Historical materialism

histmatMarxism analyses the hidden mainsprings that lie behind the development of human society, from the earliest tribal societies up to the modern day. The way in which Marxism traces this winding road is called the materialist conception of history. This scientific method enables us to understand history, not as a series of unconnected and unforeseen incidents, but rather as part of a clearly understood and interrelated process. It is a series of actions and reactions which cover politics, economics and the whole spectrum of social development. To lay bare the complex dialectical relationship between all these phenomena is the task of historical materialism.

– From the introduction to What is Marxism?

Throughout the civilized world the teachings of Marx evoke the utmost hostility and hatred of all bourgeois science (both official and liberal), which regards Marxism as a kind of "pernicious sect." And no other attitude is to be expected, for there can be no "impartial" social science in a society based on class struggle. In one way or another, all official and liberal science defends wage slavery, where Marxism has declared relentless war on wage slavery. To expect science to be impartial in a wageslave society is as silly and naive as to expect impartiality from manufacturers on the question of whether workers' wages should be increased by decreasing the profits of

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In this talk from the 2018 Revolution Festival, Josh Holroyd discusses the origins of the capitalist system, the violent and contradictory revolution it carried out across the world, and the implications these hold for the fight against capitalism today.

The following is an introductionto the latest publication by Marxist Books,The Revolutionary Philosophy of Marxism, by the editor of In Defence of Marxism, Alan Woods. This new selection of writings on dialectical materialism is now available for purchase at a special launch price on MarxistBooks.com.

In this video from Socialist Appeal's "Marx in a Day" event in 2018 (which celebrated Karl Marx's 200th birthday), Josh Holroyd discusses the contribution made by the great revolutionary thinker towards our understanding of history.

We publish here In Defence of Marxismeditor, Alan Woods's brand new introduction to a German edition of his important series, Class Struggles in the Roman Republic. After explaining the historical materialist method, Alan explores the class forces in ancient civilisations, the role of the individual in history, the falsehood of 'objective' history, and the contradictions underpinning slave society that were ultimately the reason for Rome's descent and decline. He then relates the lessons of the ancient world to modern capitalist society, which like the last days of Rome is also teetering on the brink of collapse. The choice before us is socialism or barbarism.

100 years ago, the masses in Russia - led by the Bolsheviks - took power. For Marxists, this is undoubtedly the greatest event in human history; the first time - with the brief exception of the Paris Commune - when the oppressed and exploited rose up and overthrew the old order.

This in depth article deals with the horrors that capitalism has inflicted on humanity. In the first part of this article we see the real face of the capitalist class, both its predatory nature on a global scale and its capacity for violent suppression of any mass popular revolt that challenges its right to rule. Some will say, yes but this was in the past; now the system has become more civilised and humane. Recent history shows that this is utterly false.

In this video from the Revolution 2016 Marxist school, Josh Holroyd of the Socialist Appeal Editorial Board discusses the Marxist method of analysing history: historical materialism.

This work by Alan Woods, provides a comprehensive explanation of the Marxist method of analysing history. This first part 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.

Three recent scientific papers have reignited the debate on a subject that was always a matter of contention between science and religion: the development of humankind from prehistory to now. In the last twenty years, advances in science have confirmed the need to study all fields of knowledge, from biology to cosmology, with a dialectical approach. This approach enables us to interpret the world as it is in constant motion and contradiction, in permanent transformation, and teaches us how to study processes as mutually connected. This takes into account the fascinating complexity that all of this implies.

Marxism often defines itself as scientific socialism. That would make it an applied science with a specifically political purpose. For example, when Engels delivered Marx's funeral oration, he said that Marx was above all a revolutionary. But a basic premise of Marx's outlook was that revolution could only succeed if based on an understanding of the processes at work in society as a whole.

This book is aimed specifically at newcomers to Marxism. A bestseller now in its second edition, it comprises introductory pieces on the three component parts of Marxist theory, corresponding broadly to philosophy, social history and economics: dialectical materialism, historical materialism and Marxist economics. Complementing these introductions are key extracts from some of the great works of Marxism written by its most outstanding figures – Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

One of the great classics of Marxism is the book by Frederick Engels entitled 'The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State'. Engels applies the method of historical materialism to this earliest period of pre-history to uncover the past. Rob Sewell, editor of Socialist Appeal, gives an introduction to the book and explains how class society came into existence.

The ideas of Marx have never been more relevant than they are today. This is reflected in the thirst for Marxist theory at the present time. In this article, Alan Woods deals with the main ideas of Karl Marx and their relevance to the crisis we're passing through today.

“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question”. (Marx, Second Thesis on Feuerbach.)

“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.

Modern scientific research has identified the major physiological, neurological, and genetic differences between humans and our biological ancestors. In particular, it has been found that the human brain is qualitatively different in terms of the development of the parts of the brain that control abstract reasoning, social behaviour, and manual abilities. This discovery is yet more evidence in favour of the explanation that Frederick Engels gave for the evolution of humans in his essay “The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man”.

One of the great classics of Marxism is the book by Frederick Engels entitled ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’. Engels applies the method of historical materialism to this earliest period of pre-history to uncover the past. As a contribution to International Women’s Day, we are republishing an article by Mary Hansen and Rob Sewell which examines this question.

This important series by Alan Woods, provides a Marxist explanation of the processes that led to the collapse of the Roman Republic. Here the method of historical materialism is used to shed light on an important turning-point in world history. For Marxists the study of history is not just a form of harmless entertainment. It is essential that we do study history for the lessons we can learn from it. To paraphrase the words of the American philosopher George Santayana: “He who does not learn from history is doomed to repeat it.”

Recently the Marxist society of the University of London Union met for a discussion on ‘Marxism and Darwinism’. The topic of this meeting was chosen in order to coincide with the recent exhibitions and publicity surrounding the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s masterwork, ‘Origin of the Species’ in November this year.

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. That is all written history. For the majority of human history man did not live in a class society. But with the development of technique came the production of a surplus of wealth over and above the means of subsistence. This produced a flourish of art, science and philosophy as part of the population was freed for the first time from the toil of everyday labour. Mick Brooks talks on the application of Marxist philosophy to the development of society.

There are many bourgeois historians who believe that history is made by “Great Men and Women”, kings and queens, statesmen and politicians. It is this unscientific approach that Marxism is opposed to. However, Marxists do not deny the role of individuals in history. History is made by people. But we need to uncover the dialectical relationship between the individual (the subjective) and the great forces (objective) that govern the movement of society and see this role in its historical context.

The discovery of the remains of an unknown pre-historic human on a little island near Indonesia shook up the scientific community a few weeks ago. This has been considered the most important event in palaeoanthropology in decades. However, the discovery is accompanied by the usual prejudices that dominate a significant part of the scientific community. Espe Espigares looks at what really distinguishes humans from the apes.

Even those who accept the theory of evolution frequently draw reactionary conclusions from the evidence provided by science. In Darwin’s day, natural selection was presented as a justification of capitalism and its dog-eat-dog morality. The fact that such ideas have no basis in what he actually wrote is conveniently ignored. A recent BBC documentary attempts something similar in trying to establish that the violence of human males is genetically determined and can be proved by looking at the behaviour of chimpanzees. Alan Woods explains why this theory is flawed.

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.

We publish here the transcript of a speech by Alan Woods on the subject of the relationship between Art and the Class Struggle. The speech was given at a Marxist Summer School in Barcelona (Spain), in July 2001.

The latest discovery of a fossil skull in Kenya, more than three million years old, once again demonstrates the complex evolution of humankind. The following article examines the evidence and sees how it fits into the ideas of human origin formulated by Frederick Engels more than 100 years ago.

We reprint this article by John Pickard which reviews Engels contribution to the understanding of human development and specifically his pamphlet The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man.

We are reproducing a slightly edited version of What is Marxism? by Rob Sewell and Alan Woods, last published in 1983 to celebrate the centenary of the death of Karl Marx. The three articles on the fundamental aspects of Marxism, Marxist Economics, Dialectical Materialism and Historical Materialism were originally published separately in the 1970s. These articles are a good, brief introduction to the basic methods of Marxism and can serve as a first approach to the ideas developed by Marx and Engels.

At first sight it may seem that the republication of The Communist Manifesto requires an explanation. How can one justify a new edition of a book written almost 150 years ago? Yet in reality the Manifesto is the most modern of books.

On August 5th, 1895, Frederick Engels died. This article was written for Socialist Appeal on July-August 1995 as part of the series conmemorating Engels centenary. Mary Hanson looks at Engels' classic work, Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.

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