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.
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book, in short, which saves the annoyance of controversy with erroneous and exaggerated opinions, which in it appear as superseded.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.