Vladimir Ilyich Lenin


Chapter VIII. The Formation of the Home Market

VI. The “Mission” of Capitalism

We still have, in conclusion, to sum up on the question which in literature has come to be known as that of the “mission” of capitalism, i.e., of its historical role in the economic development of Russia. Recognition of the progressiveness of this role is quite compatible (as we have tried to show in detail at every stage in our exposition of the facts) with the full recognition of the negative and dark sides of capitalism, with the full recognition of the profound and all-round social contradictions which are inevitably inherent in capitalism, and which reveal the historically transient character of this economic regime. It is the Narodniks—who exert every effort to show that an admission of the historically progressive nature of capitalism means an apology for capitalism—who are at fault in underrating (and some times in even ignoring) the most profound contradictions of Russian capitalism, by glossing over the differentiation of the peasantry, the capitalist character of the evolution of our agriculture, and the rise of a class of rural and industrial allotment-holding wage-labourers, by glossing over the complete predominance of the lowest and worst forms of capitalism in the celebrated “handicraft” industries.

The progressive historical role of capitalism may be summed up in two brief propositions: increase in the productive forces of social labour, and the socialisation of that labour. But both these facts manifest themselves in extremely diverse processes in different branches of the national economy.

The development of the productive forces of social labour is to be observed in full relief only in the epoch of large-scale machine industry. Until that highest stage of capitalism was reached, there still remained hand production and primitive technique, which developed quite spontaneously and exceedingly slowly. The post-Reform epoch differs radically in this respect from previous epochs in Russian history. The Russia of the wooden plough and the flail, of the water-mill and the hand-loom, began rapidly to be transformed into the Russia of the iron plough and the threshing machine, of the steam-mill and the power-loom. An equally thorough transformation of technique is seen in every branch of the national economy where capitalist production predominates. This process of transformation must, by the very nature of capitalism, take place in the midst of much that is uneven and disproportionate: periods of prosperity alternate with periods of crisis, the development of one industry leads to the decline of another, there is progress in one aspect of agriculture in one area and in another aspect in another area, the growth of trade and industry outstrips the growth of agriculture, etc. A large number of errors made by Narodnik writers spring from their efforts to prove that this disproportionate, spasmodic, feverish development is not development.[1]

Another feature of the development by capitalism of the social productive forces is that the growth of the means of production (productive consumption) outstrips by far the growth of personal consumption: we have indicated on more than one occasion how this is manifested in agriculture and in industry. This feature springs from the general laws of the realisation of the product in capitalist society, and fully conforms to the antagonistic nature of this society.[2]

The socialisation of labour by capitalism is manifested in the following processes. Firstly, the very growth of commodity-production destroys the scattered condition of small economic units that is characteristic of natural economy and draws together the small local markets into an enormous national (and then world) market. Production for oneself is transformed into production for the whole of society; and the greater the development of capitalism, the stronger becomes the contradiction between this collective character of production and the individual character of appropriation. Secondly, capitalism replaces the former scattered production by an unprecedented concentration both in agriculture and in industry. That is the most striking and outstanding, but not the only, manifestation of the feature of capitalism under review. Thirdly, capitalism eliminates the forms of personal dependence that constituted an inalienable component of preceding systems of economy. In Russia, the progressive character of capitalism in this respect is particularly marked, since the personal dependence of the producer existed in our country (and partly continues to exist to this day), not only in agriculture, but in manufacturing industry (“factories” employing serf labour), in the mining and metallurgical industries, in the fishing industry, etc.[3] Compared with the labour of the dependent or bonded peasant, the labour of the hired worker is progressive in all branches of the national economy. Fourthly, capitalism necessarily creates mobility of the population, something not required by previous systems of social economy and impossible under them on anything like a large scale. Fifthly, capitalism constantly reduces the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture (where the most backward forms of social and economic relationships always prevail), and increases the number of large industrial centres. Sixthly, capitalist society increases the population’s need for association, for organisation, and lends these organisations a character distinct from those of former times. While breaking down the narrow, local, social-estate associations of medieval society and creating fierce competition, capitalism at the same time splits the whole of society into large groups of persons occupying different positions in production, and gives a tremendous impetus to organisation within each such group.[4] Seventhly, all the above-mentioned changes effected in the old economic system by capitalism inevitably lead also to a change in the mentality of the population. The spasmodic character of economic development, the rapid transformation of the methods of production and the enormous concentration of production, the disappearance of all forms of personal dependence and patriarchalism in relationships, the mobility of the population, the influence of the big industrial centres, etc.—all this cannot but lead to a profound change in the very character of the producers, and we have had occasion to note the corresponding observations of Russian investigators.

Turning now to Narodnik economics, with whose representatives we have constantly had to polemise, we may sum up the causes of our differences with them as follows. First, we cannot but regard as absolutely wrong the Narodniks’ very conception of the process of capitalist development in Russia, and their notion of the system of economic relationships that preceded capitalism in Russia; and what is particularly important, from our point of view, is their ignoring of the capitalist contradictions in the structure of peasant economy (both agricultural and industrial). Furthermore, whether the development of capitalism in Russia is slow or rapid, depends entirely on what we compare this development with. If we compare the pre-capitalist epoch in Russia with the capitalist (and that is the comparison which is needed for arriving at a correct solution of the problem), the development of social economy under capitalism must be considered as extremely rapid. If, however, we compare the present rapidity of development with that which could be achieved with the general level of technique and culture as it is today, the present rate of development of capitalism in Russia really must be considered as slow. And it cannot but be slow, for in no single capitalist country has there been such an abundant survival of ancient institutions that are incompatible with capitalism, retard its development, and immeasurably worsen the condition of the producers, who “suffer not only from the development of capitalist production, but also from the incompleteness of that development.”[5] Finally, perhaps the profoundest cause of disagreement with the Narodniks is the difference in our fundamental views on social and economic processes. When studying the latter, the Narodnik usually draws conclusions that point to some moral; he does not regard the diverse groups of persons taking part in production as creators of various forms of life; he does not set out to present the sum-total of social and economic relationships as the result of the mutual relations between these groups, which have different interests and different historical roles. . . . If the writer of these lines has succeeded in providing some material for clarifying these problems, he may regard his labours as not having been fruitless.


[1] “Let us see what the further development of capitalism could bring even if we succeeded in sinking Britain to the bottom of the sea and in taking her place” (Mr. N.–on, Sketches, 210). The cotton industry of Britain and America, which meets 2/3 of the world’s demand, employs only a little over 600,000 people all told. “And it follows, that even if we got a considerable part of the world market... capitalism would still be unable to exploit the whole mass of labouring people which it is now continuously depriving of employment. What, indeed, are some 600,000 British and American workers compared with millions of peasants left for months on end without employment?” (211).

“History has gone on till now, but goes on no longer.” Till now every step in the development of capitalism in the textile industry has been accompanied by the differentiation of the peasantry, by the growth of commercial agriculture and agricultural capitalism, by the diversion of population from agriculture to industry, by “millions of peasants” turning to building, lumbering and all sorts of other non-agricultural work for hire, by the migration of masses of people to the outer regions and by the conversion of these regions into a market for capitalism. All this, however, has only gone on till now; nothing of the sort occurs any longer!—Lenin

[2] His ignoring of the significance of the means of production and his careless attitude to “statistics” have led to the following utterly untenable statement by Mr. N.–on: “. . . all (!) capitalist production in the sphere of manufacturing industry at most produces new values to the amount of not more than 400 to 500 million rubles” (Sketches, 328). Mr. N.–on bases this calculation on the returns of the three-per-cent tax and the extra profits tax, without stopping to think whether such returns can cover “all capitalist production in the sphere of manufacturing industry.” Moreover, he takes returns which (on his own admission) do not cover the mining and metallurgical industries, and yet he includes in “new values” only surplus-value and variable capital. Our theoretician has forgotten that, in those branches of industry which produce goods for personal consumption, constant capital also represents new value for society and is exchanged for the variable capital and surplus-value of those branches of industry which produce means of production (mining and metallurgical industries, building, lumbering, railway construction, etc.). Had Mr. N.–on not confused the number of “factory” workers with the total number of workers capitalistically employed in manufacturing industry, he would easily have perceived the errors in his calculations.—Lenin

[3] For example, in one of the principal centres of the Russian fishing industry, the Murmansk coast, the “age-old” and truly “time hallowed” form of economic relationships was the “pokrut,”[6] which was already fully established in the 17th century and continued almost without change until recent times. “The relations between the pokrutmen and their masters are not limited to the time spent at the fisheries: on the contrary, they embrace the whole life of the pokrutmen, who are permanently dependent economically on their masters” (Material on Artels in Russia, Vol. II, St. Petersburg, 1874, p. 33). Fortunately, in this branch of industry also, capitalism is apparently marked by a “contemptuous attitude to its own historical past.” “Monopoly . . . is giving way to . . . the capitalist organisation of the industry with hired labourers” (Productive Forces, V, pp. 2-4).—Lenin

[4] Cf Studies, p. 91, footnote 85, p. 198. (See present edition, Vol. 2, “A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism.” –Ed.)—Lenin

[6] Pokrut—the form of economic relations that existed among members of artels engaged in hunting sea animals or fishing in the north of Russia; the means of production in the artel belonged to an employer to whom the workers were in bondage. The employer usually received two-thirds of the catch, and the workers only one-third. The workers were compelled to sell part of their catch to the employer at a low price, payment being made in goods, which was very much to the disadvantage of the workers. [p. 599]

[5] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 9. [p. 600]

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