Question about historical materialism

August 2022 Forums General discussion Question about historical materialism

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  • #85584
    Sympo
    Participant

    I have a question about historical materalism. I might want to ask more questions in this thread as time goes by.

    What does it mean that "political conditions" play a part but are not "decisive" in the making of history by humans? Can something really be important without being called decisive?

    If so, I wouldn't mind a concrete example of something that's "not decisive" that plays a big role in the making of history.

    I would also like to say that I am under the impression that it is possible for several factors to be decisive at the same time. But Engels does not say this in the letter I read:

    Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1890

    #127758
    LBird
    Participant

    Sympo, first you're going to have to define 'Historical Materialism'.Since the 19th century, many people have thought that HM is something to do with Marx, but a sizeable minority regard HM as a product of Engels' views.It's no surprise that you've linked to a letter by Engels (as many see his work as the starting point of any discussion about HM), but at least you now know that some would regard your assumption as illegitimate.

    #127759
    twc
    Participant
    Sympo wrote:
    What does it mean that “political conditions” play a part but are not “decisive” in the making of history by humans?

    “Political conditions” belong to the superstructure that societies build upon the foundation of their economic conditions of production.Thus Marx, “… 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.”¹ Political conditions are subservient to the economic conditions of production, which as Engels says, in his response to Bloch²  are those of the production and reproduction of social life.Thus, for Marx and Engels, the foundations of social existence are non political, but in class societies they are maintained politically.  This is because they are maintained in the interest of a ruling class [politics].[On this, see Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, which is what Engels is referring to about Punaluan brother–sister ‘marriage’ in the full letter to Bloch, reproduced in its entirety here² .]Political actors and political movements come and go.The superstructure is their battleground of illusions, where their misconceptions over the economic conditions of production contend against each other.The political actors struggle for dominance over, but entirely trapped within, that very same palpable superstructure that, unbeknownst to them, is actually subservient to the non-palpable non-political conditions that are actually essential to their own social reproduction as a ruling class.The Idealist philosophical conception, that is itself subservient to the overwhelming social appearance that the social superstructure is self-sufficient and autonomous, prevailed in the time of Marx and Engels, and still prevails today.This Idealist misconception is the universally held view that political conditions determine the economic conditions of production — that the social superstructure, or world of appearance, determines everything.For Marx and Engels, as for Hegel, appearance was precisely what needs to be explained!Marx puts it this way in Capital “if essence and appearance coincided, there would be no need for science”.Essence–Appearance (or, scientifically, Foundation–Superstructure) is Marx’s scientific challenge to the Idealism of appearance.  It is the basis of all human comprehension.

    Sympo wrote:
    Can something really be important without being called decisive?

    Yes.  Take the Labour parties.  Take the Leninist parties.  They were really, really, really important.  Nobody could deny that.But they were not decisive.  Not at all!The social foundation they claimed they could change by meddling with the superstructure (palpable appearance) defeated them lock, stock and barrel.These intellectual champions of the superstructure finished up repudiating everything they preached, ratting on every single superstructural tenet they held.  They were defeated by the abhorred economic conditions of production they deluded themselves and their followers that they had risen superior to.These “important”, but self-discredited, organisations “decided” nothing beyond the tangible proof that they were impediments to the very socialism they boasted they knew better than we how to achieve.What was truly “decisive” about the Labour Party and the Leninist Parties was written by Engels in 1850, over half a century before those disreputable organisations rode to superstructural power on the backs of the working class.³ 

    Sympo wrote:
    If so, I wouldn’t mind a concrete example of something that’s “not decisive” that plays a big role in the making of history.

    Well, for starters…The Labour Party.The Communist Party.The Royal Family. Footnotes⁽¹⁾ Karl Max, in the Preface to A Contribution towards a Critique of Political Economy.⁽²⁾  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1890/letters/90_09_21a.htm.⁽³⁾  “The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply…  What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised, to all his principles and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved.  In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination.  In the interests of the movement itself, he is compelled to defend the interests of an alien class, and to feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assertion that the interests of that alien class are their own interests.  Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevocably lost.”[He may be “important” but, in his case, the economic conditions of production are “decisive” — to his failure!]

    #127760
    Sympo
    Participant
    twc wrote:

    "Political conditions are subservient to the economic conditions of production, which as Engels says, in his response to Bloch²  are those of the production and reproduction of social life."Is calling the political conditions "subservient to the economic conditions" the same thing as calling it "undecisive" in the making of history? (This question is not meant to be rhetorical)"Yes.  Take the Labour parties.  Take the Leninist parties.  They were really, really, really important.  Nobody could deny that. But they were not decisive.  Not at all!"Why exactly weren't the Bolsheviks decisive in the making of history?

    #127761
    ALB
    Keymaster

    The proposition of the materialist conception of history (in its Marxist Form) is that in the end economic/productive relations, both technological and social, are more decisive than politics. All political action, as the exercise of political power, can do is slow down or speed up the direction determined by economic conditions. Engels goes into this in detail in the chapters on "force theory" in Anti-duehring. A recent example of politics slowing down the direction but not being able to reverse or stop it would be apartheid in South Africa. A future example of speeding it up will be the Socialist use of political power to finish off capitalism. This is not a theory of economic determinism and what actually happens in history depends on what people do, especially how political power is exercised. As the man said, people make history but not out of a cloth of their own choosing.

    #127762
    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    The proposition of the materialist conception of history …is that in the end economic/productive relations, both technological and social, are more decisive than politics. …. This is not a theory of economic determinism and what actually happens in history depends on what people do, especially how political power is exercised.

    [my bold]ALB's statement reflects Engels' views (and not Marx's), and is just as confused as are the letters that Engels wrote on the subject.Marx's view is that social theory and practice determines 'history'.Or, the social theory and practice of production determines the social theory and practice of politics.In other words, humans can change both social production and politics. Humans, using both ideas and practice, can override both technology and 'the material/economic'.

    #127763
    Bijou Drains
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    The proposition of the materialist conception of history …is that in the end economic/productive relations, both technological and social, are more decisive than politics. …. This is not a theory of economic determinism and what actually happens in history depends on what people do, especially how political power is exercised.

    [my bold]ALB's statement reflects Engels' views (and not Marx's), and is just as confused as are the letters that Engels wrote on the subject.Marx's view is that social theory and practice determines 'history'.Or, the social theory and practice of production determines the social theory and practice of politics.In other words, humans can change both social production and politics. Humans, using both ideas and practice, can override both technology and 'the material/economic'.

    Hi Sympo, I don't know how familiar you are with L Bird, he believes that we can turn water into wine, as long as we vote for it. If you can imagine the insane love child of Mother Theresa and Paul Daniels, your just about there.

    #127764
    Sympo
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    All political action, as the exercise of political power, can do is slow down or speed up the direction determined by economic conditions.

    Isn't it a type of historical determinism to suggest that history must go forward?In what way is apartheid an example of politics not being able to stop something?

    #127765
    ALB
    Keymaster
    Sympo wrote:
    Isn't it a type of historical determinism to suggest that history must go forward?

    Yes.

    Sympo wrote:
    In what way is apartheid an example of politics not being able to stop something?

    Apartheid impeded the normal development of capitalism in South Africa by reserving certain jobs for certain population groups and by segregating population groups. This was against the logic of capitalism which is colour blind and is only interested in exploiting labour-power and is not interested in the characteristics of its bearers. Apartheid went against this logic. It tried to ignore this but couldn't stop the logic of capitalism getting its way in the end. It did, though, delay this for over 40 years.

    #127766
    LBird
    Participant
    Tim Kilgallon wrote:
    LBird wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    The proposition of the materialist conception of history …is that in the end economic/productive relations, both technological and social, are more decisive than politics. …. This is not a theory of economic determinism and what actually happens in history depends on what people do, especially how political power is exercised.

    [my bold]ALB's statement reflects Engels' views (and not Marx's), and is just as confused as are the letters that Engels wrote on the subject.Marx's view is that social theory and practice determines 'history'.Or, the social theory and practice of production determines the social theory and practice of politics.In other words, humans can change both social production and politics. Humans, using both ideas and practice, can override both technology and 'the material/economic'.

    Hi Sympo, I don't know how familiar you are with L Bird, he believes that we can turn water into wine, as long as we vote for it. If you can imagine the insane love child of Mother Theresa and Paul Daniels, your just about there.

    Hi Sympo, above is yet another example from a follower of Engels' 'materialism', who are unable to argue with Marxists, and so are forced to make false statements about Marxists.Apparently, 'water' and 'wine' talk to Tim, and so he doesn't need to explain to you how he knows 'water' or 'wine'.If you ask him, he won't mention the socio-historical production of knowledge, but will simply say 'he knows', as an 'individual', using his 'biological senses'. He won't mention Marx, society, workers or democracy – or, indeed, scientific method.And he seems to think that ignorance of these issues within his party will impress workers enough to join.The fruits of 'materialism'.

    #127767
    Sympo
    Participant
    ALB wrote:

    "Yes."Is there any way to prove this? Why can't something be delayed forever? I mean, most people haven't become socialists yet.

    #127768
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    LBird wrote:
    Hi Sympo, above is yet another example from a follower of Engels' 'materialism', who are unable to argue with Marxists, and so are forced to make false statements about Marxists.Apparently, 'water' and 'wine' talk to Tim, and so he doesn't need to explain to you how he knows 'water' or 'wine'.If you ask him, he won't mention the socio-historical production of knowledge, but will simply say 'he knows', as an 'individual', using his 'biological senses'. He won't mention Marx, society, workers or democracy – or, indeed, scientific method.And he seems to think that ignorance of these issues within his party will impress workers enough to join.The fruits of 'materialism'.

    More 'repetitive' postings  'from' 'LBird'"repeated postings of the same or similar messages to the same thread, or to multiple threads or forums (‘cross-posting’)" and "posting an excessive number of threads, posts, or private messages within a limited period of time (‘flooding’)"claiming he 'knows' something no other 'individual'  'knows' while asking people to 'define' 'concepts' he has 'refused' repeatedly to 'define' himself.  Claiming that any 'individual' that 'disagrees' with 'him' is a 'follower' of 'Engels'How does 'he' an 'individual'  'know' these things? Does he use 'his' 'biological senses' or does he possess 'senses' we mere 'mortals' don't 'possess' The fruits of 'idealism'    

    #127769
    twc
    Participant
    Sympo wrote:
    Is calling the political conditions “subservient to the economic conditions” the same thing as calling it “undecisive” in the making of history?  (This question is not meant to be rhetorical)

    No.  It depends on what you are “deciding”.If you are “deciding” on strategies for bringing about Socialism:The Labour Party wanted to bring it about gradually.The Bolsheviks wanted to bring it about by fiat.If you “decide” their actions against their claims, and if you then “decide” their claims against their abject revisions of their claims, you must “decide” that they failed absolutely to “decide” history.Rather you must ultimately “decide” that the Labour Party and the Bolsheviks were an impediment to history, since both of them landed up indistinguishable from each other, identical to the Conservatives except in rhetoric (and rhetoric is cheap), and the capitalism they “knew how to overthrow” remains as capitalism.The question to be answered is why?This is where the “subservience of politics to economic conditions” asserts itself…Capitalist politicians and politics can make all sorts of changes to the capitalist superstructure.  The truth is, any fool can change the superstructure, just as any fool is able to imagine.The point, however, is to change the foundation.That political act is anti-political.  It is the social act that abolishes politics forever. 

    Sympo wrote:
    Why exactly weren’t the Bolsheviks decisive in the making of history?

    In the narrow sense, of course they were.But they also set history back enormously…The Bolsheviks effectively derailed history, ably abetted by their western hangers on — originally the perk seeking trade-union officials and political-careerist self-proclaimed “leaders” of the working class, who eagerly grasped Russian money and willingly became an arm of soviet foreign policy in the west, supporting every thuggish nationalist movement as “socialist” (see below on the “primitive accumulation” they were championing).In the broad sense, in which Engels is using the term, they did not “decide” history, but rather history cast its fatal “decision” upon them, in precisely the way Engels foretold in his 1850 writings.What confronted the Bolsheviks historically was the necessity for them to implement what Marx calls the “primitive accumulation of capital”, which in plain speech is the creation of a working class where none, or only a minuscule one, ever existed before.The Bolsheviks, like every other state power that confronts the task of constructing capitalism out of a prior existing social system (such as a form of feudalism), were forced to create a capitalist working class by the only means available to them:  the dispossession of the prior existing labouring class’s formerly owned means of production, i.e. the reduction of the majority from a state of semi-independence to one of total dependence in order to live.Read Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 31 and following, on “Primitive Accumulation” to comprehend the painful birth of the British working class.There Marx says in no uncertain terms: “Capital comes into this world dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.  The Bolsheviks excelled in delivering this.So, if we look to the Bolsheviks for being “decisive” then credit is due where they deserve it most:The Bolsheviks “decisively” dispossessed a prior existing labouring class of its means of living to pave the way for capitalism employing them as its very own working class.And this brutal, but necessary, act of dispossession is totally “decisive” in capitalist historical terms, but these are not the criteria Engels was adopting in the context of bringing about socialism.Thus, to repeat, in their own “avowedly socialist” terms, the Bolsheviks were destined to fail miserably at doing what they claimed they set out to be doing.What they “decisively” achieved was inevitable — establishing capitalism in Russia.And that achievement — fatal to their bombastic rhetoric — was “decisively” their own work, but it was carried out under the inexorability of an economic foundation that the very history that made them into Bolsheviks also prevented them, as Bolsheviks, from ever changing.The Bolsheviks were the victims of history, not its “deciders”.  That should be the end of the matter!

    #127770
    ALB
    Keymaster
    Sympo wrote:
    ALB wrote:
    "Yes."

    Is there any way to prove this?

    I don't want to get into a philosophical discussion as to what "prove" means, but the whole of the past evolution of human society points in this direction. Why would it stop now, at capitalism?

    Sympo wrote:
    Why can't something be delayed forever? I mean, most people haven't become socialists yet.

    Ah yes, the old one about is socialism inevitable, i.e. is it inevitable that humanity will come to want socialism? Personally, I think it is. Humans are problem-solving animals and socialism, as the common ownership of the world's natural and industrial resources, is objectively the only framework within which the problems thrown up by capitalism can be solved. Sooner or later humanity will come to work this out. I make no prediction as to when (or, to be truthful, how), though, only that it will happen. All I know is that, by propagating that socialism is the solution, we are capable of speeding this up.

    #127771
    Anonymous
    Inactive
    ALB wrote:
    Sooner or later humanity will come to work this out. I make no prediction as to when (or, to be truthful, how), though, only that it will happen.

    Providing of course that humanity doesn't destroy itself in the meantime…

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