Elements of Socialism: A Text-Book

By John Spargo; George Louis Arner | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IX
THE ECONOMIC INTERPRETATION OF HISTORY

The motive forces in social evolution: So far we have been outlining roughly the evolution of society from savagery to civilization. The next question is "Why have these changes taken place?" The problem is complex. Man has always lived in society and has been obliged to adapt himself to his social environment, and the social group in turn has always occupied some part of the earth's surface in a physical environment to which it has been obliged to adapt itself. The climate, soil, contour of the land, presence or absence of water, the flora and fauna have all had their influence upon man, and man has also modified his environment.

Many writers have ascribed the changes in social organization to man's own will and to the influence of great leaders. But while it is true that men sometimes rise above their environment, the "Great Man Theory" minimizes the limitations of environment, both social and physical. Other writers have gone to the opposite extreme and attempted to interpret history by the physical environment alone, leaving out of consideration the influence which men have been able to exert over their own destiny by modifying their environment.

The Socialist theory: Modern scientific Socialism has for its philosophical basis the Marxian theory of historical development, which many Socialist writers of the present day call the Economic Interpretation of History. Marx and Engels, who were the first to develop the theory, called it the Materialistic Conception of History. The advantages of the former term over the latter are, first, that the specific term "economic" is more accurately descriptive than the term "materialistic," and, second, that it obviates the misunderstandings which arise from the confusion in the popular

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