Historical materialism is the materialistic conception of history. This term was coined by Georgy Plekhanov, a Marxist who alluded to the conceptual framework identified by Marx and studied together with Engel, trying to understand human history.
Historical materialism, therefore, refers to a doctrine that, according to Marx and Engels, changes in the spirit of society, taking into account that they were expressed in the superstructure, are derived from the economic relations of production. And not the other way around, as other doctrines defend.
Therefore, historical materialism tries to perceive those historical-cultural changes that occur due to the material conditions of life and the class struggle itself defined by Marx. All this, in contrast to Hegel’s belief in which he establishes the succession of history based on the determination of the spirit.
Although the concept was coined by Plekhanov, its foundations are established in the approaches of Marx and Engels.
Characteristics of historical materialism
Among the main characteristics that it presents, the following should be highlighted:
- He conceives that everything that refers to a society is determined by its production model.
- It establishes that socioeconomic changes do not depend on individual determination.
- It shows the economy as the basis of social history.
- Historical transformations are the consequence of the forces of production.
Historical materialism and its elements
This materialism takes into account, for its study, two fundamental elements:
- The structure : productive forces, production relations and modes.
- The superstructure : Institutions and regulations that express the social spirit.
From these two elements and their interaction, Marx considered historical and social transformation.
Historical materialism and social transformations
Marx and Engels established the foundations of this doctrine. In this sense, Marx justified those historical-cultural changes that occur in history, due to the material conditions of life and the class struggle itself.
Therefore, these transformations occurred due to two essential factors:
- Class struggle.
- Production modes.
In this way, the chronology of history, according to Marx, is determined by the economic activity of society.
Historical materialism and capitalism
For the historical materialism defined by Marx, capitalism is a system of political-economic organization that has great flaws. This is because they do not obey a natural evolution of society and history, but rather a historical-social construction.
This has caused that such organizational systems, according to the author, can be questioned, as well as being channeled into other models that are more valid. As is the case with communism.
For this, Marx established class consciousness as a fundamental requirement, as well as control of the means of production. Only in this way could the established order be questioned and combated.
Division between dialectical materialism and historical materialism
Historical materialism and dialectical materialism establish a division that has not been able to be established, given the continuous opposition to the division established by the main thinkers.
Thus, Stalin considered dialectical materialism as the application of dialectical laws to nature, as well as historical materialism as the extension of the same laws to history and society.
Other authors such as Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army, argue that this view of Stalin is a mistake. In this sense, Trotsky considers that dialectical materialism includes, among others, historical materialism. In this way, considering that there should be no identity between both materialisms.