MARXISMS: Part 1 – Classical Marxism

Marx – “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

The Marxist approach is unique in its focus on the historical means of production; that is, that a society’s historical means of production (way of life), for example, slave, feudal, capitalist. This, in Marx’s view, determined the social, political, intellectual condition of a society.

For that Marxist view to hold true, the relationship between ‘base’ and ‘superstructure’ must also hold true:

Base – ‘forces of production,’ ‘relations of production,’ Forces: raw materials, tools, tech, workers and their skills. Relations: master/slave, lord/peasant, bourgeois/proletariat. Relationship to mode of production determines class.

Superstructure – Develops alongside a specific mode of production. Includes institutions (Political, legal, educational, cultural) and the “definite forms of social consciousness” (political, religious, ethical, philosophical, aesthetic, cultural) that develop from them.

Superstructure both expresses and legitimates the base, but the base conditions or determines the content and form of the superstructure. That can lead to a kind of bastardized Marxist interpretation, called ‘reflection theory’, which states that culture can be determined simply by looking at economic conditions of its production. Basically, that the economic conditions are the only determinant of culture, politics, etc. That has never been true in the eyes of Marx, or Engle, his successor, who had to try to get crazy young Marxists to understand that yes, the economic conditions are the base, and the main determinant of superstructure, but the other factors play a part, too. “We make our own history,” Engle says, “but under very definite assumptions and conditions.”

The class with the ruling material force is also the ruling intellectual force, but that doesn’t mean the ruling ideas are forced on society, instead, the ruling class has to get the point across that their best interest is also the best interest of the subordinate class. Given that, ideological struggle is inevitable. And it is the ideological forms of the superstructures that people really fight it out over.

A classical Marxists approach would have all aspects of a society viewed through the lens of that aspect’s historical moment of production, “analayzed in terms of the historical conditions that produced it. Take the study of a 19th century music hall or the invention of ‘traditional Christmas.’ The mode of production’s relationship to their development is key to the Marxist view.

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