Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter VI. Capitalist Manufacture and Capitalist Domestic Industry

V. The Economic Structure of Manufacture

In all the industries organised on the lines of manufacture that we have examined, the vast mass of the workers are not independent, are subordinated to capital, and receive only wages, owning neither raw material nor finished product. At bottom, the overwhelming majority of the workers in these “industries” are wage-workers, although this relationship never achieves in manufacture the completeness and purity characteristic of the factory. In manufacture, merchant’s capital is combined with industrial capital, is interwoven with it in the most diverse ways, and the dependence of the operative on the capitalist assumes a host of forms and shades, from work for hire in another person’s workshop, to work at home for a “master,” and finally to dependence in the purchase of raw material or in the sale of the product. Under manufacture, side by side with the mass of dependent workers, there always remains a more or less considerable number of quasi-independent producers. But all this diversity of forms of dependence merely covers up the main feature of manufacture, the fact that the split between the representatives of labour and of capital is already manifested in full force. By the time the emancipation of the peasants took place this split in the larger centres of Russian manufacture had already been sealed by a continuity of several generations. In all the “industries” above examined we see a mass of people whose only means of livelihood is to work in a condition of dependence upon members of the propertied class; on the other hand, we see a small minority of well-to-do industrialists who control (in one form or another) nearly the whole industry of the given district. It is this fundamental fact that imparts to our manufacture a pronounced capitalist character, as distinct from the preceding stage. Dependence on capital and work for hire existed then too, but it had not yet taken definite shape, had not yet embraced the mass of industrialists, the mass of the population, had not given rise to a split among the various groups of individuals participating in production. Moreover, production itself in the preceding stage still preserves its small dimensions – the difference between the master and the worker is relatively small – there are scarcely any big capitalists (who always head manufacture) – nor are there any workers tied to a single operation and thereby tied to capital, which combines these detailed operations into a single mechanism of production.

Here is an old writer’s evidence which strikingly confirms this characterisation of the data cited by us above: “In the village of Kimry, as in other so-called rich Russian villages, Pavlovo, for example, half the population are beggars who live entirely on alms. . . . If an operative falls sick, and moreover lives alone, he risks going the next week without a crust of bread.”[1]

Thus, the main feature of the economy of Russian manufacture was already fully revealed by the 60s – the contrast between the “wealth” of a whole number of “celebrated” “villages” and the complete proletarisation of the overwhelming majority of “handicraftsmen.” Connected with this feature is the circumstance that the most typical workers in manufacture (namely, artisans who have entirely or virtually broken with the land) are already gravitating towards the next, and not the preceding, stage of capitalism, that they stand closer to the worker in large-scale machine industry than to the peasant. The above-quoted data on the cultural level of the handicraftsmen are striking proof of this. But that description cannot be extended to the whole mass of the working personnel in manufacture. The retention of a vast number of small establishments and small masters, the retention of connection with the land and the exceedingly extensive development of work in the home – all this leads to large numbers of “handicraftsmen” in manufacture gravitating still towards the peasantry, towards becoming small masters, towards the past and not the future,[2] and clinging to all sorts of illusions about the possibility (by supreme exertion, by thrift and resource fullness) of becoming independent masters.[3] Here is a remarkably fair appraisal of these petty-bourgeois illusions given by an investigator of the “handicraft industries” of Vladimir Gubernia:

“The final victory of large-scale industry over small industry, the bringing together of the workers, scattered in numerous work rooms, within the walls of a single silk mill, is only a matter of time, and the sooner this victory is achieved the better it will be for the weavers.
“Characteristic of the present organisation of the silk industry are the instability and indefiniteness of economic categories, the struggle between large-scale production, and small production and agriculture. This struggle drags the small master and the weaver into fevers of excitement, yielding them nothing but divorcing them from the land, dragging them into debt and overwhelming them in periods of depression. Concentration of production will not reduce the weaver’s wages, but will make it unnecessary to entice workers and intoxicate them, to attract them with advances that do not correspond to their annual earnings. With the diminution of mutual competition factory owners lose interest in expending considerable sums on involving the weaver in debt. Moreover, large-scale production so clearly counterposes the interests of the factory owner and the workers, the wealth of the one and the poverty of the others, that the weaver cannot develop the desire to become a factory owner himself. Small production gives the weaver no more than large-scale production does, but it lacks the stability of the latter and for that reason corrupts the worker much more deeply. False hopes arise in the mind of the handicraft weaver, he looks forward to the opportunity of setting up his own loom. To achieve this ideal he strains himself to the utmost, falls into debt, steals, lies, regards his fellow-weavers not as friends in misfortune, but as enemies, as competitors for the very wretched loom that he sees in his mind’s eye in the remote future. The small master does not understand his economic insignificance; he cringes to the buyers-up and the factory owners, hides from his fellow-weavers where and on what terms he buys his raw materials and sells his product. Imagining that he is an independent master, he becomes a voluntary and wretched tool, a plaything in the hands of the big traders. No sooner does he succeed in dragging himself out of the mire, in acquiring three or four looms, than he begins to talk about the troubles of the employer, the laziness and drunkenness of the weavers, about the necessity of insuring the factory owner against non-payment of debts. The small master is the incarnation of industrial servility, just as in the good old days the butler and the housekeeper were the incarnation of serf servility. So long as the instruments of production are not entirely divorced from the producer and the latter still has opportunities of becoming an independent master, so long as the economic gulf between the buyer-up and the weaver is bridged by proprietors, small masters and middle-men, who direct and exploit the lower economic categories and are subject to the exploitation of the upper ones, the social consciousness of those who work is obscured and their imagination is distorted by fictions. Competition arises where there should be solidarity, and the interests of what are really antagonistic economic groups are united. Not confining itself to economic exploitation, the present organisation of silk production finds its agents among the exploited and lays upon them the task of obscuring the minds and corrupting the hearts of those who work” (Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, Vol. III, pp. 124-126).


[1] N. Ovsyannikov, “Relation of the Upper Volga Area to the Nizhni-Novgorod Fair.” Article in Nizhni-Novgorod Handbook, Vol. II (Nizhni-Novgorod, 1869). The author bases himself on data for Kimry village for 1865. This author supplements his review of the fair with a description of the social and economic relations in the industries represented there.—Lenin

[2] Exactly like their Narodnik ideologists.—Lenin

[3] For isolated heroes of individual endeavour (such as Duzhkin in V. Korolenko’s Pavlovo Sketches ) this is still possible in the period of manufacture, but, of course, not for the mass of propertyless workers who perform a single operation.—Lenin

  IV. The Territorial Division of Labour and the Separation of Agriculture From Industry | VI. Merchant’s and Industrial Capital In Manufacture. The “Buyer-Up” and the “Factory Owner”  

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