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The Subject Matter Of Political Economy

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Political economy is an interdisciplinary branch of the social sciences that focuses on the interrelationships among individuals, governments, and public policy. Political economists study how economic theories such as capitalism, socialism, and communism work in the real world.

The Subject Matter Of Political Economy:-

Knowledge of the world is the object of many sciences. Some sciences study the phenomena of nature, other sciences study society. The sciences that apply themselves to nature are known as the natural sciences. The sciences that study the various aspects of social development are known as the social sciences. Political economy is one of the social sciences.

Marxist-Leninist political economy is a component part of the integral science of Marxism-Leninism.

Marxism-Leninism is the science which deals with the laws of social development, the socialist revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, the building of socialist and communist society. It is a single comprehensive doctrine, consisting of three components philosophy, political economy, and the theory of scientific communism. Political economy is an important part of Marxism-Leninism, because it deals with the basis of the life of human society.

Production of Material wealth the basis of social Life:-

Throughout the ages people have  pondered over the reason for the of development of human society. Various points of view have been expounded. Religious spokesmen, for instance, have always claimed that all development takes place by God’s will. Science and practice, however, have proved that there are no supernatural forces. There was also the view, which bourgeois scholars share to this day, that the development of society depends to a decisive extent on geographical environment, that is, on definite natural conditions (climate, soil, minerals, etc.). It stands to reason that geographical environment is one of the essential conditions of social development, but it is not decisive. In the span of three thousand years there have been three successive social systems in Western Europe and even four in Central and Eastern Europe; yet during that period the geographical conditions in Europe have either not changed at all, or so little that geographers take no account of them. Some people consider that the course of history depends only on the will of outstanding personalities statesmen, generals and so on. In actual fact, however, these personalities do accelerate or retard the onset of events, but they are unable to alter the course of history.

What, then, determines the development of society? Marx was the first to provide an answer to this question.

In order to live, people must have food and clothing, housing and other material means of life, and to have these, people must produce them, they must work. Any society will collapse if it ceases to produce material wealth. Therefore, the production of material wealth is the basis of the life and development of any society.

What is meant by the production of material wealth? The process of producing material wealth includes human Labour , the means of Labour and the objects of Labour.

Labour is a purpose activity of the human being directed towards the production of material wealth. In the process of Labour, man acts upon nature in order to adapt it to his needs, Labour is the exclusive attribute of man, an eternal natural necessity, a primary condition for human life. As Engels put it, Labour created man himself.

The process of production is inconceivable without the means of Labour. This is the term used to denote all the things with the aid of which people act upon the objects of Labour and transform them, The means of Labour include machinery and equipment, tools and appliances, buildings used for production purposes, transport facilities, canals, power transmission lines, etc, The land is also a universal means of Labour. The instruments of production play a decisive role among the means of Labour . Man’s power to influence nature depends upon the instruments he uses. The man of primitive society used stones and sticks as his instruments of production, and was therefore largely helpless in the face of nature. The modern man works with the help of powerful machines, and his powers over nature have increased immeasurably. Marx points out that economic epochs are distinguished one from another not by what is produced but by the instruments that are used to produce material wealth.

With their instruments of production people act upon the objects of Labour, i.e., everything upon which man’s Labour is used, And since this Labour is used upon nature which is all round him, nature itself (the land and the bowels of the earth) is a universal object of Labour. All the primary objects of Labour are available in nature. Man has to adapt them to his requirements.

The means of Labour and the objects of Labour together form the means of production. But obviously the means of production themselves cannot produce material wealth. The finest technical equipment is lifeless without people to use it. The decisive factor in all production, therefore, is man himself, his Labour power.

Productive forces and the relations of production:-

Regardless of its level of development, production always has two aspects the productive forces and the relations of production. The productive forces include the means of production created by society, first and foremost the instruments of Labour, and also the people who produce material wealth. It is people, because of their knowledge, experience and Labour skills, who set in motion the instruments of production, who improve them, invent machines, and add to their knowledge. In this way, development of the productive forces is ensured, and an ever increasing volume of material wealth obtained.

But people produce material wealth not by working separately, but by working together in groups, socially. Take, for example, a modern shoe factory. How many people do we find working there, making only one commodity footwear? Hundreds, even thousands or still more people work for the factory to provide it with machines, leather, thread, needles, etc. The small peasant farm, too, does not produce, say, grain in isolation from the outside world. The farmer needs a plough, which is manufactured by an artisan or at a factory; he also needs salt, matches, soap, etc., which are also manufactured by other people. Consequently, in the process of producing material wealth people are linked together, depend upon one another and enter into definite relations with one another.

The relations between people in the process of the production, distribution and exchange of material wealth Marx called production, or economic, relations. Production relations may take the form of either co-operation and mutual assistance among people freed from exploitation, or exploitation of man by man. This depends on who owns the means of production—the land and its mineral wealth, the forests, the factories and workshops, the instruments of Labour, and so on. When the means of production are privately owned, belonging not to the whole of society but to separate individuals, social groups or classes, the relations established are the exploitation of man by man, domination and subordination. It is because the workers under capitalism are deprived of the means of production that they are obliged to work for the capitalists. Under socialism the means of production are socially owned. Consequently, there is no exploitation of man by man, and the relations among people are those of comradely co-operation and socialist assistance.

The relation of people to the means of production determines the place people occupy in production, and the methods by which the products of Labour are distributed. For instance, under capitalism the bourgeoisie, which possesses the means of production, has at its disposal the whole output of the workers, while the majority of the latter live in poverty. Under socialism, where the means of production belong to the people (are the property of society), consumer goods are distributed according to the Labour which people have expended, and a steady rise in the material and cultural standard of living is ensured for all the working people. This is what is meant by the production (or economic) relations among people.

Five basic types of production relations are known to human history; those of primitive society, slavery, feudalism, capitalism, and socialism, which is the first phase of communism. The underlying feature of each of these is a definite form of ownership of the instruments and means of production. Thus, the basis of the production relations under slavery, feudalism and capitalism is private ownership of the means of production. This ownership has caused and continues to cause a division of society into hostile classes the exploiters and the exploited. Therefore violent class struggle is the basic feature of slavery, feudalism and capitalism. It is only under socialism, where common, socialist ownership of the means of production forms the basis of the production relations and where there is no class struggle, that society consists of friendly classes the workers and peasants, and the intelligentsia as a social stratum.

The productive forces and production relations together form the mode of production.

Mode of Productions

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Although the mode of production does constitute the unity of the productive forces and the relations of production, the latter are two distinct aspects of it. These two sides interact and influence each other. Both the productive forces and the relations of production develop in the process of the improvement of production.

The productive forces are the most mobile element in the mode of production; they are continually changing, since people are constantly improving the instruments of Labour and accumulating production experience. As for the relations of production, these change according to the level of development of the productive forces and in their turn influence this development.

When the relations of production correspond to the level of development of the productive forces, the latter develop uninterruptedly. The socialist countries provide an example of the relations of production corresponding to the level of the productive forces. There, production develops rapidly, without crises and unemployment, because it is based on social ownership of the means of production.

When the relations of production do not correspond to the level of development of the productive forces, they act as a brake on production. The capitalist countries provide an example of production relations not corresponding to the level of development of the productive forces. In capitalist countries production develops comparatively slowly, and during economic crises is even driven backwards, with many millions of working people becoming redundant and swelling the ranks of the unemployed. This happens because, in bourgeois society, private capitalist ownership of the means of production predominates, and this hinders the further growth of the productive forces.

A definite level of the productive forces requires the corresponding relations of production. This is the economic law, discovered by Marx, that the production relations correspond to the character of the productive forces. This law reveals the economic basis of social revolution. When the relations of production lag behind the development of the productive forces, become outdated and hamper their development, they are inevitably replaced by new ones. In a society divided into hostile classes the old relations of production are superseded by new ones through social revolution.

The classes whose interests are served by the old relations of production never yield their positions of their own free will. Take the U.S, capitalists, Will they ever freely give up their factories, mines, railways, etc.? No, they will never give them up of their own free will, because private property enables them to exploit the working people and to live in luxury. In order to replace outworn relations of production, which have become a brake on the development of the productive forces, a social force is needed that can abolish exploitation of man by man. The working class is such a force in capitalist society. Together with its ally, the peasantry, it is vitally interested in putting an end to exploitation.

It is only in a socialist society, where there are no antagonistic classes, that relations of production develop not through social revolution, but through their planned alteration to accord with the development of the productive forces.

The mode of production should be distinguished from the basis of society. The basis is the sum-total of the production relations prevailing in a given society, which relations correspond to the existing level of the productive forces. The basis of society is either antagonistic or non-antagonistic. The slave, feudal and capitalist societies are fundamentally antagonistic by nature for they are based on private ownership of the means of production, relations of domination and subordination, exploitation of man by man. Socialist society is non-antagonistic for it is based on the social ownership of the means of production in the absence of exploitation.

The basis engenders a corresponding superstructure and determines its development. The term superstructure means the political, philosophical, juridical, artistic, religious and other views of society and the institutions which correspond to them. In a class society the superstructure bears a class character. In conformity with its own ideas the ruling class creates institutions to defend its class interests.

Both the basis and its superstructure exist only for a definite period of time. When the basis changes, its superstructure also changes. Thus, the change in the feudal basis, and its replacement by the capitalist, led to the feudal superstructure becoming superseded by the capitalist. The rise of the socialist basis brought about the _ socialist superstructure and the destruction of the capitalist one. Although the superstructure as a whole is engendered by the basis, separate elements of a new superstructure can arise within the old society, since it is in the old society that the ideas and views of the advanced class make their appearance. For instance, under capitalism there arises proletarian ideology, which corresponds to the new revolutionary class the proletariat.

The superstructure is generated by the basis, but once it is born it does not remain passive in relation to the basis and influences it retroactively, helping it to take deeper root and assume its final shape. The superstructure can perform either a reactionary or a progressive role. The superstructure of the capitalist basis, for example, is at present playing a distinctly reactionary role, because in our time capitalism has become a brake on the further development of the productive forces. The superstructure of the socialist basis, on the other hand, is playing a progressive role, because under socialism political power promotes the development of the productive forces cf society and thereby helps to resolve the problems facing a country as it builds the new society.

The mode of production of material wealth, being a unity of the productive forces and the relations of production, together with the corresponding superstructure forms the socioeconomic formation.

Five socioeconomic formations are known to history, primitive-communal, slave, feudal, capitalist and communist, socialism being the first phase of communism. Each of these formations has its own appropriate economy, views, ideas, institutions. The development of the microeconomics formations ascertains from the lower to the higher one. Thus, feudalism gave way to capitalism and the latter to socialism, the lower phase of communism. The rise, development and downfall of socioeconomic formations are subject to the laws of social development.

Economic laws of social Development:-

Marxism-Leninism teaches that nature and society should not be regarded as an accidental agglomeration of isolated, disconnected phenomena. The reverse is true. All natural and social phenomena are interconnected and determine one another. This deeply rooted connection finds expression in laws of natural and social development. The task of a science is to discover these laws.

Economic laws form the basis of the development of society. These laws determine the great variety of socioeconomic relations among people, i.e, relations in the sphere of production, distribution, exchange and consumption. The discovery of the economic laws of social development is of cardinal importance for political economy as a science.

The laws of nature and society have one common feature they are objective, that is, they originate and operate irrespective of whether or not we are aware of them or wish them to operate. This means that people can neither change, transform, nor abrogate these laws. Neither can they create new laws. People can only discover these laws. The fact that these laws are objective does not mean that people are powerless in the face of them. They can get to know them, and apply them in the interests of society. Thus, the proletariat of the socialist countries, having become aware of the law that the relations of production correspond to the character of the productive forces, in alliance with the peasantry and led by the Communist and Workers Parties, overthrew the power of the exploiters and set about building a new society.

Economic laws have features which are not specific to the laws of nature. The first feature is that they are of comparatively short duration and operate during a definite historical period. Definite economic conditions, that is to say, the production relations on which society rests, form the basis of the operation of economic laws. In the transition from one formation to another, the old relations of production are abolished and new ones take their place. This is what causes the disappearance of one set of economic laws and the appearance of other laws.

The fact that private ownership of the means of production is the basis of production relations under capitalism, enables capitalists to exploit the working class and to subordinate the development of production to their goal of enrichment and to their itch for profit. For this reason production of surplus value is an objective economic law of capitalism.

Furthermore, private ownership of the means of production prompts each capitalist to develop just those branches of production that are more profitable to him. This rules out the possibility of planned economic development under capitalism. Capitalist economy develops on the basis of competition and anarchy of production. Consequently, competition and anarchy of production also constitute an objective law of capitalism.

After private capitalist ownership of the means of production is abolished, the economic laws of capitalism cease to operate. As a result of the abolition of capitalist private ownership of the means of production in the socialist countries, new economic laws have come into being there, while the old laws ceased to operate.

Socialist relations of production are based on public socialist ownership of the means of production. Under socialism, it is the working people themselves who are the owners of the means of production. They work for their own benefit, for the benefit of their society. This is why the development of production in the socialist countries is impelled by the purpose of increasingly satisfying the material and cultural requirements of society. Increasingly full satisfaction of the material and cultural requirements of society is an objective economic law of socialism.

Public socialist ownership of the means of production integrates the entire socialist economy into one organism. Such an economy can develop only according to plan. Balanced planned development of the national economy is an objective law of socialism.

Many economic laws operate in each socioeconomic formation. Laws which are typical of only one formation are known as specific laws. Among these we may distinguish the basic economic law that determines the chief aim which society seeks to attain and the ways and means of achieving it.

Besides these specific economic laws, there are others which apply to all socioeconomic formations. Among these is the law that production relations correspond to the character of the productive forces, It expresses the necessary connections and interdependence between the two aspects of social production-the productive forces and production relations,

The second feature of economic laws concerns the character of their application in the interest of society. It implies that, unlike the laws of natural science where a new law is discovered and applied more or less smoothly, economic laws are discovered and applied in the teeth of the strongest resistance on the part of the obsolescent forces. The application of economic laws in class society has a class character.

These are specific features of economic laws which make them different from the laws of nature.

In all modes of production economic laws may operate spontaneously or be applied consciously, as a “recognized necessity”.

In the antagonistic socioeconomic formations where private ownership of the means of production is the rule, economic laws operate blindly, regardless of whether they are recognized or not. For instance, under capitalism the process of production is of a social character, al] its branches are connected and interdependent. But this social character of production is based on private property, which means that every capitalist in his enterprise pursues his own selfish aim of enrichment and seeks to extract the greatest profit. The necessary connections and proportions between various branches of production are established in a spontaneous manner~through endless and continual deviations. One day many goods are produced, and the next, only a few, etc. And so, for every capitalist, economic laws operate as a force standing above him, as a force which cannot be controlled. True, some capitalists may reach an understanding of the economic laws of capitalism, but they are unable to alter the spontaneous character of their operation.

Under socialism, economic laws are understood and consciously applied for the benefit of society, thanks to the existence of social ownership of the means of production.

It takes conscious, organized and active work by all working people to make the most of the objective economic laws that operate under socialism. A very big part in knowing and utilizing the objective economic laws in the interests of communist construction in socialist countries is played by the Communist and Workers Parties.

The subject matter of political economy:-

Political economy is a science which  deals with the basis of social development, This basis is the production of material wealth, the mode of production. But political economy studies production only from the standpoint of the relations between people during the process of production. It investigates the basis of society.

Political economy, wrote Lenin, is not at all concerned with production, but with the social relations between people in production, the social system of production. At the same time political economy cannot fail to take into account the connection between the productive forces and production relations. Nor can it completely ignore the superstructure, since this rises out of the basis and strongly influences it.

The subject matter of political economy is therefore the production (economic) relations of people. This includes the forms of ownership of the means of production, the place different classes and social groups occupy in production and the relations between them, the forms of distribution of material wealth.

In other words, political economy is the science of the development of the socio-productive, i.e., economic, relations among people. It explains the laws which regulate the production and distribution of material wealth in human society at the different stages of its development.

From this definition of political economy it is clear that it is a historical science. It shows how society develops from the lowest to the highest stages, and how the entire course of historical development necessarily paves the way for the victory of the communist mode of production.

Political economy is a class, partisan science; it deals with questions of relations among people and classes, and it is concerned with their vital interests.

Is the downfall of capitalism and the triumph of communism inevitable? Bourgeois political economy naturally gives a negative reply to this question, because it represents the interests of the system that has long since become a brake on social development and is doomed to fall.

Bourgeois economists could more or less objectively analyses the world as long as the bourgeoisie was a rising class and the development of capitalism was in the interests of social progress. But that time is long over. From the moment the working class became an independent force opposed to the bourgeoisie, and the development of the class struggle reached a stage where it started to foreshadow the downfall of capitalism, bourgeois political economy lost its scientific character. Since then its task has been to defend the outdated capitalist system by all available means, to combat the ideology of the working class.

The leaders of the working class-Marx, Engels and Lenin—developed political economy on a truly scientific basis.

Marx’s life work, Capital, contains everything contributed to political economy by Marxism before Lenin. This work is based on a penetrating analysis of the capitalist system and proves scientifically the inevitability of the downfall of capitalism, the establishment of proletarian dictatorship and the inevitability of the triumph of communism.

In new historical conditions Lenin continued the work of Marx and Engels and raised political economy to a higher level. The great service Lenin rendered was that he gave a scientific analysis of the highest and last stage of capitalism imperialism. His analysis of imperialism and, primarily, his discovery of the law of the uneven economic and political development of capitalism during the imperialist epoch formed the basis for the new theory of proletarian revolution.

Lenin showed that revolution will first triumph in one country, or in a few. The whole strategy and tactics of the Communist Party during the period of preparation for, and the carrying through of, the Great October Socialist Revolution, and during the subsequent period of struggle for the victory of socialism in the U.S.S.R. were based on this great discovery. The political economy of socialism is linked with the name of Lenin.

Marxist-Leninist economic theory is constructively developed in the decisions of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Communist and Workers Parties of other countries, and in the works of Lenin’s disciples. A model of the creative development of Marxism-Leninism in general, and of Marxist-Leninist political economy in particular, is to be found in the treatment by the Twenty-Second Congress of the C.P.S.U. of such cardinal questions as the two phases of communist society and the laws governing the growth of socialism into communism; the creation of the material and technical basis of communism; the paths of development and the coming together of the two forms of socialist property; the elimination of class distinctions and the establishment of complete social equality; the formation of communist social relations; the conditions for implementing the fundamental principle of communism: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs; the completion of the cultural revolution and the moulding of the new man. The problems of the political organization of society during the transition to communism are here also comprehensively elucidated.

What, then, is the significance of political economy? It arms the working class and all working people with knowledge of the laws of society’s economic development, and enables them to cope successfully with their tasks. To the working people of the capitalist countries it reveals the causes of their enslavement, poverty and privations. It shows that the oppression and impoverishment of the working class and all working people are not accidental, are not due to the arbitrary rule of individual capitalists, but to the capitalist system as a whole. For this reason, it is only uncompromising class struggle,-abolition of capitalism and establishment of proletarian dictatorship that liberate the working people from exploitation.

For the peoples of the economically underdeveloped countries Marxist-Leninist political economy points to the real causes of their backwardness and poverty. It shows that the oppression and plunder of the peoples in the colonies and dependent countries have been brought about by imperialism and its colonial system. For centuries a handful of imperialist countries, through violence and deception, have kept the vast majority of mankind in a state of subjection in the colonies and reduced them to the status of slaves. Only a determined struggle against imperialism and all its manifestations will put these peoples on to the path of national independence and progress.

Political economy shows the direction to be taken in building socialism and communism in countries which have liberated themselves from the yoke of capital, reveals the advantages of the socialist over the capitalist economic system and proves the inevitability of-the victory of communism, Knowledge of the laws of socialist economy offers the masses the opportunity to participate consciously in the building of communism, stimulates the initiative of the working people, teaches them to work more productively, and helps all working people to become active builders of communist society.

In the hands of the proletariat and all working people Marxist-Leninist political economy is a powerful instrument in the struggle for peace, democracy and socialism.

SAKHRI Mohamed

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