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New Left Review I/79, May-June 1973

Göran Therborn

The Working Class and the Birth of Marxism

The theory of historical materialism makes it possible to situate Marxism itself—just as much as market economics or normative sociology—in relation to capitalist development and the bourgeois revolution. Historical materialism emerged in the second half of the 1840s, in the heartlands of industrial capitalism. Its birthplaces were the major economic centres of Brussels, London and Manchester, and Paris—storm centre of the bourgeois revolutions of 1789 and 1830. It is true, of course, that Marx and Engels themselves were Germans, and the German determination of Marxism cannot be ignored. But it was only outside Germany that the new theory could come into being. All but one of the formative works of historical materialism were written outside Germany, the sole exception being Engels’s study of The Condition of the Working Class in England, the product of a 21-month stay in Manchester. After The Holy Family, the first product of the collaboration between Marx and Engels, written in Paris but published in Frankfurt in 1845, it was not until 1859, with the appearance of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, that a crucial work of historical materialism was even published in Germany. The German Ideology found no publisher; Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy in French and had it published in Paris and Brussels; Engels’s Principles of Communism were not sent for publication, the Communist Manifesto appeared in London, and The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte was written for a German-American periodical published in New York.

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Göran Therborn, ‘The Working Class and the Birth of Marxism’, NLR I/79: £3

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