Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter VI. Capitalist Manufacture and Capitalist Domestic Industry

VII. Capitalist Domestic Industry as an Appendage of Manufacture

Capitalist domestic industry – i.e., the processing at home, for payment by the piece, of raw materials obtained from an entrepreneur – is also met with, as indicated in the preceding chapter, in the small peasant industries. Later we shall see that it is met with again (and on a large scale) alongside the factory, i.e., large-scale machine industry. Thus, capitalist domestic industry is met with at all stages of the development of capitalism in industry, but is most characteristic of manufacture. Both the small peasant industries and large-scale machine industry manage very easily without domestic industry. The manufactory period, however, of capitalist development, with its characteristic retention of the worker’s connection with the land, and with an abundance of small establishments around big ones – can be imagined with difficulty, or hardly at all, without the distribution of home work.[1] And the facts of Russia do indeed show, as we have seen, that in the industries organised on the lines of capitalist manufacture the distribution of home work is particularly widespread. That is why we think it most appropriate to examine in precisely this chapter the characteristic features of capitalist domestic industry, although some of the examples quoted below cannot be assigned specifically to manufacture.

Let us point, first of all, to the multitude of middlemen between the capitalist and the worker in domestic industry. The big entrepreneur cannot himself distribute materials to hundreds and thousands of workers, scattered sometimes in different villages; what is needed is the appearance of middle-men (in some cases even of a hierarchy of middle-men) to take the materials in bulk and distribute them in small quantities. We get a regular sweating system,[2] a system of the severest exploitation: the “subcontractor” (or “workroom owner,” or “tradeswoman” in the lace industry, etc., etc.), who is close to the worker, knows how to take advantage even of specific cases of his distress and devises such methods of exploitation as would be inconceivable in a big establishment, and as absolutely preclude all possibility of control or supervision.[3]

Alongside the sweating system, and perhaps as one of its forms, should be placed the truck system[4] --the system of payment in provisions–which is prohibited in factories, but continues to reign in handicraft industries, especially where the work is distributed to homes. Above, in describing the various industries, instances were given of this widespread practice.

Further, capitalist domestic industry inevitably entails extremely insanitary working conditions. The utter poverty of the worker, the utter impossibility of controlling working conditions by regulations of any kind, and the combination of the living and working premises, such are the conditions that convert the dwellings of the home workers into hotbeds of infection and occupational disease. In the large establishments one can fight such things; domestic industry, however, is in this respect the most “liberal” form of capitalist exploitation.

An excessively long working day is also an essential feature of domestic work for the capitalist and of the small industries in general. Instances have been given illustrating the comparative length of the working day in the “factories” and among the “handicraftsmen.”

The drawing of women and of children of the tenderest age into production is nearly always observed in domestic industry. To illustrate this, let us cite some facts from a description of the women’s industries of Moscow Gubernia. There are 10,004 women engaged in cotton winding; children start work at the age of 5 or 6 (!); daily earnings are 10 kopeks, yearly 17 rubles. The working day in the women’s industries in general is as much as 18 hours. In the knitting industry children start work from the age of six, daily earnings are 10 kopeks, yearly 22 rubles. Altogether 37,514 females are employed in the women’s industries; they begin working from the age of 5 or 6 (in 6 out of 19 industries, which 6 industries account for 32,400 female workers); the average daily earnings are 13 kopeks, yearly 26 rubles 20 kopeks.[5]

One of the most pernicious aspects of capitalist domestic industry is that it leads to a reduction in the level of the worker’s requirements. The employer is able to recruit workers in remote districts where the popular standard of living is particularly low and where the worker’s connection with the land enables him to work for a bare pittance. For example, the owner of a village stocking establishment explains that in Moscow rents are high and that, besides, the knitters “have to be . . . supplied with white bread . . . whereas here the workers do the job in their own cottages and eat black bread. . . . Now how can Moscow compete with us!”[6] In the cotton-winding industry the explanation of the very low wages is that for the peasants’ wives, daughters, etc., this is merely a supplementary source of income. “Thus, the system prevailing in this trade forces down to the utmost limit the wages of those for whom it is the sole means of livelihood, reduces the wages of those who obtain their livelihood exclusively by factory labour below their minimum needs, or retards the raising of their standard of living. In both cases it creates extremely abnormal conditions.”[7] “The factory seeks cheap weavers,” says Mr. Kharizomenov, “and it finds them in their native villages, far from the centres of industry. . . . That wages drop steadily as one moves from the industrial centres to the outer regions is an undoubted fact.”[8] Hence, the employers are perfectly well able to take advantage of the conditions which artificially tie the population to the rural districts.

The isolation of the home workers is a no less pernicious aspect of this system. Here is a graphic description of this aspect of the matter, as given by buyers-up themselves: “The operations of both” (the small and the big buyers-up of nails from the Tver blacksmiths) “are organised according to one system – when they collect the nails, they pay partly in money and partly in iron, and to make the blacksmiths more tractable always have them working in their homes.”[9] These words provide a simple clue to the “vitality” of our “handicraft” industry!

The isolation of the home workers and the abundance of middle-men naturally lead to widespread bondage, to all kinds of personal dependence, which usually accompany “patriarchal” relationships in remote rural districts. Workers’ indebtedness to employers is extremely widespread in the “handicraft” industries in general, and in domestic industry in particular.[10] Usually the worker is not only a Lohnsklave but also a Schuldsklave.[11] Instances were given above of the conditions in which the worker is placed by the “patriarchal character” of rural relationships.[12]

Passing from the description of capitalist domestic industry to the conditions making for its spread, we must first make mention of the connection between this system and the tying of the peasant to his allotment. The lack of freedom of movement, the necessity of occasionally suffering monetary loss in order to get rid of land (when payments for the land exceed returns from it, so that a peasant who leases his allotment finds himself paying a sum to the lessee), the social-estate exclusiveness of the peasant community – all this artificially enlarges the sphere of application of capitalist home-work, artificially binds the peasant to these worst forms of exploitation. Obsolete institutions and an agrarian system that is thoroughly saturated with the social-estate principle thus exert a most pernicious influence in both agriculture and industry, perpetuating technically backward forms of production which go hand in hand with the greatest development of bondage and personal dependence, with the hardest lot and the most helpless position of the working people.[13]

Furthermore, there is also an undoubted connection between home-work for capitalists and the differentiation of the peasantry. Extensive incidence of home-work presupposes two conditions: 1) the existence of a mass of rural proletarians who have to sell their labour-power, and to sell it cheaply; 2) the existence of well-to-do peasants, well acquainted with local conditions, who can undertake the function of agents in distributing work. A salesman sent in by the merchant will not always be able to fulfil this function (particularly in the more or less complex industries) and will hardly ever be able to fulfil it with such “virtuosity” as can a local peasant, “one of themselves.”[14] The big entrepreneurs would probably be unable to carry out half their operations in distributing work to home workers if they did not have at their command a whole army of small entrepreneurs who can be trusted with goods on credit or on commission, and who greedily clutch at every opportunity of enlarging their small commercial operations.

Finally, it is extremely important to point to the significance of capitalist domestic industry in the theory of the surplus-population created by capitalism. No one has talked so much about the “freeing” of the Russian workers by capitalism as have Messrs. V. V., N.-on and other Narodniks, but none of them has taken the trouble to analyse the specific forms of the “reserve army” of labour that have arisen and are arising in Russia in the post-Reform period. None of the Narodniks has even noticed the trifling detail that home workers constitute what is, perhaps, the largest section of our “reserve army” of capitalism.[15] By distributing work to be done in the home the entrepreneurs are enabled to increase production immediately to the desired dimensions without any considerable expenditure of capital and time on setting up workshops, etc. Such an immediate expansion of production is very often dictated by the conditions of the market, when increased demand results from a livening up of some large branch of industry (e.g., railway construction), or from such circumstances as war, etc.[16] Hence, another aspect of the process which we described in Chapter II as the formation of an agricultural proletariat of millions, is, incidentally, the enormous development in the post-Reform period of capitalist domestic industry. “What has become of the hands released from the occupations of domestic, strictly natural economy, which had in view the family and the few consumers in the neighbouring market? The factories overcrowded with workers, the rapid expansion of large-scale domestic industry provide a clear answer” (Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, III, 20. Our italics). The figures given in the following section will show how great the number of workers employed by entrepreneurs in domestic industry must be in Russia today.


[1] In Western Europe also, as we know, the manufactory period of capitalism was distinguished by the extensive development of domestic industry – in the weaving industries for instance. It is interesting to note that in describing clock-making, which he cites as a classic example of manufacture, Marx points out that the dial, spring and case are rarely made in the manufactory itself, and that, in general, the detail worker often works at home (Das Kapital, 1, 2-te Aufl., S. 353-354).[17]Lenin

[2] These words are in English in the original.—Ed.

[3] That, incidentally, is why the factory fights such middle-men, as, for example, the “jobbers,” workers who hire workmen on their own account. Cf. Kobelyatsky: Handbook for Factory Owners, etc., St. Petersburg, 1897, p. 24 and foll. All the literature on the handicraft industries teems with facts testifying to the extreme exploitation of craftsmen by middle-men where work is distributed to homes. Let us cite as an example Korsak’s general opinion, loc. cit., .p. 258, the description of “handicraft” weaving (quoted above), the descriptions of the women’s industries in Moscow Gubernia (Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vols. VI and VII), and many others.—Lenin

[4] These words are in English in the original.—Ed.

[5] Mme. Gorbunova, who has described the women’s industries, wrongly gives the earnings as 18 kopeks and 37 rubles 77 kopeks respectively, for she takes only the average figures for each industry and leaves out of account the different numbers of women working in the different industries.[18]Lenin

[6] Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vol. VII, Pt. II, p. 104.—Lenin

[7] Ibid., p. 285.—Lenin

[8] Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, III, 63. Cf. ibid., 250.—Lenin

[9] Reports and Investigations, 1, 218. Cf. ibid., 280: statement by factory owner Irodov that he finds it more profitable to give out work to hand weavers working in their homes.—Lenin

[10] Examples of workers’ indebtedness to employers in the brush industry of Moscow Gubernia (Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vol. VI, Pt. I, p. 32), the comb industry (ibid., 261), the toy industry (Vol. VI, Pt. II, 44), the stone-setting industry, etc., etc. In the silk industry the weaver is up to his ears in debt to the factory owner, who pays his taxes and, in general, “rents the weaver as one rents land,” etc. (Industries of Vladimir Gubernia, III, 51-55).—Lenin

[11] Not only a wage-slave, but also a debt-slave.—Lenin

[12] “Of course,” we read of the blacksmiths of Nizhni-Novgorod Gubernia, “here, too, the master exploits the worker’s labour, but to a lesser degree (?), and moreover it is done patriarchally, as it were, by common consent (!) without any misunderstandings” (Transactions of the Handicraft Commission, IV, 199).—Lenin

[13] Of course, in all capitalist society there will always be a rural proletariat that agrees to take home-work on the worst terms; but obsolete institutions enlarge the sphere of application of domestic industry and hinder the struggle against it. Korsak, as far back as 1861, pointed to the connection between the tremendously widespread nature of domestic industry in Russia and our agrarian system (loc. cit., 305-307).—Lenin

[14] We have seen that the big master-industrialists, the buyers up, workroom owners and subcontractors are at the same time well to-do agriculturists. “The subcontractor,” we read, for example, in a description of galloon-weaving in Moscow Gubernia (Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vol. VI, Pt. II, p. 147), “is a peasant just like his weaver, but has a cottage, a horse and a cow more than the weaver has, and perhaps is able with his whole family to drink tea twice a day.”—Lenin

[15] This error of the Narodniks is all the more gross in that the majority of them want to follow the theory of Marx, who most emphatically stressed the capitalist character of “modern domestic industry” and pointed especially to the fact that these home workers constitute one of the forms of the relative surplus-population characteristic of capitalism. (Das Kapital, I2, S. S. 503 u. ff.; 668 u. ff.; Chapter 23, § 4 particularly.)[19]Lenin

[16] A small example. In Moscow Gubernia, the tailoring industry is widespread (Zemstvo statistics counted in the gubernia at the end of the 1870s a total of 1,123 tailors working locally and 4,291 working away from home); most of the tailors worked for the Moscow ready-made clothing merchants. The centre of the industry is the Perkhushkovo Volost, Zvenigorod Uyezd (see data on the Perkhushkovo tailors in Appendix I to Chapter V, Industry No. 36). The Perkhushkovo tailors did particularly well during the war of 1877. They made army tents to the order of special contractors; subcontractors with 3 sewing-machines and ten women day workers “made” from 5 to 6 rubles a day. The women were paid 20 kopeks per day. “It is said that in those busy days over 300 women day workers from various surrounding villages lived in Shadrino (the principal village in the Perkhushkovo Volost)” (Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia, Vol. VI, Pt. II, loc. cit., 256). “At that time the Perkhushkovo tailors, that is, the owners of the workshops, made so much money that nearly all of them built themselves fine homes” (ibid.). These hundreds of women day workers who, perhaps, would have a busy season once in 5 to 10 years, must always be available, in the ranks of the reserve army of the proletariat.—Lenin

[17] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 342-343. [p.442]

[18] The reference here is to M. K. Gorbunova’s Women’s Industries in Moscow Gubernia, Part IV (Statistical Returns for Moscow Gubernia. Section covering economic statistics, Vol. VII, Part II, Moscow, 1882). Introduction, p. IX. [p.444]

[19] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, pp. 478, etc., pp. 643, etc.; Chapter XXV, Section 4 particularly. [p.447]

  VI. Merchant’s and Industrial Capital In Manufacture. The “Buyer-Up” and the “Factory Owner” | VIII. What Is “Handicraft” Industry?  

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