After reading this article you will learn about the features of production relation as observed by various political thinkers
Marx has drawn our attention to a very important aspect of production relation. In his opinion it is never static. Commodities are produced. But in a dynamic society the demand for particular commodities is not static. From time to time the demand for commodities changes and corresponding to this production as well as productive system also change.
Stalin has observed that changes in the mode of production inevitably call both changes in the whole social system, social ideas, political views and political institutions.
In a word, change in production relations calls forth the change in the whole social system and political order. To put it in other words, the production relations constitute the central part of the whole social fabric.
Change in production relations is accompanied by far reaching changes. If this is the position or characteristic of production relation then we can safely say that the history of the development of society is the history of the production relations and the history of the productive forces.
Another feature of the production relations is that its changes and development entail changes and development of productive forces. Productive forces are, therefore, mobile and revolutionary. They are the most important elements of production.
“Productive forces of the society change and develop and depending on these changes and in conformity with them, men’s relations of productions, their economic relations, change.”
This is one aspect of the dialectical change. Another side is, relations of production influence the development of the productive forces. The development of the production relations is dependent upon the development of the productive forces.
Again, the former also react upon the latter. We can say both relations of production and forces of production are dialectically connected.
The above feature should not lead one to assume that the action and reaction between the two are always proportionate. It may so happen that the production relations lag behind the productive forces.
Here may crop up contradiction. But Marx has stressed that this lagging behind is temporary.
Let us put the matter in the clear language of Stalin:
“However much the relations of production may lag behind the development of productive forces, they must sooner or later come into correspondence with the level of development of productive forces. Otherwise we would have a fundamental violation of the units of productive forces and production relations within the system of production as a whole.” There will be crises and disruption.
Another feature of production relations is that the rise of new productive forces and production relations does not mean that correspondingly a new system will emerge and the old system will be completely destroyed.
It takes place within the old system. It takes place not as a result of deliberate and conscious activity of man, but spontaneously and unconsciously of the will of man.
This is due to the fact that man has no freedom to choose one mode of production or another. Productive forces and production relations of every generation are bequeathed to the next generation and it is so part and parcel of the economic and social system that the next generation cannot part with it.
Another interesting thing about the dialectical relationship between the two is that when a new method or technique is introduced nobody knows about its repercussions.
Man is forced to adapt himself with the new method. So, in the productive system, man can hardly claim any independence. To sum up in simple language, the productive system and productive forces of any particular age are not the exclusive properties of that particular age. The knowledge and experience about production of a particular age is carried over to the next period and this process is a continuous one.
Each form of production relations exists as long as it provides sufficient scope for the development of the productive forces. But gradually relations of production come into contradiction with the developing productive forces and become a brake on them. They are then superseded by the new relations of production, the role of which is to serve as the form of the further development of the productive forces.
Marx observes that people never give up the productive forces they have brought into being, but this does not mean that they do not give up the production relations. In order to get better fruits of civilization men form new relations.
The recent interpreters such as G. A. Cohen have wanted to establish a “primacy thesis.” Its central idea is that the nature of a set of production relations is explained by the level of the development of the productive forces embraced by it.
Though the primacy thesis implies that the changes in productive forces bring about changes in production relations, yet some changes in productive forces are too limited in scope to have that effect. Nor is it possible to provide a general statement of how much productive power must increase for a consequent change in production relations to occur.
Marx and Engels have studied the relationship between productive forces and production relation in a different way. They have said that this relationship differs from age to age. Under the primitive communal system the means of production were socially owned.
The system was free from antagonism between the two. Primitive people worked in common and enjoyed the fruits of their labour in common. They had no experience of any exploitation.
Antagonism between productive forces and relations of production, Marx and Engels has said, first surfaced in the slave society because the owners of slave were also the owners of sources of production and simultaneously they owned the workers of production. The slave owner was the sole authority of the slave. He could sell, purchase and even kill him.
Such relations of production corresponded to the state of productive forces of that period. In the slave period there also appeared the exchange of products between individuals and societies, accumulation of wealth in the hands of the few and concentration of the means of production in the hands of the minority.
The basis of production relations under the feudal system was that the feudal lords owned the means of production. But like slave owners they did not fully own the workers of production who were serfs.
The serfs were comparatively free. The feudal lords purchased the labour of the serfs .They were given wage or certain amount of land for their own cultivation and use.
They were also allowed to enjoy few rights. Notwithstanding, there was no perceptible improvement in the relation between productive forces and production relations. This was mainly due to the fact that feudal lords were the owners of the sources of production and the serfs were not well-organized and adequately conscious. But the rise of political consciousness led the serfs to demand for more rights and liberties which the feudal lords were not prepared to provide.
An antagonistic relationship between feudal lords and serfs became inevitable. The exploitation also assumed greater dimensions. Sporadic fighting’s became the order of the day.
In the words of Stalin:
“A class struggle between the exploiters and exploited is the principal feature of the feudal system.”
The Industrial Revolution completely changed the economic and political scene of the society. The means of production were controlled by the few industrial magnates. The age-old cottage and small scale industries were faced with extinction and in many cases were destroyed.
Streams of people from the countryside flocked to the towns and cities in search of work. Before Industrial Revolution there were agricultural workers or farmers and feudal landlords.
When there was no cultivation the agricultural workers or cultivators were engaged in off-season business activities. There were also people of small business. But after Industrial Revolution the society was primarily divided into two main classes’ industrial workers and the owners of capital or industries.
The industrial workers subsequently came to be known as proletarians. Rader in his Marx’s Interpretation of History writes “under the spur of technology, the forces develop more rapidly and in direction incompatible with the relations of production”. But the intense antagonism between the two classes did not surface at the primary stages of Industrial Revolution.
The progress of industrialization intensified the conflict.
“The conflict between forces of production and relations of production intensified until a period of revolutionary upheavals, the social relations are reorganized so as to harmonies with the productive forces.”
In The German Ideology Marx and Engels wrote “all collisions in history have their origin in the contradictions between productive forces and forms of intercourse.” This was true for all societies except primitive communal society.
When this conflict between the relations and forces of production occurs, it signifies that the present society has exhausted the possibilities for developing productivity and that the time for revolution is drawing near.
We have so far seen that Marx and Engels had an idea of the conflict between relations of production and forces of production. But some recent critics have come to the conclusion that from Marx’s writing we cannot be sure of the contradiction. This suspicion or opinion, whatever may be, centres around an observation made by Marx in Wage, Labour and Capital. Men produce commodities by cooperating among themselves. From this observation it is easy to conclude that social relation is part of productive forces.
That is, there is not always contradiction between the two. One may overlap another. “Social relations are to be counted among the productive forces. There is an overlap between the relations and forces, because both include the organization of the work process and division of labour among the working personnel”.
Gordon Leff remarks:
“If there is no actual distinction between forces of production and productive relations, the contradiction between them is not the motive force of change.”
Rader does not agree with this opinion of Gordon Leff. According to Leff there shall be extreme contradiction between the two or there shall be no contradiction at all. This is not correct at all.
The conclusion of Leff is unfounded. Marx has said that the contradictions between productive forces and production relations are sometimes found, but not always. Under normal circumstances, when the economy expands, production relations are productive forces. The cooperation between the two accelerates the economy.
We have analyzed the important aspects of historical materialism because it constitutes the central aspects of Marxist philosophy. Harold Laski in his Communist Manifesto – A Socialist Landmark has said that this concept is not free from defects. But it is at the same time true that it has explained the social change in a correct Way.
Harold Laski and many other critics have said that if we want to enter into the depth of social change and related issues the historical materialism is the most potent means.
The changes that are taking place in a society must be viewed or analysed from the standpoint of materialism. Lukacs says, “Historical materialism did not exist for its own sake, it existed so that the proletariat could understand a situation…armed with this knowledge, it could act accordingly.”