V. I.   Lenin

On the So-Called Market Question



The question now is, what relation has the theory that has been expounded to “the notorious market question”? The theory is based on the assumption of the “general and exclusive domination of the capitalist mode of production,” whereas the “question” is one of whether the full development of capitalism is “possible” in Russia? True, the theory introduces a correction into the ordinary conception of the development of capitalism, but, evidently, the explanation of how capitalism develops in general does not in the least help to clear up the question of the “possibility” (and necessity) of the development of capitalism in Russia.

The author of the paper, however, does not confine himself to expounding Marx’s theory of the process of aggregate social production organised on capitalist lines. He points to the necessity of distinguishing “two essentially different features in the accumulation of capital: 1) the development of capitalist production in breadth, when it takes hold of already existing fields of labour, ousting natural economy and expanding at the latter’s expense; and 2) the development of capitalist production in depth, if one may so express it, when it expands independently of natural economy, i.e., under the general and exclusive domination of the capitalist mode of production.” Without, for the time being, stopping to criticise this division, let us proceed directly to find out what the author means by the development   of capitalism in breadth: the explanation of that process, which consists in the replacement of natural economy by capitalist economy, should show us how Russian capitalism will “take hold of the whole country.”

The author illustrates the development of capitalism in breadth by the following diagram:[1]


A—capitalists; W—direct producers
a, a1, a11,— capitalist enterprises.
‘the arrows show the movement of the commodities exchanged.
c, v, m—component parts of the value of commodities.
I, II—commodities in their natural form: I—means of production; II—means of consumption.

The essential difference between the spheres A and W,” says the author, “is that in A the producers are capitalists who consume their surplus-value productively, whereas in W they are direct producers, who consume their surplus-value (here I mean the value of the product over and above the value of the means of production and necessary means of subsistence) unproductively.

If we follow the arrows in the diagram we shall easily see how capitalist production in A develops at the expense of consumption in W, gradually absorbing it.” The product of the capitalist enterprise a goes “to the direct producers” in   the form of articles of consumption; in exchange for it the “direct producers” return the constant capital (c) in the form of means of production and the variable capital (v) in the form of means of consumption, and the surplus-value (s) in the form of the elements of additional productive capital: c,+v,. That capital serves as the basis of the new capitalist enterprise a,, which in exactly the same way sends its product in the form of articles of consumption to the “direct producers,” and so on. “From the above diagram of the development of capitalism in breadth it follows that the whole of production is most closely dependent upon consumption in ‘foreign’ markets, upon consumption by the masses (and from the general point of view it makes absolutely no difference where those masses are—alongside the capitalists, or somewhere across the ocean). Obviously, the expansion of production in A, i.e., the development of capitalism in this direction, will come to a stop as soon as all the direct producers in W turn into commodity producers, for, as we saw above, every new enterprise (or expansion of an old one) is calculated to supply a new circle of consumers in W.” In conclusion the author says: “The current conception of capitalist accumulation, i.e., of capitalist reproduction on an expanded scale, is limited solely to this view of things, and has no suspicion of the development of capitalist production in depth, independently of any countries with direct producers, i.e., independently of so-called foreign markets.”

The only thing we can agree with in this entire exposition is that this conception of the development of capitalism in breadth, and the diagram which illustrates it, is in complete accordance with the current, Narodnik views on the subject.

It would, indeed, be difficult to depict the utter absurdity and vapidity of current views more saliently and strikingly than is done in the diagram given.

The current conception” always regarded capitalism in our country as something isolated from the “people’s system,” standing apart from it, exactly as it is depicted in the diagram from which it is quite impossible to see what connection there is between the two “spheres,” the capitalist sphere and the people’s sphere. Why do commodities sent from A find a market in W? What causes the transformation   of natural economy in W into commodity economy? The current view has never answered these questions because it regards exchange as something accidental and not as a certain system of economy.

Further, the current view has never explained whence and how capitalism arose in our country any more than it is explained by the diagram: the matter is presented as though the capitalists have come from somewhere outside and not from among these very “direct producers.” Where the capitalists get the “free workers” who are needed for enterprises a, a1, etc., remains a mystery. Everybody knows that in reality those workers are obtained precisely from the “direct producers,” but the diagram does not show at all that when commodity production embraced “sphere” W, it created there a body of free workers.

In short, the diagram—exactly like the current view—explains absolutely nothing about the phenomena of the capitalist system in our country and is therefore worthless. The object for which it was drawn—to explain how capitalism develops at the expense of natural economy, and embraces the whole country—is not achieved at all, because, as the author himself sees—” if we adhere consistently to the view under examination, then we must conclude that it is not possible for the development of the capitalist mode of production to become universal.”

After this, one can only express surprise at the fact that the author himself adheres, if only in part, to that view when he says that “capitalism did indeed (?), in its infancy, develop in this very easy (sic!?) way (very easy because here existing branches of labour are involved) and is partly developing in the same direction even now (??), since there are still remnants of natural economy in the world, and since the population is growing.”

Actually, this is not a “very easy” way of developing capitalism, but simply a “very easy” way of understanding the process; so “very easy” that it would be more correct to call it a total lack of understanding. The Russian Narodniks of all shades make shift to this very day with these “very easy” tricks: they never dream of explaining how capitalism arose in our country, and how it functions, but confine themselves to comparing the “sore spot” in our system, capitalism,   with the “healthy spot,” the direct producers, the “people”; the former is put on the left, the latter on the right, and all this profound thinking is rounded off with sentimental phrases about what is “harmful” and what is “useful” for “human society.”


[1] m stands for “Mehrwert,” i.e., surplus-value (a); “u m. ∂ ” means “and so on.”—Ed. Eng. ed.

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