Mode of production - definition

Updated: 21 May 2008, 22:56

The mode of production is the normal approach to production in a given society.

For example, a mode of production based upon slavery existed in the days of the Greek and then Roman empires, and even more recently, alongside capitalism, in the United States before the U.S. Civil War. And still in many places in the world today, slavery exists alongside capitalism.

The slave owner is responsible for their slaves. Whether or not a slave is needed for current production, the owner must keep the slave alive (fed, housed, and healthy enough to do the work required), or lose the investment in that slave. Sometimes the owners will decide that losing their investment in a slave is an acceptable loss, but it is unquestionably a loss. To acquire a new slave the owner must make a new capital investment, much like a capital investment by purchasing farmland.

The feudal mode of production was built around farming. The landowning lords extracted their income from the farmers (serfs) in kind. This means that the people who actually did the work to grow the food, were indebted to the landowner, to provide a share of that food to the landowner. As well, they were often required to provide military service to the landowners.

Under the capitalist mode of production, workers are not tied to the land (and its owner) as in feudalism. Nor are workers are not tied to a specific capitalist. Workers, are however, very strongly tied to the class of owners. Workers do not have the option to be unemployed, unless they wish to die. In most countries, there are charities and sometimes welfare schemes to prevent actual death, but most people, contrary to some allegations, do not want to live in poverty relative to the majority.

Workers are wage slaves. They have little real choice but to sell themselves to whichever employer will take them, at the going rate for whatever work they do. Workers are slaves to the wages system — to the class of owners instead of just one owner. Workers are wage slaves. The capitalist is not directly responsible for the welfare of the workers. If a worker dies, or leaves, the employer can usually hire another. the employer may lose some training expenditure, but that is small relative to what it would cost if the employer had to buy a worker as a slave.

Some workers seem to believe that they are irreplaceable. The irreplaceable worker — if there are any — is extremely rare. If you believe that your employer cannot replace you, try demanding ten times your current salary or wage and quitting if you do not get it.

Under the capitalist mode of production (more simply referred to as capitalism), production is carried out with the intention of selling whatever is produced for a profit. Exchange is not in kind. In other words workers who produce cars, do not receive cars as payment, but rather they receive tokens (money) which can, if one accumulates enough, be exchanged for a car. The worker owns absolutely none of what the worker produces. If you do not believe that, try driving out of an automobile assembly plant with a newly made car, and driving it home. You will soon discover that you do not own that car, even though you built it.

The owners (perhaps shareholders) of any enterprise own everything which is produced.

The owners, because they own the factory or business, can decide at any time to stop production or to start it up again. The workers, because they do not own the plant, do not have any say at all. Nor do the workers have any say in whether the employer (owners) replace the machinery in the plant with new machines which will result in huge layoffs.

Owners have the right to determine that a plant is not producing enough profit, and to close it down. That applies even if that particular plant was the only steel mill in the world. Of course, if it was the only steel mill in the world, it is unimaginable that it would not be extremely profitable. But the point is that the owners have the right to do whatever they want with their property.

The owners expect to make a profit on all production. If they cannot, they have no reason to maintain that production. Perhaps a company will lose money one year, and will remain operational, but if it loses money every year for a decade, most capitalists will remove their money to an investment which will produce a profit for them.

To summarize. Capitalism is the mode of production based upon production for profit. Capitalism is a necessary condition for wage slavery, and wage slavery is a necessary component of capitalism. Capitalism cannot exist without wage slavery.
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