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.

In this article, Josh Holroyd discusses the so-called Tributary Mode of Production, which has gained traction in academic circles as an alleged ‘update’ to Marx’s conception of historical development. However, a close inspection of this theory, its method and origins reveals less a development of Marxism than a retreat from it, in the face of attacks from its reactionary opponents in the universities.

Capital emerged on the stage of history “dripping blood from every pore” – to use Marx’s famous words. Josh Holroyd describes the violent and tumultuous birth of capitalism out of the embers of feudal society.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.