Marx’s Editor: Production (Part II)

Below is a summary of the second half of Marx’s treatment of production in his “Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy.” The first half sets forth that (1) the isolated hunter-fisher of Smith and Ricardo is not primitive or natural, (2) production is most usefully discussed historically as opposed to as a general economic term and (3) production has two basic principles outside of history (mankind and nature).

In this second half, Marx sets forth (1) the two basic principles of distribution outside of history (the slave group and the conqueror group), (2) that production does not need property to exist and (3) every form of production creates its own legal relations (form of government). He also makes some interesting comments about the Yankees.


Marx now moves on to discuss the capitalist or classical economists’ starting point for discussing economics – production, specifically (1) of the prerequisites for production, i.e., production is impossible without these things, and (2) of conditions which further production more or less.

Their prerequisites for production are (1) (private) property and (2) the protection of property. According to them, conditions which further production more or less follow logic like: “an industrial nation is at the height of its production at the moment when it reaches its historical climax in all respects.” OR “certain races, climates, natural conditions, such as distance from the sea, fertility of the soil, etc. are more favorable to production that others.”

Marx takes issue with both the conditions of production and the conditions which further production on the grounds that they are tautologies. The plain language definition of tautology is “saying the same thing twice.” There is also the concept of rhetorical tautology which means a statement that cannot be disproven. Like in Voltaire’s Candide that “the nose is formed for spectacles, thus we wear spectacles.” This goes back to Marx’s statement in Part I of Production that what modern economists are really doing when they define production is trying to prove the eternal nature and harmony of existing social conditions.

Marx addresses the conditions to further productivity first. He says the economists rely on the tautology that “the facility of creating wealth depends on the extent to which [wealth or its elements] are [already] present” (subjectively and objectively). If we were to go about such an inquiry correctly (scientifically), we would instead need to study the degree of productivity by periods in the development of individual nations (through the lens, e.g., of competition, accumulation). Again, looking through a historical lens is, according to Marx, the only scientific way to assess conditions to further productivity.

Marx does offer the following view, however: it is a “matter of fact” that

“a nation is at its industrial height so long as its main object is not gain, but the process of gaining . . . in that respect the Yankees stand above the English.”

He seems to be saying that the conditions to further productivity are more like a cultural attitude committed to the process as opposed to the goal of creating wealth. In earlier pages, he brought up Henry Charles Carey, Lincoln’s economic advisor, champion of the American system of developmental capitalism, who stood in opposition to the British school of laissez faire capitalism of Smith and Ricardo. Carey represented tariff protection and government intervention to encourage production and national self-sufficiency.

Then, Marx finally gets to it, what the economists are really after with all these tautologies: “to represent production in contradistinction to distribution.” Capitalist economists present production as subject to “eternal laws independent of history” (instruments of production, accumulated labor) while distribution is subject to “all sorts of arbitrary action” indulged in by mankind. Marx takes issue with this on grounds that doing so “violently” breaks the ties that bind together production and distribution. He treats this in depth later in the Introduction.

The common features of distribution, just like in production, can be found; although systems of distribution, like production, vary at different stages of society. Thus, distribution is also most accurately described historically and not generally. He talks of general human laws in this context and juxtaposes two groups (1) the slave, serf, wage-worker and (2) the conqueror, official, landlord, monk, levite. The former group receives a quantity of food which enables its members to exist and the latter group receives a part of the social product; the amount each group receives being determined by the laws of society. As production has two commonalities, according to Marx, mankind (subject) and nature (object), distribution has two commonalities, the slave group and the conqueror group.

Marx studied and was influenced by Hegel and Aristotle. The passage above brings to mind both Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, first set forth in his Phenomenology of the Spirit, as well as Aristotle’s process of consciousness through introjection and projection, in his Nichomachean Ethics. In the most basic terms,the concept is that human consciousness is necessarily created through recognition of another human consciousness.

Before Marx can get into this subsequent lengthy exposition on why production and distribution cannot be torn asunder, he sets out why the capitalist economists prerequisites for for production are wrong. Marx says production is “appropriation of nature by the individual within and through a definite form of society.” Thus, you can’t say that property (appropriation) is a condition of production because you would be saying the same thing twice: appropriation (property) is required in order to have appropriation of nature by the individual (production). Marx concludes that “appropriation which does not appropriate is a contradictio in subjecto.”

Contradictio in subjecto is a Hegelian term. For Hegel, contradiction is the “most profound principle of all things and movement.” Each term contains its opposite within itself – contradictio in subjecto – and that is how the subject develops. The master contains the slave within himself and the slave contains the master within himself. The master cannot be the master without the existence of the slave and vice versa. Production is appropriation, it contains property within itself already. Production does not need property to exist.

Without even discussing the question of whether wealth grows more rapidly under this or that form of property, Marx continues that it “becomes ridiculous” to say that a definite form of property is a condition of production, e.g., private property. History points, rather, to property held in common (common or un-appropriated property) as property in primitive form. Just like history points to a social individual as opposed to an individual independent of society, history points to nature held in common by a family or clan as opposed to nature held by an individual independent of society.

We can think of how wealth or assets are held in a family: it is generally shared (space, food, resources) and distributed according to need (this kid needs clothes now, dependents are cared for, some people eat more or less, according to preference or need). Marx cites Hindu, Slavic and ancient Celtic culture as historical support that the primitive form of property was actually common property. He also notes that the later concept of “communal property” was an important property concept in a “much later period.”

On the issue of protection of property as a prerequisite to production, Marx says that the classical economists are accidentally saying more than they intend. They are accidentally saying that every form of production creates its own legal relations, forms of government. He is very full agreement with this. The shortcoming of their statement is that they see an “accidental reflective connection” between protection of property and production. In truth, protection of property and production form an “organic union.

The classical economists put forth their “modern police” as different than “club law” but they don’t see that both modern police and club law (rule of violence, regulation by force, the law of arms) are both law. He concludes that law is the “right of the stronger” even though bourgeois society has a “government of law” that appears disassociated from violence or force or arms. He adds that when “social conditions corresponding to a certain stage of production are in a state of formation or disappearance, disturbances of production naturally arise, although differing in extent or effect.” I googled “history of labor 1857 Europe” and the first entry that came up was the Panic of 1857, the “first world-wide economic crisis.”

He sums up this whole first part on production as follows:

“All the stages of production have certain destinations in common, which we generalize in thought; but, the so-called general conditions of all production are nothing but abstract conceptions which do not go to make up any real stage in the history of production.”


The featured image is “Elegy Blind Musician” by Mikahil Nesterov painted in 1928. The work of Nesterov (1862-1942) is in the public domain.

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