January 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard
It will be noted that in this sketch we have taken a few examples from past history to show how our theory of historical development fits the facts. But it equally applies to the history of our own times. For, manifold though the changes are that economic development has brought into being, the foundation of human society is still an economic one; only man’s way of dealing with the fact has changed. The production and distribution of wealth is still of primary importance to human society Hence the changes that have occurred in recent years in the means of wealth production and distribution can be said to be the underlying cause of many modern historical events. The late European War is one outstanding example. Unlike the small, self-supporting nations of feudal times, the leading nations of to-day are more or less politically and economically interwoven with each other. Particularly all countries are more economically interdependent than, say, a hundred years ago. Thus a general economic development in one country will make its effects felt nearly the world over. So vast had been the economic development of Germany from the time of the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, up to a few years prior to 1914, that the German ruling class becoming a standing menace to the interests of the ruling class of this and other countries. The war was the direct outcome. Of course, the usual “lofty ideals" were paraded by the rival groups of capitalists as one means of urging the workers on to the slaughter. But whilst Great Britain entered the war on the plea of “ the defence of small nations,” the real reason for her entry was the desire to crush a serious commercial rival, and thus retain for herself a large control of the world’s markets. And similar motives actuated all the countries who participated in that “holiest of holy wars.” That the underlying cause of the war was an economic one, and not the so-called racial differences as was said during the war is now more or less openly admitted by all.
Some years ago Marx’s son-in-law Paul Lafargue, in explaining the “Historical Method of Marx,” well said, that in formulating that method Marx had placed at our disposal a “tool,” “an instrument of research.” The need for the use of that tool still awaits recognition by the great bulk of the working class, for it is in the hands of the workers that it will prove most useful for the progress of human society. In other words, besides being an instrument of historical research it is an instrument of their emancipation from wage slavery. Besides providing them with the understanding of the rise of mankind from their low beginnings in savagery up to our own civilisation, the rise of class society, slavery and the State, our view of historical development provides an understanding of the basis and movement of modern society. The conditions engendered in capitalist society already indicate the form of the society of the future. Social ownership and control of the resources of wealth production and distribution is pointed to as the next stage in social evolution. Let the workers then grasp a knowledge of the materialist conception of history. They will then use that knowledge in harmony with that economic development that has, in the main, made possible their freedom from capitalist domination. They will change the form of society in harmony with their requirements by establishing Socialism. With that accomplished the economic forces of society “which have hitherto ruled man ” will become more and more consciously under the control of mankind. “Only from that time,” says Engels, “will man himself more and more consciously make his own history—only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.”