The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Contradictions of Capitalism

  • Andrew Glyn
Reference work entry


Writers in the Marxist tradition frequently make use of the term ‘contradiction of capitalism’. It is sometimes used, in a very loose sense, to describe virtually any malfunction or indeed objectionable feature of the capitalist system. But in Marx’s theory of historical materialism the notion of contradiction played a more fundamental role. One of the central tenets of the theory is that there can be a contradiction between a society’s system of economic organization and its capacity to develop its productive potential. Indeed it is precisely such a contradiction between the relations of production (relations of ownership, control etc.) and the forces of production (productive potential), which necessitates through some mechanism or other, a transformation of the economic system. Thus, argued Marx, at a certain stage the rigidities of the feudal system hampered economic growth, which required for its promotion the full and unfettered development of production for the market. The development of productive potential under capitalism formed the basis on which socialism could be constructed. The contradictions of capitalism, its inability in turn to take society forward beyond a certain stage, ensured that it would be superseded by socialism (see Elster 1985, especially chapter 5).

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Glyn
    • 1
  1. 1.