Harold Wilson, the former Labour Prime Minister, once boasted that he had not got beyond the first page of Capital, implying that Marx was both impenetrable and no longer relevant. The impression that Marx is difficult to read is widespread. However, core propositions of Marxism are reasonably straightforward. After all, they were written for, and assimilated by, millions of working-class people in their most popular form, The Communist Manifesto (1848). This chapter seeks to explain Marx’s conception of history without recourse to unnecessary jargon. At the same time, it addresses the key technical terms which Karl Marx (1818–83) and his life-long collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820–95) themselves employed.
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