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Historical Materialism

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INTRODUCTION
"In the Marxian view, human history is like a river. From any given vantage point, a river looks much the same day after day. But actually it is constantly flowing and changing, crumbling its banks, widening and deepening its channel. The water seen one day is never the same as that seen the next. Some of it is constantly being evaporated and drawn up, to return as rain. From year to year these changes may be scarcely perceptible. But one day, when the banks are thoroughly weakened and the rains long and heavy, the river floods, bursts its banks, and may take a new course. This represents the dialectical part of Marx’s famous theory of dialectical (or historical) materialism."

Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history first articulated by Karl Marx (1818–1883) as the materialist conception of history. It is a theory of socioeconomic development according to which changes in material conditions (technology and productive capacity) are the primary influence on how society and the economy are organised.
Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life. Social classes and the relationship between them, plus the political structures and ways of thinking in society, are founded on and reflect contemporary economic activity.
Since Marx's time, the theory has been modified and expanded by thousands of Marxist thinkers. It now has many Marxist and non-Marxist variants.

Objectives of Study:
• To define Historical Materialism.
• To discuss about the basic philosophy behind the concept of historical Materialism by Karl Marx.
• To study about the Recent Versions of Historical Materialism.
• To findout the limitations of the Concept of Historical Materialism.

Research Methodology:
This project work is descriptive & analytical in approach. It is largely based on secondary & study of books along with discussion with seniors. Books & other references as guided by faculty of political science have been helpful for the completion of this project.

Chapter 1: Marx’s Concept of Human Being

Before discussing Marx’s concepts of historical materialism, it is helpful to examine his concept of the human being. Marx places human beings at the center of his thinking. For Marx, human beings live in a given society and class and yet are able to liberate themselves, and better know their potentialities. Human beings are distinguished from animals because of creativity, vitality and energy, which are supposed to be the forces of movement. Human beings make history and they are their own creators. Marx believes that human beings have human nature, which is different from that of other animals. Fromm observes that human nature has two types of human drives: the constant drives, such as hunger and the sexual urge; and relative drives, such as economic gain. Human beings are history creators, at the same time, as they develop and transform themselves.
According to Fromm, “History is the history of man’s self-realization; it is nothing but the self-creation of man through the process of his work and his production”

Marx looks at human beings as creative beings, who shape the outside world and express specific human powers. Marx himself, who represented his very concept of man, was a productive, non-alienated and independent man. He was what he thought. As he said, “nothing human is alien to me” . As a humanist, nothing was more attractive to him than human beings themselves. He loved human beings and was deeply concerned for them and their future. Marx places human beings as the centre of his thinking and believes that they are the creators of history. He presumes that human beings are self-creative and are able to develop their own human potentialities, dignity and brotherhood to emancipate themselves.
Marx states, “A being does not regard himself as independent unless he is his own master, and he is only his own master when he owes his existence to himself” . Human beings can become free by choosing to do activities under his will without being enslaved and alienated. Marx believes that human beings should not pursue one occupation for their whole life, they should be able to “do one thing to-day and another to-morrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner” .
For Marx, an ideal society should provide the individuals who live within it to completely develop their potentialities through different ways.
Marx believes that the totality of human beings is universal, natural and social. Ultimately, human beings are at the center in the development of history. The concept of historical materialism is his unique notion of the human species’ historical development.

Chapter 2: Key Ideas and Principles

Historical materialism started from a fundamental underlying reality of human existence: that in order for human beings to survive and continue existence from generation to generation, it is necessary for them to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life. Marx then extended this premise by asserting the importance of the fact that, in order to carry out production and exchange, people have to enter into very definite social relations, most fundamentally "production relations".
However, production does not get carried out in the abstract, or by entering into arbitrary or random relations chosen at will. Human beings collectively work on nature but do not do the same work; there is a division of labor in which people not only do different jobs, but according to Marxist theory, some people live off the fruits of others' labour by owning the means of production. How this is accomplished depends on the type of society. Production is carried out through very definite relations between people. And, in turn, these production relations are determined by the level and character of the productive forces that are present at any given time in history. For Marx, productive forces refer to the means of production such as the tools, instruments, technology, land, raw materials, and human knowledge and abilities in terms of using these means of production.
Historical materialism is usually postulated that society has moved through a number of types or modes of production. That is, the character of the production relations is determined by the character of the productive forces; these could be the simple tools and instruments of early human existence, or the more developed machinery and technology of present age. The main modes of production Marx identified generally include primitive communism or tribal society (a prehistoric stage), ancient society, feudalism, and capitalism.
In each of these social stages, people interact with nature and produce their living in different ways. Any surplus from that production is allotted in different ways. Ancient society was based on a ruling class of slave owners and a class of slaves; feudalism was based on landowners and serfs; and capitalism based on the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalist class privately owns the means of production, distribution and exchange (e.g., factories, mines, shops and banks) while the working class live by exchanging their socialized labour with the capitalist class for wages.
Marx identified the production relations of society (arising on the basis of given productive forces) as the economic base of society. He also explained that on the foundation of the economic base there arise certain political institutions, laws, customs, culture, etc., and ideas, ways of thinking, morality, etc. These constituted the political/ideological superstructure of society. This superstructure not only has its origin in the economic base, but its features also ultimately correspond to the character and development of that economic base, i.e. the way people organize society is determined by the economic base and the relations that arise from its mode of production.
Marx's clearest formulation of his "Materialist Conception of History" was in the 1859 Preface to his book "A contribution to the Critique of Political Economy," whose relevant passage is reproduced here:
"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge anindividual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production."

Chapter 3: Different Versions and Interpretations of the Concept

The concept of Materialistic Interpretation of History had been used to derive new concepts and hence adding something to it. Several scholars have argued that historical materialism ought to be revised in the light of modern scientific knowledge. Jürgen Habermas believes historical materialism "needs revision in many respects", especially because it has ignored the significance of communicative action. communicative action is cooperative action undertaken by individuals based upon mutual deliberation and argumentation.
Göran Therborn has argued that the method of historical materialism should be applied to historical materialism as intellectual tradition, and to the history of Marxism itself.
In the early 1980s, Paul Hirst and Barry Hindess elaborated a structural Marxism interpretation of historical materialism. Structural Marxism was an approach to Marxist philosophy based on structuralism, primarily associated with the work of the French philosopher Louis Althusser and his students. It was influential in France during the 1960s and 1970s, and also came to influence philosophers, political theorists and sociologists outside of France during the 1970s. Other proponents of structural Marxism were the sociologist Nicos Poulantzas and the anthropologist Maurice Godelier. Many of Althusser's students broke with structural Marxism in the late 1960s and 1970s.
Spiral dynamics also shows similarities to historical materialism. Spiral Dynamics is a theory of human development introduced in the 1996 book Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck and Chris Cowan. The book was based on the theory of psychology professor Clare W. Graves.
Spiral Dynamics argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. Each new model transcends and includes all previous models. According to Beck and Cowan, these conceptual models are organized around so-called vmemes (pronounced "v memes"): systems of core values or collective intelligences, applicable to both individuals and entire cultures.
In spiral dynamics, the term vmeme refers to a core value system, acting as an organizing principle, which expresses itself through memes (self-propagating ideas, habits, or cultural practices). The superscript letter v indicates these are not basic memes but value systems which include them. The colors act as reminders for the life conditions and mind capacities of each system and alternate between cool and warm colors as a part of the model. Within the model, individuals and cultures do not fall clearly in any single category (color). Each person/culture embodies a mixture of the value patterns, with varying degrees of intensity in each. Spiral Dynamics claims not to be a linear or hierarchical model although this assertion has been contested.
According to Spiral Dynamics, there are infinite stages of progress and regression over time, dependent upon the life circumstances of the person or culture, which are constantly in flux. Attaining higher stages of development is not synonymous with attaining a "better" or "more correct" values system. All stages co-exist in both healthy and unhealthy states, meaning any stage of development can lead to undesirable outcomes with respect to the health of the human and social environment.

Chapter 4: Criticism

Historical materialism is normally considered the intellectual basis of Marxism. It proposes that technological advances in modes of production inevitably lead to changes in the social relations of production. This economic 'base' of society supports, is reflected by and influences the ideological 'superstructure' which encompasses culture, religion, politics and all other aspects of humanity's social consciousness. It thus looks for the causes of developments and changes in human history in economic, technological, and more broadly, material factors, as well as the clashes of material interests among tribes, social classes and nations. Law, politics, the arts, literature, morality, religion – are understood by Marx to make up the [superstructure], as reflections of the economic base of society.
Many critics have argued that this is an oversimplification of the nature of society. The influence of ideas, culture and other aspects of what Marx called the superstructure are just as important as the economic base to the course of society, if not more so. Indeed, historical materialism calls into question why Marx would espouse his ideas so vehemently if he thought that they would have no influence.
However, Marxism does not claim that the economic base of society is the only determining element in society as demonstrated by the following letter written by Friedrich Engels, Marx's long-time contributor:
According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this neither Marx nor I 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
However, this also creates another problem for Marxism. If the superstructure influences the base then there is no need for Marx's constant assertions that the history of society is one of economic class conflict. This then becomes a classic chicken or the egg argument as to whether the base or the superstructure comes first. Peter Singer proposes that the way to solve this problem is to understand that Marx saw the economic base as ultimately real. Marx believed that humanity's defining characteristic was its means of production and thus the only way for man to free himself from oppression was for him to take control of the means of production. According to Marx, this is the goal of history and the elements of the superstructure act as tools of history. Even if Singer's interpretation of Marx's intuitions on the "goal of history" is faithful to Marx's original intent, that still would not make this view point necessarily true. In fact, Karl Popper has argued that both the concept of Marx's historical method as well as its application are unfalsifiable, and thus it cannot be proven true or false:
The Marxist theory of history, in spite of the serious efforts of some of its founders and followers, ultimately adopted this soothsaying practice. In some of its earlier formulations (for example in Marx's analysis of the character of the 'coming social revolution') their predictions were testable, and in fact falsified. Yet instead of accepting the refutations the followers of Marx re-interpreted both the theory and the evidence in order to make them agree. In this way they rescued the theory from refutation; but they did so at the price of adopting a device which made it irrefutable. They thus gave a 'conventionalist twist' to the theory; and by this stratagem they destroyed its much advertised claim to scientific status.

CONCLUSION

Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history first articulated by Karl Marx (1818–1883) as the materialist conception of history. It is a theory of socioeconomic development according to which changes in material conditions (technology and productive capacity) are the primary influence on how society and the economy are organised. Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life. Social classes and the relationship between them, plus the political structures and ways of thinking in society, are founded on and reflect contemporary economic activity.

This concept originated from fundamental underlying reality of human existence: that in order for human beings to survive and continue existence from generation to generation, it is necessary for them to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life.

The concept of Materialistic Interpretation of History has been used to develop many concepts like, structural Marxism interpretation of historical materialism, Spiral Dynamics etc. But like any other concept, Materialistic Interpretation of History also have some drawbacks. It had been argued that this is an oversimplification of the nature of society. The influence of ideas, culture and other aspects of what Marx called the superstructure are just as important as the economic base to the course of society, if not more so. Indeed, historical materialism calls into question why Marx would espouse his ideas so vehemently if he thought that they would have no influence.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

• Karl Marx, by Hubert Kay, LIFE Magazine, October 18, 1948.
• Fromm, E. (1991). Marx’s concept of man. New York: Continuum.
• Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1977, with some notes by R. Rojas.
• Van Marrewijk, Marcel. "Strategic Orientations: Multiple Ways for Implementing Sustainable Performance." Technology and Investment, 2010, 1.
• Marx, Karl (2001). Preface to a Critique of Political Economy. London: The Electric Book Company.
• Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. Selected Correspondence.
• Singer, Peter (1980). Marx: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
• Popper, Karl (2002). Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Routledge.

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