Marx's notebooks on the history of technology

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Karl Marx wrote a number of notebooks on the history of technology which so far remain unpublished. Their whereabouts were for a long time unknown but in the past they were read and discussed by Marxist writers. Dr Amy Wendling's recent study "Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation" may have had access to them.

György Lukács studied these notebooks while they existed in the archives in Moscow, and appears to refer to them in a 1925 article later published in English translation in the New Left Review, no. 39, September/October 1966 criticizing what he saw as Bukharin's undue technicism. Lukács added a commentary on the methodological importance of this critique on p.xxxiii of the preface to the new edition (1967) of the English Merlin 1971 translation of History and Class Consciousness.[1]

Engels lists Marx's collection of material on technology as one of Marx's "specialisms" in correspondence outlining their mutual division of intellectual labour.[2]

Marx directly refers to the notebooks in his letter to Engels of January 28, 1863 where he says

… I have re-read my notebooks (extracts) on technology, and am attending a practical (only experimental) course for workers on the same by Professor Willis (in Jermyn Street, the Institute for Geology, where Huxley also gave his lectures)… While re-reading the technological-historical excerpts, I came to the conclusion that , apart from the invention of gun-powder, the compass and printing - these necessary pre-requisites for bourgeois development - from the 16th to the mid-18th centuries, i.e. the period of the development of manufacture from craftsmanship until really large-scale industry, the two material foundations on which were based the preparations for mechanised industry within manufacturing were the clock and the mill … [3]

Across his writing Marx makes frequent reference to his interest in technological developments, and these mentions are complemented by generic statements such as the need for a critical history of technology in the major footnote at the beginning of the chapter on "Machinery and Large Scale Industry" in Capital, Volume I.[4]

Nathan Rosenberg wrote an essay on "Marx as a student of technology" published in his Inside the Black Box. see also Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation by Amy E. Wendling 2009


  1. ^ György Lukács History and Class Consciousness London, Merlin, 1971
  2. ^ Marx & Engels, Letters on 'Capital 1983, New Park
  3. ^ Marx & Engels, Letters on 'Capital 1983, New Park. p.82-84
  4. ^ Marx Karl Capital, 1976, London: Penguin p.493-4