Frederick Engels briefly sums up the materialist conception of history as the view that

the whole of previous history is a history of class struggles, that in all the manifold and complicated political struggles the only thing at issue has been the social and political rule of social classes, the maintenance of domination by older classes and the conquest of domination by newly arising classes

And therefore,

all historical phenomena are explicable in the simplest possible way — with sufficient knowledge of the particular economic condition of society, […] and in the same way the conceptions and ideas of each historical period are most simply to be explained from the economic conditions of life and from the social and political relations of the period, which are in turn determined by these economic conditions.

Contrary to this, Engels also briefly describes an idealist conception of history:

The whole previous view of history was based on the conception that the ultimate causes of all historical changes are to be looked for in the changing ideas of human beings, and that of all historical changes political changes are the most important and dominate the whole of history.

  1. Generally speaking, which conception of history, the materialist conception or the idealist conception, do you believe is most prevalent in our society today? With which do you personally feel most familiar?
  2. Which conception of history, the materialist conception or the idealist conception, do you personally find most compelling and persuasive?

Frederick Engels also briefly sums up Karl Marx’s “final elucidation of the relation between capital and labour, in other words, the demonstration how, within present society and under the existing capitalist mode of production, the exploitation of the worker by the capitalist takes place,” namely, through the worker’s production, and the capitalist’s subsequent appropriation, of surplus value during a period in which the worker is essentially compelled to perform unpaid labor for the capitalist. Thus, Marx and Engels conclude that

the acquisition of riches by the present-day capitalists consists just as much in the appropriation of the unpaid labour of others as that of the slave-owner or the feudal lord exploiting serf labour, and that all these forms of exploitation are only to be distinguished by the difference in manner and method by which the unpaid labour is appropriated. This, however, also remove[s] the last justification for all the hypocritical phrases of the possessing classes to the effect that in the present social order right and justice, equality of rights and duties and a general harmony of interests prevail, and expose[s] present-day bourgeois society, no less than its predecessors, as a grandiose institution for the exploitation of the huge majority of the people by a small, ever-diminishing minority.

  1. Do you find Engels’s brief summary of the exploitative economic relations between capital and labor (i.e., that capitalist profits ultimately derive from the appropriation of surplus value created by workers during periods of unpaid labor) compelling and/or persuasive?
  2. If so, do you then also find Engels’s brief summary of the political conclusions of Marx’s analysis (i.e., that capitalist society is exploitative, and that this fact necessarily renders all talk of “right and justice, equality of rights and duties and a general harmony of interests” hypocritical and unjustified) compelling and/or persuasive?

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