The shift of Marx’s focus in the historical measure

Marx’s thoughts on the two measures of historical progress and their interrelationship differed in different historical periods. He sometimes used both and other times only one of them. His focus on the historical measure varied based on the actual needs of historical evaluation. We will discuss his shift of focus in three historical periods.

In the early 1850s

In the early 1850s, Marx evaluated historical progress by combining the two measures. In his 1853 articles (The British Rule in India and The Future Results of British Rule in India), Marx severely criticized the heinous crimes committed by Western colonialists in the East. He argued that the catastrophe brought by the British to Hindustan was far more severe than what the Hindustanis had suffered in the past. He also elaborated on the primitiveness, brutality, and backwardness of the Eastern society and believed that the destraction of the Eastern social structures caused by Western colonialists was a real social revolution in the East, which promoted the progress of the Eastern society.

At that time, Marx believed that the profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization were laid bare once we shifted our attention from its home where it assumed respectable forms, to the colonies where it went naked. The colonists cruelly slaughtered the Eastern peoples, took the slaughter as a pleasure, and perpetrated their barbarous nature upon the Eastern peoples. The colonists’ hands were covered with the blood of the Eastern peoples. Mara added,

Sickening as it must be to human feeling to witness those myriads of industrious patriarchal and inoffensive social organizations disorganized and dissolved into their units, thrown into a sea of woes, and their individual members losing at the same time their ancient form of civilization, and their hereditary means of subsistence, we must not forget that these idyllic villagecommunities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it beneath traditional rales, depriving it of all grandeur and historical energies. We must not forget the barbarian egotism which, concentrating on some miserable patch of land, had quietly witnessed the rain of empires, the perpetration of unspeakable cruelties, the massacre of the population of large towns, with no other consideration bestowed upon them than on natural events, itself the helpless prey of any aggressor who deigned to notice it at all. We must not forget that this undignified, stagnatory [sic], and vegetative life, that this passive sort of existence evoked on the other part, in contradistinction, wild, aimless, unbounded forces of destraction and rendered murder itself a religious rite in Hindustan. We must not forget that these little communities were contaminated by distinctions of caste and by slavery, that they subjugated man to external circumstances instead of elevating man the sovereign of circumstances, that they transformed a self-developing social state into never changing natural destiny, and thus brought about a brutalizing worship of nature.

Here, Mara's analysis of the Eastern society and its development trajectory is particularly noteworthy: First, Mara comprehensively investigated the relationship between colonialists and Eastern society through the historical measure and the value measure. Investigated from the value measure, the Western colonialists carried out a brutal plunder and slaughter on Eastern peoples, which Mara severely condemned. From the historical measure, he affirmed that Western colonialists’ destraction of the traditional and backward social structure of the East played a positive role in the development of Eastern society. Second, Mara did not investigate social conflicts between the East and the West from the perspective of national sovereignty and national interests. Instead, he focused on deep issues related to the development of Eastern society from the perspective of world history and the destiny of the entire humankind, such as, what is the essence of the backwardness of Eastern society? What are root causes of the backwardness of Eastern society? Why have these ancient civilizations, with their long history and great geophysical resources, lagged behind the West in modern times? How can these Eastern countries break out of traditional constraints and embark on a new path? Mare posited that the root cause of the backwardness of the Eastern society lies in its own social structure. The trinity of the rural commune, state-owned land, and authoritarianism locked the Asian society in an extraordinary stability. Despite political changes taking place there and the constant change of government, the social structure remained unchanged. After studying the process of Western capitalism’s invasion of Asia, Mare foresaw the new birth of Asia. He found that the ultra-stable triadic social structure of Asia might fall apart under the impact of the capitalist mode of production. The barbarism, primitiveness, and backwardness of the ancient civilization that had lasted for thousands of years may be transformed by the industrial civilization of Western capitalism. Therefore, the British invasion of India served as a bridge and link, and the European rule of Asia also provided an opportunity for the new birth of Asian society. Mare said:

England, it is trae, in causing a social revolution in Hindostán, was actuated only by the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution.

England thus “produced the greatest, and to speak the truth, the only social revolution ever heard of in Asia,” “England has to fulfil a double mission in India: one destructive, the other regenerating - the annihilation of old Asiatic society and the laying of the material foundations of Western society in Asia.”8

Mare also pointed out that the role of the revolutionary changes carried out by Western colonialists in India was very limited. It would neither liberate the people nor fundamentally improve their living conditions. Mare said:

The Indians will not reap the fruits of the new elements of society scattered among them by the British bourgeoisie, till in Great Britain itself the now ruling classes shall have been supplanted by the industrial proletariat, or till the Hindus themselves shall have grown strong enough to throw off the English yoke altogether.

This is because the liberation of the people and the improvement of living conditions depend not only on the development of productive forces, but also on whether the people owned the productive forces. The colonialists can only create material preconditions for the liberation of the Eastern people and the improvement of their living conditions, but they do translate into immediate reality.

When a great social revolution shall have mastered the results of the bourgeois epoch, the market of the world and the modern powers of production, and subjected them to the common control of the most advanced people, then only will human progress cease to resemble that hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.9

Simply put, it is only by overthrowing capitalism and colonialism as well as realizing socialism and communism throughout the world that the liberation of people and improvement of living conditions can be realized.

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