Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Friday, May 19, 2006

2. Introduction to the Industrial History of England

'WE propose next briefly to survey the pre-historic period down to the coming of the Romans, at which time the written history of our country begins. Thus we shall secure a foundation in pre-historic times for all later developments.

Before proceeding to to this, however, and in view of the scanty treatment given to the theory which we found in our last Outline to be correct, it will be well to give a definition of that theory, or mental tool, which we are going carefully and conscientiously to use throughout our lessons. Here is a definition:-

"The materialist conception of history is that view of history which ascribes the driving power of all social change to the economic development of society in production, and exchange, with its creation of classes and the resulting class struggle."

In this explanation of history the mode of production and exchange is taken as the basis of all social relations, and therefore private ownership of land and capital being general in historical times, all history is made up of contests between slave and slave-owner, capitalist and feudal-lord, and wage-slave and capitalist. History, then, is a record of class struggles, and these struggles occur over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. When man was in a savage state (i.e., when he had not developed his tools) his ideas, like his tools, were crude. He worshipped the sun and other physical phenomena because, as yet, the natural laws behind these things were undiscovered. When he understood, he no longer worshipped or sacrificed to the sun-god, with its warm and shining face. With the beginning of tools, man interposed between himself and the natural world something which had infinite results, for in changing external nature man changed himself. The early sailor and the modern factory hand are very different in their mental outlook. One was often superstitious; the other is not. That is because the sailor came into contact with Nature under conditions which have not yet been fully understood and controlled. The sudden storm, the vast expanse of waters, the great waves and winds buffetting him at their will, determined his ideas. In the factory the means of production - the material conditions - have been more developed. The natural forces have been harnessed, and the wheels start and stop at the wish of the master. Reflection furnishes other examples of how man's ideas are determined by his existence.

The Relativity of Beginnings. - Before dealing with the divisions of pre-historic and historic times we should clearly understand that beneath all the divisions there is a vital interconnection. The Evolution idea, i.e., "Nothing is - everything is becoming," should help us to understand how period gradually merges into period. "Nature knows no leaps." Night gradually becomes day. The discovered missing links reveal how slowly man himself has evolved. We cannot share the view of Dr. Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge University, who, in the 17th century, computed that "man was created by the Trinity on the 23rd of October, 4004 B.C., at nine o'clock in the morning." So right throughout our studies, when dealing with different systems and movements, let us remember that they slowly evolved as the conditions suitable for their existence ripened. But let us also remember that the often slow evolution does culminate in revolution; the day of Capitalism is fundamentally different from the night of Feudalism.

Three Epochs of Time. - Time has been divided into three periods. The following method of division is used by Ablett in his Easy Outlines of Economics: -

1. The Geological Period or Inorganic Period. - In this period the development from the nebulous whirl to the earth, as we now know it, took place. Changes were caused by the elements struggling together. The Making of the Earth, by Gregory, [Home University Library. 1s. 6d.] is a book giving some very interesting information about development in this period. On a clear star-light night, we can all turn our eyes skywards and see worlds in the making. It is possible "mentally" to separate man from the earth, but the earth is the indispensable premise of all life. Life itself has been described as differentiated matter, and there are some things, crystals for example, which are missing links between the inorganic and the organic divisions, which are difficult to define or to place in either category.

2. The Biologic Period. - In this period the amoeba became man. Life, which is never seen or felt apart from matter commenced; and the period finishes with the commencement of society. Struggle again takes place in this period - a struggle for subsistence, not only between different species, but also between individuals of the same species. The fittest to the environment of course survived. Now this fitness is determined by the "physiological" differences of the animals. If the land sunk below the sea-level, then the water animal would survive. If the land arose, then the land animal would be triumphant, because it had the necessary limbs, covering, and organs necessary for land existence. If the change was slow and the organism not too complex, gradual adaptation to enviroment was possible. Animals may use, but never make, tools.

3. The Sociological or Economic Period. - The cleavage between this period and the second period plays havoc with, and renders invalid, all those analogies and arguments which certain writers are so fond of using. Society cannot be considered as an "organism" in the biological sense of the word. The difference between men is not a physiological, but an "economic" one. Kings and scavengers are born alike, and, indeed, with a little training, the former could do the latters work. Man is the tool-making animal. And the difference between a navvy and a clerk is made by the different tools they use. We noted struggle in the preceding periods. Now in this division we get the "struggle between classes"; the class which owns the tools or has discovered new means of production. This importance of technique is clearly shown by other methods of classification, though the users of those methods, while recognising the consequences of the use of new tools in the past, are often conveniently blind to the consequences, not of tool-using, but of tool-ownership in the present. Before dealing with them, we may remark that the chief sources of our information about pre-historic times are:-

(1) A study of contemporary peoples still in a barbaric state, e.g., the Tasmanians who, when discovered by travellers, had a great difficulty in kindling a fire, and whose limited vocabulary needed the aid of gesture and facial expression so much that they could not converse with each other in the dark.

(2) The findings of Archaeology, i.e., that science which discovers and studies ancient remains. Human skulls and bones, ancient tools, utensils and dwellings are amongst its finds.

The Archaelogical Classification. - This classification is as follows: - (1) The Old Stone Age, when unsharpened flints were used; (2) The New Stone Age, when the flints were sharpened; (3) The Bronze Age; and (4) The Iron Age, when man is on the threshold of civilisation.

The Ethnological Classification. - The science of Ethnology (which treats of racial diversities and characteristics) has supplied another classification which is also based upon technical progress. Lewis H. Morgan, whose best work, Ancient Society, has been epitomised by Engels in his Origins of the Family, divides up human development thus: - (1) Savagery; (2) Barbarism; and (3) Civilisation. The first two periods he subdivides into Lower, Middle, and Upper Stages. His conclusions were based upon life-long investigations. In the Lower Stage of Savagery the race was in its gibbering infancy, "with foreheads villainously low," and very different from that "noble piece of work" which Hamlet eulogised. The Middle Stage of Savagery, he says, was reached with the discovery of the use of fire. It does not need a very fertile imagination to realise what this discovery meant to early man in the way of warmth in colder climates; in protection from animal foes, and in cooking his food. In Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from the gods in heaven for man's use. The Upeer Stage of Savagery was reached with the utilisation of the bow and arrow, which would be of great use in hunting and fighting. Savagery saw also promiscuity in sexual intercourse make way for various family forms.

The Lower Stage of Barbarism was arrived at with the making and use of pottery. It is interesting to notice how man's power over his environment grows. When he had vessels he could store his food and drink and live farther away from where they were procured. The Middle Age of Barbarism was reached with the taming and tending of animals and the beginnings of agriculture. Man now had a surer supply of milk and meat than in his hunting days. Agriculture, again, would gradually lead to settled life. The Upper Stage of Barbarism comes with the utilisation of iron, which has continued up to our own Iron and Steel Age.

Civilisation comes in with the discovery of the art of writing, this probably evolving from picture writing. Longfellow, in Hiawatha, gives in poetic form the old Indian legends of how their great chief, among the other benefits he bestowed upon his people, discovered picture writing.

England's Earliest Inhabitants. - Some traces of Paleolithic man, who lived in the Old Stone Age, have been found here. This division is divided into two - the River Drift Age, when man lived chiefly in the open; and the later Paleolithic, when he sheltered in caves. "By the time Neolithic man appeared, England had assumed the features of its climate and insular position, which is characteristic of England today. One hundred thousand years is a moderate estimate of the time since the beginning of the Neolithic Age."

The Coming of the Celts. - This race is a branch of the Aryan stock, which is supposed to have come west about 4,500 years ago. The Teutons, Greeks, and Latins belong to the same stock. The Celts dispersed the older inhabitants, and settled in tribes in England. Here they were found in a state of barbarism by the Romans in 55 B.C. Next we shall deal with the effects of the Roman invasion and occupation of Britain.

BOOKS OF M.C.H [Materialist Conception of History] - Marx's 18th Brumaire for application, Huxley's Man's Place in Nature (Everyman Series) and Hird's Easy Outlines of Evolution (Watts & Co. 9d., paper), and his Picture Book of Evolution (Watts, 2 vols., 6s.) will supply interesting information on Evolution. There is a fine comparison made between Marxism and Darwinism in a pamphlet written by Dr. Anton Pannekoek (published by Kerr & Co. Chicago. 5d.). McCabe's Pre-Historic Man (Milner, 1s. 3d.) is another useful book on the early development of the race. Engel's Origin of the Family, and Morgan's Ancient Society are published by Kerr & Co., at 1s. 6d. and 4s. 4d., respectively.'

From A Worker Looks At History, by Mark Starr.



At 3:30 pm, Blogger maps said...

Are you aware of Marx's criticisms of Morgan in the Ethnological Notebooks? Engels' book is a perversion of Marx's take on Morgan, and is part and parcel of the mechanical, teleological and stagist model of Marxism that came to characterise the 2nd I and later Stalinism. Not a good book to lean on, IMO.

At 11:41 am, Blogger Snowball said...

Dude - tell that to the late Mark Starr - I am just typing out his book - not saying it is the last word in historical materialism...

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