means of production

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means of production

(MARXISM) the tools and machinery, plant, etc. used in production. In MARX's characterization of capitalism, the ownership and non-ownership of the means of production is central to his distinction between capitalists and proletarians. However, there exists a major ambiguity in Marxism as to whether the means of production (and the FORCES OF PRODUCTION, including the form and level of the technical development of the means of production) or the RELATIONS OF PRODUCTION have primacy in generating social transformations of the kind that are central in Marxism. Mostly, though with some exceptions (e.g. Cohen, 1978, who accords primacy to forces of production), theorists have emphasized the importance of an interaction between forces and relations of production.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Means of Production


the means and objects of labor used by man in the production of material wealth. The means of production constitute the material factor of productive forces; including production technology, they form the material and technological basis of society.

A means of labor is a “thing or complex of things that man interposes between himself and the object of labor and that serves him as a conduit for his effect on the object” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 190). The means of labor, especially the implements of labor, include the machines, machine tools, and instruments by which man affects nature, as well as production buildings, land, canals, and roads. The use and creation of the means of labor are a characteristic feature of man’s labor activity.

The objects of labor are the natural substance on which man exerts his effect during the labor process with the purpose of adapting the substance to personal consumption or productive use. An object of labor already subjected to human labor but destined for further processing is called raw material. Certain finished goods may also enter the production process as objects of labor—for example, grapes in the wine industry and butter in the confectionery industry. “If the entire process is viewed from the standpoint of its result—the product—then both the means of labor and the object of labor are the means of production, and labor itself is productive labor” (ibid., p. 192).

The implements of labor play a decisive role in the means of production. As they are developed and improved, labor’s technical capability increases, man’s role in the production process changes, and his dominion over nature grows. The level of development of the means of labor is a major index of technological progress. Improved means of labor lead to fundamental qualitative shifts in production techniques and technology and to change in production relations; they also determine the transition from one mode of production to another.

Constant change in the structure of social needs is associated with the appearance of new means of production. The scientific and technological revolution has brought fundamental changes in the implements of labor, replacing machines of the traditional type with automated-machine units, which involve an element of automatic regulation and control of the production process. It has also brought qualitative shifts in the objects of labor, changes that consist in the use of synthetic materials; thus, the dependency on the objects of labor provided by nature is reduced.

The form of ownership of the means of production characterizes man’s socioproductive relations, the class structure of society, and the mode by which the producer is linked to the means of production. Under capitalism, the means of production are privately owned, which presupposes that labor power is sold to the private owner of the means of production—the capitalist. The means of production, therefore, are here an instrument of exploitation. Under socialism, the economic character of the means of production is determined by the dominance of public ownership. All toilers are equal in relation to the means of production, which are thus no longer a means of exploitation. The means of production represent the production assets of the national economy, which are used in the interests of society as a whole. Socialist ownership also fundamentally changes the relationship between labor power and the means of production; it has opened up new possibilities for the development of the means of production. Preferential growth in the production of the means of production, as opposed to the production of consumer goods, is an economic law of expanded reproduction based on large-scale machine production.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, ch. 5. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Engels, F. Dialektika prirody. Ibid., vol. 20, pp. 486–500.
Problemy sotsialisticheskoi sobstvennosti. Moscow, 1973. Chapters 10,11.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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