Marx and Social Theory
This chapter argues that through his development of historical materialism, Marx put forward a conception of working class politics that offered the potential to realize the project of true human emancipation while articulating an understanding of history as a process of social evolution through the social relations of class exploitation. In his work, Marx both took up the ideas of historical social theory, as primarily developed by liberal theorists from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, and developed in opposition to these ideas his own approach to human social development. On the one hand, liberal social theorists in England and France put forward a conception of history as “progress”: both unilinear, and impelled by fundamentally natural processes such as the division of labour. On the other, Hegel’s philosophical embrace of liberal ideas articulated an idealist process of realizing the human telos through the dialectical development of property relations, individualism, and state mediation. This was, on the whole, a more nuanced and comprehensive conception of human history, though it was explicitly Eurocentric as well as idealist. Against both such formulations, Marx sought to conceive historical development through the social property relations of class exploitation: materialist without being naturalistic, and dialectical without being idealist.