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Explain Marx's account of the relationship between technological and political change

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Explain 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) ...read more.


Marx cites four reasons for the worker being alienated. Firstly, there is alienation from the 'product of labour'. The worker no longer works for himself, but for the capitalist, and all profit goes to him and to providing more technology (in the form of capital) to keep the worker on his subsistence wages. Secondly, the worker is alienated from the 'process of labour'. With division of labour (which is possible due to technological changes), the worker is simply a part of the process chain, and can no longer be said to have produced the product himself. The last two are alienation from 'species-being' and from one's own fellow human beings. These two are best explained by Marx himself: "Man is alienated from other men. When man confronts himself, he also confronts other men...In work [the worker] does not belong to himself but to anther person...This is the relationship of the worker to his own activity as something alien."5 Therefore, these technological concepts of alienation are different in their relation to political change (and their critique of capitalism) than 'property relations'. It is far less about explaining the nature of political change, and more about reasons for political change: to "emancipate the whole of oppressed humanity [and] put an end to all forms of exploitation of one section of society by another."6 (from the communist party of Russia's political program). ...read more.


Secondly, although admittedly class-structures are used by Marx as the overriding factor to distinguish between different historical epochs, this is because it is the mode of production and technology that shapes class structure, as explained beforehand. And finally, Marx reserves most of his technological analysis for capitalism, not slavery or serfdom. Nevertheless, Plamentz does have a point in that the link is not essential or 'deep' and that there are other factors of political change, such as "moral, legal and political relations between men and the divisions of social classes arising out of these relations"8. Indeed, part of reason why Marxism was not successful in the capitalist world (why significant political change did not happen after capitalism) was that technological change 'delinked' itself from political change. The next major technological step after Marx's writing was the move from a manufacturing-based economy to a more service-based one where Marx's theory of 'alienation' of workers could no longer be as easily applied. This technological change was not accompanied by any significant political change, and so the link between the two cannot be said to be fundamental to human history. 1 Marx, Poverty of Philosophy 2 Levine, Engaging Political Philosophy 3 Marx, Capital 4 Levine, Engaging Political Philosophy 5 Marx, Early Writings 6 Lenin, Materials Relating to the Revision of the Party Program 7 Plamenatz, Man and Society 8 Plamenatz, Man and Society ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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