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Study notes

Historical Materialism (Socialism)

  • Levels: A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel

Historical materialism states that the material conditions of the mode of production determines its organisation and more importantly its development i.e. how goods are made influences society, and how society changes over time.

In order for human beings to continue to survive it is essential that they can produce (and reproduce) the ‘material possessions/requirements’ of life; how those material goods are produced is the key to understanding society. Historical materialists believe that society must move through a number of different means of production for those material goods, and that these different means of production form the basis of our economic system and subsequently our culture, laws, and institutions.

Historical materialism is also central towards a Marxist conception of the political world. Historical relationships between the social classes and the political structures that support those relationships are founded on and reflect economic activity within any given society. In the words of Marx and Engels, historical development can be understood via the notion of class conflict. Under capitalism, the owners of the means of production exploit those who work the means of production. Marxists aim to create a society in which class conflict is consigned to the dustbin of history. Indeed, Marx and Engels firmly believed that a communist society would have no need whatsoever for the state because class conflict would have come to an end. As such, this methodological approach to the study of human societies and their development is more accurately conceived of as the material conception of history.

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