V. I.   Lenin

Impoverishment in Capitalist Society

Published: Pravda No. 181, November 30, 1912. Signed: V.. Published according to the Pravda text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1975], Moscow, Volume 18, pages 435-436.
Translated: Stepan Apresyan
Transcription\Markup: R. Cymbala
Public Domain: Lenin Internet Archive (2004). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
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Bourgeois reformists, who are echoed by certain opportunists among the Social-Democrats, assert that there is no impoverishment of the masses taking place in capitalist society. “The theory of impoverishment” is wrong, they say, for the standard of living of the masses is improving, if slowly, and the gulf between the haves and have-nots is narrowing, not widening.

The falsity of such assertions has lately been revealed to the masses more and more clearly. The cost of living is rising. Wages, even with the most stubborn and most successful strike movement, are increasing much more slowly than the necessary expenditure of labour power. And side by side with this, the wealth of the capitalists is increasing at a dizzy rate.

Here are some data on Germany, where the workers’ condition is far better than in Russia, thanks to a higher standard of culture, to freedom of strikes and association, to political liberty, to the millions of trade unionists and the millions of readers of workers’ newspapers.

According to data furnished by bourgeois sociologists, who draw on official sources, wages in Germany have increased by an average of 25 per cent during the past 30 years. In the same period, the cost of living has gone up by at least 40 per cent!!

Food, clothing, fuel and rent have all become more expensive. The worker is becoming impoverished absolutely, i.e., he is actually becoming poorer than before; he is compelled to live worse, to eat worse, to suffer hunger more, and to live in basements and attics.

But the relative impoverishment of the workers, i.e., the diminution of their share in the national income, is still more striking. The workers’ comparative share in capitalist society, which is fast growing rich, is dwindling because the millionaires are becoming ever richer.

There is no income tax in Russia, and no data are available on the growing wealth of the well-to-do classes of society. Our reality, which is even sadder, is shut off by a veil—the veil of ignorance and lack of publicity.

In Germany there are exact data on the wealth of the propertied classes. In Prussia, for example, the first 10,000 million marks (5,000 million rubles) of taxable property belonged to 4,853 persons in 1902 and to 1,108 in 1908.

The number of the very rich has diminished. Their wealth has increased—in 1902 each of them owned property worth 5,000,000 marks (2,500,000 rubies) on the average and in 1908, as much as 9,000,000 marks (4,500,000 rubles)!

People speak of the “upper 10,000”. In Prussia the “upper 21,000” rich owned property valued at 13,500 million marks, while the taxable property of the remaining 1,300,000 owners was worth only 3,000 million marks.

Four of the wealthiest millionaires in Prussia (one prince, one duke and two counts) owned property worth 149 million marks in 1907 and 484 million marks in 1908.

Wealth in capitalist society is growing at an incredible rate—side by side with the impoverishment of the mass of the workers.


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