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Abundance. A situation where resources are sufficient, or more than sufficient, to satisfy human needs; whereas scarcity is a situation where resources are insufficient to meet human needs. It is because abundance is possible that socialism can be established.

In capitalist economics human wants are said to be unlimited, so that abundance is impossible. Economists infer that because wants exceed the poverty imposed by the wages system then scarcity and capitalism must always exist. (See also NEEDS.)


Murray Bookchin, Post-scarcity Anarchism, 2004


Accumulation of capital. The driving force of capitalism is the accumulation of capital through the extraction of surplus labour, as surplus value, from work in productive employment. The accumulation of capital is obtained by an increase in the stock of means of production, and invested money capital, from surplus value.

In capitalist economics this process is often described as capitalists having a subjective preference for future consumption (i.e. present investment) at the expense of consumption in the present. However, the imperative to accumulate operates independently of the will of individual capitalists: it is imposed on them by competition in the world market. After receiving their privileged income, capitalists re-invest surplus value in the means of production, thereby reproducing capital on an expanded scale. (See also CAPITAL.)


Michael Lebowitz, Beyond Capital, 2003


Alienation. Karl Marx argued that human self-alienation arises from capitalist society and has four main aspects:

  • Workers are alienated from the product of their labour, since others own what they produce and they have no effective control over it because they are workers

  • Workers are alienated from their productive activity. Employment is forced labour: it is not the satisfaction of a human need.

  • Workers are alienated from their human nature, because the first two aspects of alienation deprive their work of those specifically human qualities that distinguish it from the activity of other animals.

  • The worker is alienated from other workers. Instead of truly human relations between people, relations are governed by peoples’ roles as agents in the economic process of capital accumulation.



Bertell Ollman, Alienation, 1976 (online at



Anarchism. A general term for a group of diverse and often contradictory ideologies. All strands of anarchist thought however tend to see the source of human oppression and exploitation in external authority in general and the state in particular. Socialists, on the other hand, see oppression and exploitation in the social relationships of capitalism (which includes the state). There is a superficial resemblance between anarchist-communism and socialism – but it is superficial. All anarchists agree that the working class cannot, or should not, organise consciously and politically to capture state power, preferring instead either insurrection or (what amounts to the same thing) trying to change society whilst ignoring the state. (See also BAKUNIN; KROPOTKIN; PROUDHON; STIRNER.)


An Anarchist FAQ:

Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists, 1985


Ancient society. ‘In broad outline, the Asiatic, the ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society’ (Marx’s Preface toA Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859). Marx’s list of historical epochs is not comprehensive (it does not mention primitive communism), nor is it how social development has everywhere taken place (North America has never known feudalism). Ancient (Graeco-Roman) society reached its greatest extent in the second century AD, with the Roman Empire encompassing most of Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East. In ancient society the predominant relations of production were the master and slave of chattel slavery. However, a society is not identified merely by its class relations: it is rather a specific mode of appropriation of surplus labour. Independent producers who were the forerunner of the medieval serf produced the surplus labour, appropriated as taxation. As the Roman Empire declined chattel slavery increased, but the increasing demands placed on the independent producers by an expanding and costly empire brought about (together with external invasion) internal collapse.

Reading Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, 1997

Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society, 1877

(online at


Asiatic society. In the 1859 Preface (see above), Marx had designated the Asiatic as one of the epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. He believed that the Asiatic mode of production was based on a class of peasant producers rendering tax-rent (in the form of money or produce) to a landlord state. Marx gave the example of Mughal India, though the ‘Asiatic’ mode of production could also be found in Africa and pre-Columbian America. Marx said the consequences of this mode of production were despotism and stagnation. Asiatic society also goes under the name of ‘Hydraulic Empire’ and ‘Oriental Despotism’. (See also STALINISM.)


S.H. Rigby, Marxism and History, 1998

Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism, 1957