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1. What do we mean by "the productive forces"? If we open up two leading DVD encyclopedias of modern times, the (American) "Microsoft Encarta 2004" and (Russian) "The Great Encyclopedia of Cyrill and Methodius 2003" (C&M), only in the latter do we find a definition of the concept. So, C&M writes on the forces of production:

"It's a system of concepts in Marxism, consisting of subjective (human) and material (means of production) elements, which express active relation of people towards nature, which consists in material and intellectual mastery (over nature) and development of its wealth, in the process of which conditions for existence of human beings are reproduced and the process of human development takes place"

Hence:

  1. "the productive forces" is a system of concept in Marxism. In other philosophical systems, as for example in the one represented by "Encarta", such concepts DO NOT exist. We can note that in "C&M" we find residues of former Soviet Marxism.
  2. The concept of "productive forces" consists both of objective and subjective elements. By "objective elements" we understand first of all the technology and "means of production" in general (such as land). By "subjective elements" we understand, first of all, human being, with his/her sum total of skills and knowledge. Without the human being, the technology would be dead. The humanity creates the means of production, but also the means of production shape the humanity. 
  3. The goal of objective and subjective elements combined together is "active relationship to nature", "material and spiritual appropriation and development of its wealth". What for? For "reproduction of the means of existence of human beings" and "development of human being himself". In other words, the ultimate goal of development of the productive forces is, on the one hand, our reproduction, as species, and, on the other hand, development of potential hidden within each human being and within the social human being, "the organized human being".

It is worthwhile noting that definition of the productive forces given in "C&M" is a re-mastering of definition given in "The Great Soviet Encyclopedia" (GSE), in an article of Yu.A. Vasil'chuk, "The productive forces". It says:

"The productive forces is a system of subjective (human) and objective elements which are responsible for "the exchange of things" between human and nature, in the process of social production. Productive forces express active attitude of people towards nature, which consists in material and intellectual appropriation and development of its wealth, in the process of which the conditions for the existence of humans are reproduced and there is a development of humanity in the framework of changes in social-economic formations. These process of change accelerates and takes place faster and faster. The productive forces constitute the leading aspect of a mode of production, it is the basis for the development of society. To a certain level of development of the productive forces there correspond certain productive relationships, which appear as social form of their movement".

The difference between C&M and GSE is that in the former "changes in social-economic formations" have disappeared. Also have disappeared the idea that to each stage in development of productive forces "there are corresponding productive relationships". All of these make capitalism appear as a transient social formation, rather a thing of the past. It is thus the scientific sycophants reflect changes that have taken in Russia since 1991. Just for fun, it is curious to observe that "The Great Soviet Encyclopedia" has come down from "The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Granat", 1891-1948, to which Lenin has contributed such articles as "Socialism". Thus, development of encyclopedic knowledge in Russia is from "The Encyclopedic Dictionary of Granat" to "The Great Soviet Encyclopedia", to "The Great Encyclopedia of Cyrill & Methodius".

2. The closest that an American encyclopedia comes to the concept of "the productive forces" is through concepts of "technology" and "science". Encarta 2004, in an article "Technology", by Raymond H. Merritt, defines the term: "Technology (is a) general term for the processes by which human beings fashion tools and machines to increase their control and understanding of the material environment".

As opposed to "technology", there is "science". 

"Science, at least in theory, is less concerned with the practicality of its results and more concerned with the development of general laws, but in practice science and technology are inextricably involved with each other"

Missing from the two definitions is "the subjective side", i.e. the human being, and an explanation of how relations between human beings change with development in science and technology. 

3. In English language Internet, the concept of "productive forces" is best defined by "Marxists Internet Archive" (MIA) and "Wikipedia". Their definitions are rather simple and abstract, as Marxism is weakly developed in imperialist countries. Among the pygmies, even poorly developed Marxists appear as "giants of philosophy". MIA writes:

"The productive forces are the unity of means of production and labour:

  1. All labour (individual, union)
  2. Instruments of production (buildings, machines)
  3. Subjects of production (raw materials, labor)"

As for Wikepedia, it writes:

"Productive forces, "productive powers" or "forces of production" ... is a central concept in Marxism and historical materialism. It refers to the combination of the means of production with human labour power. All those forces which are applied by people in the production process are encompassed by this concept, including those management and engineering functions technically indispensable for production (as contrasted with social control functions). Human knowledge can also be a productive force. Together with the social and technical relations of production, the productive forces constitute an historically specific mode of production"

If productive forces is a central concept in Marxism, why is it so little investigated, i.e. why don't we see histories of actual productive forces? Moreover, how should we differentiate between "management and engineering functions" and "social control functions"? Engels and Soviet Marxists think that even a state can be seen as a "productive force", as it can both promote and demote technological progress. Human knowledge is perhaps the most important productive force in modernity. But so is love, and love relationships between people. 

Next: Brief History of the Productive Forces

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