In the third part of his article on historical materialism Alan Woods takes a closer look at the earliest forms of class society.
The whole of human history consists precisely in the struggle of humankind to raise itself above the animal level. This long struggle began seven million years ago, when our remote humanoid ancestors first stood upright and were able to free their hands for manual labour. Ever since then, successive phases of social development have arisen on the basis of changes in the development of the productive force of labour – that is to say, of our power over nature.
Today we begin the serialisation of a new work by Alan Woods, which provides a comprehensive explanation of the Marxist method of analysing history. This first article establishes the scientific basis of historical materialism. The ultimate cause of all social change is to be found, not in the human brain, but in changes in the mode of production.
“The great antiquity of mankind upon the earth has been conclusively established”, wrote the American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in the opening preface of his pioneering work Ancient Society, published in 1877. The revolutionary ideas contained in this book represented a complete departure in this field of human development and served to found a materialist, evolutionary school of anthropology. It was on the basis of this work that Frederick Engels wrote his masterpiece, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
We are publishing our second study guide on historical materialism. Historical Materialism is the application of Marxist science to historical development. The fundamental proposition of historical materialism can be summed up in a sentence: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.)
This article by Alan Woods deals with barbarism and the development of human society. In post-modern writing, history appears as an essentially meaningless and inexplicable series of random events or accidents. It is governed by no laws that we can comprehend. A variation on this theme is the idea, now very popular in some academic circles that there is no such thing as higher and lower forms of social development and culture. This denial of progress in history is characteristic of the psychology of the bourgeoisie in the phase of capitalist decline.