Historical materialism

histmatMarxism analyses the hidden mainsprings that lie behind the development of human society, from the earliest tribal societies up to the modern day. The way in which Marxism traces this winding road is called the materialist conception of history. This scientific method enables us to understand history, not as a series of unconnected and unforeseen incidents, but rather as part of a clearly understood and interrelated process. It is a series of actions and reactions which cover politics, economics and the whole spectrum of social development. To lay bare the complex dialectical relationship between all these phenomena is the task of historical materialism.

– From the introduction to What is Marxism?

The Preface of the Critique contains the first connected account of one of Marx's main theories: the materialist conception of history. The participants in history may not always be aware of what motives drive them, seeking instead to rationalise them in one way or another, but those motives exist and have a basis in the real world.

This work represents Marx's analysis of Napoleon III's coup d'etat of December 1851, which provides him with an opportunity for a meticulous examination of the ebb and flow of political forces and social classes in the period preceding Napoleon's seizure of power. Marx digs beneath the surfaces of political rhetoric and the manoeuvring for power by political personalities, and reveals the social forces and mechanisms at work during the political crisis. Its value, then, is as a class analysis of a political crisis.