Karl Marx's Theory of History

Karl Marx's Theory of History

G. A. Cohen

Language: English

Pages: 430

ISBN: 0691070687

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


First published in 1978, this book rapidly established itself as a classic of modern Marxism. Cohen's masterful application of advanced philosophical techniques in an uncompromising defense of historical materialism commanded widespread admiration. In the ensuing twenty years, the book has served as a flagship of a powerful intellectual movement--analytical Marxism. In this expanded edition, Cohen offers his own account of the history, and the further promise, of analytical Marxism. He also expresses reservations about traditional historical materialism, in the light of which he reconstructs the theory, and he studies the implications for historical materialism of the demise of the Soviet Union.

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bounds of likelihood—that one and the same economic structure be present in distinct societies, just as distinct arguments and bridges may have identical structures. Identity of economic structure across societies is extremely unlikely,2 since all production relations would have to be the same. But the abstract possibility is worth noting: it helps us to see that an economic structure is a form. (2) Some Terminological Points The Marxian phrase normally translated 'productive forces' is

knowledge. One may say that the source of the development of the productive forces is subjective, but that it needs an objective medium, which the stated conditions supply.2 We must now comment on two items related to labour power which are sometimes considered productive forces: labouring activity, and human beings. Marx never provides a list of productive forces, and our discussion of them is based partly on scattered remarks and partly on general theoretical considerations. He does list what

Correspondence, p. 3 1 ; Capital, i. 298, 371, 763, iii. 758; Theories of Surplus Value, i. 389, iii. 383; 'Results', pp. IOIO, 1026-7, 1035, 1064. 8 e.g. Capital, iii. 810, 857-8; Theories of Surplus Value, i. 390, iii. 270; 'Results', pp5 981, 1026, 1054. MODES OF PRODUCTION 81 in a scheme under which they are not sold to the patient but are free at the point of consumption. In production for exchange, products are bartered or sold. Here we may distinguish further between production for

develop, nor even that they never decline: circumstances may frustrate fulfilment of the tendency it imputes to them. The primacy thesis ((b)) implies that changes in productive forces bring about changes in production relations. Yet some changes in productive forces are too limited in scope to have that effect. Nor is it possible to provide a general statement of how much productive power must increase for a consequent change in production relations to occur. Instead, we may formulate the

ways forces and relations affect one another. Instead, we proceed to describe what we take to be the theoretically central connection between them, the connection which specifies the nature of the primacy of the forces. We begin with unqualified statement, and then take up some complications. We hold that the character of the forces functionally explains the character of the relations. (Functional explanation is a contested procedure. It is defended in Chapters I X and X.) The favoured

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