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The materialist conception of history

Plekhanov and the Materialist Conception of History

Part of the series 'Socialist Thinkers: People Who History Made'

Islington Branch

Recorded: 
Sunday, 3 October 1982

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The Centenary of Marx

Into the midst of the greatest slaughter the world has ever known obtrudes one of those arbitrary divisions of time called a century, in this case marked off by an event of great interest for the working class.

On the 5th of May, 1818, at the old German town of Treves, was born a boy whose discoveries, research, arid propaganda were to mark an epoch in human knowledge and progress, and who stands out as an intellectual giant in a century noted for its number of great intellects. This boy was Karl Marx.

After the customary school course and attendance at the universities both of Bonn and of Berlin, Marx wished to take up a lectureship in philosophy, but was advised not to do so by his friend, Bruno Bauer.

At 24 years of age Marx was offered the editorship of a new paper called the "Journal of the Rhine" (Rheinsche Zeitung), run by a radical section of the growing commercial class.

Historical Materialism

Preface

Most people know that in past centuries the world was very different from what it is now – different methods of production and means of transport, different ideas and behaviour, different political systems, and different social classes – slave owners and slaves, feudal lords and serfs, and now employers and wage earners.

What is less well known is what caused these changes and how they were brought about. It is the purpose of this pamphlet to refute the explanations offered by writers who have attributed the changes to divine guidance, or to the independent development of ideas, or to the role played by “Great Men”, and to show what really happened.

Date: 
1975

Marxism

Conceptions and definitions are the basis of all thought processes. We call our method "Marxism" because the fundamental theoretical work was in the main accomplished by Marx. Three interrelated principles--the materialist conception of history, the class struggle and the theory of surplus value--worked together to initiate this method.

The materialist conception of history arises out of the use of the dialectical-materialist method in political economy. It is materialist as it recognises the primacy of matter in the surrounding world. It is dialectical because it recognises the universal interconnection of complex and dynamic objects and events within a single form-and-content totality.

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