Social Scientist. v 16, no. 187 (Dec 1988) p. 1.


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Editorial Note

Historical materialism has too often been identified as postulating a unidirectional chain of determination running from the conditions of material production in the world of ideas and culture. While this may be the way that the issue is often presented in Marxist text-books, partly, perhaps, to jolt the initiate out of his or her earlier conceptions, partly for simplicity, and partly as a hang-over from earlier primers on the subject, it is clearly a caricature of historical materialism to encapsulate it in the formula that the 'material base determines the superstructure*. To say this however should not be taken to mean that there exists some other formula which captures the content of historical materialism better; rather, the complexity of the relationship between the conditions of social production and the world of ideas and culture, which is a province opened up for investigation by historical materialism, cannot be captured by any simplistic formula. The three main articles in the current number of Social Scientisty jointly and severally, underline this complexity, since each in its own way is concerned with the nature of the relationship between the sphere of material production and the sphere of ideas.

This of course is not the only theme taken up in the article by Irfan Habib. The article, which constitutes the text of his V.P. Chintan Memorial Lectures delivered in Madras, has an enormous canvas covering a number of themes in Marxist historiography, themes ranging from the base-superstructure relationship, to the role of colonialism in capitalist development, to the Indian National Movement, to a critique of the theoretical tendency underlying the Subaltern Studies to the contradictions of socialism. Many of these themes have appeared earlier in particular pieces written by Habib. The present article brings them all together in a comprehensive fashion and should be of' great interest to students of Marxism. Of special significance in this context is his plea for reconstructing a Marxist historiography of socialism.

An important point raised by Habib relates to the problem of theoretically integrating colonial exploitation into the Political Economy of Capitalism. The absence of such an integration has resulted in a peculiar dichotomy. On the one hand, Marxist historians, especially from third world countries, have produced an enormous literature detailing at an empirical level the fact of colonial



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