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The Materialist Conception of History « Neftali

The following is a draft piece on Historical Materialism and is part of a larger theoretical work outlining Marxist-Leninist-Maoist philosophy in the United States. It was compiled by Maosoleum Guest Writer Neftali, the author of “Notes on Mass Line, Communist Organization, and Revolution”  and On Marxist Philosophy. Views here are thus those of Neftali, and do not necessarily represent the entire views of the writers of Maosoleum. If you would like to have a dialogue with the author on this piece please address Neftali in the comments below.
– Stradacero

"Marx has opened up to scientific knowledge a new, third scientific continent, the continent of History, by an epistemological break whose first still uncertain strokes are inscribed in The German Ideology... Obviously this epistemological break is not an instantaneous event. It is even possible that one might, by recurrence and where some of its details are concerned, assign it a sort of premonition of a past. At any rate, this break becomes visible in its first signs, but these signs only inaugurate the beginning of an endless history. Like every break, this break is actually a sustained one within which complex reorganizations can be observed.  - Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy

“Marx has opened up to scientific knowledge a new, third scientific continent, the continent of History, by an epistemological break whose first still uncertain strokes are inscribed in The German Ideology.- Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy

 

“History is nothing but the succession of the separate generations, each of which exploits the materials, the capital funds, the productive forces handed down to it by all preceding generations, and thus, on the one hand, continues the traditional activity in completely changed circumstances and, on the other, modifies the old circumstances with a completely changed activity.”  Marx and Engels, The German Ideology

We have paradoxically put forward a Marxist philosophy but there is no philosophy in the classical sense at all. It is the wasteland of such conjured thought that proceeds neutrally, but in fact with all the blood of history upon it, to claim a universality. The Marxist standpoint denies such universality in its metaphysical taint that presents itself immediately from philosophical egoism and humanism. It drops this in order to approach the matter from the sweep of a scientific analysis, with only attention paid to its background to which it still taints such scientific postulations. Therefore all pretensions to look at the subject as an individual self-consciousness evaporates into nothingness, a failed project of the secular systems-makers to be buried alongside the whole of the lie of the bourgeois epoch.

Rather, the Marxists bring the science of the bourgeoisie to the realm of history itself, a science it of course revolutionizes (which will be discussed further). The legitimation of the bourgeois system rests upon the secular myth making of their period of Enlightenment in which the hordes of political theorists conceived of various variations of the social contract. Such a contract was thought to be the basis of civilization and civil society. The error of course of our professorial clerics (Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke, etc) laid in their matter of fact understanding of social-relations based in a rather erroneous extrapolation, abstractly, of their the current mode of production and selectively of course between the freemen of their country. That is they naturalized the emerging bourgeois social relations of capital rather than scientifically account for the development of history via its different modes of production. Such naturalization arrived in much of its own developed brand through the work of the bourgeois economists, Adam Smith being foundational and cemented in the classic modern liberalism of new philosophers such as John Rawls. [1]

"No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main." - John Donne

“No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.” – John Donne

The illusion of the social contract and Robinsonades [2] vanishes in a puff of smoke in the light of science. History is hitherto a history of the the social activity of humanity in the development of productive forces. The succession of modes of production, the creation and disintegration of distinct social formations, etc. The fundamental activity of humanity is production. Production being the ability to turn raw material of our habitat through labor into use-values, that is items of utility. The development of the forces of production (tools, machinery, labor itself) gives rise to the basis of a division of labor which pushes forward the productive forces. History develops upon this torsion between the development of productive forces and relations of production (the technical and social division of labor) placed upon the forces of production. The unity between the current development of the forces of production and a specific division of labor, the relations of production, placed upon such productive forces is what we call a mode of production. Further such division of labor, such relations of production are reinforced by the existing superstructure.

A materialist conception of history begins with the epistemological break in taking up the mode of production as its origin of investigation. A mode of production is a general social and historical totality based upon the productive forces and the relations of production, it exists as both general and particular in regards to a materialist analysis. In very concrete terms, a mode of production has layers of differentiation that are determined by historical and social particularity at any moment at time but is still determined in the last instance by the structure in dominance.  This determination in the last instance is based upon a concrete analysis of the structure of economy, the way production takes place with respect to the development of productive forces and the existing relations of production. This determination in the last instance by the dominant structure in a totality simultaneously occurs in a context of overdetermination of the structure with its superstructure, which is relatively autonomous in its social activity and mediation with the structure but requires the ground of the structure.

Production is the ground for all social organization, it is on this basis there is any history at all. This history is subsequently periodized by qualitative distinctions based upon the development of productive forces and differing organizations of relations of production. Such history begins with humanity at its very primitive stages of communal organization of hunter-gatherer groups. So primitive were these stages that now subsequently from the vantage-point of evolutionary anthropology that we can see that our particular species of humanity was still in competition with others. Production was primitive in so much as humanity was young and emerging, but even here such production, that is the transformation of nature by means of labor, had already begun to make leaps in relation to all other species that are a part of the animal kingdom. The ability to utilize tools, the ability transform nature was unique in many respects to humanity (at least to the extent which it was capable of). Such ability to transform nature and our ability to form social organizations was key to our basic origins and success in survival.

The movement from the communal stage of production, of those of hunter gatherer societies progressed as not only and simply with the development of instruments of production, but other items as well – language, culture, etc. These fundamentally played such a role as to give the basic contours for the development into higher stages of production, they mediated the basic form and overdetermined the movement forward. Hence while simultaneously there can be differing existing social formations with similar modes of production, their organization will have definite particularity.

Communal stage of production was proceeded by simple husbandry and agricultural production. The real organization of such production began transforming the whole of regional productions even in their basic stages. Surpluses in production allowed for the development of centers of intercourse and commerce, such centers not only allowed for the intercourse of agricultural production, but the development of administrative centers to forge itself to protect the intercourse of the cities. Further surpluses allowed for more labor to be centered in the development of artisanal production. This basis of production is what can be called the mode of production of Antiquity, its main form of accumulation was in the end based on taxation of all laboring people. Further the social formations were constituted by rigid caste hierarchies that mediated in production the accumulation by taxation, tribute to the state. The social formations of these eras were dominated by the centrality of the administrative state which, more often than not, supplemented themselves further by primitive accumulation. Such social formations would for hundreds of years exist, disappear, expand into great empires, and then suddenly be supplanted by another empire.

There was of course exception in this, in so much as the historicity of people must also play out geographically in a world system in which production develops unevenly. Outliers to the general world system. As production occurred in centers of strategic importance of social formations, those outliers were slowly brought into the system through empire building, or played an upsetting role through their own unique development in relationship to other social formations. It is worthy to note the role of productive forces and relations of production in relation to geographical place, and the role it played in the survival or extinction of outlier social formations – whereas Gauls were eliminated quite easily by Romans, who occupied similar geographic space, the people of the Steppes for centuries developed their own productive forces resisted intrusion of empires, harassed, and for some time came to dominate the whole of the world system.

"The increase of production in all branches – cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts – gave human labor-power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labor forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labor, and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labor was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first great social division of labor arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited." -Friedrich Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State - Chapter IX

“The increase of production in all branches – cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts – gave human labor-power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance. At the same time it increased the daily amount of work to be done by each member of the gens, household community or single family. It was now desirable to bring in new labor forces. War provided them; prisoners of war were turned into slaves. With its increase of the productivity of labor, and therefore of wealth, and its extension of the field of production, the first great social division of labor was bound, in the general historical conditions prevailing, to bring slavery in its train. From the first great social division of labor arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited.”
-Friedrich Engels, Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State – Chapter IX

Moreover, it was only in the time of the capitalist mode of production that the whole globe was integrated into one world system. Today those outliers are far and none in between. The continent of North and South America was totally outside the existing world system of the Eurasian continent (and even had in its own limits to continental intercourse because of geographical boundaries), the indigenous people of Australia or Papua New Guinea until the settlement of Europeans still maintained deep communal societies with limited agricultural production. Sub-saharan Africa for the most part maintained relatively limited trading ties to the whole Eurasian world system until the spread of Islamic conquests in North Africa and the spread of Islam generally. Even then the independence of much of sub-saharan Africa from the Eurasian world system was allowing another one to take form. New kingdoms, new towns, new centres of trade, production based upon conditions vastly different from the Eurasian continent were taking form until the European colonial conquests and primitive accumulation of the colonizers of the continent.

The development of the capitalist mode of production appeared in Europe first, though capital as a social formation appeared in many places throughout the world system of Eurasia, but it was Europe with its distinct social formations and organization of production as feudalism that allowed for capital to emerge to dominate accumulative regime. Feudalism unlike other tributary systems was based upon the decayed western Roman landscape’s inability to centralize itself among the differing Germanic tribal settlements. Moreover even within the conditions of one of these Germanic social formations, the lack of center of authority and contestation of power was resolved through its substantive division among the whole of its ruling class through the allotment of property. This was substantively different than other tributary formations, a product of Europe’s hinterland status in the world system and its existing social formation’s terrible weakness to consolidate itself to a central power. Europe was, for all intents and purposes, the “weakest link” of tributary production. It was in Europe that merchant capital appeared and began to thrive integrating Europe again into the world system under its hegemony.

Capitalist accumulation under regimes of dominance of merchant capital played a transitional role until the productive basis lay clear for the appearance of stronger capitalist organization of production through the industrial revolution. However before the appearance of true industrial capitalism, the social relations of capital were already being tied to other primitive means by which the capitalist modes of production through the mediation of their competing social formations on a world scale, surplus generated through the robbery, elimination, and kidnapping of competing world systems in their overwhelming power. Central being the unwaged slave proletarian labor of the New World, the genocide of Native peoples, the semi-feudal and semi-colonial condition of those colonial people under the administration of European dominions and spheres.

[1] The social contract theory was a base of thought which began to emerge in the development of the modern European nation states. Philosophers such as Rousseau, Locke, Hobbes, and others posed the theoretical basis of the foundation of civil society and the state by individuals emerging from a state of nature which kept of course each of them isolated from each other and in competition. The social contract enabled the basis for a social life to exist outside of natural state of humanity. This philosophy in all of its variations carries the same very basic taint – 1) Humanity was always organized on the basis of social life, its always contained collectivity and variations of kinship. 2) Development of productive forces itself allowed the foundational basis of civilization, not an agreement between individuals. 3) The development of productive forces immediately created the basis for class society and slave societies which began with the oppression of women and developed into the basis of city life, in fact the social contract if anything was in fact the contract between the first class rulers over an exploited mass of people.

[2] Robinson Crusoe is a character of literary fiction from the novel of Daniel Dafoe. He is a desert island castaway who survives years on this island. He is often utilized in classical economics as an example to draw from in casting various thought experiments in relation to fundamental principles of economics.

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One thought on “The Materialist Conception of History « Neftali

  1. Pingback: Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is Our Shining Path for World Revolution | maosoleum

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