The Marxian Interpretation Of History

Marx’s interpretation of history constitutes an integral part of Marxian doctrine. It was his intent to peer into the future and to determine what historical fate was in store for the capitalist system. Only by understand­ing the forces that had caused historical events could the forces that would cause future events be envisioned. For this reason Marx sought the ulti­mate or basic causes of historical events.

To seek out the creative forces in history was somewhat more novel and daring in Marx’s day than it is now, when so many historians are vitally interested in studying the causes of historical events. Marx at­tempted to do something neither historians nor economists had done. His­torians had recorded events and economists had explained causes of eco­nomic events in specific historical settings without analyzing the creation of those settings. Lenin has summarized as follows the questions Marx felt had to be answered:

People make their own history; but what determines their motives, that is the motives of people in the mass; what gives rise to the clash of conflicting ideas and endeavors; what is the sum total of all of these clashes among the whole mass of human societies; what are the ob­jective conditions for the production of the material means of life that form the basis of all the historical activity of man; what is the law of the development of these conditions?

If history may be presumed to have a significant economic slant, it might be supposed that the economists would have sought out the laws of historical development, particularly in the field of economic phenom­ena. Marx found this not to be the case. He expressed this deficiency in “The Poverty of Philosophy” when he wrote: “Economists explain how production takes place in the above-mentioned relations, but what they do not explain is how the relations themselves are produced, that is, the his­torical movement which gave them birth.”

Read the rest of this entry »