MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Means and Ends

The dialectic of Means and Ends is of deep historical, ethical and political significance. The “Means” is the activity a subject engages in with the intention of bringing about a certain “End.” The “End” has initially only an ideal existence, and the Realised End – the actual outcome of the adopted Means – may be quite different from the abstract End for which the Means was adopted in the first place.

Both Means and Ends are therefore processes which are in greater or lesser contradiction with one another throughout their development – constituting a learning process of continual adjustment of both Means and Ends in the light of experience – until, at the completion of the process, Means and End merge in a form of life-activity, which is both its own End and its own Means. The dialectic of Means and Ends is manifested in certain maxims which express aspects of the dialectic in a one-sided or limited way.

We do not have the means to achieve our ends” is something which radical socialist groups have been saying for more than a century, reflecting the absolute gulf between their capacity to imagine socialism and the smallness of their own resources. The problem here is simply to mistake the socialist imaginary for an End, and to understand the purpose of socialist agitation to be to bring into being a socialist utopia. The socialist utopia is an ethical precept rather than a state of affairs which has to be brought about. As Marx said in The German Ideology:

“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.” [German Ideology]

Thus, the perception that there is an impossible gulf between ends and means results from an abandonment of the critique of existing conditions, in favour of a hankering after a distant utopia, or simply a role far out of line with a group’s actual sphere of activity. Whenever a radical group finds itself with such an absolute contradiction between means and ends (perhaps resulting from a gradual change in conditions, a weakening of its base), then it should consider re-orienting itself towards the critique of existing conditions, since these conditions necessarily provide the means for their own critique.

The End justifies the Means” is a maxim which originated in an accusation made by Protestants against the Jesuits. Although few would openly proclaim such a cynical maxim, it is clearly the conception which justified the atrocities of Stalinism and the use of terror by some who claimed to be pursuing the socialist objective. The idea that some means (such as the use of violence against political opponents, or lying to the working class) which is inconsistent with the aim (socialism, world peace) can in some way serve that end is untenable. There is always some “tension” between Ends and Means – Means refer always to existing conditions as they are while the End refers to how things ought to be. But the means must be adequate to the ends; that is to say, the means must be such that attaining the End will mean the fullest development and flowering of the Means. So the idea, for example, that deceiving the working class could be any part of the struggle for socialism is an absurdity, because the fullest development of the Means (deceiving the working class) could only be the disorganisation and subordination of the working class, the opposite of socialism. On the other hand, a picket line in support of a wage-rise is a far cry from socialism, but insofar as a picket line is a manifestation of the self-organisation of the working class and manifests elementary class discipline, it is a “means” which can be understood as an “embyronic” expression of an admittedly distant “end.”

Base political methods however, such as lying, conformism, personal denigration, which are to be found within the workers movement, would find their fullest expression, not in socialism, but only in some kind of Stalinist gulag. So a claim that such unprincipled means are justified because they serve the End of socialism is false; in fact, base means can never serve noble ends.

Eduard Bernstein (the former collaborator of Marx and Engels, for whom the term “revisionist” was first coined) said: “To me that which is generally called the ultimate aim of socialism is nothing, but the movement is everything.” [Evolutionary Socialism] This is going to the other extreme and is equally as wrong as “the End justifies the Means.” If a movement has no “end” – an ideal or vision – which is in contradiction to existing conditions, including the movement itself, then such a movement can be nothing more than a celebration of existing conditions and a support for the status quo. The deception involved in the idea of the “movement is everything,” the rejection of any ideal which contradicts what exists, is not only incompatible with Marxism; such a reconciliation with the existing world is actually contrary to human life itself, which is always striving for something.

The process of Means and Ends is a process of the manifestation of Means in the form of the Realised End, and the contradiction between Abstract End and Realised End transforming the conception of Means and Ends, much like the continual adaption of species in a changing environment of which the species is itself a part. The adequate Means becomes itself an End, the discovery of which itself entails certain Means; on the other hand, an adequate conception of the End is a powerful Means in its own right. The dialectics of Means and Ends is referred to as Teleology (purposive development), and in Hegel’s terminology, passes over into the dialectic of Life and Cognition – “history as a learning process.”

Further Reading: See Trotsky’s Their Morals and Ours on the subject of “The end justifies the means,” Hegel’s Shorter Logic and Means and Ends.


Means of Production

The tools (instruments) and the raw material (subject) you use to create something are the means of production.

If we examine the whole process from the point of view of its result, the product, it is plain that both the instruments and the subject of labour, are means of production, and that the labour itself is productive labour.

Karl Marx
Capital: The Labour-Process And The Process Of Producing Surplus-Value

See also: Labour and Productive Forces



The unity of quantity and quality: to “have the measure of the thing”, means to know just how much change (quantity & quality combined) it will take to make it something else. For example, we know the measure of water: at normal pressures it turns to ice at 0°C and steam at 100°C.

This dialectic was popularised by Engels as one of the Laws of Dialectics. In Hegel’s Logic, Measure appears as the third term in the Doctrine of Being. Quality is change which by which a thing becomes something else; Quantity is change wherein something still remains what it is.

Further Reading: the Shorter Logic or Hegel’s Outline of Logic.


Mechanical Materialism

Mechanical Materialism refers to those forms of materialist thinking which gained strength from the gains of natural science beginning from the work of Newton and others in explaining the world in terms of the action of objects upon one another according to fixed laws of nature, expressed in terms of forces. Mechanical materialism is the science of things rather than of processes (i.e. of external action rather than internal change), it emphasises exact science at the expense of holistic knowledge, and separates absolutely the subject ("observer") and object.

The materialism of the 18th century was predominantly mechanical, because at that time, of all natural sciences, only mechanics, and indeed only the mechanics of solid bodies -- celestial and terrestrial -- in short, the mechanics of gravity, had come to any definite close. Chemistry at that time existed only in its infantile, phlogistic form. Biology still lay in swaddling clothes; vegetable and animal organisms had been only roughly examined and were explained by purely mechanical causes. What the animal was to Descarte, man was to the materialists of the 18th century -- a machine. This exclusive application of the standards of mechanics to processes of a chemical and organic nature -- in which processes the laws of mechanics are, indeed, also valid, but are pushed into the backgrounds by other, higher laws -- constitutes the first specific but at that time inevitable limitations of classical French materialism.

The second specific limitation of this materialism lay in its inability to comprehend the universe as a process, as matter undergoing uninterrupted historical development. This was in accordance with the level of the natural science of that time, and with the metaphysical, that is, anti-dialectical manner of philosophizing connected with it. Nature, so much was known, was in eternal motion. But according to the ideas of that time, this motion turned, also eternally, in a circle and therefore never moved from the spot; it produced the same results over and over again.

Fredrick Engels
The End of Classical German Philosophy

Mechanical Materialism was finally put to its grave after Einstein’s Relativity.

Mechanisation and Automation

Mechanisation refers to that stage in the development of tools and machinery where the tool passes from being an appendage of the labourer, enhancing one or another of her own powers, to a point where the machine controls the labour process and the labourer is reduced to an appendage of the machine, executing partial operations within a whole process dominated by the capacities of the machine. Mechanisation is characterised by products of deadening uniformity and labour of an abstract, repetitive and meaningless character. (See Taylorism and Fordism)

Automation is that stage in the development of machinery and mechanisation where the machinery has become sufficiently “smart” so that the need for abstract, repetitive and simple labour activity has died away, since the machine is capable of performing the entire process, and the role of the labourer changes to one of management and control of the machine. Automation is characterised by rapid change, variety and flexibility in the product up to the capacity of the ultimate consumer interacting with the machine. Automation brings to the fore the “knowledge worker” and the demand for unskilled labour dies away, since the machine is able to control all but the most developed aspects of the process of production. (See Toyotism)

For Marx and Engels, the understanding of changes in the labour process is the most basic question of all:

“Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source – next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.” [Engels, Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man]

Marx remarked (somewhat oversimplifying the point):

“The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist.” [Poverty of Philosophy, Chapter 2]

While the introduction of new levels of mechanisation and automation always throws people out of work, it always also creates new jobs.

“This qualitative change in mechanical industry continually discharges hands from the factory, or shuts its doors against the fresh stream of recruits, while the purely quantitative extension of the factories absorbs not only the men thrown out of work, but also fresh contingents. The workpeople are thus continually both repelled and attracted, hustled from pillar to post, while, at the same time, constant changes take place in the sex, age, and skill of the levies.” [Capital, Volume I, Chapter 25]

These kind of changes in the labour process do have a profound effect on the consciousness of the people working with the technology and make quite different demands on workers. Thus changes in the labour process bring forth changes in the composition of the working class, pushing whole layers of society into the background while calling forth others, and have profound effects on the whole culture of an epoch.

See for example, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception from Dialectic of Enlightenment, by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (1944), and Art in the Age of Mechanisation from the same authors, for examples of an analysis of the impact on culture of mechanisation.

See for example, The Postmodern Condition, A Report on Knowledge by Jean-François Lyotard (1979) and The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord (1967), and Postmodernisation, or The Informatisation of Production, by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (2000), for analyses of the effect on culture of the arrival of the age of automation.




In Hegel’s system, the first concept of Objectivity is Mechanism. Mechanism is the understanding of the object in terms of the system of things, relations, forces, etc by which it acts. In the history of science it corresponds to the philosophical position of Mechanical Materialism and is supplanted by the conception of Nature as composed not of things and forces but of processes, or in Hegel’s Logic, by Chemism. Seeing the “mechanism” by which something happens is a necessary step towards understanding it, but leaves out of account the life processes of thing and its parts; in a sense it answers the question “How?”, but not the question "Why?".

Further Reading: Engels in "Ludwig Feuerbach" part 2 and Hegel in The Shorter Logic and Mechanical Object, Mechanical process - Absolute Mechanism.



Existence or definition of a thing by revealing its relation to another thing. The properties of things are revealed in their interconnection with other things. A mirror mediates the thing it is reflecting and its image. Mediated knowledge is knowledge, for example, related through past experience and reflection which enables us to recognise things in the stream of impressions.

Mediation is important in the dialectical understanding of the Syllogism and in understanding how social relations participate in the acquisition of knowledge by individuals.

Further Reading: Philosophy of Right.


Meeting Procedure

Meeting procedure is the way people work together in meetings, particularly the agreed, stable rules governing how and when people may speak and how collective decisions are made in any given organisation.

The practical activity of communists almost invariably involves participating in various kinds of meetings, so familiarity with meeting procedure and skill in working with it is essential.

Apart form the informal rules which operate when any group of people are together, there are two important “traditions” of meeting procedure: Formal meeting procedure, also known as “Standing Orders”, and “Consensus Decision-making”. Standing Orders are used in every kind of formal meeting from a sitting of Congress (Parliament) to a Party Conference or Shareholders’ AGM or local trade union branch meeting, and dates back to the companies of late feudal/early bourgeois epoch. The degree of formality and details of rules vary from one organisation to another, but the same basic principles apply throughout. “Consensus decision-making” are the rules and procedures developed originally in the Peace Movement in the 1950s and later in the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Environment movement and predominate in the anti-Corporate movement of the late 90s/early 2000s.

The basic difference between the two “ethics” is that Standing Orders take it for granted that there are irreconcilable differences between the participants, and does not attempt to resolve these differences, but rather mediates interactions in such a way that despite the differences, the meeting is able to make a decision, generally by majority vote, and ensure that the decisions made genuinely reflect the informed wishes of the majority of people in the meeting.

Consensus decision-making on the other hand, assumes that everyone is basically “on the same side”, and if people are patient enough, it will be possible to arrive at a decision to which everyone will be genuinely committed.

In different situations and different organisations, one or the other system of meeting procedures may be more appropriate, even in one and the same meeting, it may be appropriate to switch from informal discussion to Consensus decision-making to Formal Meeting procedure and Standing Orders and back again, according to the flow of discussion. Sometimes, it is best to have no decision-making procedure at all: if subject to a surprise attack by fascist thugs, there is going to be no time to discuss what to do, and the chairperson or facilitator should simply issue orders like a drill sergeant.

See Standing Orders, Consensus Decision-making, Democratic Centralism, Trade Union and Group Dynamics for further detail on meeting procedure and its wider context, including the Genesis of organisations, group Roles and functions, Types of groups, the Structure of organisations and the Character of organisations.


Metamorphosis of Capital

The Metamorphosis of Capital is the transformation of capital from commodity form (C) to the Money form (M) and back again, in the course of circulation. Marx represents this metamorphosis as M – C – M', indicating that the metamorphosis brings about an increase in the magnitude of the capital when its value is realised again in Money at the completion of the cycle.

The Production process represents an interruption to circulation. C in the above formula is transformed by the Productive capitalist into Means of Production (MP) and Labour (L), taking it out of the circulation process for the purpose of using the capital for the production of surplus value. Thus the metamorphosis is represented:

M – C – MP+L – C' – M'

The characteristic cycle of reproduction of capital begins with Money (M) and ends with increased Money, M’. This is not however the only metamorphosis undergone by capital, and Marx identified three different Circuits of capital, corresponding to three interlocking segments of the economy mutually supplying each other.

See Part I of Volume II of Capital.



A branch of philosophy dating back to the time of Aristotle, referring to the study of what is “beyond the senses”. By the 16th century Metaphysics became synonymous with Ontology, the study of Being or Existence. For Positivism and most bourgeois philosophy today, Metaphysics is used in the sense given to it by Kant, concerned with objects which are ‘not possible objects of experience’.

For Hegel and later Marx, metaphysics is opponent to dialectics, for it deals with things or concepts abstracted from their interconnection with other things (concepts) and put into static ‘self-identical’ objects.

Further Reading: Engels in Ludwig Feuerbach and Hegel in The Shorter Logic.



1. Philosophy: How new knowledge is arrived at. Hegel's method, the "dialectical method", is demonstrated in The Logic in his way of uncovering the internal contradictions in concepts (thesis) and showing how they pass over into their opposites (antithesis) and give rise to new richer concepts embodying the synthesis of both thesis and antitheses. Hegel's method is contrasted with his "system" - the intricate structure of concepts outlined in the triads of The Logic. See the discussion of system and method in Ludwig Feuerbach. See also system below.