Fundamental Problems of Marxism

Fundamental Problems of Marxism

Fundamental Problems of Marxism

Fundamental Problems of Marxism


A defense of Marxism as an integral world outlook, against those who would vulgarize and/or distort it. Appendix includes "The Materialist Conception of History, " and "The Role of the Individual in History."


In his last major work, Fundamental Problems of Marxism (1908), which is published here in new translation, Plekhanov's purpose was to elaborate historical materialism in the context of the general philosophical outlook of Marxism. Added as appendices to the present volume are two smaller but no less valuable essays, written earlier: The Materialist Conception of History (1897) and The Role of the Individual in History (1898).

The lasting value of these works arises from Plekhanov's well reasoned and erudite elucidation of the materialist conception of history, as against other interpretations which give it a one- sided, economic-determinist meaning. Indeed, he is impatient with any tendency that seeks to establish a direct, causal line between the realm of ideas and the economic base, which he considers a complete misrepresentation of Marxism.

Marx stated the general principle in his famous Preface to the Critique of Political Economy. In essence, he said, any given social formation -- such as feudalism, capitalism or socialism -- and the "superstructure" of institutions and ideas associated with it rests upon a distinctive economic development which arises from the level of productive forces and the mode of production. The latter determines the relations of production, the specific class formation. It is not this or that economic "factor" but the entire complexity of economic relations and development which is meant. Furthermore, as Engels, followed by Plekhanov, emphasized, it is "in the final analysis," in the long run, that the underlying economic development can provide an explanation of the even more complex social and cultural phenomena.

Intrinsic to the general principle, is Marx's emphasis upon the process of history. The motive force, so to speak, of progress lies in the unity and conflict between the productive forces and the relations of production. When these are in conformity, although even roughly so, the social order will have general stability and continue to grow. But when the former outgrow the latter, when . . .

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