Excerpts from the Classics: Theory of Objective Processes and Methodology

November 9, 2002


Theory of Objective Processes & Methodology

Quotations in this section deal with the theory of the nature and role of objective processes in social development, starting with a section on ‘Historical Materialism’ which applies the philosophy and methodology of dialectical materialism to society. Then objective processes in the economy of capitalism are dealt with in the section titled ‘Political Economy of Capitalism.’ The objective processes in capitalism leading to and then immanent in the “Socialist & Communist Stage of Social Development” are dealt with under that heading. Part 2 concludes with “Dialectical Materialism” rather than opens with it in order to make it easier for the reader unfamiliar with the subject to begin with a subject closer to their own experience. Dialectical materialism is the most abstract subject of Marxism. Usually textbooks of Marxism begin with it because it deals with the philosophy and much of the methodology of Marxism that is then applied in all other subjects.

1. Historical Materialism

The materialist conception of history is presented here, including some of the major laws of social development. What this theory is and is not (not economic determinism) is discussed, as well as how it is possible for “people to make history” and yet there is necessity in historical development, laws of its development. The sequence of quotations is chronological.

“… we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”

Marx, Letter to Ruge, Sept. 1843, MECW, Vol.3, p.144

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 1848, MESW, p.35 Marx, The Critique of Political Economy, from The Preface, 1859 (Excerpt)

“The general result I arrived at and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can be briefly formulated as follows: 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. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

“At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.

“No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modern bourgeois modes of production can be designated as progressive epochs, in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social conditions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social formation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close.”

Marx, The Critique of Political Economy, from The Preface, 1859, MESW, p.182-83; MECW, Vol.29, pp.262-64
Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, London, Sept. 21, 1890 (Excerpt)

“According to the materialist conception of history the determining element in history is ultimately the production and reproduction in real life. More than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. If therefore somebody twists this into the statement that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms it into a meaningless, abstract and absurd phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its consequences, constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc. – forms of law – and then even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the combatants: political, legal, philosophical theories, religious ideas and their further development into systems of dogma – 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 (i.e., of things and events whose inner connection is so remote or so impossible to prove that we regard it as absent and can neglect it), the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history one chose would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree. “We make our own history, but in the first place under very definite presuppositions and conditions. Among these the economic ones are finally decisive. But the political, etc., ones, and indeed even the traditions which haunt human minds, also play a part, although not the decisive one…

“In the second place, however, history makes itself in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each again 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 again may itself be viewed as the product of a power which, taken as a whole, works unconsciously and without volition. For what each individual wills is obstructed by everyone else, and what emerges is something that no one willed. Thus past history proceeds in the manner of a natural process and is also essentially subject to the same laws of movement. But from the fact that individual wills – of which each 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 a collective mean, a common resultant, it must not be concluded that their value = 0. On the contrary, each contributes to the resultant and is to this degree involved in it. …”

Engels, Letter to J. Bloch, London, Sept. 21, 1890, MESC, p.475; MESW IP 1977, p.692

“Nothing happens without a conscious purpose, without an intended aim. But this distinction, important as it is for historical investigation…cannot alter the fact that the course of history is governed by inner general laws.”

Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy, early 1886, MESW, IP, 1977, p.622; MECW, Vol.26, p387
[Lenin quotes from Engels in 1887 predicting a world war and its consequences and comments]

“Some of Engels predictions have turned out differently; and one could not expect the world and capitalism to have remained unchanged during thirty years of frenzied imperialist development… But what is most astonishing is that so many of Engels’ predictions are turning out ‘to the letter’. For Engels gave a perfectly exact class analysis, and classes and the relations between them have remained unchanged.”

Lenin, Prophetic Words, June 29, 1918, CW, Vol.27. p.495

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