Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter V. The First Stages of Capitalism in Industry

II. Small Commodity-Producers In Industry. The Craft Spirit In The Small Industries

We have seen that the artisan appears on the market, although not with the wares he produces. Naturally, once he comes into contact with the market, he begins in time to produce for the market, i.e., becomes a commodity producer. This transition takes place gradually, at first as an experiment: goods are sold which are left on his hands by chance, or are produced in his spare time. The gradualness of the transition is heightened by the fact that the market for wares is at first extremely restricted, so that the distance between the producer and the consumer increases very slightly, and the product passes as hitherto directly from the producer to the consumer, its sale sometimes being preceded by its exchange for agricultural produce.[1] The further development of commodity production is expressed in the expansion of commerce in the appearance of specialist merchants, buyers-up; the market for wares is not the small village bazaar or the district fair,[2] but the whole region, then the whole country, and sometimes even other countries. The production of industrial wares in the shape of commodities is the first step to the separation of industry from agriculture, and to mutual exchange between them. Mr. N.-on, with his characteristically stereotyped and abstract way of understanding things, limits himself to declaring that the “separation of industry from agriculture” is a quality of “capitalism” in general, without taking the trouble to examine either the different forms of this separation or the different stages of capitalism. It is important to note, therefore, that commodity production on the smallest scale in the peasant industries already begins to separate industry from agriculture, although at that stage of development the industrialist does not, in the majority of cases, separate from the agriculturist. Later on we shall show how the more developed stages of capitalism lead to the separation of industrial from agricultural enterprises, to the separation of industrial workers from agriculturists.

In the rudimentary forms of commodity production, competition among the “handicraftsmen” is still very slight, but as the market expands and embraces wide areas, this competition grows steadily stronger and disturbs the small industrialist’s patriarchal prosperity, the basis of which is his virtually monopolist position. The small commodity-producer feels that his interests, as opposed to the interests of the rest of society, demand the preservation of this monopolist position, and he therefore fears competition. He exerts every effort, individually and with others, to check competition, “not to let” rivals into his district, and to consolidate his assured position as a small master possessing a definite circle of customers. This fear of competition so strikingly reveals the true social nature of the small commodity-producer that we think it necessary to examine the relative facts in greater detail. In the first place, let us quote an example relative to handicraft. The Kaluga sheepskin dressers go off to other gubernias to treat sheepskins; this industry has declined since the abolition of serfdom; the landlords, when they released serfs for “sheepskinning,” in return for a sizable tribute, took great care that the sheepskinners knew their “definite places” and did not permit other dressers to invade their districts. Organised on these lines the industry was so profitable that “places” were transferred for as much as 500 and 1,000 rubles, and if an artisan came to a district other than his own, it sometimes led to sanguinary clashes. The abolition of serfdom undermined this medieval prosperity: “the convenience of railway travel in this case also aids competition.”[3] One of the phenomena of the same type observed in a number of industries and bearing fully the character of a general rule, is the desire of the small industrialists to keep technical inventions and improvements secret, to conceal profitable occupations from others, in order to stave off “fatal competition.” Those who establish a new industry or introduce some improvement in an old one, do their utmost to conceal these profitable occupations from their fellow-villagers and resort to all sorts of devices for this purpose (e.g., as a make-believe they keep the old arrangements in the establishment), let no one enter their workshops, work in garrets and say nothing about their work even to their own children.[4] The slow development of the brush-making industry in Moscow Gubernia “is usually attributed to the present producers’ objection to having new competitors. It is said that they do all they can to conceal their work from strangers, and so only one producer has apprentices from outside.”[5] Concerning the village of Bezvodnoye, Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, famous for its metalware industry, we read the following: “It is remarkable that to this day” (the beginning of the 80s; the industry has existed since the beginning of the 50s) “the inhabitants of Bezvodnoye carefully conceal their craft from the neighbouring peasants. They have made more than one attempt to induce the volost administration to issue an instruction making it a punishable offence to carry the craft to another village; though they have failed to get this formality adopted, each of them seems to be morally bound by such an instruction, in virtue of which they refrain from giving their daughters in marriage to inhabitants of neighbouring villages, and as far as possible avoid taking girls in marriage from those villages.”[6]

The Narodnik economists have not only tried to obscure the fact that the bulk of the small peasant industrialists belong to the category of commodity-producers, but have even created quite a legend about some profound antagonism allegedly existing between the economic organisation of the small peasant industries and large-scale industry. The unsoundness of this view is also evident, by the way, from the above-quoted data. If the big industrialist stops at nothing to ensure himself a monopoly, the peasant engaging in “handicrafts” is in this respect his twin brother; the petty bourgeois endeavours with his petty resources to uphold substantially the same class interests the big manufacturer seeks to protect when he clamours for protection, bonuses, privileges, etc.[7]


[1] E.g., the exchange of earthenware utensils for grain, etc. When grain was cheap the equivalent of a pot was sometimes considered to be the amount of grain the pot would hold. Cf. Reports and Investigations, I, 340.—Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, V, 140.—Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, I, 61.—Lenin

[2] An investigation of one of these country fairs showed that 31% of the total turnover (about 15,000 rubles out of 50,000 rubles) was accounted for by “handicraft” goods. See Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, I, 38. How restricted the market is at first for the small commodity-producers is seen, for example, from the fact that the Poltava boot-makers sell their wares within a radius of some 60 vorsts from their village, Reports and Investigations, I, 287.—Lenin

[3] Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, I, 35-36.—Lenin

[4] See Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, I, 81. V, 460; IX, 25-26.—Industries of Moscow Gubernia, Vol. VI, Pt. 1, 6-7; 253; Vol. VI, Pt. 2, 142; Vol. VII, Pt. 1, Sec. 2 about the founder of the “printing industry.”Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, I, 145, 149.—Reports and Investigations, 1, 89.—Grigoryev: Handicraft Lock- and Cutlery-Making in Pavlow District (Supplement to Volga publication, Moscow, 1881), p. 39.—Mr V. V. cited some of these facts in his Essay on Handicraft Industry (St. Petersburg, 1886), p. 192 and foll.; the only conclusion he draws from them is that the handicraftsmen are not afraid of innovations; it never enters his head that these facts characterise the class position and the class interests of the small commodity-producers in contemporary society.—Lenin

[5] Industries of Moscow Gubernia, VI, 2, 193.—Lenin

[6] Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, IX, 2404.—Lenin

[7] Sensing that competition will be fatal to him, the petty bourgeois strives to stave it off, just as his ideologist, the Narodnik, senses that capitalism is fatal to the “foundations” so dear to his heart, and for that reason strives to “avert,” to prevent, to stave off, etc., etc.—Lenin

  I. Domestic Industry And Handicrafts | III. The Growth of Small Industries After the Reform. Two Forces of This Process and its Significance  

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