This year, Wellred Books has been working on the completion of a historic project. Stalin: An Appraisal of the Man and His Influence is the final unfinished masterpiece of the great Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Painstakingly restored over a ten-year period, this version will be the first to include all of Trotsky’s own words in full, 100,000 of them previously unpublished, with the distortions of previous editor Charles Malamuth removed. In consultation with the Harvard archives and the English, French and Russian editions, we have produced the most complete version ever published in any language.
Today we begin the serialisation of a new work by Alan Woods, which provides a comprehensive explanation of the Marxist method of analysing history. This first article establishes the scientific basis of historical materialism. The ultimate cause of all social change is to be found, not in the human brain, but in changes in the mode of production.
Marxists do not see history as a mere series of isolated facts but rather, they seek to discover the general processes and laws that govern nature and society. The first condition for science in general is that we are able to look beyond the particular and arrive at the general. The idea that human history is not governed by any laws is contrary to all science.
The whole of human history consists precisely in the struggle of humankind to raise itself above the animal level. This long struggle began seven million years ago, when our remote humanoid ancestors first stood upright and were able to free their hands for manual labour. Ever since then, successive phases of social development have arisen on the basis of changes in the development of the productive force of labour – that is to say, of our power over nature.
“It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself.” (Engels)
Many people do not realise that Marxism began as a philosophy, and Marx and Engels adhered to a definite philosophical standpoint all their lives – the standpoint of dialectical materialism. And although it may seem unlikely to some, it is impossible to understand Marxism without a thorough understanding of this subject.
Many people regard philosophy with a certain distain. It appears as something abstract, academic, dry and utterly remote from real life. This attitude is quite understandable. The “official” bourgeois philosophy that is taught in the universities is of interest only to a handful of academics who have nothing better to do than waste their time in endless and arid discussions on the meaning of words. But Marxist philosophy is not like that. It is a very powerful tool for understanding reality. And in order to change the world, it is first of all necessary to understand it.