What is Historical Materialism?
Historical Materialism is the application of Marxist science to historical development. The fundamental proposition of historical materialism can be summed up in a sentence: “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.” (Marx, in the Preface to A contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)
Marxists are often accused of being “economic determinists.” Actually, Marxists are far from denying the importance of ideas or the active role of individuals in history. But precisely because we are active, we understand the limits of individual activity, and the fact that the appropriate social conditions must exist before our ideas and our activity can be effective.
Our academic opponents are generally passive cynics who exalt individual activity amid the port and walnuts from overstuffed armchairs. We understand, with Marx, that people “make their own history... but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past.” We need to understand how society is developing in order to intervene in the process. That is what we mean when we say Marxist is a science of perspectives.
By Alan Woods.
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