- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Yes, Historical Materialism is essential to Marxism

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 03, 19100 at 10:54:35:

In Reply to: If I believed in Historical necessity, I might be a Marxist posted by Nikhil Jaikumar on February 02, 19100 at 13:51:27:

: : 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 social consciousness.

: I don't know about that. It seems to me that 'social consciousness' is plastic enough that a wide variety of different ideologies can exist in tandem with a private property economic structure. I mean, Jimmy Carter was significantly different than Pinochet, if you get my drift.

First, let's get the Carter worship out of way. Carter and Pinochet are both examples of bourgeois rule---but at different points in the evolution of bourgeois rule. The first rule of dialectics is to look at historical development. Was Pinochet worse than Andrew Jackson?

Second, I NEVER meant to infer that the mode of production did not produce a wide variety of ideologies. Engels explicitly addressed this issue:

If therefore Barth [a critic of H.M.] supposes that we deny any and every reaction of the political, etc., reflexes of the economic movement upon the movement itself, he is simply tilting at windmills. He has only got to look at Marxís Eighteenth Brumaire, which deals almost exclusively with the particular part played by political struggles and events; Or Capital, the section on the working day, for instance, where legislation, which is surely a political act. has such a trenchant effect. Or the section on the bourgeoisie. Or why do we fight for the political dictatorship of the proletariat if political power is economically impotent? Force (that is a state power) is also an economic power.(1)

Dialectics, after all, is the continual movement of contradictions. The Church here, the state here; the peasant here, the large-landowners there... Lots of room for widely divergent activity... One personís will cancels out another... Many outcomes possible... But there is order in all of it---economic evolution. Capital itself creates the antagonisms that put forth their own solution:

Mankind... inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation.(2)

That's not to say socialism must happen, itís to say it can happen. The objective conditions (development of large-scale industry, etc.) are necessary, but the subjective conditions (ideological preparedness of the proletariat) must be there as well.

Max Weber once suggested...

Yes, Weber was one of Marx's most ardent critics.

: There are many other examples in which ideology, and particularly religion, has conditioned a society's response to the economic or political conditions of their existence...

No denying it; see above---Engelsí''etc.' included religion...

: Was there much capitalist economic development in Kerala, or Vietnam, or Africa? Hardly. Revolutionaries in these countries picked up ideas about the rights of man, and evidently decided that such rights did NOT need to wait for the flowering of capitalism to come to fruition.

None of these countries had / have Marxist economies...

: Faraday's discovery of Electromagnetic Induction was probably last century's most important discovery, because it paved the way for electric generators. But at the time, it had utterly no practical application.

Engels---who mentioned Faraday many times in his Dialectics of Nature---would have said otherwise: Faraday happened just in time (we aren't counting in minutes I hope...).

: I think it proves more that autonomy and free will, rather than self-interest, are necessary foundations of altruism and socialism.

Self-interest determines autonomy and free will. As long as humans get hungry, there cannot be absolute autonomy, free will, OR altruism.

: But many individual capitalists, although probably not the board of GM, can and will be converted by the socialist gospel... Individual members of the bourgeois, and even capitalists, can be converted to socialism if they can be made to see that social need outweighs their own self interest. You don't believe that's possible. I believe that's not only possible, but it's happened many times before; such was the basis of most religions (subverting selfish desires for a higher good) as well as socialism.

If your religions have indeed succeeded in 'subverting selfish desires for higher goods,' pray tell, where is the evidence? All I see is that capitalism keeps growing and growing and soon will cover every inch of the planet. If you really think the ruling class 'can be converted to socialism if they can be made to see [how?] that social need outweighs their own self interest,' then you are denying history.

Radical social change, involving radical shifts of economic power, NEVER have happened by reason or sweet talk. If they did, we wouldn't be having any problems NOW---for history has surely given humanity no shortage of great reasoners and great sweet talkers. But, as lovely as these individuals are, they are no substitute for the MASS ACTION OF THE PEOPLE---lead by a revolutionary core who knows the tasks of the struggle and are prepared to risk their lives.

You can't change history without getting dirty, NJ.



1. Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, 21 September 1890, Selected Correspondence, International 1934, p. 484.

2. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers 1970, p. 21.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup