How groundbreaking was Marx as a historian?

So ignoring his political conclusions and predictions, how does Karl Max stack up purely as a historian? Was his approach to history actually ground breaking and innovative by 19th century standards? Were there other historians doing what he did (which as, as a casual non-historian and non-marxist, I take to be analyzing history from the point of view of economic systems and exchange of goods, not kings, battles, empires, etc.) earlier and better, but aren’t remembered as they were deified by a political system that ruled half the globe for most of a century (long after they died and could have an opinion on it). Or was he actually pretty groundbreaking as a pure historian, regardless of what you think of his political views?

Karl Marx was actually quite a good historian and at least strove to make his observations of the causes of historical events and conditions independent of his ideology. He was also a pretty astute critic of political and social economy. He was not such a good economist, and of course his ideological leanings tainted his philosophies on economic theory (although his pointed critiques of 19th Century laissez-faire capitalism were and are quite accurate). His views on human nature were fairly revolutionary in concept but naive in their particulars, but then again he was hardly unique in that time and place for constructing elaborate models of idealized social behavior based mostly on idealized ethical frameworks and hopeful pleading.


But would he have been remarkable as a historian, by the standards of the day, if hadn’t have ended being remembered as the founder of an economic system that ran half the globe? Or just a been one of a ton of unremarkable historians who were attempting to do that at the time?

He would have probably been well known to historians and unknown to everyone else. How well known is George Grote today?

Can anyone who is not a historian name any historian that was a contemporary of Marx?

No, Engels was not primarily a historian, for you wise guys.

Thomas Carlyle.

… and that’s about it.

Thomas Babington Macaulay?

(I only know the name from the book Marathon Man.)

Although he was a philosopher rather than a professional historian, Hegel (who was out-consumed by David Hume) was a major influence on Marx’s concept of history. So Marx’s formulation of the ‘stages of capitalism’ was very Hegelian. Marx was a fairly smart bloke. Just flawed by his own lack of scope - he didn’t or perhaps couldn’t foresee capitalism reforming itself.

But Marx wasn’t a professional historian either. More like Hegel he was closer to a philosopher keenly interested in history as a process. I don’t think he added anything novel in terms of original research - like Hegel his contributions were more in the field of historical philosophy.

He was capable of some prescient insights. Those who remember Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech (From Stettin to Trieste…) might be interested to know that in articles on (Imperial) Russian aggression for the New York Tribune in 1853, Marx and Engels wrote that if Russia wasn’t checked:

The broken and undulating western frontier of the Empire, ill-defined in respect of natural boundaries, would call for rectification; and it would appear that the natural frontier of Russia runs from Dantsic, or perhaps Stettin, to Trieste. And as sure as conquest follows conquest, and annexation follows annexation, so sure would the conquest of Turkey by Russia be only the prelude for the annexation of Hungary, Prussia, Galicia, and for the ultimate realisation of the Slavonic Empire which certain fanatical Panslavistic philosophers have dreamed of…

…the arrest of the Russian scheme of annexation, is a matter of the highest moment. In this instance the interests of the revolutionary Democracy and of England go hand in hand

Yeah but I was asking if you did happen to be an expert on 19th historians would Marx rate among them? Were his ideas on how to analyze history actually ground breaking in isolation from his political view and predictions.

I mean he’s just calling out the natural frontier of a Russian super power in eastern Europe (much as Chruchill was though it was becoming a reality as he was speaking), thats not that prescient.

Though historians aren’t generally judged on how they make predictions for the future.

Yeah but I was directly addressing AK84 not your OP.

I don’t anyone here is enough of an expert to answer your question. Marx was certainly preceded by many who are today considered political economists: Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo among the English; Turgot and the Marquis de Condorcet in France. Historians recognize many lesser names as well.

Historiography (“the history of history”) is not my expertise and I couldn’t begin to judge how Marx stacks up to his predecessors. He had the advantage of seeing the effects of almost a century of massive industrialization in England, which gave him a perspective that the others could only speculate about. Yet denunciations of the factory system and the effects on workers and the environment appeared regularly in every major newspaper and magazine as well as academic works and governmental reports by the end of the century and had been for decades. Engels himself wrote the major early work in 1835, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

Marx wrote steadily for a quarter century before Capital and most of those titles are known today only by historians, although he had a reputation as a journalist, which is how he made his living. Those articles concentrated on contemporary issues and many were written with Engels. Engels finished the multi-volume Capital series after Marx’s death, with a debate ongoing about how much he added and changed.

Was Marx first to study what he studied? Not in any way. Whether he added anything original to the historical aspects of the field is beyond my knowledge.