Posts Tagged ‘historical materialism’

“A man cannot become a child again, or he becomes childish. But does he not find joy in the child’s naïvité, and must he himself not strive to reproduce its truth at a higher stage? Does not the true character of each epoch come alive in the nature of its children? Why should not the historic childhood of humanity, its most beautiful unfolding, as a stage never to return, exercise an eternal charm? There are unruly children and precocious children. Many of the old peoples belong in this category. The Greeks were normal children. The charm of their art for us is not in contradiction to the undeveloped stage of society on which it grew. [It] is its result, rather, and is inextricably bound up, rather, with the fact that the unripe social conditions under which it arose, and could alone arise, can never return.”

– Marx, Grundrisse, Introduction,

Late August – Mid-September 1857

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“According to the materialist conception of history, the
ultimately determining element in history is the production and
reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever
asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic
element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into
a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is
the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political
forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions
established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc.,
juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in
the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical
theories, religious views and their further development into systems of
dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical
struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form.
There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the
endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner
interconnection is so remote or so impossible of proof that we can
regard it as non-existent, as negligible), the economic movement finally
asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to
any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple
equation of the first degree.


In the second place, however, history
is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts
between many individual wills, of which each in turn has been made what
it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are
innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of parallelograms of
forces which give rise to one resultant — the historical event. This
may again itself be viewed as the product of a power which works as a
whole unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills
is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no
one willed. Thus history has proceeded hitherto in the manner of a
natural process and is essentially subject to the same laws of motion.
But from the fact that the wills of individuals — each of whom desires
what he is impelled to by his physical constitution and external, in the
last resort economic, circumstances (either his own personal
circumstances or those of society in general) — do not attain what they
want, but are merged into an aggregate mean, a common resultant, it must
not be concluded that they are equal to zero. On the contrary, each
contributes to the resultant and is to this extent included in it.”

— Friedrich Engels letter to J. Bloch (1890). First published in Der sozialistische Akademiker, Berlin, October 1, 1895.

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“The Marxists emphasize the importance of primitive communism not
because they dream of a return to it. The purpose is rather to show that
private property and the state machinery are not eternal adjuncts to
human existence: They will fall as inevitably as they arose at an
earlier stage. Similarly, the primitive proto-materialism is discussed
not for the purpose of a glorification of it and surely there is not
even the remotest apology for any return to it. Yet it has its value by
way of showing that the spiritualistic outlook is not innate in man. It,
too, will be finally washed away as inevitably as it arose at an
earlier stage: if the spiritualistic outlook came into being, it will
also, along with the social separation between manual and mental labour,
pass away.”

– Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya,

Lokayata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism. New Delhi: People’s Publishing House, 1959.

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