V. I.   Lenin

The Handicraft Census of 1894-95 in Perm Gubernia and General Problems of “Handicraft” Industry



“Communal-Labour Continuity”

The data collected by the handicraft census which indicate the foundation dates of practically all the establishments investigated are of great interest. Here are the general data on the subject:


Thus, we see that the post-Reform period has stimulated a big development in handicraft industry. It seems the conditions favouring this development have been and are operating with ever-growing force as time goes on, since each succeeding decade has witnessed the opening of more and more establishments. This fact is clear evidence of the intensity with which the development of commodity production, the separation of agriculture from industry, and the growth of commerce and industry in general are proceeding among the peasantry. We say “separation of agriculture from industry,” for this separation begins earlier than the separation of the agriculturists from the industrialists: every enterprise which produces for the market gives rise to exchange between agriculturists and industrialists. Hence, the appearance of such an enterprise implies that the agriculturists cease to produce articles in their homes and purchase them in the market, and to make such purchases the peasant has to sell agricultural produce. The growing number of commercial and industrial establishments thus   implies a growing social division of labour, the general basis of commodity economy and of capitalism.[1]

The opinion has been expressed in Narodnik literature that the rapid development of small production in industry since the Reform is not a phenomenon of a capitalist nature. The argument is that the growth of small production proves its strength and vitality, as compared with large-scale production (Mr. V. V.). This argument is absolutely false. The growth of small production among the peasantry signifies the appearance of new industries, the conversion of new branches of raw material processing into independent spheres of industry, progress in the social division of labour, the initial process of capitalist development, while the swallowing-up of small by large establishments implies a further step forward by capitalism, leading to the triumph of its higher forms. The spread of small establishments among the peasantry extends commodity economy and prepares the ground for capitalism (by creating petty masters and wage-labourers), while the swallowing-up of small establishments by manufactories and factories implies that big capitalism is utilising ground that has been prepared. The simultaneous existence of these two, seemingly contradictory, processes in one country actually has nothing contradictory in it: it is quite natural that in a more developed part of the country, or in a more developed sphere of industry, capitalism should progress by drawing small handicraftsmen into the mechanised factory, while in more remote regions, or in backward branches of industry, the process of capitalist development is only in its initial stage and manifests itself in the appearance of new branches and new industries. Capitalist manufacture “conquers but partially the domain of national production, and always rests on the handicrafts of the town and the domestic industry of the rural districts as its ultimate basis (Hintergrund ). If it destroys these in one form, in particular branches, at certain points, it calls them up again elsewhere. . .” (Das Kapital, I2, S. 779).[2]

The figures showing the dates the establishments were founded are also inadequately treated in the Sketch : all the information given is for uyezds, and not for groups or sub-groups; nor is there any other grouping (according to size of establishment, whether located in the centre of the industry or in the surrounding villages, etc.). Although they did not analyse the census data in accordance with their own system of groups and sub-groups, the Perm Narodniks here too found it necessary to treat the reader to sermons that are amazing for their ultra-Narodnik unctuousness and . . . absurdity. The Perm statisticians have made the discovery that in the “handicraft form of production” there prevails a specific “form of continuity” of establishments, namely, “communal-labour continuity,” whereas the system that prevails in capitalist industry is “property-inheritance continuity,” and that “communal-labour continuity organically converts the wage-worker into an independent master” (sic !), which finds expression in the fact that when the owner of an establishment dies and there are no family workers among the heirs, the industry passes to another family, “perhaps to that of a wage-worker employed in the very same establishment,” and also in the fact that “community land tenure guarantees the labour industrial independence of both the owner of a handicraft industrial establishment and his wage-worker” (pp. 7, 68, et al.).

We have no doubt that this “communal-labour principle of continuity in the handicraft industries,” as invented by the Perm Narodniks, will occupy a fitting place in the history of literature, alongside the sentimental theory of “people’s production” propounded by Messrs. V. V., N.-on, and others. Both theories are of the same mould, both embellish and distort the truth with the help of Manilovian phrases. Everybody knows that the establishments, materials, tools, etc., of the handicraftsmen are private property which is transmitted by inheritance, and not by some sort of communal law; that the village community in no way guarantees independence even in agriculture, let alone industry, and that the same economic struggle and exploitation goes on within the community as outside it. What has been turned into the special theory of the “communal-labour   principle” is the simple fact that the small master, owning very little capital, has to work himself, and that the wage-worker may become a master (if he is thrifty and abstemious, of course); examples of this are cited in the Sketch on p. 69. . . . All the theoreticians of the petty bourgeoisie have always consoled themselves with the fact that in small production a worker may become a master, and none of their ideals have ever gone beyond the conversion of the workers into small masters. The Sketch even makes an attempt to cite “statistical data confirming the principle of communal-labour continuity” (45). These data relate to the tanning industry. Out of 129 establishments, 90 (i.e., 70%) have been founded since 1870; yet in 1869 there were 161 handicraft tanneries (according to the “list of inhabited places”), while in 1895 there were 153. That is to say, tanneries have been transferred from some families to others—and this is regarded as the “principle of communal-labour continuity.” It would be absurd, of course, to argue against this anxiety to detect some special “principle” in the fact that small establishments are easily opened and just as easily shut down, freely pass from one hand to another, and so on. Let us only add, with regard to the tanning industry in particular, that, firstly, the dates of origin of the establishments indicate that this industry developed far more slowly than the other industries, and that, secondly, it is absolutely useless to compare 1869 with 1895, for the term “handicraft tannery” is constantly confused with the term “leather factory.” In the 1860s the overwhelming majority of the “leather factories” in Perm Gubernia (according to the factory statistics) had an output valued at less than 1,000 rubles (see the Ministry of Finance Yearbook, Part I, St. Petersburg, 1869. Tables and notes); in the 1890s establishments with an output of less than 1,000 rubles were, on the one hand, excluded from the list of factories, and the list of “handicraft tanneries,” on the other, happened to include many establishments with an output of over 1,000 rubles, some even with an out put of 5,000 rubles, 10,000 rubles and more (Sketch, p. 70, and pp. 149 and 150 of the tables). What is the use of comparing data for 1869 and 1895 when no definite distinction is made between handicraft and factory-type tanneries?   Thirdly, even if it were true that the number of tanneries has decreased, might this not mean that many small establishments have been closed down and that larger establishments have been gradually opened in their place? Are we to believe that such a “change” also confirms the “principle of communal-labour continuity”?

And the crowning incongruity is that all this sugary talk about the “communal-labour principle,” the “guarantee of communal-labour independence,” and the like, refers to the tanning industry, where the agriculturist handicraftsmen represent the purest type of petty bourgeois (see below), an industry which is highly concentrated in three large establishments (factories) that have been included in the list side, by side with the one-man handicraft and artisan establishments. Here are the figures showing this concentration:

In all, there are 148 establishments in this industry. Workers: 267 family + 172 wage-workers = 439; aggregate output = 151,022 rubles; net income = 26,207 rubles. Among these establishments there are 3 with 0 family workers + 65 wage-workers = 65. Value of output = 44,275 rubles; net income = 3,391 rubles (p. 70 of the text, and pp. 149 and 150 of the tables).

In other words, in three establishments out of 148 (“only 2.1%,” as the Sketch reassuringly puts it—p. 76) there is a concentration of nearly one-third of the total output of the “handicraft tanning industry,” yielding their owners thousands of rubles of income without their taking any part in production. We shall encounter many similar incongruities in relation to other industries, too. But in describing this industry, the authors of the Sketch paused, by way of exception, to discuss the three establishments mentioned. With regard to one of them we are told that the owner (an agriculturist!) “is apparently occupied exclusively in commerce, having his leather shops in the village of Beloyarskoye and the city of Ekaterinburg” (pp.76-77). This is a specimen of how capital invested in production combines with capital invested in commerce—a fact that should be noted by the authors of the Sketch, who depict “kulakdom” and commercial operations as something adventitious, divorced from production! In another establishment, the family   consists of five males, not one of whom works at the trade “the father is engaged in commercial operations connected with his industry, and the sons (varying in age from 18 to 53), all of them educated, have apparently taken to other and more congenial pursuits than transferring hides from one vat to another and washing them” (p. 77). The authors magnanimously concede that these establishments are “capitalist in character”—“but how far the future of these enterprises is ensured on the principle of transmission as inherited property is a question to which only the future can give its decisive answer” (76). How profound! “The future is a question to which only the future can give an answer.” The sacred truth! But does it warrant a distortion of the present?



[1] Consequently, if Mr. N.-on’s attacks on the “separation of industry from agriculture” were not the platonic lamentations of a romanticist, he should also bewail the appearance of every handicraft establishment. —Lenin

[2] Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Moscow, 1958, p. 748.

  The “Handicraftsman” and Wage-Labour | The Agriculture of “Handicraftsmen”  

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