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Karl Marx historical materialism materialist conception …

The basic principle of the materialist explanation of history is that men’s thinking is conditioned by their being, or that in the historical process, the course of the development of ideas is determined, in the final analysis, by the course of development of economic relations.

Marx and Engels on Historical Materialism. International Publishers, New York1976.

Herein lies the direct opposition of Marx to historical materialism. The theorists of Marxism wanted to explain the past or predict the future. But Marx was not chiefly interested in either of these. Instead, he studied history, as he studied everything else, to illuminate the struggle between a way of life which required explanation and one which would be ‘worthy of our human nature’.

Read this essay on Historical Materialism

The basic notion of historical materialism is well known. Plekhanov, one of its chief founders, puts it like this:

Marx described his own historical method very succinctly: "The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather, it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production."

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Engels historical materialism essay

Commentaries and Secondary Sources.There are thousands of books and articles on historical materialism. Here are afew.

Karl Marx
The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
Civil Wars in France
Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy. [The above are the classicstatements and examples of historical materialism and historical materialistanalyses.]
Capital Volume 1

This aspect of "materialism," Marx's "materialist method," which distinguishes his view from that of Hegel, involves the study of the real economic and social life of man and of the influence of man's actual way of life on this thinking and feeling. "In direct contrast to German philosophy," Marx wrote, "which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven. That is to say, we do not set out from what men imagine, conceive, nor from men as narrated, thought of, or imagined, conceived, in order to arrive at men in the flesh. We set out from real, active men and on the basis of their real life process we demonstrate the development of the ideological reflexes and echoes of this life process." Or, as he puts it in a slightly different way: "Hegel's philosophy of history is nothing but the philosophical expression of the Christian-Germanic dogma concerning the contradiction between spirit and matter, God and the world.... Hegel's philosophy of history presupposes an abstract or absolute spirit, which develops in such a way that mankind is only a mass which carries this spirit, consciously or unconsciously. Hegel assumes that a speculative, esoterical history precedes and underlies empirical history. The history of mankind is transformed into the history of the abstract spirit of mankind, which transcends the real man."

I will conclude this section by quoting Marx's most complete formulation of the concept of historical materialism, written in 1859:
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2. Marx's Historical Materialism - Marxists Internet …

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Summary of Historical Materialism - Andrew Roberts' …

So, whatever the details of the mechanisms proposed by any of its many versions, historical materialism claims to be a way of explaining history. It deals with the causes of social evolution, stressing that history is governed by necessary laws, that are as immutable as laws of nature.

Marx versus Historical Materialism - Marxists Internet …

Marx made the difference between historical materialism and contemporary materialism very clear in his thesis on Feuerbach: "The chief defect of all materialism up to now (including Feuerbach's) is that the object, reality, what we apprehend through our senses, is understood only in the form of the object or contemplation (Anschauung); but not as sensuous human activity, as practice; not subjectively. Hence in opposition to materialism, the active side was developed abstractly by idealism -- which of course does not know real sensuous activity as such. Feuerbach wants sensuous objects really distinguished from the objects of thought; but he does not understand human activity itself as objective activity." Marx -- like Hegel -- looks at an object in its movement, in its becoming, and not as a static "object," which can be explained by discovering the physical "cause" of it. In contrast to Hegel, Marx studies man and history by beginning with the real man and the economic and social conditions under which he must live, and not primarily with his ideas. Marx was as far from bourgeois materialism as he was from Hegel's idealism -- hence he could rightly say that his philosophy is neither idealism nor materialism but a synthesis: humanism and naturalism.

Free Essays on Historical Materialism Marxism - …

It should be clear by now why the popular idea of the nature of historical materialism is erroneous. The popular view assumes that in Marx's opinion the strongest psychological motive in man is to gain money and to have more material comfort; if this is the main force within man, so continues this "interpretation" of historical materialism, the key to the understanding of history is the material desires of men; hence, the key to the explanation of history is man's belly, and his greed for material satisfaction. The fundamental misunderstanding on which this interpretation rests is the assumption that historical materialism is a psychological theory which deals with man's drives and passions. But, in fact, historical materialism is not at all a psychological theory; it claims that the way man produces determines his thinking and his desires, and not that his main desires are those for maximal material gain. Economy in this context refers not to a psychic drive, but to the mode of production; not to a subjective, psychological, but to an objective, economic-sociological factor. The only quasi-psychological premise in the theory lies in the assumption that man needs food, shelter, etc., hence needs to produce; hence that the mode of production, which depends on a number of objective factors, comes first, as it were, and determines the other spheres of his activities. The objectively given conditions which determine the mode of production and hence social organization, determine man, his ideas as well as his interests. In fact, the idea that "institutions form men," as Montesquieu put it, was an old insight; what was new in Marx was his detailed analysis of institutions as being rooted in the mode of production and the productive forces underlying it. Certain economic conditions, like those of capitalism, produce as a chief incentive the desire for money and property; other economic conditions can produce exactly the opposite desires, like those of asceticism and contempt for earthly riches, as we find them in many Eastern cultures and in the early stages of capitalism. The passion for money and property, according to Marx, is just as much economically conditioned as the opposite passions.

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