Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter VIII. The Formation of the Home Market

III. The Growth of the Employment of Wage-Labour

In considering the development of capitalism, perhaps the greatest importance attaches to the extent to which wage-labour is employed. Capitalism is that stage in the development of commodity-production in which labour power, too, becomes a commodity. The main tendency of capitalism is to apply the sum-total of labour-power in the national economy to production only after it has been sold and has been purchased by the employers. Above, we made an attempt to show in detail how this tendency has manifested itself in post-Reform Russia; now, we must draw the necessary conclusions. Firstly, let us compute the data on the number of sellers of labour-power given in the preceding chapters and then (in the next section) describe the purchasers of labour-power.

The sellers of labour-power are provided by the country’s working population engaged in the production of material values. It is estimated that this population numbers about 15.5 million adult male workers.[1] In Chapter II we showed that the bottom group of the peasantry is nothing else than a rural proletariat; and we stated (p. 177, footnote) that the forms in which this proletariat sells its labour-power would be examined later. Let us now combine the categories of wage-workers previously enumerated: 1) agricultural wage-workers. These number about 3 1/2 million (in European Russia). 2) Factory, mining and railway workers—about 1 1/2 million. Total, five million professional wage-workers. Further: 3) building workers—about 1 million. 4) Lumber workers (tree-fellers, log trimmers, rafters, etc.), navvies, railway builders, goods loaders and unloaders, and in general all kinds of “unskilled” labourers in industrial centres. These number about 2 million.[2] 5) Workers occupied at home for capitalists, and also those working for wages in the manufacturing industries not included in “factory industry.” These number about 2 million.

Total—about ten million wage-workers. If we deduct the women and children, say one-fourth,[3] we get 7 1/2 million adult male wage-workers, i.e., about half the total adult male population that is engaged in the production of material values[4] in the country. Part of this vast mass of wage-workers have completely broken with the land, and live entirely by the sale of their labour-power. They include the great majority of factory (undoubtedly also of mining and railway) workers, then a section of the building and shipbuilding workers, and unskilled labourers; finally, a fairly large section of the workers employed in capitalist manufactories and the inhabitants of non-agricultural centres engaged in home work for capitalists. The other, and larger, section has not yet broken with the land, covers its expenditures in part with the produce that comes from farming tiny plots of land, and, consequently, forms the type of allotment-holding wage-worker which we attempted to describe in detail in Chapter II. In earlier remarks it was shown that this vast mass of wage-workers has been formed mainly in the post-Reform period and that it continues to grow rapidly.

It is important to note the significance of our conclusion regarding the relative surplus-population (or reserve army of unemployed) created by capitalism. The data regarding the total number of wage-workers in all branches of the national economy bring out very clearly the basic error committed by the Narodnik economists on this point. As we have had occasion to observe elsewhere (Studies, pp. 38–42),[5] this error lies in the fact that the Narodnik economists (Messrs. V. V., N.–on and others), who have talked a great deal about capitalism “freeing” the workers, have not thought of investigating the concrete forms of capitalist over-population in Russia; as well as in the fact that they failed completely to understand that the very existence and development of capitalism in this country require an enormous mass of reserve workers. By means of paltry phrases and curious calculations as to the number of “factory” workers,[6] they have transformed one of the basic conditions for the development of capitalism into proof that capitalism is impossible, is an error, is devoid of foundation, etc. Actually, however, Russian capitalism could never have developed to its present level, could not have survived a single year, had the expropriation of the small producers not created an army of many millions of wage-workers ready at the first call to satisfy the maximum demand of the employers in agriculture, lumbering, building, commerce and in the manufacturing, mining, and transport industries, etc. We say the maximum demand, because capitalism can only develop spasmodically, and consequently, the number of producers who need to sell their labour-power must always exceed capitalism’s average demand for workers. We have now estimated the total number of the various categories of wage-workers, but in doing so do not wish to say that capitalism is in a position to give regular employment to them all. There is not, nor can there be, such regularity of employment in capitalist society, whichever category of wage-worker we take. Of the millions of migratory and resident workers a certain section is constantly in the reserve army of unemployed, and this reserve army now swells to enormous dimensions—in years of crisis, or if there is a slump in some industry in a particular district, or if there is a particularly rapid extension of machine production, which displaces workers— and now shrinks to a minimum, even causing that “shortage” of labour which is often the subject of complaint by employers in some industries, in some years, in some parts of the country. It is impossible to determine even approximately the number of unemployed in an average year, owing to the complete absence of anything like reliable statistics; but there is no doubt that the number must be a very large one, as is evidenced by both the tremendous fluctuations in capitalist industry, trade and agriculture, to which repeated reference was made above, and by the usual deficits in the budgets of the bottom-group peasants recorded by Zemstvo statistics. The increase in the number of peasants thrown into the ranks of the industrial and rural proletariat, and the increase in the demand for wage-labour, are two sides of one medal. As for the forms of wage-labour, they are extremely diverse in n capitalist society still everywhere enmeshed in survivals and institutions of the pre-capitalist regime. It is a profound error to ignore this diversity of forms, and that is the error of those who, like Mr. V. V., argue that capitalism has “fenced off a corner for itself with some one to one-and-a-half million workers and never emerges from it.”[7] Here we have large-scale machine industry instead of capitalism. But how arbitrarily and how artificially are these million and a half workers fenced off into a special “corner” that is supposedly in no way connected with the remaining spheres of wage-labour! As a matter of fact, the connection is a very close one, and it will be sufficient, in order to characterise it, to mention two basic features of the present economic system. Firstly, this system is based on money economy. The “power of money” manifests itself in full force in both industry and agriculture, in both town and country, but it reaches its full development, completely eliminates the remnants of patriarchal economy, is concentrated in a few gigantic institutions (banks) and is directly connected with large-scale social production only in the sphere of large-scale machine industry. Secondly, the economic system of today is based on the purchase and sale of labour-power. If we take even the smallest producers in agriculture or in industry, we will find that the one who does not hire himself out, or himself hire others, is the exception. But here again, these relationships reach full development and become completely separated from previous forms of economy only in large scale machine industry. Hence, the “corner” which seems so small to some Narodnik actually embodies the quintessence of modern social relationships, and the population of this “corner,” i.e., the proletariat, is, in the literal sense of the word, the vanguard of the whole mass of toilers and exploited.[8] Therefore, only by examining the whole of the present economic system from the angle of the relationships that have grown up in this “corner” can one become clear about the main relations between the various groups of persons taking part in production, and, consequently, trace the system’s main trend of development. On the other hand, whoever turns his back on this “corner” and examines economic phenomena from the angle of petty patriarchal production, is turned by the march of history into either an innocent dreamer or an ideologist of the petty bourgeoisie and the agrarians.


[1] The figure given in the Combined Statistical Material, etc. (published by Chancellory of the Committee of Ministers, 1894), is 15,546,618. This figure was reached in the following way. The urban population was taken as equal to the population not participating in the production of material values. The adult male peasant population was reduced by 7% (4.5% on military service and 2.5% in civilian service).—Lenin

[2] Above we saw that lumber workers alone are estimated at about 2 million. The number of workers employed in the last two groups of occupations we have indicated should be larger than the total number of non-agricultural migratory workers, for part of the building workers, unskilled labourers, particularly lumber workers are local and not migratory workers. And we have seen that the number of non-agricultural migratory workers is not less than 3 million.—Lenin

[3] In factory industry, as we have seen, women and children constitute a little over 1/4 of the total number of workers. In the mining, building and lumber industries, etc., few women and children are employed. In capitalist domestic industry, on the other hand, they are probably more numerous than men.—Lenin

[4] To avoid misunderstanding, let us make the reservation that we do not claim these figures to be statistically exact. We merely wish to show approximately the diversity of the forms of wage-labour and the numbers of those engaged in it.—Lenin

[5] Cf. present edition, Vol. 2, “A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism.”—Ed.

[6] Let us recall the argument of Mr. N.–on about the “handful” of workers, and also the following, truly classic, calculation by Mr. V. V. (Essays on Theoretical Economics, p. 131). In the 50 gubernias of European Russia there are 15,547,000 adult male workers belonging to the peasant estate; of these, 1,020,000 (863,000 in factory industry + 160,000 railway workers) are “united by capital”; the rest are the “agricultural population.” With the “complete capitalisation of the manufacturing industries” “capitalist factory industry” will employ twice as many hands (13.3% in place of 7.6%, while the remaining 86.7% of the population “will remain on the land and be idle during half the year”). Obviously, comment could only spoil the impression created by this wonderful specimen of economic science and economic statistics.—Lenin

[7] Novoye Slovo, 1896, No. 6, p. 21.—Lenin

[8] Mutatis mutandis, the same may be said of the relation between wage-workers in large-scale machine industry and the rest of the wage-workers as the Webbs say of the relation between trade unionists in Britain and non-unionists: “The trade unionists number about 4 per cent of the total population . . . the trade unionists number about 20 per cent of the adult male manual working class.” But “Die Gewerkschaftler . . . zahlen . . . in der Regel die Elite des Gewerbes in ihren Reihen. Der moralische und geistige Einfluss, den sie auf die Masse ihrer Berufsgenossen ausuben, steht deshalb ausser jedem Verhaltniss zu ihrer numerischen Starke” (S. & B. Webb: Die Geschichte des britischen Trade Unionismus, Stuttgart, Dietz, 1895, S. S. 363, 365, 381) [“the trade unionists . . . include, as a general rule, the picked men in each trade. The moral and intellectual influence which they exercise on the rest of their class is, therefore, out of all proportion to their numbers.” (S. and B. Webb: The History of Trade Unionism, London, 1902, pp. 409, 411, 430). –Ed.]—Lenin

  II. The Growth of the Commercial and Industrial Population | IV. The Formation of a Home Market for Labour-Power  

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