Productive Forces (Marxism): Concept According to Marx and Main Productive Forces

The concept of productive forces it covers all those forces that are applied by people in the production process (body and brain, tools and techniques, materials, resources, equipment and cooperation among workers), including the management and engineering functions technically indispensable for production.

Human knowledge can also be a productive force. The notion of productive forces encompasses a reality with a great diversity of factors and elements, which includes the division of labor and even certain elements of nature, such as the growth of the population.

Productive forces (Marxism)

Therefore, it is considered that the productive forces are composed of all the factors that contribute to the productive activity of human beings.

Tools and machines are productive forces, as are factories, means of transport and communications, technology and science.

The productive forces also include the concentration of production in large factories and the social division of labor, which allows more intensive use of machines.


  • 1 Concept according to Marx
    • 1.1 Productive forces and means of production
    • 1.2 The productive forces and productivity
    • 1.3 Capital and destructive forces
  • 2 The 3 main productive forces
  • 3 The relations of production
  • 4 References

Concept according to Marx

Marx defines the concept of productive forces empirically. He describes it in economic and historical terms, referring to a specific mode of production, and not in general sociological terms. It does not do so with the purpose of theoretical knowledge, but with a vision towards social action.

Thus, the productive forces as conceived by Marx are much more than a simple philosophical concept. They form, together with the relations of production with which they work, what is called the mode of production. Before Marx, nobody used the term in that way.

Productive forces and means of production

In principle, Marx points out that a productive force is nothing more than the real labor power of the workers. With certain means of production and within a defined form of social cooperation, human beings produce the material means to satisfy their social needs.

In Marx and Engels's critique of political economy they refer to productive forces as the combination of the means of production (tools, machinery, land, infrastructure, etc.) with the human workforce.

Probably they came to this concept taking as reference the economic work of Adam Smith, who emphasized the proportional increase of the"productive powers of labor", by creating the division of labor under the conditions of modern industry.

Marx stressed that the means of production are not a productive force unless they are actually operated, maintained and maintained by human labor.

Without the application of human labor, the physical condition and the value of the same would deteriorate, depreciate or be destroyed, just as if it were a ghost town.

The productive forces and productivity

In a second meaning even more important, Marx indicates that a productive force is everything that increases the productive effect of human labor power.

In this sense, the progress of technology and science, as well as the social forces created by cooperation and the division of labor, belong to the productive forces.

That is why the development of the productive forces consists basically in the increase of labor productivity or, in other words, the fact that society has reached the point where it can produce the same amount of goods with a smaller amount. of work.

Capital and destructive forces

Capital, being one of the factors of production, comes to be seen in capitalist society as a productive force in itself independent of work; a subject with a life of its own.

In fact, Marx sees summarized the essence of what he calls"the relation of capital"because of the circumstance that capital buys manpower; that is, the power of property controls human energy and its working time.

Finally, on the issue of productive forces we come to another characteristic of capitalism: its growing transformation into destructive forces.

Marx explained how these productive forces received a unilateral development under the system of private property and became destructive forces.

The 3 main productive forces

The term productive forces is integral. It does not mean only labor, raw materials or capital. It will be called productive force to the accumulated work, to the tools, to the earth and to everything that directly or indirectly helps the production.

The consciousness and the power of human ingenuity enrich the productive forces, just as the instruments used for production.

The political philosopher Gerald Cohen, in his famous work The Theory of the History of Karl Marx , Gives us a very simple formula of the concept of productive forces: the productive forces represent the means of production. These forces include:

-Production instruments: machines, factories, tools...

- Raw materials: the elements, minerals and natural resources that serve to create the products.

- Labor power. The productive faculties of the producing agents: strength, knowledge, skills and ingenuity.

These terms are related to the fact that each one is used by the producing agents to manufacture the products.

The instruments of production refer to what they work with. The raw materials respond to what they work for, and the labor power is what allows them to work with the instruments on the raw material.

The relations of production

The productive forces are only one aspect of the mode of production. The other aspect is the relations of production.

By producing material goods people interact not only with nature, but also with each other. In the production process necessarily arise certain relationships between people; These are called production relations.

For production to be possible, a relationship between people and the media is necessary. Cohen says that people and productive forces are the only terms linked by production relations.

All production relationships are between a person (or group of people) and another person (or group of people), or between a person and the productive force. In other words, the relations of production unite at least one person and, at most, a productive force.

Marx writes:"In production, men not only act on nature, but also among them. They only produce by cooperating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their activities.

In order to produce, they establish certain connections and relationships, and only within these connections and social relations does their action on nature take place."

Social process

The novel aspect of Marx's theory about the materialist conception of history is that it calls all kinds of production as social production, and also that it is a social process. The whole society, including its past and present, is closely related to the production process.

It is the relations of production that tell us if a worker is a slave, an employee or if the machine serves as a means to exploit the worker or vice versa. The relations of production are economic relations.


  1. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2018). Productive forces. Taken from:
  2. Malcolm and Paul Saba (1980). Productive forces. Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line. Taken from:
  3. Monalisa M. (2017). Karl Marx's View on Production and Productive Forces. Political Science. Taken from:
  4. Michael Proebsting (2008). What are productive forces? League for the fifth international. Taken from:
  5. Karl Korsch (2016). Productive Forces and Production-Relations. Social Sciences E-Books Online, Collection 2016. Taken from:

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