In The Communist Manifesto, page 331 of the 2002/2014 Penguin Edition, Marx and Engels write;

"The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endangering the existence of bourgeois property."

Is/are there significant example(s) in history of the productive forces becoming too powerful for the conditions of bourgeois property? I am particularly interested in those examples which may have occurred after the death of the authors.

  • 2
    Every successful socialist revolution was an example, on the Marxist interpretation, Russian one, Chinese one, ones in the former Warsaw block. Of course, the Marxist interpretation is very much disputable.
    – Conifold
    Nov 19, 2019 at 0:24
  • sounds like a homework question. Nov 19, 2019 at 4:45
  • It's not a homework question. I'm struggling to understand the concept a bit, and am trying to find concrete economic examples of this phenomenon. For example, would stock market crashes, like 2008, or the Great Depression count? Or does it necessarily have to lead to revolution?
    – october
    Nov 19, 2019 at 22:07
  • 1
    It is very difficult to get a revolution. If you keep studying Marxism you will see this problem discussed. You can listen to the YouTube videos of Richard D. Wolff for more modern examples of what you are speaking of. Michael Harrington wrote an interesting book some years ago. “The Twilight of Capitalism”. The paperback used bad glue so you will be lucky if you can still find it in a library but the book is valuable for its assessment of Marx as an economist.
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 14:11
  • You may be able to find Harrington’s book in hardback in some libraries.
    – Gordon
    Nov 20, 2019 at 14:14

3 Answers 3


The productive forces are not their legal / juridical representation.

A factory is not the shares in the holding company that claims to own that factory.

The productive forces are the objects of production and those social techniques unconnected to the specific relations of production: relations of property. For example, time and motion study is connected to sweating labour: it is a relation of production. Sorting mail faster by using shelving and ordered numbering doesn’t impose property relations. Both are forces of production, but time and motion is also a relation of production.

The forces of production in capitalism are amplified to a level of superfluity where one hour of labour can, by mechanisation and technique, satisfy tens, hundreds, thousands, billions (think software) hours of human subsistence. Capitalism relies on market scarcity to maintain price and price of labour as property relations. Under the stress of the superfluity of commodities these implode.

In concrete terms capitalism networks labour and increases its scope of command over the non thinking world. Labour is collectivised by the wage and factory producing networked collective subjects. In the London riots think about how rioters used blackberries with free or cheap messaging to organise mass theft. In Italy in the 1960s think about how the factory and supermarket concentrated workers and commodities. The concentrated workers raided and took the concentrated commodities for use.

These are historical examples, and non revolutionary, of how the expansion of productive forces (useful things and ways) have exceeded the productive relations (property law.)


I agree 100 percent with the inexplicably deleted and downvoted answer by Hide-in-Plain-Site. Constraining digital information flows, growing at the rate of Moore's Law, in the legal terminology and mindset of 18th-century land ownership is a perfect example.

For Marx and Engels this dialectic between accelerating forces of production and the static social rules preserving a dominant social class was the driving force behind historical-social crises. Though Marx hated Malthus, it bears some similarities to the Malthusian, in that we have two social systems intertwined, with one growing only additively and the other growing exponentially.

The "forces of production" can be technological or administrative, as with the adoption of oxen to plow fields and the adoption of field rotation to enhance yield or the substitution of sheep from crops. If, for example, new agricultural methods and land enclosures for wool production increase farm capital, many peasants will be "let go" and form new supplies of wage labor and the basis of an urban proletariate.

This, in turn, may begin to erode the old customs of land holing and inheritance and urban guilds, etc., forcing landlords to borrow for more and more capital investment, eventually destabilizing and a semi-feudal system not only for the customary rights of guilds or fair hands, but eventually for the dominant landholding class as well.

This can happened incrementally as one industrial technology supplants another, but brings about a revolutionary crisis when the society's relatively static rules of "ownership" no longer make sense and constraint production, as the royal land patents and the custom of the commons, say, constrained the growing wool industry.

Information technology and symbiotic financialization are perfect examples, and while we can never see the shape of the historical moment we are in, everyone senses this crisis, even in the recent impacts on the laws of our elections. Information "wants to be free" as they say. Yet we attempt to bind up its very functions with copyright and patent laws based on the ownership of landed property and the ownership of produced commodities by the shareholders!

In the end, information producers like IT and pharmaceutical companies spend more on lawyers and financial managers than on research. I suspect it would be quite cheap to distribute nearly free medicines or free access to 5G bandwidth, except for all the legal and administrative expenses that must go into "owning" it and "preventing" access or free file distributions. That's where more and more of the money and social labor goes.

Additionally, the capacity for IT administration enables the dispersed global companies and supply chains that gut national tax bases and national workforces, giving rises to various accelerating crises of nationalism. From the legal definitions of national boundaries or citizenship to the "ownership" of common airwaves or images or copyrighted words, the productive forces are pushing hard against our current social structure.

This is oversimplified, of course. But already we can see a gathering of social and legal crises directly traceable to rapidly developing new forces of production. Our laws, political systems, and generally understanding of these forces is under great stress. According to Marx, this should lead to increasing class tensions and eventually the overturning of the dominant class, roughly the major "shareholders" in the developed world.

Marx was an optimist about technological progress and the collapse of class dominance. And he is still one of the best critics of modernity. But we have more history, more examples of revolutions to ponder. So a total political-social information "revolution" may be in our near future, but we probably aren't going to like it.


According to Aime Cesaire the catastrophe that engulfed the Europe and then the world in two world wars were more or less the outcome of the productive forces unleashed by raw capitalism. These two events, by any measure, 'did not further the conditions of the development of bourgeois property.'

That this is generally not recognised is due to the dynamics of capitalism itself. It takes the credit for everything, but catastrophes are generally somebody else's fault. Preferably those without voice or representation, or know how to use their voices and their representation. This is a piece with the dicta of capitalism - buy low and sell high.

Notably, Judge Jackson in the Nuremberg trials had already decided that they would not let capitalism off the hook in Nazi Germany when that decision was countermanded by the then government of the USA who were gearing up for a worldwide war on communism and were afraid of anything that might bring capitalism into disrepute. It seems they would rather bring justice into disrepute...

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