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Felluga, Dino. "Terms Used by Marxism." Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. Date of last update, which you can find on the home page. Purdue U. Date you accessed the site. <>.


Terms Used by Marxism

THE FOLLOWING TERMS are presented in alphabetical order; however, someone beginning to learn Marxism and neo-Marxism needs to stay conscious of the fact that each major theorist uses particular terms in his or her particular way. I have indicated those terms that are particularly tied to an individual theorist, as well as those terms that are used differently by two different Marxist or neo-Marxist critics. For an introduction to the work of a few Marxists currently influencing the discipline, see the Marxism Modules in this site. Whenever a defined term is used elsewhere in the Guide to Theory, a hyperlink will eventually (if it does not already) allow you to review the term in the bottom frame of your browser window. The menu on the left allows you to check out the available terms without having to scroll through the list below. Note that the left-hand frame works best in Explorer, Mozilla, and Netscape 4; you may experience some bugs in Netscape 6 and Opera. (See the Guide to the Guide for suggestions.) I will also soon provide an alternate menu option; for now, just scroll down.

Alienation (Marx):
  The process whereby the worker is made to feel foreign to the products of his/her own labor. The creation of commodities need not lead to alienation and can, indeed, be highly satisfying: one pours one's subjectivity into an object and one can even gain enjoyment from the fact that another in turn gains enjoyment from our craft. In capitalism, the worker is exploited insofar as he does not work to create a product that he then sells to a real person; instead, the proletariat works in order to live, in order to obtain the very means of life, which he can only achieve by selling his labor to a capitalist for a wage (as if his labor were itself a property that can be bought and sold). The worker is alienated from his/her product precisely because s/he no longer owns that product, which now belongs to the capitalist who has purchased the proletariat's labor-power in exchange for exclusive ownership over the proletariat's products and all profit accrued by the sale of those products.
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Aristocracy (aristocrat):
  The dominant class during the feudal stage of economic development. See feudalism.
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Bourgeoisie (bourgeois):
  The middle classes.
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  Buying in order to sell at a higher profit. Capital transforms the simple circulation of commodities. In commodity exchange, one exchanges a commodity for money, which one then exchanges for some other commodity. One sells in order to buy something else of use to the consumer; Marx writes this formula as C-M-C (or Commodity-Money-Commodity). Money allows this formula to be transformed, however: now one can buy in order to sell (at a higher price): M-C-M, which becomes for Marx the general formula for capital. In this second formula, "the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement. The movement of capital is therefore limitless" (253). The aim of the capitalist thus becomes "the unceasing movement of profit-making" (254). Indeed, the formula is reduced even further in the case of usury, when one loans money in return for the same money with interest, or M-M. A similar process occurs on the stock market.
  A socio-economic system based especially on private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of the labor force. See especially the Marx module on stages of socioeconomic development and the module on capital.
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  The subordination of both private and public realms to the logic of capitalism. In this logic, such things as friendship, knowledge, women, etc. are understood only in terms of their monetary value. In this way, they are no longer treated as things with intrinsic worth but as commodities. (They are valued, that is, only extrinsically in terms of money.) By this logic, a factory worker can be reconceptualized not as a human being with specific needs that, as humans, we are obliged to provide but as a mere wage debit in a businessman's ledger. See also commodity fetishism.
  An "external object, a thing which through its qualities satisfies human needs of whatever kind" (Marx, Capital 125) and is then exchanged for something else. When Marx speaks of commodities, he is particularly concerned with the "physical properties of the commodity" (126), which he associates closely with the use-value of an object. However, use-value does not automatically lead to a commodity: "He who satisfies his own need with the product of his own labour admittedly creates 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" (131). Commodities, therefore, "possess a double form, i.e. natural form and value form" (138). (See Use-Value vs. Exchange-Value.) The physical body of the commodity is made up of 1) the material provided by nature (e.g. linen, gold, etc.); and 2) the labor expended to create it (see Marx, Capital 133). Note that a commodity can refer to tangilble things as well as more ephemeral products (e.g. a lecture). What matters is that something be exchanged for the thing.
Commodity Fetishism:
  The tendency to attribute to commodities (including money) a power that really inheres only in the labor expended to create commodities. See the Marx module on commodity fetishism.
Consumption and Production:
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Dialectical Materialism:
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Division of Labor:
  The way that different tasks are apportioned to different people in a given society. According to Marx and Engels, "How far the productive ofrces of a nation are developed is shown most manifestly by the degree to which the division of labour has been carried" (43). Human progress has led to various developments in the division of labor: first the "separation of industrial and commercial from agricultural labour, and hence to the separation of town and country and to the conflict of their interests" (43). The "various stages of development in the division of labour are just so many different forms of ownership" (43), Marx and Engels outlline those stages as: 1) the tribal form, which is really "a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family" (44); 2) primitive communism: "the ancient communal and and State ownership which proceeds especially from the union of several tribes into a city by agreement or by conquest" (44), during which time the concept of private property begins to develop; 3) feudal or estate property; and 4) capitalism. For more on these stages of development, see the Marx module on the stages of economic development.
Equivalent Form:
  Things can be exchanged on the market because they are always related to a third thing, abstract human labor, which functions as the equivalent form of the commodity. By having money serve as the universal equivalent in capitalist society, we forget the real labor of the worker that undergirds the production of goods and services, according to Marx. In the equivalent form, real private labor "takes the form of its opposite, namely labour in its directly social form" (151). See Fetishism.
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  See Use-Value.
False Consciousness:
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Feudal Society:
  The stage of society that preceded capitalism, during which a small elite (the aristocracy) demanded recompense from a peasantry in exchange for military protection. As Marx and Engels explain, "Like tribal and communal ownership, it is based again on a community; but the directly producing class standing over against it is not, as in the case of the ancient community, the slaves, but the enserfed small peasantry" (45). In the city, the feudal structure manifested itself in trade guilds. The organization of both the country and the city "was determined by the restricted conditions of production—the small-scale and primitive cultivation of the land, and the craft type of industry" (46), which meant that there "was little division of labour in the heyday of feudalism" (46). Exploitation functioned differently during stage than during the heigth of capitalism because each feudal peasant knew exactly what proportion of his labor had to be handed over to the aristocracy and the church; the rest was his or hers to use.
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  The processes by which dominant culture maintains its dominant position: for example, the use of institutions to formalize power; the employment of a bureaucracy to make power seem abstract (and, therefore, not attached to any one individual); the inculcation of the populace in the ideals of the hegomonic group through education, advertising, publication, etc.; the mobilization of a police force as well as military personnel to subdue opposition.
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  The abstraction of human labor into something that can be exchanged for money. The relation of labor-power to the actual labor of a private individual is analogous the relation of exchange-value to use-value. The system of labor-power relies on the belief that the laborer chooses freely to enter into a contractual relationship with an employer, who purchases that worker's labor power as a commodity and then owns the goods produced by that worker. However, the worker is exploited insofar as he has no other option: the capitalist owns all the means of production. Also, the capitalist seeks to achieve the highest possible rate of surplus-value, which "depends, in the first place, on the degree of exploitation of labour-power" (747). The capitalist seeks to provide the laborer only enough money to subsist and to produce more laborers (through child-bearing).
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Means of Production:
  The tools and raw material used to create a product.
Middle Class:
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Mode of Production:
  Everything that goes into the production of the necessities of life, including the "productive forces" (labor, instruments, and raw material) and the "relations of production" (the social structures that regulate the relation between humans in the production of goods. According to Marx and Engels, for individuals, the mode of production is "a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and how they produce" (42).
Money or the Money-Form:
  The commodity chosen to function as the universal equivalent for all other commodities. The actual form of money is a "matter of accident," Marx explains: In the development of society, "The money-form comes to be attached either to the most important articles of exchange from outside, which are in fact the primitive and spontaneous forms of manifestation of the exchange-value of local products, or to the object of utility which forms the chief element of indigenous alienable wealth, for example cattle" (183). Capitalist society turned to gold and silver because precious metals fulfill the necessary functions of the universal equivalent: "Only a material whose every sample possesses the same uniform quality can be an adequate form of appearance of value, that is a material embodiment of abstract and therefore equal human labour." Also, "the money commodity must be capable of purely quantitative differentiation"; it "must therefore be divisible at will, and it must also be possible to assemble it again from its component parts. Gold and silver possess these properties by nature" (184). Once gold and silver take on the role of money-form they are separated from their real use-value (e.g., as filling in teeth or as raw material in luxury goods) and function almost exclusively as exchange-value; it becomes an ideal value, which is why it is so easy for this function to be taken over by paper money (though paper is, in and of itself, useless). Money performs a similar function on all things exchanged for it: "Money is the absolutely alienable commodity, because it is all other commodities divested of their shape, the product of their universal alienation" (205). In other words, money is the means by which material use-values are "transubstantiated," as Marx sometimes put it, into exchange-value, thus alienating all commodities from the labour that really gives value to commodities. See the module on commodity fetishism.
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Petit Bourgeoisie (or petty bourgeoisie):
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Political Economy:
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  The "lower" or "working" classes, the members of which must under capitalism sell their labor in order to earn a living. Since the members of the proletariat do not own the products of their labor and do not have free access to the means of production or to the means of communication, they are alienated both from the products they produce and from each other. Note that some post-Marxists (for example, Ernesto Laclau and Chantalle Mouffe) have argued that the working classes are, in fact, much more striated than acknowledged by traditional Marxists, with the differences between skilled labor and unskilled labor being as significant as the difference between the lower and middle classes.
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Radical Democracy:
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Relations of Production:
  The social structures that regulate the relation between humans in the production of goods.
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Superstructure (Marx):
  The ideologies that dominate a particular era, all that "men say, imagine, conceive," including such things as "politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc." (Marx and Engels, German Ideology 47). For Marx, the superstructure is generally dependent on the modes of production that dominate in a given period.
Surplus Value:
  The surplus produced over and above what is required to survive, which is translated into profit in capitalism. Since the capitalist pays a laborer for his/her labor, the capitalist claims to own the means of production, the worker's labor-power, and even the product that is thus produced. The capitalist thus buys a product (labor-power, which is then turned into commodities), which s/he then sells at a profit on the market. Rather than exchange a commodity for money in order to buy another commodity of use to the consumer (selling in order to buy), the capitalist buys something in order to sell at a profit margin. The capitalist is thus driven by profit-making in and of itself, without regard to use-value or the suffering of the laborer. See money.
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Theory and Praxis:
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Tribal Society :
  A primitive stage in the development of society during which there are no social classes. Tribal society is instead structured around kinship relations, with hunting the province of men and domestic work the province of women. The tribal form, according to Marx and Engels, is quite elementary, "a further extension of the natural division of labour existing in the family" (44). During this stage, it is, however, possible to see a slave culture established (the beginning of class relations), particularly as the population increases, leading to "the growth of wants" and the growth of relations with outside civilizations (through war or barter).
Universal Equivalent :
  An object that is the measure by which all commodities are compared and exchanged on the market. In capitalism, this function is eventually taken over by money, first precious metals then paper money.
Use-Value vs. Exchange-Value:
  The usefulness of a commodity vs. the exchange equivalent by which the commodity is compared to other objects on the market. Marx distinguishes between the use-value and the exchange value of the commodity. Use-value is inextricably tied to "the physical properties of the commodity" (126); that is, the material uses to which the object can actually be put, the human needs it fulfills. In the exchange of goods on the capitalist market, however, exchange-value dominates: two commodities can be exchanged on the open market because they are always being compared to a third term that functions as their "universal equivalent," a function that is eventually taken over by money. Exchange-value must always be distinguished from use-value, because "the exchange relation of commodities is characterized precisely by its abstraction from their use-values" (127). In capital, money takes the form of that equivalence; however, money in fact hides the real equivalent behind the exchange: labor. The more labor it takes to produce a product, the greater its value. Marx therefore concludes that "As exchange-values, all commodities are merely definite quantities of congealed labour-time" (130).
  Loaning money in return for the same money with interest, as in banking. Usury abridges the general formula for capital (M-C-M or buying a commodity-C with money-M in order to sell it for more money-M). The usurer reduces this formula into its purest form: M-M: "money which is worth more money, value which is greater than itself" (Marx, Capital 257).
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Wage Labor:
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