Marxist History and Dialectic Applied to HistoryQUESTION: Marxist History – Dialectic Applied to HistoryANSWER:
For Marxists, free will is drastically truncated: we are free in the sense that we may influence history by striving to achieve communism, but we are determined in the sense that we can affect history in no other way than toward communism. Communism is inevitable, as dictated by the laws of history, which, in turn, are governed by the dialectic.
Marxists believe that the dialectic has guided society through certain phases (all based on economic structures) in a constant upward spiral. They believe that human society began with primitive communism, but thesis and antithesis collided, giving birth to societies based on slavery, which in turn developed into feudalism. This phase progressed into capitalism, which is now moving toward socialism. The continued clash of the bourgeoisie (the present thesis) with the proletariat (the present antithesis) will lead society into a transitional phase—socialism—and when the clash is resolved due to the abolition of classes, society will have achieved communism. Thus, history must obey the laws of the dialectic, and these laws declare that economic structures will eventually evolve into communism, on which the perfect societal superstructure will arise.Marxist History – Revolution Instigates Progress
The part of the dialectic that Marxists emphasize when discussing free will is the clash. Because the dialectic requires a clash (revolution) to instigate progress, the activity of classes becomes important. The individual is still insignificant in the Marxist view of history, but classes of humanity (in modern times, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) can play a role in human development. Cornforth states, “Historical development is not determined by the personal decisions of public men, but by the movement of classes.”1
Thus, the dialectic appears to maintain a degree of human free will—our actions matter, but only in regard to our movements as a class, and even then only if we are working in accordance with the laws of history. In other words, in modern times, only the proletarian can work as a progressive force, and even then only under the guidance of the Marxist party (because only the party truly understands the historical process). Our ability to shape history according to this view is limited, but Marxists emphasize this ability as much as possible.
In fact, Marxism requires the participation of the masses to such an extent (from a practical standpoint) that it often describes the revolutionary’s role as the most critical in history. Lenin proclaims, “According to the theory of socialism, i.e., of Marxism . . . the real driving force of history is the revolutionary class struggle.”2Notes:
Rendered with permission from the book,Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews
ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry
at Summit Ministries
. All rights reserved in the original.1
Maurice Cornforth, Historical Materialism
(New York, NY: International Publishers, 1972), 68.2
V.I. Lenin, Collected Works,
45 vols. (Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers, 1980), 11:71.