From the January 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
Conceptions and definitions are the basis of all thought processes. We call our method "Marxism" because the fundamental theoretical work was in the main accomplished by Marx. Three interrelated principles--the materialist conception of history, the class struggle and the theory of surplus value--worked together to initiate this method.
The materialist conception of history arises out of the use of the dialectical-materialist method in political economy. It is materialist as it recognises the primacy of matter in the surrounding world. It is dialectical because it recognises the universal interconnection of complex and dynamic objects and events within a single form-and-content totality.
It regards motion and development as the result of both the unity and the struggle of opposites. It explains change, reveals causes and analyses effects by locating the source of the motion of the processes within which contradictions are embodied. It shows how these contradictions determine the level of development of these processes, and it brings out the conditions for their resolution.
This method is not a dogma. It too develops in a dynamic fashion and is subject to change within its own framework and is able to understand and review its own basis.
In contradistinction to idealist theories, this universal scientific understanding of the world develops upon the premise that it is not our consciousness that determines our life but our life that determines our consciousness and that consciousness, in turn, influences our life. In other words, being determines thinking and thinking influences being.
This understanding of history is not derived from any philosophical or contemplative premises, nor from any better insight into eternal truth and justice, but from production. In two senses, production of the life of the species itself and its needs together with production of the means to meet those needs.
Progress is ultimately determined by the changing character of human productive powers giving rise to more improved modes of production and resultant social structures, such as primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism and capitalism, the latter three being forms of class society.
The origin of class society dates back several thousand years to when private property and the state originated and social relationships were turned into exploitative and antagonistic class relationships with their array of economic categories such as rent, interest, exchange, barter, simple commodity production, buying and selling, market, money, capital, commodity, value and price, profit vis-à-vis wages.
Marxian economics regards relations of production as manifestations of levels of technological progress. But, within a given mode of production, developing productive powers eventually come into conflict with the existing relations of production which from forms of their development turn into their fetters.
This conflict expresses itself in the struggle between two opposing classes, with the owning and exploiting minority class having a vested interest in maintaining the existing relations and a new propertyless exploited class working towards the further development of the productive forces; this requires a revolutionary replacement of the antiquated relations with new ones. Resolution of the conflict is obtained with the seizure of political power by the new class in order to use it to usher in the new mode of production.
Marxists are not ideologues who invent social systems. For us social systems are the necessary outcome of history. Ideas, in all epochs, are basically the products of production. This is not to uphold economic determinism. Ideas do develop also in the realm of "pure" thought and fantasy. But, however they originated, their seed-bed is the economic soil of society wherein only some take root and spread because they correspond to reality.
In a class society the ideas of the ruling class rule over the ideas of the ruled. Thus the social selection of ideas applicable to a given mode of production depends on the class that is in a position to select and on the method it applies.
The historical materialist method is the science of the working class, which consists in the criticism of class economy. As Marx aptly said, "So far as such criticism represents a class, it can only represent the class whose vocation in history is the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production and the final abolition of all classes--the proletariat" (Afterword to the Second German edition of Capital, 1873).
Could it be otherwise? Could anyone ever thinking of grasping the science of the working class without having already rejected the capitalist interest and adopted the working class interest? Certainly not.
Binnay Sarkar (World Socialist Party of India)