Economic determinism

Economic determinism

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Economic determinism is the theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 which attributes primacy to the economic structure over politics in the development of human history
Philosophy of history
The term philosophy of history refers to the theoretical aspect of history, in two senses. It is customary to distinguish critical philosophy of history from speculative philosophy of history...

. It is usually associated with the theories of Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

, although many Marxist thinkers have dismissed plain and unilateral economic determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

 as a form of "vulgar Marxism", or "economism
Economism
Economism is a term used to describe economic reductionism, that is the reduction of all social facts to economical dimensions. It is also used to criticize economics as an ideology, in which supply and demand are the only important factors in decisions, and outstrip or permit ignoring literally...

", nowhere included in Marx's works.

Economic determinism as understood by Marxism is the belief that economical laws determine the course of history. The law of economic determinism attributed to Marx's historical materialism
Historical materialism
Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

 is simple: self-preservation
Self preservation
Self-preservation is behavior that ensures the survival of an organism. It is universal among living organisms. In some vertebrates, pain and fear are parts of this mechanism. Pain causes discomfort so that the organism is inclined to stop the pain...

 is the supreme instinct in man, and therefore the whole pattern of human conduct must always have been governed by the fundamental laws governing survival, a dialectical process between man and nature (see co-evolution
Co-evolution
In biology, coevolution is "the change of a biological object triggered by the change of a related object." Coevolution can occur at many biological levels: it can be as microscopic as correlated mutations between amino acids in a protein, or as macroscopic as covarying traits between different...

) . This reasoning leads to the conclusion that all elements of historical consequence result from 'economic determinism', or man's effort to survive.

Relation to Marxist philosophy


According to Marx, each social mode of production
Mode of production
In the writings of Karl Marx and the Marxist theory of historical materialism, a mode of production is a specific combination of:...

 produces the material conditions
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 of its reproduction, that is, ideology
Ideology
An ideology is a set of ideas that constitutes one's goals, expectations, and actions. An ideology can be thought of as a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things , as in common sense and several philosophical tendencies , or a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to...

 (which gathers all the political, law and cultural spheres). Thus, ideology permits the mode of production to reproduce itself. Furthermore, Marx and Engels are said to have believed , should a revolution
Revolution
A revolution is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.Aristotle described two types of political revolution:...

ary force change the mode of production, the dominant class will immediately set out to create a new society to protect this new economic order. In the modernity of their era, Marx and Engels felt the property class
Ruling class
The term ruling class refers to the social class of a given society that decides upon and sets that society's political policy - assuming there is one such particular class in the given society....

 had essentially accomplished the establishment of a new societal and economic order, instinctively creating a society protective of their capitalist interests. They made this statement to the Bourgeoisie
Bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 in the Communist Manifesto: "Your very ideas are but the outgrowth of conditions of your bourgeois production and bourgeois property, just as your jurisprudence
Jurisprudence
Jurisprudence is the theory and philosophy of law. Scholars of jurisprudence, or legal theorists , hope to obtain a deeper understanding of the nature of law, of legal reasoning, legal systems and of legal institutions...

 is but the will of your class, made into law for all, a will whose essential character and direction are determined by the economic conditions of the existence of your class." From this, it is argued that Marx and Engels did not believe men could arbitrarily choose any one of several forms of society
Society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

, but only that one which promotes the prevailing mode of production. The very nature of man's materialistic make-up requires him to do this. The young Marx
Young Marx
Some theorists consider Karl Marx's thought to be divided into a "young" period and a "mature" one. There is disagreement to when Marx's thought began to mature, and the problem of the idea of a "Young Marx" is the problem of tracking the development of Marx's works and of its possible unity...

 hence criticized man's alienation
Marx's theory of alienation
Marx's theory of alienation , as expressed in the writings of the young Karl Marx , refers to the separation of things that naturally belong together, or to put antagonism between things that are properly in harmony...

, a concept which he later replaced by the critique of commodity fetishism
Commodity fetishism
In Marx's critique of political economy, commodity fetishism denotes the mystification of human relations said to arise out of the growth of market trade, when social relationships between people are expressed as, mediated by and transformed into, objectified relationships between things .The...

. "Vulgar Marxism
Marxism
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

" has considered that the relation between the economical infrastructure
Infrastructure
Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structures needed for the operation of a society or enterprise, or the services and facilities necessary for an economy to function...

 and the ideological superstructure
Base and superstructure
In Marxist theory, human society consists of two parts: the base and superstructure; the base comprehends the forces and relations of production — employer-employee work conditions, the technical division of labour, and property relations — into which people enter to produce the necessities and...

 was a unicausal one, and thus believed in economic determinism. This has been criticized by various Marxist theorists
Marxist philosophy
Marxist philosophy or Marxist theory are terms that cover work in philosophy that is strongly influenced by Karl Marx's materialist approach to theory or that is written by Marxists...

, who dismissed it as a form of economism
Economism
Economism is a term used to describe economic reductionism, that is the reduction of all social facts to economical dimensions. It is also used to criticize economics as an ideology, in which supply and demand are the only important factors in decisions, and outstrip or permit ignoring literally...

 or economic reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

. They claimed the relationship is much more reciprocal and complex than unilateral determinism would have it.

Marxist views of the human mind


Marx and Engels are claimed to have possessed
Possession
In law, possession is the control a person intentionally exercises toward a thing. In all cases, to possess something, a person must have an intention to possess it. A person may be in possession of some property...

 a very mechanistic
Mechanic
A mechanic is a craftsman or technician who uses tools to build or repair machinery.Many mechanics are specialized in a particular field such as auto mechanics, bicycle mechanics, motorcycle mechanics, boiler mechanics, general mechanics, industrial maintenance mechanics , air conditioning and...

 view of the way the human mind
Theory of mind
Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own...

 works. After the brain receives impressions from the outside world, they are claimed to have said, it automatically moves the individual to take action (see Activist Theory). They asked this: "Are men free to choose this or that form of society? By no means." According to this view, the thing which we call 'free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

' is nothing other than an awareness of the impelling forces which move an individual to action; in taking action, he is not free to change the course his very nature dictates."

Conclusion


Many Marxists claim that Marx and Engels viewed this law of 'economic determinism' as the creative force in human progress. Engels stated: "The final causes of all social changes and political revolution
Political revolution
A political revolution, in the Trotskyist theory, is an upheaval in which the government is replaced, or the form of government altered, but in which property relations are predominantly left intact...

 are to be sought, not in men's brains, not in man's insight into internal truth
Truth
Truth has a variety of meanings, such as the state of being in accord with fact or reality. It can also mean having fidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal. In a common usage, it also means constancy or sincerity in action or character...

 and justice
Justice
Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity, along with the punishment of the breach of said ethics; justice is the act of being just and/or fair.-Concept of justice:...

... but in the economies of each epoch." Therefore, Engels advocated a change in economic structure as the only valid way of improving society and refining the intellectual
Intellectual
An intellectual is a person who uses intelligence and critical or analytical reasoning in either a professional or a personal capacity.- Terminology and endeavours :"Intellectual" can denote four types of persons:...

 make-up of humanity
Human Race
Human Race refers to the Human species.Human race may also refer to:*The Human Race, 79th episode of YuYu Hakusho* Human Race Theatre Company of Dayton Ohio* Human Race Machine, a computer graphics device...

.

Criticism of the concept


Other Marxists and Marx-scholars - including György Lukács, Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci was an Italian writer, politician, political philosopher, and linguist. He was a founding member and onetime leader of the Communist Party of Italy and was imprisoned by Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime...

, Louis Althusser
Louis Althusser
Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy....

, Maurice Godelier
Maurice Godelier
Born in Cambrai, France in 28 February 1934, Maurice Godelier is one of the most influential names in French anthropology. Directeur d'études at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales...

, Franz Jakubowski
Franz Jakubowski
Franz Jakubowski was a Marxist theorist. Born in Poznań, Poland, he grew up in what was then the Free City of Danzig. His father was a doctor. From 1930 to 1933 he studied law in Heidelberg, Berlin, Munich and Breslau, before completing his studies in political science at Basel University...

, Edward P. Thompson and Michael Lowy
Michael Löwy
Michael Löwy is a French-Brazilian Marxist sociologist and philosopher. He is presently the emeritus research director in social sciences at the CNRS and lectures at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales...

 - completely reject the interpretation of Marx and Engels as "economic determinists". They claim this idea is based on a poor and selective reading of Marx and Engels' work.

They argue that this interpretation originated in the early years of the Second International
Second International
The Second International , the original Socialist International, was an organization of socialist and labour parties formed in Paris on July 14, 1889. At the Paris meeting delegations from 20 countries participated...

 and was popularised by Karl Kautsky
Karl Kautsky
Karl Johann Kautsky was a Czech-German philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theoretician. Kautsky was recognized as among the most authoritative promulgators of Orthodox Marxism after the death of Friedrich Engels in 1895 until the coming of World War I in 1914 and was called by some the "Pope of...

 and Nikolai Bukharin
Nikolai Bukharin
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin , was a Russian Marxist, Bolshevik revolutionary, and Soviet politician. He was a member of the Politburo and Central Committee , chairman of the Communist International , and the editor in chief of Pravda , the journal Bolshevik , Izvestia , and the Great Soviet...

, among many others. They refer to the disclaimers by Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

 (see historical materialism
Historical materialism
Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

) to the effect that while Marx and himself had focused a lot on the economic aspects, they were very aware that this did not in fact constitute the totality of society or of social life. However, some have viewed such comments as Engels's attempt to extricate himself from an untenable position: Max Weber and other influential sociological and economic thinker agreed that Marx's view where really unidimensional in regard to economic determinism. They did not agree that economic determinism was a vulgar interpretation of Marx. They regarded this to be the explicitly stated and true interpretation of Marx (See own admission in Friedrich Engels, Socialism—Utopian and Scientific, pg 54). They criticized the simplicity in Marx's arguments and held that ideas and cultural beliefs and values to determine societal progress and the evolution of society. (See The Protestant Work Ethic (1905).

Non-Marxist scholars have also objected that economic determinism is overly generalized, insofar as any serious historical explanation of economic realities must always refer to non-economic realities. This became obvious when one had to specify exactly what the economic determinism precisely consisted of. In addition, a lot of confusion about "economic determinism" is due to the conflation of the "commercial" with the "economic". For Marx at least, these were very different concepts.

The dynamic of history according to Marx was shaped precisely by the clash of those interests (class struggle
Class struggle
Class struggle is the active expression of a class conflict looked at from any kind of socialist perspective. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote "The [written] history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle"....

), and that clash could not be understood simply in terms of economic self-interest, because it also involved human needs, customs, traditions, morals and values encompassing a whole way of life. On the other hand, Lenin wrote that "an idea that captures the minds of the masses becomes a material force," meaning that the said needs, customs, traditions, morals and values can be equated to economic forces.

The end result of economic determinism in this view is both economism
Economism
Economism is a term used to describe economic reductionism, that is the reduction of all social facts to economical dimensions. It is also used to criticize economics as an ideology, in which supply and demand are the only important factors in decisions, and outstrip or permit ignoring literally...

 (a narrow focus on how people earn their livelihood) and economic reductionism
Reductionism
Reductionism can mean either an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts, or to simpler or more fundamental things or a philosophical position that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts, and that an account of it can...

 (the attempt to reduce a complex social reality to one factor [the economic] such that this one factor causes all other aspects of society). This, according to some plays directly into the hands of the business class, and ultimately ends in an anti-working class position, whereby the allegiance of the working class is just a "tool" to be used by the political class to modernise an economy, with the aid of forced labour, if need be.

Notable economic determinists


American geostrategist Thomas P. M. Barnett admits to being an economic determinist in his book The Pentagon's New Map.

See also

  • Parametric determinism
    Parametric determinism
    Parametric determinism refers to a Marxist interpretation of the course of history formulated by Prof. Ernest Mandel, and it could be viewed as one variant of Karl Marx's historical materialism or as a philosophy of history....

  • Biocultural evolution
    Biocultural evolution
    Biocultural evolution refers to historical evolutionary processes that occur as a result of culture's interaction with biology.-Cultural factors:...

  • Communism
    Communism
    Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

  • Corporate police state
  • Darwinism
    Darwinism
    Darwinism is a set of movements and concepts related to ideas of transmutation of species or of evolution, including some ideas with no connection to the work of Charles Darwin....

  • Dialectical materialism
    Dialectical materialism
    Dialectical materialism is a strand of Marxism synthesizing Hegel's dialectics. The idea was originally invented by Moses Hess and it was later developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels...

  • Economics
    Economics
    Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

  • False necessity
    False necessity
    False necessity, or "anti-necessitarian social theory," is a contemporary social theory that champions the plasticity of society and the unlimited potential for transformation. It is foremost a critique of necessitarian thought in conventional social theory, which holds that parts of the social...

  • Historical materialism
    Historical materialism
    Historical materialism is a methodological approach to the study of society, economics, and history, first articulated by Karl Marx as "the materialist conception of history". Historical materialism looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans...

  • Surplus product
    Surplus product
    Surplus product is a concept explicitly theorised by Karl Marx in his critique of political economy. Marx first began to work out his idea of surplus product in his 1844 notes on James Mill's Elements of political economy...

  • Macroeconomics
    Macroeconomics
    Macroeconomics is a branch of economics dealing with the performance, structure, behavior, and decision-making of the whole economy. This includes a national, regional, or global economy...

  • Philosophy of history
    Philosophy of history
    The term philosophy of history refers to the theoretical aspect of history, in two senses. It is customary to distinguish critical philosophy of history from speculative philosophy of history...

  • Post Autistic Economics
  • Utopia
    Utopia
    Utopia is an ideal community or society possessing a perfect socio-politico-legal system. The word was imported from Greek by Sir Thomas More for his 1516 book Utopia, describing a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. The term has been used to describe both intentional communities that attempt...

    nism