V. I.   Lenin

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



“Gratifying Features” of Handicraft Industry

We might be accused of one-sidedness, of accentuating only the dark sides of handicraft industry, were we to pass over in silence the facts mentioned in the Sketch which are intended to stress its “bright side” and “gratifying features.”

We are told, for example, that wage-labour in handicraft industry has a character of its own, for here the wage worker lives in “close contact” with the master, and “may” himself become a master. The “gratifying feature” here, then, is the benign wish to turn all workers into small masters![1] Incidentally, not all—only some, for “the tendency to exploit the labour of others is undoubtedly characteristic of all men in general, including the handicraftsman” (Sketch, p. 6). This sentence is simply inimitable for the naïvetè with which “all men” are without further ado identified with the petty bourgeois! It is not surprising that those who look at the world through petty-bourgeois spectacles should discover such remarkable truths. On p. 268, a small factory employing   eight wage-workers and with an output of 10,000 rubles is proclaimed to be “by its labour situation (sic !) a handicraft enterprise in the strict sense of the term.” On pp. 272–74, we are told how another small manufacturer (employing seven wage-workers and five apprentices, and with an output of 7,000 rubles) erected a blast furnace on a site rented from a village community and applied to the Handicraft Bank for a loan of 5,000 rubles with which to erect a furnace, explaining that his “whole enterprise is of purely local interest, inasmuch as the ore will be mined on community allotments by the local peasants themselves.” The bank refused the loan for purely formal reasons. And the Sketch uses this as a peg on which to hang an attractive picture of the conversion of this enterprise into a co-operative: “this will undoubtedly please the employer, as one who has at heart the interests of the fellow community members around him and not only those of the industry.” The enterprise “embraces numerous labour interests of the fellow community members, who will be mining ore and felling timber and carrying them to the factory.” “Householders will deliver ore, charcoal, etc., to the factory, just as the womenfolk deliver milk to the public cheese factory. Of course, this presupposes a more complex organisation than that of a public cheese factory, especially if the local skilled and unskilled labourers are employed in running the business itself, that is, smelting iron from ore.” How idyllic! Manual labourers (“fellow community members”) will “deliver” ore, fuel and the rest “to the factory,” just as peasant women deliver milk to the cheese factory! We will not deny that the Handicraft Bank can (if its bureaucratic organisation does not prevent it) perform the same sort of service as other banks in developing commodity production and capitalism, but it would be very sad indeed if it were at the same time to develop the pharisaism and Manilov chit-chat of loan-seeking employers.

So far we have seen how enterprises employing large numbers of wage-workers have been proclaimed “handicraft” on the ground that their owners work themselves. But for petty bourgeois people this condition would be rather restrictive, and so the Sketch endeavours to expand it: it appears that an enterprise which “is conducted solely with the help of   wage-labour” may also be a handicraft enterprise, provided that its “success” depends upon the owner’s “personal participation” (p. 295), or even if the owners “are obliged to confine their participation to the various worries involved in running the industry” (p. 301). Our Perm Narodniks are making splendid “progress,” are they not? “Personal labour” — “personal participation”—“various worries.” Mein Liebchen, was willst du noch mehr?[2] [4] Wage-labour in the brick industry, it appears, yields “special advantages” (302) to the wage-labourers, whom the brick kilns provide with “supplementary earnings”; yet the owners of these kilns often experience “a shortage of money for the hire of workers.” The Sketch concludes that such owners should be granted credit facilities by the Handicraft Bank, “assigning such enterprises, according to a note to Article 7, point 3 of the Handicraft Bank Statutes, to specially deserving cases” (p. 302). Not very well put, but very impressive and portentous! “In conclusion,” we read at the end of the description of the brick industry, “we find sufficient grounds for declaring that among the peasants in the brick industry the interests of masters and wage-workers have so much in common that although no artels have been formally registered in this industry, actually there is a strong tie of companionship between the masters and their wage-workers” (305). We would refer the reader to the statistical picture of these “ties of companionship” given above. It is also a curious fact—as a specimen of the confusion existing in Narodnik economic concepts—that the Sketch defends wage-labour and paints it in rosy colours by asserting that the kulak is not a master employing wage-workers, but an owner of money capital who “exploits labour in the person of the master handicraftsman and his wage-workers”(!), and at the same time launches into the most irrational and immoderate defence of the kulaks: “kulakism, in whatever gloomy colours it may be painted, is so far a necessary wheel in the exchange mechanism of handicraft production. . . . Kulakism should undoubtedly be regarded as a blessing insofar as the successes of the handicraft industry are concerned, when compared with a situation under which the handicraftsman would be without work were   there no kulak or no finances available” (p. 8).[3] How long will this “insofar” last? If it were said that merchant and usury capital is a necessary factor in the development of capitalism, a necessary wheel in the mechanism of a poorly developed capitalist society (such as ours), that would be true. Thus interpreted, the word “insofar” would mean: insofar as the innumerable restrictions on freedom of industry and freedom of competition (especially among the peasantry) continue to preserve the most backward and most pernicious forms of capitalism in our country. Only we fear that this interpretation will not be to the liking of-the Perm or any other Narodniks!

Let us now go over to the artels, those most direct and most important expressions of the alleged community principles which the Narodniks insist on finding in the handicraft industries. It will be interesting to examine the handicraft household census data for the entire gubernia, a census whose programme specifically included the registration and study of artels (p. 14, point 2). We are accordingly in a position not only to acquaint ourselves with the various types of artels, but also to learn how widespread they are.

Take the oil-milling industry. “Domestic artels in the strict sense of the term”: in the villages of Pokrovskoye and Gavryata, two oil-mills are owned by five brothers, who have separated to form individual households, but who use the mills in turn. These facts are of “profound interest,” for “they throw light on the contract conditions of communal labour continuity in the handicraft industries.” Obviously, such domestic “artels are an important precedent to the spreading of factory-type industries among the handicraftsmen on co operative lines” (pp. 175-76). So then, the artel, in the strict sense of the term, as a precedent to co-operation and, as an   expression of the communal principle, consists in property held in common by unseparated heirs !! If that is so, then obviously the true palladium of the “communal principle” and “co-operation” is Roman civil law and Volume X of our code,[5] with its institutions of the condominium, i.e., property held in common by heirs and non-heirs!

“In the flour-milling industry ... the peasants’ artel spirit of enterprise found most vivid expression in peculiar domestic forms.” Many of the mills are jointly used by associations or even by whole villages. Use of the mills: the most widespread method is by rotation; then comes division of the net proceeds into shares proportionate to the expenses incurred by each partner; in “such cases the associated owners very rarely take part themselves in production which is usually done by wage-labour” (p. 181; the same is true of the pitch-boiling artels—p. 197). Truly an amazing peculiarity, and an amazing display of the artel principle—the common property of petty owners who jointly hire workers! On the contrary, the fact that the handicraftsmen use the mills, pitch-boiling plants and smithies in rotation testifies to the astonishing disunity of the producers, whom even common property cannot induce to work co-operatively.

“One of the forms of artel organisation” is the “artel smithies” (239). With the object of economising fuel, the master smiths jointly operate one smithy, hiring one labourer to work the bellows (economy in workers!) and renting both the premises and the hammer from the smithy owner in return for a special payment. And so, the hiring out of articles that are the private property of one person to others for money is “artel organisation”! Verily, Roman law fully deserves to be called the code of “artel organisation”! . . . “In the artel organisation . . . we find fresh evidence of the absence of class crystallisation in production among the handicraftsmen—evidence of the same merging of different strata of agriculturists and handicraftsmen that we observed in the case of the artel flour mills” (239). And after this, there are malicious persons who still dare to speak of the differentiation of the peasantry!

Hitherto, therefore, we have not had a single instance of handicraftsmen combining to buy raw materials or to market the product, not to mention combination in production   itself! Nevertheless, such combinations exist. The Perm Gubernia handicraft household census registers as many as four of them. They were all formed with the help of the Handicraft Bank—three in the vehicle-building trade, and one in the production of agricultural machines. One of the artels employs wage-labour (two apprentices and two hired “auxiliary” workers). In another, two partners use a smithy and a workshop belonging to a third partner, for which be receives special payment. They buy raw material and market the product in common, but they work in separate workshops (except in the case of the smithy and workshop rented for cash). Together, these four artels embrace 21 family workers. The Perm Handicraft Bank has functioned for several years. Let us assume that it will now “unite” (for the renting of a neighbour’s smithy) not 20, but 50 family workers a year. All the 15,000 handicraft family workers will then be “united” in “artel organisations” in exactly 300 years. And when that job is done, they will begin “to unite” the handicraftsmen’s wage-workers. . . . And the Perm Narodniks exult: “These cardinal economic conceptions, evolved by the independent workings of the handicraftsmen’s minds, serve as a firm pledge of the economic progress of industry among them, based on labour’s independence of capital, for these facts speak not only of an elemental, but of a fully conscious aspiration of the handicraftsmen for labour independence” (p. 333). Have mercy, gentlemen! It is impossible, of course, to picture Narodism without Manilovian phrase-mongering, but, after all, there’s a limit to everything! Not one of the artels, as we have seen, expresses the “principle of labour’s independence of capital”: they are all artels of masters and small masters, many of them employing wage-workers. There is no co-operation in these artels; even the joint purchase of raw materials and sale of the product is ridiculously rare and embraces a surprisingly insignificant number of masters. It may be safely said that there is no capitalist country in the world where a register of nearly 9,000 small establishments, with 20,000 workers, would reveal such astonishing dispersion and backwardness of the producers; where among the latter one would find only a score or so cases of property owned in common, and less than a dozen cases of three to five owners uniting to buy raw materials and sell the product! Such dispersion   would be the surest indication of unrelieved economic and cultural stagnation, if we did not, fortunately, see that capitalism is day by day uprooting patriarchal handicraft, with the parochialism of its small self-sufficing proprietors, and breaking down the small local markets (on which small production depends), replacing them by the national and the world market, compelling the producers, not only of a village like Gavryata, but of a whole country, and even of several countries, to enter into association with each other, forming associations that are no longer merely of masters, big and small, and confronting them with far wider problems than that of buying timber or iron more cheaply, or selling nails or carts more profitably.


[1] Not a word is said as to how this “close contact” reacts on the system and correctness of payment, the methods of hire, the enslavement of the worker, the truck system [these words are in English in the original. —Ed.], and so on. —Lenin

[2] What more would you have, my dear? —Ed.

[3] We find the same idea expressed in Handicraft Industries, I, p. 39, et. seq., in a controversy with the newspaper Dyelovoi Korrespondent,[6] which said that the kulaks (masters of assembly workshops in the chest-making industry) should not be included in the Handicraft Section. “Our entire handicraft industry,” we read in reply, “is in bondage to private capital, so that if only those handicraftsmen who trade in their own goods were included in the Handicraft Section it would be as empty as an eggshell.” A highly significant admission, is it not? Using the data of the census, we have shown above the meaning of this “bondage to private capital” which holds the handicraft industries in its grip. —Lenin

[4] Lenin quotes from Heine’s poem “Du hast Diamanten und Perlen . . .” (“Thou hast diamonds and pearls”).

[6] Dyelovoi Korrespondent (Business Correspondent )—a commercial and industrial newspaper that appeared in Ekaterinburg (now Sverdlovsk) from 1886 to 1898. Its columns contained informative items, announcements, articles on economic problems, and reviews.

[5] Vol. X, part I, of the Code of Laws of the Russian Empire.

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