Historical Materialism FAQ

Sam Pawlett rsp at SPAMuniserve.com
Wed Dec 8 00:11:11 MST 1999

Carrol Cox wrote:
> Sam Pawlett wrote:
> >    Thus humans are producers and their production consists of two
> > distinct aspects, the material and the social. The material is as we
> > have seen the production of the physical necessities of life.
> No, this is in fact one of the most common and most serious
> misunderstandings of historical materialism: the identification of
> the *material* with the *physical*. Social relations are material,
> and in the (perhaps unfortunate) terminology of base and
> superstructure, the base consists of *social relations* (or
> relations of production).

Yes, social relations are material because everything is material. There
are no Gods, ether, souls or ghosts in historical materialism.
If you take social relations as the base then what explains the
difference between sets of social relations across history? Why were
there tribal divisions of labor and lord/serf, slave/slaveowner
relations  rather than just wage labor in past historical periods? Why
didn't wage labor develop out of 'primitive communism'?   The division
of labor and social relations in pre-capitalist societies were limited
by knowledge and technology.

> I notice that Sam has G.A. Cohen in his bibiliography. May I
> suggest that Cohen's "productivist" concept of historical
> materialism is profoundly destructive of Marxism.

 I disagree with Cohen but I think his book is brilliant. I listed many
different theorists whose theories are perhaps mutually exclusive (e.g.
Cohen and E.P. Thompson.) If everyone tried to apply Cohen's standards,
Marxism as a theory and a political movement would be better off.

Sam Pawlett

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