Marx’s theory of history through the scope of structural determinism

By Onno Blom

Structural determination is a causal process with an inevitable, determined, outcome. This process, once started, can fluctuate in all kinds of directions, but will always have to end with a particular outcome, as this outcome is irreversible and does not lead to anything else. This outcome can be caused by other causes, which may also be irreversible. A telling example of a famous theory which can be seen through the scope of structural determinism is Marx’s theory of history.

Marx divides history into six stages: primitive communism, slave society, feudalism, capitalism, socialism and pure communism. In his theory, Marx finds that all of these stages necessarily lead to each other. All of these stages fall short in some way or another, often because of exploitation of the lowest class, and therefore, through revolutions and development led by the lowest class, this evolution of stages will naturally occur. Marx didn’t specify how long this would take, but he did state that all of this is a historical necessity: “the conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.”

Marx believed that once the stage of primitive communism had begun, his theory of history would always occur. We can identify this stage as the beginning in the structurally determined process: it triggers the process to start. The four stages following the start can be seen as the part where (irreversible) causes show up, each necessarily showing up sooner or later, and leading to the next stage of the process. The last stage of the process is pure communism and does not lead to anything else; it was the determined outcome since primitive communism began. It seems that through a Marxist view, structural determinism is not only a helpful analytical tool, but also a predictor of the future.