Talk:Historical materialism

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I don't really have any serious objection to the content of this page -- sometimes it is a bit vague, but in general pretty good. But I do find it a little strange for two reasons: first, it reproduces a lot of material in other related articles, espeically Marxism and Karl Marx. If "historical materialism" is synonymous with "dialectical materialism" and "marxism" then I think there should be one page, and other pages should link to it. If, on the other hand, "historical materialism" is more specific, the article needs to distinguish it from "dialectical materialism" and explain how it is one part but not the entirety of "marxism." My second query follows from this -- assuming that "historical materialism" deserves its own article, I would expect a much lengthier explanation of Marx's debt to/differences from Hegel's historicism. I am not qualified to contribute, as I have not read a lot of Hegel directly. (But I assume that an author of this article is someone who has read a lot of Marx and Hegel). I would also expect more discussion of Marx's historical works like the 18th Brumaire or Engels work on the peasant wars in Germany. I would expect a discussion of the relationship between Marx's historicism (expresed in those books) and his ideas about progress or evolution, and his debt to Morgan, SR

I am pretty sure Marx wasn't a materialist. I believe David Harvey said this in his first lecture on the second part of Marx's Capital. The quote was something like : Production not only dominates over itself, also over the other moments(Which includes distribution). Since production of surplus value depends on the social relations of the classes, everything is determined by the social-relations.

<---I don't want to mess anything up so I would appreciate it if someone else took the time to do so.

I agree with many of the sentiments above. There appears to be an attempt to sum up marxism, Capital, Value Theory, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all under this one topic. Historical materialism is a methodological stance, not the actual workings-out of a given philosopher. There also appear to be controversial interpretations presented as fact: point 7 in the list is strictly speaking a theory due to Lenin, only indirectly due to Marx ... and the presentation of commodity fetishism (which is arguably out of place here) is one-sided. If no-one objects, I'll have a pop at rewriting this entry in a few weeks. Adhib

Given that there were no objections, I have made the necessary (quite harsh) cuts, and added one quote which illustrates the meaning of this specific topic. Adhib 19:31, 18 Feb 2004 (UTC)

I have an objection! Presenting the technological-determinist interpretation of Marx's work as if it is the only one is fundamentally dishonest. There is a very long tradition of an anti-determinist reading that accords primacy to the *relations of production* rather than the forces of production. The article should, perhaps, reflect this?!


he was a`s central to his philosophy that`s the pointLonepilgrim007

Class struggle as the 'motor' of history[edit]

My understanding of the Marxist approach to history is that class struggle is the motor that drives history and the result of this struggle is not predetermined. I will need to do more reading and thinking before little time! John Ball16.40 30/6/04

My understanding of dialectical materialism is that it is 'matter in self-motion' - godless change, the continual resolution of contradictions of being - that drives all historical phonemena, from quanta to galaxies. Within the current phase of human development the class struggle predominates human affairs. Capitalism constituted a phase of human cooperative development - mass production - but it has, like all things that overstay their welcome, turned into its opposite and has become a hindrance to social production. Contradictions arise naturally and are naturally resolved one way or another - life evolves. The ruling class of capitalists shows no internal logic of preparing for its own demise and a move up to a higher social form - common ownership of the means of production - so it falls to the increasingly conscious proletariat to do it through a decisive social revolution. Danny

All possibly valuable insight, Danny, but that would be better used at the entry for Dialectical materialism, not Historical materialism. Adhib 22:32, 26 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Okay. A minefield of pedantry can easily arise here - the two terms are so easily interchangeable - especially when jumping through linked subjects. I rarely post to anything, but if I do again I will try to keep more focused. Widipedists of the world, write! Danny. 01:50 1.10.2004 GMT


I suggest to add a more detailed criticism of historical materialism, particularly that of Popper.

In addition, the lengthy quotes from Marx and Lenin are not very helpful -- makes the article feel like it was written in the Soviet time where all you had to do was quote Marx and Lenin no matter what you wrote on...;) I suggest to tighten the text, and add Popperian criticism, snice it is probably the most substantial of the basic ideas of Marxism. What do you think? Dietwald 17:51, 23 October 2005 (UTC)

Leninism is no more outdated than positivism or verificationism, frankly. There are many thinkers, more relevant in this day than Popper, who have criticized historical materialism. (talk) 00:34, 25 July 2014 (UTC)

Defining historical materialism[edit]

I have tried to sharpen the key sentence defining historical materialism at the start of this article. The original was a little to 'economic determinist' for my taste and would exclude much work which is, and has been, done in historical materialism.

--PeterBowing 11:37, 23 March 2006 (UTC)

I don't understand how this article can be considered complete without any reference to Hegel. This article needs to take into account the inconsistency of the Idealist Conception (Hegel's conception) of history, which is where Marx first comes up with a Materialist conception of history. Without taking this into account, this article is incomplete.

Also, I agree with what what was said above about the quotes from Marx and Lenin. They're entirely unhelpful.

To be blunt, this article sucks. It hardly addresses the material outside of the introduction. This article needs to be cleaned up, possibly even rewritten entirely.

I think Hegel should be treated as one of the antecedents of historical materialism, but not the only one. There is an excellent book, 'Social Science and the Ignoble Savage' by Ronald Meek that deals with the currents of thought in the 16th to 18th centuries that Marx drew on. This has a knock-on implication for how Popper's criticism of historical materialism should be dealt with, as Popper seems to have believed that by demolishing Hegel he would automatically demolish Marx, and that is not valid if historical materialism has roots other than Hegel. The section at the beginning on Origins needs to be expanded, but I am new to Wiki and don't know if I can handle it. Itsmejudith 14:44, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

Bias in the intro[edit]

Cut from intro:

It is a powerful explanatory system, which has been employed and enriched by thousands of academic studies since Marx’s death.
Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human societies in the way in which humans collectively make the means to life, thus giving an emphasis, through economic analysis, to everything that co-exists with the economic base of society (e.g. social classes, political structures, ideologies).
Historical materialism is opposed by those explanatory systems which do not stress the role of history in explaining social phenomena (e.g. American structural functionalism); and by idealist conceptions which explain history, not according to the actual behaviour of human beings, but by the will of God or by ‘ideas’ which do not originate in human society, (e.g. Hegelianism)

The second paragraph, in particular, begins in an egregiously problematic way. It makes it sound like HM is all-encompassing. Or that it merely takes economic aspects into account (see economic history).

The third paragraph is the worst. Having set up a straw man, it accuses anything that tries to knock it down as simplistic junk. But it's almost correct here (in parts).

Please help me to rewrite this intro. Something like:

  • Marxists use the terms materialism and idealism respectivel to describe views which (1) agree with Marxist conceptions of historical change (historical materialism) or (2) contradict Marxism by attributing a greater role to the decisions and actions of human beings.
  • Marx predicted that Capitalism must inevitable overthrown by armed struggle and be replaced by socialism, which would eventually "wither away" into stateless communism
  • Many other conceptions of history exist which deny or ignore Marx's two predictions (see Historiography).

Taken as it is, the old intro was not neutral but almost pure Marxist POV. Perhaps we begin by attributing its statements to various Marxist writers. --Uncle Ed 19:36, 23 May 2006 (UTC)

Marx has been enormously influential.. I would not say that the line ' a powerful explanatory system, which has been employed and enriched by thousands of academic studies since Marx’s death' is POV really. Marx never declared that violent revolution is the way forward. Marxism, 'Marxian' and Marx does not = Marxist-Leninism. -- max rspct leave a message 17:59, 24 May 2006 (UTC)
According to my university studies, it is an essential point of Marxism that violent revolution is the way forward, as taught by historical materialism. Whether or not Marx himself wrote (or later agreed or disagreed with) this point is not relevant, except to a Marx biography or someone writing a history of Marxism.
All major Communist parties use historical materialism to justify violent revolution, whether or not Marx specifically did. --Uncle Ed 18:07, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

The text that was in the Historical Origins section did not really cover the origins of the theory. I have added something on this, which could be expanded a lot, and moved the text that was formerly in the section to the Key Tenets section. In doing this, I have reinstated some of the introduction deleted by Uncle Ed because it is a summary and not POV, and I have, I hope, clarified it a bit.

On the other hand, I agree that it would be good to strengthen the description of the alternative explanations to historical materialism. Someone who knows the work of Popper well should add a summary of his critique to the Criticisms section; it would be helpful if they could explain how Popper was critiquing Marx and Hegel simultaneously. I wouldn’t be in favour of adding Uncle Ed’s proposed substitute text because it would be a step backwards in the accuracy of the description of what historical materialism is, and its complex relationship with idealism and other kinds of materialism.

I have changed the heading that was Commentaries on different aspects etc. to References, to be consistent with style, kept the Commentaries as a kind of sub-heading and added two references. Doesn’t the style of referencing in the whole article need to be tidied up, either on the footnote or the Harvard system? I don’t mind doing this if others could suggest which one to do (new to wiki but used to academic writing).

Itsmejudith 11:46, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

Unexplained revert[edit]

User:Max rspct wrote in an edit summary

rv pov edits by Ed poor.. - marx never outlined 'six stages' and who cares what cult leader Moon thinks.. Not encylopedic

I do not understand what you mean by "pov edits". Please show diffs or quotes and explain what you mean. Are you for example saying that I've merely added my own point of view at some point?

Furthermore, it is common knowledge that historical materialism posits six stages. I copied most of them from further down in the article. Please clarify whether you mean (1) that Marx didn't posit the six stages and some other person or organization did; or (2) that no major form of historical materialism includes these stages.

Either way, I request that you provide sources, because the progressive stages are so well known as to be common knowledge. And you shouldn't revert common knowledge unless you can point to a good source; perhaps you should review WP:NOR. --Uncle Ed 18:15, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

Progress and human will[edit]

It is a well known aspect of historical materialism that human will cannot stop the progression of human society from throught the various stages from primitive society on to feudalism, capitalism, socialism and finally "communism" (that is, stateless communism. Marxists regard this progress as inevitable.

Thinkers such as Bulgarin dismissed the notion of free will (or independent human will) as "indeterminism". [1]

Correct me if I'm wrong, though. I don't know everything about Marxism, only what I remember from my university studies long ago! :-) --Uncle Ed 18:42, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

Well, I don't think you're right, put it that way. What Marx thought about free will is best summed up in his very well known saying that people create their own history but not in the conditions of their own choosing. In contemporary social science this question is usually posed as the relationship between structure and agency. Social scientists of Marxist orientation argue that people are faced with constraints arising from social structures. They can't wish the constraints away, but they can change them if they work collectively with other people who share their interests. There has been an enormous amount written about this from a Marxist point of view, as well by anti-Marxists and in philosophy generally. This article cannot deal with it adequately but should refer the reader to determinism.

Hope this helps and hope I am getting the hang of editing properly.

Itsmejudith 20:29, 24 May 2006 (UTC)

'It is a well known aspect of historical materialism that human will cannot stop the progression of human society from throught the various stages from primitive society on to feudalism, capitalism, socialism and finally "communism"'

Marx said that European history at least had gone through various stages (or modes of production) but not that every society had to mechanically go through an identical development, e.g Marx identified the 'Asiatic mode of production'

On free will. We collectively make society by our actions (our interaction with nature)but at the same time society socialises us in our behaviour and thinking.

In this article I think historical materialism should be presented postively but objectively and at the end of the article the points against it (or its weaknesses) should be presented positively. In this way we inform people and give them the evidence to make their own judgment.

--PeterBowing 08:49, 26 May 2006 (UTC)

Methodology and doctrine[edit]

The intro describes historical materialism as a methodology or approach to history.

  • This makes it sounds like a school of thought which looks into history to discover something.
  • I thought rather that Marxism has a doctrine of history with which it interprets historical events.
  • The difference is that a methodology starts with facts and seeks to discover trends and even principles. A doctrine starts with first principles and then strives to interpret facts.

There are so many buzzwords, it's hard to figure out what Marx (or Marxists or "Marxism") is saying about history.

The longest section in the article is a "disclaimer" which vaguely implies that Marx was not really making any claims about history; rather, others came along and added a bunch of stuff that can't be pinned on Marx or Engels. This is contradicted later in a short, punchy section which lays out standard Marxist doctrine about history.

I propose we eliminate the disclaimer altogether, or spin it off to a Schools of Marxist thought article; eliminate the buzzwords and define clearly any needed Marxist technical terms; and recast the article as an explanation of the Marxist doctrine about history which follows from the core Marxist philosophy of Dialectical Materialism. --Uncle Ed 18:46, 15 September 2006 (UTC)

I don't know where you get the distinction you make above between "doctrine" and "methodology" but a basic point about historical materialism is that it both works from facts towards general principles AND from general principles towards facts. Working in only one of these ways would not be consistent with a dialectical approach. So historical materialism is a methodology available to historians - and much else besides. I am also confused about why you think that dialectical materialism is "core" to Marxism in a way that historical materialism is not. You may be right about contradictory statements in the article. I will have a look at them and see if the section you mention can be rewritten as a clarification and not a disclaimer. Itsmejudith 22:45, 17 September 2006 (UTC)

Odd stuff in main article page[edit]

Removed the following:

"As was said, when a group was taken to a desolate place where the means of english social relations were absent, there was no way that they could feel compelled to work for a certain leader, because in theory they were free. Yet as has been examined with all colonies, over an extended period of time, the colony will provide itself with social relations. There will be leaders, and there will be followers. Those that give work, and those that do work, and in the end, the social classes will be established. It is in human nature to establish social differences; however, the main question is, can we re- create those social differences so that they do not insinuate a level of corruption between the classes. If we create the social difference, but do not encourage the great variation in lifestyle that comes with it then a more established form of equality will exist. All differences will become abstract rather than rely so much on the physical aspects. The social differences will still exist, and probably be just as strong as ever, however they will not be as visible to everyone and they might not cause such great discomfort among classes. By reducing the importance on materialism we will establish a more independant colony."

As far as I can see, this is a commentary on the Wakefield section, which IMHO is already too long. But perhaps the editor who placed it can explain why s/he regards it a useful addition to the article. Itsmejudith 14:29, 17 November 2006 (UTC)

I agree. Can't it be moved to page on Wakefield? (As far as I'm aware Wakefield's only significance is that Marx disagreed with him)PeterBowing 08:34, 20 November 2006 (UTC)

Is there anyone who actually admits to historical materialism?[edit]

The whole article sounds like a defense or something from Marxists who are stung by critiques that Marx's analysis is overly simplistic. Could we talk about what historial materialism is and what it does before we launch into paragraphs of how That Wasn't What Marx Really Meant? Slac speak up! 01:57, 3 July 2007 (UTC)

And also, I'm sure someone has criticised its methodology other than a wacky cult leader. Slac speak up! 02:00, 3 July 2007 (UTC)

Someone was going to write about Karl Popper's critique, which would be very useful. It might be quite tricky to distinguish critiques of historical materialism per se and critiques of Marxism but I'm sure with goodwill we can get there. The real problem with the article is that it isn't well enough sourced. There should be good introductory social science texts that we could draw on more. Itsmejudith 21:48, 3 July 2007 (UTC)

The "Criticisms" section is inadequate[edit]

At the moment, the section is mostly an apologia for historical materialism. I removed the quote from cult leader Moon for obvious reasons. Victor Chmara 08:44, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

Actually I find it ridiculous that historical materialism is blamed for totalitarianism. Is there any actual evidence for that? I mean there were non-Marxist totalitarian societies, and claiming an approach to history leads to despotism is rather far fetched. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 01:59, 16 January 2008 (UTC)

Historical Materialism section on Classical Marxism page[edit]

Someone had just recently come and chucked in a huge section on Marx's theory of history on the Classical Marxism page. Its probably not technically about historical materialism, but that is the main article link in the section. It seems fairly poorly written and some of it does not seem particularly academic in its wording. I don't know much about this specificly so I was hoping people could have a quick look and just let me know if it seems accurate. (If anybody has the time and could shorten it into a succint summary that would be even better!)

Thanks, JenLouise 15:28, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

I agree with you about the poor writing. Also, it adds nothing to the explanation of specifically Classical Marxism compared with later developments. You'll see some mention in this article of how HM has been modified or developed by later writers. Quite honestly, I think the best thing for the moment is to leave the section out. Itsmejudith 21:26, 18 October 2007 (UTC)


since it has been tagged for a very long time and there have been no objections, I propose to carry out the merge between this article and the article Marx's theory of history imminently, with this being the main article and the other left as a redirect. Itsmejudith (talk) 10:33, 21 April 2008 (UTC)

I would prefer not in my opinion. I believe this is a very important section of Marxist theory, perhaps the most important, and deserves its own page without distraction. BTW just signed up, hope this is done correctly. iMadRichard 17:27, 16 June 2010 (GMT)

Sentence structure: 4th Paragraph under Key Ideas[edit]

Found this:

That all of this not only have as their origin in the economic base but also ultimately correspond to the character and development of that economic base, i.e. the way people come together in order to produce and reproduce the material requirements of life.

It starts, from my reading, using "that" as a conjunction, placing everything that follows as a subjunctive clause, until the (heretofore unread) clarifying verb appears.

No critique of content; merely pointing out a grammatical issue. Unfortunately, I'm not well-versed enough on this topic to make sense out of the sentence.Stevenredd (talk) 15:23, 26 September 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Stevenredd (talkcontribs)

Theory of historical trajectory[edit]

I've created this article on a closely related term mentioned in Erik Olin Wright's works. It should probably be linked from the body of this article; for now I'll add it a s see also. --Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus| talk to me 02:50, 7 December 2011 (UTC)

crude materialism[edit]

It is worth mentioning that the emphasis Marx perhaps placed on materialism, which has been misinterpreted to mean a sort of crude materialist conception of history, was only in response to the young hegelians who emphasised this notion that ideas are the main vehicle behind social change and history. We already know that this crude materialism which Marx is often misattributed with, was really Feuerbach's invention (which Marx criticised after a critique of the hegelians) so perhaps this point (about the role of Hegel and Feuerbach) should be included in the article. I think it should also be noted that historical materialism is not a term used by Marx. This article ( historical materialism by eric fromm provides a good starting point (though I'm sort of reluctant to accept some of the arguments the frankfurt school theorists made given their attachment to freud). The article as it stands now still needs a lot of work. Another good quote to use by Marx in his most important (and only finished) work Capital is the following from chapter 15 on Machinery & Large-Scale Industry:

A critical history of technology would show how little any of the inventions of the eighteenth century are the work of any single individual. As yet such a book does not exist. Darwin has directed attention to the history of natural technology, i.e. the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which serve as the instruments of production for sustaining their life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man in society, of organs that are the material basis of every particular organization of society, deserve equal attention? And would not such a history be easier to compile, since, as Vico says, human history differs from natural history in that we have made the former, but not the latter? Technology reveals the active relation of man to nature, the direct process of the production of his life, and thereby it also lays bare the process of the production of the social relations of his life, and of the mental conceptions that flow from those relations. Even a history of religion that is written in abstraction from this material basis is uncritical. It is, in reality, much easier to discover by analysis the earthly kernel of the misty creations of religion than to do the opposite, i.e. to develop from the actual, given relations of life the forms in which these have been apotheosized. The latter method is the only materialist, and therefore the only scientific one. The weaknesses of the abstract materialism of natural science, a materialism which excludes the historical process, are immediately evident from the abstract and ideological conceptions expressed by its spokesmen whenever they venture beyond the bounds of their own speciality. (ftnt. 4, pp. 493-94)

Mention of John Bellamy Foster[edit]

Confused about the mention of him under 'Criticisms', since it is clear that he expresses support for HM. His statement also appears to be in direct contrast to Popper's statement in the same section. The difference in attitudes, as I see it, is that Popper finds HM lacking because he treats it as a contestable proposition (as he does with every proposition but his epistemological axioms), while Foster considers HM valid as an axiom in itself, due to which a scientific approach to history is somehow more justified than it otherwise would be. This juxtaposition should be made explicit for continuity. (talk) 18:50, 26 April 2013 (UTC)

Edit request=[edit]

I'm suggesting that this article link to the page I wrote on The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man where that essay is mentioned in the section "Historical Materialism in Marxist thought". Thanks. Nikoblock (talk) 06:43, 22 November 2013 (UTC)

Done Thanks, Celestra (talk) 16:23, 22 November 2013 (UTC)

Ed Stephan's (Professor @ university of Oregon) research into county size is a good fit for historical materialism[edit]

To me it looks like supporting evidence for historical materialism, but coming from an unrelated field. Basically, Ed Stephan was able to show that the principle of least-effort (i.e. labour cost) is a strong predictor for the size of administrative regions all the way from counties, to states to whole nations. Stephan and was able to mathematically derive the relationship from first principles (the variables are population density and speed of transport at the time the political division was created), then show that existing national entities follow the pattern quite closely. i.e. in the long run labour costs are the determining factor of the size of countries, rather than politicians and events.

The connection to historical materialism is not one Ed Stephan makes himself, so I thought I'd mention it in the talk page rather than in the main article. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:14, 4 October 2015 (UTC)

Semi-protected edit request on 2 November 2015[edit]

The Further reading section has:

  • Joseph Stalin, Historical and Dialectical Materialism. (classic statement of Stalinist doctrine)

The title should have "Historical" and "Dialectical" swapped: (talk) 22:40, 2 November 2015 (UTC)

Yes check.svg Done Stickee (talk) 22:55, 2 November 2015 (UTC)