An Essay on Engels's Historical Materialism
According to Friedrich Engels, the materialist conception of history is based on the point that production of goods, their distributions and exchange, as well as the means of production and exchange, are in the roots of each social order. According to this conception, all societal changes, even as drastic revolutions, should be considered in their interrelation to the changes in material production and financial exchange rather than to human spirit and mind (Engels, p. 292).
In other words, potential reasons of all historical perturbations are to be sought “not in the philosophy, but in the economics of the epoch concerned” (Engels, p. 292). Furthermore, it is stated that the out-of-date instruments of productions that should be replaced by more developed, which in their turn, “are not invented by the mind, but discovered by means of the mind in the existing material facts of production” (Engels, p. 292). Engels refers to Karl Marx when stating that ‘the present ruling class,’ bourgeoisie, representing a capital mode of production, shattered the feudal system, since its paradigm was incompatible neither with local privileges of birth nor with the reciprocal personal ties of the feudal system, appropriate in The Middle Ages. The newer bourgeois social order, therefore, is characterized by Engels “as the realm of free competition, freedom of movement, equal rights for commodity owners, and all the other bourgeois glories” (Engels, p. 292-293). The philosopher admits that from the time when the steam and the new tool-making machinery developed a progressive pace of industrial breakthrough, really great possibilities for manufacture development would rise to unprecedented degree. The paradox, however, consisted in the fact that the large-scale industry came in conflict with the barriers of capitalist mode of production itself, so that newer forces of production, as observed by Engels, have already outgrown the bourgeois form of using them ((Engels, p. 293).
The traced conflict between productive forces and the mode of production should be as well regarded as an objective rather than mental circumstance, which exists independently from human will or thought: “Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this actual conflict, its ideal reflection in the minds first of the class which is directly suffering under it – the working class” (Engels, p. 293).Engels exemplifies the reasons in which consist this conflict. The theorist emphasizes, that initial historical role of capitalism and its’ representative class – bourgeoisie – was to enlarge and concentrate limited and scattered in the Middle Ages ways of production into bigger and potential labor resource and, therefore, to lead them into extended scales of production. Nonetheless, as Marx had pointed out, capitalistic order only transformed individual ways of production into social ways of production, so that they could be used “by a body of men as a whole” (Engels, p. 294): “The spinning wheel, the hand loom, and the blacksmith’s hammer were replaced by the swimming machine, the mechanical loom and the steam hammer’ <…>