The Materialist Conception of History
When Karl Marx formulated the Materialist Conception of History he gave us a key to unlock the door to a chamber of horrors—the sordid basis of high-flown sentiments. He showed that, since the passing of tribal society, history had been a record of the struggles of different classes to control the social wealth; that the grouping into classes originated out of the way wealth was produced and distributed in each period; that the shape of the main ideas of a period can only be explained by the economic conditions of the time. Further, that class struggles will only disappear when clashing interests have been reduced to one interest; that is when all forms of private ownership in the means of production have been replaced by the common ownership of the means of production. Thus society was shown to be subject to the general law of evolution, though the artificial environment with which man has surrounded himself makes differences in the particular way the law operates in human society as compared with the animal world.
Before Marx’s time history appeared in a fortuitous light; as the operations of Gods or devils, heroes or scoundrels, clever men or fools or knaves. The Materialist Conception of History made clear that history was a natural development in accordance with certain definite laws; that it consisted of a chain of fundamental changes in which each new epoch sprang out of the previous one but with a different economic base, a different grouping of classes, and a corresponding difference in the general outlook of the time.
This does not mean that each epoch produces a completely new set of ideas. Old ideas are modified by the new mould and some fresh ideas are developed. For example sporting contests of all kinds have existed for as long as there are any records, but sham-amateurism is a product of modern commercialised sport.
Likewise similar economic circumstances produce similar ideas and similar solutions, even though thousands of years may intervene. This accounts for the fact that many things that appear to be the special product of modem times have, in fact, been thrown up at different times in the past; like the grain dealers of Athens who were prosecuted for black-marketeering or the nationalization schemes of Xenophon two thousand years ago for the purpose of increasing Athenian revenues, or the Government of Ferrara in the 15th century which bought and distributed corn as well as monopolising fish, salt, fruit, meat and vegetables. Of course none of these operations were described at the time as Socialistic. That could only occur in a Capitalistic society where supporters of Capitalism wished to throw up a barrier against revolution, or bankrupt reformers needed to delude their followers into believing that they had found the road to comfort and security.
In spite of “full employment,” gambling on the pools, and T.V. sets on the hire system, sooner or later the mass of the population, those who are compelled to work for a living, will be driven by their material interests to set about abolishing the private ownership of the means of production and replacing it by the common ownership of the means of production. In other words, converting all that is in and on the earth into the common possession of all mankind. And this will be in accordance with the Materialist Conception of History’s own decree and in spite of the delusionists’ conceptions.