Production, Consumption and Surplus

  • Geoffrey Kay


All societies, whether primitive or advanced, contemporary or of the past, must reproduce themselves from one year to the next. They must maintain their population and replenish their physical stocks. This requires that they engage in the process of material production. Material production is, therefore, the common feature of all societies. In a real sense it is the starting point of society itself, and for this reason it provides a starting point for economic theory.1


Relative Price Material Production Capitalist Society Social Product Productive Consumption 
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  1. 1.
    Material production is the point at which Marx started his analysis in the Introduction to the Grundrisse, but as Martin Nicolaus explains it was a starting point that left Marx dissatisfied. The reasons for this are extremely complex, for they involve the very essence of dialetical materialism. The crux of the matter is that the category material production, and the related ones of consumption and distribution, are ahistorical because they apply to all societies: with their use, Marx observes, ‘no real historical stage of production can be grasped’. In contradistinction the starting point of Capital, the commodity, and the categories that are imminent within it such as exchange value, abstract labour, money and capital itself, not only presuppose the general categories of material production (value) and consumption (use-value) but ‘bear the stamp of history’. Definite historical conditions are necessary that a product may become a commodity’ (Capital, vol. 1, p. 148). This does not mean that the theoretical analysis of commodities is a historical analysis in the sense of being an examination of the concrete conditions of commodity production and their actual development. The theory elaborated in Capital is historical only in so far as the categories it deploys are historically specific to the capitalist mode of production and are not applicable to any other form of society. See Marx, Grundrisse (Penguin Books, 1973), especially Martin Nicolaus’s brilliant foreword, p. 35 et seq. Material production is taken as a starting point here with all its limitations in mind, partly for simplicity and partly because it allows the banalities of neo-classical economics which starts with the individual and exchange to be readily criticised in anticipation of what follows.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    ‘Because a product only becomes a real product through consumption. For example a dress becomes really a dress only by being worn, a house which is uninhabited is indeed not really a house…. It is evident that externally production supplies the object of consumption, it is evident that consumption posits the object of production…’ Marx, ‘Introduction to Grundrisse’, from translation in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971), pp. 196–7. In the language of commodities: ‘nothing can have value without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour contained in it …’ (Capital, vol. 1, p. 8).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Geoffrey Kay 1975

Authors and Affiliations

  • Geoffrey Kay
    • 1
  1. 1.The City UniversityLondonUK

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