MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



In and For Itself

In Hegel's system, this term refers to the Absolute Idea: here consciousness has merged with its own being. In history and society, this is like a social movement that has achieved its objective and merged itself into the whole social body.

Further Reading: also Thing-in-Itself below.



In Logic, Individual means the immediately given object (e.g. Joe Smith), the concrete object which manifests and includes within it the whole wealth of the Particular (e.g. a 20th century, American, metalworker) and the Universal (e.g. capitalism), but in itself is distinct from them.

Fundamentalism, religion and tribal societies emphasise the Universal; capitalist society and liberalism emphasise the Individual (Margaret Thatcher famously said: “Society does not exist”) and promote the ethics of autonomy; Communitarianism, nationalism and identity politics promote the Particular (“us”).

Marxism endeavours, in its practice and its understanding of social problems, to grasp a thing in its individuality, its particularity and its universality.


Individualism and Collectivism

Individualism is the ethos which emphasises the autonomy of the individual as against the community or social group. The word was first used in a translation of de Tocqueville's Democracy in America in 1835.

Collectivism is the ethos which emphasises the priority of the community as a whole or the group as against the individual. The word came into the language in the 1880s as a direct result of the work of the First International, originally as a synonym for common ownership of the means of production.

The growth of individualism in the 18th century played a crucial role in further bolstering the development of bourgeois society upon which it had been founded, and the thorough breakdown of feudalism.

In Tribal Society, individual consciousness is absent, and only begins to develop on the basis of a social division of labour and in particular, the emergence of private property. In feudal and ancient society, individual consciousness is quite undeveloped; while the names of kings and queens are well-known, the craftspeople who built the great mediaeval cathedrals, for instance, remain anonymous.

Collectivism is the dominant ethos in communities where private property is not dominant, and this includes poor working class communities in modern capitalist societies; powerful social movements also tend to overshadow individualism and trade unions, national liberation and other struggles are generally characterised by a strong collectivist ethos.

Socialism entails a collectivism which does not suppress the individualism of bourgeois society, and in contrast to the ‘crude’ collectivism of very poor working class communities, is a collectivism which transcends (or sublates) individualism.

The principal exponent of individualism in Marx’s day was Max Stirner, and Marx countered Stirner’s individualism in “Saint Max” as follows:

“... the abolition of a state of affairs in which relations become independent of individuals, in which individuality is subservient to chance and the personal relations of individuals are subordinated to general class relations, etc. - that the abolition of this state of affairs is determined in the final analysis by the abolition of division of labour. We have also shown that the abolition of division of labour is determined by the development of intercourse and productive forces to such a degree of universality that private property and division of labour become fetters on them. We have further shown that private property can be abolished only on condition of an all-round development of individuals, precisely because the existing form of intercourse and the existing productive forces are all-embracing and only individuals that are developing in an all-round fashion can appropriate them, i.e., can turn them into free manifestations of their lives. We have shown that at the present time individuals must abolish private property, because the productive forces and forms of intercourse have developed so far that, under the domination of private property, they have become destructive forces, and because the contradiction between the classes has reached its extreme limit. Finally, we have shown that the abolition of private property and of the division of labour is itself the association of individuals on the basis created by modern productive forces and world intercourse.

“Within communist society, the only society in which the genuine and free development of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase, this development is determined precisely by the connection of individuals, a connection which consists partly in the economic prerequisites and partly in the necessary solidarity of the free development of all, and, finally, in the universal character of the activity of individuals on the basis of the existing productive forces. We are, therefore, here concerned with individuals at a definite historical stage of development and by no means merely with individuals chosen at random, even disregarding the indispensable communist revolution, which itself is a general condition for their free development. The individuals’ consciousness of their mutual relations will, of course, likewise be completely changed, and, therefore, will no more be the “principle of love” or dévoûment than it will be egoism.” [Saint Max, German Ideology, Chapter 3]



Induction is the method of inference which draws a general conclusion from a number of specific facts. Induction suffers from the flaw that using specific facts to make a general conclusion, while a practical and natural thing for humans to do, is not philosophically correct: such judgements are the substance of prejudice. For instance, after seeing three white people who were bafoons, to use those specific facts to make the general conclusion that all white people are bafoons may be incorrect: there may be whites who are not bafoons. The important thing about induction, is that no conclusion is fixed; and it must always and continually refer back to fact, lest it become ignorance.

See also: Deduction.
Further Reading: Hegel on the crude understanding of induction, and the syllogism of analogy.



Inflation is the situation wherein the prices of all commodities of whatever kind are subject to a steady and more or less uniform increase in price over time. The term dates from 1838.

Given that price expresses the ratio between a given quantity of a commodity and its equivalent in money, it is self-evident that inflation manifests the falling value of money, rather than the increasing value of all other commodities. Thus, the reasons underlying inflation need to be sought in factors which may be undermining the value of money.

“Thus, when the industrial cycle is in the phase of crisis, a general fall in the price of commodities is expressed as a rise in the value of money, and, in the phase of prosperity, a general rise in the price of commodities, as a fall in the value of money. The so-called currency school concludes from this that with high prices too much, with low prices too little money is in circulation. Their ignorance and complete misunderstanding of facts are worthily paralleled by the economists, who interpret the above phenomena of accumulation by saying that there are now too few, now too many wage-labourers.” [Capital, Volume I, Chapter 25]

The most common cause of the loss of value of money is the creation of “Fictitious capital”, i.e., the creation of money or credit exchangeable for money without the creation of commensurate value in the form of goods and services, thus undermining the value of all forms of money and credit: for example, the excessive printing of paper money by the government to finance public works, the creation of fictitious value by banks through unsecured loans, the declining exchange rate of a country's currency, causing prices of all imports to increase, and so forth.

Prior to 1870, inflation was a phenomenon which affected currencies from time to time, mainly as a result of opportunistic policies on the part of governments, but since international trade was relatively restricted and in any case the value of money was not generally recognised outside the borders of the nation producing the currency, precious metals and in particular silver and gold played the major role as the medium of international exchange and inflation never became a worldwide or endemic phenomenon.

In 1870, Germany, France and the United States and soon after many other countries, fixed the value of their own currencies against gold, bringing about the Gold Standard in which the value of all major currencies were fixed against gold and thereby had fixed exchange rates against one another. This would last until the Wall Street Crash. Up until then inflation had been episodic, resulting from, for example, governments printing money to fund war expenditure, and throughout the Great Depression, prices fell and remained low until the Second World War.

The outcome of the 1944 Bretton Woods arrangements was controlled inflation; from 1945 to 1968, all the currencies in the world enjoyed more or less fixed relations to one another, and via the US dollar to gold. As the US government pumped more and more dollars into the world economy, even though the price of gold was fixed at $US35/oz.. That is to say, every other commodity except gold was experiencing inflation, but the price of gold was being kept down by the fact that the US government was able to supply enough gold at that price. After all 3/4 of the gold in the world was held in Fort Knox! The buying and selling of gold was strictly controlled, much like addictive drugs are controlled nowadays, to prevent the development of an open market in gold.

Thus the Post-War Boom, especially from 1958 when the European currencies established the convertibility of their currencies, is a period of controlled inflation. What was taking place was in fact exactly what had lain behind every period of inflation in the past: how long can the central bank go on printing money before the value of paper money collapses? The bubble burst in 1968, and through a series of crises the dollar was eventually floated against gold, and up to the present time, the dollar price of gold is determined at auction in just the same way as the value of any other commodity. Likewise, whereas up till 1971, it was normal for the central banks to defend the exchange-value of their currency against the dollar, it has since that time become an impossibility, and the value of every currency is determined by auction, day to day, in the money markets.

During the period of crisis from 1968 to the mid-1970s, all the major currencies experienced runaway inflation. In the context of this historical overview, it is blindingly obvious that the currencies were losing value because of the fall-out of the years of printing money. As the price of gold shot up to about US$500, other commodities would have to reflect the same drop in the value of money, and this is exactly what happened: oil, wheat, cocoa, wool, silver, etc., etc., all experienced explosions in their value.

At the time, however, the bourgeoisie launched a furious campaign to convince workers that it was their pay rises which were causing inflation. Wage labour is a commodity like any other, and the sellers of labour power will have to set a price according to the costs of production, and if the cost of living goes up, wages must go up proportionately, unless workers can to be forced to accept a lower standard of living.

The period which opened up in 1973 was called stagflation, i.e., stagnation or slump, plus monetary inflation. As mentioned above, inflation is normally associated with economic expansion, but what was being experienced in the mid-1970s was continuously growing unemployment and stagnant economic activity plus inflation. In addition, there was now no fixed price or exchange rate anywhere in the world economy – everything was “floating”. Under these circumstances, the maintenance of the value of paper money is a complex task of financial management which can at any moment be wiped out by a run on the international money markets or other arenas of speculation.

Generally speaking, the value of money is determined from day to day, like anything else, by supply and demand, and governments can only exert an influence on the value of their currency by changing interest rates, buying or selling currencies themselves, changing tax rates and a few other fiscal means. At the end of the day, paper money has no value at all; only the capacity of governments and other institutions to honour the face value of their currency gives it any value. Nowadays, governments are constantly haunted by the threat of inflation, there is no currency in the world that could not be wiped out overnight by a malevolent mood on the money markets.

So long as money is with us, governments must defend the value of their currency, by the Gold Standard or some other means. The Soviet government never adopted the Gold Standard but certainly used its substantial gold reserves to maintain and control the value of the ruble. The ever-present twin dangers of inflation and recession are an inseparable part of the capitalist business cycle and the crisis of capitalism, the only solution to which is the marginalisation of the role of money in social life.



In Itself

To subjective idealism or contemplative, un-dialectical materialism, "in itself" means independent of the nature of the cognising subject or the action of other things on something. In dialectics, it means less developed, not yet showing itself. Thus, the important thing is to see the transition between things, their interconnection and not to separate things with an impenetrable barrier. See Lenin's understanding in his annotations and Thing.


Instrumental Reason and Communicative Reason

Instrumental Reason is the objective form of action which treats the object simply as a means and not as an end in itself, i.e., as Nature; Communicative Reason is the rationality in which the object, or Other, is regarded as an end-in-itself, i.e., as a person. Adorno and the Frankfurt School made a critique of Instrumental Reason, which was seen as the dominant form of Reason within modern capitalist society, leading to the destruction of Nature, the rise of Fascism and bureaucratic capitalism, the reduction of human beings to objects of manipulation, from which only Art offered a way out; Habermas was the main proponent of Communicative Reason as a fundamental form of social action counterposed to instrumental reason.


Instruments of Labour

An instrument of labour is a thing, or a complex of things, which the labourer interposes between himself and the subject of his labour, and which serves as the conductor of his activity. He makes use of the mechanical, physical, and chemical properties of some substances in order to make other substances subservient to his aims.

Leaving out of consideration such ready-made means of subsistence as fruits, in gathering which a man's own limbs serve as the instruments of his labour, the first thing of which the labourer possesses himself is not the subject of labour but its instrument. Thus Nature becomes one of the organs of his activity, one that he annexes to his own bodily organs, adding stature to himself in spite of the Bible. As the earth is his original larder, so too it is his original tool house. It supplies him, for instance, with stones for throwing, grinding, pressing, cutting, &c. The earth itself is an instrument of labour, but when used as such in agriculture implies a whole series of other instruments and a comparatively high development of labour.

It is not the articles made, but how they are made, and by what instruments, that enables us to distinguish different economic epochs... [and] the social conditions under which that labour is carried on...

Karl Marx
Capital: The Labour-Process And The Process Of Producing Surplus-Value

See also: Labour and Means of Production


Intellectual Property

The institutions of law stipulating that the expression of a set of ideas (copyright) and the creation of inventions (patents) and trademarks is a protected form of property which can be leased, sold, or restricted in entirety from the general public. Simply, intellectual property is the conversion of intellectual, creative, and all other non-material labour into a commodity.

When intellectual property is bought and sold then the images and ideas concerned are commodities like any other, and consequently, ownership of intellectual property rights is a form of wealth and constitutes capital in just the same way as ownership of land or bars of gold. Private Property rights in the socialised forces of production stand in contradiction to the continued existence of humanity and the transformation of knowledge into a form of capital represents an intensification of that contradiction.

These institutions of property are generally created by the capitalist government with the intent of creating a temporary monopoly as a reward for innovation. These laws do not, as they purport, "protect the inventor", but instead protect the bourgeios. Barriers created by large industry prevent all but an exceptional few of individual workers from striking out on thier own. This forces the vast majority of innovators to work for a company who agrees to give the worker a wage in return for all rights over any innovation or creation. In this way, the capitalist intensifies the commodification of the worker through the assimilation of both the body and the mind. This mental commodification demands that the very forms of expression the worker produces for the employer can never be used again by thier creator without permission from the employer!

The incentive of copyright thus exist largely for the benefit of the employer, not the worker. Some of these laws are necessary for economic feasibility, some of them result in exuberant profits. It is critical to understand that while some workers make big money off brilliant inventions, the vast majority of creators and innovators are hindered or completely prevented from doing their work at all because of copyrights, or don't have the buisness sense to leverage their creation properly (think of all the innovators Microsoft has made 'deals' with).

The extent of the failures of copyrights and patents are double-edged. Tabloids are dirt cheap while school books are insanely expensive. Drugs necessary for the survival of hundreds of millions of people (AIDs drugs are but one of many examples) are exuberantly priced far above and beyond cost of production. It is critical to undestand however that to some extent these things are necessary to recover the very high and long term costs of drug development, book composing, or whatever else -- no capitalist would put money into a project that could not at least return such money. Incentives of some kind are necessary for an effecient use of resources versus failures, and at least that money used to create a project, which is over and above immediate production costs, needs to be recovered.

This is the crux of the incentive debate in the realm of patents for socialist economics -- it is less about rewarding innovators than it is a question of how best to ensure effecient use of resources. Surely Socialism seeks to do away with property, but the question remains how to manage such a system without the oppression of property?

A balance is necessary for capitalism between the public and private interest first because there is the historical impetus that all knowledge is public domain (see the history below); a position under constant attack by ever expanding copyright legislation. Second, it is recognised by capitalist governments that monopoly creates conditions that harm capitalist society in general, and other individual capitalist proprietors in particular, thus necessitating a public domain clause of some kind.

Historical Development: Intellectual property had its origins in the royal patents (monopoly right) of the late feudal era. The first known patent for an invention was granted in 1421 to the Florentine architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi who was given a three-year monopoly on the manufacture of a barge and hoist used to transport marble. Copyright had its origins when royal patents were extended to printers several decades after the first patent. The use of royal patents and copyright slowly spread throughout Europe over the next 200 years. In 1623, the British Parliament set a limit of 14 years to the period for which royal monopolies could be granted.

The purpose of intellectual property in the late Fuedal era of Europe was on the one hand to serve as a system of taxation: monopoly rights in exchange for a share in the profits. On the other hand, when government had the continuing right to declare the existance and extents of private property for any new invention and idea, it created a powerful mechanism of governmental control. A monarch would grant publishing guilds a monopoly on the production of certain books in exchange for not printing anything critical of the government.

Copyrights and patents were not justified as being the impetus for innovation until Capitalism, as before this it would have been an absurd notion. The whole of human progress before Capitalism existed without the formulation of such laws: the European Renassance was possible without copyrights. The golden age of Islam occured without these laws nor institutions. China's dynasty's spanning millenum of innovations never considered implementing such laws. Imagine a patent on prymaid building, or the Chinese going after the Romans for using the arch in construction!

It was not utopian ideals that prevented such laws -- it made sense for the times. The means of production were not nearly as centralised nor organised, and when they were, they were controlled by the government. Thus, any large scale innovation was a de facto government monopoly. For any small scale innovation, it simply could not be disseminated for the public good without allowing any small time producer to make it. Futhermore, small producers could not have survived otherwise -- imagine the blacksmith having to pay royalties for every hammer and wrench made! If a neighboring nation went about constructing a similar innovation, the only price paid would be pride -- that the glory of such a creation came from the 'advanced society' of the neighbor. A government may indeed have tried to keep secret many innovations from one's enemies, but to go after an emeny on the basis of their having used such knowledge would have been absurd.

Capitalism changed this, because it needed to in order to function. The Statute of Anne in 1710 recognised that the author should be the chief beneficiary of copyright and determined that after a period, later set at 28 years, the text should become part of the public domain. By the end of the nineteenth century most countries had laws which protected the copyright of their own citizens. The Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883 established protection for trade marks among 100 participating countries. The Berne Convention of 1886 established a treaty between 14 nations to extend copyrights to each others’ citizens and this treaty has gradually evolved to include every production in the literary, scientific, and artistic domain, regardless of the mode of expression (Rome, 1928) and the Brussels 1948 convention extended the principles to cinema and photography and the period of protection to the author’s life plus 50 years, and restricted the right to translate, though this was later somewhat relaxed at Stockholm in 1967.

Beginning in the latter part of the 20th century, intellectual property has risen to become even more important than property in goods or land. There was a time when capitalists were able to use the discoveries of science for free, but in the 21st century the wealthiest capitalists are the owners of huge amounts of intellectual property, and the most powerful imperialist countries are the principal exporters of intellectual property. Movie and CD exports are worth many billions of dollars, education of foreign students may earn more export dollars than primary produce or manufactured goods, while millions of people die every year of hunger while crops able to feed the populations of whole countries can only be grown with seeds whose genome is the intellectual property of private institutions.

Further Reading: For one view of this process, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Postmodernisation, or The Informatisation of Production. On the issue of trademarks specifically, see "No Logo", by Naomi Klien. See also Hegel's Philosophy of the Right: Property.



Internationalism is the ethical value of the workers’ movement towards the interests of the working class of all countries over and above the interests of the working class in any one country, and the practice of organising on an international basis.

The term came into use in the 1850s and became identified with support for the International Working Mens Association.



Intuition is the ability to understand truth directly, without recourse to evidence nor reason. Intuition figures in the philosophy of both Descartes and Spinoza in the cognition of axiomatic or essential truths.

Dialectics sees Intuition as a stage in the development of knowledge which is prior to reflection and conceptual knowledge, as for example being involved in activities before having reflected on or thought about.

Further Reading: Hegel on Immediate or Intuitive Knowledge.



Trend in the foundations of Mathematics associated with Luitzen Bruuwer which seeks to construct mathematics on the basis of rational intuition, and rejects the validity of the Law of the Excluded Middle. (c.f. Formalism and Logicism)

Intuitionalism refers to philosophical currents which counterpose Intuition to both Reason and Experience as a mode of perception; associated with Henri Bergson.


Invisible Hand

The Invisible Hand is a metaphor introduced by Adam Smith (1723-1790) to represent how people pursuing their own selfish ends nevertheless make such choices as contribute to the social good.

The first instance of Smith’s use of the term in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, written in 1759, in which he hypothesises a “law of equipartition of the necessities of life":

“The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species. When Providence divided the earth among a few lordly masters, it neither forgot nor abandoned those who seemed to have been left out in the partition. These last too enjoy their share of all that it produces. In what constitutes the real happiness of human life, they are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them.” [Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Part 4]

Smith later used the term in Wealth of Nations in relation to the choice of a secure investment promoting the social good independently of the intention of the investor:

“By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.” [Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Chapter 2, Book 4]

It is frequently said that Adam Smith used the invisible hand metaphor in reference to how the market price was determined, but this is a later interpretation of the concept which does not reflect Adam Smith’s view of market price. For Adam Smith the natural price was determined external to the market in the labour process, and the market superimposed fluctuations as a result of imbalances in supply and demand:

“... market price will be liable to great fluctuations, will sometimes fall a good deal below, and sometimes rise a good deal above their natural price. In the other species of industry, the produce of equal quantities of labour being always the same, or very nearly the same, it can be more exactly suited to the effectual demand. While that demand continues the same, therefore, the market price of the commodities is likely to do so too, and to be either altogether, or as nearly as can be judged of, the same with the natural price. ...

“... fluctuations affect both the value and the rate either of wages or of profit, according as the market happens to be either overstocked or understocked with commodities or with labour; with work done, or with work to be done. ...

“But though the market price of every particular commodity is in this manner continually gravitating, if one may say so, towards the natural price, yet sometimes particular accidents, sometimes natural causes, and sometimes particular regulations of police, may, in many commodities, keep up the market price, for a long time together, a good deal above the natural price.” [Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 7]

Economists of the latter part of the nineteenth century and later rejected the idea of a value or “natural price” determined outside of the market and see the market price as the sole meaning of value. Consequently, they extended Adam Smith’s metaphor as an explanation of the determination of market price.