a social form of labor characteristic of antagonistic social formations. The worker is forced to give up his surplus labor to the ruling classes without receiving compensation. Compulsory labor originates at a particular developmental stage of the means of production, when the conditions emerge for the exploitation of man by man—that is, when the increasing social division of labor and the consequent increase in the productivity of labor make possible the creation of a surplus product.
The first form of compulsory labor was slavery, which was based on the transformation of the means of production and the direct producer into private property. Feudal serfdom, historically the next form of compulsory labor, was based on binding the producer to the landed property of the lord. The peasant was forced to hand over his surplus labor to the landlord. Both slavery and serfdom were characterized by the direct coercion of dependent workers (seeEXTRAECONOMIC CONSTRAINT). The feudal form of compulsory labor was more progressive than slavery, but at a certain point it retarded the development of the productive forces.
As a result of the bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th centuries, which led to the rise of capitalism, the feudal form gave way to the capitalist form of compulsory labor. It differs from slavery and feudal serfdom in that the wage laborer is formally a free individual. At the same time, however, he is deprived of ownership of the means of production, and he is therefore compelled to sell the capitalist his labor power, his only source of income. In fact, labor is subordinate to capital, and the worker is economically dependent on the capitalist. This coercion is, however, mediated by buying and selling relations. Capitalism maintains and reproduces all the precapitalist forms of compulsory labor, particularly in the colonies and dependent nations.