MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms





Wealth is the freedom of access to the means of satisfying human needs – whether in form of commodities or not. Wealth comes from Nature and from labour and is a qualitative concept, which increases with the reduction of the labour required to acquire it, whereas capital increases only with an increase in the labour required to create it.

“The actual wealth of society, and the possibility of constantly expanding its reproduction process, therefore, do not depend upon the duration of surplus-labour, but upon its productivity and the more or less copious conditions of production under which it is performed. In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase.

“Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.” [Capital Volume III]



Welfare is the provision and maintenance of the conditions of life for individuals by the community.

Welfare has a positive and negative aspect. Negative welfare is the provision by the state or other institutions of a “safety net” or the distribution of benefits according to some criteria; so-called positive welfare is the provision of opportunities for people to “help themselves”. This contrast lies behind foreign-aid strategies which concentrate on providing skills or “seed capital” rather than food parcels, for example. The concept of positive and negative welfare is related to the concepts of positive and negative freedom.

Marxists support both positive and negative welfare, but recognise that the market inevitably generates inequality and a class of people inevitably the recipients of welfare, who have nothing to sell but their labour power, alongside a class of people who live off the proceeds of exploitation, invariably the providers of welfare. Only by bringing the means of production under thoroughgoing proletarian democracy can the very need for welfare be abolished.