V. I.   Lenin

The Handicraft Census of 1894-95 in Perm Gubernia and General Problems of “Handicraft” Industry



The “Handicraftsman” and Wage-Labour

Let us now summarise the data on wage-labour in the handicraft industries of Perm Gubernia. Without repeating the absolute figures already cited, let us confine ourselves to indicating the most interesting percentages:


We thus see that the percentage of wage-workers is higher among the non-agriculturists than among the agriculturists, and that the difference is chiefly accounted for by the second sub-group: among the farming artisans the proportion of wage-workers is 14.1%, and among the non-agriculturists it is 29.3%, or over twice as high. In the other two sub-groups, the proportion of wage-workers in Group II is slightly higher than in Group I. It has already been said that this results from capitalism being less developed among the agricultural population. Of course, the Perm Narodniks, like all other Narodniks, declare this to be of advantage to the agriculturists. We shall not, at this point, enter into a controversy on the general subject of whether the under-development and backwardness of the given social and economic relations may be regarded as an advantage; we shall merely say that the figures we quote below will show that this is an advantage that gives the agriculturists low earnings.

It is interesting to note that insofar as the employment of wage-labour is concerned the difference between the   groups is less than the difference between the sub-groups of the same group. In other words, the economic structure of the industry (artisans—commodity producers—workers for buyers-up) has a greater influence on the extent to which wage-labour is employed than the existence or absence of ties with agriculture. For example, the small agriculturist commodity producer is more akin to the small non-agriculturist commodity producer than to the agriculturist artisan. The proportion of wage-workers in the first sub-group is 29.4% in Group I and 31.2% in Group II, whereas in the second sub-group of Group I it is only 14.1%. Similarly, the agriculturist who works for a buyer-up is more akin to the non-agriculturist who does the same (23.2% and 27.4% wage-workers respectively) than to the agriculturist artisan. This shows us that the general prevalence of capitalist commodity relations in the country tends to reduce to one level the agriculturist and the non-agriculturist engaged in industry. This levelling process is brought out even more saliently by the data on the incomes of handicraftsmen. The second sub-group, as we have said, is an exception; but if, instead of the figures showing the percentage of wage-workers, we take the average number of wage-workers per establishment, we shall find that the agriculturist artisans are more akin to the non-agriculturist artisans (0.23 and 0.43 wage-workers per establishment respectively) than to the agriculturists in the other sub-groups. The average number of workers per establishment among the artisans of both groups is almost the same (1.7 and 1.8), whereas in the sub-groups of each group this average differs very considerably (Group I—2.6 and 1.7; Group II—2.5 and 1.8).

The average figures per establishment in each sub-group also reveal the interesting fact that the number is lowest among the artisans of both groups: 1.7 and 1.8 workers per workshop respectively. This means that production is most scattered among artisans, the individual producers are most isolated, and co-operation in production least practised. First place in this respect is held by the first sub-group of each group, that is, by the small masters who produce for the market. The number of people engaged in the workshops in these sub-groups is the largest (2.6 and 2,5 persons); here handicraftsmen   with big families are the most numerous (20.3% and 18.5% have 3 or more workers in the family; the third sub-group of Group I—20.9%—is something of an exception); at the same time the employment of wage-labour is the largest (0.75 and 0.78 wage-workers per workshop); and there is also the largest proportion of big establishments (2.0% and 1.3% of establishments employ six or more wage-workers). Consequently, co-operation in production is here most widespread, because of the most extensive employment of wage-labour, and of members of the family (1.8 and 1.7 family workers per establishment; the third sub-group of Group I, with 1.9 persons, is something of an exception).

This latter circumstance brings us to the highly important question of the relation between family labour and wage-labour employed by “handicraftsmen,” a relation which prompts us to doubt the correctness of the prevailing Narodnik doctrine that wage-labour in handicraft production merely “supplements” family labour. The Perm Narodniks support this view when they argue on p. 55 that “the identification of the interests of the handicraftsmen with those of the kulaks” is refuted by the fact that the most prosperous handicraftsmen (Group I) have the largest number of family workers, whereas “if the handicraftsman were prompted solely by the profit motive, the sole incentive of the kulak, and not by the desire to consolidate and develop his establishment with the aid of all the members of his family, we should expect the proportion of members of the family who devoted their labours to production to be smallest in this sub-group of establishments” (?!). A strange conclusion! How can any conclusion regarding the role of “personal participation in work” (p. 55) be drawn if nothing is said about wage-labour? If the prosperity of handicraftsmen with large families did not indicate kulak tendencies, we should find among them the lowest proportion of wage-workers, the lowest proportion of establishments employing them, the lowest proportion of establishments with a large number of workers (more than five), and the smallest average number of workers per establishment. Actually, however, the most prosperous handicraftsmen (first sub-group) hold first, and not last place in all these respects, and this despite the fact that they have the largest families and the   largest number of family workers, and constitute the largest proportion of handicraftsmen with three or more family workers! Clearly, the facts point to the very opposite of what the Narodniks would have them mean: the handicraftsman does, in fact, strive for profit, and by kulak methods; he takes advantage of his greater prosperity (one of the conditions for which is the possession of a large family) to employ wage-labour on a larger scale. Having a larger number of family workers than the other handicraftsmen he uses this to oust the others by hiring the largest number of workers. “Family co-operation, “about which Mr. V. V. and the other Narodniks speak so unctuously (cf. Handicraft Industries, I, p.14), is a guarantee of the development of capitalist co-operation. This, of course, will seem a paradox to the reader who is used to Narodnik prejudices; but it is a fact. To obtain precise data on this subject, one should know not only the distribution of the establishments according to the number of family and of wage-workers (which is given in the Sketch ), but also according to the combination of family and wage-labour. The house-to-house returns furnished every opportunity of making such a combination, of calculating the number of establishments in each category employing one, two, etc., wage-workers and classifying them according to the number of family workers. Unfortunately, this was not done. In order to make up for this omission, if only partially, let us turn to the work already mentioned, Handicraft Industries, where we do find combined tables of establishments classified according to the number of family and wage-workers. The tables are given for five industries, embracing a total of 749 establishments with 1,945 workers (op. cit., 1, pp. 59, 78 and 160; III, pp. 87 and 109). In order to analyse these data with reference to the problem we are now considering, namely, the relation between family labour and wage-labour, we must divide all the establishments into groups according to the total number of workers (for it is the total number of workers which shows the size of the workshop and the degree of co-operation in production), and determine the role of family labour and wage-labour in each group. Let us take four groups: 1) establishments with one worker; 2) establishments with two to four workers; 3) establishments with five to nine workers, and 4) establishments   with ten or more workers. This division according to the total number of workers is all the more necessary, as the establishments with one worker and those with ten, for example, obviously represent entirely different economic types; to combine them and strike “averages” would be utterly absurd as we shall see later in the case of the figures given in the Sketch. Grouping the data as indicated, we get the following table:


These detailed figures fully confirm the proposition advanced above, which seemed so paradoxical at first glance, i.e., the larger the total number of workers in an establishment, the larger the number of family workers employed in it, and the more extensive, consequently, the “family co-operation”; but, at the same time, capitalist co-operation also increases, and does so far more rapidly. Despite the fact that they have a large number of family workers, the more prosperous handicraftsmen employ many additional wage-workers. “Family co-operation” is thus the pledge and foundation of capitalist co-operation.

Let us examine the data of the 1894-95 census relating to family and wage-labour. The establishments are divided according to the number of family workers as follows:


The preponderance of one-man establishments should be noted: they constitute more than half the total. Even if we were to assume that all the establishments that combine family labour with wage-labour have no more than one family worker each, we would still find that 2,5000 of them would be run by one man. These are the representatives of the most scattered producers, representatives of the most disunited small workshops—a disunity that is generally characteristic of the much-vaunted "“people’s production.” Let us take a glance at the opposite pole, the largest workshops:


TRAPPED INSIDE JPEG: wage-workers[1]

Thus we see that the “small” establishments of the handicraftsmen sometimes attain imposing dimensions: nearly one-fourth of the total number of wage-workers is concentrated in the 85 largest establishments; on an average, each such establishment employs 14.6 wage-workers. These handicraftsmen   are already employers, owners of capitalist establishments.[2] Co-operation on capitalist lines is widely employed in them: with 15 workers per establishment, division of labour is possible on a fairly extensive scale, there is a big saving on premises and tools, of which a larger quantity and greater variety can be used. Their purchase of raw material and the sale of the product are necessarily conducted on a large scale; this considerably reduces the cost of raw material and its delivery, facilitates sales, and makes proper commercial relations possible. When we come to consider the data on incomes we shall find confirmation of this in the 1894-95 census. At the moment it will be sufficient to mention these generally-known theoretical propositions. It should, therefore, be clear that the technical and economic features of these establishments also differ radically from those of the one-man workshops, and it is really astonishing that the Perm statisticians should nevertheless have decided to combine them and compute general “averages” from them. It may be said a priori that such averages will be absolutely fictitious, and that the analysis of the household statistics, in addition to dividing the handicraftsmen into groups and sub-groups, should also have divided them into categories based upon the number of workers per establishment (both family and wage-workers). Unless such a division is made, there can be no question of obtaining accurate data on incomes, or on the conditions of purchase of raw material and sale of products, or on the technique of production, or on the relative status of the wage-worker and the owner of the one-man establishment, or on the relation between the big and small workshops—all of which are items of the highest importance for a study of the economics of “handicraft industry.” The Perm investigators endeavour, of course, to underrate the importance of the capitalist workshops. If there are establishments with five or more family workers, they argue, that means that competition between the “capitalist” and the “handicraft   form of production” (sic !) can only have significance when the number of wage-workers exceeds five per establishment, and such establishments constitute only 1% of the total. The argument is purely artificial: in the first place, establishments with five family workers and five wage-workers are a pure abstraction, resulting from an inadequate analysis of the facts, for wage-labour is combined with family labour. An establishment with three family workers will, by hiring another three workers, have more than five workers and, compared with the one-man establishments, will occupy an exceptional competitive position. Secondly, if the statisticians really wanted to investigate the question of “competition” between the various establishments, dividing them according to the number of wage-workers they employ, why did they not make use of the data of the house to-house census? Why did they not group the establishments according to the number of workers and show the size of their incomes? Would it not have been more appropriate for statisticians who had such rich material at their disposal to make a real study of the facts, instead of treating the reader to all sorts of stuff of their own invention and hastily abandoning facts in order to “do battle” with the adversaries of Narodism?

“... From the standpoint of the supporters of capitalism, this percentage may, perhaps, be considered sufficient ground for the prediction that the handicraft form must inevitably degenerate into the capitalist form; but in this respect it does not actually represent an alarming symptom at all, especially in view of the following circumstances. . .” (p. 56).

Charming, is it not? Instead of taking the trouble to sift the available material for precise data on the capitalist establishments, the authors combined them with the one-man establishments and then began to controvert imaginary “predictors”!—We do not know what these “supporters of capitalism” who are so repugnant to the Perm statisticians are likely “to predict,” but for our part we can only say that all these phrases merely cover an attempt to evade the facts. And the facts show that there is no special “handicraft form of production” (that is an invention of “handicraft” economists), that the small commodity producers give rise to   large capitalist establishments (in the tables we found a handicraftsman employing 65 wage-workers!—p. 169), and that it was the investigators’ duty to group the data in such a way that we could examine this process and compare the various establishments insofar as they approximate capitalist enterprises. The Perm statisticians not only failed to do this themselves, but even deprived us of the opportunity of doing so, for in the tables all the establishments in a given sub-group are lumped together so that it is impossible to separate the factory owner from the one-man producer. The compilers cover up the omission with meaningless aphorisms. The large establishments, you see, constitute only 1% of the total, so that if they are excluded, the conclusions based on the remaining 99% will not be affected (p. 56). But this one per cent, this one-hundredth part, is not commensurate with the others! One large establishment is equal to more than 15 establishments of the one-man producers who account for over 30 “hundredths” (of the total number of establishments)! This calculation relates to the number of workers. And if we take the gross output, or net income, we shall find that one large establishment is not equal to 15, but perhaps to 30 other establishments.[3] One-fourth of all the wage-workers is concentrated in this “one-hundredth” of the establishments, an average of 14.6 workers per establishment. To give the reader some idea of the significance of this latter figure, let us take the figures given for Perm Gubernia in the Collection of Data on Factory Industry in Russia (published by the Department of Commerce and Manufactures). As the figures vary considerably from year to year, we shall take the average for seven years (1885-91). The result for Perm Gubernia is 885 “factories and works” (as understood by the official statistics), with an aggregate output of 22,645,000 rubles and a total of 13,006 wage-workers, which gives us an “average” of 14.6 workers per factory.

In confirmation of their opinion that the large establishments are of no great significance, the compilers of the Sketch refer to the fact that very few (8%) of the number of wage-workers employed by the handicraftsmen are employed by the year, the majority being piece-workers (37%), seasonal workers (30%) and day labourers (25%, p. 51). The piece-workers “usually work in their own homes with their own implements and maintain themselves,” while the day labourers are engaged “temporarily,” like agricultural labourers. That being the case, “we cannot regard the relatively large number of wage-workers as unquestionable proof that these establishments are of the capitalist type” (56). . . . “It is our conviction that neither the piece-workers, nor the day labourers in general constitute the cadres of a working class similar to the West-European proletariat; only those who work regularly throughout the year can form these cadres.”

All praise to the Perm Narodniks for their interest in the relation between the Russian wage-workers and the “West-European proletariat.” The question is an interesting one, there’s no gainsaying that! Nevertheless, from statisticians we would have preferred to hear statements based on fact, and not on “conviction.” For, after all, the mere utterance of one’s “conviction” will not always convince others. . . . Would it not have been better to give more facts, instead of telling the reader about the “convictions” of Mr. X or Mr. Y? How incredibly few facts on the position of the wage-workers, working conditions, working hours in the establishments of various size, the families of the wage-workers, etc., are given in the Sketch. If the only purpose of the argument on the difference between the Russian workers and the West-European proletariat was to hide this omission, we should have to retract our praise. . . .

All we learn about wage-workers from the Sketch is their division into four categories: annual, seasonal, piece and day workers. To get some idea of these categories, we have to turn to the data scattered throughout the book. The number of workers in each category and their earnings are given for 29 industries (out of 43). In these 29 industries there are 4,795 wage-workers, earning a total of 233,784 rubles. In all the 43 industries, there are 4,904 wage-workers   with aggregate earnings amounting to 238,992 rubles. Thus, our summary embraces 98% of the wage-workers and their earnings. Here, en regard,[4] are the figures of the Sketch[5] and of our summary:


TRAPPED INSIDE JPEG: wage-workers[6]

In the Sketch summary there are either mistakes or misprints. But that is by the way. The point of chief interest is the data on earnings. The earnings of the piece-workers, of whom the Sketch says that “essentially, piece-work is the nearest stage on the road to economic independence” (p. 51—also, no doubt, “according to our conviction”?), are considerably lower than those of the worker employed by the year. If the statement of the statisticians that the master usually finds board for the annual worker, whereas the piece-worker has to find his own, is based on fact and not merely on “conviction,” the difference will be even greater. The Perm master handicraftsmen have chosen a queer way to place their workers on the “road to independence”! It consists in lowering wages. . . . The fluctuations in the working season, as we shall see, are not big enough to explain this difference. Further, it is very interesting to note that a day labourer’s earnings equal 66.7% of an annual worker’s. Hence, each day labourer is occupied on an average for about eight months in the year. Obviously, it would be far more correct to refer to this as a “temporary” diversion from industry (if the day labourers are really diverted   from industry of their own accord, and not because the master does not furnish them with work), than as the “predominance of the seasonal element in wage-labour” (p 52).


[1] Computed from the data in the Sketch (p. 54 and total number of wage-workers). —Lenin

[2] The overwhelming majority of our “factories” (so called in the official statistics), actually 15,000 out of 23,000, employ less than 16 workers. See Directory of Factories for 1890. —Lenin

[3] We shall presently give data showing the distribution of establishments according to net income. We learn that the aggregate net income of 2,376 establishments with the lowest income (up to 50 rubles) = 77,900 rubles, while that of 80 establishments with the highest income = 83,150 rubles. The average per “establishment,” therefore, is 32 rubles and 1,039 rubles respectively. —Lenin

[4] For purposes of comparison.—Ed.

[5] P. 50. The Sketch does not summarise the figures for earnings. —Lenin

[6] The earnings of an annual worker are taken as 100. —Lenin

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