By Rufus Tyler

Historical materialism is one of the three core tenets of Marxism. The other two are dialectical materialism and Marxist economics.

Historical materialism is the idea that the processes underlying historical events can be analysed and studied in a methodical manner, in order to better understand current events as they unfold. Whig history lies in stark contrast to this: it states that history is a steady progression towards a more advanced state. This process is inscrutable, things happen just because so it's useless trying to understand why things happen.

It also differs from the great man theory of history that states that leaders are fundamentally different from regular people, that they deserve their place in society because of their god-given attributes that make them better than average humans. The great man theory of history implies that normal people shouldn't bother trying to involve themselves in current events as they are not equipped to change anything.

Another theory of history states that events are random, the billions of people living on earth each have their own motives and their actions as a whole produce events that are unable to be analysed in a meaningful way.

These theories all have one thing in common: they are disempowering to the average person. This is by design; you are lowly individual that shouldn't concern himself with the on-goings and machinations of the rich and powerful. This sort of thinking leads us to wrong conclusions like Fukuyama's end of history.

Back in 1989, American political scientist Francis Fukuyama championed the idea that history was coming to an end, that it was converging on the liberal capitalist democracy that won the Cold War in his book The End of History and the Last Man. Fighting against it is futile as this kind of liberal democracy is the perfect system, and it cannot be improved on. Fukuyama is wrong: according to Theos, a liberal think-tank: “As democracies tremble, America segregates, China surges, Russia plots, and seas rise, few are predicting a post–historical future. Not for a long time has history felt so alive.”

We must look at what materialism means. In philosophy, there are two main competing views of the universe. They are Monism and Dualism. Dualists believe that there are two fundamental building blocks of the universe: matter and the spiritual. Humans are uniquely a combination of the two: you have your physical body, which grows then ages and dies, and a spiritual soul that is eternal, everlasting. This concept aims to open the door to religion, making a faith based belief system a kind of scientific endeavour.

Monism itself can be divided into two main camps: Materialism and idealism. Idealism, according to Queensborough Community College, is “the metaphysical view that associates reality to ideas in the mind rather than to material objects. It lays emphasis on the mental or spiritual components of experience, and renounces the notion of material existence”

This idea also opens the door for all sorts of superstition.

Wikipedia describes materialism as “a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental states and consciousness, are results of material interactions of material things”

Our view is that all events can be explained as the result of the material proccesses behind them. These proccesses are able to be studied in a methodical manner which helps us understand where things are headed.

Human history begins with bipedalism: the ability to walk upright. There is some debate as to who was the first hominin to balance on two legs, and just how competent they were at it.

The tradional view is that roughly 5 million years ago our ancestors' habitat underwent a significant drying up, turning lush forest into a savannah. Trees became more scarce and that encouraged hominins to walk between thickets. Walking saved energy: it meant that early hominins didn't have bend down then straighten up again when moving between trees. More recent studies suggest that the upright position developed in the trees themselves.

One of the main adaptations for bipedalism is big toes that are parallel to each other. This allows the foot to help propel oneself forward when walking. Apes have big toes that point away from the other digits to help grasp tree limbs when climbing, like a second set of opposable thumbs.

Whether one view or the other is correct, the fact remains that bipedalism had a material basis: it made life easier, more efficient. It was a response to the environment around our ancestors.

Another milestone in human evolution was the controlled use of fire. It allowed food to be processed. Once people began cooking, some 800,000 years ago, it became possible to get nourishment from hitherto unavailable sources. Cooking makes things like meat more easily digestible, and, it kills off pathogens making food safer. The end result of cooking our food is that our digestive tract became shorter, and our dentition changed – modern humans have relatively shorter intestines and smaller teeth than other animals.

One big question in human evolution is when and why did spoken language first evolve. One view is that hominins began talking when they started living in larger groups of up to 150 individuals. This is larger than in ape groups, where chimps and bonobos live in groups of up to 100 individuals.

Vocalising may have become more prominent when living in larger groups as this way of living meant that members of the group had to range further to forage for food – being spread further apart necessitates louder and more frequent calls. Apes bond by grooming each other, it's believed that when hominins began living in larger groups bonding this way became impractical. Talking, gossiping in particular, is a way to bond with several individuals at once.

Our understanding of more recent history tells us that capitalism sprang from feudalism which developed from a slave economy.

In slave societies, like ancient Greece and Rome, upwards of ninety percent of people toiled in food production. This is comparable to tsarist Russia where nine out of ten people were peasants working in the fields. While the vast majority lead impoverished lives, it did raise the productive forces of humanity to the point where a small minority of the upper class had leisure time which could be used to study philosophy, science, and the arts.

Over the millenia philosophy, science, and the arts advanced to the point where slavery itself became unnecessary – when the British Empire outlawed slavery in the first half of the 19th century, it wasn't done for altruistic reasons, out of the goodness of the slave owners' hearts, but rather because the institution of slavery itself had become unprofitable for the British ruling class.

When Capitalism first emerged, it was a step forward for humanity, it allowed the bourgeois class to harness its productivity and creativity. Nowadays Capitalism is senile and no longer works to advance the material conditions of humanity, it is cannabilising itself: this can be seen in finance capital which doesn't aim to make a profit by producing anything tangible, it aims to make money from money. This is a dead end which has given us things like the 2008 global financial crisis, something we are still recovering from. In order for humanity to advance further, we must overthrow capitalism in the same way that bourgeois revolutions overthrew the old aristocracy.


Historical materialism is a useful tool when trying to comprehend current trends in order to predict future events. The reason it's not taught in schools is because it empowers common people, it doesn't serve the wants, it doesn't advance the aims of the ruling class. The ruling class sets the curriculum, and that's why it's never going to teach you the tools necessary to overthrow capitalism. Because of this, it is of the utmost importance that comrades endeavour to educate themselves. In short, read more theory.