George Tomlinson

The Problem of Temporality for a Materialist Concept of History

What is the future of Marx’s materialist concept of history? It is evident that this concept historicises the practical materialism of Marx’s 1845 theses ‘On Feuerbach’, but what is the philosophical scope of this historicisation? The answers to these questions are entirely open, in part because Marx provides no analysis of the relationship between time, temporality and this concept of history. There is nothing approximating a philosophy of time within the concept, which would suggest that time and temporality constitute a distinct philosophical problem for it. The German Ideology outlines the broad contours of the social production of the means of life [Lebensmittel], the creation of new needs, the conflict between the forces and relations of production, and the division of labour, but how are these complex practices and phenomena temporally intelligible? For Marx, the human is a fundamentally economic and historical being, but how might it also be a fundamentally temporal being? What sort of materialist anthropology would this be? This paper is guided by the conviction that any concept of history, materialist or otherwise, cannot be thought apart from the philosophy of time. Further, it maintains that it is impossible to temporalise this materialist concept of history absent an analysis of the relationship between temporality and materiality in Marx more generally. Drawing on the identity that Sartre establishes between praxis, totalisation and temporalisation in the first volume of his Critique of Dialectical Reason, this paper argues that only when we read temporality as materiality in Marx – as two expressions of the same thing – is it possible to free his philosophy of history from the empty husk of linear, progressive time. If Marx’s materialism is in fact a new materialism, is it also a new temporality? Does this materialism affect a new configuration between the three primary dimensions of human time, between the past, present and future?