Klutsis, Composition 1921

Hysterical materialism

An historical diagnosis

Image: Gustav Klutsis,
Composition (1921)


“Historical materialism,” Franz Mehring once wrote, popularizing the phrase, “approaches every section of history without any preconceptions.”

Hysterical materialism — it might be said, phrasing things quite oppositely — approaches any supposed “sectarian” with every preconception.

In explicating the former, historical materialism, Mehring was simply making public something that his friend and comrade Friedrich Engels had already communicated to him in private. The term, abbreviated “histomat” (after «истмат», a good Soviet portmanteau), referred to a general outlook and a methodology for interpreting social reality. Quite fittingly, Mehring sought to explain historical materialism’s emergence in the second half of the nineteenth century by applying the historical materialist method reflexively to itself. Continue reading