Nasir Khan, November 11, 2016
“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
The tradition of all dead generations weighs like an nightmare on the brains of the living.”
The social, political and economic factors in shaping history have been emphasised time and again by socialist theorists. Here in this short extract, Karl Marx points to the importance of prevailing objective conditions that determine the course of history. How he sees a logic in the social developments is part of his philosophy of history.
The conscious efforts of human beings sometimes set in motion the wheels of history and sometimes accelerate the speed of that process. But these variables are also dependent on the major trends that already exist. What exists is not independent of what has gone before but is rather a result of the earlier conditions under which historical events took place and the steady historical processes that have been in operation. Even in the realm of speculative thought and old metaphysical issues, we are profoundly conditioned by the old modes of thought and traditions.
Even a great thinker like Marx elaborated his thought by imbibing the ideas of the French Enlightenment, from Montesquieu to Linget and Condorcet, and by the Scottish historians. He took from Hegel the idea that history is the progressive self-realisation of man by practical social activity. While Hegel’s ideas were couched in somewhat obscure language, Marx was able to find the essential meanings they contained. As a result he developed his ideas by subjecting Feuerbach and Hegel in matters of the role of religion, State, civil society, bureaucracy and the class structure of the industrial society.
His ideas of revolutionary Socialism became clearer in his thought by his critical assessment of the older socialist thinkers. The same thing applies in his understanding and explanation about the capitalism by his close scrutiny of the earlier economists.