MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms




Cognition means acquiring knowledge of the objective world.

The central concept in the Marxist understanding of Cognition is practice, which is the criterion of truth for Marxism. While the objective world is the source of knowledge, mere existence as part of the world and sensuous contact with the world does not provide knowledge of the world. Only struggling to change the world can create conditions for acquiring knowledge. Even then, only if action is connected with theory can theory be changed and knowledge acquired, for blind, impulsive activity can lead to success or failure but not knowledge.

Central to the problem of cognition is the relation between Subject and Object. Different understandings of the subject-object relation lead to scepticism — that cognition is impossible, Relativism — that knowledge is possible but has no objective significance; dogmatism — that knowledge is not only possible but can be absolute and final; Empiricism and Rationalism which emphasise respectively Experience or Reason in Cognition; Objectivism and Subjectivism which emphasise the role of the objective world or subjective consciousness in the process of Cognition.

Further Reading: Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks and his annotations on reading Hegel on cognition, on Subject and Object and see The True and The Good.



Collaboration, lit., ‘working together’.

The word “collaboration” dates from the 1860s, though cooperation is as old as the English language. The distinction usually made between collaboration and cooperation is that in cooperation, the workers do separate tasks each contributing to the final product, whereas in collaboration the workers actively engage on the same tasks, correcting one another, swapping ideas, exerting combined force, and so on. Collaboration therefore, involves both cooperation (unity) and conflict (critique). Though division of labour (i.e., cooperation) is fundamental to the development of civilisation, collaboration is fundamental to human life itself. Even the use of language and tools is collaboration, since in using language and tools people work with the product of each others’ labour.

For constructivist psychology, collaboration is the essential character of human activity and the basis for all learning.


Command Economy

Command economy is the method of managing the economy of a whole country by means of top-down direction.

The term came into currency in the 1980s as a description of the economy in the USSR and other Stalinist countries, where the entire economy was run along the same lines as single capitalist enterprises had been run up until that time, before the spread of Toyotism. “Command” was thought to be an appropriate means of managing individual capitals, but around the 1980s, the use of market mechanisms within enterprises was becoming fashionable, so the term brought out in especially sharp relief the weaknesses of this type of bureaucratic management.

Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika was intended to introduce “cost accounting” into management of state enterprises, a modification of “command economy” perfectly in line with contemporary capitalist ideas about management.

Very often, “command economy” is equated with “Planned Economy”, but this is a broader concept. Sometimes “command economy” is equated with socialism, but such an equation is possible only if the meaning of socialism is completely forgotten.



Commercialisation is the process orienting labour away from a public service ethos to production of commodities and a commercial ethos.

Commercialisation is a kind of “creeping privatisation” which has been at work since the very birth of bourgeois society, and the term has been in common usage for a long time. Recent activities which have been subject to commercialisation include scientific research, artistic and cultural activity, public education and sport.

Scientists find their work subject to commercialisation through the increasing pressure conveyed through “funding mechanisms” to orient activity towards serving commercial rather than human interests, often with corporations funding research on condition that the findings become their own intellectual property.

Sponsors often present themselves as saviours to sporting associations or artists who find their work threatened by shrinking public funds, the rising cost of operations and the difficulty of “competing” with others already in the commercial arena.

Commercialisation is a form of socialisation which ensures the dominance of the interests of capital in a given field of activity.



Commodification means the transformation of relationships, formerly untainted by commerce, into commercial relationships, relationships of exchange, of buying and selling.

“Commodification” is a term that only come into currency in 1977, after it was used in an article in the Fall issue of Review, published by the Young Communists League of the USA, but expresses a concept fundamental to Marx’s understanding of the way capitalism develops.

Marx and Engels described the process in 1848 in the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned out the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

“The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.

“The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation into a mere money relation.” [Communist Manifesto]

The process described in this 150-year-old document have been proceeding at a gigantic pace over the past few decades. Examples of commodification include:

The question as to why commodification is taking place, and has been continuously gnawing away at all pre-bourgeois and bureaucratic relations for several centuries, with a little ebb and flow (such as the Post World War II “retreat”), but with unstoppable force and relentless persistence, is surely the most profound question facing humanity, and goes to the very essence of the human condition.

The extension of commodification is a contradictory process: demeaning and dehumanising, but at the same time liberating and progressive. The most graphic expression of this contradictory nature of commodification is Marx’s descriptions of the process in the Communist manifesto, for example:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

“The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

“The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

“The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

“The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class interest, one frontier, and one customs tariff.

“The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?

“We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society. At a certain stage in the development of these means of production and of exchange, the conditions under which feudal society produced and exchanged, the feudal organisation of agriculture and manufacturing industry, in one word, the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder; they were burst asunder.

“Into their place stepped free competition, accompanied by a social and political constitution adapted in it, and the economic and political sway of the bourgeois class.” [Communist Manifesto]

The power of commodification lies in the benefits of division of labour; the contradictory nature of commodification arises from the fact that commodification is essentially socialisation, but, because of the dominant position of capital, socialisation, at the moment, means commodification. The commodity relation is the “cell” of bourgeois society; but the commodity relation contains within it an internal contradiction: the commodity relation is founded on private property (which can only be brought into being in the first place by outright robbery) but it abolishes private property:

“... the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. ... Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” [Capital, Chapter 32]

Take for example the socialisation of women’s labour. Can anyone doubt that women escaping domestic servitude and joining the workforce is a progressive thing? Is anyone going to advise women to stay at home to look after their aged parents rather than build retirement homes? When the school asks for the mums to come in and help out as volunteers, aren’t the women right to demand that the schools receive funding for professional assistants?

A leap out of the frying pan of domestic slavery and into the fire of wage-slavery is a step forward. The result of commodification is the break-up of the nuclear family, the demise of the welfare state, the fall of academia from its ivory tower, the break-up of bureaucratism in both public and private enterprises, the professionalisation of caring and the mechanisation of fantasy and play.

There is no road out of domestic servitude, religious obscurantism and bureaucratic conservatism that does not pass through bourgeois society. But continued socialisation brings to a head the contradictions inherent in private ownership of the means of production.

The social revolution is itself a further leap forward in the process of socialisation — just as unstoppable and progressive as commodification had been.



A commodity is something that is produced for the purpose of exchanging for something else, and as such, is the material form given to a fundamental social relation — the exchange of labour.

Marx saw the commodity as the “cell” of bourgeois society (i.e., capitalism), as expressed in the opening words of his most important book, Capital:

“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as ‘an immense accumulation of commodities,’ its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity.

“A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference. Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or indirectly as means of production. ...

“The use-values of commodities furnish the material for a special study, that of the commercial knowledge of commodities. Use-values become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of that wealth. In the form of society we are about to consider, they are, in addition, the material depositories of exchange-value.” [Capital, Chapter I]

As these paragraphs makes clear, for Marx, products of labour may be either goods or services, but in the way Marx understands the term, remain commodities provided only that they are produced for the purpose of exchange.

“For example, when the peasant takes a wandering tailor, of the kind that existed in times past, into his house, and gives him the material to make clothes with. ... The man who takes the cloth I supplied to him and makes me an article of clothing out of it gives me a use value. But instead of giving it directly in objective form, he gives it in the form of activity. I give him a completed use value; he completes another for me. The difference between previous, objectified labour and living, present labour here appears as a merely formal difference between the different tenses of labour, at one time in the perfect and at another in the present. ... “ [Grundrisse, part 9. Original accumulation of capital]

Nor is it important whether they are foodstuffs, clothing and suchlike, satisfying very basic human needs, or we are dealing with labour which meets more ephemeral needs, such as with designer labels, romantic movies or tarot-readings.

Labour is a commodity, provided only that the producer works to meet the needs of someone else, as a means to satisfy their own needs. A good or service produced for the labourer’s own immediate consumption may be a “use-value”, but it is not a commodity.

Likewise, if a woman produces a meal for the consumption of her loved-ones, as part of a domestic contract, whether made before God, before the law or out of simple love, she produces not a commodity, but labour directly to meet the needs of another person, but not just so as to satisfy her own needs, not for payment.

It matters not whether the person actually proffering payment is the ultimate consumer, nor what may be the manner of payment, nor whether payment is made before during or after the labour is carried out, only that the good or service is provided in exchange for payment, to earn a living.

So things in general and products of labour in particular are not necessarily commodities and do not necessarily have value:

“A thing can be a use-value, without having value. This is the case whenever its utility to man is not due to labour. Such are air, virgin soil, natural meadows, etc.

“A thing can be useful, and the product of human labour, without being a commodity. Whoever directly satisfies his wants with the produce of his own labour, creates, indeed, use-values, but not commodities. In order to produce the latter, he must not only produce use-values, but use-values for others, social use-values.

“And not only for others, without more. The mediaeval peasant produced quit-rent-corn for his feudal lord and tithe-corn for his parson. But neither the quit-rent-corn nor the tithe-corn became commodities by reason of the fact that they had been produced for others. To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use-value, by means of an exchange.

“Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no value.” [Capital, Ch. 1, Section I]

So for example, the work of a teacher is a commodity whether the teaching is paid for by the pupil, the pupil’s parents or by the State. On the other hand, a mother’s education of her child is not a commodity and nor is the work of a preacher who spreads the word of God — the point is only whether the labour was done in exchange for something else.

Marx points out how the circulation of the product of our labour in the market, and how it takes on a “market value” independently of us, and moves from hand to hand through the market until it finds its ultimate consumer, all beyond our control, creates illusions which remind him of animism and fetishism, of primitive religious points of view that endow inanimate objects with human capacities:

“the existence of the things qua commodities, and the value-relation between the products of labour which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic form of a relation between things. ... This I call the Fetishism ... of commodities.” [Capital, Ch. 1]

Even though what goes on in the market is nothing but the collective action of human beings, the market manifests itself like a force of nature. Even though the product only has value because it embodies human labour and satisfied human needs, its value appears to be a natural attribute of the product, like its weight or density.

In general, commodities are exchanged at their value, i.e., at their “exchange-value”. That is when one commodity is exchanged for another, on average, in the given society in which the exchange takes place, the two commodities exchanged for one another are of equal value.

“Every owner of a commodity wishes to part with it in exchange only for those commodities whose use-value satisfies some want of his. Looked at in this way, exchange is for him simply a private transaction. On the other hand, he desires to realise the value of his commodity, to convert it into any other suitable commodity of equal value, irrespective of whether his own commodity has or has not any use-value for the owner of the other. [Capital, Ch. 2]

The value of a given quantity of labour offered for exchange on the market, is determined by value structures specific to the given social and historical conditions, and Marx analysed this process of value determination in the same Chapter One of Capital.

“Let us take two commodities, e.g., corn and iron. The proportions in which they are exchangeable, whatever those proportions may be, can always be represented by an equation in which a given quantity of corn is equated to some quantity of iron: e.g., 1 quarter corn = x cwt. iron... The two things must therefore be equal to a third,. ...

“This common “something” cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use-values. But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterised by a total abstraction from use-value. ...

“If then we leave out of consideration the use-value of commodities, they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour. ... Neither can it any longer be regarded as the product of the labour of the joiner, the mason, the spinner, or of any other definite kind of productive labour. Along with the useful qualities of the products themselves, we put out of sight both the useful character of the various kinds of labour embodied in them, and the concrete forms of that labour; there is nothing left but what is common to them all; all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract.” [Capital, Ch 1, Section I]

Since commodities are exchanged at their value, there arises the question: how is it possible to make a profit? Marx shows that commerce on its own cannot generate new value, but can only distribute value around; both parties to an exchange gain in the sense that they both get what they want, but neither profits, since each give in exchange, a commodity of equal value.

“We are, therefore,” says Marx, “forced to the conclusion that the change originates in the use-value, as such, of the commodity, i.e., in its consumption. In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find, within the sphere of circulation, in the market, a commodity, whose use-value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value, whose actual consumption, therefore, is itself an embodiment of labour, and, consequently, a creation of value. The possessor of money does find on the market such a special commodity in capacity for labour or labour-power.” [Capital, Ch. 6]

So, profit does not arise in the process of circulation, and nor can it arise outside of the market, but has its origin in the purchase of labour power (paying wages), the consumption of labour power — i.e., getting someone to work for you — and the sale of the product of labour at a profit. Thus Marx established the relation between wage labour and Capital.

“By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.” [Capital, Ch. 6]

Thus Marx introduces a crucial distinction here: labour-power, the capacity to work, is a commodity; it can be sold to someone else to use for their own purpose so the wage-worker can earn a living; labour on the other hand, - the actual activity - is a use-value which may or may not be exchanged as a commodity. In the normal, factory-based labour process which was dominant in Marx’s day, labour took place in the form of wage-labour, and the goods, the objects in which this labour was embodied or crystallised as Marx would say, sold as commodities.

There were and are still today however, instances where the labour itself is delivered in the form of a commodity, and is consumed in the very act of labour itself: this is the case in two broad kinds of labour.

Firstly, with servants and other domestic labour where either to earn a living or out of personal commitment, people labour to satisfy another’s needs, but these needs are not the production of goods for sale, as is the case when a capitalist employer uses wage-labour to produce commodities of whatever kind, for sale.

Secondly, there is the so-called services sector most broadly defined: retail trade, personal services, education and health, knowledge work of all kinds, as well as contract labour in, for example, the building trade, where what is bought and sold is not a tangible product but the labouring activity itself.

It should be remembered that in Marx’s day there was no such thing really as a capitalist service sector. Service workers were invariably people who offered their services directly on the market, not as the employees of capitalists who profited from provision of their service. Consequently, Marx writes about the “service sector” in this sense:

“The pay of the common soldier is also reduced to a minimum — determined purely by the production costs necessary to procure him. But he exchanges the performance of his services not for capital, but for the revenue of the state.

“In bourgeois society itself, all exchange of personal services for revenue — including labour for personal consumption, cooking, sewing etc., garden work etc., up to and including all of the unproductive classes, civil servants, physicians, lawyers, scholars etc. — belongs under this rubric, within this category. All menial servants etc. By means of their services — often coerced — all these workers, from the least to the highest, obtain for themselves a share of the surplus product, of the capitalist’s revenue.

“But it does not occur to anyone to think that by means of the exchange of his revenue for such services, i.e. through private consumption, the capitalist posits himself as capitalist. Rather, he thereby spends the fruits of his capital. It does not change the nature of the relation that the proportions in which revenue is exchanged for this kind of living labour are themselves determined by the general laws of production.” [Grundrisse, part 9. Original accumulation of capital]

Also, Marx had to fight against the view that the worker and capitalist were not respectively sellers and buyers of labour-power, but rather simply two equal economic agents that perform useful and profitable services for one another.

“If a capitalist hires a woodcutter to chop wood to roast his mutton over, then not only does the wood-cutter relate to the capitalist, but also the capitalist to the wood-cutter, in the relation of simple exchange. The woodcutter gives him his service, a use value, which does not increase capital; rather, capital consumes itself in it; and the capitalist gives him another commodity for it in the form of money. The same relation holds for all services which workers exchange directly for the money of other persons, and which are consumed by these persons. This is consumption of revenue, which, as such, always falls within simple circulation; it is not consumption of capital. Since one of the contracting parties does not confront the other as a capitalist, this performance of a service cannot fall under the category of productive labour.

“From whore to pope, there is a mass of such rabble. But the honest and ‘working’ lumpen-proletariat belongs here as well; e.g. the great mob of porters etc. who render service in seaport cities etc. He who represents money in this relation demands the service only for its use value, which immediately vanishes for him; but the porter demands money. .... Adam Smith was essentially correct with his productive and unproductive labour, correct from the standpoint of bourgeois economy.

“What the other economists advance against it is either horse-piss, namely that every action after all acts upon something, thus confusion of the product in its natural and in its economic sense; so that the pickpocket becomes a productive worker too, since he indirectly produces books on criminal law (this reasoning at least as correct as calling a judge a productive worker because he protects from theft). Or the modern economists have turned themselves into such sycophants of the bourgeois that they want to demonstrate to the latter that it is productive labour when somebody picks the lice out of his hair, or strokes his tail, because for example the latter activity will make his fat head — blockhead — clearer the next day in the office.

“It is therefore quite correct — but also characteristic — that for the consistent economists the workers in e.g. luxury shops are productive, although the characters who consume such objects are expressly castigated as unproductive wastrels. The fact is that these workers, indeed, are productive, as far as they increase the capital of their master; unproductive as to the material result of their labour. In fact, of course, this ‘productive’ worker cares as much about the crappy shit he has to make as does the capitalist himself who employs him, and who also couldn’t give a damn for the junk.

“But, looked at more precisely, it turns out in fact that the true definition of a productive worker consists in this: A person who needs and demands exactly as much as, and no more than, is required to enable him to gain the greatest possible benefit for his capitalist.” [Grundrisse part 5., Capital and labour]

Marx however was concerned however to understand the relationship specific to bourgeois society: the consumption or use of labour power in the labour process in order to realise a surplus value. To understand this relationship, the distinction between labour and labour-power is crucial.

The significance of the distinction between labour and labour-power is many-fold. For example, the value of any product of labour is equal to the total labour embodied in the product itself, on average. The value of labour power, however, is what it costs to produce it, to recreate the capacity to work day after day and generation after generation, and this is in general less than the labour itself. It would have to be so, for in any normal, civilised country, people produce more than they need to live and work. In other words, they create a surplus value.

Or to put it another way, under normal conditions, people must work for a certain necessary labour time each day to produce the equivalent of what they need to live, but then go on working for a further surplus labour time, producing more than what they need themselves, and this surplus-value belongs and remains the property of their employer.

How is it that some people sell their capacity to work and by doing so, produce more than they need to live on and allow this surplus to be stolen by someone else? The simple answer to this is that most people have nothing to sell other than their labour power. If they did have something else to sell, then it is more likely that they would sell that something else, rather than their own labour power, because at least then they would not be ripped off.

This whole class of people who do not own a pile of commodities, and who have nothing to sell except their capacity to work is called the proletariat; or the working class.

However, if these people with nothing to sell but their labour power either cannot or will not sell their labour power on the market, then we do not have wage labour.

“For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.” [Capital, Ch. 6]

For example, in slave society, the slaves have nothing to sell, but they do not get the opportunity to sell their capacity to work on the market — they themselves are owned like cattle by the slave owner who does not buy their labour power as a commodity, but freely uses it just as he uses the strength of his draft horses and the fertility of the land.

The feudal serf did not need to sell his labour power on the market because (for a start) he had the opportunity to work his own land. When the enclosures kicked millions of peasants off their land, then they became free to sell their labour power, but there were not yet capitalists wanting to purchase it, and during Georgian times these paupers were hounded from pillar to post, until the industrial revolution got going and there was a market for wage labour.

When the early capitalists returned home to their grand estates they wanted to live in the style of the nobility and employed these same paupers as servants. These people however were selling their labour directly to the capitalist by tending his needs and their labour did not contribute to the expansion of capital.

“In the case of personal services, this use value is consumed as such without making the transition from the form of movement into the form of the object. ... The money which he exchanges for living labour — service in kind, or service objectified in a thing — is not capital but revenue, money as a medium of circulation in order to obtain use value ....” [Grundrisse, part 9. Original accumulation of capital]

When a capitalist gets someone to work for them it is important whether the worker is being used to satisfy the personal needs of the capitalist, or to expand his capital.

“a schoolmaster is a productive labourer when, in addition to belabouring the heads of his scholars, he works like a horse to enrich the school proprietor. That the latter has laid out his capital in a teaching factory, instead of in a sausage factory, does not alter the relation.” [Capital, Chapter 16]

This is the distinction between productive labour and unproductive labour, which however useful it might be, does not expand capital.

“Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital.” [Capital, Ch 16]

There is another instance where workers, those who have nothing to sell but their labour power, not only work for capitalists but also succeed in expanding capital, but still they do not sell their labour power and consequently do not work for wages: this is the case with contract labour, such as in the building trades or with out-sourcing in the clothing trades and so on. In these cases, the workers, i.e., those who actually do the productive work, are forced to act as if they were independent economic agents, private labourers, proprietors in their own right. How is it possible that a profit is made here? Whether a builders labourer is paid an hourly wage or is paid by piece work is a secondary question, (see Chapter 21 of Capital). The piece rate is simply so adjusted to keep the worker’s nose to the grindstone struggling to earn a living. It is much the same with contract labour which is essentially the same as piece work.

How does the labour-hire firm make a profit where the independent contract labourer or out-worker remains as exploited and as proletarian as the conventional wage-worker? This raises much the same question as to how any capitalist makes a profit nowadays.

The labourer has nothing to sell but her labour power. The capitalist owns the social means of production as private property. The labour process of our times cannot be carried on as simple private labour; or rather:— the simple expenditure of the labour of an individual labourer which is not socially coordinated, does not produce enough to live on, let alone make a profit for someone. In Marx’s day, the pre-requisite for socially developed labour were the big factories and materials such as steel and coal which were used in the productive process. In order to work at the socially average level of productivity in those days, one had to have access to factories and so on. These were the private property of a class of people called the bourgeoisie, and these people used their privileged position of ownership of these social means of production to exploit those that had no other means of support other than to work in their factories.

Nowadays, most of these factories are either rust buckets, or take the form of temporary set ups in the enterprise zones of Third World countries. But productive work cannot be carried out without a certain amount of this kind of material, including land, buildings, computers, electricity supply, paper and so on, all of which one needs money to buy, and most importantly, there is always a substantial lead time between productive labour and the return coming back, and in order to be socially productive labour will always be complex, involving the coordinated labour of very many people, including not only immediate co-workers, but the vicarious labour of other in the form of software, science, texts, and so on. Even though the ownership of stuff as such is no longer so important to capital, the ability to bring developed social labour to bear is vital to making a profit, to working at better than subsistence level, and for that invariably an accumulation of money is necessary, i.e., Capital.

Like labour power, money is a very special commodity. And when we say money, this is meant to include all those ephemeral kinds of money which circulate nowadays — paper money, credit card values and so on. Money is a commodity whose use-value is to be the bearer of exchange-value.

In Section III of Chapter One of Capital, Marx shows how value develops through a series of historical forms in which it gradually takes on the form of a distinct material substance, gold, and then as we know, continues to develop till today money is almost explicitly a pure social relation, having no material form whatsoever. But nevertheless, money remains a commodity. It is not till we get to Volume III of Capital, put together by Engels after Marx’s death, that we learn of Marx’s views on credit, and that comes only after Marx deals with the rate of profit.

Capital is an accumulation of commodities, but as Marx explains in Chapter 4 of Capital, an accumulation of value which does not expand itself both in and outside the process of circulation is not capital, but simply a big pile of loot, the like of which was to be found in all civilisations since time immemorial. Only in modern bourgeois society do we see the phenomenon of a mass of value which is able to expand itself though the consumption of labour-power; and only such an accumulation of value is Capital.

Now, cooperative labour is not only an ancient phenomenon, but as time goes on and the labour process becomes more and more developed, cooperative labour is more and more essential to life. How is it possible one might ask to live without exchanging labour? Are we to aspire to living in isolated communes working in extended families?

No. the point is that capitalism is built around exchange of labour; in bourgeois society, exchange of labour is the form under which collaboration, working together, is achieved. However, collaboration can happen without exchange of labour. For example, within the traditional enterprise, be it a public service institution or a capitalist firm, people collaborate without exchanging labour. Exchange takes place when we sell our energies to the employer, and when we take our wages and go out an buy the means of subsistence.

One of the features of the way collaboration is achieved is division of labour, where the kind of labour possessed by different people is different, all stand to benefit by exchange of labour.

“So far as the labour-process is purely individual, one and the same labourer unites in himself all the functions, that later on become separated. When an individual appropriates natural objects for his livelihood, no one controls him but himself. Afterwards he is controlled by others. A single man cannot operate upon Nature without calling his own muscles into play under the control of his own brain. As in the natural body head and hand wait upon each other, so the labour-process unites the labour of the hand with that of the head. Later on they part company and even become deadly foes. The product ceases to be the direct product of the individual, and becomes a social product, produced in common by a collective labourer, i.e., by a combination of workers, each of whom takes only a part, greater or less, in the manipulation of the subject of their labour. As the co-operative character of the labour-process becomes more and more marked, so, as a necessary consequence, does our notion of productive labour, and of its agent the productive labourer, become extended. In order to labour productively, it is no longer necessary for you to do manual work yourself; enough, if you are an organ of the collective labourer, and perform one of its subordinate functions. The first definition given above of productive labour, a definition deduced from the very nature of the production of material objects, still remains correct for the collective labourer, considered as a whole. But it no longer holds good for each member taken individually. [Capital, Ch. 16]

There are many examples nowadays of relations and labour processes which were formerly carried out outside the market, and have now been “commodified”. For example, “women’s work” — cleaning, cooking, caring, rearing, teaching, washing, sewing, and so on — is now carried out by women selling their labour power in factories producing white goods, hospitals, restaurants, clothing factories, child-care centres, and so on, and then purchasing the products on the market as commodities. This process is everywhere today; everything has a price tag, everything has become a commodity.

This process of commodification began a long time ago when for example a farmer produced more strawberry jams than he needed himself in order to exchange it for some cloth. Barter like this is limited, you couldn’t depend on it unless you were pretty much self-sufficient. For human life to develop and become richer and more complex, exchange relations had to become much more complex and ubiquitous and for this the form of value had to develop as well. Once trade got going, the form of value developed rapidly from barter to the use of gold and silver to paper money and credit cards.

Another way in which commodification is taking place is privatisation:

“A special class of road-workers may form, employed by the state.... The workers are then wage workers, but the state employs them not as such, but as menial servants.

“Now, for the capitalist to undertake road building as a business, at his expense, various conditions are required, which all amount to this, that the mode of production based on capital is already developed to its highest stage. ... The separation of public works from the state, and their migration into the domain of the works undertaken by capital itself, indicates the degree to which the real community has constituted itself in the form of capital. A country, e.g. the United States, may feel the need for railways in connection with production; nevertheless the direct advantage arising from them for production may be too small for the investment to appear as anything but sunk capital. Then capital shifts the burden on to the shoulders of the state; or, where the state traditionally still takes up a position superior to capital, it still possesses the authority and the will to force the society of capitalists to put a part of their revenue, not of their capital, into such generally useful works, which appear at the same time as general conditions of production, and hence not as particular conditions for one capitalist or another — and, so long as capital does not adopt the form of the joint-stock company, it always looks out only for its particular conditions of realisation, and shifts the communal conditions off on to the whole country as national requirements. Capital undertakes only advantageous undertakings, advantageous in its sense. ... Capital must be able to sell the road in such a way that both the necessary and the surplus labour are realised, or in such a way that it obtains out of the general fund of profits — of surplus values — a sufficiently large share to make it the same as if it had created surplus value. The highest development of capital exists when the general conditions of the process of social production are not paid out of deductions from the social revenue, the states taxes — where revenue and not capital appears as the labour fund, and where the worker, although he is a free wage worker like any other, nevertheless stands economically in a different relation — but rather out of capital as capital. This shows the degree to which capital has subjugated all conditions of social production to itself, on one side; and, on the other side, hence, the extent to which social reproductive wealth has been capitalised, and all needs are satisfied through the exchange form; as well as the extent to which the socially posited needs of the individual, i.e. those which he consumes and feels not as a single individual in society, but communally with others — whose mode of consumption is social by the nature of the thing — are likewise not only consumed but also produced through exchange, individual exchange.” [Grundrisse, Part 10, Circulation costs]

In recent times, we have seen the expansion of the exchange relation within productive enterprises, too, in the form of out-sourced and contract labour, corporatisation of large enterprises and quality-control and intensive cost-accounting; instead of MacDonalds growing in the form of a big retail firm with lots and lots of outlets, it has instead taken the form of a franchise, with commercial relations of exchange pertaining between its parts (rather than gods being distributed to the outlets according to a plan), thus reducing the franchisees (who “look like” petty capitalists) to de facto middle-managers, with the franchise-owner raking in all the profit.

But contrariwise, we have seen the labour process itself become more and more collaborative, and this “commercialisation” of the labour process can become a hindrance to productive work.

The achievement of socialism means transcending this commodity relation, learning to collaborate rather than the “you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours” of bourgeois society.



To each according to his needs, from each according to his ability.

Karl Marx
Critique of the Gotha Program

"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

Marx & Engels
The German Ideology
Private Property and Communism

"From the moment all members of society, or at least the vast majority, have learned to administer the state themselves, have taken this work into their own hands, have organized control over the insignificant capitalist minority, over the gentry who wish to preserve their capitalist habits and over the workers who have been thoroughly corrupted by capitalism — from this moment the need for government of any kind begins to disappear altogether. The more complete the democracy, the nearer the moment when it becomes unnecessary. The more democratic the "state" which consists of the armed workers, and which is "no longer a state in the proper sense of the word", the more rapidly every form of state begins to wither away.

"Then the door will be thrown wide open for the transition from the first phase of communist society [Socialism] to its higher phase [Communism], and with it the complete withering away of the state.

Vladimir Lenin
The State and Revolution
Chpt 5. The higher phase of Communist Society

Communism is the positive supersession of private property as human self-estrangement [alienation], and hence the true appropriation of the human essence through and for man. It is the complete restoration of man to himself as a social — i.e., human — being, a restoration which has become conscious and which takes place within the entire wealth of previous periods of development. This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man, the true resolution of the conflict between existence and being, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species. It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution.

Karl Marx
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts

This "alienation" [caused by private property] can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an "intolerable" power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity "propertyless", and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the "propertyless" mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones.

Without this:

(1) communism could only exist as a local event;

(2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence intolerable powers: they would have remained home-bred conditions surrounded by superstition; and

(3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism.

Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples "all at once" and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers — the utterly precarious position of labour — power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life — presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a "world-historical" existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.

"Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality will have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

Marx & Engels
The German Ideology

"Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations.

"In bourgeois society, living labour is but a means to increase accumulated labour. In communist society, accumulated labour is but a means to widen, to enrich, to promote the existence of the labourer.

When, in the course of development, class distinctions have disappeared, and all production has been concentrated in the hands of a vast association of the whole nation, the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat during its contest with the bourgeoisie is compelled, by the force of circumstances, to organize itself as a class; if, by means of a revolution, it makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class. In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels
The Communist Manifesto
Proletarians and Communists

See also: Communists, Socialism, Freedom, and Democracy.

Primitive communism: The most ancient socio-economic formation of human society which existed until the emergence of class society.

Primitive human families were the center of their economic, religious and other activities, while symbiotic with the community as a whole. Primitive communism attained its peak of organizational development in the clan system, where productive relations were based on collective ownership of the means of production, while existing alongside of personal property (weapons, household articles, clothing, etc.).

In the old communistic household, which comprised many couples and their children, the task entrusted to the women of managing the household was as much a public and socially necessary industry as the procuring of food by the men. With the patriarchal family [after primitive communism], and still more with the single monogamous family, a change came. Household management lost its public character. It no longer concerned society. It became a private service; the wife became the head servant, excluded from all participation in social production.

A Marxist class conception begins here — class was not yet in existence; this period of time is instead the opposite of what would become class society. When both have run their course, primitive and class society; humanity can build a society that includes aspects of both class society and primitive society, while at the same time superseding them both: this society is called communism.

No soldiers, no gendarmes or police, no nobles, kings, regents, prefects, or judges, no prisons, no lawsuits — and everything takes its orderly course. All quarrels and disputes are settled by the whole of the community affected, by the gens or the tribe, or by the gentes among themselves; only as an extreme and exceptional measure is blood revenge threatened — and our capital punishment is nothing but blood revenge in a civilized form, with all the advantages and drawbacks of civilization. Although there were many more matters to be settled in common than today — the household is maintained by a number of families in common, and is communistic, the land belongs to the tribe, only the small gardens are allotted provisionally to the households — yet there is no need for even a trace of our complicated administrative apparatus with all its ramifications. The decisions are taken by those concerned, and in most cases everything has been already settled by the custom of centuries. There cannot be any poor or needy — the communal household and the gens know their responsibilities towards the old, the sick, and those disabled in war. All are equal and free — the women included. There is no place yet for slaves, nor, as a rule, for the subjugation of other tribes. When, about the year 1651, the Iroquois had conquered the Eries and the "Neutral Nation," they offered to accept them into the confederacy on equal terms; it was only after the defeated tribes had refused that they were driven from their territory.

But we must not forget that this organization was doomed. It did not go beyond the tribe. The confederacy of tribes already marks the beginning of its collapse, as will soon be apparent, and was already apparent in the attempts at subjugation by the Iroquois. Outside the tribe was outside the law. Wherever there was not an explicit treaty of peace, tribe was at war with tribe, and wars were waged with the cruelty which distinguishes man from other animals, and which was only mitigated later by self-interest. The gentile constitution in its best days, as we saw it in America, presupposed an extremely undeveloped state of production and therefore an extremely sparse population over a wide area. Man's attitude to nature was therefore one of almost complete subjection to a strange incomprehensible power, as is reflected in his childish religious conceptions. Man was bounded by his tribe, both in relation to strangers from outside the tribe and to himself; the tribe, the gens, and their institutions were sacred and inviolable, a higher power established by nature, to which the individual subjected himself unconditionally in feeling, thought, and action. However impressive the people of this epoch appear to us, they are completely undifferentiated from one another; as Marx says, they are still attached to the navel string of the primitive community. The power of this primitive community had to be broken, and it was broken. But it was broken by influences which from the very start appear as a degradation, a fall from the simple moral greatness of the old gentile society. The lowest interests — base greed, brutal appetites, sordid avarice, selfish robbery of the common wealth — inaugurate the new, civilized, class society. It is by the vilest means — theft, violence, fraud, treason — that the old classless gentile society is undermined and overthrown. And the new society itself, during all the two and a half thousand years of its existence, has never been anything else but the development of the small minority at the expense of the great exploited and oppressed majority; today it is so more than ever before.

Frederick Engels
Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State

While aspects of Communist society can be compared to primitive communism, full Communism will only be achieved after class society has run its full course: through its inception (slave society), creation (feudalist society) and absolute dominance (capitalist society ), through to its gradual downfall (socialist society). At this point the motion of human history will have run the full course of this cycle, having come from primitive communism to the most divided class society.

Utopian communism: First expressed in feudalist England in the 1500s, Utopian Communism was elucidated by Thomas More in his work Utopia (1516). It was a nostalgic and idealist look to primitive communism, seeing those social relations as far superior to the feudalist system of gross inequality and extreme oppression. With his idea of a Utopian society More believed that he needed only to convince the aristocracy the possibility of this world and it could be accomplished.

By the 1700s this conception had slightly evolved; instead of demanding solely for the political rights of the oppressed, Utopian Communists focused on science a little further by demanding to change the actual social conditions of humanity.

It was not simply class privileges that were to be abolished, but class distinctions themselves. A Communism, ascetic, denouncing all the pleasures of life, Spartan, was the first form of the new teaching. Then came the three great Utopians: Saint-Simon, to whom the middle-class movement, side by side with the proletarian, still had a certain significance; Fourier and Owen, who in the country where capitalist production was most developed, and under the influence of the antagonisms begotten of this, worked out his proposals for the removal of class distinction systematically and in direct relation to French materialism.

One thing is common to all three. Not one of them appears as a representative of the interests of that proletariat which historical development had, in the meantime, produced. Like the French philosophers, they do not claim to emancipate a particular class to begin with, but all humanity at once. Like them, they wish to bring in the kingdom of reason and eternal justice, but this kingdom, as they see it, is as far as Heaven from Earth, from that of the French philosophers.

For, to our three social reformers, the bourgeois world, based upon the principles of these philosophers, is quite as irrational and unjust, and, therefore, finds its way to the dust-hole quite as readily as feudalism and all the earlier stages of society. If pure reason and justice have not, hitherto, ruled the world, this has been the case only because men have not rightly understood them. What was wanted was the individual man of genius, who has now arisen and who understands the truth. That he has now arisen, that the truth has now been clearly understood, is not an inevitable event, following of necessity in the chains of historical development, but a mere happy accident. He might just as well have been born 500 years earlier, and might then have spared humanity 500 years of error, strife, and suffering.

We saw how the French philosophers of the 18th century, the forerunners of the Revolution, appealed to reason as the sole judge of all that is. A rational government, rational society, were to be founded; everything that ran counter to eternal reasons was to be remorselessly done away with. We saw also that this eternal reason was in reality nothing but the idealized understand of the 18th century citizen, just then evolving into the bourgeois. The French Revolution had realized this rational society and government.

But the new order of things, rational enough as compared with earlier conditions, turned out to be by no means absolutely rational. The state based upon reason completely collapsed. Rousseau's Contrat Social had found its realization in the Reign of Terror, from which the bourgeoisie, who had lost confidence in their own political capacity, had taken refuge first in the corruption of the Directorate, and, finally, under the wing of the Napoleonic despotism. The promised eternal peace was turned into an endless war of conquest. The society based upon reason had fared no better.

The antagonism between rich and poor, instead of dissolving into general prosperity, had become intensified by the removal of the guild and other privileges, which had to some extent bridged it over, and by the removal of the charitable institutions of the Church. The "freedom of property" from feudal fetters, now veritably accomplished, turned out to be, for the small capitalists and small proprietors, the freedom to sell their small property, crushed under the overmastering competition of the large capitalists and landlords, to these great lords, and thus, as far as the small capitalists and peasant proprietors were concerned, became "freedom from property". The development of industry upon a capitalistic basis made poverty and misery of the working masses conditions of existence of society. Cash payment became more and more, in Carlyle's phrase, the sole nexus between man and man. The number of crimes increased from year to year. Formerly, the feudal vices had openly stalked about in broad daylight; though not eradicated, they were now at any rate thrust into the background. In their stead, the bourgeois vices, hitherto practiced in secret, began to blossom all the more luxuriantly. Trade became to a greater and greater extent cheating. The "fraternity" of the revolutionary motto was realized in the chicanery and rivalries of the battle of competition. Oppression by force was replaced by corruption; the sword, as the first social lever, by gold. The right of the first night was transferred from the feudal lords to the bourgeois manufacturers. Prostitution increased to an extent never head of. Marriage itself remained, as before, the legally recognized form, the official cloak of prostitution, and, moreover, was supplemented by rich crops of adultery.

The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the Utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain. Society presented nothing but wrongs; to remove these was the task of reason. It was necessary, then, to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda, and, wherever it was possible, by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed as Utopian; the more completely they were worked out in detail, the more they could not avoid drifting off into pure phantasies.

Frederick Engels
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

Totalitarian communism: The prevaliant (perhaps only) form of "communist" ideology practiced in the 20th century. The state in these societies "represented" workers interests (health, education, sports, etc -- were the best in the world for the broadest majority of people), but workers didn't control or have power over the state. All power was instead concentrated in the party, the "vanguard" of the workers. Since all power rested in the political party, the freedom s of workers was immensely curtailed, allowing such attrocitites as the Stalinist purges to proceed without successful opposition.

Totalitarian communism is only possible in underdeveloped nations, with workers who needed to unite with the peasantry in order to achieve success; and where the bourgeois, both local and foreign, have a relatively weak presence. In such nations that underwent revolution, economic and social development progressed more rapidly than ever under capitalism at the cost of an immensely concentrated, and thus corrupting, power in the state.

Full communism: No totalitarian communist state ever proclaimed to have achieved full communism, as described at the beginning of this definition. The necessary preconditions of full communism, as described by Marx, Engels and Lenin, are a long period of socialism on a worldwide scale, and the nonexistence of classes which leads to the disappearance of government (because it is no longer necessary).

See Also: Fundamental concepts: freedom, theory, equality.



Communitarianism is the social/political current which emphasises the strengthening and importance of community or neighbourhood — a kind of property-owners’ collectivism.

In bourgeois society, the values of Liberalism are the dominant values: individualism (autonomy) and democracy (bourgeois right). Liberalism is by no means the only ethical system of bourgeois society however, and communitarianism, whose central values are community and social equality, is an important counter to liberalism.

Although communitarianism de-emphasises social class as a potentially divisive factor in building community, where it takes root in working-class neighbourhoods, communitarianism is an important ally of socialism. The neighbourhood movements of the 1960s/70s in the US, the Reclaim the Streets movements of the 1980/90s, and the Save Our Suburbs movement in Australia are examples of communitarianism.



A community is a group of people living together through a social division of labour (whether traditional, civil or by free association) sharing common norms and values or a legal code (whether traditional or formal).

Community is the ethical value, central to communitarianism and complementary to autonomy.

Communists value community, but do not see community as what is counterposed to the capitalists; on the contrary, the real community is class-riven and includes both the ruling class or their agents, and the oppressed class, both the bourgeoisie who own the social means of production as their private property, and proletarians they exploit.

Community differs from solidarity because solidarity implies a voluntary association in which the individuals or social subjects involved voluntarily extend their support and subordinate themselves to another's project, even if the other is a stranger to them; community on the other hand, is a relationship into which individuals and social subjects are subsumed by reason of place, ethnicity, occupation, etc., etc., and excludes strangers; their support for the collective goals of the community is not voluntary, but arises from accidents of birth and the shared values, norms and experiences which arise from that.

Both Community and Solidarity imply “social cohesion” or “social solidarity” which has been theorised by such thinkers as Hegel (see Philosophy of Right), Emile Durkheim and more recently theorists of “social capital.”



The word was first used in the sense of an informal group of people socialising or travelling together. By the late 13th century it was used to refer to the group of retainers maintained by a person. By the late 14th century, “company” referred to medieval trade guilds, where people in a specific trade banded together for mutual benefit, including charitable works and protection of their economic interests (as in “Tanners Company”). Only in the 16th century, did “company” come to refer to a group of people forming a corporation for the purposes of commerce, initially as in “Bloggs & Company” (The word took on its specific meaning in the theatre and the military at the same time.) By this time, the medieval guilds were in decline, and the nascent trade unions were more inclined to call themselves “society” (the French word for “company”).

Trades were originally inherited down the male line, just as the first estates were owned by families and continued according to the laws of familial ties and inheritance. Thus, “companies” in the modern sense, more or less synonymous with “corporation,” grew out of family businesses — “Bloggs & Co.” was a variation on “Bloggs & Sons.” Thus, bourgeois companies bear the stamp of their origins in both the family (collective property, legal coverture under the head, hierarchy and division of labour) and the medieval guilds (secular, egalitarian decision-making among peers, formalised accounting and treasury, focus on a specific trade, etc.). The company is the basic unit of organisation of the bourgeoisie.

In this sense, as secular extra-familial associations of men working in the same trade, working-class self-defence organisations and corporations have common origins in the medieval “company.”



Name used in Russia for the Leaders of the Menshevik and SR parties in the Soviet who compromised with the Cadets on essential points, voluntarily handing power over to them in the Provisional Government.


Concentration of capital

The concentration of capital refers to the gradual concentration of ownership of capital in fewer and fewer hands.

During periods of crisis, small capitalists go to the wall, and it is generally the larger units of capital which are able to survive and capture market-share. It is not so much the advantages of scale, but the capacity of larger units of capital which allow them to wage price wars, to swamp markets, monopolise supplies and survive crises and so on. All the techniques described so eloquently by Naomi Klein in NO LOGO are used to eliminate smaller competitors.

“After every crisis there are enough ex-manufacturers in the English factory districts who will supervise, for low wages, what were formerly their own factories in the capacity of managers of the new owners, who are frequently their creditors.” [Capital, Volume III, Chapter 23]

This process of concentration of capital can enhance the solidarity of the working class, as more and more workers are brought into cooperation with each other by big multinational firms. However, its effect on the middle class (i.e., all those social layers between the most powerful sections of the ruling class and the most exploited sections of the working class) is catastrophic, plunging wider and wider sections of the population into poverty or into the ranks of the proletariat. No system of exploitation can survive without a viable middle-class. The demise of slave society demonstrated this. Marx saw the historical crisis of capitalism arriving by this route:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever-extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only useable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and with this, the international character of the capitalistic regime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. Thus integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.

“The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production.

“The transformation of scattered private property, arising from individual labour, into capitalist private property is, naturally, a process, incomparably more protracted, violent, and difficult, than the transformation of capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property. In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” [Capital, Volume I, Chapter 32]

That this is an inherent tendency in capitalism has been proved by history. The continued expansion of capitalism and commodification of wider and wider domains of life, combined with several rounds of traumatic destruction of capital by means of world war, have allowed capitalism to continue while concentrations of capital of almost unimaginable magnitude have been built, overshadowing whole nations.

The Taylorism of the late nineteenth century included capitalists understanding that it was always necessary to regenerate a class of supervisors, foremen, technicians and various classes of privileged workers, and to always offer to the workers the hope of a step up the ladder, if not as a small capitalist, then as a “team leader”, overseer, or whatever.

The Fordism introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century, used the expansion of working class personal consumption as a lever for the revitalisation and expansion of capital:

“Contradiction in the capitalist mode of production: the labourers as buyers of commodities are important for the market. But as sellers of their own commodity — labour-power — capitalist society tends to keep them down to the minimum price.

“Further contradiction: the periods in which capitalist production exerts all its forces regularly turn out to be periods of over-production, because production potentials can never be utilised to such an extent that more value may not only be produced but also realised; but the sale of commodities, the realisation of commodity-capital and thus of surplus-value, is limited, not by the consumer requirements of society in general, but by the consumer requirements of a society in which the vast majority are always poor and must always remain poor.” [Capital, Volume II, Chapter 16]

The Toyotist policies of recent decades further mask the polarisation of classes and the concentration of capital, by commercialising the production relations themselves, transforming supervisors and even assembly-line workers into apparent independent proprietors.

Bourgeois society has responded to its successive crises and changed. The underlying process is most sharply expressed, however, as the contradiction between socialised forces of production and private ownership of the means of production, between the forces of production and the relations of production.

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.” [Preface to the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy]

The concentration of capital tends to polarise society between two poles: the big bourgeoisie and proletariat, but the proletariat is a revolutionary class, which can only liberate itself by abolishing Wage labour and capital.



A concept is a generalised thought-form.

Prior to Kant there were various theories of the nature and origin of concepts (usually called ‘ideas’), either created inside the head by the impact of sensations, or summoned up from within the head by the faculty of thought. Kant put all these theories on a consistent philosophical basis but the basic problems still remained: an innate faculty of Reason analysing the data of experience. The origins of the Marxist theory of concepts begin with Kant’s Romantic opponent, Johann Gottfried Herder.

Herder claimed the language had gradually emerged from the use of artefacts, and in fact that thinking simply meant working with symbols. Consequently, every person and every people thought differently, corresponding to their differing history and activity. In his study of historical and cultural difference, Herder said that every person and every people had their Schwerpunkt or Mittelpunkt (strong point or focal point), their most essential life-activity, which characterized them and from which they cannot be separated.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet and a friend of Herder’s, tackled the problem of forming a concept of complex wholes of natural processes, such as plants. Goethe believed that it was necessary to form a visual or visceral image of a thing, the Urphänomen, the simplest possible unit of a complex whole, stripped of all contingent attributes and by its very simplicity, its own explanatory principle. In this way, though no philosopher, Goethe had overcome Kant’s dichotomy between Reason and Sensation and realized the Pantheistic principle of hen kai pan (one and all): a Gestalt can be grasped by understanding the simple archetypal phenomenon.

Hegel appropriated Goethe’s Urphänomen and Herder’s Schwerpunkt in his construction of the Phenomenology: each ‘formation of consciousness’ was characterized by a principle of truth which lay at its heart. In the Logic, Hegel transformed this idea into his idea of the Concept.

The Concept is the unity of a Universal – a universal representation such as a word or image, a Particular – a form of social practice which is organised around the Universal, which subsumes an Individual thing, person, idea) under the Universal and constitutes the Universal. These three ‘moments’ allows Hegel’s concept to comprehend the concept as the basic unit of any ‘formation of consciousness’, i.e., social formation or project.

Marx appropriated Hegel’s idea of concept, but pointed out that concepts are not the product of thought, such as that of philosophers, but rather exist implicitly in activity, and is reflected by the thinker, only after it has already emerged in Activity.

Vygotsky took this idea into the building of a Psychology, and pointed out that concepts arise in two distinct ways. (1) As readymade concepts belonging to some theory instantiated in a social project or institution (science, religion, political parties, ...) and are acquired ‘from the top down’ by individuals who are inducted into the practices and theories of the institution, possibly in formal schooling, or informally through participation in institutions objectifying the relevant practices, and (2) As spontaneous generalizations of life-experience, ‘from the bottom up’, passing through a series of immature or juvenile forms of thought improvised in the course of interacting with adults or ‘old hands’. The real concept takes form in the meeting of everyday life experience with its spontaneous concepts and formal theoretical concepts acquired through education.

The concept must especially be distinguished from the Logical Positivist or abstract-empirical version which is nothing more than a conventional name for things bearing some contingent attribute, an idea which was rejected by Aristotle, but still dominates Western theoretical thought in the sciences and humanities as well as in philosophy.


Concrete and Abstract Labour

Concrete labour is the labour different in kind, skill and intensity in every case, which gives to a commodity its specific qualities by which it satisfies human needs.

Abstract labour is the undifferentiated expenditure of human energy common to all forms of labour.

In the section of Chapter 1 of Capital entitled “The Two-fold character of the Labour embodied in Commodities” Marx puts it:

“On the one hand all labour is, speaking physiologically, an expenditure of human labour-power, and in its character of identical abstract human labour, it creates and forms the value of commodities. On the other hand, all labour is the expenditure of human labour-power in a special form and with a definite aim, and in this, its character of concrete useful labour, it produces use-values.” [Capital, Chapter 1]

Before the development of the market, all labour is concrete labour; as the market develops, the abstract quantitative side of labour begins to develop and with the rise of manufacturing, predominates. This means that labour itself became more abstract, i.e., more uniform, lacking in skill or specific character, and the products of labour become increasingly uniform, what today is referred to as “MacDonalds culture”.

Concrete and abstract value are related in the value form, which exhibits both exchange-value and use-value.


Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is the practice of resolving conflicts between individuals and groups of people by using skills and techniques including Consensus-Decision Making, Negotiation, Violence or Non-violence.

Radicals of all types often have a hostile attitude to conflict resolution because it may be used to reconcile people to the status quo, defuse necessary and progressive struggles, and thereby undermine people’s struggle for self-emancipation. Nevertheless, conflict resolution involves a range of essential skills and techniques which are of value in organising and building social movements and parties. So long as the workers’ movement is riven by internal conflict it cannot defeat the bourgeoisie. It should also be kept in mind that not all conflicts are essential and along “class lines”; e.g. struggle is certainly not limited to class issues and most disagreements within the workers’ movement are genuine differences over strategy and tactics which need to resolved productively!

For any conflict arising within the context of the class struggle, the interests of the working class may be best served not by “resolution” of the conflict, but by the decisive defeat of one or other side in the conflict, or at least an agreement by both sides to go their separate ways. The meaning of “conflict resolution” needs to be understood inclusive of any and all means necessary to end the conflict!

Conflict resolution never means the suppression of conflict in the sense of conformism or bureaucratism, because in these cases the conflict is not being addressed at all, instead it is being ignored or shuffled endlessly. Conflict is a component of the very life-blood of any organisation, let alone a revolutionary organisation. The suppression of conflict, or mutual toleration, only blunts a conflict, and suppresses the creative aspect of conflict, and sooner or later suppressed, latent conflict always explodes onto the surface. Efforts to suppress conflict, or even to shy away from it, inevitably make creative resolution at a later stage more difficult. Thus, one needs to recognise as early as possible conflict which may be resolved only by one side prevailing, and the conflict which is ultimately resolvable. This is usually dependent more on the strength of ties than on the strength of antagonisms. Serious efforts to resolve a dispute when it is in its early stages are one means of determining whether a conflict is inessential and creatively resolvable, or may develop into an irrevocable split.

The way conflicts develop is therefore an important issue. See the entry on the Genetic Study of Group Development for a general approach to this subject. Briefly, there are three stages:

(1) Latent development: At first, the parties are quite unconscious of the potential conflict, which may be invisible. The conflict may never eventuate as people adapt to one another and unconsciously learn from each other and coordinate each others’ activity, and the basis for the conflict may wither away before it is ever expressed.

(2) Essential Development: Later, people begin to express differences, but initially differences are simply differences, not opposition. But difference may develop into opposition, and opposition into contradiction. Conflict resolution in this stage may take the form of one conflict being resolved, but right away a new conflict appears, and one conflict follows another in succession. This is the “dialectic of debate” and conflict resolution of this kind is synonymous with democratic discussion. Efforts at conflict resolution may fruitfully resolve the problem, and the problem may prove to be just a “problem of development”. However, if this goes on, with one dispute following another indefinitely, this may be a sign of an incipient split.

(3) Split: Once disputes become general, with differences consistently manifesting themselves across a consistent line, then the issues posed by the conflict become qualitatively different: divorce may be more rational than marriage guidance, so to speak, or at least, collaboration may have to give way to negotiation.

Further reading: See The New Course, Chapter Three.



Consciousness is essentially undefinable because it is the foundation of all forms of thought which must ultimately defined in terms of it. The distinction between thought and what exists outside and independently of thought, matter, is the fundamental question of all philosophy, first tackled in philosophical terms by Descartes, who raised the question of how it was possible for consciousness to reflect the material world. The solution of this problem has been central to philosophy for 400 years.

See Ilyenkov's explanation of Lenin's definition in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism and Marx's discussion of consciousness in The German Ideology.

The most important development in understanding the nature of consciousness came with Hegel, who refused to begin his system with the thought-matter dichotomy and took consciousness to be objective, explaining that people gained consciousness through their participation in social activity and the use of the products of activity.

In Hegel's system, Consciousness is the middle term in the development of the Subjective Spirit: from Soul (unconscious mental activity) to Consciousness (the forms of which are studied by Phenomenology) to Spirit, the unity of Soul and Consciousness. The stages of Consciousness are Consciousness-as-such, Self-Consciousness and Reason. “Self-consciousness is sparked, however, by the consciousness of life; for as consciousness has an object, as an entity different from itself it is also true in life that the difference is no difference[see text]” and “The unity of consciousness and self-consciousness has in the first place individuals existing in contrast to each other as beings for themselves. ... its truth is the unmediated generality subsisting in and for itself and the objectivity of self-consciousness, — Reason[see text]”.

In the 1840s, Hegel's view was subject to criticism from different sides. The mainstream of western philosophy rejected Hegel's objective idealism and took a subjective, individualistic, psychological view of consciousness, separated irrevocably from the material world beyond sensation.

Marx, on the other hand, continued Hegel's social-historical conception of consciousness, but instead of regarding forms of consciousness as an extramundane Spirit, or as products of the brain, Marx held that consciousness was constructed through social practice and material conditions.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

Karl Marx
A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Further Reading: The German Ideology



Conservatism is the political disposition which resists change.

The term ‘conservative’ came to be used as a description of the British right-wing Tory Party in 1830, and the term ‘conservatism’ came into currency shortly afterwards.

The contradiction within conservatism is that in the process of opposing the changes that the wealthy classes are afraid of, conservative politicians are incessantly introducing radical changes — removing long-cherished rights, imposing new draconian restrictions, widening the gap between rich and poor and so on. Thus the term Margaret Thatcher used to describe herself: ‘radical conservative’. Conversely, it frequently happens that the most radical policy is simply to refuse to change, refuse to give up long-held rights, refuse to go along with the latest capitalist managment technique or reactionary attack.


Consensus Decision Making

Consensus Decision Making is the informal meeting procedure most often used in social movements and action groups where the participants are not affected by irreconcilable divisions, and endeavour to make decisions which enjoy the support of everyone present.

Consensus Decision Making contrasts with the formal Standing Orders common in trade unions, political parties and business organisations where conflicting interests or ideology make consensus decision-making impossible.

The principal characteristic of Consensus Decision-making is that a decision can only be made by the unanimous agreement of everyone present. Usually, organisations using CDM allow for majority decisions in which, for example, up to two people may indicate their dissent from the decision, and the decision still be deemed to have been made by consensus.

CDM usually involves the selection of the Chair (or “Facilitator”) at the start of the meeting, and the first item discussed will be the Agenda. As the meeting moves through the agenda people indicate their wish to speak and are heard by turns. Each new item is taken only as consensus is reached on the previous decision. The Agenda may be varied by consensus in the same way. CDM usually places strict rules on the time allowed for speakers, the number of times anyone may speak in debate, and on gender balance. However, in order to achieve consensus, it is frequently necessary to allow someone to speak more often.

CDM relies on developing the skill of meeting facilitators and participants in using the techniques of CDM, rather than in the enforcement of an agreed set of rules and procedures, as is the case where Standing Orders are used.

The main concepts of Consensus Decision Making are (1) Group Genesis and (2) Roles. These concepts are dealt with in more detail under Group Dynamics.

(1) Group Genesis

When a group of people come together to, for example, build a campaign against a particular government action or build an interest-group, they will necessarily go through a series of stages of development. Awareness of these stages of development and the different kinds of organisational problems and possibilities that go with each stage, is essential. These stages are repeated “in miniature” every time a new meeting begins or even when a new person joins the group.

The common purpose and commitment which is the foundation of Consensus Decision-Making cannot be taken for granted by simply insisting upon unanimous decisions: — it has to be built and maintained; otherwise, insistence on unanimity can only lead to the fostering of differences under the surface and eventual split.

(2) Roles

Every member of a consensus decision-making meeting or group must have a role, and group members must ensure that this is so. Roles can be anything from facilitating, making contact with other groups*, doing research*, checking whether previous decisions are being carried out*, time-keeping*, giving reports or making and formulating proposals for action to active listening, keeping minutes, guarding the door, introducing newcomers, asking the difficult questions or pointing out potential problems*, putting proposals into simple language, fostering group feeling*, keeping the books, and so on and so on. The greater the plethora of roles a group is able to foster among its participants — and the greater the fluidity with which people are able to adopt and change roles — the more fruitful and productive will be the discussions and the greater the commitment of group members to the outcome. It is important to both actively seek out people to play essential roles, and to give people recognition for their role. Rotating roles is also important, to prevent the build-up of hierarchical relations of the exclusion of people from important roles, but it is more important that people should be able to find appropriate roles and that there should be many such roles. Some roles are quite essential: every group or discussion must have someone able to carry out the roles indicated with an asterisk (*) above.

One of the important aspects of consensus decision-making is the active countering of various negative phenomena which arise from social problems and differences having their origin in society at large. Thus, CDM involves specific techniques to counteract sexism and other habitual tendencies towards domination or exclusion. Language problems and disabilities, family responsibilities and so on also impose stresses on organisations which CDM obliges organisations to take specific counter-measures against. These measures include constraints on speaking-order in meetings, the choice of venues and meeting-times and so on, the ensure people are not excluded.

See Star Hawk’s Guide to Consensus Decision Making, a formulation popular amongst anarchists today.


Constituent Assembly

Constituent Assemblies represent lawful breaks with the old system of government.



Constructivism was an Art movement centred in Moscow in the 1920s, which emphasised the constructed character of the world. Subsequently, constructivism has come to indicate a very broad school of psychology which asserts that meaning is “constructed” by the subject out of material provided by the external world, rather than “discovered”.

The Marxist School of psychology including Lev Vygotsky, Georges Politzer, Lucien Séve, A R Luria, A N Leontyev and others, is ‘constructivist’, emphasising the social-historical and collaborative character of human activity. On the other hand, relativist constructivism emphasises the voluntarism and autonomy of an individual subject in constructing personal meaning.


Consumer and Consumerism

A “consumer” is someone who uses a commodity. In bourgeois social theory “consumers” are spoken of as if they constituted a separate class of people with separate interests from producers.

The conception of “consumer” is an illusion possible only once production and consumption have been alienated as apparently separate and independent processes. Every act of consumption is equally an act of production, so the alienation of one from the other is a social construction. Since wage-workers produce only to earn a living, and are alienated from their own labour, the illusion is created that their only real life is as a consumer. But nothing could be more powerless than a consumer.

“Consumerism” has different meanings in different countries. In the U.S., consumerism means the social movement defending the rights of consumers, agitating for price fixing, regulation and labelling of food additives, etc., which date from the founding of the US Consumers Union in the 1930s. In Britain and Australia, “consumerism” means the culture of obsession with buying and owning commodities rather than “getting a life”.

Jean Baudrillard’s. The Consumer Society. Myths and Structures published in 1970 was one of a whole genre of books which have utilised the concept of “consumerism” to theorise a passive or non-existent working class.


Content and Form

Form and Content are philosophical contents concerned with the contrast between the appearance (or significance) of a thing and its essence or existence. Form is the mode of existence, expression or internal organisation of the Content of a thing, while Content is in turn the totality of relations and potentialities of the same thing.

The historically earliest concepts of Form and Content identified Content with a ‘formless’ matter and Form with the structure of that matter, but such a concept which allows reality only to Form and reduces Content to a wholly abstract “thing-in-itself” is conducive towards a metaphysical understanding of things.

Form and Content are a Unity of Opposites: they are two aspects of one and the same thing, which in the process of development of the thing and in its cognition, interpenetrate one another, interact and transform one into the other - Form becomes Content and Content Form.

There can be no Content without a Form (a thing exists in one form or another) nor Form without Content (everything is connected to other things, is capable of transforming into something else, leads to something else); but a given Form may be more or less true to the Content.

A story which "works" as a movie, may fail as a novel, and vice versa; a given conflict in the class struggle may find fruitful expression in the form of a disciplined organisation, while another conflict may not be resolved at all in such a form.

Natural and social processes exhibit a process of "shedding" untrue forms and taking on forms closer to the content — as if the content was struggling against the form, overthrowing it and becoming itself a new form, only to be replaced by a new deeper content. Contrariwise, an untrue form can overcome the dynamic of the content, suppress it and draw in a new Content more in keeping with the form.

In Hegel's system, the dialectic of form and content is the negative aspect of Appearance through which Appearance proves to be Actuality.

See Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach, part 4.

See Hegel's explanation in the Shorter Logic and also Form and Content and Form & Content.


Continuity and Discontinuity

Continuity and Discontinuity refer to the two aspects of things manifested in discrete form (particles, whole numbers, planets, individual people, ‘leaps’ such as the boiling of water, birth and death, the "Big Bang") or, manifested in a continuum (wave motion, concepts like length which imply indefinite divisibility, fluidity, time passing, as well as continuous processes like growing older, erosion, etc.)

Common experience tells us that Nature exhibits the interchange between continuity and discontinuity - growing up marked by sudden changes, heating which gradually leads to boiling, gradual growing apart of friends leading to sudden ruptures, etc., and that one and the same process may show itself in an aspect of continuity or discontinuity depanding on the way the subject acts upon it. Discontinuity is inconceivable without the capaity to conceive of the ‘gap’ separating the discrete elements of the thing, and continuity is inconceivable without being able to mentally grasp different points on the continuum.

These two concepts actually prove extremely difficult for formal logic and mathematics to deal with. Modern physics understands that matter is neither discrete nor continuous but a unity of the two ("wave-particle"), but the history of science exhibits a long history of struggle between theories of the discrete and the continuous. For instance, modern biology recognises that evolution is a process of "interrupted continuity". In general there is nothing in Nature which is simply and wholly either continuous or discontinuous.

See Hegel on gradualness and discontinuity


Contract Labour

Contract labour is a form of wage labour in which the worker is treated by the employer as an independent proprietor “providing a service”.

This form of wage labour, however, denies the worker any continuity or security of employment because every contract, be it for a day or a month, is a distinct contract of sale. Since the pretence is that the labourer is an equal economic agent, the worker is usually responsible for their own social-security payments, and must put aside money to pay tax and for their own retirement etc. It may very well be the case that the worker “hires” some fellow workers and lifts themselves up to the position of a kind of leading-hand or overseer, and indeed there may be a continuous scale from the most oppressed day-labourer up to a small-scale capitalist providing day-labour and earning a good living, not unlike the Triads who supply day labour for the Japanese corporations (see Toyotism). Small service-providers, consultants, self-employed “change managers”, etc. who are hired on contract are not generally referred to as “contract labour”, since in their case they are genuinely petit-bourgeois engaged in the sale of private labour.

Not only does contract labour, like casualisation, serve to force the price of labour power down to a minimum and maximise the insecurity of life for the worker, but contract labour is used to undermine the class-consciousness of the workers and intensify competition between workers, as the pretence is actually sustained that the contract worker is not a proletarian at all, but a proprietor.

The term ‘contracting out’, a form of commodification, also referred to as ‘out-sourcing’, first entered the English language in the 1890s in relation to the manufacturing industry. While contracting-out constitutes a further extension of the division of labour, it also invariably involves a reduction in the quality of work and a further alienation (or distancing) of the worker from his or her labour.



Contradiction means literally ‘saying “No”’, but more generally refers to propositions which assert apparently incompatible or opposite things — “there is 1 and there is not 1”. (See Antimony). Contradiction is the centre of Hegel's critique of Formal Logic and the most popular concept for introducing dialectics, which is concerned with the internal contradictions within ideas as the “driving force” leading to change and development.

Formal Logic holds that the Law of (Non-)Contradiction — “if a given proposition is true then its denial cannot be true” — is an absolute truth, mandatory for all logical thinking and theory.

Hegel criticises this law, and points out that the ancient Greeks (Zeno) had already proved that, for instance, the simple concept of motion requires that an object is both 'here and not-here' at one and the same time, something modern mathematics and physics would now agree with!

Engels makes the “Unity (Interpenetration) of Opposites” a basic “Law of Dialectics”.

See Hegel on the unity of Positive and Negative and on the Law of Contradiction, and “There is absolutely nothing whatever in which we cannot ... point to contradictions” and see Law of Excluded Middle.

Lenin wrote “The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts is the essence ... of dialectics”, and here Lenin draws attention to the fact that contradiction is central not just to "logic" (as normally understood) but cognition, and that the dialectical concept of contradiction is not the contradiction between two things external to one another, but the contradiction which is at the essence of a thing.

Mao's article On Contradiction, is a highly readable popular explanation of the application of the concept of contradiction in the analysis of complex social and historical phenomena. See C L R James on Identity, Difference and Contradiction and Essential Opposition.



The conversion of intellectual, creative, and all other non-material labour into a commodity.

See Also: Intellectual Property, which deals with the issues of copyright and patents at lenght.

Futher Reading: Copyleft.



From Latin corpus for “body,” a corporation is a body of people legally entitled to act with the same legal rights as an individual, and in current usage invariably refers to a public company.

In the fifteenth century “corporation” referred to the citizens of a town, a kind of town council, or the collected members of a certain profession. In the sixteenth century, “corporation” specifically referred to companies having a royal monopoly on their trade. By 1611, “corporation” took on the specific meaning of a group of people or the successive holders of a certain office, legally able and obliged to act as one person. The 1661 Corporation Act (which applied to the American colony) restricted officers of the Crown to members of the Church of England and required them to acknowledge royal supremacy, i.e., that they acted as agents of the Crown.

In the twentieth century, with the growth of large trusts and the exploitation of market monopoly, “corporation” took on the specific meaning of a public company, i.e., a company which, rather than being the extension of a family, was governed by a large number of anonymous shareholders. Such shareholders lacked any “personality” which could be subject to the normal moral, ethical and political mores of society, and tended act as pure expressions of the economic interests of capital. As such, corporations have come to be seen as the most inhuman and socially destructive manifestations of capital.

The extension of political and social rights won on behalf of individual citizens to corporations, which lack the sense of social responsibility which individual citizens have, mean that corporations can use rights to privacy, freedom of speech, etc., to turn these rights into parodies of themselves.

In the new millennium, opponents of capitalism have turned their focus away from the state, to the corporations as the chief enemy of the working class. Given that many corporations now wield more social and economic power than many states, despite the law-making capacity and sovereignty of states, this is a justified view, and a sense returns to the original view of socialists in the early twentieth century, before the rise of universal suffrage, when the state was seen as nothing more than a bourgeois instrument.



Corporatisation is the process of restructuring of labour — usually public service organisations or small parts of larger businesses — so that the organisation acts like an independent business, rather than a department of the larger organisation.

Usually, internal relations of accountability and command are replaced with one-line budgetary mechanisms of planning and control. Corporatisation is usually a preparatory step towards privatisation or out-sourcing.

Corporatisation is a kind of commodification which breaks up a relation of Collaboration and replaces it with relations of buyer and seller. Very often, the objective is not commercialisation as such, but simply to break up one set of power relations and replace them with another, and frequently the hidden agenda is union-busting.



From the Russian kazak: vagabond. Free warrior-peasants or semi-nomadic warriors of Eastern Slavic origin, mostly inhabiting the Ukraine. They served as cavalry for the tsar during WWI, receiving in return land and exemption from taxes. The most notable case of this was the Don Cossacks who received 13 million hectares of arable land in the Don region.