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Theory Of History Notes

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Marx's Theory of History Preface to A Critique of Political Economy












Neither legal relations nor forms of state can be grasped from themselves or through the development of the human mind (ideas) - can only be understood through the material conditions of life Independently of their will, all men enter into definite relations of production that correspond to a definite stage of development of the productive forces The sum total of these productive relations forms the economic (or 'real') structure of society, on top of which is constructed the legal and political superstructure, to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness Hence the modes of production of the material world determine social, political and intellectual processes Man's social being determines his consciousness, not the reverse (Hegel/idealism) At a certain point in an epoch, the productive forces come into conflict with the existing relations of production At this point the existing productive relations transform from agents of development into fetters This event initiates an 'epoch of social revolution' - as the economic foundation transforms so follows the entire superstructure Material or economic transformation can be 'determined with the precision of natural science', whereas the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophical transformation of the superstructure is less predictable, depending on ideology and agency as men 'fight it out' The superstructure (including law, philosophy, ethics) is artificial, and hence we cannot judge any 'period of transformation' on its own consciousness, or superstructure (does the same go for epochs as well as periods of transformation) Instead this consciousness must be explained by the 'contradictions of material life', the tension between productive forces and relations of production Progressive epochs in the economic formation of society: Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois The bourgeois relations of production are the final antagonistic form of the social process of production, but they also create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism

Cohen - History, Labour and Freedom Forces and Relations of Production







Productive forces are those facilities and devices which are used to productive effect in the process of production: means of production (raw materials, instruments of production) and labour power (including skills) Knowledge is the most important productive force Measure of growth in power of productive forces = how much (or little) labour must be spent with given forces to produce enough to satisfy basic needs Relations of production are relations of economic power, of the economic power people enjoy/lack over the means of production and labour power e.g. economic power capitalists have over means of production, power workers have over labour but not means etc Total sum of relations of production = economic structure (base) Productive forces are not part of the economic structure, but they do determine it. Cf a building - economic structure is foundations, productive forces are the ground below, even more foundational Superstructure includes legal and political aspects of society (but maybe not much more) The level of development of the productive forces explains the nature of the production relations, and they in turn explain the character of the co-present superstructure. What kind of explanation? Functional.

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