Excerpts from

(1892 edition)

by Frederick Engels


  The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that  the production of the means to support human life and, next to  production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social  structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the  manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes  or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and  how the products are exchanged. From this point of view, the final  causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought,  not in men's brains, not in men's better insights into eternal truth and  justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange.  They  are to be sought, not in the philosophy, but in the economics of  each particular epoch. 

The growing perception that existing social  institutions are unreasonable and unjust, that reason has become  unreason, and right wrong, is only proof that in the modes of  production and exchange changes have silently taken place with which the  social order, adapted to earlier economic conditions, is no longer in  keeping.  From this it also follows that the means of getting rid of the  incongruities that have been brought to light must also be present, in a  more or less developed condition, within the changed modes of production  themselves.  These means are not to be invented by deduction from  fundamental principles, but are to be discovered in the stubborn facts  of the existing system of production.    

The present situation of society ... is the creation of the ruling class of today, of the bourgeoisie.  The mode of production peculiar to the bourgeoisie, known,  since Marx, as the capitalist mode of production, was incompatible with  the feudal system, with the privileges it conferred upon individuals,  entire social ranks and local corporations, as well as with the  hereditary ties of subordination which constituted the framework of its  social organization.  The bourgeoisie broke up the feudal system and  built upon its ruins the capitalist order of society, the kingdom of  free competition, of personal liberty, of the equality, before the law,  of all commodity owners, of all the rest of the capitalist blessings. 


   Thenceforward, the capitalist mode of production could develop in  freedom.  … But ... the new productive  forces have already outgrown the capitalistic mode of using them.  And  this conflict between productive forces and modes of production is not a conflict engendered in the mind of man, like that between original sin  and divine justice.  It exists, in fact, objectively, outside us,  independently of the will and actions even of the men that have brought  it on. 

Then came the concentration of the means of production and of the  producers in large workshops and manufactories, their transformation  into actual socialized means of production and socialized producers.   But the socialized producers and means of production and their products  were still treated, after this change, just as they had been before --  i.e., as the means of production and the products of individuals.  

...Thus, the products now produced socially were  not appropriated by those who had actually set in motion the means of  production and actually produced the commodities, but by the  capitalists.  The means of production, and production itself, had  become in essence socialized.  But they were subjected to a form of  appropriation which presupposes the private production of individuals,  under which, therefore, every one owns his own product and brings it to  market.  This contradiction, which gives to the new mode of production its  capitalistic character, contains the germ of the whole of the social  antagonisms of today

The separation was made complete between the means of production  concentrated in the hands of the capitalists, on the one side, and the  producers, possessing nothing but their labor-power, on the other.  The  contradiction between socialized production and capitalistic  appropriation manifested itself as the antagonism of proletariat and  bourgeoisie.


  But every society based  upon the production of commodities has this peculiarity: that the  producers have lost control over their own social inter-relations.  Each  man produces for himself with such means of production as he may happen  to have, and for such exchange as he may require to satisfy his  remaining wants.  No one knows how much of his particular article is  coming on the market, nor how much of it will be wanted. No one knows  whether his individual product will meet an actual demand, whether he  will be able to make good his costs of production or even to sell his  commodity at all.  Anarchy reigns in socialized production.     

But the production of commodities, like every other form of production,  has it peculiar, inherent laws inseparable from it; and these laws work,  despite anarchy, in and through anarchy.  They reveal themselves in the  only persistent form of social inter-relations -- i.e., in exchange --  and here they affect the individual producers as compulsory laws of  competition.    It became apparent that  the production of society at large was ruled by absence of plan, by  accident, by anarchy; and this anarchy grew to greater and greater  height. 

But the chief means by aid of which the capitalist mode of  production intensified this anarchy of socialized production was the  exact opposite of anarchy. It was the increasing organization of  production, upon a social basis, in every individual productive  establishment.  By this, the old, peaceful, stable condition of things  was ended.  Wherever this organization of production was introduced into  a branch of industry, it brooked no other method of production by its  side.  The field of labor became a battle-ground.   The contradiction  between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation now  presents itself as an antagonism between the organization of production  in the individual workshop and the anarchy of production in society  generally.


It is the compelling force of anarchy in the production of  society at large that ... turns the great majority  of men into proletarians; and it is the masses of the proletariat again  who will finally put an end to anarchy in production.  It is the  compelling force of anarchy in social production that turns the  limitless perfectibility of machinery under modern industry into a  compulsory law by which every individual industrial capitalist must  perfect his machinery more and more, under penalty of ruin.     

But the perfecting of machinery is making human labor superfluous. It means… the  formation of a complete industrial reserve army, ….a regulator for keeping of wages down to the  low level that suits the interests of capital.  Thus it comes about, to quote Marx, that machinery becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working-class….that the very product of the worker is turned into an instrument for his subjugation.

Thus it comes about that the economizing of the instruments of labor becomes at the same time, from the outset, the most reckless waste of labor-power …Thus it comes comes about that the overwork of some becomes the preliminary condition for the idleness of others, and that modern industry, which hunts after new consumers over the whole world, forces the consumption of the masses at home down to a starvation minimum, and in doing thus destroys its own home market.

It  establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with the accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of  toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, ..the ever-increasing perfectibility of modern machinery  is, by the anarchy of social production, turned into a compulsory law  that forces the individual industrial capitalist always to improve his machinery, always to increase its productive force.


  The enormous expansive force of modern  industry, ……appears to us now as a necessity  for expansion, both qualitative and  quantitative, that laughs at all resistance. The extension of the markets cannot keep pace with  the extension of production. The collision becomes inevitable, and as  this cannot produce any real solution so long as it does not break in  pieces the capitalist mode of production, the collisions become  periodic.  Capitalist production has begotten another "vicious circle".     As a matter of fact, since 1825, when the first general crisis broke  out, the whole industrial and commercial world, production and exchange  among all civilized peoples and their more or less barbaric hangers-on,  are thrown out of joint about once every 10 years.  Commerce is at a  stand-still, the markets are glutted, products accumulate, as  multitudinous as they are unsaleable, hard cash disappears, credit  vanishes, factories are closed, the mass of the workers are in want of  the means of subsistence, because they have produced too much of the  means of subsistence; bankruptcy follows upon bankruptcy, execution upon  execution. 

The stagnation last for years; productive forces and  products are wasted and destroyed wholesale, until the accumulated mass  of commodities finally filter off, more or less depreciated in value,  until production and exchange gradually begin to move again.  Little by  little, the pace quickens.  It becomes a trot.  The industrial trot  breaks into a canter, the canter in turn grows into the headlong gallop  of a perfect steeplechase of industry, commercial credit, and  speculation, which finally, after breakneck leaps, ends where it began  -- in the ditch of a crisis.  And so over and over again. 

We have now,  since the year 1825, gone through this five times, and at the present  moment (1877), we are going through it for the sixth time.  And the  character of these crises is so clearly defined that Fourier hit all of  them off when he described the first "crise plethorique", a crisis from  plethora. In these crises, the contradiction between socialized production and  capitalist appropriation ends in a violent explosion.  The  economic collision has reached its apogee.  The mode of production is  in rebellion against the mode of exchange.  The fact that the socialized organization of production within the  factory has developed so far that it has become incompatible with the anarchy of production in society, which exists side by side with and  dominates it, is brought home to the capitalist themselves by the  violent concentration of capital that occurs during crises, through the  ruin of many large, and a still greater number of small, capitalists. The whole mechanism of the capitalist mode of production breaks down  under the pressure of the productive forces, its own creations. It is  no longer able to turn all this mass of means of production into  capital.  They lie fallow, and for that very reason the industrial  reserve army must also lie fallow.  Means of production, means of  subsistence, available laborers, all the elements of production and of  general wealth, are present in abundance.  But "abundance becomes the  source of distress and want" (Fourier),


  ...  the capitalistic mode of production stands convicted of its  own incapacity to further direct these productive forces.    these productive forces themselves, with increasing energy, press  forward to the removal of the existing contradiction, to the abolition  of their quality as capital, to the practical recognition of their  character as social production forces.    This rebellion of the productive forces, as they grow more and more  powerful, against their quality as capital, this stronger and stronger  command that their social character shall be recognized, forces the  capital class itself to treat them more and more as social productive  forces, so far as this is possible under capitalist conditions.

The  period of industrial high pressure, …tends to bring about that form of the  socialization of great masses of the means of production which we meet  with in the different kinds of joint-stock companies.  Many of these  means of production and of distribution are, from the outset, so  colossal that, like the railways, they exclude all other forms of  capitalistic expansion. At a further stage of evolution, this form also  becomes insufficient.  The producers on a large scale in a particular  branch of an industry in a particular country unite in a "Trust", a  union for the purpose of regulating production.  They determine the  total amount to be produced, parcel it out among themselves, and thus  enforce the selling price fixed beforehand.  But trusts of this kind, as  soon as business becomes bad, are generally liable to break up, and on  this very account compel a yet greater concentration of association.   The whole of a particular industry is turned into one gigantic  joint-stock company; internal competition gives place to the internal  monopoly of this one company.

 In the trusts, freedom of competition changes into its very opposite --  into monopoly; and the production without any definite plan of  capitalistic society capitulates to the production upon a definite plan  of the invading socialistic society.  Certainly, this is so far still to  the benefit and advantage of the capitalists. But, in this case, the  exploitation is so palpable, that it must break down.  No nation will  put up with production conducted by trusts, with so barefaced an  exploitation of the community by a small band of dividend-mongers.     In any case, with trusts or without, the official representative of  capitalist society -- the state -- will ultimately have to undertake the  direction of production.


   This necessity for conversion into State  property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and  communication -- the post office, the telegraphs, the railways. ... the transformation of the great  establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock  companies, trusts, and State property, show how unnecessary the  bourgeoisie are for that purpose.  All the social functions of the  capitalist has no further social function than that of pocketing  dividends, tearing off coupons, and gambling on the Stock Exchange,  where the different capitalists despoil one another of their capital.

At first, the capitalistic mode of production forces out the workers.   Now, it forces out the capitalists, and reduces them, just as it reduced  the workers, to the ranks of the surplus-population But, the transformation -- either into joint-stock companies and trusts,  or into State-ownership -- does not do away with the capitalistic nature  of the productive forces.  In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this  is obvious.  And the modern State, again, is only the organization that  bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions  of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well  of the workers as of individual capitalists. 

The modern state, no  matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine -- the state  of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national  capital.  The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces,  the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more  citizens does it exploit.  The workers remain wage-workers --  proletarians.  The capitalist relation is not done away with.  It is,  rather, brought to a head.  But, brought to a head, it topples over.  

  State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the  conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form  the elements of that solution.     This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the  social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the  harmonizing with the socialized character of the means of production.   And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking  possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control,  except that of society as a whole. 

...with the taking  over by society of the productive forces, the social character of the  means of production and of the products will be utilized by the  producers with a perfect understanding of its nature, and instead of  being a source of disturbance and periodical collapse, will become the  most powerful lever of production itself. As long as we obstinately refuse to  understand the nature and the character of these social means of action  -- and this understanding goes against the grain of the capitalist mode  of production, and its defenders -- so long these forces are at work in  spite of us, in opposition to us, so long they master us, as we have  shown above in detail.    But when once their nature is understood, they can, in the hand working  together, be transformed from master demons into willing servants. 

...the social anarchy  of production gives place to a social regulation of production upon a  definite plan, according to the needs of the community and of each  individual.  Then the capitalist mode of appropriation, in which the  product enslaves first the producer, and then the appropriator, is  replaced by the mode of appropriation of the products that is based upon  the nature of the modern means of production; upon the one hand, direct  social appropriation, as means to the maintenance and extension of  production -- on the other, direct individual appropriation, as means of  subsistence and of enjoyment.     Whilst the capitalist mode of production more and more completely  transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, it  creates the power which, under penalty of its own destruction, is forced  to accomplish this revolution.


   The proletariat seizes political power and turns the means  of production into State property.   But, in doing this, it abolishes itself as proletariat, abolishes all  class distinction and class antagonisms, abolishes also the State as  State.  Society, thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the  State.  That is, of an organization of the particular class which was,  pro tempore, the exploiting class, an organization for the purpose of  preventing any interference from without with the existing conditions of  production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly  keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression  corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom,  wage-labor).  The State was the official representative of society as a  whole; …But, it  was this only in so far as it was the State of that class which itself  represented.

…When, at last, it becomes the real representative of the whole of  society, it renders itself unnecessary. The State is not  "abolished".  It dies out. ...  It presupposes, therefore, the  development of production carried out to a degree at which appropriation  of the means of production and of the products, and, with this, of  political domination, of the monopoly of culture, and of intellectual  leadership by a particular class of society, has become not only  superfluous but economically, politically, intellectually, a hindrance  to development.     This point is now reached.  Their political and intellectual bankruptcy  is scarcely any longer a secret to the bourgeoisie themselves.  Their  economic bankruptcy recurs regularly every 10 years.  In every crisis,  society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces  and products, which it cannot use, and stands helpless, face-to-face  with the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to  consume, because consumers are wanting. 

The socialized  appropriation of the means of production does away, not only with the  present artificial restrictions upon production, but also with the  positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products that  are at the present time the inevitable concomitants of production, and  that reach their height in the crises.  Further, it sets free for the  community at large a mass of means of production and of products, by  doing away with the senseless extravagance of the ruling classes of  today, and their political representatives.


  With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of  commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the  product over the producer.  Anarchy in social production is replaced by  systematic, definite organization.  The struggle for individual  existence disappears. Then, for the first time, man, in a certain  sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom, and  emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones.   The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which  have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of  man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature,  because he has now become master of his own social organization.  The  laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face-to-face with man  as laws of Nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with  full understanding, and so mastered by him.  Man's own social  organization, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature  and history, now becomes the result of his own free action.

The  extraneous objective forces that have, hitherto, governed history, pass  under the control of man himself.  Only from that time will man himself,  more and more consciously, make his own history -- only from that time  will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a  constantly growing measure, the results intended by him.  It is the  ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.     













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