Historical materialism is the Marxist approach for interpreting history. It is the interpretation of relations between groups of people and the resulting class struggles. According to Marxist theory, there exists a sequence of historical stages each with its own ruling class. Under feudalism the ruling class is the nobility, whereas the capitalists are predominant in capitalism, and socialism has its proletariats. An understanding of historical materialism is of importance to the ideology of a Marxist, working-class party, and therefore, its program and policy must be based on an understanding of the same in order to be successful. Without knowledge of and ability to apply these laws, the party will be oblivious to tackling the problems arising in the class struggle of a socialistic revolution (McCarthy).
Within feudal society, the serf lives and works on a manor, which is owned by a feudal lord, and the lord confiscates a portion of the value gained from production. There were regular conflicts between the landowners and the serfs of the feudal society due to the exploitation of the serfs giving rise to frequent peasant uprisings. The landowners repeatedly infringed upon the peasants prerogative with his time to work on his personal holding. Nobility would forcefully demand more labor services and taxes, hence, accentuating serf exploitation and class differences. When the peasants first began their revolts, they were unsuccessful. This was largely due to their individual mode of production and their lack of ability to maintain an army in the field as it conflicted with harvesting and their families needs. However, as time passed, the growing middle class (the bourgeoisie) fought for independence from feudal rule. They sought to improve their methods of production with superior tools and efficient planning. The use of fertilizer, animal power for plowing and transport, and water and windmills greatly improved agriculture. New crafts developed with the invention of paper, gunpowder and printing. The craftsman (originally serfs) obtained elated status. With greater production under the new system, trade flourished and trading centers began to arise. Artisans could now own their own tools and products, and took on the task of improving their production techniques. The towns played an increasingly important role in feudal society, supporting the serfs, as well as, centers of developing industries. As trade and manufacturing grew in significance, so did the bourgeoisie. But their economic growth and political strength continued to face consistent interference by the special privileges held by nobles and the church. The new productive forces introduced in the towns included the system of assembly line production per say! However, most laboring people were originally serfs who were legally tied to the land to provide labor for manufacture. This relationship had to be destroyed, and was. Manufacturing also required foreign trade, whereas feudalism emphasized self-sufficiency. Thus, the productive forces progressively came into conflict with feudal boundaries and the forces had to push their way through them, resulting in the birth of capitalism.
Stimulated by the great explorations into the new world, which vastly expanded trade and commerce, capitalism underwent a rapid expansion. The bourgeoisie, enriched by this, the slave trade and the development of manufacturing, began to challenge the feudal concentration of political power to only an exclusive few. Because of the growth of the bourgeoisie and its forcible seizure of peasant lands (increasing its power), the peasants were forced into towns and cities, where they became the necessary labor force for the expansion of production in their factories. Thus, they were turned into urban wage-laborers, without whom capitalism could not have grown and become the predominant system. The new working class had only their productive skills to offer and was deprived of their own means of production therefore being forced to work for the new capitalist class, the owners of the means of production. Thus, the wageworkers are wage-slaves, forced to sell their labor to produce wealth for the capitalist while being confined to wages, which represent the cost of his and his familys subsistence. His, as well as his familys, destiny and well being rests in the hands of those who supply the means of production. However, the freeing up of the productive forces began to show its results where numerous inventions accelerated productivity. The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Natures forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor (Marx, Engles 477).
By now capitalism had been replaced by a social system in which social ownership and the well being of the community supersedes the personal gains, as held absolute in a capitalistic economic model. The conflict of capitalism is between social spirit of production and private character of appropriation, which forms the structure of capitalism.Socialism is nothing but the reflex, in thought, of this conflict in fact, its ideal reflection in the minds, first of the class directly suffering under it, the working class (Marx, Engels 702). This is where production is socialistic in nature. It consists of numerous wageworkers whose labor is interdependent and whose productive activities are interconnected to produce a single product. However, the producers do not own the fruits of their labor. The producers wealth increases even while their numbers decrease justify this. To correct the ill distribution of wealth, the means of production must be placed under social ownership by nationalizing them under a system of working-class rule.This is the transformation of capitalism to socialism — a system that works for the benefit of the majority of the people, not just an exclusive few. Bibliography:Capitalism or Socialism. The Socialist Party (1998): n. pag. Online. World Socialist Movement. Internet. 7 Nov. 2000. Available: www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/oct98/lead2.html.
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