Karl Marx 02 Western Political Thought, Historical Materialism and Questions

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Western Political Thought Karl Marx: Part 2 Historical Materialism (Political Science)

Historical Materialism

  • While Dialectical Materialism represents the philosophical basis of Marxism , Historical Materialism represents its empirical basis.
  • According to it all types of social relations prevailing at any stage of social development are determined by the economic conditions.
  • Survival of men depends upon his efficiency in the production of material things.
  • Production is therefore the most important of all human activity.
  • Society comes into existence primarily for production because men in association produce more than men in isolation.
  • A perfect society brings in satisfaction for all by catering necessities of all.
  • But according to the dialectic concept, perfection comes after long process of conflict between antagonistic forces.
  • Society has always been subjected to internal stress and strains.
  • Unsatisfied needs are therefore, the result of defective mode of production.
  • Man has always imagined of the world where all his needs would be met.
  • Thus religion comes into existence as the savior.
  • But in reality, religion is no more than the shadow cast by a defective economic system which will disappear with the removal of those defects.
  • Marx calls it as ‘the opium of the people’ .
  • As the process of material conditions holds the key to man՚s social life, changes in this process are responsible for all historical development.
  • Marx՚s description of historical development is based on the concept of historical materialism.
  • As he himself observed, “In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness” .
  • This means – the mode of production in a given society constitutes its ‘base’ (or substructure) ; legal and political institutions , religion and morals, etc. constitutes its ‘superstructure’ which are shaped according to changing character of base.
  • What are the reasons behind changes in the mode of production?
  • To this Marx answers himself- “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead, sooner or later, to the transformation of the whole, immense, superstructure”
  • Now comes the concept of forces of production and relations of productions. Together the constitute the mode of production.
    • Forces of production comprises two things-
      • means of production
      • Labour power
    • Relations of production are constituted by the pattern of economic ownership of means of production.
  • At every stage of development, owners of means of production constitute the dominant class and those left with labour power only constitute the dependent class.
  • The development of forces of production leads to the contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production.
  • The intensification of this contradiction results in the breakdown of existing mode of production and its superstructure.
  • This can be explained by dialectical process.
  • According to dialectical method the established order is a thesis, which inevitably produces its own anti-thesis in the form of new mode of production.
  • The older gives way to the new – slave society is replaced by feudal society; feudal society is replaced by capitalist՚s society; capitalist society is replaced by socialist՚s society.
  • According to dialectical logic – every stage of social development which falls short of perfection contains the seeds of its own decay.
  • Marx saw his contemporary capitalists society as an imperfect stage as it was marked by the division of society into antagonistic classes of haves and haves not, dominant and dependent, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
  • Marx and Engels have identified 4 imp. Stages of past historical development:
    • The primitive communism – in which forms of production are slight and communally owned.
    • Ancient slave owning society- in which means of production are owned by masters, labour for production is done by the slave.
    • Medieval feudal society – in which means of production are owned by feudal lords and labour, is done by serfs.
    • Modern capitalists society – in which means of production are owned by capitalists and labour for production is done by the proletariat – the property less workers.
  • At each stage of historical development, the forms or condition of production determines the structure of society.
  • Therefore ‘all the social, political and intellectual relations, all religious and legal systems, all the theoretical outlooks which emerge in the course of history, are derived from the material conditions of life’ .


1. Marx calls religion as the________ for people?

a) Opium

b) Savior

c) Necessary

d) None

Ans. Opium

2. Historical Materialism represents-

a) Empirical basis

b) Philosophical basis

c) Social basis

d) Economic basis only.

Ans. Empirical basis

#Dialectical Materialism

#Historical Materialism

#Base and Superstructure

#Forces of production and relations of production

#Stages of development

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