Slave Production Mode – Concept, history and characteristics

We explain what the slave mode of production is, its origin, social classes and characteristics. In addition, other modes of production.

slave production mode
In the slave mode of production, the largest labor force is the slaves.

What is the slave mode of production?

According to Marxist thought, the slave mode of production was one of the modes of political-social organization of pre-capitalist societies. In them, production was mostly carried out by people deprived of citizen rights and reduced to compulsory servitude, called slaves.

This production model It was widely used in the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome, and was partly responsible for both its flowering and its entry into crisis. Nor should it be confused with slavery, which as a social phenomenon existed since time immemorial and continued to exist formally until the 19th century.

The slave mode of production is a social organization in which slaves constitute the main labor and production force. However, the slaves do not receive any remuneration for their efforts, beyond shelter and food.

In that sense, it is a pre-industrial type model, in which the slave does not even receive a salary for his work, but at the same time his minimum needs must be covered by the master.

Characteristics of the slave model

The slave model is sustained based on the massive existence of enslaved people, forced to work and to whom absolutely nothing of the work carried out is paid.

This means that they only receive food and housing, to guarantee their subsistence, from the master or slave holder. On the other hand, the concern regarding the volume produced does not concern the slaves (who do not care about a good harvest and a poor one) but the master.

In the slave model, slaves were figures contemplated by law and formally reduced to almost objects, without individual or collective citizen rights, without supervision of any institution. Their children could also be born slaves and belong to the same master, or in some cases they could be free or placed in some intermediate category.

The slaves they were part of the owner’s patrimony and any damage to them could demand compensation in goods or services. In fact, in classical slave societies such as the Greek, slavery could be reached due to non-payment of debts, for crimes committed or for military defeat. There were even state slaves, dedicated to the function of public service.

Emergence of the slave model

production model slaver greece market
The slave mode of production was born in Ancient Greece and continued with the Romans.

The slave mode of production emerged long after the invention of slavery. It is attributed to the society of Ancient Greece the construction of a productive model in which slavery was the sustenance of agriculture.

However, it was not the exclusive labor force: there were also free peasants and artisans who lived with the slaves. The condition of submission of the latter was political and labor, but it did not prevent them from leading a more or less independent life, forming a family and having a home.

It is unknown how many slaves there were in Ancient Greece, but it is assumed that the ratio between slaves and free citizens would be around 3/2. They were applied to agriculture, crafts, industry and the raising of the master’s children (in the case of slaves). Slaves could also be taken as sexual partners, or in domestic areas, although in a much smaller proportion.

For its part, the Roman Empire that conquered Greece in 146 BC. C. saw its agricultural capacity diminished due to its extensive military campaigns, only managing to sustain its civil life thanks to the work of the slave class.

It is estimated that in the year 43 a. C. the number of slaves subjected by Rome was three million, five times more than 225 a. Each military victory nurtured new slaves to keep the system going.

Social classes of slavery

The two social classes that are interesting to distinguish in any slave model are two:

  • Free men. They could have territory, assets, civil rights and inherit their heritage to their descendants, in which there could even be a number of slaves.
  • The slaves. They were citizens of the last category, devoid of rights and access to property, not to mention civil rights or citizen participation. They were little more than things and they would remain so, depending on the case, for a lifetime, until they had completed a number of years of slave labor, or until they could pay the master the amount of money his head was worth, by way of freedom purchase. Then the master could grant the slave a liberating document.

Disappearance of the slave model

The slave model entered into crisis in the Roman Empire, when the Roman pax it prevented new military conquests that fed new slaves to the expanding society.

On the other hand, the popularization of Christianity radically changed the ideological and spiritual sense of the Roman citizens. In addition, the fierce economic crisis was weakening the distinction between free citizens and slaves, making this separation little by little lose its meaning.

Nevertheless, slavery was not abolished at that moment (it should be almost 1500 more years), but it ceased to be the engine of production, to pass the witness to the feudal model that prevailed in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.

Starting with the barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the Feudal Revolution was unleashed that ended the slave model and turned slaves into serfs, who cultivated the lands of the great landowners or Feudal Lords.

Other modes of production

In addition to the slave trade, the Marxist doctrine recognizes the following modes of production:

  • Asian mode of production. Also called hydraulic despotism, since it consists of controlling the organization of society through a single resource needed by all: water, in the case of Egypt and Babylon in ancient times, or irrigation canals in the USSR and China. . Thus, the loyal receive water to sow their fields, while the fields of the disloyal dry up.
  • Capitalist mode of production. The model of the bourgeoisie, imposed after the fall of feudalism and the aristocracy, in which the owners of capital control the means of production and the working class offers them its workforce to be exploited, in exchange for a salary with the they consume the goods and services they need.
  • Socialist mode of production. Proposed as an alternative to capitalism by Marx, it grants control of the means of production to the working or working class, to prevent them from being exploited by the bourgeoisie. Thus, the State assumes the abolition of private property and capital to put collective interests before individual ones, as a step towards a classless society but with such abundant production that goods are distributed according to need and not according to merit. .