(un)common ground

a commonplace book

A Useful Clarification of Historical Materialism






The Marxist view that all human history is driven by production makes about as much sense as saying that all evolution is driven by metabolism.

this isn’t the Marxist view

Care to elaborate on what it is? (I’m not being facetious btw, just that the above comment is essentially what I’ve been taught/ am being taught at uni)

It’s a super crude form of materialism being expressed there, and I’m not surprised it’s how Marxism is being taught at uni. Production of daily life and how that is organised is, of course, a massive influence on the course of history. Economic concerns drive a great deal of decision making – saying otherwise is to give way too much credence to the idea that various wars etc. were fought because some people were bad and others were good.

But the point in Marx is that history is made by the activity of people, and that activity influences the mode of production. We make history, but not in conditions of our own choosing etc. Basically, dialectics means there isn’t a ‘primary’ mover so much as multiple forces interacting

I usually direct people to this letter from Engels whenever the whole crude materialism thing comes up:

According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.

Fred Engels


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This entry was posted on October 24, 2015 by and tagged , , .
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