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.