by Karl Marx

Written between end of August and middle September 1857.

Marx intended this to be the Introduction to his _Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy_ (1859), but, as his Preface to that work notes, he decided to omit it. The unfinished rough draft, which was found among Marx's papers after his death. First published 1903, in _Die Neue Zeit_. Would become the first manuscript in the _Grundrisse_.


1. Production

(a) To begin with, the question under discussion is _material production_.

Individuals producing in a society, and hence the socially determined production of individuals, is of course the point of departure. The solitary and isolated hunter or fisherman, who serves Adam Smith and Ricardo as a starting point, is one of the unimaginative fantasies of 18th century romances a la Robinson Crusoe; and despite the assertions of social historians, these by no means signify simply a reaction against over-refinement and reversion to a misconceived natural life. No more is Rousseau's _contrat social_, which by means of a contract establishes a relationship and connection between subjects that are by nature independent, at all based on this kind of naturalism. This is an illusion and nothing but the aesthetic illusion of the small and big Robinsonades. It is, on the contrary, the anticipation of "bourgeois society", which began to evolve in the 16th century and in the 18th century made giant strides towards maturity. The individual in this society of free competition seems to be rid of the natural ties etc. which made him an appurtenance of a particular, limited aggregation of human beings in previous historical epochs. The prophets of the 18th century, on whose shoulders Adam Smith and Ricardo were still wholly standing, envisaged this individual -- a product of the dissolution of feudal society on the one hand and the productive forces evolved since the 16th century on the other -- as an ideal whose existence belongs to the past. They saw this individual not as a historical result, but as the starting-point of history; not as something evolving in the course of history, but posited by nature, because for them this individual was in conformity with nature, in keeping with their idea of human nature. This delusion has been characteristic of every new epoch hitherto. Steuart, who in some respects was in opposition to the 18th century, and, as an aristocrat, tended rather to regard things from a historical standpoint, avoided this naive view.

The further back we trace the course of history, the more does the individual, and accordingly also the producing individual, appear to be dependent and to belong to a larger whole. At first, the individual in a still quite natural manner is part of the family and of the tribe which evolves from the family; later, he is part of a community, of one of the different forms of community which arise from the conflict and the merging of tribes. It is not until the 18th century that, in the bourgeois society, the various forms of the social texture confront the individual as merely means toward his private ends, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, namely that of the isolated individual, is precisely the epoch of the (as yet) most highly-developed social (according to this standpoint, general) relations. Man is a "zoon politikon" [social animal] in the most literal sense: he is not only a social animal, but an animal that can individualize himself only within society. Production by an isolated individual outside society -- a rare event, which might occur when a civilized person who has already absorbed the dynamic social forces is accidentally cast into the wilderness -- is just as preposterous as the development of speech without individuals who live _together_ and talk to one another. It is unnecessary to dwell upon this point further. It need not have been mentioned at all, if this inanity, which had rhyme and reason in the works of 18th century writers, were not expressly introduced once more into modern political economy by Bastiat, Carey, Proudhon, etc. It is of course very pleasant for Proudhon, for instance, to be able to explain the origin of an economic relationship -- whose historical evolution he does not know -- in an historico-philosophical manner by means of mythology; alleging that Adam or Prometheus hit upon the ready-made idea, which was then put into practice, etc. Nothing is more tedious and dull than the commonplace phantasies of _locus communis_.

Thus, when we speak of production, we always have in mind production at a definite stage of social development -- of production by individuals in a society. It might therefore seems that, in order to speak of production at all, we must either trace the various phases in the historical process of development, or else declare from the very beginning that we are examining _one_ particular historical period, as for instance modern bourgeois production, which is, indeed, our real subject matter. All periods of production, however, have certain features in common; they have certain common categories. _Production in general_ is an abstraction, but a sensible abstraction in so far as it actually emphasizes and defines the common aspects and thus avoids repetition. Yet this _general_ concept, or the common aspect which has been brought to light by comparison, is itself a multifarious compound comprising divergent categories. Some elements are found in all epochs, others are common to a few epochs. The most modern period and the most ancient period will have [certain] categories in common. Production without them is inconceivable. But, although the most highly-developed languages have laws and categories in common with the most primitive languages, it is precisely their divergence from these general and common features which constitutes their development. It is necessary to distinguish these definitions which apply to production in general, in order not to overlook the essential differences existing despite the unity that follows from the very fact that the subject (mankind) and object (nature) are the same. For instance, on failure to perceive this fact depends the entire wisdom of modern economists who prove the eternity and harmony of existing social relations. For example, no production is possible without an instrument of production, even if this instrument is simply the hand. It is not possible without past, accumulated labor, even if this labor is only the skill acquired by repeated practice and concentrated in the hand of a savage. Capital is, among other things, also an instrument of instrument of production, and also past, materialized labor. Consequently, capital is a universal and eternal relation given by nature -- that is, provided one omits precisely those specific factors which turn the "instrument of production" or "accumulated labor" into capital. The whole history of the relations of production thus appears, for instance in Carey's writings, as a falsification malevolently brought about by government.

Just as there is no production in general, so there is also no general production. Production is always a particular branch of production -- e.g. agriculture, cattle-breeding, manufacture -- or it is the _totality_ of production. Political economy, however, is not technology. The relations of the general categories of production at a given social stage to the particular forms of production is to be set forth elsewhere (later).

Finally, not only is production _particular_ production, but it is invariably only a definite social corpus, a social subject, that is engaged in a wider or narrower totality of production spheres. The relation of academic presentation to the actual process does not belong here either. Production in general Particular branches of production. Totality of production.

It is fashionable to preface economic works with a general part -- and it is just this which appears under the heading "Production", see for instance John Stuart Mill -- which deals with the general conditions of all production. This general part comprises or purports to comprise:

1. The conditions without which production cannot be carried on. This means, in fact, only that the essential factors required for any kind of production are indicated. But this amounts actually, as we shall see, to a few very simple definitions, which become reduced to trivial tautologies.

2. The conditions which promote production to a larger or smaller degree, as in the case of Adam Smith's progressive and stagnant state of society.

To give this, which in Smith's work has its value as an _apercu_, to give it scientific significance, research into the _degree of productivity_ at various periods in the development of individual nations would have to be conducted; strictly speaking, such an investigation lies outside the framework of the subject. Those aspects which are however relevant to it ought to be mentioned in connection with the development of competition, accumulation, etc.

The answer in its general form amounts to the general statement that an industrial nation achieves its highest productivity which it is altogether at the height of its historical development. (In fact, a nation is at the height of its historical development so long as, not the gain, but gaining remains its principal aim. In this respect, the Yankees are superior to the English.) Or else that, for example, certain races, formations, climates, natural circumstances, such as maritime position, fertility of the soil, etc., are more conducive to production that others. This, again, amounts to the tautological statement that the production of wealth grows easier in the measure that its subjective and objective elements becomes available.

But all this is not really what the economists are concerned about in the general part. It is rather -- see for example Mill -- that production, as distinct from distribution etc., is to be presented as governed by eternal natural laws which are independent of history, and at the same time _bourgeois_ relations are clandestinely passed off as irrefutable natural laws of society _in abstracto_. This is the more or less conscious purpose of the whole procedure. As regards distribution, however, it is said that men have indeed indulged in a certain amount of free choice. Quite apart from the crude separation of production and distribution and their real interconnection, it should be obvious from the outset that, however dissimilar the mode of distribution at the various stages of society may be, it must be possible, just as in the case of production, to emphasize the common aspects, and it must be likewise possible to confuse and efface all historical differences in laws that are _common to all mankind_. For example, the slave, the serf, the wage-worker, they all receive an amount of food enabling them to exist as a slave, serf or wage-worker. The conqueror who lives on tribute, or the official who lives on taxes, or the landowner who lives on rent, or the monk who lives on alms, or the clergyman who lives on tithes, all receive a portion of the social product which is determined by different laws from the portion of the slave, and so on. The two principal factors, which all economists include in this section, are:

(1) property, and

(2) its protection by the judiciary, police, etc.

Only a very brief reply is needed:

Regarding (1): production is always appropriation of nature by an individual within, and with the help of a definite social organization. In this context, it is tautological to say that property (appropriation) is a condition of production. But it is quite ridiculous to make a leap from this to a distinct form of property -- e.g., private property (this is, moreover, an antithetical form, which similarly presupposed _non-property_ as a condition). History has shown, on the contrary, that common property (e.g., among the Indians, Slavs, ancient Celts, etc.) is the original form, and in the shape of communal property it plays a significant role for a long time. The question of whether wealth develops faster under this or under that form of property is not yet under discussion at this point. It is tautological, however, to state that where no form of property exists, there can be no production and hence no society either. Appropriation which appropriates nothing is a contradiction in terms.

Regarding (2): Safeguarding of what has been acquired, etc. If these trivialities are reduced to their real content, they say more than their authors realize -- namely that each mode of production produces its specific legal relations, political forms, etc. It is a sign of crudity and lack of comprehension that organically coherent factors are brought into haphazard relation with one another -- i.e., into a simple reflex connection. The bourgeois economists have merely the view that production proceeds more smoothly with modern police than (for example) under club-law. They forget, however, that club-law too is law, and that the law of the stronger, only in a different form, still survives even in their "constitutional State".

While the social conditions appropriate to a particular stage of production are either still in the course of evolution, or already in a state of dissolution, disturbances naturally occur in the process of production, although these may be of varying degree and extent.

To recapitulate: there are categories which are common to all stage of production and are established by reasoning as general categories; the so-called _general conditions_ of all and any production, however, are nothing but abstract aspects which do not define any of the actual historical stages of production.

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