Productive Forces: Concept And Main Ones

The concept of productive forces encompasses all those forces that are applied by people in the production process (body and brain, tools and techniques, materials, resources, equipment, and cooperation between workers), including technically essential engineering and management functions. 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 population growth.

Productive forces (Marxism)

Therefore, the productive forces are considered to be 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.

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 for 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 function, what is called the mode of production. Before Marx no one used the term that way.

Productive forces and means of production

In principle, Marx points out that a productive force is nothing more than the actual 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 the productive forces as the combination of the means of production (tools, machinery, land, infrastructure, etc.) with the human labor force.

They probably arrived at this concept by taking as a reference the economic work of Adam Smith, who emphasized the proportional increase in the “productive powers of labor” as the division of labor was created 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 preserved by human labor.

Without the application of human labor, their physical condition and value would deteriorate, depreciate, or be destroyed, just like a ghost town.

The productive forces and productivity

In an even more important second meaning, Marx indicates that a productive force is anything 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 increasing the productivity of labor 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, is seen in capitalist society as a productive force in itself independent of labor; a subject with a life of its own.

In fact, Marx sees the essence of what he calls the “capital relation” summed up by the fact that capital buys labor; that is, property power controls human energy and its working time.

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

Marx explained how these productive forces received a one-sided development under the private property system 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. Productive force will be called accumulated work, tools, land and everything that directly or indirectly helps production.

Consciousness and the power of human ingenuity enrich the productive forces, as do the instruments used for production.

The political philosopher Gerald Cohen, in his famous work The Theory of 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 are used to create the products.

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

These terms are related by 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. Raw materials respond to what they work for, and labor power is what allows them to work with the instruments on raw materials.

Production relations

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 certain relationships necessarily arise between people; these are called relations of production.

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 the relations of production.

All relations of production 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, one productive force.

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

To produce they establish certain connections and relationships, and only within these social connections and relationships is their action on nature carried out.

Social process

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

It is the relations of production that tell us whether a worker is a slave, a wage earner or whether 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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