Production Relations

Production Relations


the totality of material economic relations among people, in social production and in the movement of the social product from production to consumption.

Production relations are a necessary aspect of social production. K. Marx wrote: “In production men not only act on nature but also on one another. They produce only by cooperating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and relations with one another and only within these social connections and relations does their action on nature, does production, take place” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 6, p. 441).

Technical production relations, which are conditioned by the requirements of technology and the organization of production, take shape in the process of labor (for example, the relations between workers with different specialized skills, the relations between those who organize work and those who carry it out, and the relations involved in the technological division of labor within a production group or on the level of society as a whole). However, in addition to technical production relations, certain economic relations between people develop in the process of production. Economic production relations (usually referred to as production relations) differ from technical production relations in that they express the relations between people in terms of their relationship to the means of production—that is, in terms of property relations.

If the means of production are in the hands of society as a whole and if, therefore, the economic basis of society is public property (as is the case under socialism), the production relations of cooperation and mutual assistance take shape among the members of society. However, ownership of the means of production by part of society (that is, by private individuals) results in the establishment of production relations characterized by the exploitation of man by man. Under exploitative relations, the property owner extorts from the direct producer unpaid surplus labor and appropriates either the labor or its fruits. People who are deprived of the basic means of production or of all the means of production inevitably become economically dependent on the owners of the means of production—a circumstance that predetermines the relations of domination and subordination. Historically, exploitative production relations are associated with the slaveholding, feudal, and capitalist socioeconomic formations.

In addition to these basic types of production relations, there are certain transitional types, which emerge when the elements of different types of production relations coexist within the framework of the same economic structure (for example, state capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat).

Property relations penetrate all spheres of economic relations—the production, exchange, distribution, and consumption of material goods. They determine the distribution of the means of production and the distribution of people in the structure of social production (that is, the class structure of society). Various property relations are manifested directly in production in the way in which the producer is connected with the means of production. For example, in capitalist society the worker is connected with the means of production only after he sells his labor power to the capitalist. In socialist society the means of production belong to the working people, and the socialist state functions as the owner of the basic means of production. This determines not only the character of the relations among people in production but also the distribution of material goods.

Production relations lend a historically determined, social quality to all social phenomena and to society as a whole. The central point in the elaboration of the materialist conception of history was precisely the isolation of production relations as objective material relations, independent of human consciousness and distinct from the totality of social relations. In the manuscript “Toward a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (1843), Marx came to the conclusion that property relations between people constitute the foundation of civil society. Later, Marx defined property relations as relations developing in production. V. I. Lenin observed that in The Holy Family (1845), “Marx approached the basic idea of his entire ‘system,’ … namely the concept of the social relations of production” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 29, p. 16).

In The German Ideology (1845–46), Marx and Engels singled out two aspects of production—the productive forces and the social relations among people in production. These social relations, which depend on the productive forces, are defined in The German Ideology as “forms of intercourse.” The term “relations of production” was not used by Marx until later, in the Communist Manifesto (1848) and other works. The isolation of the economic relations of production from the totality of social relations laid the foundation for a scientific, objective approach to the analysis of the historical process. Production relations provide an effective criterion for distinguishing one stage of social development from another and for singling out general, recurrent features in the history of different countries and peoples who are at the same stage of social development. In other words, the production relations provide a criterion for distinguishing the specific historical types of societies (socioeconomic formations), thus making possible an understanding of the laws of human historical development.

Disregarding production relations—the framework for labor—results in the reduction of every labor process to certain general features. Moreover, if production relations are ignored, historical epochs are distinguished only by the level of technology in labor. Thus, the fundamental economic differences between various social formations disappear. This is the essence of the methodology of technological determinism, which is used in the bourgeois theories of the “stages of economic growth” and “the industrial society,” for example. These theories evaluate different societies only from the standpoint of the level of their technological development. Voluntarism and arbitrariness in politics are the result of the failure to recognize that the production relations depend on the development of the productive forces.

Production relations are the social form of the productive forces. Every mode of production has two aspects—the production relations and the productive forces, which are interrelated in conformity with the law that the production relations correspond to the character and level of development of the productive forces. According to this law, production relations develop in conformity with the character and level of development of the productive forces, as a form of their functioning and development. In turn, the production relations affect the productive forces, accelerating or retarding their development. During this process of development contradictions arise between the growing, changing productive forces and the obsolescent production relations. These contradictions can be resolved only by changing the production relations so that they correspond to the productive forces. In antagonistic class society contradictions between the productive forces and outdated production relations are resolved by social revolution. The dialectics of the productive forces and the production relations reveal the causes of progress in production, as well as the essence of the entire historical process.

As the form of the development of the productive forces and as the primary, material social relations, the production relations are the base for the superstructure of society—ideology, ideological relations, and institutions (seeBASE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE). Considering all of their functions in society, as the form of the productive forces and as the base of society, the production relations constitute the economic structure of a social formation.

The production relations of the communist formation differ fundamentally from those of all antagonistic class formations, in that social ownership of the means of production prevails and exploitation and social anatagonism are absent. In the communist formation the production relations are the basis for the ideological and political unity of the entire society. The production relations of the communist formation emerge in conformity with their own lawlike regularities. They do not take shape in the depths of the previous formation but emerge as the result of a socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is a lever for the transformation of economic relations. Under the communist formation the development of the production relations also differs qualitatively from their development in previous societies. The contradictions that emerge during the development of the socialist mode of production are resolved not through the abolition of socialist production relations but through their development and through the preservation of their distinctive features as relations of cooperation and mutual assistance. Moreover, under socialism the contradictions between the productive forces and the production relations are resolved in the interests of society as a whole. In antagonistic class society these contradictions are resolved in the interests of one social group (class) and to the detriment of another.

The development of socialist production relations begins in the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism. Social ownership replaces private ownership by means of the expropriation of private property, which is based on the appropriation of the labor of other men, and by means of cooperative ownership by small-scale producers, which is based on their own labor. Socialist production relations are characterized by two forms of social ownership of the means of production—state property and cooperative property, which determine the relations of mutual assistance, collectivism, and comradely cooperation among people free of exploitation and create the conditions for distribution according to the quantity and quality of labor. The development of socialist production relations consists in their improvement and gradual transformation into communist production relations, on the basis of and in the process of the creation of the material and technical basis for communism. This process is substantially influenced by the scientific and technological revolution and its integral connection with the advantages of the socialist economic system.

As the productive forces and the productivity of labor develop, it is of crucial importance that the two forms of socialist property gradually converge and fuse, creating a single form of ownership of the instruments and means of production—the property of all the people. Also of crucial importance are the eradication of the essential differences between the city and the countryside and between mental and physical labor; the obliteration of the social differences between the workers, the peasants, and the intelligentsia; a gradual transition from distribution according to labor to distribution according to need; the establishment of full social equality, and the comprehensive development of all members of society.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Nemetskaia ideologiia. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, sec. 1.
Marx, K., and F. Engels. Manifest kommunisticheskoi partii. Ibid., vol. 4.
Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii. Ibid.
Marx, K. Naemnyi trud i kapital. Ibid., vol. 6.
Marx, K. Iz ekonomicheskikh rukopisei 1857–1858 gg. (Introduction.) Ibid., vol. 12.
Marx, K. K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii. (Foreword.) Ibid., vol. 13.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1 . Ibid, vol. 23.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring, sees. 2, 3. Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. Chto takoe “druz’ia naroda” i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov? Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kaptializma v Rossii. Ibid., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma. Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti. Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. O kooperatsii. Ibid., vol. 45.
Programma KPSS (Priniata XXII s”ezdom KPSS). Moscow, 1973.
Osnovy marksistsko-leninskoi filosofii, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1974.
Politicheskaia ekonomiia. Moscow, 1973.


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