Theory test study sheet
Marx: Materialism vs. Idealism
• In philosophical terminology, "materialism" (or "naturalism") refers to a philosophic view
that holds that matter in motion is the fundamental constituent of the universe. In this
sense the Greek pre-Socratic philosophers were "materialists," although they were by no
means materialists in the abovementioned sense of the word as a value judgment or
ethical principle. By idealism, on the contrary, a philosophy is understood in which it is
not the ever-changing world of the senses that constitutes reality, but incorporeal
essences, or ideas.
• MARX ridiculed the view that ideas determine reality. "Once upon a time, a valiant
fellow had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed
with the idea of gravity," they wrote. "If they wee to get this notion out of their
heads...they would be sublimely proof against any danger from water."
• But by rejecting "free will," Marx didn't embrace "determinism"--the idea that human
beings are slaves to the blind forces of history. "The materialist doctrine," wrote Marx, "
that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men
are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who
• For Marx, people "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please;
they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances
directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past."
• Human behavior is first shaped by our physical makeup. We must labor cooperatively in
order to eat, drink and find shelter.At any given stage in human development, the level of
production--and the social relations based on that level of production--shape our limits
• "People cannot be liberated," wrote Marx and Engels, "as long as they are unable to
obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. 'Liberation'
is a historical and not a mental act and it is brought about by historical conditions."
• Ideas can and do shape history--but only if those ideas are embraced by millions and only
if the social and material conditions for their realization exist
• It is a theory of socioeconomic development according to which changes in
material conditions (technology and productive capacity) are the primary
influence on how society and the economy are organised
• For Marx, the concept of materialism is “the study of the real economic and social
life of man and of the influence of man’s actual way of life on this thinking and
feeling” He believes that human beings in history are real and creative, who
“enter into definite necessary relations which are independent off their will”
Historical materialism is not the way that human beings gain money and have
more material comfort neither the material desires to gain satisfaction. It is the way that human beings produce that determines their thinking and desires. Marx
further explains his concept of materialism. It means the material base of human
living activities; also, it is a way of living, a life process. Human beings’thinking
and ideology—politics, law; religion, art, science, etc. are reflected in their life
activities. This is why Marx emphasizes “life is not determined by consciousness,
but consciousness by life” (p. 198). Furthermore, he points out that human beings
are social because they cannot live without interaction with other people; they
cannot be isolated from the society. Human beings can develop their
potentialities and accomplish their achievements only in the society in which they
The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats
• Aclass is defined by the ownership of property. Such ownership vests a person
with the power to exclude others from the property and to use it for personal
purposes. In relation to property there are three great classes of society: the
bourgeoisie (who own the means of production such as machinery and factory
buildings, and whose source of income is profit), landowners (whose income is
rent), and the proletariat (who own their labor and sell it for a wage).
• Class thus is determined by property, not by income or status. These are
determined by distribution and consumption, which itself ultimately reflects the
production and power relations of classes. The social conditions of bourgeoisie
production are defined by bourgeois property. Class is therefore a theoretical and
formal relationship among individuals.
• The force transforming latent class membership into a struggle of classes is class
interest. Out of similar class situations, individuals come to act similarly. They
develop a mutual dependence, a community, a shared interest interrelated with a
common income of profit or of wages. From this common interest classes are
formed, and for Marx, individuals form classes to the extent that their interests
engage them in a struggle with the opposite class.
• At first, the interests associated with land ownership and rent are different from
those of the bourgeoisie. But as society matures, capital (i.e., the property of
production) and land ownership merge, as do the interests of landowners and
bourgeoisie. Finally the relation of production, the natural opposition between
proletariat and bourgeoisie, determines all other activities.
• As Marx saw the development of class conflict, the struggle between classes was
initially confined to individual factories. Eventually, given the maturing of
capitalism, the growing disparity between life conditions of bourgeoisie and
proletariat, and the increasing homogenization within each class, individual
struggles become generalized to coalitions across factories. Increasingly class
conflict is manifested at the societal level. Class consciousness is increased,
common interests and policies are organized, and the use of and struggle for political power occurs. Classes become political forces.
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