The German Ideology versus Historical Materialism

  • George C. Comninel
Part of the Marx, Engels, and Marxisms book series (MAENMA)


This chapter underscores the profound differences between the forms of historical and materialist analysis that seem to be presented in “The German Ideology” and the genuine expressions of historical materialist analysis offered elsewhere in the work of Marx. The passages that are most frequently emphasized in “The German Ideology” articulate a stages theory of history, conceived in terms of successive stages in the development of the division of labour in production, which simultaneously coincide with the development of social forms of property. While this situates an otherwise merely technical conception of historical social development in relation to forms of property and growing social inequality, it nonetheless reduces the development of expressions of class society to fundamentally “natural” processes. As a result, “class” has a different meaning here than the fundamental opposition between “oppressor and oppressed” that Marx identified in both his 1844 manuscripts and in The Communist Manifesto. In making class a more purely (and anachronistically) economic category, the texts of “The German Ideology” undercut the critical insight that tied class to the alienation of labour: class as exploitation. What seems to be “scientific” in this artificially constructed work is in fact largely a restatement of liberal ideology.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • George C. Comninel
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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