V. I.   Lenin

A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism




The Problem of the Growth of the Industrial Population At the Expense of the Agricultural Population

Let us return to Sismondi. In addition to his idealisation of the petty bourgeoisie, in addition to his romanticist failure to understand how, under the present social system of economy, the “peasantry” is transformed into a petty bourgeoisie, he holds an extremely characteristic   view about the diminution of the agricultural population to the advantage of the industrial population. It is common knowledge that this phenomenon—one of the most striking manifestations of a country’s capitalist development—is observed in all civilised countries, and also in Russia.[1]

Sismondi, an outstanding economist of his time, must, of course, have seen this fact. He openly records it, but fails completely to understand the necessary connection between it and the development of capitalism (to put it even more generally: between it and the division of social labour, the growth of commodity economy called forth by this phenomenon). He simply condemns it as a defect in the “system.”

After pointing to the enormous progress made by English agriculture, Sismondi says:

“While admiring the carefully cultivated fields, we must look at the people who cultivate them; they constitute only half the number to be seen in France on an equal area. Some economists regard this as again; in my opinion it is a loss” (I, 239).

We can understand why the ideologists of the bourgeoisie regarded this thing as a gain (we shall soon see that such is also the view of the scientific critique of capitalism): in this way they formulated the growth of bourgeois wealth, commerce and industry. While hastening to condemn this phenomenon, Sismondi forgets to think about its causes.

“In France and in Italy,” he says, “where, it is calculated, four-fifths of the population belong to the agricultural class, four-fifths of the nation will have the national bread to eat, no matter what the price of foreign grain may be” (I, 264). Fuit Troja! is what can be said of this.   There are now no countries (even the most highly agricultural) which are not entirely dependent upon the price of grain, i.e., upon world capitalist production of grain.

“If a nation cannot increase its commercial population except by demanding from each a larger amount of work for the same pay, it must fear an increase in its industrial population” (I, 322). As the reader sees, this is merely kind advice devoid of all sense and meaning, for here the concept “nation” is based on the artificial exclusion of the antagonisms between the classes which constitute this “nation.” As always, Sismondi simply wriggles out of these antagonisms by means of the well-meaning wish that . . . there should be no antagonisms.

“In England, agriculture employs only 770,199 families, commerce and industry employ 959,632, the other estates in society 413,316. It is truly frightful (effrayante) that such a large proportion of the population, out of a total of 2,143,147 families, or 10,150,615 persons, exists on commercial wealth. Happily, France is still far from having such an enormous number of workers depending upon luck in a remote market” (I, 434). Here Sismondi even seems to forget that this “happiness” is due entirely to the lag in France’s capitalist development.

Depicting the changes in the existing system which are “desirable” from his point of view (we shall discuss these later), Sismondi says that “the result” (of reforms to suit the romantic taste) “would undoubtedly be that more than one country living merely by industry would have to successively close down many workshops, and that the urban population, which had increased excessively, would rapidly decline, whereas the rural population would begin to grow” (II, 367).

This example brings out in particular relief the helplessness of the sentimental criticism of capitalism and the impotent vexation of the petty bourgeois! Sismondi simply complains[2] that things are going one way and not another. His grief at the destruction of the Eden of the rural population’s patriarchal dullness and downtrodden condition is   so great that our economist does not even discern why it takes place. He therefore overlooks the fact that the increase in the industrial population is necessarily and inseverably connected with commodity economy and capitalism. Commodity economy develops to the degree that the social division of labour develops. And the division of labour means precisely that one industry after another, one form of processing the raw product after another, separates from agriculture, becomes independent, and consequently gives rise to an industrial population. Therefore, to discuss commodity economy and capitalism and ignore the law of the relative growth of the industrial population, means to have no notion whatever of the fundamental characteristics of the present system of social economy.

“It is in the nature of capitalist production to continually reduce the agricultural population as compared with the non-agricultural, because in industry (in the strict sense) the increase of constant capital in relation to variable capital goes hand in hand with an absolute increase, though relative decrease,[3] in variable capital; on the other hand, in agriculture the variable capital required for the exploitation of a certain plot of land decreases absolutely; it can thus only increase to the extent that new land[4] is taken into cultivation, but this again requires as a prerequisite a still greater growth of the non-agricultural population” (III, 2, 177).[10]

On this point modern theory takes a view diametrically opposite to that of romanticism with its sentimental   complaints. When we understand that something is inevitable, we naturally adopt a totally different attitude towards it and are able to appraise its different aspects. The phenomenon we are now discussing is one of the most profound and most general of the contradictions of the capitalist system. The separation of town from country, their oppositeness, and the exploitation of the countryside by the town—these universal concomitants of developing capitalism—are a necessary product of the preponderance of “commercial wealth” (to use Sismondi’s term) over “territorial wealth” (agricultural wealth). Therefore, the predominance of the town over the countryside (economically, politically, intellectually, and in all other respects) is a universal and inevitable thing in all countries where there is commodity production and capitalism, including Russia: only sentimental romanticists can bewail this. Scientific theory, on the contrary, points to the progressive aspect given to this contradiction by large-scale industrial capital. “Capitalist production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an ever-increasing preponderance of town population . . . concentrates the historical motive-power of society”[11] (die geschichtliche Bewegungskraft der Gesellschaft).[5] If the predominance of the town is inevitable, only the attraction of the population to the towns can neutralise (and, as history shows, does in fact neutralise) the one-sided character of this predominance. If the town necessarily gains itself a privileged position, leaving the village subordinate, undeveloped, helpless and downtrodden, only the influx of the village population into the towns, only this mingling and merging of the agricultural with the non-agricultural population, can lift the rural population out of its helplessness. Therefore, in reply to the reactionary complaints and lamentations of the romanticists, modern theory indicates   exactly how this narrowing of the gap between the conditions of life of the agricultural and of the non-agricultural population creates the conditions for eliminating the antithesis between town and country.

The question now is: what is the point of view of our Narodnik economists on this problem? Undoubtedly, that of the sentimental romanticist. Far from understanding that the growth of the industrial population is necessary under the present system of social economy, they even try to close their eyes to the phenomenon itself, like the bird which hides its head under its wing. As was to be expected, no answer was forthcoming to P. Struve’s statement that Mr. N.–on, in his arguments about capitalism, commits a gross error when he asserts that there is an absolute diminution of variable capital (Critical Remarks, p. 255), and that it is absurd to contrast Russia with the West in respect of the former’s smaller percentage of industrial population and at the same time to ignore the growth of this percentage as a result of the development of capitalism[6] (Sozialpolitisches Centralblatt,[12] 1893, No. 1). While constantly harping upon the specific features of Russia, the Narodnik economists have not even been able to present the problem of the actual specific features of the formation of an industrial population in Russia,[7] to which we briefly referred above. Such is the Narodniks’ theoretical attitude towards this problem. Actually, however, when the Narodniks, untrammelled by theoretical doubts, discuss the conditions of the peasants in the post-Reform countryside, they admit that the peasants who are ousted from agriculture migrate to the towns and to factory areas, but they confine themselves to bewailing this state of affairs, just as Sismondi bewailed it.[8] They do not notice at all either the economic   or (what is perhaps more important) the moral and educational significance of the profound change that has taken place in the conditions of life of the masses of the population in post-Reform Russia—a process which, for the first time, has disturbed the peasantry’s settled life, their position of being tied to their localities, given them mobility, and narrowed the gap between the agricultural and non-agricultural labourers, the rural and the urban workers.[9] All they have derived from it is an occasion for sentimental-romanticist lamentations.



[1] The percentage of the urban population in European Russia has been growing in the post-Reform period. Here we must confine ourselves merely to pointing to this most commonly known symptom, although it expresses the phenomenon far from completely, in that it does not include important features specific to Russia as compared with Western Europe. This is not the place to examine these specific features (the peasants’ lack of freedom of movement, the existence of industrial and factory villages, internal colonisation of the country, and so forth). —Lenin

[2] “Ultimately . . . this form of Socialism” (namely the trend of petty-bourgeois criticism, of which Sismondi was the head) “ended in a miserable fit of the blues.”[13]Lenin

[3] From this the reader can judge the wit of Mr. N.–on who, in his Sketches, without ceremony transforms the relative decrease of variable capital and of the number of workers into an absolute one, and from this draws a host of the absurdest conclusions concerning the “shrinking” of the home market, and so forth. —Lenin

[4] It was this condition that we had in mind when we said that the internal colonisation of Russia hindered the manifestation of the law of the greater growth of the industrial population. It is enough to recall the difference between Russia’s long-settled central areas, where the industrial population grew not so much in the towns as in the factory villages and townships, and, say, Novorossiya, which has been settled in the post-Reform period, and where the towns are growing at a pace comparable with that of America. We hope to deal with this problem in greater detail elsewhere. —Lenin

[5] Cf. also the particularly striking characterisation of the progressive role played by industrial centres in the intellectual development of the population in Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, 1845.[14] That the recognition of this role did not prevent the author of The Condition of the Working Class in England from profoundly understanding the contradiction manifested in the separation of town from country, is proved by his polemical book against Düring.[15]Lenin

[6] Let the reader recall that this is the mistake made by Sismondi when he said that “happily” eighty per cent of the population of France were agricultural, as if this was a specific feature of some “people’s production,” and so forth, and not a reflection of lag in capitalist development. —Lenin

[7] Cf. Volgin, The Substantiation of Narodism in the Works of Mr. Vorontsov. St. Petersburg, 1896, pp. 215-16. —Lenin

[8] In fairness, however, it must be said that Sismondi observes the growth of the industrial population in several countries, and recognises its universal nature and reveals here and there an understanding   of the fact that this is not merely some “anomaly,” and so forth, but a profound change in the people’s conditions of life—a change which admittedly has something good in it. At all events the following observation of his on the harmfulness of the division of labour reveals views far more profound than those of Mr. Mikhailovsky, for example, who invented a general “formula of progress,” instead of analysing the definite forms assumed by the division of labour in different formations of social economy and at different periods of development.

“Although the uniformity of the operations to which all the workers’ activities in the factories are reduced must obviously harm their mental development (intelligence), nevertheless, it must be said in fairness that according to the observations of the best judges the manufactory workers in England are superior in intelligence education and morals to the agricultural workers” (ouvriers des champs) (1, 397). And Sismondi indicates the cause of this: Vivant sans cesse ensemble, moins épuisés par la latigue et pouvant se livrer davantage à la conversation, les idées ont circulé plus rapidement entre eux (Living constantly together, they are less fatigued, and having greater opportunities of conversing with each other ideas have spread more rapidly among them.—Ed.). But, he adds in a melancholy tone aucun attachement à l’ordre établi (they display no attachment to the established order.—Ed.). —Lenin

[9] The forms assumed by this process are also different in the central parts of European Russia as compared with the border regions It is mainly agricultural workers from the central black-earth gubernias and partly non-agricultural workers from the industrial gubernias who migrate to the border regions, where they spread their knowledge of “their trades” and “implant” industry among the purely agricultural population. The migrants from the industrial region are non-agricultural workers, part of whom scatter to all parts of Russia but most of whom stream into the metropolitan cities and the large industrial centres; and this industrial current, if one may so express it, is so strong, that it creates a shortage of agricultural workers, who migrate to the industrial gubernias (Moscow, Yaroslavl and other gubernias) from the central black-earth gubernias. See S. A. Korolenko, Hired Labour, etc. —Lenin

[13] Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party. Selected Works, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 57.

[10] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. III, Moscow, 1959, p. 622.

[11] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 505.

[14] Marx and Engels, On Britain, Moscow, 1953, pp. 1-336.

[15] Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1954, pp. 402-14.

[12] Sozialpolitisches Centralblatt (Central Social-Political Sheet)—organ of the Right wing of German Social-Democracy. First appeared in 1892.

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