The Hegelians believed that intellectual progress explains the advance of government, culture and the other forms of social life. Therefore, the study of consciousness is the key to the understanding of society, and history is a dramatic stage on which institutions and ideas battle for hegemony. In this ever-present conflict, each stage of development contains the seeds of its own transformation into a higher stage. Each stage is an advance on those that have preceded it, but it absorbs and transforms elements from them. This process of change, in which new ideas do not so much defeat the old as resolve conflicts or contradictions within them, Hegel called the dialectic.
Human consciousness is critical in Marx’s thought, but it can only be understood in relation to historical, social and material circumstances. In this way, Marx establishes a close relationship between dialectics and history, which would become a cornerstone of his own method. Consciousness is primarily determined by material conditions, but these themselves evolve dialectically through human history.
© Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’ – PlutoPress