Red theory: the role of the forces of production
So far we have studied dialectical materialism and given a general outline of its application to history, historical materialism. Let us now examine more closely some of the fundamental concepts that make up the materialist conception of the history of Marxism, starting with the forces of production.
Every social system, be it capitalism, socialism, feudalism or otherwise, has a particular mode of production on which it is based. What is meant by mode of production? Simply put, it’s a way of producing. A mode of production is the historically constituted way in which production takes place.
The mode of production is a complex structure composed of two contradictory aspects: the forces of production and the relations of production. Let us examine here closely the forces of production, what they consist of and the role they play in this contradiction.
Basically, the forces of production consist on the one hand of the agents of production and on the other hand of the means of production. Means of production include instruments of production, i.e. tools, factories, etc., as well as objects of production, i.e. raw material and natural resources that are transformed into goods through the labor process. The agents of production are the workers themselves, who work to transform the objects of production (raw materials, etc.) through their use of the instruments of production (tools, equipment, etc.). The main thing is people. Without their work, the hammers do not hammer, the machines do not turn and the fruits and vegetables spoil in the fields.
Each mode of production has productive forces which are specific to this historical mode and which have existed historically, following what preceded it. The productive forces do not arise out of nowhere, but rely on the productive forces that preceded them. That means we can’t jump all over the place, just like we couldn’t have just decided to develop steel without first learning how to smelt iron.
Why is the development of the productive forces important? Basically, the productive forces coincide with the productive capacity of society. Thus, the development of the productive forces represents the growth of the productive power of society. In other words, their advancement means an increase in society’s ability to eliminate scarcity. As the productive forces progress, the social division of labor also progresses, which means that less work by individuals can produce more overall. This division of labor entails certain relations of production. The relations of production are the concrete relations in which people enter into the activity of production, and in class society these are the relations of property. These are relationships of ownership and power.
The contradiction between the forces of production and the relations of production is at the heart of any given mode of production. Typically, the forces of production play the main and determining role. However, the productive forces can only progress to a certain extent under particular relations of production, and since those in power will not voluntarily change the relations of production, the system as a whole is plunged into crisis. At this stage, the relations of production play a determining role and must be revolutionized to attenuate the crisis and allow the forces of production to continue to progress. This is what we see happening each time there is an era of social revolution that takes us from one mode of production to another.
Marx and Engels explain the determining role of the forces of production in their book, German ideology.
“Real liberation can only be achieved in the real world and by employing real means, … slavery cannot be abolished without the steam engine, the mule and the spinner, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and … in general, people cannot be liberated until they are able to obtain food and drink, shelter and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical, not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions…”
This is certainly true, but it is essential that it not be understood metaphysically. Many have been misled into believing that socialism could never follow until after the forces of production had been fully developed by capitalism. This vulgar historicism formed the philosophical basis of the opportunism that came to dominate the Second International and led them to deny the progressive character of anti-colonial struggles and to insist that socialism must first arise in capitalist countries. developed. For them, Marxism had lost its scientific character and had become a dogma. It also formed the basis of Trotskyism’s claim that socialism could not be consolidated in the Soviet Union, but depended on revolutions in Western Europe for its success. Looking back at this cornerstone of Trotskyism today, it seems laughable.
The fact is that this vulgar, Eurocentric interpretation of Marxism completely misses the point. For Marx and Engels, the object of their study was capitalism and its genesis in Western Europe. But this does not mean that every society must proceed everywhere in the same linear way, through the same set of metaphysically distinct and predetermined stages. Such a vision goes against the materialist dialectic and the need for concrete analysis of concrete conditions. In the real world, different modes of production exist unequally, side by side and, in fact, influence each other in complex ways. Capitalism, although it started in Europe, quickly became an exploitative system whose greenhouses reached all over the world. Capitalism imposes itself on the underdeveloped world through the export of capital by imperialism and the use of weapons of war.
Lenin’s analysis of the rise of imperialism made one point perfectly clear: it has the effect of locking the productive forces of oppressed nations into a state of underdevelopment, dependence and stagnation. Therefore, Lenin analyzed that imperialism created a situation where the “weak links” of the imperialist chain, i.e. the underdeveloped nations, were ripe for revolutions. These nations were “weak links” precisely because these revolutions would undermine the strength of monopoly capitalists who relied on the overexploitation of oppressed nations as a survival system for capitalism in its state of chronic crisis and decadence. Indeed, these were pressure points where the dialectical identity of imperialism as a global world system could be broken. Then, having broken the chains of imperialist underdevelopment, the newly formed socialist countries in the developing world could, through socialist construction, work to methodically advance their newly liberated productive forces. In doing so, they created the necessary conditions to revolutionize the relations of production step by step. This is precisely the process we have seen unfold in countries like Cuba, China and many others, where Marxist-Leninists led and consolidated victorious socialist revolutions.
This is essentially the historical role of the forces of production. The development of the productive forces leads to the progress of the social division of labor and constitutes the basis for the development from one mode of production to another. In our next article, we will discuss the other aspect of the mode of production. We will examine the relations of production and the means by which they can accelerate or hinder the development of the productive forces.