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raw material[′rȯ mə′tir·ē·əl]
a material on which labor has been expended and which will be subject to further processing. In the production process, raw materials form the material base of finished products or semifinished articles. The entire value of the raw material is subsumed into the value of the item assuming commodity form. Raw materials have much in common with basic materials with respect to economic importance and their role in the production process.
All raw materials are classified by origin as industrial or agricultural. Industrial raw materials are subdivided in turn into mineral and man-made, with the proportion of the latter steadily growing. Raw materials of mineral origin are also grouped according to use. Some are used as energy sources (petroleum, natural gas, coal, combustible shales, uranium) or in producing building materials (cement, ceramic materials), while others find use in metallurgy (ores of ferrous, nonferrous, rare, and noble metals), technology (diamonds, graphite, mica), and mining and chemical technology (agronomic ores, barite, fluorite, sulfur). Man-made raw materials include synthetic resins and plastics, synthetic rubber, leather substitutes, and synthetic detergents. Agricultural raw materials, as well as raw materials from the forestry and fishing industries, are subdivided into those of plant (grain and industrial crops, wood, feral plants, medicinal plants) or animal (meat, fish, milk, hides, skins, wool) origin. In certain branches of industry, a distinction is made between primary (ores in metallurgy, pulp in the paper industry) and secondary (scrap metal, wastepaper) raw materials. A wise use of secondary raw materials can bring savings in social labor. Comprehensive processing of primary raw materials is an important source for expanding the raw-material base and increasing the economic efficiency of industry. Improving the quality of raw materials is an essential condition for raising the technical and economic indexes for the operations of industrial enterprises.
REFERENCESMarx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 189–90.
Ekonomika sotsialisticheskoi promyshlennosti, 5th ed. Edited by L. I. Itin. Moscow, 1974.
In capitalist economies, the purchase and sale of raw materials are subject to constant disturbances, a condition constituting the raw-material problem of the world capitalist economy. The manifestations of the problem are instability of supply and demand, an uncontrolled alternation of periods of surplus and scarcity of raw materials on markets with corresponding sharp changes in world prices, and contradictions between different groups of monopolistic capitalists and between economically developed and underdeveloped countries. The raw-material problem is especially serious in developed capitalist countries, which are experiencing severe shortages of various types of raw materials. At the same time, the raw-material problem has importance for developing countries that are rich in raw materials and that act as suppliers, a status entailing a high degree of dependence on the vagaries of capitalist markets.
Since World War II, the capitalist economy has gone through several periods of shortage of raw materials and increased prices. The periods, which usually coincided with periods of expansion in the business cycle, were in the early and mid-1950’s, the mid-1960’s, and the first half of the 1970’s. In view of the exceptional severity of the problem, the last period has been referred to as the raw materials crisis. World prices for raw materials rose by a factor of almost five in the period 1970–74, while prices for industrial goods were doubling; in combination with other factors, these increases caused serious disturbances in the capitalist economy. During these years, market factors interacted with longstanding tendencies toward crisis in capitalism as a socioeconomic system, including the further internationalization of productive forces and the growing interdependence of national economies, the crisis in traditional relations of domination and subordination between capitalist centers and outlying areas, chronic currency fluctuations, and a lowering of the quality of the environment owing to the irrational, often predatory attitude of capitalist monopolies toward the use of natural resources.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, there was a clear trend, despite market fluctuations, toward lower prices in capitalist markets for raw materials, especially in relation to the price of industrial goods. This decline reflected not only the positive results of the development of productive forces against the background of the scientific and technological revolution but also the negative consequences of the policies of monopolies that ultimately limited the flow of capital investment in extractive industries. As a result, a structural imbalance arose between the demand for raw materials and the ability to meet the demand, and certain bourgeois students of the problem have offered gloomy predictions concerning the prospects for meeting the world demand for raw materials.
Marxist scholars, stressing the dependence of raw-material supply on socioeconomic factors, note also the relatively limited quantity of natural resources accessible for exploitation (with the given level of machinery and technology) and the importance of a judicious, frugal approach to these resources. These considerations have global significance, and the socialist countries are taking an active part in efforts to solve the problem of raw materials.
V. G. PAVLOV