One has to wonder, why did Marx base his work on this idea. It is abstruse, hard to reify and probably wrong. The specific implication that in fact productive forces drive history is demonstrably wrong. And ‘materialism’ is hardly defined in economic terms. There are many forms of materialism, even religious versions, such as the classic Samkhya. Materialism is a bit shaky now in the era of quantum sciences, viz. quantum field theory.
We have looked at the eonic effect: it hardly proves that ideas drive history but it does show that ideas are crucial in the development of history. The eonic model shows the way religions, art, politics are driven by maacro forces of an evolutionary nature, although it is very hard to fully develop the argument because the mechanisms of evolution are not visible to the naked eye. Marxists have devoted endless energy to trying to vindicate Marx, in vain. They would do better to simply start over and stop blocking socialist evolution with their obsessive errors. The eonic model falsifies historical materialism, and it is equally different on ‘evolution’ from Darwinism
The endless and dreary repetition over and over again of Marx’s confusions has crippled the left.
Marx’s theory is “materialist” in a very specific sense. Marx didn’t just reject the notion that the ideas in people’s heads are the primary driver of history. He didn’t even simply emphasize that humans are driven by material needs. He thought the capacity of any given society to meet those needs (its “forces of production”) and the way it organized itself to do so (its “relations of production”) were the primary factors that explained why and how different forms of society rose, fell, and replaced each other in different historical epochs.
futile efforts to revive the dead horse of Marxism…//If You Want to Understand Marxism, Read G. A. Cohen
Bringing in Cohen is a clever strategy, in vain, I fear. I have repeatedly suggested a look at The Last Revolution to Jacobin, to no avail. I have been canceled and won’t get a hearing. Lots of other places to get such a hearing. Clearly however, as I suspect, the ranks of Marxism are becoming aware of my critique. But does Jacobin seriously think that Cohen, analytical Marxism and/or the Western Marxists, despite impressive and intelligent work can really salvage Marxism as a theory of history? We are running out of time, we need a minimal package to construct socialism and postcapitalism. Surprisingly Marx eliminated himself and his many followers from being able to do that.
I have advised simply dropping historical materialism. Getting brilliant fellows like Cohen to waste their talents trying to reanimate that dead corpse is in the words of Patton in the Sahara battles, ‘a waste of fine infantry’. The relations of production theory is Marx’s innovation of theory and it doesn’t work. World history is far more complex than a machine of economic factors: it has religious, aesthetic, philosophical,political, etc, streams with their own dynamism. Examine world history: the relations of production are indeed an object of study but the analysis of Marx’s got lost in a woods, in part because he wanted to somehow guarantee that a communist stage would proceed from a capitalist stage. He may be right for an entirely different reason: capitalism is driving everyone including Mlle Gaia crazy and the only remedies are barbarism or some constructed version of a new society that doesn’t depend on capitalism. But there is no law of history that guarantees this. Socialism or communism have to be defined historically. Mlle Gaia can’t figure it out: we must create a postcapitalist vehicle that might take many forms and none of them are inevitable unless we create their future as free agents. Here Marxists are forever stuck in the limbo to which Karl Popper and Isaiah Berlin took and left them, egad, the Poverty of Historicism and Historical Inevitability, … But empirical studies of ‘relations of production’ as histories are eminently possible. Marxist have wasted all their time and never tried this approach and produced an immense literature of obsolete books on theory. Here to inject another opinion of mine: I would say that ‘starges of production’ theory can’t even explain slavery which is not a stage of production save empirically where it was a disease of civilization. The danger of Marx’s approach is seen here: it threatens to make a law of stages with aberrations of civilizations. History should have produced higher civilization without slavery, and we see however how the phenomenon took over the whole of occidental antiquity. There was nothing inevitable about bit. Note that at the dawn of Greek democracy Solon denounced slavery, to no avail.
In the end in the context of the eonic effect, abolition arose in the modern transition as a macro factor finally generated its abolition in the emergent factors of the modern transitions (which also at its fringes, e.g. the New World showed a near rebirth of slavery in relation to capitalism.
I cannot hope to talk Marxists out of their pet theories but I can suggest that Marx’s work is no longer popular and is now of little interest to the working class and/or anyone else.
We have a crisis that needs a new formulation. The abstruse versions of Marxism are too complicated and ended up in disastrous confusions. Marxism as this point is an immense charge of the light brigades and will end up eliminated from the path to a viable socialism which is not a Marxist monopoly.
Socialist philosopher G. A. Cohen was a brilliant thinker who subjected Marxism to the same scrutiny he would any other ideology. If you want to see Marxism at its most nondogmatic and precise, you should read G. A. Cohen.