Mode of production

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This is a term in the Marxian theory, historical materialism.

A society's mode of production is its method of producing the necessities of life (whether for health, food, housing or needs such as education, science, nurturing, etc.).[1] It encompasses two things:

  • Forces of production: these consist of human labour power and technical knowledge, plus the means of production (e.g. tools, equipment, buildings, materials, and improved land. citation needed regarding improved land).
  • Relations of production: these include the technical relations of people at work, the property, power, and control relations governing society's productive assets, the relations between people and the objects of their work, and the relations between social classes.

"Mode of production" is a translation of Marx's German term, Produktionsweise, meaning 'the way of producing',

The mode of production occupies a central place in Marxian historical materialist theory because the mode of production is so encompassing: it can be conceived of as a totality that includes the full gamut of social and economic phenomena of a region and era. The following passage from Marx, which is often used as a working definition of mode of production (although the actual term does not appear in it), gives a sense of the intended scope:

The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of direct producers [and also that this] determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element. Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves, thereby simultaneously its specific political form. It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers – a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity – which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure. (Capital III, ch. 47, sect ii)[2]

The modes of production in history

Marx identified several modes of production, each characteristic of a different epoch in history. He did not give exactly the same list in all of his writings, and subsequent theorists have given yet other lists, but the following is fairly standard:

Primitive communism

This section was copied from Wikipedia in October 2013. Its reliability is in doubt.

Human society is seen as organized in traditional tribe structures, typified by shared values and consumption of the entire social product. As no permanent surplus product is produced, there is also no possibility of a ruling class coming into existence. As this mode of production lacks differentiation into classes, it is said to be classless. Palaeolithic and Neolithic tools, pre- and early-agricultural production, and rigorous ritualized social control have often been said to be the typifying productive forces of this mode of production. However, the foraging mode of production still exists, and often typified in contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Past theories of the foraging mode of production have focused on lack of control over food production.[3] More recent scholarship has argued that hunter-gatherers use the foraging mode of production to maintain a specific set of social relations that, perhaps controversially, are said to emphasize egalitarianism and the collective appropriation of resources.[4]

Asiatic mode of production

This section was copied from Wikipedia in October 2013. Its reliability is in doubt.

This is a disputed category, initially used to explain pre-slave and pre-feudal large earthwork constructions in China, India, the Euphrates and Nile river valleys (and named on this basis of the primary evidence coming from greater "Asia"). The Asiatic mode of production is said to be the initial form of class society, where a small group extracts social surplus through violence aimed at settled or unsettled band communities within a domain. Exploited labour is extracted as forced corvee labour during a slack period of the year (allowing for monumental construction such as the pyramids, ziggurats, ancient Indian communal baths or the Chinese Great Wall). Exploited labour is also extracted in the form of goods directly seized from the exploited communities. The primary property form of this mode is the direct religious possession of communities (villages, bands, hamlets) and all those within them. The ruling class of this society is generally a semi-theocratic aristocracy which claims to be the incarnation of gods on earth. The forces of production associated with this society include basic agricultural techniques, massive construction and storage of goods for social benefit (granaries).

Antique or Ancient mode of production

This section was copide from Wikipedia in October 2013. Its reliability is in doubt.

Similar to the Asiatic mode, but differentiated in that the form of property is the direct possession of individual human beings. Additionally, the ruling class usually avoids the more outlandish claims of being the direct incarnation of a god, and prefers to be the descendants of gods, or seeks other justifications for its rule. Ancient Greek and Roman societies are the most typical examples of this mode. The forces of production associated with this mode include advanced (two field) agriculture, the extensive use of animals in agriculture, and advanced trade networks.


This section was copide from Wikipedia in October 2013. Its reliability is in doubt.

The feudal mode of production is usually typified by the systems of the West between the fall of the classical European culture and the rise of capitalism, though similar systems existed in most of the earth. The primary form of property is the possession of land in reciprocal contract relations: the possession of human beings as peasants or serfs is dependent upon their being entailed upon the land. Exploitation occurs through reciprocated contract (though ultimately resting on the threat of forced extractions). The ruling class is usually a nobility or aristocracy. The primary forces of production include highly complex agriculture (two, three field, lucerne fallowing and manuring) with the addition of non-human and non-animal power devices (clockwork, wind-mills) and the intensification of specialisation in the crafts—craftsmen exclusively producing one specialised class of product.


Early Capitalism

This section includes material from Wikipedia

The primary form of exploitation is wage labour The ruling class is the bourgeoisie, which exploits the proletariat. The bourgeoisie possess all of the major means of production and the proletarians possess only their own labour power, which they must sell to the bourgeoisie in order to survive. The key forces of production are the modern industrial system with its supporting structures of bureaucracy, the modern state, and above all finance capital.

Late Capitalism

This section includes material from Wikipedia.

Forms known as state capitalism, corporate capitalism, or monopoly capitalism predominate in the so-called modern mixed economy featuring oligarchial multinational corporations with their highly socialized and globalized systems of production.

The hallmarks of late capitalism are consumerism and financialization, a process whereby "making money", literally, becomes the dominant industry - both of these practices are a means to sustain the flow and accumulation of capital.[5]


Socialism (Lower-stage communism)

Communism (Upper-stage communism)

Articulation of modes of production

This section was copied from Wikipedia in October 2013.

In any specific society or country, different modes of production might emerge and exist alongside each other, linked together economically through trade and mutual obligations. To these different modes correspond different social classes and strata in the population. So, for example, urban capitalist industry might co-exist with rural peasant production for subsistence and simple exchange and tribal hunting and gathering. Old and new modes of production might combine to form a hybrid economy.

However, Marx's view was that the expansion of capitalist markets tended to dissolve and displace older ways of producing over time. A capitalist society was a society in which the capitalist mode of production had become the dominant one. The culture, laws and customs of that society might however preserve many traditions of the preceding modes of production. Thus, although two countries might both be capitalist, being economically based mainly on private enterprise for profit and wage labour, these capitalisms might be very different in social character and functioning, reflecting very different cultures, religions, social rules and histories.

Elaborating on this idea, Leon Trotsky famously described the economic development of the world as a process of uneven and combined development of different co-existing societies and modes of production which all influence each other. This means that historical changes which took centuries to occur in one country might be truncated, abbreviated or telescoped in another. Thus, for example, Trotsky observes in the opening chapter of his history of the Russian Revolution of 1917 that "Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between these two weapons in the past. The European colonists in America did not begin history all over again from the beginning", etc. Thus, old and new techniques and cultures might combine in novel and unique admixtures, which cannot be understood other than by tracing out the history of their emergence.


  1., Encyclopedia of Marxism, "Mode of Production".
  2. Susan Himmelweit's article, "historical materialism," in Tom Bottomore's A Dictionary of Marxist Thought (1991) gives the quote and characterises it as a "working definition".
  3. Meillassoux, 1973
  4. Tim Ingold, 1987, 1988; Robert Kelly, 1995
  5. The Financial Power Elite John Bellamy Foster and Hannah Holleman Monthly Review Vol 21, No. 1


  • Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism
  • Perry Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State
  • G.E.M. De Ste Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World: From the Archaic Age to the Arab Conquests.
  • Chris Harman, A People's History of the World
  • Barry Hindess & Paul Q. Hirst, Pre-capitalist modes of production. London: Routledge, 1975.
  • Lawrence Krader, The Asiatic Mode of Production; Sources, Development and Critique in the Writings of Karl Marx.
  • Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory.
  • Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origin of Capitalism: A Longer View.
  • George Novack, Understanding History: Marxist Essays
  • Fritjof Tichelman, The Social Evolution of Indonesia: The Asiatic Mode of Production and its Legacy.
  • W.M.J. van Binsbergen & P.L. Geschiere, ed., Old Modes of Production and Capitalist Encroachment.
  • Charles Woolfson, The Labour Theory of Culture.
  • Harold Wolpe, ed. The articulation of modes of production.
  • Michael Perelman, Steal This Idea: Intellectual Property Rights and the Corporate Confiscation of Creativity.