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date: 25 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Marx and Engels based the movement for socialism and communism on a scientific analysis of social evolution rather than on ahistorical moral longings. This, however, requires replacement of vague evocative formulations by rigorous theoretical foundations. Two recent proposals for grounding the theory of the forces and relations of production—“intentional primacy” and “competitive primacy”—provide elements for this project but fail to drive it home. A proposed third approach, “social‒functional primacy,” focuses on the correspondence between advancing human power over nature, on the one hand, and the changing requirements for reproducible systems of exploitation—incentive, coercion, and control—on the other. A core evolutionary ladder of modes of production is identified as the basis for reconstructing the immense complexity of actual history, thus overcoming the dichotomy between “hard” and “soft” approaches to historical materialist theory.

Keywords: forces of production, relations of production, Marxist theory of history, historical materialism, social evolution, mode of production, stages of history

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