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Encyclopedia > Social relations of production

Relations of production (German: Produktionsverhaltnisse) is a concept frequently used by Karl Marx in his theory of historical materialism. Beyond examining specific cases, Marx never defined the general concept exactly. It is evident though that it refers to all kinds of human interconnections involved in the social production and reproduction of material life. 'Social' denotes belonging, group membership and co-operative activity (in Latin, 'socius' means comrade or associate). Karl Marx Karl Marx (May 5, 1818 – March 14, 1883) was an influential German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary organizer of the International Workingmens Association. ... In Marxism and the study of history, historical materialism (or what Marx himself called the materialist conception of history) is a method which accounts for the developments and changes in human history according to economic, technological, and more broadly, material development. ...

A social relation is, in the first instance, (a) a relation between individuals insofar as they belong to a group, or (b) a relation between groups, or (c) a relation between an individual and a group. The group could be an ethnic or kinship group, a social institution or organisation, a social class, a nation or gender etc. A social relation is therefore not identical with an interpersonal relation or an individual relation, although all these types of relations presuppose each other. Society for Marx is the sum total of social relations connecting its members. The term group can refer to several concepts: In music, a group is another term for band or other musical ensemble. ... An ethnic group is a group of people who identify with one another, or are so identified by others, on the basis of a boundary that distinguishes them from other groups. ... Kinship is a biological and/or familial relationship between two organisms. ... An institution is a group, tenet, maxim, or organization created by a group of humans. ... Alternative meaning: Organisation (band). ... The term class, when used by itself, has several meanings in English. ... A nation is an imagined community of people created by a national ideology, to which certain norms and behavior are usually attributed. ... Gender is the perceived masculinity or femininity of a person or characteristic. ...

Social relations of production in Marx's sense refer to (a) (often legally encoded) ownership & control relations pertaining to society's productive assets, (b) the way people are formally and informally associated within the economic sphere of production, including as social classes (c) work relations (including household labor), (d) socio-economic dependencies between people arising from the way they produce and reproduce their existence, (e) the quantitative proportions of different aspects of the sphere of production, considered from the point of view of society as a whole.

Combined with the productive forces, the relations of production consitute a historically specific mode of production. Karl Marx contrasts social relations with technical relations; in the former case, it is people who are related, in the latter case, the relation is between people and nature (the physical world they inhabit). Productive forces is a term within Marxism indicating the combination of the means of production with human labour power. ... Acccording to marxism terminology, a mode of production is a particular combination of: productive forces: the material, social and productive techniques, materials and objects of a particular epoch, and relations of production: the particular property form and methods of exploitation of a particular epoch. ...

However, Marx argues that with the rise of market economy, this distinction is increasingly obscured and distorted. In particular, a cash economy makes it possible to define, symbolise and manipulate relationships between things that people make in abstraction from the social & technical relations involved. Marx says this leads to the reification (thingification or Verdinglichung) of economic relations, of which commodity fetishism is a prime example. A market economy is a term used to describe an economy where economic decisions, such as pricing of goods and services, are made in a decentralized manner by the economys participants and manifested by trade. ... Reification, also called hypostatisation, is treating an abstract concept as if it were a real, concrete thing. ... Commodity fetishism is the inauthentic state of social relations, said to arise in complex capitalist market systems, where people mistake social relationships for things. ...

Thus, the marketplace seems to be a place where all people have free and equal access and freely negotiate and bargain over deals and prices on the basis of civil equality. People will buy and sell goods without really knowing where they originated or who made them. They know that objectively they depend on producers and consumers somewhere else, that this social dependency exists, but they do not know who specifically those people are or what their activities are. Market forces seem to regulate everything, but what is really behind those market forces has become obscured, because the social relationship between people or their relation with nature is expressed as a commercial relationship between things (money, commodities, capital).

Some social relations of production therefore exist in an objective, mind-independent way, not simply because they are a natural necessity for human groups, but because of the mediation of social and technical relations by commerce. In addition to creating new social and technical relations, commerce introduces a proliferation of relationships between tradeable 'things'. Not only do relationships between 'things' (commodities, prices etc.) begin to indicate and express social and technical relations, the commercial relations also begin to govern and regulate the pattern of human contact and technique.

The fact therefore that particular social relations of production acquire an objective, mind-independent existence may not be due to any natural necessity asserting itself but only to a purely social necessity: commodity exchange objectifies social relations to the point where they escape from conscious human control, and exist such that they can be recognised only by abstract thought.

It is frequently objected by sociologists in the tradition of Weber that Marx paid insufficient attention to the intersubjective dimension of social relations, i.e. the meanings consciously attached by people to their social interactions. However, Marx's argument is that these subjective or intersubjective meanings permit of infinite variations, and therefore cannot be the foundation for a genuine science of society. Rather, one must begin with understanding those objective interdependencies which by necessity shape and socialise human beings, i.e. those social relations which people as social beings must enter into, regardless of what they may think or wish. Weber is a surname of German origin, derived from the noun meaning weaver. The German pronunciation is best represented in English orthography as VAYBr, while in English it is more likely to be pronounced WEBBr or WAYBr. In some cases, following migration to English-speaking countries, it...

In this context, the young Vladimir Lenin commented: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin ( Russian: Влади́мир Ильи́ч Ле́нин  listen?), original surname Ulyanov (Улья́нов) ( April 22 (April 10 ( O.S.)), 1870 – January 21, 1924), was a Russian revolutionary, the leader of the Bolshevik party, the first Premier of the Soviet Union, and the founder of the ideology of Leninism. ...

"Hitherto, sociologists had found it difficult to distinguish the important and the unimportant in the complex network of social phenomena (that is the root of subjectivism in sociology) and had been unable to discover any objective criterion for such a demarcation. Materialism provided an absolutely objective criterion by singling out "production relations" as the structure of society, and by making it possible to apply to these relations that general scientific criterion of recurrence whose applicability to sociology the subjectivists denied. So long as they confined themselves to ideological social relations (i.e., such as, before taking shape, pass through mans consciousness - We are, of course, referring all the time to the consciousness of social relations and no others - they could not observe recurrence and regularity in the social phenomena of the various countries, and their science was at best only a description of these phenomena, a collection of raw material. The analysis of material social relations (i.e., of those that take shape without passing through mans consciousness: when exchanging products men enter into production relations without even realising that there is a social relation of production here)-the analysis of material social relations at once made it possible to observe recurrence and regularity and to generalise the systems of the various countries in the single fundamental concept: social formation. It was this generalisation alone that made it possible to proceed from the description of social phenomena (and their evaluation from the standpoint of an ideal) to their strictly scientific analysis, which isolates, let us say by way of example, that which distinguishes one capitalist country from another and investigates that which is common to all of them... Then, however, Marx, who had expressed this hypothesis in the forties, set out to study the factual (nota bene) material. He took one of the social-economic formations- the system of commodity production-and on the basis of a vast mass of data (which he studied for not less than twenty five years) gave a most detailed analysis of the laws governing the functioning of this formation and its development." This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Sociology is the study of the social lives of humans, groups and societies. ... This article primarily focuses on the general concepts of matter and existence. ... The word commodity has a different meaning in business than in Marxian political economy. ...

(quoted from Lenin, "What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats" 1894).


Lenin, What the “Friends of the People” Are and How They Fight the Social-Democrats

Goran Therborn, Science, Class and Society.

Perry Anderson, In the Tracks of Historical Materialism.

Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert T. Boyd and Ernst Fehr, Moral Sentiments and Material Interests: The Foundations of Cooperation in Economic Life.

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The forces of production determine the social relations of production.
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Commodity production is based on the production of a product which the producer themself does not need, on the basis that their own need can be met by exchange or sale of the surplus product.
Production is not possible without relations of production — humans cannot produce outside of a social structure, whether a nation or a family — relations of production exist for all producers.
When the means of production become public property, then all people are able to exercise their freedom in relation to the productive forces through the social and political structures of society.
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