labor
produces not only commodities; it produces itself
and the worker as a commodity—and does so in
the proportion in which it produces commodities
Philosopher and Marx’s
Ideological Partner
in London