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Marx’s Grand-Narrative: the Materialist Conception of History

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 02:25 AM
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The materialist conception of history was formulated by Marx in reaction to the major philosophies within Germany during the 1800s. Hegel an influential theorist at the time advocated absolute idealism considering history as the unfolding of God’s plan. Marx aimed to give history an objective basis within the material conditions of human life in order to explain social movements. His conception of history, while highly influential is not without contenders who criticise its ability to account for social change. This paper will give account of Marx’s materialist conception of history in its theoretical outline. The conception will then be illuminated in relation to historical examples of social change and tested in its ability explain these movements, in contention with another conception of history.  



The foundation stone for the materialist conception of history was the existence of individual human-beings and their subsequent reproduction (Marx, 1969, pp.419-420). Marx considered the distinguishing feature between humans and animals was the formers ability to produce their own “means of subsistence” i.e. food, through their social organisation (Marx, 1969, p.409). Human-beings as social-beings organise along relations of production for mutual benefit or in the case of a slave because the threat of force coerces their natural volition (Marx, 1969, pp.419-420). Economic systems restrained by scarcity necessarily lead to conflict in the relationships between individuals in the economic sphere for scarce resources. Development of these relations of production leads to the organisation of societies into class systems, whereby individuals which have a particular relation to the means of production form a class (Marx, 1996, p.160).



Antagonism between classes over the means of production leads to a particular class’s hegemony over other classes (Marx, 1996, p.160). The economics of a class system is the base with a corresponding...

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