- Karl Marx’s theory of historical materialism, his predictions (for example concerning the increasing immiserization of the poor and the collapse of capitalism), and Marxist laws of history/ capitalism all lead to the issue of determinism. Within Marxism this issue concerns the extent to which events are inevitable, predictable and alterable.One interpretation of historical materialism that constituted the orthodoxy within the Marxist movement at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century has come to be known as economic determinism. This view, associated particularly with Karl Kautsky and the Second International, asserted that the ultimately determining factor in history and society was the economic base. Within the economic base, according to this view, the forces of production, or more narrowly still technology, determined the relations of production, and these in turn (possibly in combination with the forces of production) determined the character of society as a whole. Hence, a change in technology or the forces of production would ultimately change the character of the whole of society. Kautsky and his followers saw the collapse of capitalism and the advent of communism as inevitable, and all that Marxists and the labor movement could do was to help hasten this eventuality. Georgii Plekhanov, who similarly approached Marxism from a determinist perspective, suggested in his The Role of the Individual in History (1908) that individuals did have an active role to play in shaping history, but they could not change the general trend of history.However, other Marxists, even when acknowledging a determinist aspect to Marx’s writings, have suggested the role of human agency is much greater than the economic determinism of the Second International approach allows. The school of Western Marxism, the Marxist humanists, and Jean-Paul Sartre in particular have suggested nondeterminist interpretations, and Mao Zedong and Chinese Marxism with such slogans as “Politics in Command” have put forward a much more voluntarist interpretation of Marxism. There remains, though, a genuine ambiguity in Marx’s writings with regard to the inevitability of the collapse of capitalism and its replacement by communism, and about the extent to which human action can influence the course of history.As regards the predictability of events, Kautsky, Plekhanov and Eduard Bernstein all take the scientific status of Marxism seriously and their interpretation of science is strongly colored by positivism. This means they understand Marxism as a theory that is capable of generating predictions, but other Marxists and a close reading of Marx both indicate this interpretation to be wrong.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.
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