Marx's Account Of The Relationship Between Technological And Political Change

1624 words - 6 pages

Marx's Account of the Relationship Between Technological and Political Change

"The windmill will give you a society with the feudal lord, the steam
mill a society with the industrial capitalist.[1]" This quote, from
Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy, shows us that there is a link in Marx’s
writing between technological change, or the methods of production,
and political change, or the structure of society. One of the most
important concepts used by Marx to show this relationship is his idea
of ‘historical materialism’ and all forms of change must be set in the
context of this version of history.

‘Historical materialism’ is a method which accounts for the
developments and changes in human history according to economic and
more broadly, material development. Each society is built on material
economic forces which set up the base for socio-political
institutions. Indeed, Marx is often thought of as an economist rather
than a political thinker, precisely because of his detailed economic
analysis of ‘epochs’ (or periods) in history, especially the
capitalist epoch in his multi-volumed Capital.

Historical materialism guides us through the periods that Marx (and
Engels) divide history into. Predominantly, these ideas must be taken
in context of the period that Marx was writing in; at the end of the
eighteenth century, a great transformation in European (especially
British) society was taking place and economic changes were central to
the transformation that the Industrial Revolution produced in terms of
social order. Marx uses two key terms to help illustrate historical
materialism, and its link between technological and political change.

Firstly, he uses the term ‘property relations’ to show how the owners
of property “designate a bundle of control and revenue rights over
productive resources”[2]. For example, in pre-capitalism and feudalism
(to a lesser extent under serfdom), there existed private ownership of
people. Under capitalism, there was private ownership of external
things, but not people. And in Marx’s communist societies, neither
persons nor productive resources were private owned. Thus the modes of
production (in other words, the technological situation) or the
economic structure is a set of property relations. “It is not the
articles made, but how they are made, and with what instruments, that
enables us to distinguish economic epochs”[3]

Marx used the term ‘production relations’ also. This was to designate
real property relations – effective control and/or revenue rights –
over productive assets. He used production relations also to show
technology in the broadest sense – “that by means of which human
beings engage in productive activities”[4]. Therefore, the means of
production such as instruments and tools, the organisation of the
production process and also...

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