Benedetto Croce

Historical Materialism and the Economics of Karl Marx

CHAPTER 1. Concerning the Scientific Form of Historical Materialism

Historical materialism is what is called a fashionable subject. The theory came into being fifty years ago, and for a time remained obscure and limited; but during the last six or seven years it has rapidly attained great fame and an extensive literature, which is daily increasing, has grown up around it. It is not my intention to write once again the account, already given many times, of the origin of this doctrine; nor to restate and criticise the now well-known passages in which Marx and Engels asserted the theory, nor the different views of its opponents, its supporters, its exponents, and its correctors and corruptors. My object is merely to submit to my colleagues some few remarks concerning the doctrine, taking it in the form in which it appears in a recent book by Professor Antonio Labriola, of the University of Rome. (1)

For many reasons, it does not come within my province to praise Labriola's book. But I cannot help saying as a needful explanation, that it appears to me to be the fullest and most adequate treatment of the question. The book is free from pedantry and learned tattle, whilst it shows in every line signs of the author's complete knowledge of all that has been written on the subject: a book, in short, which saves the annoyance of controversy with erroneous and exaggerated opinions, which in it appear as superseded. It has a grand opportunity in Italy, where the materialistic theory of history is known almost solely in the spurious form bestowed on it by an ingenious professor of economics, who even pretends to be its inventor. (2)


Any reader of Labriola's book who tries to obtain from it a precise concept of the new theory of history, will reach in the first instance a conclusion which must appear to him evident and incontestable, and which I sum up in the following statement: 'historical materialism, so-called, is not a philosophy of history.' Labriola does not state this denial explicitly; it may even be granted that, in words, he sometimes says exactly the opposite. (3) But, if I am not mistaken, the denial is contained implicitly in the restrictions which he places on the meaning of the theory.

The philosophical reaction of realism overthrew the systems built up by teleology and metaphysical dogmatism, which had limited the field of the historian. The old philosophy of history was destroyed. And, as if in contempt and depreciation, the phrase, 'to construct a philosophy of history,' came to be used with the meaning: 'to construct a fanciful and artificial and perhaps prejudiced history.'

It is true that of late books have begun to reappear actually having as their title the 'philosophy of history.' This might seem to be a revival, but it is not. In fact their subject is a very different one. These recent productions do not aim at supplying a new philosophy of history, they simply offer some philosophising about history. The distinction deserves to be explained.

The possibility of a philosophy of history presupposes the possibility of reducing the sequence of history to general concepts. Now, whilst it is possible to reduce to general concepts the particular factors of reality which appear in history and hence to construct a philosophy of morality or of law, of science or of art, and a general philosophy, it is not possible to work up into general concepts the single complex whole formed by these factors, i.e. the concrete fact, in which the historical sequence consists. To divide it into its factors is to destroy it, to annihilate it. In its complex totality, historical change is incapable of reduction except to one concept, that of development: a concept empty of everything that forms the peculiar content of history. The old philosophy of history regarded a conceptual working out of history as possible; either because by introducing the idea of God or of Providence, it read into the facts the aims of a divine intelligence; or because it treated the formal concept of development as including within itself, logically, the contingent determinations. The case of positivism is strange in that, being neither so boldly imaginative as to yield to the conceptions of teleology and rational philosophy, nor so strictly realistic and intellectually disciplined as to attack the error at its roots, it has halted half way, i.e. at the actual concept of development and of evolution, and has announced the philosophy of evolution as the true philosophy of history: development itself – as the law which explains development! Were this tautology only in question little harm would result; but the misfortune is that, by a too easy confusion, the concept of evolution often emerges, in the hands of the positivists, from the formal emptiness which belongs to it in truth, and acquires a meaning or rather a pretended meaning, very like the meanings of teleology and metaphysics. The almost religious unction and reverence with which one hears the sacred mystery of evolution spoken of gives sufficient proof of this.

From such realistic standpoints, now as always, any and every philosophy of history has been criticised. But the very reservations and criticisms of the old mistaken constructions demand a discussion of concepts, that is a process of philosophising: although it may be a philosophising which leads properly to the denial of a philosophy of history. Disputes about method, arising out of the needs of the historian, are added. The works published in recent years embody different investigations of this kind, and in a plainly realistic sense, under the title of philosophy of history. Amongst these I will mention as an example a German pamphlet by Simmel, and, amongst ourselves a compendious introduction by Labriola himself. There are, undoubtedly, still philosophies of history which continue to be produced in the old way: voices clamantium in deserto, to whom may be granted the consolation of believing themselves the only apostles of an unrecognised truth.

Now the materialistic theory of history, in the form in which Labriola states it, involves an entire abandonment of all attempt to establish a law of history, to discover a general concept under which all the complex facts of history can be included.

I say 'in the form in which he states it,' because Labriola is aware that several sections of the materialistic school of history tend to approximate to these obsolete ideas.

One of these sections, which might be called that of the monists, or abstract materialists, is characterised by the introduction of metaphysical materialism into the conception of history.

As the reader knows, Marx, when discussing the relation between his opinions and Hegelianism employed a pointed phrase which has been taken too often beside the point. He said that with Hegel history was standing on its head and that it must be turned right side up again in order to replace it on its feet. For Hegel the idea is the real world, whereas for him (Marx) 'the ideal is nothing else than the material world' reflected and translated by the human mind. Hence the statement so often repeated, that the materialistic view of history is the negation or antithesis of the idealistic view. It would perhaps be convenient to study once again, accurately and critically, these asserted relations between scientific socialism and Hegelianism. To state the opinion which I have formed on the matter; the link between the two views seems to me to be, in the main, simply psychological. Hegelianism was the early inspiration of the youthful Marx, and it is natural that everyone should link up the new ideas with the old as a development, an amendment, an antithesis. In fact, Hegel's Ideas and Marx knew this perfectly well – are not human ideas, and to turn the Hegelian philosophy of history upside down cannot give us the statement that ideas arise as reflections of material conditions. The inverted form would logically be this: history is not a process of the Idea, i.e. of a rational reality, but a system of forces: to the rational view is opposed the dynamic view. As to the Hegelian dialectic of concepts it seems to me to bear a purely external and approximate resemblance to the historical notion of economic eras and of the antithetical conditions of society. Whatever may be the value of this suggestion, which I express with hesitation, recognising the difficulty of the problems connected with the interpretation and origin of history; – this much is evident, that metaphysical materialism, at which Marx and Engels, starting from the extreme Hegelian left, easily arrived, supplied the name and some of the components of their view of history. But both the name and these components are really extraneous to the true character of their conception. This can be neither materialistic nor spiritualistic, nor dualistic nor monadistic: within its limited field the elements of things are not presented in such a way as to admit of a philosophical discussion whether they are reducible one to another, and are united in one ultimate source. What we have before us are concrete objects, the earth, natural production, animals; we have before us man, in whom the so-called psychical processes appear as differentiated from the so-called physiological processes. To talk in this case of monism and materialism is to talk nonsense. Some socialist writers have expressed surprise because Lange, in his classic History of Materialism, does not discuss historical materialism. It is needless to remark that Lange was familiar with Marxian socialism. He was, how ever, too cautious to confuse the metaphysical materialism with which he was concerned, with historical materialism which has no essential connection with it, and is merely a way of speaking.

But the metaphysical materialism of the authors of the new historical doctrine, and the name given to the latter, have been not a little misleading. I will refer as an example to a recent and bad little book, which seems to me symptomatic, by a sufficiently accredited socialist writer, Plechanow. (4) The author, designing to study historical materialism, thinks it needful to go back to Holbach and Helvetius. And he waxes indignant at metaphysical dualism and pluralism, declaring that 'the most important philosophical systems were always monistic, that is they interpreted matter and spirit as merely two classes of phenomena having a single and indivisible cause.' And in reference to those who maintain the distinction between the factors in history, he exclaims: 'We see here the old story, always recurring, of the struggle between eclecticism and monism, the story of the dividing walls; here nature, there spirit, etc.' Many will be amazed at this unexpected leap from the materialistic study of history into the arms of monism, in which they were unaware that they ought to have such confidence.

Labriola is most careful to avoid this confusion: 'Society is a datum,' he says, 'history is nothing more than the history of society.' And he controverts with equal energy and success the naturalists, who wish to reduce the history of man to the history of nature, and the verbalists, who claim to deduce from the name materialism the real nature of the new view of history. But it must appear, even to him, that the name might have been more happily chosen, and that the confusion lies, so to speak, inherent in it. It is true that old words can be bent to new meanings, but within limits and after due consideration.

In regard to the tendency to reconstruct a materialistic philosophy of history, substituting an omnipresent Matter for an omnipresent idea, it suffices to re-assert the impossibility of any such construction, which must become merely superfluous and tautologous unless it abandoned itself to dogmatism. But there is another error, which is remarked among the followers of the materialistic school of history, and which is connected with the former, viz., to anticipate harm not only in the interpretation of history but also in the guidance of practical activities. I refer to the teleological tendencies (abstract teleology), which also Labriola opposes with a cutting attack. The very idea of progress, which has seemed to many the only law of history worth saving out of the many devised by philosophical and non-philosophical thinkers, is by him deprived of the dignity of a law, and reduced to a sufficiently narrow significance. The idea of it, says Labriola, is 'not only empirical, but always incidental and hence limited': progress 'does not influence the sequence of human affairs like destiny or fate, nor like the command of a law.' History teaches us that man is capable of progress; and we can look at all the different series of events from this point of view: that is all. No less incidental and empirical is the idea of historical necessity, which must be freed from all remnants of rationalism and of transcendentalism, so that we see in it the mere recognition of the very small share left in the sequence of events, to individuals and personal free will.

It must be admitted that a little of the blame for the teleological and fatalistic misunderstandings fall on Marx himself. Marx, as he once had to explain, liked to 'coquette' with the Hegelian terminology: a dangerous weapon, with which it would have been better not to trifle. Hence it is now thought necessary to give to several of his statements a somewhat broad interpretation in agreement with the general trend of his theories. (5) Another excuse lies in the impetuous confidence which, as in the case of any practical work, accompanies the practical activities of socialism, and engenders beliefs and expectations which do not always agree with prudent critical and scientific thought. It is strange to see how the positivists, newly converted to socialism, exceed all the others (see the effect of a good school!) in their teleological beliefs, and their facile predeterminations. They swallow again what is worst in Hegelianism, which they once so violently opposed without recognising it. Labriola has finely said that the very forecasts of socialism are merely morphological in nature; and, in fact, neither Marx nor Engels would ever have asserted in the abstract that communism must come about by an unavoidable necessity, in the manner in which they foresaw it. If history is always accidental, why in this western Europe of ours, might not a new barbarism arise owing to the effect of incalculable circumstances? Why should not the coming of communism be either rendered superfluous or hastened by some of those technical discoveries, which, as Marx himself has proved, have hitherto produced the greatest revolutions in the course of history?

I think then that better homage would be rendered to the materialistic view of history, not by calling it the final and definite philosophy of history but rather by declaring that properly speaking it is not a philosophy of history. This intrinsic nature which is evident to those who understand it properly, explains the difficulty which exists in finding for it a satisfactory theoretical statement; and why to Labriola it appears to be only in its beginnings and yet to need much development. It explains too why Engels said (and Labriola accepts the remark), that it is nothing more than a new method; which means a denial that it is a new theory. But is it indeed a new method? I must acknowledge that this name method does not seem to me altogether accurate. When the philosophical idealists tried to arrive at the facts of history by inference, this was truly a new method; and there may still exist some fossil of those blessed times, who makes such attempts at history. But the historians of the materialistic school employ the same intellectual weapons and follow the same paths as, let us say, the philological historians. They only introduce into their work some new data, some new experiences. The content is different, not the nature of the method.


I have now reached the point which for me is fundamental. Historical materialism is not and cannot be a new philosophy of history or a new method; but it is properly this; a mass of new data, of new experiences, of which the historian becomes conscious.

It is hardly necessary to mention the overthrow a short time ago of the naive opinion of the ordinary man regarding the objectivity of history; almost as though events spoke, and the historian was there to hear and to record their statements. Anyone who sets out to write history has before him documents and narratives, i.e. small fragments and traces of what has actually happened. In order to attempt to reconstruct the complete process, he must fall back on a series of assumptions, which are in fact the ideas and information which he possesses concerning the affairs of nature, of man, of society. The pieces needed to complete the whole, of which he has only the fragments before him, he must find within himself. His worth and skill as a historian is shown by the accuracy of his adaptation. Whence it clearly follows that the enrichment of these views and experiences is essential to progress in historical narration.

What are these points of view and experiences which are offered by the materialistic theory of history?

That section of Labriola's book which discusses this appears to me excellent and sufficient. Labriola points out how historical narration in the course of its development, might have arrived at the theory of historical-factors; i.e., the notion that the sequence of history is the result of a number of forces, known as physical conditions, social organizations, political institutions, personal influences. Historical materialism goes beyond, to investigate the interaction of these factors; or rather it studies them all together as parts of a single process. According to this theory – as is now well known, and as Marx expressed it in a classical passage – the foundations of history are the methods of production, i.e. the economic conditions which give rise to class distinctions, to the constitution of rank and of law, and to those beliefs which make up social and moral customs and sentiments, the reflection whereof is found in art, science and religion.

To understand this point of view accurately is not easy, and it is misunderstood by all those who, rather than take it in the concrete, state it absolutely after the manner of an absolute philosophical truth. The theory cannot be maintained in the abstract without destroying it, i.e. without turning it into the theory of the factors, which is according to my view, the final word in abstract analysis. (6) Some have supposed that historical materialism asserts that history is nothing more than economic history, and all the rest is simply a mask, an appearance without reality. And then they labour to discover the true god of history, whether it be the productive tool or the earth, using arguments which call to mind the proverbial discussion about the egg and the hen. Friedrich Engels was attacked by someone who applied to him to ask how the influence of such and such other historical factors ought to be understood in reference to the economic factor. In the numerous letters which he wrote in reply, and which now, since his death, are coming out in the reviews, he let it be understood that, when together with Marx, upon the prompting of the facts, he conceived this new view of history, he had not meant to state an exact theory. In one of these letters he apologists for whatever exaggeration he and Marx may have put into the controversial statements of their ideas, and begs that attention may be paid to the practical applications made of them rather than to the theoretical expressions employed. It would be a fine thing, he exclaims, if a formula could be given for the interpretation of all the facts of history! By applying this formula, it would be as easy to understand any period of history as to solve a simple equation. (7)

Labriola grants that the supposed reduction of history to the economic factor is a ridiculous notion, which may have occurred to one of the too hasty defenders of the theory, or to one of its no less hasty opponents. (8) He acknowledges the complexity of history, how the products of the first degree first establish themselves, and then isolate themselves and become independent; the ideals which harden into traditions, the persistent survivals, the elasticity of the psychical mechanism which makes the individual irreducible to a type of his class or social position, the unconsciousness and ignorance of their own situations often observed in men, the stupidity and unintelligibility of the beliefs and superstitions arising out of unusual accidents and complexities. And since man lives a natural as well as a social existence, he admits the influence of race, of temperament and of the promptings of nature. And, finally, he does not overlook the influence of the individual, i.e. of the work of those who are called great men, who if they are not the creators, are certainly collaborators of history.

With all these concessions he realises, if I am not mistaken, that it is useless to look for a theory, in any strict sense of the word, in historical materialism; and even that it is not what can properly be called a theory at all. He confirms us in this view by his fine account of its origin, under the stimulus of the French Revolution, that great school of sociology – as he calls it. The materialistic view of history arose out of the need to account for a definite social phenomenon, not from an abstract inquiry into the factors of historical life. It was created in the minds of politicians and revolutionists, not of cold and calculating savants of the library.

At this stage someone will say: – But if the theory, in the strict sense, is not true, wherein then lies the discovery? In what does the novelty consist? To speak in this way is to betray a belief that intellectual progress consists solely in the perfecting of the forms and abstract categories of thought.

Have approximate observations no value in addition to theories? The knowledge of what has usually happened, everything in short that is called experience of life, and which can be expressed in general but not in strictly accurate terms? Granting this limitation and understanding always an almost and an about, there are discoveries to be made which are fruitful in the interpretation of life and of history. Such are the assertions of the dependence of all parts of life upon each other, and of their origin in the economic subsoil, so that it can be said that there is but one single history; the discovery of the true nature of the State (as it appears in the empirical world), regarded as an institution for the defence of the ruling class; the proved dependence of ideals upon class interests; the coincidence of the great epochs of history with the great economic eras; and the many other observations by which the school of historical materialism is enriched. Always with the aforesaid limitations, it may be said with Engels: 'that men make their history themselves, but within a given limited range, on a basis of conditions actually pre-existent, amongst which the economic conditions, although they may be influenced by the others, the political and ideal, are yet, in the final analysis, decisive, and form the red thread which runs through the whole of history and guides us to an understanding thereof.

From this point of view too, I entirely agree with Labriola in regarding as somewhat strange the inquiries made concerning the supposed forerunners and remote authors of historical materialism, and as quite mistaken the inferences that these inquiries will detract from the importance and originality of the theory. The Italian professor of economics to whom I referred at the beginning, when convicted of a plagiarism, thought to defend himself by saying that, at bottom, Marx's idea was not peculiar to Marx; hence, at worst, he had robbed a thief. He gave a list of forerunners, reaching back as far as Aristotle. Just lately, another Italian professor reproved a colleague with much less justice for having forgotten that the economic interpretation had been explained by Lorenzo Stein before Marx. I could multiply such examples. All this reminds me of one of Jean Paul Richter's sayings: that we hoard our thoughts as a miser does his money; and only slowly do we exchange the money for possessions, and thoughts for experiences and feelings. Mental observations attain real importance through the realisation in thought and an insight into the fulness of their possibilities. This realisation and insight have been granted to the modern socialist movement and to its intellectual leaders Marx and Engels. We may read even in Thomas More that the State is a conspiracy of the rich who make plots for their own convenience: gunedam conspiratio divitum, de suds commodis reipublicae nomine tituloque tractantium, and call their intrigues laws: machinamenta jam leges fiunt. (9) And, leaving Sir Thomas More – who, after all, it will be said, was a communist – who does not know by heart Marzoni's lines: Un' odiosa Forza il mondo possiede e fa nomarsi Dritto.... (10) But the materialist and socialist interpretation of the State is not therefore any the less new. The common proverb, indeed, tells us that interest is the most powerful motive for human actions and conceals itself under the most varied forms; but it is none the less true that the student of history who has previously examined the teachings of socialist criticism, is like a short-sighted man who has provided himself with a good pair of spectacles: he sees quite differently and many mysterious shadows reveal their exact shape.

In regard to historical narrative then, the materialistic view of history resolves itself into a warning to keep its observations in mind as a new aid to the understanding of history. Few problems are harder than that which the historian has to solve. In one particular it resembles the problem of the statesman, and consists in understanding the conditions of a given nation at a given time in respect to their causes and functioning; but with this difference: the historian confines himself to exposition, the statesman proceeds further to modification; the former pays no penalty for misunderstanding, whereas the latter is subjected to the severe correction of facts. Confronted by such a problem, the majority of historians – I refer in particular to the conditions of the study in Italy – proceed at a disadvantage, almost like the savants of the old school who constructed philology and researched into etymology. Aids to a closer and deeper understanding, have come at length from different sides, and frequently. But the one which is now offered by the materialistic view of history is great, and suited to the importance of the modern socialist movement. It is true that the historian must render exact and definite in each particular instance, that co-ordination and subordination of factors which is indicated by historical materialism, in general, for the greater number of cases, and approximately; herein lies his task and his difficulties, which may sometimes be insurmountable. But now the road has been pointed out, along which the solution must be sought, of some of the greatest problems of history apart from those which have been already elucidated.

I will say nothing of the recent attempts at an historical application of the materialistic conception, because it is not a subject to hurry over in passing, and I intend to deal with it on another occasion. I will content myself with echoing Labriola, who gives a warning against a mistake, common to many of these attempts. This consists in retranslating, as he says, into economic phraseology, the old historical perspective which of late has so often been translated into Darwinian phraseology. Certainly it would not be worth while to create a new movement in historical studies in order to attain such a result.


Two things seem to me to deserve some further explanation. What is the relation between historical materialism and socialism? Labriola, if I am not mistaken, is inclined to connect closely and almost to identify the two things. The whole of socialism lies in the materialistic interpretation of history, which is the truth itself of socialism; to accept one and reject the other is to understand neither. I consider this statement to be somewhat exaggerated, or, at least, to need explanation. If historical materialism is stripped of every survival of finality and of the benignities of providence, it can afford no apology for either socialism or any other practical guidance for life. On the other hand, in its special historical application, in the assertion which can be made by its means, its real and close connection with socialism is to be found. This assertion is as follows: – Society is now so constituted that socialism is the only possible solution which it contains within itself. An assertion and forecast of this kind moreover will need to be filled out before it can be a basis for practical action. It must be completed by motives of interest, or by ethical and sentimental motives, moral judgments and the enthusiasms of faith. The assertion in itself is cold and powerless. It will be insufficient to move the cynic, the sceptic, the pessimist. But it will suffice to put on their guard all those classes of society who see their ruin in the sequence of history and to pledge them to a long struggle, although the final outcome may be useless. Amongst these classes is the proletariat, which indeed aims at the extinction of its class. Moral conviction and the force of sentiment must be added to give positive guidance and to supply an imperative ideal for those who neither feel the blind impulse of class interest, nor allow themselves to be swept along by the whirling current of the times.

The final point which I think demands explanation, although in this case also the difference between myself and Labriola does not appear to be serious, is this: to what conclusions does historical materialism lead in regard to the ideal values of man, in regard that is to intellectual truth and to what is called moral truth?

The history of the origin of intellectual truth is undoubtedly made clearer by historical materialism, which aims at showing the influence of actual material conditions upon the opening out, and the very development of the human intellect. Thus the history of opinions, like that of science, needs to be for the most part re-written from this point of view. But those who, on account of such considerations concerning historical origins, return in triumph to the old relativity and scepticism, are confusing two quite distinct classes of problem. Geometry owes its origin no doubt to given conditions which are worth determining; but it does not follow that geometrical truth is something merely historical and relative. The warning seems superfluous, but even here misunderstandings are frequent and remarkable. Have I not read in some socialist author that Marx's discoveries themselves are of merely historical importance and must necessarily be disowned. I do not know what meaning this can have unless it has the very trivial one of a recognition of the limitation of all human work, or unless it resolves itself into the no less idle remark that Marx's thought is the offspring of his age. This one-sided history is still more dangerous in reference to moral truth. The science of morality is evidently now in a transformation stage. The ethical imperative, whose classics are Kant's Kritik der reinen Vernunft, and Herbart's Allgemeine praktische Philosophie, appears no longer adequate. In addition to it an historical and a formal science of morality are making their appearance, which regard morality as a fact, and study its universal nature apart from all preoccupations as to creeds and rules. This tendency shows itself not only in socialistic circles, but also elsewhere, and it will be sufficient for me to refer to Simmel's clever writings. Labriola is thus justified in his defence of new methods of regarding morality. 'Ethics, he says, for us resolves itself into an historical study of the subjective and objective conditions according to which morality develops or finds hindrances to its development.' But he adds cautiously, 'in this way alone, i.e., within these limits, is there value in the statement that morality corresponds to the social situation, i.e., in the final analysis to the economic conditions.' The question of the intrinsic and absolute worth of the moral ideal, of its reducibility or irreducibility to intellectual truth, remains untouched.

It would perhaps have been well if Labriola had dwelt a little more on this point. A strong tendency is found in socialistic literature towards a moral relativity, not indeed historical, but substantial, which regards morality as a vain imagination. This tendency is chiefly due to the necessity in which Marx and Engels found themselves, in face of the various types of Utopians, of asserting that the so-called social question is not a moral question,i.e. as this must be interpreted, it cannot be solved by sermons and so-called moral methods and to their bitter criticism of class ideals and hypocrisies. (11) This result was helped on, as it seems to me, by the Hegelian source of the views of Marx and Engels; it being obvious that in the Hegelian philosophy ethics loses the rigidity given to it by Kant and preserved by Herbart. And lastly the name materialism is perhaps not without influence here, since it brings to mind at once well-understood interests and the calculating comparison of pleasures. It is, however, evident that idealism or absolute morality is a necessary postulate of socialism. Is not the interest which prompts the formation of a concept of surplus-value a moral interest, or social if it is preferred? Can surplus value be spoken of in pure economics? Does not the labourer sell his labour-power for exactly what it is worth, given his position in existing society? And, without the moral postulate, how could we ever explain Marx's political activity, and that note of violent indignation and bitter satire which is felt in every page of Das Kapital? But enough of this, for I find myself making quite elementary statements such as can only be overlooked owing to ambiguous or exaggerated phraseology.

And in conclusion, I repeat my regret, already expressed, concerning this name materialism, which is not justified in this case, gives rise to numerous misunderstandings, and is a cause of derision to opponents. So far as history is concerned, I would gladly keep to the name realistic view of history, which denotes the opposition to all teleology and metaphysics within the sphere of history, and combines both the contribution made by socialism to historical knowledge and those contributions which may subsequently be brought from elsewhere. Hence my friend Labriola ought not to attach too much importance, in his serious thoughts, to the adjectives final and definite, which have slipped from his pen. Did he not once tell me himself that Engels still hoped for other discoveries which might help us to understand that mystery, made by ourselves, and which is History?

May, 1896.


1. Del materialismo storico, dilacidazione prefiminare, Rome, E. Loescher, 1896. See the earlier work by the same author: In memoria del 'Manifesto dei communisti,' and ed. Rome, E. Loescher, 1895.

2. I refer to the works of Professor Achille Loria.

3. He calls it on one occasion: 'the final and definite philosophy of history.'

4. Beiträge zur Geschichte des Materialismus, Stuttgart, 1896.

5. See, for example, the comments upon some of Marx's statements, in the article Progrés et dévelopment in the Devenir Social for March, 1896.

6. For this reason I do not, like Labriola, call the theory of the factors a half-theory; nor do I like the comparison with the ancient doctrine, now abandoned in physics, physiology and psychology, of physical forces, vital forces and mental faculties.

7. See a letter dated 21st September 1890, published in the Berlin review, Der Socialistische Akademiker, No 19, 1st October 1895. Another, dated 25th January 1894, is printed in No 20, 16th October, of the same review.

8. He even distinguishes between the economic interpretation and the materialistic view of history. By the first term he means 'those attempts at analysis, which taking separately on the one hand the economic forms and categories, and on the other for example, law, legislation, politics, custom, proceed to study the mutual influences of the different sides of life, thus abstractly and subjectively distinguished.' By the second, on the contrary, 'the organic view of history' of the 'totality and unity of social life,' where economics itself 'is melted into the tide of a process to appear afterwards in so many morphological stages, in each of which it forms the basis relatively to the rest which corresponds to and agrees with it.'

9. Utopia, L. II (THOMAE MORI angli Opera, Louvain 1566, 18.)

10. 'Hateful Force rules the world and calls itself Justice.'

11. From this point of view it is worth while to note the antipathy which leaks out in socialist writings towards Schiller, the poet of the Kantian morality aesthetically modified, who has become the favourite poet of the German middle classes.