Mode of Production in Marxism

Statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Berlin, Germany

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The mode of production is a central concept in Marxism and is defined as the way a society is organized to produce goods and services. It consists of two major aspects: the forces of production and the relations of production.

The forces of production include all of the elements that are brought together in production—from land, raw material, and fuel to human skill and labor to machinery, tools, and factories. The relations of production include relationships among people and people’s relationships to the forces of production through which decisions are made about what to do with the results.

In Marxist theory, the mode of production concept was used to illustrate the historical differences between different societies' economies, and Marx commented on neolithic, Asiatic, slavery/ancient, feudalism, and capitalism.

Marx and fellow German philosopher Friedrich Engels saw hunter-gatherers as the first form of what they called "primitive communism." Possessions were generally held by the tribe until the advent of agriculture and other technological advances.

Next came the Asiatic mode of production, which represented the first form of a class society. Forced labor is extracted by a smaller group. Technical advances such as writing, standardized weights, irrigation, and mathematics make this mode possible.

The slavery or ancient mode of production developed next, often typified in the Greek and Roman city-state. Coinage, affordable iron tools, and an alphabet helped bring about this division of labor. An aristocratic class enslaved workers to manage their businesses while they lived lives of leisure.

As the feudal mode of production developed next, the old Roman Empire had fallen and authority became more localized. A merchant class developed during this period, though serfs, who were tied to a piece of property through servitude, were essentially enslaved as they had no incomes and no ability for upward mobility.

Capitalism developed next. Marx saw man as having now demanded a wage for the labor for which he had previously been providing for free. Still, according to Marx's Das Kapital, in the eyes of capital, things and people exist only as they are profitable.

Karl Marx and Economic Theory

The ultimate end-goal of Marx's economic theory was a post-class society formed around principles of socialism or communism. In either case, the mode of production concept played a key role in understanding the means through which to achieve this goal.

With this theory, Marx differentiated various economies throughout history, documenting what he called historical materialism's "dialectical stages of development." However, Marx failed to be consistent in his invented terminology, resulting in a vast number of synonyms, subsets and related terms to describe the various systems.

All of these names, of course, depended upon the means through which communities obtained and provided necessary goods and services to one another. Therefore, relationships between these people became the source of their namesake. Such is the case with communal, independent peasant, state, and slave while others operated from a more universal or national standpoint like capitalist, socialist and communist.

Modern Application

Even now, the idea of overthrowing the capitalist system in favor of a communist or socialist one that favors the employee over the company, the citizen over state, and the countryman over country is a hotly contested debate.

To give context to the argument against capitalism, Marx argued that by its very nature, capitalism can be viewed as "a positive, and indeed revolutionary, economic system" who's downfall is its dependence on exploiting and alienating the worker. 

Marx further argued that capitalism is inherently doomed to fail for this very reason: Workers would eventually consider themselves oppressed by the capitalist and start a social movement to change the system to a more communist or socialist means of production. However, he warned, "this would occur only if a class-conscious proletariat organized successfully to challenge and overthrow the domination of capital."

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Crossman, Ashley. "Mode of Production in Marxism." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Crossman, Ashley. (2020, August 28). Mode of Production in Marxism. Retrieved from Crossman, Ashley. "Mode of Production in Marxism." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).