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Book Review: Commercial and Industrial Russia

V. I. Lenin

Commercial and Industrial Russia. Handbook for Merchants and Factory Owners. Compiled under the editorship of A. A. Blau, Head of the Statistical Division of the Department of Commerce and Manufactures. St. Petersburg, 1899. Price 10 rubles.

The publishers of this gigantic tome set themselves the aim of "filling a gap in our economic literature" (p. i), that is, to give at one and the same time the addresses of commercial and industrial establishments throughout Russia and information on the "condition of the various branches of industry." No objection could be made to such a combination of reference and scientific-statistical material, were both the one and the other sufficiently complete. In the book named above, unfortunately, the directory completely overwhelms the statistical material, the latter being incomplete and insufficiently analysed. First of all, this publication compares unfavourably with previous publications of the same nature, since it does not give statistical data for each individual establishment or enterprise included in its lists. As a result. the lists of establishments and enterprises, occupying 2,703 huge columns of small print, lose all their scientific significance. In view of the chaotic state of our commercial and industrial statistics it is extremely important to have data precisely on each individual establishment or enterprise, since our official statistical institutions never make anything like a tolerable analysis of these data but confine themselves to announcing totals in which relatively reliable material is mixed up with absolutely unreliable material. We shall now show that this last; remark applies equally to the book under review; but first let us mention the following original method employed by the compilers. Printing the addresses of establishments and enterprises in each branch of production, they gave the number of establishments and the sum of their turnover for the whole of Russia only; they calculated the average turnover for one establishment in each branch and indicated with a special symbol those having a turnover greater or less than the average. It would have been much more to the purpose (if it was impossible to print information on each individual establishment) to fix a number of categories of establishments and enterprises that are similar for each branch of commerce and industry (according to the amount of turnover, the number of workers, the nature of the motive power, etc.) and to distribute all establishments according to these categories. It would then at; least have been possible to judge the completeness and comparability of the material for different gubernias and different branches of production. As far as factory statistics, for example, are concerned, it is enough to read the phenomenally vague definition of this concept on page 1 (footnote) of the publication under review and then glance over the lists of factory owners in some branches to become convinced of the heterogeneity of the statistical material published in the book. it is, therefore, necessary to exercise great caution in dealing with the summarised factory statistics in Section 1, Part I of Commercial and Industrial Russia (Historical Statistical Survey of Russian Industry and Trade). We read here that in 1896 (partly also in 1895) there were, throughout the Russian Empire, 38,401 factories with an aggregate out put of 2,745 million rubles, employing 1,742,181 workers; these data include excise-paying and non-excise-paying industries and mining and metallurgical enterprises. We are of the opinion that this figure cannot, without substantial verification, be compared with the figures of our factory statistics for previous years. In 1896 a number of branches of production were registered that formerly (until 1894-95) had not come under the heading of "factories": bakeries, fisheries, abattoirs, print-shops, lithograph shops, etc., etc. The value of the total output of all mining and metallurgical establishments in the Empire was fixed at 614 million rubles by original methods about which we are told only that the value of pig-iron is, apparently, repeated in the value of iron and steel. The total number of workers in the mining and metallurgical industries is, on the contrary, apparently underestimated: the figure for 1895-96 was given as 505,000. Either this is an error or many branches have been omitted. From the figures scattered throughout the book it can be seen that for only a few branches in this department the number of workers is 474,000, not including those engaged in coal-mining (about 53,000), salt-mining (about 20,000), stone-quarrying (about 10,000), and in other mining industries (about 20,000). There were more than 505,000 workers in all the mining and metallurgical industries of the Empire in 1890, and precisely these branches of production have developed particularly since that time. For example: in five branches of this division for which historical-statistical data are given in the text of the book (iron founding, wire drawing, machine building, gold- and copper-ware manufacturing) there were, in 1890, 908 establishments, with a total output valued at 77 million rubles and employing 69,000 workers, while in 1896 the figures were—1,444 establishments, with a total output valued at 221.5 million rubles, employing 147,000 workers. By assembling the historical-statistical data scattered throughout the book, which, unfortunately, do not cover all branches of production but only a certain number (cotton processing, chemical production, and more than 45 other branches), we can obtain the following information for the Empire as a whole. In 1890 there were 19,639 factories, with a total output valued at 929 million rubles, employing 721,000 workers, and in 1896 there were 19,162 factories, with a total output valued at 1,708 million rubles, employing 985,000 workers. If we add two branches subject to excise—beet-sugar and distilling— (1890-91—116,000 workers and 1895-96—123,000 workers), we get the number of workers as 837,000 and 1,108,000 respectively, an increase of nearly one-third in a period of six years. Note that the decrease in the number of factories is due to the differences in the registration of flour-mills: in 1890, among the factories, 7,003 mills were included (156 million rubles, 29,638 workers), while in 1896 only 4,379 mills (272 million rubles, 37,954 workers) were included.

Such are the data that can be extracted from the publication under review and which allow us to get some conception of the industrial boom in Russia in the nineties. It will be possible to deal with this question in greater detail when the full statistical data for 1896 have been published.

Written: Written in February 1899
Published: Published in March 1899 in the magazine Nachalo, No. 3.
Signed: Vl. Ilyin.
Published according to the text in the magazine.
Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1964, Moscow, Volume 4, pages 70-73.

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