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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

The character of capitalism

Vladimir Lenin at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, painting, Sergei Arsenevich Vinogradov

Back in 1903 the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party -- that, of course, went on to become the Bolsheviks and eventually the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- held its Second Congress at which it adopted it first programme. In the lead up to this was written this still remarkable, concise characterization of capitalism.

From Socialism: Theory and Practice 1985: A concise but deep characterization of capitalism–just six paragraphs. less than two printed pages–was the starting point of the first Party Programme drawn up in 1901-1902 by the lskra Editorial Board with the participation of V. I. Lenin, This characterization has become classical in Marxist literature It is the most condensed but all-round and comprehensive generalization of the laws and tendencies of capitalist development. It was fully relevant at the subsequent stages of the struggle and today it is as topical and pressing as at the time of writing.


The main distinguishing feature of bourgeois society is commodity production on the basis of capitalist relations of production under which the most important and significant part of the means of production and circulation of commodities belongs to a numerically small class of people, while the vast majority of the population consists of proletarians and semi-proletarians compelled by their economic position constantly or periodically to sell their labour, i.e., to hire themselves out to the capitalists and by their labour to create incomes for the upper classes of society.

The sphere of domination of capitalist production relations is expanding more and more as the constant improvement of technology, augmenting the economic importance of big enterprises, leads to the ousting of small independent producers. turning a part of them into proletarians, narrowing the role of others in social and economic life and placing them here and there in a more or less complete, more or less obvious and more or less heavy dependence on capital.

The same technical progress. besides, enables the employers to apply female and child labour on a growing scale in the process of production and circulation of commodities. And, since, on the other hand. it leads to a relative decline of the employers’ requirement in direct labour, the demand for labour necessarily lags behind its supply as a result of which wage labour becomes more dependent on capital and the level of its exploitation rises.

This state of things in bourgeois countries and their constantly intensifying mutual rivalry on the world market increasingly impede the sales of commodities produced in constantly growing quantities. Overproduction manifested in more or less acute industrial crises followed by more or less long periods of industrial stagnation is an inevitable consequence of the growth of the productive forces in bourgeois society.

Thus, the improvement of technology, signifying an increase in labour productivity and growth of social wealth, conditions the growth of social inequality in bourgeois society. increase in the distance between the propertied and the propertyless and the growth of the insecurity of life. unemployment and various privations for ever broader strata of the toiling masses.

But as all these contradictions typical of bourgeois society are growing and developing, the discontent of the working and exploited masses with the existing order of things is growing too. the numbers and solidarity of proletarians are mounting and their struggle against the exploiters is intensifying. At the same time, the perfection of technology, concentrating the means of production and circulation and socializing the process of labour in capitalist enterprises, is ever more rapidly creating the material possibility for the replacement of capitalist relations of production with socialist relations.


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