Theory of productive forces

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The term "theory of productive forces" should not be confused with the Marxist analysis of productive forces that is a cornerstone of Marxist theory.
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The theory of productive forces (sometimes referred to as productive force determinism) is a widely used concept in communism and Marxism placing primary emphasis on technical advances and strong productive forces in a nominally socialist economy before real communism, or even real socialism, can have a hope of being achieved.

Theory support

The most influential philosophical defence of this idea has been promulgated by Gerald Cohen in his book Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence. According to this view, technical change can beget social change; in other words, changes in the means (and intensity) of production causes changes in the relations of production, i.e., in people's ideology and culture, their interactions with one another, and their social relationship to the wider world.

In this view, actual socialism or communism, being based on the "redistribution of wealth" to the most oppressed sectors of society, cannot come to pass until that society's wealth is built up enough to satisfy whole populations. Using this theory as a basis for their practical programmes meant that communist theoreticians and leaders, while paying lip service to the primacy of ideological change in individuals to sustain a communist society, actually put productive forces first, and ideological change second.

The philosophical perspective behind the modernizing zeal of, in particular, the Russian and Chinese communists seeking to industrialize their countries is perhaps captured best by this thought in The German Ideology by Marx and Engels.

" is only possible to achieve real liberation in the real world... by employing real means... slavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture, and... in general, people cannot be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. “Liberation” is a historical and not a mental act, and it is brought about by historical conditions, the development of industry, commerce, agriculture, the conditions of intercourse [Verkehr]...

Karl Marx: The German Ideology, Part I: Feuerbach, Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook, B. The Illusion of the Epoch

Critics allege the theory of productive forces was a cornerstone of the disastrous Great Leap Forward.[1]

External links


  1. Chan (2001). Mao's crusade: politics and policy implementation in China's great leap forward. .