New developments in Marxist theory of production

Source:Chinese Social Sciences Today 2024-04-01

NQPF require the upgrading and transformation of traditional industries. Photo: TUCHONG

Since General Secretary Xi Jinping first proposed new quality productive forces (hereinafter referred to as “NQPF”) at a symposium on promoting the full revitalization of Northeast China in the new era in September 2023, he has repeatedly delivered important speeches on NQPF at Party and central work conferences. These speeches encompass various aspects, including “integrating scientific and technological innovation resources,” “fostering strategic emerging industries and nurture industries of the future,” and “developing NQPF according to local conditions.” They all reflect the CPC’s strategic judgment and understanding of NQPF. This theory constitutes a key component of Xi Jinping Thought, which has elevated the discourse on productivity in the new era and showcased new enrichments to Xi’s economic thought. A profound understanding of the connotation of NQPF lies in the in-depth application of dialectical and historical materialism to comprehend the intricate theoretical domain of Chinese economics through the “revolution of terminology.”

NQPF represent an innovation and advancement of Marxist productivity theory, embodying a scientific theoretical logic. While building upon Marxist productivity theory, NQPF not only redefine the essence of traditional productive forces and introduce new regulations to productive factors, but also establish novel forms of production relations. NQPF are the product of productivity development and technological progress, embodying a revolutionary, comprehensive, and fundamental improvement in humanity’s capacity to transform nature, serving as an advanced form of productive forces where innovation plays a leading role. Within the framework of NQPF, laborers no longer merely undertake repetitive tasks; they are skilled workers proficient in the application of new quality productive materials. Alongside the development and widespread use of original and disruptive technologies, changes are occurring in the materials of labor that constitute NQPF. Obsolete production tools are gradually being replaced by new ones, with an increasing array of innovative production tools emerging.

Consequently, the scope of labor objects within NQPF expands, encompassing not only traditional natural materials but also non-material forms such as data, unrestricted by space and time. Additionally, NQPF have engendered new types of production relations, with innovative combinations of production factors and the emergence of new management models and institutional mechanisms, collectively driving the innovation and development of Marxist productivity theory.

Advantages and attributes

Innovation is the core element in the development of NQPF and its most prominent feature. It is imperative to fully acknowledge that innovation plays a leading role in NQPF. Unlike traditional productive forces that rely on manual labor, animal power, and primitive mechanical production tools, NQPF, centered around advanced technology, leverage information technology, digital technology, AI, biotechnology, and other cutting-edge technologies, thereby achieving a significant leap in social production capacity and markedly improving humanity’s means and methods of transforming nature. Technology must function as an incremental amplifier in this process.

Meanwhile, NQPF also prioritize enhancing total factor productivity, representing efficient productive forces. Unlike traditional productive forces, which rely heavily on high resource input and energy consumption, a significant increase in total factor productivity serves as the core indicator of NQPF. The essence of NQPF lies in enhancing quality, promoting quality through innovation, reshaping the traditional economic growth model, facilitating the upgrading and transformation of traditional industries, and charting a course toward high-efficiency development characterized by minimal input of production factors, optimal resource allocation efficiency, minimal environmental costs, and favorable economic and social outcomes. Overall, NQPF differ qualitatively from traditional productive forces in terms of development dynamics, forms, and concepts, possessing attributes of high technology, high efficiency, and high quality.

Productive forces exhibit distinct characteristics of the times. One notable disparity between NQPF and traditional productive forces lies in their formative processes. NQPF are not merely the outcome of organizing innovations in production factors; rather, they emphasize technological innovation, model refinement, scenario diversification, industrial collaboration, digital empowerment, and ecological conservation.

Facing global changes and the overarching strategy of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, traditional productive forces centered on “quantity growth” are inadequate in addressing the new circumstances, changes, and challenges brought about by the in-depth development of the latest technological revolution and industrial transformation. They are insufficient to achieve high-quality economic development for the second centenary goal. In the historical context of the “two major themes” and the practical imperative of achieving high-quality economic development, emphasizing “quality improvement” in NQPF embodies the basic attributes of high efficiency and high benefits. For China, transitioning from a rich country to a strong nation requires fostering NQPF, empowering high-quality development, and promoting the leap of productivity development to seize the initiative in competition with developed countries.

NQPF is an innovative concept

The era gives birth to this idea, and practice is the source of theory. Reflecting new practices with new theories highlights the important characteristics of theoretical innovation and practical creation in the new era. The proposal of NQPF represents an innovation and development of Marxist productivity theory, further enriching the connotation of Xi Jinping Economic Thought, which holds both important theoretical and profound practical significance.

General Secretary Xi Jinping has emphasized that “high-quality development requires new productive force theory to guide it, and NQPF have already formed in practice and demonstrated strong driving and supporting forces for high-quality development, necessitating theoretical summarization and generalization to guide new development practices.” In the construction of theory, General Secretary Xi’s discourse on NQPF embodies the systematic, comprehensive, and targeted theoretical qualities, conducting targeted studies on new issues and areas while concurrently devising overarching strategies to promote progress through theoretical understanding.

Exploring the theoretical framework of NQPF is a complex task, necessitating engagement with philosophical and social science disciplines, interdisciplinary collaboration, and cross-domain cooperation. Traditional concepts of productive forces are no longer adequate to address the demands of emerging industries and new technologies. Improving the theoretical framework of NQPF requires keeping pace with the times and fostering innovation in development approaches.

As the latest theoretical achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context and the needs of the times, NQPF not only encapsulate the laws of economic construction in our nation but also represent an inherent requirement and important focus for promoting high-quality development. They embody the organic fusion of historical interpretative logic and practical developmental logic.

Given the historical process of China’s economic construction, the proposal of NQPF reflects a summary of the laws of productivity development and economic construction in our country.

Since the reform and opening up, each optimization and upgrade of economic structure has been accompanied by further liberation of productivity. The digital technology revolution represented by the internet, big data, and AI has provided new sources of power for economic development. Meanwhile, facing the reality of tightening resources and environmental constraints, the concept of green development has become deeply rooted, leading to the emergence of NQPF. Practice shows that NQPF are advanced productive forces generated by revolutionary breakthroughs in technology, innovative allocation of production factors, and industrial transformation. They represent a shift in development methods and production modes, which will boost China’s social productivity. This will establish a robust material and technological foundation for building a modern socialist country.

From a practical perspective, since the 18th CPC National Congress, promoting high-quality development has become the main theme of economic and social development. However, factors constraining high-quality development still exist, such as key core technologies being subject to others’ control, industries being “big but not strong” or “comprehensive but not excellent,” and pressures for the transformation of production and lifestyle systems towards green and low-carbon. NQPF reflect the CPC’s profound grasp of the prominent problems facing China. Promoting high-quality development requires the formation of new industries, new models, and new drivers, firmly grasping key core technologies, building an independent, controllable, safe, and reliable modern industrial system, as well as a green, low-carbon, and circular economic system, and achieving innovation-driven growth.

NQPF are a practical carrier of innovative, coordinated, green, open, and shared development concepts. Through industrial upgrading, structural optimization, and the transformation of driving forces, they facilitate the transition of China’s economy. They accelerate the progression of industries towards high-end, intelligent, and green directions, injecting new impetus into economic development.

Development path of NQPF

As General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out, each region must adhere to practical considerations, prioritize development, adapt measures to local conditions, and provide targeted guidance. This demonstrates that the major deployment of developing NQPF involves a wide range of fields and an extensive scope, requiring research on many new situations and solutions to many new problems.

Profound changes have occurred in the resource endowment conditions for China’s economic development. The demographic dividend is diminishing, and factors such as natural resources, environmental pollution, and climate change have imposed constraints on economic development. The traditional economic growth model has reached its limit.

Thus, focusing on enhancing total factor productivity to promote qualitative and efficient growth while maintaining rational quantitative growth becomes the efficiency characteristic of NQPF. The driving force of economy is shifting from primarily relying on resource input and low-cost labor to leveraging technological innovation, institutional innovation, and the construction of a high-quality talent pool. In this regard, NQPF should concentrate on efficiency rather than “one-size-fits-all” abandonment of all traditional industries. This requires increasing investment in technological and institutional innovation.

NQPF require several practical orientations: technological innovation, a modern industrial system, and high-quality development. The Central Economic Work Conference held at the end of 2023 proposed that we must promote industrial innovation with technological innovation, especially using disruptive and cutting-edge technologies to nurture new industries, new models, and new dynamics and develop NQPF. The level of technological self-reliance in critical areas has become the most important basic condition for constituting social productive forces.

We must summarize China’s experience in developing high-precision technology, particularly by closely aligning with the strategic needs of the nation and leveraging the advantages of a new national systems in breaking through key core technologies. By ensuring the security of the innovation chain to support the security of the industrial chain and supply chain, seizing the strategic high ground of technology, it is advantageous to lead the development of NQPF with high-level technological innovation and self-reliance.

Technology fuels NQPF, and diverse application scenarios provide development space for NQPF. However, the landing of application scenarios cannot be separated from the modern industrial system as a real foundation. As a new mode of modern productive forces, NQPF should leverage existing modern large-scale industries and production scenarios. We must establish dual-circulation, build a unified national market, smooth the national cycle, and enhance inter-regional, inter-industry, inter-ownership cooperation.


Wang Puqu is president, and Liu Shuyang, Liu Lanyu, and Yin Jun are research fellows from the Institute of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

Editor:Yu Hui

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