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1 Feb 2011
Marxs Historical Sociology
After Marxs death, Marxism became known as a theory in which economic and other
material factors explained the structure of society and the course of history
Dominant view among Marxists and its critiques
Marxism was reduced to a one-factor theoryeconomy means everything
Marx’s focus on the connections between economic development and social class
formation was reduced to a form of technological determinism by his followers
Changes in an important element of production (ex: discovered of a new fuel, raw
material) was said to determine the movement of history
In time, prominent Marxists exposed these views as distortions of Marx’s ideas
They were successful and under them, Marxism became regarded as anopen”,
non dogmatic, theoretical approach stresses the relative autonomy of the no
economic spheres of society and underscored the role of human consciousness and
will in the making of history
Recently, this view has itself become under attack- there has been a reversion to the
older, deterministic versions of Marxs ideas
Shaw- adopts the “technological-determinist interpretation
Cohen- adopts the “technological label but not the “determinist one
Believes that for Marx, history is the development of human power but the course
of its development is not subject to human will
Both Shaw and Cohen believe in the “primacy thesis thatfoundation” is the
cause of historical development andsuperstructure is the effect
Marxs famous preface
Marx speaks of an economicfoundation and of legal and politicalsuperstructures
Discusses that the mode of production determines the general character of the social,
political and spiritual processes of life
Asserts that social existence determines social consciousness
Assigns causal priority to the forces of production in brinign about social change
Engels wrote to both Bloch and Startenburg in which he clarified Marx’s position
In the letters, he allows for some interaction between base and superstructure
In both letters, he insists that economic conditions ultimately assert themselves
Effect of the letters was to reaffirm the causal priority of economic conditions
Zeitlin believes Engels and Marx share responsibility for the misunderstanding of
their views
Also, they share responsibility for the impression that they are social evolutionists
Zeitlin- the only way of assessing the importance of Marx’spreface” is to place it in
the context of Marx’s total scholarly output
Tribal Ownership
In “German Ideology”, Marx and Engles introduce the concept of “mode of
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concept embraces both “productive forces andrelations of production”
A society’sproductive forces can be analyzed into several components:
A) the social cooperation of the producers themselves, as it is conditioned by,
B) the existing instruments of production
C) the available technical know how
D) the society’s natural habitat
Relations of production”
Refers to property relations or forms of ownership
While productive forces addresses the question of HOW a society produces its means
of livelihood and goods, relations of production addresses the question of WHO
owns/controls a society’s productive resources
In “German Ideology”, Marx writes that the entire internal structure of a society
depends on the stage of development reached by its production and its internal and
external intercourse
Marx designates the first form of ownership astribal- coincides with an elementary
division of labour
Marx wrote that the social structure is limited to an extension of the family. The
salvery latent in the family only develops gradually with the increase of population,
the growth of wants and with the extension of external relations of war or of trade
For Marx and Engels, a sufficient social change could not be explained solely as a
result of the growth of productive forces or any other sole internal factor
In “Das Capital, Marx pays attention to external relations
In discussing nomadic and pastoral peoples he writes thatthe only barrier which
the community can encounter in relating to the natural conditions of production- the
earth- as to its own property is another community which already claims it as its own
inorganic body. Warfare is therefore one of the earliest occupations of each of these
naturally arisen communities both for the defence of their property and for obtaining
new property”
Marx continues- if humans are conquered with land as its organic accessories then
they are equally conquered as one of the conditions of production and in this way
arises slavery and serfdom
Marx does NOT suggest that war and pillaging is sufficient explanation for slavery.
He comments that slavery presupposes economic conditions of a certain kind
For Marx, in order for pillage to be possible there must be production. The mode f
pillage is itself determined by the mode of production- to steal a slave is to steal the
instrument of production directly
Therefore, the mode of production is an essential element in an analysis of how/why
slavery has appeared in a given society
However, when a pastoral people settle down, the extent to which the original
community is modified will depend on various external., geographical, physical and
climatic condition as well as their particular clan character
In “The Mark”, Engels describes the earliest forms of communal landed property
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among the German tribes
Despite many people having cultivated their field in common when they settled
down temporarily, private property existed among them from earliest times
How does Engels know this?
The first piece of ground that passed into the private property of individuals was
that on which the house stood
The free Germans homestead had from earliest times been excluded from the
common property of the mark
The inviolability of the dwelling was rooted in German tribal law
These writings demonstrate that Marx and Engels never considered ideas as derivative
from economic or other material conditions
Among these German tribes, kingship arose
Leaders were elected for their military prowess
(Retinues) Leading men organized private associations of warriors recruited for
their military skills
Young men joined eager for booty they would receive during raids
Spoils remained private property and did not need to be shared
Hence, differences of wealth increased inside the clan which weakened the
democratic-communal character of the society
For Engels, private property among the Germanic people developed out of several
The old Germanic tradition of treating the family dwelling as sacred and
inviolable led to private homesteads once they settled
Roman Influence Germans borrowed the institution
Retinues became permanent and of mixed class composition. Retinues followed
and obeyed their own leaders rather than the duly elected military chief of the people
Like in most primitive agricultural societies, the women dealt with agricultural
preparation while the men hunted and looked after the animals
With the introduction of horse drawn plough, womens work was transferred to the
When the retinues emerged there became a reversion to the old practice- men enged in
war while women tended the fields
Retinues served to undermine the older communal institutions in the following ways
Retinue leaders became largely independent of the discipline of their kingsmen
Leaders became monarchs and nobles who accumulated wealth and power
Retinues became international- cut across boundaries of different tribes
Leaders and members bequeathed their property to their children rather than their
tribe thus undermining the clan and elevating the family
Engelss analysis is striking because of the prominent role he assigns to “force” in
general, NOT just productive force
The decline of German communal institutions and the prevalence of retinues was
accompanied by the formation of feudalism
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