Marx's Historical Materialism

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Karl Marx is considered to be one of the most influential thinkers of our age. Born in Germany in 1818, he was greatly influenced by philosophers such as Hegel, Feuerbach & St. Simon. He made an immense contribution to the different areas of sociology- definition of the field of study, analysis of the economic structure and its relations with other parts of the social structure, theory of social classes, study of religion, theory of ideology, analysis of the capitalist system etc. In this essay, we will deal with his contribution to the study of social development or the materialist conception of history.

Marx put forward his conception of historical materialism for the first time in German Ideology in 1845-6. He believed that it was
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Marx traces the various stages through which slavery passed in ancient Rome- initially, the slaves assisted small producers but due to their increasing exploitation through usury, the plebians descended into slavery. This led to the growth of large estates where large-scale production took place. Due to the continual exploitation and stagnation of trade and commerce these estates eventually became uneconomical. Further taxation and the decay of towns finally led to their disintegration and the abolishment of slavery. Thus, the internal composition of this type of society prevents its growth beyond a certain point and small-scale farming again becomes predominant.
Another reason for the decline of ancient Rome was due to the ‘barbarian onslaught' by the Huns. Their system of administration combined both their own as well as Roman elements. The new social order saw the dominance of the military commander, who became the monarch & a new nobility, drawn from warriors and an educated, Romanised elite. Peasants, who constituted their armies, became impoverished due to continual warfare. This led to their enserfment to feudal lords. There existed 2 kinds of groupings in feudal Europe- serfs and lords in villages and craftsmen & journeymen or apprenti who were part of the guild organization in towns. Common to both was small-scale production.
Marx focused on the factors which led to the transition from feudalism to capitalism.
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