Showing posts with label Materialist Conception of History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Materialist Conception of History. Show all posts

Monday, June 24, 2013

The choice is ours to make

Marx’s motto was to “Doubt everything”.

In an age where the internet provides us with unlimited access to the direct sources there appears to be no limits to the misunderstanding and distortion of Marx. In books and articles there is continuous reference to Marx, attacking him from all sides for claims that he never made. Many critiques basically accuses Marx of a economic determinism which makes men puppets in the hands of economic forces and the Materialist Conception of History interpreted as economic determinism is found in a collection of Marx’s critics.

Marx’s approach to history is explained in his Preface to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in the Communist Manifesto. Marx’s scientific method was to proceed by simplifying concrete and complex manifestations into an abstraction, which becomes less and less complex until reaching the simplest conception. Then, by systematically adding complicating factors there is a return journey towards empirical reality. Marx was a believer in abstraction, systematic analysis, and successive approximations to a reality too complex to grasp directly. “Scientific socialism” was not so much the argument itself but the means by which the argument was first thought out and the habitual mode of thinking of the individual which was both open-minded and sceptical, willing to embrace or drop an idea depending on the evidence, willing to change the theory if the evidence demands it.

People makes their own history. Nobody has everything predetermined for him or her. That is not Marxism. The Material Conception of History does not deny the influence of ideas and it sets out to explain where ideas come from, as against those idealists who say that ideas have an independent existence, and are the primary cause of social change. Marx presented a theory of social change that locates the ultimate causes of change within the material and economic conditions of life that we have to examine the underlying economic factors. This does not commit Marx to a form of economic determinism which falsely argues that only the economics is of significance, nor does it mean that he denied the importance of ideas in social change but it does mean to understand the complexity of any society, to understand the complex pattern of development of that society, then an understanding of its economic development is crucial to an understanding of its politics, its culture and its social development.

Friday, June 07, 2013

The Real World

The materialist conception of history (or historical materialism or the economic interpretation of history) has never consisted of the crude view that hunger alone, the eagerness to satisfy the material needs of the stomach, is the driving force of history. But the materialist conception of history certainly arises out of the basic observation that people (as Engels said at Marx’s funeral) “must have food and drink, clothing and shelter, first of all, before they can interest themselves in politics, science, art, religion, and the like.”

The supporters of the materialist conception of history have never been so dogmatic as to declare that economic forces are the only forces that make history. What they have argued is that, among the factors of history, economic forces have the final say.

Those who advocate the materialist conception  of history do not deny the influence of the mind, never ignore the power of ideas, never under-estimate the importance of the mental or spiritual factor in the course of history. On the contrary, when recognising that history is made by human beings, they acknowledge in these human beings the importance of all human attributes, including, therefore, mind, intelligence, consciousness, and ideas. What they objected to was the concept of a purely mental world in the nebulous form of an “absolute idea” or in theological terms, “God”, should be interpreted abstractly as the essential factor of historical evolution. In their view, neither, the idea nor matter was “in the beginning.” However, "God" didn’t create the world and hasn’t been watching over the development of mankind. On the contrary, man created the idea of the gods as a fantasy to compensate for lack of real control over the forces of nature and of society.

The mistake of the philosophers was to separate ideas off from the material circumstances in which they had arisen, and then to see history as simply the history of a succession of different ideas. For the materialists, all life was an inseparable and eternally mobile interweaving and mutual conditioning of force and matter, combined into an integral unity. And the human being who constituted the core of this living whole was for them a social human being, one who had countless interrelations with  fellow human beings. The materialist’s contention is not that ideas do not matter. It is that ideas arise out of people’s material activity, and cannot be detached from that.

 The materialist conception of history showed that the forms of society, social institutions, human behaviour and human ideas, that show themselves in a particular epoch, are dependent upon the economic relations peculiar to that epoch. The materialist conception of history is that view of history which ascribes the driving power of all social change to the economic development of society in production, and exchange, with its creation of classes and the resulting class struggle. In this explanation of history the mode of production and exchange is taken as the basis of all social relations, and therefore private ownership of land and capital being general in historical times, all history is made up of contests between slave and slave-owner, capitalist and feudal-lord, and wage-slave and capitalist. History, then, is a record of class struggles, and these struggles occur over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. This period of class societies could not be ended until it had led to an enormous growth of the productive forces. Until then any attempt at getting rid of class exploitation was bound to fail. “This development of the productive forces is an absolutely necessary practical premise, because without it: privation, want, is merely made general, and with want the struggle for necessities would begin again, and all the old filthy business would be restored ...Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of the productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them.” Marx wrote in Geman Ideology

Primitive peoples worshipped the sun and other physical phenomena because the natural laws behind these things were not yet known. The early sailor and the modern worker are very different in their mental outlook. One was often superstitious; the other is not. That is because the sailor came into contact with Nature under conditions which have not yet been fully understood and controlled. The vastness of the sea, the sudden storms and the great waves and winds, determined his ideas. In the modern world natural forces have been harnessed, and machinery start and stop at the wish of the operator. Modern men and women have grown less superstitious and increasingly secular.

If, as materialism holds, everything in the universe consists of matter in motion, then the human mind must likewise be a material phenomenon.  The mind of the individual does not and cannot exist except as a function of the brain and the body. The operations of the human mind, remembering, dreaming, learning, reasoning, etc., have the same material character as such functions as eating;  swallowing, digestion  and excreting. Many schools of thought make a mystery of the mind, treating it as some supernatural power. Although the activities of the thought process have their special features and peculiar laws they are in themselves no more enigmatic than other kinds of organic behavior. Human beings think as naturally as they work, eat and reproduce themselves. Through the brain and nervous system the mind is connected with the body, through the body with society, and through society with the rest of nature. These interactions of existence provide the mind with the materials and motives for its activities just as they furnish the stomach with the food. Every human mind remains permanently linked to these material foundations. The most extravagant speculations of thought, the wildest dreams, the most refined ideas cannot go beyond the boundaries of material suggestion nor find any sources of material for its productions outside of those given by the material forms and forces which encompass man on all sides. Nature is the mother of all things and all ideas, and to it they eventually return.

Of course, human reflection, intellectual and philosophical speculation are far more complex and highly developed modes of organic functioning than the simpler natural cited above. But to the materialist, to the scientific thinker, there are no impassable barriers. People do not  reason for the pure pleasure of thinking. Men think for practical purposes, in order to act properly and attain their ends. Man’s intellectual capacities; ideas, and philosophies have developed along with and out of man’s relationship with nature. If their thought did not more or less correctly represent objective reality, if it did not help them to function more efficiently, if it did not serve man’s ends and thus satisfy vital needs, mankind would long since have ceased to cultivate their mental powers. These would have withered away or diminished in importance like the appendix.

The materialists view matter as the primary reality, regarding sensation, consciousness, and reasoning as secondary and derivative qualities. Where the materialist states that mind is a product of natural evolution, the idealist asserts or implies that it possesses some sort of supernatural power. The materialist looks upon mental operations as functions and forms of biological behavior. Idealism segregates reason from the rest of human activity and endows it with a unique status and categorically different powers. Thanks to mysterious para-normal powers, idealism declares that the mind has insight into special realms of being, outside the real material world. This can take the belief in talking with the dead or claiming communication with “God” - the mumbo-jumbo of spiritualism and spirituality.

Thursday, December 20, 2007