In this guide, we will discuss Materialism by Marx and some of the most important premises or characteristics associated with his point of view about societal interactions. However, Marxism as we conceive it is more complex than what we have explained here so it is worth reading a bit more to have a better understanding (in-depth) of the arguments that compose his theory.
Materialism by Marx or Historical Materialism considered that humans were part of nature and nor beings placed on Earth by God. Karl Mars is known as a philosopher but also as a revolutionary whose ideas set the foundation of many communist regimes in the 20th Century. Even though he was trained as a philosopher, he turned to politics and economics in his mid-twenties.
Marx’s theory of history or Historical Materialism focused on the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they go further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx argues that the historical process was proceeding through a series of modes of production, characterized by class struggle, culminating in communism (plato.stanford.edu).
Moreover, Marx’s economic analysis of capitalism is based on his version of the labour theory of value, where capitalists profit from the exploited proletariat. Marx also argued that humans are material beings and their social world should be understood as material. In other words, Marx has a materialist conception of the world and of the human higher processes such as thought.
In general terms, materialism is considered a theory that argues how our entire existence (us and everything in the universe) consists of physical matter. Particularly, materialists believe that humans and their interactions are organic, physical, and temporal.
First, we need to consider that humans and their world are essentially physical. However, if someone neglects or does not attend to this aspect of humans then it becomes incongruent with reality. We can’t conceptualize humans as beings if we believe there is no physical form and subsequently, there would not be a plane of physical existence to it.
Moreover, we can’t think of humans existing outside the physical world because we not only need the earth to live which means there needs to be a physical organization where we can exist.
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The organic characteristics of humans, which are said to be determined by their biological existence, must be taken into considerations when conceiving of humans. Max argues that humans, as organic and biological beings, have needs, impulses and requirements due to our biological nature. If we think about it today it won’t sound like a breakthrough but during Marx’s days, it was a groundbreaking and novel thought that competed against idealists and religion. Both perspectives considered humans to be spiritual and self-conscious beings, as opposed to just needful animals.
Marx proposed that we are animals but we also have certain abilities inherent to our biological makeup. We, as human beings, have the biological ability to attempt to meet our needs and to accumulate knowledge and alter our natural world. For instance, if we alter our natural world then this will change our needs.
This can be considered as the third characteristic Marx referred to in his materialist theory argues that humans change over time. As we acquire abilities and capacities, we can live in new ways and understand phenomena. However, for humans to understand social development we need to consider our temporal existence.
One of the most important aspects of our temporal nature is that Maex also argued how we have no ideal form or special natural existence. In contrast, humans have certain needs, some of which can change over time when we desire. Moreover, many people believe that materialism is the same as naturalism.
Naturalism can be considered as the analysis of human beings that reduces them to their biological requirements and capacities. For some versions of naturalism, a period in the human’s social development can be chosen and humans are believed to be essentially the characteristics of this actual time. However, materialism argues that human beings as biological beings can alter their natural world and their capacities.
As indicated by britannica.com, “Dialectical materialism, a philosophical approach to reality derived from the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. For Marx and Engels, materialism meant that the material world, perceptible to the senses, has an objective reality independent of mind or spirit”.
Moreover, “They did not deny the reality of mental or spiritual processes but affirmed that ideas could arise, therefore, only as products and reflections of material conditions. Marx and Engels understood materialism as the opposite of idealism, by which they meant any theory that treats matter as dependent on mind or spirit, or mind or spirit as capable of existing independently of matter”.
Theory of knowledge
The Theory of knowledge of Marx and Engels started from the materialist point of view that argues that knowledge is derived from the senses. However, they also focused on the dialectical development of human knowledge, socially acquired in the course of practical activity and not only on the idea that knowledge is exclusive to the senses or given by sense impressions.
People can gain knowledge from practical interactions with things and social practice alone provides the test of correspondence or idea with reality (i.e. of truth). Subsequently, the concept of dialectic materialism should never be confused with historical materialism, which is how Marxists interpret history in terms of class struggle as we have mentioned previously.
The Materialist Basis of Class
As you may be familiar with the concept of Class, Marx considers this to be the fundamental category of social analysis. Marx argues that the class of an individual can be determined by their ownership of various amounts of productive forces and they are composed of labour-power and this ultimately means production.
Moreover, to understand how the classes are determined according to Marxism, we must consider that the forces of production are material. This means that what determines someone’s class, is their own labour-power or a sufficient amount of the means of production and as we have mentioned, someone’s labour-power is their physical and organic capacity to alter their natural world.
Subsequently, this means that the means of production are physical accumulations of resources produced by labour or natural raw material.
If someone can sell their labour-power but does not own enough of the means of production this means this person is part of the working class, also called a worker. Members that are considered to be part of this class are also called proletarians by classical Marxism. Workers need to sell their labour-power to have enough means to subsist.
Independent producer class
The independent producer class or independent producers include those who can sell their labour-power and can’t own enough means of production to provide for their own subsistence. Members of this class are also known as the petite bourgeoisie and even if they don’t have to sell their labour-power to obtain subsistence, they must labour using the means of production they do own to obtain the means to subsist.
Moreover, if someone has enough means of production to provide their own subsistence through other people they hire to pay for their labour-power then they can be considered part of the capitalist class. Subsequently, we can see that the class distinctions of capitalism are all determined by the relationship between the amount of the means of production a person access to and whether or not they have to sell their labour-power to subsist.
Why is this blog about Materialism Marx important?
As we have mentioned, Marx’s theory of history or Historical Materialism focused on the idea that forms of society rise and fall as they go further and then impede the development of human productive power. Marx argues that the historical process was proceeding through a series of modes of production, characterized by class struggle, culminating in communism and rejecting Capitalism.
Marx’s Materialism is important to understand the interaction we have with our society leaving behind the idealistic and religious approaches. He was not only a philosopher but also a revolutionary who we have to thank for due to the input on economics, politics and morality.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Materialism Marx
What is materialism by Karl Marx?
Materialism by Karl Marx meant the material world, perceptible to our senses, has an objective reality independent of mind or spirit. Marx did not deny the existence of mental and/or spiritual processes but indicated that ideas could rise, only as products and reflections of material conditions.
What is the theory of materialism?
The theory of materialism in philosophy, which is also known as physicalism, argues that all facts (including those related to the human mind and will) are causally dependent upon physical processes, or can even be reduced to them.
What is the meaning of historical materialism?
Historical materialism argues that all forms of social thought, as art or philosophy, and institutions such as the family or state, develop as a superstructure founded on an economic base may reflect the character of economic relations and are altered or modified as a result of class struggles.
What is dialectical materialism in simple words?
Dialectical materialism, in simple words, can be defined as two forces acting upon each other which together constitute a whole. Karl Marx believed that the product and relations in society always exist in a dialectical sense, constantly influencing and acting upon each other.
Who is the father of German materialism?
Ludwig Feuerbach is considered the father of German Materialism and even more so, “The decade of seniority Ludwig Feuerbach held over the scientific materialists is significant. His published works were already known to literary circles in the 1830s, to be sure as ardently Hegelian pieces, but even his philosophy of sensualism was in the hands of the public by 1845”.
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Britannica.com: “Dialectical Materialism”
Us.sagepub.com: “Chapter 2: Marx’s Materialism”