In economics and sociology, the means of production are physical, non-human and non-financial inputs used for the production of economic value: raw materials, the facilities, machinery and tools used in the production of goods. In the terminology of classical economics, the means of production are the "factors of production" minus financial capital and minus human capital.
The social means of production are capital goods and assets that require organized collective labor effort to operate, as opposed to individual workers acting alone. The ownership and organization of the social means of production is a key factor in categorizing and defining the types of economic systems.
The means of production includes two broad categories of objects: instruments of labor (tools, factories, infrastructure, etc.) and subjects of labor (natural resources and raw materials). People operate on the subjects of labor using the instruments of labor to create a product; or stated another way, labor acting on the means of production creates a good.
In an agrarian society the principal means of production is the soil and the shovel. In an industrial society the means of production become social means of production and include factories and mines. In a knowledge economy, computers and networks are means of production. In a broad sense, the "means of production" also includes the "means of distribution" such as stores, the internet and railroads (Infrastructural capital).
The analysis of the technological sophistication of the means of production and how they are owned is a central component in the Marxist theoretical framework of historical materialism and in Marxian economics.
In Marx's work and subsequent developments in Marxist theory, the process of socioeconomic evolution is based on the premise of technological improvements in the means of production. As the level of technology improves with respect to productive capabilities, existing forms of social relations become superfluous and unnecessary, creating contradictions between the level of technology in the means of production on the one hand and the organization of society and its economy on the other. These contradictions manifest themselves in the form of class conflicts, which develop to a point where the existing mode of production becomes unsustainable, either collapsing or being overthrown in a social revolution. The contradictions are resolved by the emergence of a new mode of production based on a different set of social relations including, most notably, different patterns of ownership for the means of production.
Ownership of the means of production and control over the surplus product generated by their operation is the fundamental factor in delineating different modes of production. Capitalism is defined as private ownership and control over the means of production, where the surplus product becomes a source of unearned income for its owners. By contrast, socialism is defined as social ownership of the means of production so that the surplus product accrues to society at large.
Marx's theory of class defines classes in their relation to their ownership and control of the means of production. In a capitalist society, the bourgeoisie, or the capitalist class, is the class that owns the means of production and derives a passive income from their operation. In contrast, the proletariat, or working class, comprises the majority of the population that lacks access to the means of production and are therefore induced to sell their labor power for a wage or salary to gain access to necessities, goods and services.
To the question of why classes exist in human societies in the first place, Karl Marx offered a historical and scientific explanation that it was the cultural practice of ownership of the means of production that gives rise to them. This explanation differs dramatically from other explanations based on "differences in ability" between individuals or on religious or political affiliations giving rise to castes. This explanation is consistent with the bulk of Marxist theory in which Politics and Religion are seen as mere outgrowths (superstructures) of the basic underlying economic reality of a people.
Factors of production are defined by German economist Karl Marx in his book Das Kapital as labor, subjects of labor, and instruments of labor: the term is equivalent to means of production plus labor. The factors of production are often listed in economic writings derived from the classical school as "land, labour and capital". Marx sometimes used the term "productive forces" equivalently with "factors of production;" in Kapital, he uses "factors of production", in his famous Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, he uses "productive forces" (that may depend on the translation).
Production relations (German: Produktionsverhältnis) are the relations humans enter into with each other in using the means of production to produce. Examples of such relations are employer/employee, buyer/seller, the technical division of labour in a factory, and property relations.
Mode of production (German: Produktionsweise) means the dominant way in which production is organised in society. For instance, "capitalism" is the name for the capitalist mode of production in which the means of production are owned privately by a small class (the bourgeoisie) who profits off the labor of the working class (the proletariat). Communism is a mode of production in which the means of production are not owned by anyone, but shared in common, without class based exploitation.
the facilities and resources for producing goods.
Here we encounter a further characteristic of the modern wage proletarian. He works not with individual but with social means of production, means of production so extensive that they can be operated only by a society of workers, not by the individual worker.
For Marx, class was defined by an individual's relationship to the means of production...Class is determined by the extent to which people own most, some, or little of the means of production, or by their relationship to the means of production. It is generally conflict over control or access to the means of production that drives history.