Such is the dependence of the development of the relations of production on the development of the productive forces of society, and primarily, on the development of the instruments of production, the dependence by virtue of which the changes and development of the productive forces sooner or later lead to corresponding changes and development of the relations of production.
“The use and fabrication of instruments of labor,” says Marx, “although existing in the germ among certain species of animals, is specifically characteristic of the human labor-process, and Franklin therefore defines man as a tool-making animal. Relics of bygone instruments of labor possess the same importance for the investigation of extinct economical forms of society, as do fossil bones for the determination of extinct species of animals. It is not the articles made, but how they are made that enables us to distinguish different economical epochs. Instruments of labor not only supply a standard of the degree of development to which human labor has attained, but they are also indicators of the social conditions under which that labor is carried on.” (Marx, Capital, Vol. I, 1935, p. 121.)
– “Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces. In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” (Marx and Engels, Vol. V, p. 564.)
– “There is a continual movement of growth in productive forces, of destruction in social relations, of formation in ideas; the only immutable thing is the abstraction of movement.” (Ibid., p. 364.)
Speaking of historical materialism as formulated in The Communist Manifesto, Engels says:
“Economic production and the structure of society of every historical epoch necessarily arising therefrom constitute the foundation for the political and intellectual history of that epoch; … consequently (ever since the dissolution of the primeval communal ownership of land) all history has been a history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes at various stages of social development; … this struggle, however, has now reached a stage where the exploited and oppressed class (the proletariat) can no longer emancipate itself from the class which exploits and oppresses it (the bourgeoisie), without at the same time for ever freeing the whole of society from exploitation, oppression and class struggles….” (Engels’ Preface to the German Edition of the Manifesto.)
d) The Third Feature of Production
The third feature of production is that the rise of new productive forces and of the relations of production corresponding to them does not take place separately from the old system, after the disappearance of the old system, but within the old system; it takes place not as a result of the deliberate and conscious activity of man, but spontaneously, unconsciously, independently of the will of man It takes place spontaneously and independently of the will of man for two reasons.
Firstly, because men are not free to choose one mode of production or another, because as every new generation enters life it finds productive forces and relations of production already existing as the result of the work of former generations, owing to which it is obliged at first to accept and adapt itself to everything it finds ready-made in the sphere of production in order to be able to produce material values.
Secondly, because, when improving one instrument of production or another, one clement of the productive forces or another, men do not realize, do not understand or stop to reflect what social results these improvements will lead to, but only think of their everyday interests, of lightening their labor and of securing some direct and tangible advantage for themselves.
When, gradually and gropingly, certain members of primitive communal society passed from the use of stone tools to the use of iron tools, they, of course, did not know and did not stop to reflect what social results this innovation would lead to; they did not understand or realize that the change to metal tools meant a revolution in production, that it would in the long run lead to the slave system. They simply wanted to lighten their labor and secure an immediate and tangible advantage; their conscious activity was confined within the narrow bounds of this everyday personal interest.
When, in the period of the feudal system, the young bourgeoisie of Europe began to erect, alongside of the small guild workshops, large manufactories, and thus advanced the productive forces of society, it, of course, did not know and did not stop to reflect what social consequences this innovation would lead to; it did not realize or understand that this “small” innovation would lead to a regrouping of social forces which was to end in a revolution both against the power of kings, whose favors it so highly valued, and against the nobility, to whose ranks its foremost representatives not infrequently aspired. It simply wanted to lower the cost of producing goods, to throw larger quantities of goods on the markets of Asia and of recently discovered America, and to make bigger profits. Its conscious activity was confined within the narrow bounds of this commonplace practical aim.
When the Russian capitalists, in conjunction with foreign capitalists, energetically implanted modern large-scale machine industry in Russia, while leaving tsardom intact and turning the peasants over to the tender mercies of the landlords, they, of course, did not know and did not stop to reflect what social consequences this extensive growth of productive forces would lead to; they did not realize or understand that this big leap in the realm of the productive forces of society would lead to a regrouping of social forces that would enable the proletariat to effect a union with the peasantry and to bring about a victorious socialist revolution. They simply wanted to expand industrial production to the limit, to gain control of the huge home market, to become monopolists, and to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the national economy.
Their conscious activity did not extend beyond their commonplace, strictly practical interests.
Accordingly, Marx says:
“In the social production of their life (that is. in the production of the material values necessary to the life of men – J. St.), men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces.” (Marx, Selected Works, Vol. I, p 269).
This, however, does not mean that changes in the relations of production, and the transition from old relations of production to new relations of production proceed smoothly, without conflicts, without upheavals. On the contrary such a transition usually takes place by means of the revolutionary overthrow of the old relations of production and the establishment of new relations of production. Up to a certain period the development of the productive forces and the changes in the realm of the relations of production proceed spontaneously independently of the will of men. But that is so only up to a certain moment, until the new and developing productive forces have reached a proper state of maturity After the new productive forces have matured, the existing relations of production and their upholders – the ruling classes – become that “insuperable” obstacle which can only be removed by the conscious action of the new classes, by the forcible acts of these classes, by revolution. Here there stands out in bold relief the tremendous role of new social ideas, of new political institutions, of a new political power, whose mission it is to abolish by force the old relations of production. Out of the conflict between the new productive forces and the old relations of production, out of the new economic demands of society, there arise new social ideas; the new ideas organize and mobilize the masses; the masses become welded into a new political army, create a new revolutionary power, and make use of it to abolish by force the old system of relations of production, and to firmly establish the new system. The spontaneous process of development yields place to the conscious actions of men, peaceful development to violent upheaval, evolution to revolution.
“The proletariat,” says Marx, “during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class…by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production….” (Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1938, p. 52.)
– “The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” (Ibid., p. 50 )
– “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.” (Marx, Capital, Vol. I, 1955, p. 603.)
Here is the formulation – a formulation of genius – of the essence of historical materialism given by Marx in 1859 in his historic Preface to his famous book, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:
“In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.” (Marx, Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 269-70.)
Such is Marxist materialism as applied to social life, to the history of society.
Such are the principal features of dialectical and historical materialism.
Questions for Study and Discussion on the Dynamics of Revolution
Q 54 What is the key distinction between human beings and other animals?
Q 55 In which aspect of society do changes bring about changes in the whole of society?
Q 56 “… a history of class struggles, of struggles between exploited and exploiting, between dominated and dominating classes …”. Give some contemporary examples of class struggle.
Q 57 In what way will the outcome of the class struggle under capitalism be different from that at earlier stages of social development? Has this actually happened so far?
Q 58 For what reasons does “… the rise of new productive forces … take(s) place not as the result of the deliberate and conscious activity of man, but spontaneously, unconsciously, independently of the will of man.”?
Q 59 Mention examples of some contemporary developments in the productive forces for which the likely social results are not entirely clear.
Q 60 Which productive force generated conditions favourable for revolution in Russia?
Q 61 What is it that generates the new social ideas necessary for the revolutionary overthrow of an old social system and its replacement by a new one?
Q 62 Marx wrote: “The mode of production in material life determines the social, political and intellectual life process in general.” Try to think of some examples from (a) politics, (b) law, (c) religion, (d) literature, (e) personal relationships in modern capitalist societies.
Q 63 Are people involved in bringing about revolutionary transformations of society always fully aware of the real significance and consequences of their actions? Try to think of some examples to illustrate your answer.
Q 64 “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; …” Has contemporary capitalism reached the point at which there is no room for further development of the productive forces within it?